Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Glenlivet

I don't usually drink much--a little wine once in a while, that's all. But I saw a sampler of The Glenlivet and figured I'd give it a try. Twelve year old single malt.
80 proof gets your attention, if you're not used to it. I suppose there are complexities to the taste, but if you go from "hm, tastes like fire" to "hm, mah tongue id numb", I'm not quite certain how you'd appreciate them.

Economic Policy

"All bad economic policy is undertaken by people who are very bright, just not quite as bright as they need to be. Take Keynes, for example. Pretty smart guy, got a lot right, but missed a couple of important details and screwed the whole world for the next hundred years."

Lie about how we met

A friend of mine had a Facebook posting: Tell the story of how we met, but lie about it. A little creativity is always good, so...
My brother Jonathan, who is 6 years younger than me, came up with the most inventive one thus far:
I wouldn't say we "met": I knew you before you hatched. I watched over you through your six week juvenile stage, and helped you emerge into adulthood. Then we found a suitable host for you. The rest is Chris-tory. 
 Feel free to add your own versions, in Comments.

Friday, July 29, 2011

US Debt

Here's a visualization of the US debt, at Kleptocracy Education. Hat tip: Barbra.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sheep and intelligence tests

According to this article in Animalwise, sheep are "barnyard brainiacs", and perform as well in some intelligence tests as any non-primate. They're just sneaky enough not to show it...

Heinlein's rules of writing

Five Rules of Success in Writing:

  1. You must write.
  2. You must finish what you write
  3. You must refrain from re-writing except to editorial order
  4. You must place it on the market.
  5. You must keep it on the market until sold.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

FantaSci 9

On Saturday I attended FantaSci 9, a mini-convention held at the Chesapeake Library.  I'd guess 300 people participated: vendors from comic shops, authors, members of Star Wars, Star Trek and Resident Evil fan clubs, a couple of zombies, and people wandering in. Some of the people looked a bit silly, but some of them were pretty impressive. There was a tall thin black guy who, as Josh put it, did "Sith" very well; the Umbrella Corporation security team looked good and there was an excellent zombie.
There were three tracks of programs and I was there for the writing, so I sat in on "Worldbuilding" and "Craft, Publishing and Promotion"; the "Grab Your Reader on the First Page" one didn't grab me. The Worldbuilding one  was pleasant; Leona Wisoker was cheerful and organized, with handouts, and I enjoyed getting into the worldbuilding mode for a while.
The Craft, Publishing and Promotion panel also had some information. One of the authors said that his sales were at 2000 for the month of April; went to 17,000 in May, when his publisher made that title available as a Kindle download; and was at 18,500 in June. If you have a series, you can put the first ebook at 99 cents, and the rest of them at $2.99. All three authors on the panel said that you have to sell your own books; the publisher may help some but you can't just hand them the manuscript and expect that they'll do all the heavy lifting. I asked about promoting your books, "what did you discover that you had to do, that you hadn't expected when you got started?", and the answers were, basically, "be outgoing." Leona said that she learned to smile at everyone, including kids; Marshall Thomas said that he found that any time someone walks by your table, you talk to them, hand them something, get their attention. If people meet you at a con and like you, they'll be a lot more likely to read your books. They may not buy them while they're at the con, but they'll download them later.
I have to finish this post now so I can read the first chapter of Secret of the Sands.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Borders Books closing

The local Borders is being liquidated. The store was plastered with signs saying EVERYTHING IN THE STORE 40% OFF !! (some items excepted).  I asked where the Self Help section was, but the clerk said that telling me would defeat the purpose, so I looked around the store. The "some items" which were excepted included Science Fiction (10%), Horror (10%), Writing Instruction (10%), History (10%), Travel (10%), Children's (10%), Adult Games (by which they mean Cataan and Risk and that sort of thing) 10%. There was quite a line at the cash register, but I can tell the difference between 40% off and 10% off, so I didn't join the line to buy anything.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Golden Age of Wargaming

Eric S Raymond argues that the Golden Age of Wargaming is not back in the 70s, when we had PanzerBlitz and Squad Leader and Third Reich and whatever SPI was publishing this week-- it's now. He suggests Conflict of Heroes and Command & Colors: Ancients as examples of games which are successors to the old classics. I'm thinking of adding Conflict (the Kursk one) and C&C Napoleonics to my wish list.

Why the budget talks collapsed

The more detailed version is at Keith Hennessey's blog, but the short form is that Obama didn't stick to what he'd agreed to, and Boehner did. Which is hardly a surprise.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Feeling the heat

Temperature was 100° on my deck at 5:30 tonight. Heat index forecast for today was 110 to 120°. Not bad, if you're just standing around, but I'm glad I wasn't on a construction crew.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

You rock

We had a tough project with a short deadline. I emailed the engineer who was working on it to check whether he would be able to get it done in time. He emailed back that he'd just finished it, and on hearing this news, one of my coworkers said "He rocks!"
So I emailed him back to say "Consensus here is, you rock! I'm just mentioning this in case you feel taken for granite."


Never describe something as "impossible" if it has already happened.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Zoe's fan club

It's 9:45pm and I'm walking the mutt past the pool and back. As I return, three teenage girls come out of the pool gate and see Zoe. "Look!" they cry. "It's my favorite dog!"  Zoe has a fan club.

Clarity vs Disinformation

From comments on Armed and Dangerous:

“He is trying on an Orwellian distortion of the past in order to deform the future.”
Not only is that brilliant writing, but it hits at a core dysfunction in current cultural evolution. The two competing behaviors are clarity versus disinformation. Early in our species development, communication was comparatively slow and clarity conferred an evolutionary advantage to a group’s survival probability, e.g. a shout of warning when danger was near. We now live in a world of hyper-fast communication in which information overload can work against clarity. A small, but growing, segment of the population is experimenting with disinformation as a means of achieving parochial advantage.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Marine Corps Reading List

Here's the list from the United States Marine Corps Professional Reading Program. Hat tip to one of the commenters on Armed and Dangerous.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Warded Man

I'd read Howard Taylor's blog post at Schlock Mercenary about The Warded Man, so I decided to give it a try. It's a standard fantasy world, with medieval technology, basically European / American culture. The difference is that demons materialize out of the ground every night and attack anyone who's not in a warded enclosure. Generally the only people who travel any distance are highly paid Messengers, who put wards in a circle on the ground but still sometimes come to a messy end. The book tells of three children who grow up to be young adults, and how they deal with this state of siege. The characters are interesting, and it's a good first novel.
The main problem with it is that the background doesn't feel realistic. There are five cities, of which one is pseudo-Arab and the rest are Generic Fantasy Culture. Each city has one main economic resource--there's the Forest City, the Mining City, etc. The villages are separated by several days travel, which is why the duchy has daring Messengers to travel among them--but why are they spread out so much, other than to make Messengers necessary? In the Middle Ages, settlements were usually separated by half a mile to two miles, and there's no obvious reason that they couldn't be in this setting as well. And if there was a reason for the villages to be spread out, why don't people build warded inns or forts close enough that no one has to sleep on the road? We discover that a ward has to be uncovered to be effective; its power can be blocked if mud gets on it, or even if a leaf falls on it. Aren't any of the demons smart enough to kick some dirt, throw some mud, toss a tree branch?
It's worth checking out of the library, although I don't think I'd buy a copy again.

AAR: Mars vs French Frigates

Josh and I got in a game of Close Action today, using the "Mars vs French Frigates" scenario. One British ship of the line is chasing four French frigates, which turn to give battle. Historically, the French squadron commander wrote off his slowest ship (which Mars captured) and sailed the other three away without fighting.
Remembering what happened in Pourvoyeuse vs East Indiamen, we decided that Josh would take two of the frigates; I'd take the other two; and we'd each write orders for Mars, with a die roll deciding which orders would go into effect each turn. This resulted in less trash-talking than usual, but I think it's the best way to handle this type of scenario.
The problem Mars has in this scenario is that the frigates all together have about twice the firepower and twice the ability to soak up damage. The problem for the frigates is that they have to coordinate well, despite very little ability to communicate. If they can maneuver so they all have clear shots on Mars, the frigates win; if they get in each others' way, Mars can take down one frigate at a time.
The frigates divided into two pairs, with one pair going upwind and the other downwind. Mars jinked upwind,  getting into firing range on turn 3, then sailed through the frigates, and back around, twisting and turning to try to get good shots. On turn 11, Mars turned into the wind but failed to complete the tack, and just sat there, immobile; on turn 13 she still couldn't make the tack--there was only a 4% chance to fail twice, but she did. Since she couldn't move, the frigates closed in, surrounded her and hammered her.
Getting clear firing lines with the frigates was harder than we expected; they got a total of 21 shots in 13 turns, including four on turn 13; when Mars was able to maneuver, the frigates were only getting in 1.7 shots per turn. In contrast, once Mars got in range, there was only one time that she wasn't able to fire.
We were amused to note that in 11 turns when Mars had meaningful maneuver options, Josh and I each gave Mars the identical order three times, and nearly identical orders a couple of times more.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


I bought S M Stirling's novel Conquistador, mainly because I loved his The Peshawar Lancers.
The premise is that an invalided soldier from WW2 accidentally creates a portal to a world in which Europeans never made it to the Western Hemisphere. He gathers a few of his former troops, and they secretly colonize the alternate California. There are factions among the colonists, and after a couple of generations, there's some plotting which might reveal the secret of the Portal. Our hero, a game warden, stumbles into this and gets embroiled in the infighting.
As I noted previously, the great thing about Peshawar Lancers was the flavor of his version of Victorian India--the feeling that there is a whole world going on around the character, with a richness of detail. Conquistador doesn't have the same amount of texture. Of course, part of that is because Conquistador largely takes place in a new world, so it's entirely justifiable. I should also point out that "not as much as Peshawar" means "not as much as one of my favorites." I've read a number of fantasy novels which were passable but felt like the history, geography and culture took less than a day to work out. Conquistador doesn't have that problem.
One problem that I did have with it was not its fault. Once I realized the situation was "a limited group of people can travel to another world, and their families control society", I felt some distaste for the book. I eventually realized that this was because the premise is very similar to Family Trade, which I'd read and disliked. If you've read the Stross book, don't let it taint Conquistador, which I found to be much better.


Our school system doesn't do a great job at teaching; part of this is because the subjects aren't as relevant as they could be. Realistically, who needs to know how to diagram a sentence?

Here are some classes I wish we'd had in high school:

  • Home and auto repair and maintenance
  • Nutrition, cooking, and health
  • Economics and behavioral econ
  • Finances, budgeting, and banking
  • Politics and propaganda

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Guns of August Convention

The Old Dominion Military Society is having a gaming convention in Williamsburg Virginia,  August 12-14.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Great Blue Heron

Gunwalker scandal

As Larry Correia (best-selling novelist and former gun shop owner) put it:

As a novelist, if I were to write a thriller in which a federal law enforcement agency knowingly allowed and even encouraged thousands of American guns to cross the border to arm Mexican drug cartels, in an effort to pad their stats to push for more gun control laws, even though innocent Mexican citizens and a US Border Patrol agent were killed in the process, and afterward there would be a huge cover up that went all the way to the President… I know some reviewers would say that my plot was silly, just some naive right-wing fantasy.
Yeah… You got me there. Surely no federal agency would be that stupid. Surely nobody in Washington would arm brutal drug cartels just to push their own politics.
Nope. That’s crazy talk. [...]
This is bigger than Watergate. A crime was committed in Nixon’s administration and he tried to cover it up. The same thing is happening here. But at least in Watergate, nobody got killed.
As The Professor says, read the whole thing.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Cinnamon Wonderfuls

  1. Prepare a yellow cake mix
  2. Bake in mini-mini muffin pans
  3. Dip each mini-cake into melted butter, then roll in sugar and cinnamon
  4. Yum

Monday, July 4, 2011


The Tuaregs of North Africa are famous as "the Blue Men"; their clothing was blue and they sometimes rubbed indigo dye into their skin as well. But they've been desert dwellers for at least 1500 years; if you're in the desert and you don't want white, you can get black wool or black goat hair, but where do you get indigo blue from? I'm sure you've been laying awake at night, pondering that very question. It turns out that they went south across the desert in caravans to the markets and dye pits of Kano, a city in northern Nigeria.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Wild Bunch

We watched most of The Wild Bunch tonight. I say "most of" because I got tired of watching it; the cinematography was great, but the story and characters were not enjoyable. Apparently this is Peckinpah's best, which means I can skip anything else he did.

Synchronized cake making

Josh and Gwen made a cake together today, which was quite a feat given that they're on opposite sides of the planet. They coordinated by Skype video and each made a strawberry cake. Josh's had white icing with blue stripes, in honor of Independence Day.