Thursday, December 27, 2012

Flying home

We left the farm at noon, I got to the airport and checked in by 1:00, flight was supposed to leave at 3:17.

Supposed to.

Snow, winds, weather delays. We actually boarded the plane at 8pm, which is when I was supposed to be arriving in Norfolk. Never fear, though, there's a 10pm flight from Philly to Norfolk; I should still be able to make it.

So we de-ice. And wait. The controllers can send off one plane per two minutes per runway, and we have to wait for a slot. Eventually we wait long enough that we have to file a new flight plan. Then we've waited long enough that we have to go de-ice again. Then we wait some more, until we need to refuel. Then we have to wait our turn for the fuel truck. Then of course we need to de-ice again.

Finally, at 12:45am, we take off. Arrive at Philly at 2:15. Everyone wants to get their next flight booked and there's only one gate agent stuck with dealing with us; it's 3am by the time I get that done. No point in taking a cab to a hotel, to get checked in at 4am, when the first flight in the morning leaves at 7.55am and I might be able to get a standby on it. I elect to stay in the airport. Although there were half a dozen people who were trying to leave Toronto on Wednesday night to get to Philly and then England and Ireland; when they missed their connections, they found they'd have to stay in Philly all day Thursday, and wouldn't be able to get to Manchester and Dublin until Friday night. In comparison, I'm not so bad off.

Next time I stay overnight in an airport, I'll look for a spot that doesn't have an ad blaring at me, every fifteen minutes, about how wonderful Philly Airport is and how much I'll enjoy the shops and attractions.

Around 7am I head for the gate. The 7.55 flight is cancelled. No, it's not. Yes, it is. No, it's not, but your luggage is set for the flight you're confirmed for, and you have to fly with your luggage; if you go standby, we don't have time to move it. Why didn't the agent tell me that yesterday? Don't know, but that's the way it is. At least I manage to move my confirmed flight from the 2pm to the noon flight.

The noon flight boards around 1pm, then has to refuel. We finally take off around 2pm. Arrive Norfolk 3pm. Collect my bag--which was already at the luggage office when I got there, despite that "you have to fly with your bag" line--and drive to work, arriving at 4pm to get a couple hours in before end of day.

Fun times. But I made it.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Erin

On Sunday morning we all bid Mum goodbye, then took a cab to the airport and picked up the rental car. The drive from Montreal to Toronto was no difficulty, except that bits of salt scum would kick up from the road and form a crust on the windshield; I had to keep hitting the "wiper spray" every few minutes for about a hundred miles, until the road dried a bit.
Kelly and Alun and their kids were there; Jenn and John and baby Ella arrived midday Christmas. In the meantime we went to Erin and did a few minutes of shopping; went to a cidery for lunch; and visited the horses.

Josh won Christmas by getting me a pith helmet; Gwen came close, with a set of miniature swords for skewering hors d'oeuvres. Or maybe Gwen won, because she got Diana a pair of opal earrings to match the opal necklace we got in Cairns; there was much oohing and aahing over those.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Montreal

Friday: Josh and I met David Bush, our financial guy, in the morning; I've exchanged emails with him for years, but this is the first time we've met. Diana and Gwen picked up Josh and I, and we went to Jan and Sally's farm in Sutton. Sally is a sweetheart; we she saw us pull in, she flew down the stairs to us meet us.
She said "if I needed to call a relative for help, the one I know I can most rely on is Joshua."

After driving back into the city--through rain, freezing rain, sleet, and snow--and having tea, Josh and Gwen went out and made a snowman, which was actually a snow bear; Gwen made a snow angel; and I' pretty sure snowballs got exchanged. Evening was for reading in the sitting room and library.

Saturday: It snowed in the night, and Josh had unearthed an old wooden sled from the basement, so we went up Montreal mount to do a little sledding. The wind was quite brisk, so we stopped at Maison Smith to get me a balaclava, and everyone else hot chocolate. In the afternoon we went to the Atwater Market; after that we went to the Traditional Family Bowling Match, which I'd never heard of but apparently it's something the Harrington clan has been doing for the last couple of years; even those who're well past bowling age showed up and socialized. Aunt Ann, Aunt Joan, Suzie and her kids, Conrad, Margo, plus another twenty or more.

Followed that with a visit to the Cathedral of Notre Dame for a show about the history of the cathedral, then to the restaurant  Bonaparte for dinner, then home again.




Thursday, December 20, 2012

Montreal


We landed at Montreal, sailed through Immigration and Customs, and took a cab to Mum's house on Trafalgar. A few inches of snow on the ground, and another eight inches expected tonight. This will be Gwen's first white Christmas; of course Christmas is midsummer for Australians.

We visited with Mum first; she's physically frailer than the last time I was here, but still alert and chatty, even though the conversation doesn't connect to anything.

Sevda made dinner for us, starting with a soup of creamed spinach and chicken broth with pine nuts; field greens salad, then Vietnamese curried chicken breast, coconut rice with raisins, and green beans; followed by custard mille feuilles for me and a rich buche de Noel for those who can have chocolate.

After dinner, Josh and Gwen went for a walk in the snow, then admired some of the things in the house; Gwen says many items remind her of things her grandmother had in Melbourne. I saw a shadowbox with my father in law's medals, which I'll get a better look at tomorrow.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

At Mom and Dad's

On Friday evening we all (me, Diana, Josh, Gwen, Zoe) piled into the car and drove up to the mountains, arriving around midnight. Mom and Dad, Tabitha and Chris (and Kathleen, Emma, Luke) and James and Heather (and Ella and Franklin) were there.

On Saturday we set off to find a Christmas tree. There were some trees of the right size in the east field; that is, there were some trees in the east field, and some years ago they were the right size. They seem to have grown a bit in the meantime. So since we were nearly to Reva and Vinson's, we marched up the hill and visited them. There was a round of DeBoe Rules Baseball, in which I was third base for a while--that's "third base" rather than "third baseman." First base was a fence post and second base was the old outhouse; I have no idea how I was selected to be third...
In the afternoon, a tree was actually found, cut, and dragged home. It was ten feet tall and eight feet across, and took up most of the width of the great room. "It didn't look that big, outside" was a recurring comment. But better to be a big, memorable tree than a boring one.
Evening was Josh's birthday party. Josh had suggested a birthday salad rather than a birthday cake--what a change for our carnivore over the past couple of years!--but what he got was cake.

Sunday was church, a bit of backyard football, and a couple of hands of Skip Bo, with Gwen, Josh, Tab, Chris, Mom and me. Important note while playing SkipBo: "That's not cheating, that's just an idiosyncratic local interpretation of the rules."

I drive home on Monday, in Dad's (now "Dad's and my") Oldmobile Aurora. Diana Gwen and Josh will return Tuesday, via Virginia Tech, where Gwen will interview for their grad school.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

A secret of Game-Fu

From Eric S Raymond : "when in doubt, play to maximize the breadth of your option tree", and "It looked like I was getting lucky; what I was actually doing was maximizing the number of possible ways I could get lucky." As is noted in the comments on that post, this strategy also applies to life.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Gwen arrives!

Gwen arrived this evening. Josh had thirty roses for her--some at the airport, some at the hotel. They'll spend the weekend in DC and Fredericksburg, seeing some of their DC area friends as well as the National Cathedral and Dunbarton Oaks, then on Monday go to Newark, Delaware for Gwen to interview at the U of Delaware grad school.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

December 6th

On this day:

  • 1240: Kiev falls to the Mongols
  • 1768: first edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica is published
  • 1865: Slavery banned in the US by the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment (not the Emancipation Proclamation)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Libertarianism

From Machiavelli and State Power:

We cannot abide State kidnapping, just because they call it the draft. We cannot abide the incarceration of people who ingest the wrong substances, just because they call it the war on drugs. We cannot abide theft just because they call it taxation. And we cannot abide mass murder just because they call it foreign policy.
Murray Rothbard, who earned his Ph.D. from this very institution in 1956 and went on to become known as Mr. Libertarian, said that you could discover the libertarian position on any issue by imagining a criminal gang carrying out the action in question.
Rockwell's thesis is that Machiavelli said that a prince should be prepared and willing to take immoral actions to retain power; the libertarian's response is that what is immoral for an individual doesn't change just because that individual is a representative of the State.



Second Amendment

I've often thought that while I should, of course, have the right to any weapon I can buy, I'm not so sure that the guy down the street should be allowed to carry anything more than a plastic butter knife, non-serrated. That leads to the idea that if people are to have access to guns, perhaps there should be some requirement that they have some training. Larry Correia, however, points out that states with a training requirement are no safer than states with no requirement whatsoever. Mandatory training sounds like it would make things safer, but it doesn't. And policy needs to be set on the basis of what really works, not what sounds like it would work.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Christmas Tree

This year's Christmas Tree has been acquired.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Atmosphere

On this day in 2001, the Hubble Space Telescope discovered the first known planetary atmosphere outside the solar system, on the planet Osiris.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving

I've been laid up the past few days (103° fever Sunday night, erysipelas around my right calf & foot which made walking something to avoid), and Diana has sciatica, so it's a good thing that Josh was here to cook for us and that we weren't planning on traveling.

And Josh did indeed cook. Turkey with a homemade wild rice stuffing, golden mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry orange relish. Mom and Dad were at a clinic in Tappahannock and came down for the day; Mom provided rolls and a pound cake. Add ice cream, raspberries and blackberries for dessert. Plus special additions for me, amoxicillin and acetaminophen.

What am I thankful for? "Being sick" has mostly involved "laying in bed and reading"; I haven't had to scrape together my last few dollars for medicine, I'm still getting paid, I haven't missed anything major. It was an inconvenience, really nothing more.

Our son is here, not lugging 80 pounds of gear around a desert filled with unpleasant natives. Nobody is dropping missiles on us, or rioting around us. We have electricity; some of the people in the New York / New Jersey area are still in the dark, more than three weeks after Hurricane Sandy. We haven't been affected by the post-election layoff notices. We're on good terms with all our relatives. I don't have a Christmas wish list because if I wanted something, I could already have bought it myself.

Mom and Dad told about some of the people in Zambia. The gardener whose wife was in labor, so he brought her to the hospital--by putting her on a bicycle and pushing it, for miles, through deep sandy roads. The thirteen year old girl whose grandmother left her on her own, with one dollar and a promise to be back in a few weeks.

Lots to be thankful for.


Monday, November 12, 2012

Chasing a bird

I left the deck door open this morning so the Mutt could go out and enjoy the sunlight. A bird took the Open Door Policy as an invitation, and flew in. Josh tried to shoo him out, but he was happy where he was.

Josh reported "Managed to chase the bird out using your rapier. He really did not want to leave."

I wish I had video...

Sunday, November 11, 2012

For the Fallen

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

 They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

 --For the Fallen, Laurence Binyon

Lest we forget.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Election

Well, that was a disaster.

I knew Romney was running behind in the polls but there was talk that several of the polls had biased sampling. It looked like he might win. And then...I dunno. The central issue of the campaign should have been the economy. Romney has a record of being a talented turn around artists, exactly what we need; while Obama can only be regarded as a dismal failure on the economic front, with more months of 8%+ unemployment in this one term than than there have been in total from 1945-2008, not to mention "quantitative easing" (ie diluting the money supply and pretending the resulting inflation doesn't happen), running up a multi-trillion dollar debt, wasting money on "green" companies which go bankrupt, the impending jobs implosion which will result from Obamacare, and so on.

And yet...they voted him in again.

As I drove in to work today, musing over the election results, I was reminded of a girl I knew, a girl who got into a relationship with a guy who promised to take care of her and make her happy. And he did occasionally do nice things for her, but he was pretty slack in other areas, and never hesitated to lie to her about a thing if he didn't feel like talking about it.

And then she found out that he'd been borrowing money left and right--from his friends, his relatives, her friends, anyone he could talk into lending it, and maxing out her credit cards. Some of the money he spent on things that really were necessities, but a lot of it was stuff they didn't need and couldn't afford, like another weekend vacation, or the Xbox he gave to his buddy.

I kept telling her "you need to get out of that relationship", and intellectually, she knew she was being abused; but she was emotionally tied to the guy and just kept hoping things would...somehow...all work out.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Bonsai

Diana got me a bonsai juniper. Kind of an odd looking example of bonsai, as there's a mass of branches up to about four inches high; the central trunk stand up out of that mass about another 8 inches, then makes a 90° turn to horizontal and sticks out sideways for a foot. I really have no idea what to do with it.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Top Hat

As part of ongoing steampunkness...I got a top hat today. Photo to follow.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Columbian Food

Some of my coworkers are Columbian, and they provided the office with lunch today. One dish was essentially fried rice with chicken; one was fried plantains and bananas. Both of those were okay, and as expected. The one which surprised me was the meat dish, which was bits of pork and banana which had been deep fried until they were dry and crunchy. It wasn't bad, just...unexpected. When you bite down on a chunk of meat, you're expecting squish, not crunch. Once I got past that, it was fine.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Writers write

Writers write. Posers whine about how hard it is.
--John August


Incidentally, this is my 1000th post.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

The storm is southeast from us, expected to curve northwest and come ashore right around Atlantic City, New Jersey. We've got some rain and wind and a bit higher tide than normal, but nothing impressive; if it hadn't lasted continuously since last night, you wouldn't think anything unusual was happening.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

New Books


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Josh arrives

Josh arrived at Dulles on Sunday evening. The main thing of note--aside from "Yay, Josh is back!"--is that there's no good place at Dulles airport to wait for arrivals. People can be coming through any one of several different doors and you can't watch all of them. Apparently the designer had never wanted to meet anyone at an airport, and no one had ever wanted to meet him.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Expat Explorer

HSBC had an "Expat Explorer's Guide", just in case you're planning to move to another country if Obama wins, the US collapses for other reasons, Iran gets the Bomb, New Madrid has another earthquake, or other factors make you want to get out of town in a really big way.

Enroute

Gwen sent two messages this evening:


(6.14pm US Eastern time) "Arrived nice and early, had a delicious breakfast (maccas* for Joshua, coffee & croissants pour moi), waiting for check-in to open :-)" 

and


(7.38pm US Eastern time) "He's all set and passed through security - next stop, USA!"

Eager anticipation.

*Macca's is McDonalds, in Australian

Car

Today we picked up the new car, a 2011 Honda CRV, officially "green" although I'd have called it bluish green, or perhaps grue. The purchase process at the dealership seems unnecessarily inefficient and lengthy, and--given how big a business auto sales is, and how many studies must have been made on the car-buying experience--I have to assume that is deliberate. Presumably the intent is to get you so fatigued and exasperated that the average guy is saying "Yes, I'll buy that overpriced warranty, yes, I'll sign that contract, yes, yes, anything, just please let me get the keys and go!" I tend to respond by saying "No, I don't care how sensible it seems, I'm done buying anything, at all, period", but it was still fatiguing and exasperating.
Fortunately, though, we seem to be keeping cars for 17 years after the model year, so we won't have to go through this again until 2028.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Death Warmed Over

No, that's not what I feel like, it's a book by Kevin Anderson. The protagonist, Dan "Shamble" Chambeaux, is a private investigator, and a zombie. You see, someone recently snuck up behind him and shot him in the head, and Dan didn't take that lying down. He's determined to find out who murdered him and who poisoned his girlfriend, who is now a ghost. Meanwhile, he's trying to protect a wimpy vampire, handle a divorce case for a female werewolf, and take care of his other clients, while uncovering a conspiracy that threatens all unnatural people..

The problem with this book is, the monsters aren't terribly convincing. The zombies aren't all that interested in brains, vampires can overcome their urge to suck blood, werewolves aren't uncontrollable raging killers. They are essentially not monsters, just an unusual ethnic group--and therefore a lot less interesting than they could be. The human characters don't get a lot of depth either. We have the perky crusading lawyer, the wisecracking secretary, the sleazy sales rep, the dumb but honest cop.

There's nothing particularly jarring about the writing; if you're looking for cotton candy in book form, this will do nicely. If you want something with some substance to it, look elsewhere.

October 12

On this day in 1799, the first female parachutist made her first jump--so to speak. Jeanne-Genevieve Labrosse ascended in a balloon to 900m altitude. The parachute was attached to the balloon basket, so she cut loose the balloon's hot air bag and rode down in the basket.

Also, on this day in 1979, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was published.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012

I signed into the National Novel Writing Month site today to get my 2012 novel set up. Right now the title is Noun of the Adjective Noun, although I may change that to Protagonist's Noun.

Yeah, the Muse has not been working overtime on this. Yet.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Ben Carlin

In 1947, Major Ben Carlin, originally of Northam, Western Australia  set out to travel around the world.

In an amphibious jeep.

He and his wife started in Montreal and took four years and several attempts to cross the Atlantic; after that, his wife called it quits, but he pressed on. Including several delays and side trips for fundraising tours, he finally finished the 40,000 mile journey in 1958.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Hit my sales goal for the month today. :-)

Hit my sales goal for the month today. :-)

Monday, October 1, 2012

Food

We're starting to stockpile food.

However, by looking at what's coming back from the grocery, you can tell that this is not "in case of food shortages", but rather "for Josh's return to the US". Mexican chili peppers, spicy Thai curry, pork tenderloin, mini marshmallows, corn, ice cream...

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Know your blogger

A somewhat skewed "Know your blogger":


  1. Favorite wargaming period, and why: Victorian Science Fiction, because of the humor and imagination that seems to go with that period.
  2. Second favorite: Napoleonic naval battles, probably because of all the Horatio Hornblower stories I've read.
  3. Favorite roleplaying game: "All games are roleplaying games". I'm generally willing to play anything I can. What I've played most is Champions and D&D.
  4. Favorite scale for miniatures: I'm torn between 15mm and 25-28mm. I've tried 6mm figures, and I can see how they'd look good in mass, but I don't think I'd be happy with them except for micro armor games. For Napoleonic naval, the scale is 1:2400.
  5. First wargame: not counting chess, it was Avalon Hill's Luftwaffe.  Not exactly what I should have started with, as on their 1-10 Complexity rating, it was a 12. Of course I didn't know that, I just knew it looked cool. 

Wool

On one or another of the blogs I follow, someone recommended Wool. And it had something like a thousand 5 star reviews, and quite a few 4 stars, and almost no 3, 2 or 1 star reviews, so I got it.

I have no idea how it got that ratio of 5 star reviews. Absolutely no idea.

The setting is a post-apocalyptic silo, or underground city. The silo has access to mineral ores and an oil well, which may sound improbable, but renders the place self-sufficient. Nobody has to go outside, which is good, because no one who does, even in a sealed suit, lasts long enough to walk up the hill. The outside is a toxic wasteland.  Sounds interesting, in a rather depressing way.

And that is apt, because the first interesting character, dies. Second interesting character, dies. Third interesting character, gets permanently exiled. This doesn't kill her, but does take her out of the setting. If the point of the story is "an interesting setting", then "take your interesting character out of that setting" may not be the best move, from a storytelling standpoint. I'm 55% of the way through, and I'm on the fourth character who was intended to be interesting, but hasn't qualified yet. Thinking back over it, the others weren't all that interesting either. The first one was suicidal for reasons, the second was old and tired and regretful, the third was curious but passive.

It's not bad, it's just not good. I think we're supposed to be intrigued by the silo and ...something. The history, who set it up, something like that. The fact that I'm not sure what aspect we're supposed to find intriguing is probably a strong indicator that I wasn't all that intrigued. Add a depressing setting and fairly bland characters, and the sum does not entice me to read further.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

R. I. P. White Van

We're losing a family member. Yes, the 1995 Dodge Caravan, which has been with us since around 1998, is on its last legs--or more accurately, its last transmission. I replaced the engine at around 110,000 miles; we're now at 225,000, and it's time to put it out to pasture. Diana was sad to hear the verdict...right up until I said "Of course, whatever car you buy will have a functional air conditioner."

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Liberty

Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.
--G B Shaw

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Affection

Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our lives.
C.S. Lewis

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Counterfeits and Fakes

Apparently China has been buying gold and silver using "ghost steel" as collateral; when people go to look in the warehouses, the steel isn't there. On the other hand, someone's been shipping "gold" bars that are mostly tungsten, which costs about a dollar an ounce. Are the Chinese paying with ghost money and getting counterfeit gold? Sounds like a caper movie where you're trying to figure out who is really cheating whom.

The Meaning of Life

A friend asked me "what is the meaning of Life?" So here it is:
"the condition that distinguishes organisms from inorganic objects and dead organisms, being manifested by growth through metabolism, reproduction, and the power of adaptation to environment through changes originating internally."

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Return Date

Josh is coming back to the US in mid October. Gwen is coming in mid December.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Suit

It's been a long time since I bought a suit, as I don't need one for work, our church isn't too worried about what you're wearing (suits, cut off jeans and tee shirts, whatever). But I felt it was about time to get one. Got it from James at Stark & Legum in Norfolk, which is where we usually go for this sort of thing. It's being tailored and I'll pick it up next Saturday.
Lunch afterwards at Doumar's.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Bridge of Birds

Now reading: the Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox: Bridge of Birds, a tale set in mythic seventh century China. From one of the reviews:

The Chronicles consist of three books based on folkloric Chinese ghost stories. In Bridge of Birds we meet the two main characters. Number Ten Ox is a strapping young man from a peasant village in which all the children between the ages of eight and thirteen have fallen into a coma-like stupor. He travels to Peking with the collected savings of the village to find a wise man who can figure out how a plague can learn to count. Unfortunately, or so it seems, his village is a poor one, and all he can afford is Master Li, a 100+year-old, alcoholic sage with, as he describes it, a slight flaw in his character. The two set off on an adventure that takes them all over China and brings them into contact with such wonderful characters as Miser Chen, Doctor Death, Pawnbroker Fang, Ma the Grub, One-Eyed Wong, the Ancestress, Henpecked Ho, Cut-Off-Their-Balls Wong and Lotus Cloud.


Reality

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.
--Phillip K Dick

Saturday, September 1, 2012

More books!

Part of the Josh Collection, imported from Canada:
  • The Smoke and the Fire (John Terraine)
  • Military Uniforms of Britain and the Empire (Maj R Money Barnes)
  • Model Soldiers (W Y Carman)
  • Weapons of the British Soldier (Col H C B Rogers, OBE)
  • The Law and the Profits (C Northcote Parkinson)
  • Regimental Heritage

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Abolition

On this day in 1833, the United Kingdom abolished slavery within the empire.

Van Helsing

I attempted to watch Van Helsing tonight, but...the acting, it burns!

New Books

The Scramble for Africa
Victorian Colonial Warfare: India
Victorian Colonial Warfare: Africa

The India one is primarily a sourcebook, with quotes from articles and people around the time of the Sikh wars through the Mutiny. The Africa one tells of the campaigns against the Abyssinians, Ashanti, Basuto, the Boers, Kaffirs, Matabele, Zulu, and small actions in other parts of Africa. It doesn't cover Egypt and the Sudan, because those are enough to warrant their own book.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Cowboys and Aliens

This was a movie with a reasonable story, and two stars who know how to act, and yet it flopped. There were some logic problems with it--for instance, how come only the one alien had a gun?--but nothing insurmountable. So why did it fail?
One fail factor was from the science fiction aspect. There was no opportunity to figure out and use the alien technology. There was no taking the fight to the aliens, other than that one ship; nothing would prevent the aliens from sending another ship. There was no epic moment when we felt the universe was much bigger than we knew. There were aliens, yes, but they were just after gold, and some shooting and some dynamite could fix that. There was no "wow" moment.
A second fail factor, and probably a more important one, was that, at the start of the film, nobody was especially likable. Jake had no sense of humor and didn't know who he was. Dolarhyde was a cold blooded cattle baron who didn't mind torturing people. Ella was a mystery woman with ulterior motives who never explained herself. Yes, we found out more about them as the film went on, but by that time you've spent two thirds of the movie with nobody to really like.

Adrian Carton de Wiart

I was looking through a list of notable Victorian generals, which mentioned the usual--John Nicholson, Garnet Wolseley, James Hope Grant, etc--plus one I'd never heard of before: Lieutenant General Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart, VC. Fought in the Boer War and both World Wars; wounded seven times, survived a plane crash, tunneled out of a POW camp, and so forth and so on.

In his memoirs he wrote, "Governments may think and say as they like, but force cannot be eliminated, and it is the only real and unanswerable power. We are told that the pen is mightier than the sword, but I know which of these weapons I would choose."

Monday, August 20, 2012

Nothing is withheld

Someone reading this blog post from Joel Runyon would probably say that Joel met Russell Kirsch, computer pioneer. In fact, notice that it was Kirsch who initiated things.

As they discussed some of Kirsch's achievements, they had this conversation:
Kirsch: Nothing is withheld from us what we have conceived to do.
Runyon: That's good--who said that?
Kirsch: God did.
Runyon: What?
Kirsch: God said it, and there were only two people who believed it. You know who?
Runyon: Nope, who?
Kirsch: God, and me. So I went out and did it.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Cards

"When you said all you wanted for your birthday was for me to give you a card, I didn't know you meant my credit card."

Saturday, August 18, 2012

World Sky Race

Don Hartsell of Texas is putting together a series of 18 airship races which will, if all goes according to plan, start in London, go around the world, and end in Paris. The proposed routes will take them over the Pyramids, the Taj Mahal, the Statue of Liberty and over 120 other World Heritage sites.

Hartsell, 53, said "I started this out with, 'OK, you're at a point in your life where either you can retire or you can do something worthwhile.' I went, 'Are you still crazy?'"

Bleu Burgers

Ingredients
  • 6.78 pounds of 85% lean ground beast
  • The rest of the Montreal Steak Spice. Whatever was in the container. What, you want me to scrape it off the hamburger and measure it? Call it 5.612 tablespoons. Roughly.
  • Worcestershire sauce. More than that. A bit more. WHOA!
  • Three capfuls of hickory smoke seasoning, more or less depending on what size cap you wear.
  • Mince some onion. Use half of it. Find something else to do with the rest.
  • A thing of bleu cheese. Two things might be better.
Form into many patties. Refrigerate overnight unless you want to make the patties right before the party, with people coming in while you've got grease on your hands.

Cook on a hot grill, in summer, on a deck overlooking the river, with no mosquitoes, for approximately 15 minutes, flipping (the patties, not the grill) after about 8 minutes.

Serve on a toasted kaiser, because that's how we roll.

Feeds twelve people, plus a couple of samples for QA testing the night before, and maybe six or seven left over, but I'm not sure how many had seconds or whether some people just ate the shrimp and didn't get a burger, in which case they missed out and I will quite cheerfully eat the burger they would have had if they'd've had sense.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Lynnhaven River

Glass smooth water, trails of ripples from fish skimming along under the surface. Small silver fish jumping, tails buzzing like cicada wings.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Grey hair

Got a haircut today, and Victoria said "Oh, I'm sorry, I see a grey hair there." I said "Finally!", which is, I think, not the answer she was expecting.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Moon Maze Game

There will be spoilers below.
I read and enjoyed Dream Park and its sequels Barsoom Project and California Voodoo Game, back when they came out years. Last week I saw Moon Maze Game in the library and picked it up, expecting it would be just as good, or at least nearly as good.
It wasn't.
The premise is that there's a colony on the Moon, and Cowles Industries has arranged the first Dream Park type game to be played on Luna. As usual, shenanigans outside the game--in this case, the politics of an African country, with princes and terrorists--intrude into the game, and the gamer players have to cope with that while also getting through the game and interacting with the other gamers. Except...they don't. They do have to get through the gaming area while terrorists are searching for them; in a few cases they have to interact with the scenario to get a door to open; but generally speaking the power is off, the gamemaster can't do anything except watch, and most of the magic is dead. Which kills the main point of it being a "Dream Park" novel. It is merely a "bad guys hunt good guys" with a little HG Wells window dressing.
The characters are not nearly as interesting as they were in the other three books, and specifically they are not witty, charismatic, or brilliant. Granted, there are plenty of gamers who are lacking, but these people are supposed to be top notch, world class, invited to an historic occasion. No way.
My immediate reaction on finishing the book was "...they phoned it in..." I can't recommend reading it and I certainly don't advise spending money on it.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Back to the mountains

Mom is getting ready to go to Africa, so we gathered some of the stuff they need in Zambia and drove up to the farm to deliver to her. Dinner was waiting when we got there, roast beef, mashed potatoes. butterscotch pie, yum.
On Saturday, while Mom and Diana went into town, I took the Mutt down into the meadow where the two creeks join. The grass is nearly four feet high there, with Queen Anne's lace and black-eyed Susan and thistles and such. It took a fair amount of effort to walk through it, and the Mutt went bounding through it as if it were deep snow. At the bend in the creek, where the rocks and trees hang over it and high water has left a tiny stone beach, I moved some rocks around to see what that did to the water flow. Zoe plunked herself down in midstream as casually as if she was laying on carpet and hadn't noticed the water. On the way back to the house, I gathered some slate stones to line our flowerbeds.
In the evening I talked with Mom a little, and engaged in chemical warfare on some wasps. The Olympics are on, so I watched a few minutes of TV--this probably doubled my total tube time for the year.
Sunday was church at First Baptist, lunch with Elizabeth, David and Jack (Julia having just flown to Barcelona), and then drive home.



Thursday, August 2, 2012

References

A few years ago, it would never have occurred to me that some day Josh would have references including UN economist, a congressman, and a state official. I'm still a little stunned by the realization.

Antimatter

On this day in 1932, Carl David Anderson discovered the positron. I had no idea people were fooling around with antimatter in 1932.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Economics of Love

According to the National Review, anyway.
Friedman’s libertarianism was based on an economics of love: for real human beings leading real human lives with real human needs and real human challenges. He loved freedom not only because it allowed IBM to pursue maximum profit but because it allowed for human flourishing at all levels. Economic growth is important to everybody, but it is most important to the poor. While Friedman’s contributions to academic economics are well appreciated and his opposition to government shenanigans is celebrated, what is seldom remarked upon is that the constant and eternal theme of his popular work was helping the poor and the marginalized.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Hummingbird

A hummingbird just zoomed over our deck and sampled the butterfly plant. By the time I got the camera and got back to the deck, he'd zipped off in search of more palatable flowers.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Heat

At 4:37 pm it was 97.4°, with a heat index temperature of 117°. Nice and warm.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Historicon

First off, Historicon is big. Very large. I've been to larger events, but not larger gaming events. Three thousand people, over 200 game tables, over 65 vendors.

My schedule was:
  • Rescue on Venus, by GASLIGHT. I arrived late due to traffic, and mostly spectated on this one. This was supposed to be a three-sided battle, with Amazons and French Foreign Legion each trying to rescue their own hostage from the lizardmen. Unbeknownst to the gamemaster, the Amazons and lizardmen made a deal, which meant the lizardmen only had to fight the Legion. The lizardmen failed to concentrate, however, attacking one section at a time instead of all at once; as a consequence they took heavy casualties from rifle and machine gun fire. Weight of numbers told, though, and the Legion was driven off. Best moment: the Legion steam tank fired a shot which knocked over the lizardman T Rex, but the mighty lizard struggled to its feet and charged the tank, destroying it in a burst of steam.
  • Mars by GASLIGHT: a large action with 21 players controlling over 60 units, with a mix of HG Wells, Burroughs, and Victorian adventurers. Description at Battle Honors.
  • Close Action: a fictitious naval battle between the USN and RN in 1821, with elite squadrons on both sides. One player per ship, for maximum uncertainty as to where everyone else's ships are going to try to move to--you have to maneuver realistically to avoid collisions. Description at Battle Honors.
  • Look Sarge, It's the Russians: a Napoleonic battle with the Russians holding a village which our French forces needed to capture. The game rules were Look Sarge, No Charts, which is intended to have all necessary play information on the pieces, with no extra paper on the table. I commanded the French right flank, which advanced on the Russians, engaged in a little desultory combat, and both sides retreated. We rallied, advanced again, attempted to charge, recoiled, and retreated. My only consolation was that I was facing Russians who were just as fainthearted as my forces. Apparently our brigades had come to a private understanding, leaving the center and left to slug it out. It looked like the Russians would repulse our attacks, but by the end of the game, repeated assaults had gained us a foothold in the village, and our cavalry had broken the uhlans on the left.
  • Battle of Barfleur: using Victory Under Sail rules, with each player controlling about eight ships. I commanded the lead squadron of the Anglo-Dutch fleet, with the French fleet and their fireships upwind of us. Whether by cunning or happenstance, the French got a good concentration of fire on a couple of my ships and cut up their rigging, and then took advantage of their greater speed by sweeping around the front of my line and attacking from both sides. The French won the scenario, although the game master said the score was closer than for the other two times he'd run the game that weekend. There are some oddities to the rules but if I were playing fleet actions, I'd seriously consider using Victory Under Sail. This game was one of the last two to finish, and we packed up at 2pm Sunday.
So a good time, and I'm definitely planning to go again next year.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Historicon schedule

Friday night: Rescue on Venus (by GASLIGHT)
Saturday morning: Mars by GASLIGHT
Saturday afternoon: probably Close Action
Saturday evening: Look, Sarge, It's the Russians (rules: Look Sarge No Charts)
Sunday Morning: Battle of Barfleur (rules: Victory under Sail)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

On this day

In 1203, the Fourth Crusade captures Constantinople, which is about the same as if the Americans in World War 2 had assaulted and captured London.

In 1453, the French defeat the English at the battle of Castillon, the last battle of the Hundred Years War.

In 1918, Bolsheviks murder Tsar Nicholas II and his family.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Nola's Hummingbird Cake

We first had this cake from Gwen's aunt Nola, although the notes she provided say it was originally an American recipe.

2 cups plain flour
1.25 c sugar
0.25 tsp salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1tsp cinnamon

2 eggs
1 c vegetable oil

0.5 tsp vanilla
9oz crushed pineapple, undrained
1 large banana

1 mango, kiwi, other fruit
ream cheese frosting

Preheat oven to 320° F
Combine first five items in large bowl.
Using a wooden spoon, mix in eggs and oil, then vanilla, pineapple and its juice, and chopped banna.
Pour into a greased 10" cake tin and bake 45 minutes; or use two 8" tins and bake 30 minutes.
Allow to cool in tin for 10 minutes before removing.
Put on cream cheese frosting and decorate with mango or kiwifruit.

GASLIGHT

Had a solo game of GASLIGHT last night, starring Major Garnet Wooley as he and his associates take on the goblin fusiliers of the lost continent of Mu. The After Action Report is posted at Battle Honors.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Billions of revolts

Americans revolt billions of times per day:

It’s not civil disobedience that I’m talking about. It’s the opposite: Civil disobedience is meant to be noticed. It is a price paid in the hope of creating social change. What I’m talking about is not based on hope; in fact, it has given up much hope on social change. It thinks the government is a colossal amoeba twitching mindlessly in response to tiny pinpricks of pain from an endless army of micro-brained interest groups. The point is not to teach the amoeba nor to guide it, but simply to stay away from the lethal stupidity of its pseudopods.


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Last of the Dinosaurs

Until today, we had a Sony Trinitron CRT television. For those of you who don't speak Latin, a CRT is a cathode ray tube--what we had back in the dark ages of television, before flat screens. This beast was 20.7" deep for a 24" diagonal screen, and weighed in about 700 pounds--or possibly only 40, but that 40 wasn't exactly well balanced or easy for one guy to manhandle.
We spent this afternoon rearranging the office, and realized that since Diana watches movies on the laptop, and I almost never watch movies at all, then why not get rid of this thing and clear up a lot of space? So I wrestled it out the door and into the van; Diana will see if there's a thrift store or museum willing to take it.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

FantaSci X

Every year, the Chesapeake Central Library hosts FantaSci, a free, one day convention of geekness. Last year I attended several writing panels; this year I spent most of the time looking around, although Tony Ruggiero did a good job moderating the panel on Originality.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Losers in Space

Some of John Barnes' books are brilliant (One for the Morning Glory, Gaudeamus), some leave me cold (Kaleidoscope Century). Losers in Space is in the middle.
In the future, entertainment is all-important. Most people are mere proles, living on a mere $2 million or so; but if you're either an extremely gifted specialist (such as scientist or teacher), or a celebrity, you can make billions. One way to become a celebrity is to commit a sensational crime--if it entertains enough people, then the criminal owns the intellectual property rights to that crime and can't be convicted. Our characters, high school misfits who will have to face the real world on graduation, set out to stow away on a trip to Mars. Unfortunately, one member of the group has a few more lethal crimes in mind...
This book isn't a mystery, because you know who the criminal is going to be before you even know what the crime is going to be. It's a book with a Message, but the author doesn't hit you with it until the end of the book, and in any event, it's not a message that most people can do anything about. The characters seemed inconsistent: the heroine is obsessed with maintaining her celebrity rating, until she isn't; the criminal plans everything out carefully, except for leaving one huge glaring loose end. And the book is about a ballistic trip to Mars, which means it takes a while. And a while longer. And we're sitting here watching the plants grow. And some more time.
If you are a Barnes fan, check it out from the library; if you aren't, you should certainly not start with this.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

On Goals

Ever look at something like football, or Angry Birds, and wonder why they're so popular? I suspect one reason is that they have multiple levels of goals. Take football--real football, i.e. as played in the U.S.:
  • Immediate goal is "Get a first down"
  • Second tier goal is "get a touchdown"
  • Third level is "win the game"
  • Top level goal is "win the season".
And each of those gives you a payoff, an emotional thrill. And the reason that thrill is there is not because there's inherently something satisfying about moving a leather ball ten yards that way, or crossing a little white line on the grass, or seeing numbers on the scoreboard; it's purely because that was your goal. You set a goal, you accomplish it, you get that thrill--and the harder you have to work for it, the more you get it.
And the corollary is that if you don't set goals, you won't get that thrill. At work, someone probably sets those goals for you, but at home, you have to do it yourself. Ever get to a Sunday evening and think "Where did the weekend go?" What did you do for those couple of days? "We just hung out", or more accurately, "Nothing". And the result was, you were bored.
I've been in sales, one form or another, for over twenty four years, and I've heard a lot of sales training. One aspect of sales training is time management, and one of the aphorisms I've heard often is "You make time for what's important." This is a lie. "Quit smoking" is important. "Work out at least three times a week" is important. If you're in sales, "make more sales calls" is important. But people, by and large, don't do these things. This is because you don't do what is important; you do what gives you positive feedback. And not feedback months down the line, when you win the championship or get your annual bonus. You need immediate feedback. Instant gratification works. Get the first down, feel the thrill, do it again.
Sometimes you'll still find yourself thinking "the day is gone, and for what?" I had a day like that yesterday. But write down what you want to accomplish, and then cross through the items as you do them. At the end of the day, you can say "I took out the kayak, I put in the supports, I went out on the water for an hour, I sprayed the plants, I rearranged the closet, I threw out those two pieces of junk. I didn't accomplish everything on the list, but I did pretty good."
Make a list of what you need to do.
Cross them off as you do them.
Succeed.
Simple as that.



Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Declaration of Independence

An excerpt:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed;
that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed.
But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Guadalcanal

After Action Report on the Battle of Guadalcanal, with six players plus Ryan as host and gamemaster. We thought the enemy ships were at least ten miles away, right up until they came racing out of the night on a collision course...

Friday, June 29, 2012

Derecho

We had a derecho, which in this case was a windstorm which came from the Chicago area to the DC area and caused a lot of damage, somewhat like the occupant of the White House. No significant damage here but fallen trees and power outages through much of Virginia, with 100° temperatures.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Obamacare

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was more or less upheld by the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision, with John Roberts, usually considered a conservative, casting the deciding vote. Some are saying Roberts bowed to pressure from the Administration; some are saying this is a brilliant political ploy by Roberts--which sounds to me like wishful thinking, although it's true that immediately after the decision, Romney's campaign was receiving so many donations that the website couldn't keep up. As for me, I think this quote sums it up:

It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.
--John Roberts. Chief Justice, SCOTUS

Thursday, June 21, 2012

I'll see you in a few days

Just got the electronic Advanced Reader Copy of Captain Vorpatril's Alliance and Monster Hunter: Legion.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

International Father's Day

An odd Father's Day. Josh in Australia, me here in Virginia, my dad in Zambia.
It's also my grandmother's 91st birthday, so we called her.

Strawberry

First strawberry from our deck garden today.

Are you better off?

Mark Steyn, in the Orange County Register:

"Ask yourself – are you better off now than you were four years ago?

But, in fact, you don't need to ask yourself, because the Federal Reserve Board's Survey of Consumer Finances has done it for you. Between 2007 and 2010, Americans' median net worth fell 38.8 percent – or from $126,400 per family to $77,300 per family. Oh, dear."

As the Professor says, read the whole thing.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

On this day

In 1864, a few days after the Battle of Trevilian Station, Union forces under Grant withdrew from the Battle of Cold Harbor.

In 1987, speaking in Berlin at the Brandenburg Gate, Ronald Reagan challenged the Soviet Union to "tear down this wall".

Monday, June 11, 2012

Declaration of Independence

On this day in 1776, the Continental Congress appointed Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Ben Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston as a committee to draft a declaration of independence for the Thirteen Colonies.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Battle of Trevilian Station

Dad is off to Africa again, and on the way to Dulles he stopped at Chris and Tabitha's place, so we drove to Palmyra VA to see him off, and also see the nieces and nephews.
On the way back, we went to Louisa where they were having a recreation of the Battle of Trevilian Station, which was the largest all-cavalry battle of the Civil War. The recreation had perhaps 100 horse, plus a cannon or two
and quite a crowd spectators and vendors.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Casting Crowns

Dentist said I needed a crown, should take about 40 minutes. Except I'm very special. Normally she gets the casting done in one take; about once a year, she needs two tries. She couldn't recall ever having needed three tries, until me. The "40 minute" procedure took a bit over two hours, and when I got to my office, first thing on walking in the door was to grab the bottle of acetaminophen. Fun.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

D Day

In 1944 on this day, 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50 mile stretch of German-occupied France.

In 1918, the United States Marine Corps took its heaviest day of casualties, in the Battle of Belleau Woods.

And in 1984, Tetris was released.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Eel

Walking the mutt down by the river and saw two guys fishing there. Nothing unusual in that, except that one of the guys had just caught an eel, about two feet long. It hadn't occurred to me that we might have eels in the Lynnhaven River, but we do.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Lock

I removed the old, battered lock set from the front door and installed a new set. This turned out to be a more arduous process than I'd bargained for. Schlage's instruction sheet was unintelligible; I could cope with that--indeed it seems to be standard on instruction sheets any more--but it also failed to mention that the installation required a 5/16" drill bit and a 1" hole saw. That meant two trips to the hardware store. Had to drill out one of the screws holding the old handle in place, and hacksaw off another part. Metal shavings all over. The most frustrating part, though, was trying to figure out the right place for the strike plate to go in the door jamb. Eventually I realized it was okay in the left-right axis but needed to slide down a pinch, so I got out my trusty chisel (which looked almost exactly like a flat head screwdriver) and chipped away. But now we have a shiny new lock.

Love

"Love is its own thing," he said, shaking his head in helpless wonderment. "And it, uh, really messes with the dice."

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Hampton Pirate Festival

I went to the Pirate Festival in Hampton as a way of getting out of the house. There were about thirty vendor tents, ranging from face painting and tee shirts, to The Leather Lair (with their $375 vests and $600 coats--I was tempted to get a vest but resisted), up to a couple of small sailing ships.
Quite a few people were in costume. A couple of guys clearly were looking to Jack Sparrow, and some of the costumes were more steampunk than piratical, but nobody ever said they have to be strictly historical; it's a chance to wear some fun clothes that you don't get to wear to the office, so why not?
I stayed an hour or so and saw all the area by the waterfront; there were also supposed to be some skirmishes in the street, between pirates and militia, although I didn't stay long enough to see any. Plenty of people but not overly crowded, and I accomplished "getting out of the house".

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Men in Black III

The villain was villainous, the menace was menacing, the heroes were heroic; but somehow, it didn't quite gel. That may be the fault of a review I read beforehand, which led me to expect that the strong point of MiB3 would be that it was funny. I have no idea what movie that reviewer stumbled into. So my problem with the movie may be due to my erroneous expectations -- like biting into a piece of strawberry rhubarb pie, only to find out that it's roast beef.
Best part of the movie was Josh Brolin's performance as Agent K.

Reynolds' Law

From Instapundit:
The government decides to try to increase the middle class by subsidizing things that middle class people have: If middle-class people go to college and own homes, then surely if more people go to college and own homes, we’ll have more middle-class people. But homeownership and college aren’t causes of middle-class status, they’re markers for possessing the kinds of traits — self-discipline, the ability to defer gratification, etc. — that let you enter, and stay, in the middle class. Subsidizing the markers doesn’t produce the traits; if anything, it undermines them.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Tsushima

On this day in 1905, at Tsushima Straits, the Japanese Navy destroyed a Russian fleet which had sailed from the Baltic to the Far East, attempting to reach. This was the only tactically decisive battle fought by modern battleships, and is considered one of the major naval battles of history.

The Iron Duke

Now reading The Iron Duke, by Meljean Brook, one of the books that came up in the library search for "Airships". It is a steampunk romance.
Detective Inspector Mina Wentworth is called to investigate a frozen body that has appeared on the Iron Duke's estate. The Duke is the alpha-est male around and, as this is a romance, he falls in lust-at-first-sight; as this is a romance, she is filled with doubt, fear and distaste, and rebuffs him. Circumstances force them together and she gradually, but inevitably, falls in love, or at least bed, with him.
The circumstances are the interesting part, and they include: a pirated naval airship, the capture of Mina's brother, the invasion of the fortress of a mad inventor, a run through a zombie-occupied forest, a trip on a mercenary corsair airship, and the fears that the Eastern Horde has a mind control device and renegade English Black Guard are almost ready to use a weapon of mass destruction.
It's not one of those books where you stay up till 3am while saying "just one more chapter", but the setting is interesting. The characters look like they have the potential to be interesting, but don't quite manage it, leaving unanswered questions like "why is Archimedes Fox exploring zombie-infested Venice?" and "Why is Yasmeen a corsair?" and particularly "why is the Iron Duke so hot for this policewoman?" The sex scenes are both explicit and boring. We found out who dropped the frozen body, but if we ever found out why they did it, I didn't notice it. And there was no overall antagonist; for a couple of chapters the heroes were chasing one person, then they went off another another, then a third, then a fourth, and there was no sense of "there's a mastermind behind it all", just a jumble of "who has the McGuffin at the moment?"
I finished it, but I don't feel any desire to read the next one.





Saturday, May 26, 2012

D&D

When it comes to role playing games, I have reluctantly concluded that "a badly designed one with lots of local players" is better than "a well designed one with no local players". With that in mind, I've found a nearby D&D3.5 campaign which seems to be based on the European trading companies and the East Indies. Met the game master, designed a couple of characters, and had the first "introduction to the setting, let's get you to where the rest of the party is" session. It's a pleasure to be rolling some dice again.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Money Can Buy Happiness

...if you know how to spend it. Summary of points from Coding Horror:
  • After a certain point, more money does not automatically mean more happiness. That point, according to the study referenced, is about US$75,000.
  • Buy experiences rather than things
  • Help others instead of yourself
  • Buy many small pleasures instead of only a few big ones
  • Commit; spend less on extended warranties and options to return purchases.
  • Anticipation is good; save up for a purchase rather than using credit.
  • Think about how much you'll actually use and enjoy what you're considering purchasing.
  • Beware of comparison shopping; that tells you whether A is better than B, but not whether you'll enjoy A at all.
  • Follow the herd; if something makes a lot of other people happy, it's likely to make you happy also. (But be aware the herd gets a lot of stuff which they think will make them happy, then it doesn't.)

Customer Service

A conversation from this week, somewhat abbreviated:

John: "For this thing we got from you, we're missing two parts."
Me: "That was delivered nearly a year ago so you're well outside the 60 day limit to report any problems. I won't be able to send it to you for free. I can ship it this way for $530 or that way for $590."
John: "I have to have it, I guess I'll get out the credit card.
Me: "Hang on a minute while I look at your order. You know, you'll need to cut out a couple of pieces of material here and here. If you do that right, you can use the material you cut out there, as the material you want to buy now. So you don't really need to buy that, you can do everything you need with what you've already got."
John: "I want to go ahead and get it anyway."
Me: "But...you know, if you want to spend money, I'll be happy to take it, but you understand that you've got enough stuff there, you don't need to get anything from me to finish your project?"
John: "Yeah, but I want to get it anyway, just to be sure."


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Marshmallows

Zoe likes them.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Everything I Need to Know, I Learned from D&D

  1. You'll be more successful if you have a plan for your life, instead of taking it as it comes
  2. In order to make that plan, you will need the advice of someone who knows the system better than you do.
  3. Being bold is more fun than being cautious.
  4. Get along with people, especially your own group.
  5. Don't get separated from your friends.
  6. A person with high intelligence but low wisdom will do stupid things
  7. People who do stupid things tend to regret it. Or die abruptly.
  8. You will gather more fame and fortune by being really really good at one thing, than you will by being marginally okay at a lot of things.
  9. It takes a lot of effort to be a hero--but what else would you want to be?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Avengers

Had a good time with this film. Not as good as Iron Man 1, but as good as Captain America or better, and definitely better than Thor. Loki was, as in Thor, a very creditable villain, clever, manipulative, and arrogant. Several good lines, although none were up to the (admittedly high) bar of Princess Bride; the most enjoyable was perhaps Hulk's reply to Loki.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Deck

Tonight I heroically wrenched a couple of boards from the deck with my bare hands*, trimmed new 2x6's to shape with a nail file**, slammed them into place, and drove the screws four inches through the wood with a quick twist of one fingernail***. Tomorrow morning we'll put the paint / goop on, and that will hold us until we're ready to spend a couple thousand bucks and get the deck rebuilt.

* which happened to be holding a prybar

** and a jigsaw, as my circular saw is balky

*** which was on the trigger of my drill

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

MegaMek

Had a good game with Josh tonight, 10,000 points to a side with my slower and heavier mechs doing a creditable job of taking on his lance of faster and lighter mechs. Jump jets make a big difference in hilly terrain, which is what we were fighting in. After four hours and 18 turns, we called it a draw, although I have to say my force was looking pretty chewed up at the end with two of six mechs destroyed, one immobile and and one down with an unconscious pilot. I need to get better at the mech equivalent of the Lufbury Circle, and to pick a specific set of mechs instead of rolling randomly to see what forces I get.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May Day

Today is May Day, which is also celebrated throughout the world as the leftist / communist International Workers Day. So this would be a good time to remember the approximately 94 million people killed by Communist states, either directly (as in the Khmer Rouge killing fields or the Chinese Cultural Revolution) or indirectly (as in the artificial famines engineered by Stalin).

Ninety four million people killed. That's the equivalent of every man, woman and child in California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

Books

Just received The Enterprise of Law: Justice Without the State , a book on government failure in the provision of law, and private alternatives. Five sections, which are:
  • From Voluntary to Authoritarian Law
  • A Public Choice Approach to Authoritarian Law
  • Reemergence of Private Alternatives
  • Rationalizing Authoritarian Law
  • From Authoritarian to Private Law
Thus far I've only taken it out of the box and read the introduction, but speaking as the creator of the Alarishi Empire, this is a book I'm really looking forward to.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sex and Money

Randy said that we hear "most divorces are due to sex or money" but in fact, those are just the two venues in which the real, underlying problems are played out.

Two thousand years later

"The budget should be balanced, the treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance."
--Cicero, 55BC

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Jet lag

It appears I'm pretty much back to my normal schedule. Note that this is ten days after getting back from Australia...

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Battletech

Got the Battletech 25th anniversary boxed set. That means I now have a game in which 30ft tall robots sprint (or plod) across the landscape, blazing away at each other with incredible weapons from ridiculously short ranges and still missing. This is implausible but still curiously satisfying...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Melbourne: Tuesday

Also Los Angeles, Charlotte NC, and Norfolk VA. It was a long Tuesday. Got up at 5:45am Melbourne time, got home at 11:00pm US East Coast time, with a sixteen hour time zone difference.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Melbourne: Monday

Last day in Melbourne. Josh and Gwen came over around lunch time; Josh and I played MegaMek, Diana and Gwen talked about Secret Girl Stuff. We went to a Lebanese place for dinner, where I had felafel and kebey, neither of which I've had before, plus hummus with ground beef and pine nuts.
Getting everything packed now for the flight home tomorrow.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Melbourne: Sunday

Drove back from Phillip Island with Gwen and Josh, with a discussion about the wool industry and how the wool is graded, sorted, tested, and made into cloth. There are a lot more factors in grading wool than I'd realized: thickness of the fibers, their tensile strength, whether they break at the tip or in the middle, how curly it is, and on and on.
In Melbourne there's a place called the Convent, which had a craft show and a display for Adult Fans of Legos. Around the back of the convent there's a petting zoo / kids' farm, including sheep. Gwen and Diana elected not to make the long walk to the sheep paddock but Josh and I made the trek, and bravely faced down the woolly beasts. Having survived that experience, we had a picnic on the grass and headed for the Exhibition Hall, next to the museum; Diana and Gwen toured the Australian/Asian Quilting Exhibition while Josh and I stayed on the grass with our laptops and he blew up my mechs.
Dinner was Thai at Lemongrass Cafe; we had "tears of the tiger" which was a spicy, seared medium rare beef; chicken with lemongrass; coconut rice; pad thai; and something with duck. First time I've ever had duck; it was okay although the beef was a lot better. Down the street to an Italian gelato place, and then home.

Phillip Island: Saturday

After a leisurely start, we went to a Koala Conservation Park, which had a couple of acres of trees and about twenty koalas. Koalas are cute and fuzzy but not terribly exciting, at least not during the day; the height of frenzied activity for a koala was "turning his head". We also saw a wallaby, which is like a 30% size kangaroo; Josh managed to sneak up and pet it before it hopped away.
Went into the town, which is Cowes ("moo!"), got pizza and went to the beach. I'm told this is a typical Aussie beach, with a sloping lawn down to a fairly narrow strip of sand. There were a few families (including us) on the lawn, half a dozen people in the water, no girls in bikinis, no guys without shirts. Very sedate.
Josh, Gwen, Chris and I headed back to the cottage, where we did some MegaMek, played Ticket to Ride: Europe, and Skipbo, with a side game of Bananagrams. For my first game of Ticket to Ride, I had a firm hold on last place; I'd nearly completed my main goal but connected my track to Madrid and Lisbon instead of Barcelona, which is what it should have been. Oops! for my second game, I went from Palermo through Turkey to Mosow and across to Riga, completing several missions and avoiding the entanglements of Central Europe, and eeked out a win.

Phillip Island: Friday

Gwen Josh Marguerite Chris (Gwen's brother) Diana and I went to Phillip Island for the weekend. Stopped on the way for fish and chips--the fish was barramundi, which is white and flaky and doesn't have a pronounced taste.
Checked in at the Surf and Circuit resort, which is a collection of two bedroom cottages. No view, but there's a pool (which I didn't use) and a shelter with a grill (which we did use, both nights). Once we stowed our stuff, we went to Kitty Miller Bay, a broad horseshoe shaped bay, a few hundred yards wide. You go down a set of stairs to get to the beach, which has sand and a lot of seaweed; the sides of the bay are mostly rocks. Josh, Gwen and Chris donned wetsuits and went snorkeling. If you go across the eastern headland, as I did, you can get to the remains of the merchant vessel Speke, which wrecked in 1904. There's not much left, just an iron bulkhead and some minor bits, but it's so close to the beach that you could walk to it at low tide.
At around 6pm we headed to the Parade of the Penguins. There's a section of shore where a lot of Little Penguins have made their burrows, and just after sunset they leave the water, waddle across the beach and up the slope to home. They're not especially concerned about humans; there were several of them who stood right next to the boardwalks we were using. The rangers said that each penguin has his own burrow but quite a few penguins seemed to have trouble remembering exactly where they lived. They'd stand in one spot for a while, then waddle a few feet one way, then head off in another direction, then come back.
Back to the cottage, where Josh grilled while I stood around and handed him plates and tongs and such.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Melbourne: Thursday

Met Gwen, Josh and Gwen's dad at the Melbourne Central station, then traipsed through the Victoria Market for a couple of hours. One section is food shops--bakeries, cheese shops, butchers, whatever. The other section is mostly souvenirs and clothes, everything from Ugg boots to bikinis to biker leather, toy kangaroos to gemstones to digeridoos. Have to keep in mind that we can't take a lot of stuff back through Customs, so we keep looking at things like sheepskins or food items and saying "Oh wait, can't take that."
From there we went to Southgate neighborhood and had lunch at the Blue Train Cafe, named for the blue trains that go through Flinders Station across the river. In the same area as the Blue Train is an ice cave restaurant; apparently they provide parkas and gloves for the patrons.
Took a riverboat tour up the Yarra River as far as Herring Island and back, looking at the bridges and the stadiums along the northwest bank. Then we went shopping, bought Josh a winter coat which is less bulky than his duster, and picked up some kangaroo meat for dinner. "Australia is the only country that eats its national animal." Kangaroo is somewhat like beef, although tougher; it needs to be marinated and cooked more. I can't say much about the taste, because this particular example had a spicy/sweet marinade.
We took the train back but missed the last bus to Marguerite's place. Found a cab, although the driver was off duty, picking up a friend from the shopping center. Two nice Sikh guys, and they gave us a ride.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Melbourne: Wednesday

Busy day with Josh. Melbourne museum (River Woman aboriginal art exhibit, History of Melbourne) and the gardens around the exhibition hall. Lunch with Gwen. Tram to Docklands and the Roman Technology exhibit. Around the harbor to the berth for the schooner Enterprize. Back to Josh and Gwen's place, then out for Mexican, then a train ride out of the city to "home"

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Melbourne: Tuesday

Diana, Gwen and Marguerite went off to Bendigo for the Grace Kelly exhibition and a garden tour. Along the way, they saw a mob of about 50 kangaroos.
Josh and I stayed home and played MegaMek (online version of BattleTech). We took a lunch break and went to the grocery store for dinner fixings, with me sucessfully navigating the left side of the road, roundabouts, and other hazards of the Australian road.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Melbourne: Monday

Off to a slow start, as Diana had a cold and didn't sleep well. We headed to the Dandenong Range to visit Gwen's uncle Geoff and aunt Nola. A future post will include the recipe for Nola's Hummingbird Cake, which does not contain hummingbirds. We then headed further up the mountain in hopes of seeing a view of Melbourne, but were thwarted by rain and mist. Stopped in at a tourist trap village, Olinda, and picked up a few things.
One shop of vintage items had a telescope cane. The head of the cane could be unscrewed, pulled out and pivoted to reveal a small brass telescope; it would make a good steampunk walking stick.
Josh and Gwen have a favorite French restaurant, although their favorite dish is the Monday night special, porterhouse steak with mashed potatoes and a salad with mustard vinaigrette dressing. Finish with creme brulee.

Melbourne: Easter Sunday


Caught a train into town and met Josh and Gwen, who took us to their church for Easter Sunday service. Friendly people, and several of them knew of Wave Church, which is in Virginia Beach just a couple of miles from our house and has an Australian pastor.
After church we got lunch and headed back to Marguerite's house. Diana joined Gwen's brother Chris and several members of Marguerite's congregation on a prayer walk around a neighborhood, while Josh introduced me to MegaMek (a program for playing BattleTech against an opponent online) and Gwen took a nap; after that we had Easter dinner together.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Melbourne: Saturday


We caught the train into the city and met Josh and Gwen at Flinders Street station, had a bite at the Crown Center (which is a casino complex although that wasn't obvious from the cafe area--Gwen said "Yes, your coffee is funding gambling") then went to the sailing ship Polly Woodside for a tour. Then we went to St Kilda's Beach, out on the pier and onto the walkway alongside the breakwater in hopes of seeing some fairy penguins. We located three of them nesting in the breakwater rocks. On the walk back down the pier, we saw two people skydiving over the harbor, gliding down to land at the shore.
Dinner at a restaurant called Elbow Room with Gwen and Josh, her brother Chris, dad Greg, and dad's girlfriend Julie. We all adjourned to another neighborhood for dessert before Diana and I headed home on the train, surrounded by a mix of athletics fans (one set wearing black and white, the other set in yellow and black), girls in club dresses, a couple of drunk college students, whoever else happened to be coming back from the city at 11pm.

Melbourne: Friday

Starting off the day with a typical vacation activity: pouring concrete. You see, Marguerite has some artificial trees, and there needs to be some weight in the pots to keep them from blowing over...so we put a layer of concrete in the bottom, then a thick layer of styrofoam so it wouldn't be ridiculously heavy, then a finishing layer of concrete, then some cedar mulch.

After stopping in a cathedral for part of a Good Friday service, we went to Josh and Gwen's place for Game Night. We were joined by Gwen's brother Chris (who lives there), James and Kylie, Tim and Monica, and Russell.
We had a round of Munchkin to get started with--first game of Munchkin I've ever played. I got up to level 9 but got hit by a wandering monster which dropped me back to level1, thanks to that conniving fiend Chris. It looked like he was going to win but a couple of us conspired to throw the game to Kylie instead.

We split into two groups for Dominion, with one group playing a cutthroat version and
my group playing a more production-oriented game. I've played Dominion before, but it was a couple of years ago. For the Prosperity version we played, it seems to be important to have a sense of tempo, so you know when to switch from "building up your resources" to "buying your victory points". I delayed a little too long, and Gwen didn't, so she won that game by quite a margin.
After that we had "barbie", which means Josh grilled beef, sausages, and satay chicken, plus salad and potato wedges.
For the third round, my group went back to Munchkin. I got up to level 5 and stuck there. Josh got up to level 3, fell back to level 1, but then used his items to have James win instead of Kylie, "If I help you win, will you mock her unmercifully for three days? No? How about three hours? Okay, done. Unmercifully. You can't go back on your broath."
Had a lot of fun and Josh and Gwen's friends all seemed like good people.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Melbourne: Thursday

Gwen was in Canberra doing a presentation for her work, so Marguerite took Josh and Diana and I on a drive through the country to see Gwen's high school Braemar, and then to a park for our first barbie. Josh built the fire and did the grilling: lambchops, chili lime chicken kabobs, and Italian sausages in lieu of hot dogs. After that the ladies went to a garden while Josh and I did a little hiking and father-and-son bonding, i.e. talking about BattleTech. Met the ladies again and went to the Cross Memorial; if the weather is clear you can see Melbourne and the bay from there, but it was too hazy while we were there. We got Devonshire cream and scones, plus iced coffee for the ladies and "strawberry milkshakes" for the guys. Australian milkshakes are a lot thinner than American style; "strawberry milk" might be more apt. Gwen returned from Canberra and we all had dinner together, green curry and hoi sin pork.

Melbourne: Wednesday

Marguerite drove us to the metro station about 1.5km away, and a very motherly station worker named Karen showed us tourists how to put credit onto the MYKI pass cards and then get on the train. We got onto the platform, with a brief detour where six or seven cops where standing around one gypsy-looking guy sitting on the curb with cuffs on.
Melbourne has a hub and spoke system; if you're in the suburbs, you're going to go to the central city loop, and then you change to another train if you need to go back out to a different spoke. We got on at Broadmeadow station and headed for Flinders Street. Spent part of the time talking about family history, part talking to a lovely oriental girl who had just gotten out of her college class in Tourism. We met Josh and Gwen under the clocks at Flinders Street and had lunch at a cafe, after which we split up; Diana and Gwen looked at galleries, Josh and I went (by my request) to Mind Games,

a wargames shop, and also to a shop which was allegedly to have steampunk stuff but didn't. Turns out that one of the guys at Mind Games--the owner, perhaps?--had worked at Iron Crown Enterprises in Charlottesville in the late 80s; I'd worked for them one summer while in college, around 1982.

Went to the Victoria State Library, and then to a vintage clothing shop on the way to the train stationPause at a 7 Eleven with the intent of getting a drink, but a Coke which would be $1.19 at home was $4.20 here. I held off.

We visited Josh and Gwen's place and met Gwen's brother Chris and cousin Duncan, and thenwent back out to Chinatown for dinner. There's a little upstairs place called the Supper Inn off an alley. Maybe 50 seats, and it was full. I had dim sim and Chinese donuts stuffed with prawn paste and sesame seeds; we also got chili ribs, sweet and sour chicken, and beef with black bean curd. For a complete change of culture, we then went to an Italian place where Josh and I got gelato while Gwen and Diana got cups of Italian chocolate. Quite a full day, but a lot of fun.