Sunday, July 29, 2012


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


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

Sunday, July 22, 2012


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.


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.
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


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...