Monthly Archives: May 2010

The Bullet 580 Airship

E-Green Technologies’ Bullet 580 is the world’s largest airship at 230ft (70m) long and 65ft (19.8m) diameter. Each Bullet 580 costs US$8M (€6.3M), the company plans to build eight airships to rent at US$290,000-800,000 (€230,000-630,000) a month.

Bullet 580 Airship

Bullet 580 Airship

Exciting times!  I was born too early.  I always wanted to be an airship pilot growing up.


Steve Jackson Games’ ZOMBIE DICE reviewed

While at Balticon scooping up old Mageknight chariots for a dollar each, I noticed the vendor had ZOMBIE DICE.  Now, you may recall I just reviewed CTHULHU DICE last week.  I described CTHULHU dice as being fairly mindless, essentially PICK AND TAKE with a nifty Cthulhu dice instead of a Pick and Take top.  That’s still true, it IS pretty mindless (the only decision you make is whom to attack in a turn.  With that said, the theme really makes the game in that instance, and it certainly is an amusing diversion for five dollars.  (Besides, Glynis is making me a Cthulhu dice bag for it, so why not?).

Zombie Dice Parts

Zombie Dice Parts. This is all there is for 13.00 and change.

ZOMBIE DICE cane out about the same time trying to occupy the same “fast filler game” niche.   It is not as cheap as the Cthulhu Dice game, but it is still eminently reasonable for 14 dollars (and a lot less online).  This game costs more because there are more components– 13  dice in three colors and a dice rolling cup, for starters, and the same sized rulebook as Cthulhu dice.

In Zombie Dice, you are playing a zombie, which is nice departure from current games, most of whom have you in the role of someone running away from zombies.  You are trying to score the highest brain score and to be the last Zombie shuffling.  Essentially the sum total of the game is the combination of red, yellow and green symbols on the dice.  There are three symbols: Shotgun blasts, feet (for: he ran away!) and brains.  On your turn, shake the cup and reach in for three dice without looking.  Slap them down, then uncover.  The various colors have different mixes of colored pips on them.. more brains than shotguns on the green dice, more shotgun blasts than brains on the red dice.  The yellow dice is somewhere between.  This mixes up the odds a bit.

After you pull three dice out, If you have a brain, you put that to your left and score it.  If you have a shotgun blast, that counts as a hit, and you can’t save yourself from taking it.  Three shotgun blasts and you’re dead.

If you have  a set of footprints, the victim has run away.  Save this and you can roll it again if you dare.

If you have a BRAIN, save it and write down your score, but only if you haven’t been killed by shotgun blasts this turn yet.  So you have to stop trying to reroll “runaway” results at some point.

Here’s a tutorial.

There’s not much more than that.. you might enjoy it if you like horror themes in games.  Mechanics-wise it’s a tad more interesting than Cthulhu dice because you have more choices and a bluffing/bettering element.  I liked it.  Pretty good filler fun for a very cheap price.

I visit Balticon 44

The Baltimore Science Fiction Society throws a convention this time every year, and I slipped up to the Hunt Valley Inn midday on Saturday to pay it a visit.  I wasn’t sure I was going to attend again after last year— I didn’t have a bad time, but my tastes have changed somewhat over the years and a SF convention is a little too niche-like for me nowadays.  Still, I am getting some painting assistance from John Montrie who is attending, and I figured, eh, why not?

When you’re used to miniature and tabletop gaming conventions, a SF convention seems a bit small and pokey by comparision.  That’s because the action is broken out across several rooms– panel discussions, art shows, dealer areas, gaming rooms, lecture areas, movie rooms.  There’s a couple of really big events that happen that are convention wide (in the ballroom), such as the film festival (on Sunday, which I missed, drat it all), and the costume show at night (which I avoided like the plague).

I made my connection with John Montrie and handed off some Terminator suits for him to paint.

I walked around a lot and discovered lots of old friends from the grand old days when I used to attend SF shows many years ago.  It was very pleasant to catch up.  The dealer’s area was mostly books, which is fine with me.  That’s what I’m there for.  I scored about six new ones which I’ll catalog elsewhere.  Wrote down about a dozen more to put on a “to be read” pile.  Just by a fluke, I discovered a game vendor in the corner.  He was unloading his Mageknight large pieces for a dollar each, so I ended up getting somewhere around 20 or more 28mm scale chariots and steampunk vehicles from him.  There’s a game in here, I just need to find the right pieces for it.

(slide show: Facebook users click HERE)

I ended up having a great time.  The best panel discussion was one I caught walking out to the parking lot.  Not sure who was in it but I recognized Evo Terra and Jim Van Verth.  It was called “Everything Old is New again” and was about retconning and rebooting stories.  A great discussion.

So, yeah, I have to admit I enjoyed myself..  I will likely visit again next year.  Don’t tell anyone!

RESULTS! For a Greco-Roman Contest!

I wonder if I should post captions any more.  We had three entrants.   I do hereby proclaim the winner of the recent Greco Roman challenge  in this block of text, which is a simple substitution cypher.  Shouldn’t take too long for you to figure it out.


MindTrip Arranger: RIP Martin Gardner

Martin Gardner

Martin Gardner, 1914-2010

Growing up, my dad would get Scientific American from time to time, a magazine that had some pretty densely written articles back then and now.  Still, I would leaf through it from time to time, and avidly read articles that caught my fancy, even if I couldn’t make head or tales of the math or physics behind the concepts yet.  ONE column I ALWAYS read was Mathematical Games, penned faithfully by the object of this post, Mr. Martin Gardner.  Mathematical Games is one of those little features of your life that you remember years after the fact and you realize, suddenly, that it changed your life.  I am either right-brained or left-brained, I don’t know which.. but if there is a natural disposition in some human brains to tune out mathematics and focus on words instead, that would be my affliction.  I am not a total washout with mathematics– far from it.  PRACTICAL math, that I can get.. theoretical mathematics, that was an entirely different kettle of fish.  Gardner had a knack for explaining very complex mathematical gyrations in a style that was steady, informative and never condescending.  I think Gardner taught me not to fear complex mathematics, but to “set my mind to the task” and tackle them slowly, one step at a time.   Gardner did more than the math column for Scientific American, of course.  He wrote a giant gobsmack of a collection of books– mostly on mathematics, but also on logic and game theory and skeptical inquiry.  I have about a half dozen of them in my library.  Gardner was a famous man with the new wave of critical thinkers and skeptics that had a big influence in my adult life, too.  They’ll miss him as much as I will.  Martin Gardner passed away  three days ago, on 22 May 2010.   I’m sure a skeptic like Martin would scoff at the notion, but my thoughts and prayers go out to his family.  His was a life well led.

PS: The Subject Line of this post leads off with an anagram of Gardner’s name in his honor (many of his columns featured word puzzles, a favorite of mine).  Can you construct one?

Cult Film Freak Radio show, episode 2: “The Thrill Killers” FEATURING commentary by Laura Wagner

Trying out an occasional embedded podcast here using the Gigya service.  This is CultFilmFreak Radio.

Cthulhu Dice

Put and Take Top

So I’m sitting here at the local coffee house playing a new Steve Jackson Games product, CTHULHU DICE.  Right off the bat, I’m going to give Steve Jackson some props for the idea of a nice, low cost mindless (madness inducing?) game like this.  The bits are extremely low cost, low impact, and he doesn’t gouge us by adding a big expensive game box to what, essentially, can fit into a small ziploc bag, which is exactly how it is sold.  You get a specialty green 12 sider dice with a set of symbols inscribed on them– Great Cthulhu, Elder Sign, the Tentacle, The Yellow Sign, and the Eye of Horus.  You get a bunch of green stones that represent sanity points, and the rule book, which is a glossy foldable half-sheet.  And all in a ziploc bag, which I like.

The mechanics seemed very familiar to me.  And why not?  They are essentially the old British pub game, PUT AND TAKE.  Put and take is a game that is played with a gambling “Top” that looks very similar to a dredel.  The sides of the top have variations of “PUT” (put a coin or chip in to a common pot) or “TAKE” (take a coin or chip from either other players or a common area).  Whether through accident or design, that is exactly how CTHULHU DICE plays.  The sides of the dice map to the Put and Take “Put 1” “Take 1” “Take ALL”  (& etc.) sides of the Put and Take top. There’s some them chrome to the game– the player who has run out of little sanity stones becomes “Mad” which limits his actions.  It’s not the most original game, nor particularly complicated.  It does have its virtues.. it can easily be played through in about 20 minutes, it’s only five bucks, and it fits in a pocket nicely.  I liked it.

PS: If anyone out there knows how to knit, I’d love to commission THIS CTHULHU DICE BAG to hold this game in!

Audrey tries Steampunk CosPlay

I’ve have had no great grand desire to dress up in costume since I was a much younger man.  I’ve flirted with reenacting, and have been in the SCA and Renn Faires in my bygone days, but I’ve not done what is called “CosPlay” in my elder years.  The only recent trend that would tempt me is what people call STEAMPUNK (and I call Victorian Science Fiction).  I have a long history with Victorian Science Fiction gaming, as well as being an avid reader in such meager fictional tidbits are available in the literary genre (although more VSF books are being published as the genre gains ground with a wider audience).  Drey had an opportunity to visit the Steampunk World’s Fair up in New Jersey last weekend (which your humble correspondent had to miss due to a canoe trip that ended up being canceled, grrr).   Here’s a sampling of her “Steampunk Chick” outfit.  Hmmmm.. maybe I’ll do the steampunk cowboy thing…


Drey as a Steampunk Chica.

Garrett is already jonesing to go next year, and I likely will as well, since it looks as if they are welcoming VSF-style gaming, and I might have something offer in that genre.

Iron Man II: Angst-laden, but still rocking hard

Warning: this is going to contain plot spoilers. If you want see the movie fresh, don’t read this.

I took Gar to see Iron Man II last night. I admit, I was never a huge fan of Iron Man or the Avengers in my comic reading phase as a youngster. I doubt I even read one Iron Man comic book. But, having read a few Avengers now and then, one can’t get away from the basic story of Mr. Tony Stark and his many problems, pitfalls, and tragedies. One of the hallmarks of Marvel comics (back in the day at least) was the way they treated character development. Marvel characters weren’t perfect– it seems as if they were all dysfunctional at some level. Peter Parker lives in poverty, his girlfriend gets killed, etc. Captain America can’t fit into a 21st century world and is always experiencing culture clash problems. And Tony Stark? Well, that guy was lucky to be alive.. a heart that is replaced by a small nuclear reactor. Drug and Booze dependency. Erratic personality problems. Casting Robert Downey Jr. in the role, well, that was sheer casting genius. An actor of considerable talent, Downey had his own personal demons to exorcise, and he certainly can bring that to the screen performance of Stark. I don’t catch every comic book movie– but I catch a lot of them, having kids. I did see Iron Man I and as far as comic book movies go, it’s one of the better ones.. although that’s not a high bar to jump over most times. Iron Man I had a good story, an engaging hero who wasn’t perfect (and thus, somewhat easier to grasp), and a strong good-versus-evil plot. I liked it. It ranked right up there with the first Spiderman movie in “good movies made out of comic book material” for me.

Iron Man II takes up where the first movie leaves off.. it’s not said how much later, but one gets the impression of about a year from various events in the film. The Government (Uncle Sam) is a bit pissed off about being upstaged by a guy in a metal suit. They want to take over the Iron Man “weapon” and (one assumes) create a legion of Iron Men soldiers to go and kick ass in foreign places. Stark doesn’t want this to happen, citing his intellectual property rights (in a comically oblique fashion) during senatorial hearings. This introduces Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer, who wants to see his own fortunes increase by getting his hand on the Iron Man suit– we see a humorous sequence of various countries and their efforts to build their version of an Iron Man suit (including Hammer’s embarrassing attempts). Rockwell is a great actor (see in him MOON sometime, you won’t regret it) and he gives this character a sort of “sad sack, yet cheerfully malevolent” air that I though brought an edge to the story.

Then we add Ivan Vanko to the equation. He’s the son of a guy who once worked with Tony Stark’s dad, and not a particularly nice guy. He IS driven by revenge– Stark’s dad apparently took a design for an arc reactor (the glowing energy thing in Iron Man’s chest) which both of them worked on, and made it work, but had Ivan’s dad deported. Or that’s the way Ivan sees it. Ivan clearly has been to jail from his general look … so he’s no angel either. Apparently (from Wikipedia) he’s a re-envisioning of a few characters– the Crimson Dynamo and the first Whiplash, who was into S&M gear. Mickey Rourke is another fine under-appreciated actor who has had his personal demons to chase. I loved him THE WRESTLER, and he brings some of that here, but he’s just not on screen enough– although the iconic Monaco sequence (which we have all seen on TV) is magnificent. Ivan’s defeated (as he has to be) but makes a surprisingly cogent point when Stark visits him in prison– “Am I defeated? When you make a god bleed, you open the eyes of everyone else” He has a point, as Vanko did nearly kick Iron Man’s butt. Hammer and the Government take notice.. and, of course.. Vanko gets sprung in a very clever sequence, for the inevitable next step, to help build a series of big Soldier Suit things (actually they are drones, not iron men knockoffs).

It’s here that the movie dragged.. a lot, for me. Suddenly, we have to get all self-destructive. Suddenly, Stark has Daddy Abandonment Issues. Suddenly, he’s losing control of his empire, and the woman he loves hates him and blah de blahdy blah. Where have we seen this stuff before? Oh yeah, in a million other movies. Of course, it all gets sorted out in time for a seriously butt-kicking finale, which did not feature enough of Vanko for my liking, but it did introduce (rather nicely) the character of WarMachine, Tony Stark’s buddy Jim Rhodes flying a previous variant of the Iron Man Mark I, all pimped up with external weaponry (including a chain gun). Unlike many another SECOND super hero movie “Sophomore Slump” Iron Man II does NOT spend overly long chunks of movie time introducing new characters– WarMachine, Black Widow (although they don’t call her that), Justin Hammer and Whiplash all come into the movie without taking twenty minutes each establishing their backgrounds. This is a good thing– that sort of plotting can ruin a sequel, as Tim Burton can tell you.

And thus we arrive at the conclusion.. WarMachine established, bad guy beaten and killed (too bad! I liked him). Of course, we get the now iconic after-the-credits tease for the next big thing, which appears to be a THOR Movie. That should be a challenge. I hope they bring some talent to the table for that one– Thor in a modern age will be.. interesting.

So to sum up.. far better a sequel than many superhero from comic book flicks. A bit draggy in the middle for my tastes. Could have done without the weepy mopey parts, but I guess they were needed to move the plot along. I’d give it a solid middle of the grade B.. not the A- of Iron Man, but not the grade D- of Daredevil either. A very worthy effort, and watchable.

Dune Turn One Results

As reported on E-Boris:

Dune turn 1

Dune Turn 1

Atreides (O’Hara): 1C, 10S, 5L, 10T @ Arakeen, 10R, 0 KH
Emperor (Nichols): 1C, 10S, 5L, 15R, 5*R
Fremen (Burgdorf): 1C, 3S, 5L, 5T @ Sietch Tabr, 3T,2* @ FWS(s4), 9R, 1*R
Guild (K. Wilson): 1C, 5S, 5L, 5T @ Tuek’s Sietch, 15R
Harkonnen (Anderson): 2C, 10S, 5L, 10T @ Carthag, 10R

1.1 Storm Round: The storm moves 24 sectors to Sector 7. F sees Storm Chit __.
1.2 Spice Blow: Rock Outcroppings (6) & The Great Flat (10). A sees next card is ____________.
1.3 Bidding: 5 Cards are available. A sees they are (alphabetically by type) ________________, ________________, ________________, ________________, ________________.
Card 1: F & H bid 3S, E & G bid 2S. H gets _________ & __________ on most spice tiebreak (3S to E).
Card 2: F bids 3S, E & G bid 2S. F gets _________ (3S to E).
Card 3: E & G bid 2S. A bids 1S. E gets _________ on most spice tiebreak (-2S).
Card 4: E & G bid 2S. A bids 1S. E gets _________ on most spice tiebreak (-2S).
Card 5: E & G bid 2S. E gets _________ on most spice tiebreak (-2S).
Revival: N/A.
Shipping: E ships 4T to Habbanya Ridge Sietch (4S to G). F ships 5T,1* to The Great Flat. H ships 5T to Habbanya Ridge Sietch (5S to G).
Movement: Guild elects to move last. A moves 4T Arrakeen-Hagga Basin(s13). F moves 4T Sietch Tabr-Rock Outcroppings(s14). H moves 5T Carthag-Rock Outcroppings(s14). G holds.

1.5 Battle:
Habbanya Ridge Sietch: H (5T) vs E (4T).
Rock Outcroppings: H (5T) vs F (4T).

The Board:

Atreides (O’Hara): 1C, 10S, 5L, 6T @ Arrakeen, 4T @ Hagga Basin(s13), 10R, 0 KH
Emperor (Nichols): 4C, 10S, 5L, 11R, 5*R, 4T @ HRS
Fremen (Burgdorf): 2C, 0S, 5L, 1T @ Sietch Tabr, 3T,2* @ FWS, 5T,1* @ Great Flat, 4T @ Rock Outcroppings(s14), 4T @ HRS, 4R.
Guild (K. Wilson): 1C, 14S, 5L, 5T @ Tuek’s Sietch, 15R
Harkonnen (Anderson): 4C, 2S, 5L, 5T @ Carthag, 5T @ Rock Outcroppings(s14), 5T @ HRS, 5R
Spice: Rock Outcroppings (6) & The Great Flat (10)
Storm: Sector 7
Tanks: Empty

Starting KREMLIN soon

I’m going to join a couple of games on S.O.B. Zine, as soon as there enough players to fill a game up. These are Macchiavelli and Kremlin.

It’s been a few years since I’ve played either one, so I went looking out for a “Introduction to this game” kind of video or tutorial or something. I found nothing on Machiavelli but I did find a good one for Kremlin produced by my old friend Joe Steadman for the Dice Tower podcast:

Diaspora: A User-Controlled Social Network, could it be the alternative to Facebook?

I’ve been on Facebook for a little less than a year, ostensibly to track my teenaged daughter’s web presence but I’ve also discovered it’s fun to catch up with people I haven’t seen in (sadly) decades.  In the past year I’ve ranged from excited, to interested, to resigned, and then bored with the banality of it all.   Facebook has engendered increasing concern over their somewhat mercurial notions of user privacy.  Interestingly, there appears to be an alternative on the horizon that is both Open Source and user-driven: Diaspora.

(quoting from, all rights reserved)

The idea behind Diaspora* is to place existing networking technologies back into the hands of their users, to let them determine the types and styles of information they want to share. The New York Times reports:

“In our real lives, we talk to each other,” he said. “We don’t need to hand our messages to a hub. What Facebook gives you as a user isn’t all that hard to do. All the little games, the little walls, the little chat, aren’t really rare things. The technology already exists.”

Diaspora* software will allow users to develop custom, personal servers, called seeds, forming a decentralized flow of data. This is a valuable commodity among an increasingly informed user base, as the New York Times explains:

“The terms of the bargain people make with social networks— you swap personal information for convenient access to their sites—have been shifting, with the companies that operate the networks collecting ever more information about their users. That information can be sold to marketers.

‘When you give up that data, you’re giving it up forever,” Mr. [Max] Salzberg [one of the Diaspora* developers] said. “The value they give us is negligible in the scale of what they are doing, and what we are giving up is all of our privacy.’”

Related: Diaspora*: A User-Controlled Social Network.

Drupal: The Card Game

This appears to be a real product from a Swedish outfit called Cloudberry Games. It’s hard to tell with that famous slapstick Swedish humor, but I think it might actually be a real thing. So this is a geek-cred game using a geek hobby as a form of expression. A very odd circular concept here.

Basically this is a counting and matching game with a very thin veneer of theme.. but hey, if it gets you there, have fun! I know Drupal developers will be snappin’ it up like hotcakes.

Frank Frazetta has passed into the West

Dark Kingdom

"Dark Kingdom" by Frank Frazetta (also a Molly Hatchet album cover)

If you were a kid growing up in the 70s and early 80s, and you were a kid who read a lot, and probably read a lot of cheap fantasy and science fiction paperbacks or comic books, then chances are almost certain you have encountered the artistic work of Mr. Frank Frazetta. You didn’t have to picture what Conan the Barbarian or John Carter of Mars looked like, Frank Frazetta showed you. Frazetta’s distinctive, moody style set the visual tone for genre paperback books and comics for at least three decades. So many artists have followed his inspiration it’s hard to remember that if there was a single guy to take credit for the fantasy art explosion after the 70s, it was probably Frazetta. Frank Frazetta labored in the trenches of commercial illustration and comic book artistry for decades, starting at age 16. His distinctive style– a dominant central figure, usually a brawny heroic type with well defined musculature, accompanied by one or more beautiful women with over-sized womanly attributes, became a defining visual of genre fiction during that time. Frazetta was so prolific during his lifetime I could scarcely do the man justice here. Many famous genre characters were given life by his brush.

Frank Frazetta passed on yesterday.. a sudden stroke at his residence in Florida. He had had a rough last decade of his life– plagued by ill health, declining faculties and an increasingly intense family squabble that eventually led to one of his children being arrested for breaking into the Frazetta museum and stealing 80 of his paintings. I like to think that Mr. Frazetta has passed into a better reality now– but I know loyal SF/Fantasy geeks like me will continue to miss him. Rest In Peace, Frank Frazetta.

Enemy in Sight, Turn 2: The Royal Sovereign falls

Cannons, Cannons, Cannons..  Turn 2 was a blast. Turn 1 consisted of all players except for Zeiske moving useless red cards around the table and discarding them. Zeiske played a new ship in his battle line. Turn 2, however, was a cannon-blazing turn.

Kent fires at O’Hara’s Royal Sovereign.  Rigging hit.

York fires at O’Hara’s Royal Sovereign and adds a bow rake. Rigging hit.

Zeiske fires at Dowrey’s Britannia. Hull hit.  (nice change of pace, that!)

Dowrey plays a  BOARDING ACTION on the now dismasted Royal Sovereign. Royal Sovereign fires Grapeshot back, but it still gets captured.

O’Hara HAS to play a red card (Strike!) which tries to move around the table, but there are no ships damaged enough for the STRIKE to apply to.

Turn 2 over, Turn 3 commences.

Enemy in Sight, Turn 2: Summary

Enemy in Sight Turn 2: So Long, Royal Sovereign! (click to enlarge)

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