Category Archives: Real Life

Al Hayden, saying goodbye.


I received word on Facebook, which was later confirmed, that my friend Al Hayden took his own life this week. Words simply fail me. It was an emotionally devastating moment to come home from Cold Wars, wondering why Al had missed a convention local to him, to discover he was in the process of deciding to end it all.

I admit I blinked back tears when I got word from Scott Muldoon late Tuesday night.  Facebook Instant Messenger is not the best medium to convey the news that a mutual friend had passed on, especially by suicide, but what can you do, it’s the modern age.  Maybe the modern age is what did Al in, I don’t know.  His health hadn’t been very good in the last three years.  He seemed depressed.  I know his father had passed on, and his finances were, erm, in disarray more often then not.  Maybe he had taken a good hard look at his future prospects and decided to check out.  Who can say?  I think Al would have preferred to have lived in simpler times.  His abundant imagination was more at home in a world of Big Steam Powered robots and zeppelins than in the modern world.

Al playing Sergeant Slaughter in Bun Bun Land in 2004 (wearing the Pith Helmet)

I know that the advent of Obamacare hit Al pretty hard, he posted many snarky comments on Facebook about losing medical coverage and  how expensive it had all gotten for him.  Maybe he was simply out of options.  We’ll never really know.  I have no idea if he left a note.

What I do know is that the world is a much poorer place without Al Hayden in it.  We live in a world where everyone is on edge, trying to one-up the next guy, to get over on them, to show off and have the last word at someone else’s expense.  That wasn’t Al Hayden.  He was content to smile, nod and let  you make a fool of yourself.  He was a kind, funny and sensitive man.  Not to mention incredibly talented, endlessly patient, wickedly humorous and bitingly sardonic.  I’ll miss him.  I can hardly recall putting on a game in the early 00s without Al participating in it somehow, if it was a PA convention.  Victorian Racing Contraptions, Psychotic Bunny-Murdering Galactic police, Cowboys and Zombies, Big Stompy Steam Robots.. Al was usually “all in” and suggesting ways to make the game better.   Al was a kindred spirit, a great collaborator and a close friend.

Al, I’ll never understand why you choose to do what you did this week. I really wish I had been around more for you,man, I really do. Go with God and may He bless you and keep you in His hand.

Old Warriors Pass.


Take off your hat.  TAKE OFF YOUR DAMNED HAT and show some respect.

This week witnessed the passing of two legendary wrestling “heels”, namely William James Myers and Oreal Perras.  I’m sure you won’t recognize these names.  They harken back to another era, when the WWF was an entertainment empire that flirted with almost being respectable.. when wrestlers would appear in sitcoms, MTV videos, and low budget movies.  This was the 1980s Wrestling Entertainment explosion, and it was very much a big thing– commanding the television sets on Friday nights and filling arenas to capacity. I was never a huge fan of any of it– I wrestled in high school and had that snobbish holier than thou attitude about it.  Still, it was damned entertaining– with scripted feuds, special effects and exaggerated choreography.  I always respected the skill on display– if you could launch yourself from a turnbuckle every night and land without a concussion, make no mistake– you had skill.

So back to Myers and Perras.  You might have known them as George “The Animal” Steele and Ivan Koloff.  Both of these guys were professional bad guys (or “heels”) in the glory days of the WWF


George Steele


Ivan Koloff

Both of these men had a long career in the world of WWF Heels.  George Steele actually drifted into the sport sideways, after getting a master’s degree at Central Michigan University(!).  He drifted into wrestling (from coaching at the college level) in the Detroit area for sensible reasons.. to make a couple of extra bucks.  Originally he fought using a mask and calling himself The Student (left).  Eventually he was discovered by Bruno SanMartino who recruited him into the big leagues of wrestling entertainment.  George Steele developed his “incoherent brain damaged” brute persona mainly at Vince McMahon’s urging.  With his bald head, heavy features and literally inches of fur covering his lower body (the man was hairy!), George must have come off as the Missing Link.  The irony was that he was quite well spoken, very well educated (in science no less), and took pride in delivering well articulated promotional bits.  This irked McMahon, who interrupted his taping one night and told him “he looked like an animal, he should act like one!”  Steele, as a joke, drooled and gibbered into the camera shouting “ook ook ACK!”and scampering around like a mutant monstrosity.  McMahon, of course, loved it, and thus, George The Animal Steele was born.  He earned everlasting respect for playing another wrestler, Tor Johnson, as he appeared in the Ed Wood films in Tim Burton’s ED WOOD.

Ivan Koloff debuted in 1961 as “Red Mcnulty”, an allegedly Irish wrestler from Dublin who sported a beard and an eyepatch (left).   He wrestled primarily in the Canadian organizations until 1969, when he started for the World Wide Wrestling Federation, managed by Captain Lou Albano.  Koloff’s specialty appears to have been training and developing teams of thematic “heels”.. creating long lasting team called “THE RUSSIANS” with Vladimir Petrov and Nikita Koloff (his “nephew”), and often teaming with “The Iron Sheik”.    Since Russians were perennial bad guys in the Cold War era, the heel teams became quite popular and were around for a long time in wrestling’s glory days.

Wrestling isn’t all just crazy choreography and overblown ham acting at the microphone.  There’s a dark side to the “sport”.  I will always remember an interview Rowdy Roddy Piper (who died two years ago, at 61). gave about the drug abuse, constant pain and loneliness of professional wrestling.  You can see a little of it here:

Piper had broken most of the bones in his body (including his back) on multiple occasions. He played through the pain in situations that were downright dangerous. At age 49, he was back in the sport that he frankly detested, because he didn’t have a way of making a living– like so many of his colleagues, the sport had used him in the heyday, chewed him up and spat him out. In the last ten years, we have witnessed a startling amount of early deaths, murders and suicides by current and past wrestlers. I remember watching the entire interview with Roddy Piper on Sports Extra.. and my heart went out to the man. Pro wrestlers are like prostitutes. They use up their bodies and health for the vicarious pleasure of strangers until they can’t any more, and then they (usually) die.

I have to hand it to both Steele and Koloff– they had long and amazing careers in the WWF and successor organizations, and both of them managed to do something that wrestlers rarely do, life past 70.

RIP, George and Ivan. I hope the pain has finally gone away.

Musings on Cannon Fire at Dusk, as I walk across the parking lot to an old minivan


(repost from Airy PersiflageThis is something of a wayback machine episode– I recorded it without thinking on an Ipad the week before the Inauguration and forgot about it.  I  kind of like it, however, and decided to post it.

I’ll admit this up front, I recorded this on an Ipad on the way home the week before the Inauguration, 2017, so it’s in the future tense. Our President has been in office for about two weeks now and I just found this audio Snippet on my Google drive.

I should know better when I hear cannon fire at the work place.. I left my job on the 13th of Jan that night and heard the steady syncopation of BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM and it took me a few minutes to realize what I was listening to. The Old Guard Saluting Battery, practicing for their big moment of giving the new President a 21 gun salute. Someone has to do this.. and if they are going to do it, they are going to do it right. I’ve seen this many times, and they are a good outfit– thoroughly professional. In the short gloomy dusk of a Friday evening in January, it completely mystified me for a moment. Only in Washington!

Play Now:

Right about now, 75 years ago…


(This was written when it was still dark out, around 6 AM EST, hence “right about now”)

The West Virginia and Tennessee battleships are ablaze after the Pearl Harbor attack Dec. 7, 1941The USS West Virginia and USS Tennessee ablaze in the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 DEC 41

Right about now, 75 years ago, the first flights of “Operation Z” were cresting the hills over the North edge of the harbor at Pearl Harbor and lining up for their assigned targets on Battleship Row.*  In a bid to remove the strategic threat of any Allied response to seizing natural resources in the Southwest Pacific, the Imperial Fleet of the Empire of Japan was now launching a devastating near-simultaneous attack on the overseas territories of the United States, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. In hindsight, this seems like an insanely foolhardy strategic objective, but in 1941, almost every mind in the Imperial War Cabinet was supremely confident of Japanese success.  Why not?  They had marched boldly into China, set up a puppet government, and had been busy looting for several years.  This operation could hardly be that much trouble.

The strike aircraft from the Japanese force came from 6 carriers, and numbered somewhere between 375 to 414 aircraft, mostly the Aichi 3A2 “Val” bomber, Nakajima “Kate” Type 97, and Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero, which would soon become infamous.  The pilots had been practicing this attack for months; each sub-component of the massive attack wave had their own targets they were assigned to. The attack generally went in two waves; a massive first assault on the ships in harbor and a follow up wave that pounded airfields, shore facilities, oil storage and repair facilities. The attack, in the eyes of the Japanese, was an astounding success– 4 battleships sunk, 4 damaged, multiple smaller ships either sunk or damaged. The big exception was discovering the primary targets of the raid– the three operational carriers in the Pacific Fleet, weren’t present. Still, after the 2nd wave returned, the Japanese Fleet sailed back West again, confident that the hammer blow would keep the American forces crippled for a long, long time. Perhaps, if it had been 30 years earlier, they might have been right.

The Americans were in shock after the attack, to be sure, but they were also enraged. Decades later I was a little snot nosed college kid waiting tables in Rossyln, VA at the Key Bridge Marriott. A group of Pearl Harbor survivors were in DC for some ceremony commemorating the attack. Being nosy and just as big of a history buff then as I am now, I plastered them with questions. “What was it like?” Years later, I could still see it in their eyes- the rage and futility, the sense of helplessness, as these men remembered. “I remember seeing a sailor in a small utility boat in the harbor, screaming incoherently in rage, firing a pistol at the aircraft, like he was daring them to attack him personally. That was what it felt like, kid“. I’ve never forgotten that visual.

Ironically, the Japanese unwittingly performed a great strategic service for America, though nobody saw it at the time. By sinking aged, but still formidable surface battleships, Japan was propelling American naval planning into the modern age. In the short space of something like 119 minutes, the Japanese fleet conclusively proved the future did not rely on the status symbols of the battleship era. The Great Pacific War that had long been predicted was now on– and it would not be won by fleets of surface dreadnoughts from the World War One era. The future belonged to those carriers that had not been present that day– and the many other carriers that would join them as the United States switched to full wartime production operations.

For now, though.. 75 years ago, the infamy was very real. In a lot shorter time than it has taken to type this, America was experiencing real casualties on American soil, and as the fleet blinked its eyes, reddened by smoke and carnage and helpless rage, they were being transformed. It would be a very different America from this day forward, striding forth onto the world stage to fight (soon enough) three Axis powers. It all started today, right about now.. 75 years ago.

 

* Technically speaking, it would be about 4 hours in the future, not “right about now” due to time zones, but who’s counting?

The Spectacular Debut, Short Life and Magnificent Death of the Fat Box


My father, James, has always been the handiest of fellows.  Growing up, we only got a color television when he decided to build one himself, from an old Heathkit product.  Sure, the colors were tinged green and cyan much of the time and you had to fine tune it with this panel of circular dials in a rack you slid out of the television, and then you had to do that visually, but what the heck, it was color.  My Dad had a knack for that kind of thing– his basement was a mad scientist refuge of shortwave radios, satellite trackers, antenna parts and shop tools.  Before he was an early adopter in everything you can conceive of in the electronic realm, his big passion in life was (and is) small wooden boats.  Being a product of the Naval Academy, he was thoroughly enmeshed in naval history and culture, but his big thing was always the small coaster vessel or harbor sailing boat– preferably wooden and hand crafted.  He made a mahogany and teak double-seat kayak by himself.  It was solid work and a thing of beauty.  I remember helping him varnish it (inexpertly) as a youngster.  His next small boat project was to build a small harbor sailing boat from a famous design, the Pelican.


(that’s not it; I don’t have any actual pictures of our Pelican. Ours was blue)

This was a fun little craft with room for our family of six on board.  It may look kind of squat in this picture, but with the wind hitting her just a few points right of dead center she could really scud along at an amazing clip.   I remember we sailed her all along the harbor of Monterey Bay when my dad was at the Naval Postgraduate School.  Of course, even the best sailboat design will require a small outboard motor from time to time.  Dad found the one he wanted, too.. in Great Britain.

This is a British Seagull Two Stroke marine outboard engine.  The Seagull wasn’t loud and flashy, but it was small, dependable, and could cheerfully propel a hull of up to about 26 feet in length, so it had a lot of power in its tiny frame.  The Seagull was designed for small boats (mostly wooden) so naturally my dad knew a lot about the Seagulls and no other outboard motor would do for him.  He made arrangements  to have a Seagull outboard motor shipped all the way from Wolverhampton, England to Monterey, California.  This is where our story picks up.

The Seagull arrived after about three months of anxious waiting on my dad’s part.  The engine was everything Dad could ask for, and would ultimately render years of good service.  What caught my eye was the shipping container.  This wasn’t reinforced cardboard, no sir.  The Seagull shipped in a sturdy wooden box, already cut to be converted into a storage container (there were rope holes already drilled in the side for future carrying loops).  A good Internet picture of this container remains elusive but these should give  you some idea:

The crate was longish, about 4 feet and some inches long, and wide, maybe 2 feet 6 or slightly under. I was entranced with this thing. British Seagull Co Limited had built a sturdy container to be sure, but what to do with it now? We didn’t have a garage to store it in in Naval housing. Dad planned on hanging the Seagull on a wall in the shed, so when I asked to have the container he just shrugged and said why not. Immediate plans started forming in my head.  We were too old to play “forts” with it, it wasn’t going to work as a tree house, so there was only one thing for it– downhill racer.  In that era (California, 1970s), soapbox derby racing was still a thing.  Soapbox racers hardly looked like the boxes they were named for.   They were streamlined, space-age looking and went down a hill like poop through a goose.  We reasoned, hey, this is an actual BOX, we can put wheels on it, and get into soapbox racing! Yay!

Dad wasn’t one of these over-protective parents.  His views about child safety were at best, laissez-faire but not remotely Darwinian, exactly… Experience being a good teacher, burnt hand teaches best, etc. etc..  So he helped us with construction in a bemused, Dad-like fashion.  I think the idea of the DIY reuse/rebuild racing cart appealed to him.  Wheels weren’t an issue.  We salvaged some very utilitarian axles and wheels off of some cart or something.  They were tiny, the axle was  slightly wider than the wheel base of the Seagull box, so it seemed perfect.  Did we measure it? Nah!  That’s for wimps!  We eyeballed it!  Then we installed our new axles roughly straight-ish by using a series of nails as “U clamps” by bending them over the axles.  This was a design decision that would come back to haunt us, as we’ll investigate presently.

Steering?  Well, as you can see from the pictures above, the box came equipped with handle holes if the owner wanted to store the motor in the shipping case.  Dad drilled a hole through the front support and attached a wheel that could pivot on a bolt in there (using a countersink drill bit to give the nut some  breathing room).  We then added a wheel axle attached to a piece of 2 x 4 wood he cut to match the axle and attached it to the box and rotating nut.  Two eyelets were attached to the front of the rotating piece of 2 x 4 and cut pieces of clothes line were attached.  Then the bitter ends were run up to the two holes drilled by the company for carrying handles and pulled in to box.  By pulling really hard on one rope or the other, we could steer this mammoth object while in motion, and pull them both out to tow it back up a hill.  Smart, huh?  Wellll.. hm.. as it turned out, the steering system was more theoretical than practical, and that’s something you should probably nail down early in any wheeled vehicle design.  We’ll circle around to this later.

So the day arrived for to take our monster off of the blocks and out for a sail (as it were).  We wanted to give it a cool name like Comet or Pirate or Cheetah..  Dad solved it in laconic fashion by saying “Call it the Fat Box, because that’s what it is”.  We liked that– it had a certain panache all its own.   So we pushed Fat Box out of the driveway and started to pull it up the nearest hill.  Fat Box seemed enormous to us (though it really wasn’t, based upon the pictures I’m seeing).  There was room for two kid-sized people max– my neighbor Scotty (about a year younger than me) was along for the ride.  The nearest hill was La Mesa drive.  La Mesa drops off from the hill where the elementary school is and descends for a long straightaway down into military housing.  The Fat Box was heavy, and we had another guy along to ride with and help with the pulling.  His name was Ricky Graves and he was a heavy kid, red faced and sweating, but exactly who we needed– because he was pretty strong, too.  At the top of the hill I remember I was in the box with the neighbor kid (Scotty) and Ricky was holding on to it like an anchor.

I should point out we didn’t overlook safety gear– we were wearing my Uncle Jerry’s M1 Marine Corps helmet.. I was wearing the liner and Scotty wearing the brain bucket.

Nothing but the best for us!

So the Fat Box was on the lip of the hill. Scotty and I were nestled in the box itself, with myself in the back, feet braced against the center brace, and with the two steering cords all the way back at my end. Eyeing the steep grade, Ricky asked the only sensible question uttered that day. “You sure you want to do this?” You know, sometimes science isn’t about “Why?”, it’s about “Why the hell NOT??”, and we were feeling reckless. So Ricky shrugged and let go, and immediately we received our first lesson in momentum and potential energy. For such a crudely built and ungainly vehicle, the Fat Box LEAPED into top speed almost immediately. I mentioned this hill was steep, right? Looking back, all I could see was Ricky Grave’s astonished look as his face dwindled away rapidly.

DOWN we zoomed.. fast, fast and going faster, and our first design flaw became apparent. Nobody had even thought for a second about a smart way to slow this thing down. No brakes! Since we were at that moment bumping and bouncing down a steep hill right out into a busy intersection, heading into a suburban neighborhood with steady traffic, suddenly I had what Go enthusiasts call “atari“, or that moment of perfect clarity. We had best work on that “Slowing Down” part of downhill racing, and fast. Fortunately, my ten year old self wasn’t all about romantic notions.. I had come prepared. I fished out a length of wood, and tried to push it down on the back wheel to get it to slow down by friction. I suppose that might have worked in the Old West on a buckboard wagon or something, but in reality, here on La Mesa hill at top speed, the lumber flew out of my hand when I attempted the “stick in the wheel” method. As we tensed up, we couldn’t help but notice the Pontiac Grand Safari station wagon dead perpendicular to us at the bottom of the hill, rapidly approaching. I put everything my frame could put into heaving on the left hand steering rope, and we discovered the limitations on the steering system. The way the lines were rigged, the more you pulled on them, the more resistance there was from the angle of the rope rubbing against the holes and the forward bottom leading edge of the Fat Box. Suddenly, we were discovering the vast gulf between what looks like it will work in the shop and what actually works in the field. What was going to be a frantic 45 degree skid into a roughly sideways to the direction of travel configuration ended up being about 5 degrees left of center. VERY fortunately the Pontiac moved out of the way just in time as we swooped by the first intersection and shot into the neighborhood beyond, still going downhill, still not showing the least signs of stopping.

As we rolled down La Mesa drive, we actually passed an early model Volkswagen Bug with a young Navy mom inside it frantically waving at us to slow down. The grade was greatly diminished now but still downhill, so we thought our chances were fair to middling we might survive if we could get off the street and ditch into a lot a little further down. There was a small lot full of gravel and leaves that we sometimes played kickball in just a another block down on the left. Scotty had been crouched in a little ball, his helmeted head peering over the edge of the Fat Box, eyes wide, the entire trip so far.  He looked like a demented version of that old Kilroy was Here graffiti.  I yelled at him to grab the steering on the left and yank, hard.. I got up and bracing myself on the center strut, leaned out to the left a little. Gradually the Fat Box overcame inertia and heeled over a bit– and we shot straight at the little abandoned lot with the gravel. At this point, several things happened at once. The rear axle, which had been held on with bent nails, was never really on “straight and true” because, of course, we eyeballed it, remember? This was causing the back wheels to roll a little bit left of true and wobble a lot.  When we tried to get the craft to yaw gracefully to the right, the tortured axle gave a mighty SNAP of disapproval and was now two pieces.  The back of the box settled into a violent skid on the wood strut that had been carrying the axle and suddenly forward momentum was being dissipated as kinetic energy and splinters.  Scotty was never a steady hand at the tiller, and gave up active steering for cowering and covering his head.  For ONCE the wheels turned in a direction we were trying to make them turn but this time violently overcompensated, so now we were approaching the curb to the little gravel lot in parallel, rapidly decelerating.  The Fat Box slammed into the curb, and proceeded to flip, free of the  bounds of earthly gravity for one, critical, beautiful second– and the constraints placed upon it by the heaviest object on board, that is, your humble narrator.  You see, I, too, was now enjoying a nanosecond of aerial ballet as I ejected out of the top (where I had been leaning to get the Fat Box to turn into the lot). I  proceeded to glide like an ungainly chicken fired out of a cannon.. and land face first in gravel and dirt, sliding about 6 feet (I think.. it’s all a little blurry).  I laid their groaning for a bit (with some spectacularly vivid contusions and scrapes, but otherwise undamaged).  Eventually getting up, I found that the Fat Box was now as thoroughly destroyed  as a thing can be– the combination of flipping, Scotty rolling around inside it, and the stresses of landing had done for the poor thing.  The front was missing, the side was caved in, the British sturdiness we had admired a cruel lie.  Fortunately Scotty was less hurt than I was and laughing like an idiot.  I was momentarily saddened to see our grand design go down in flames like this, but for one glorious moment, we were about as cool as kids can be.  That has made it all worth it.

The Creepy Anthropomorphic Drug ads for women trend


Has anyone been following the latest trend for women’s health product advertisements? It’s downright creepy. Admittedly my sample size is small but these ads play quite a bit on television in the US (East Coast). First of all, there’s “Mybetriq”, which is a drug that allegedly helps women control overactive bladder conditions. In these commercials, we are subjected to a cute little animated bladder creature. It’s not mean or anything, but very insistent, torturing a woman by interrupting her garden parties, her bowling games, and other relationships and activities.


No bowling for YOU!


Pssst.. we need to go.. NOW!


It’s not MY fault.. I don’t wanna be a MEAN lil’ bladder…

The creep factor is fairly high here.. she acknowledges the bladder beast as a being.. with rudimentary intelligence and needs, giving in to its demands with a suffering sigh. Even weirder, when she decides to “take charge” of her condition and consult a doctor (presumably a urologist), when he’s lecturing her, the bladder beast is in the room, sitting next to her, nodding along with the conversation. Like the bladder beast is included in the conversation. Ohhhh, creepy. Later, they are seen walking together, hand in hand, on the beach, looking at a beautiful sunset together. The implication is.. what? Happy Romance? Resignation? A new form of detente between bladder and human being? We don’t get the epilogue for this commercial.

My next sample is even weirder and more disturbing. This is a commercial for “Viberzi”, which is apparently a medication for women with frequently upset tummies. In THIS commercial, we don’t see an animation– instead the ailment is played by an actress in a nude colored body suit with intestines screen printed on the front. THIS ailment is a real bully. She cancels her victim’s plans FOR her, texting her regrets because she’s staying home with problem diarrhea. This Problem Diarrhea monster follows her around, doing things similar to the Bladder Beast from the Mybetriq commercial, ruining her plans, canceling things in advance, generally making her life miserable. Apparently she is doomed to living a lonely life. That is, until she, too, gets the courage to talk to HER doctor (presumably a gastroenterology expert).

Once again, the ailment monster is PRESENT, NODDING ALONG, during the medical consult.


In closing, ma’am, I have to ask, who’s your hot diarrhea friend? Is she single?


Going out? Nah, we’ll scotch that plan.. who’s in charge here? I am. Say it after me…

Once AGAIN, very similar ending here.. they walk on the beach, all happy now, but not holding hands (that might be too creepy). Later, as the victim is sparking with a young beau in a diner, Problem Diarrhea appears to approve of the man, as if giving her Problem Diarrhea blessing. Happy Ending, if you’ll excuse the obvious pun.

Aside from the very similar structure for both drug commercials, it’s the “intelligent ailment” thing that I find the creepiest. I can only speak for me, I NEVER have a conversation with my bladder or bowels. I know the ad companies here are probably shooting for something cute and socializing, but honestly, I don’t care for talking, thinking, anthropomorphic diseases. That’s a little too weird for my liking. But hey, I’m not a gal, who knows?

Right now, I’m giving these kind of commercials the creepy Burger King award.

Mind Reading Experiment


Let’s do a mind-meld.  See my shirt?

Yeah, I know, I’m a real great model.  Dead sexy!

Imagine you’re a tiny, doll-sized person. Standing on the green circle with an X on it, imagine a number between 5 and 20. Starting with the FIRST BLANK GREEN CIRCLE, Walk that number of circles around the circle the same number of circles as your number. Stop. Reverse. Walk that same number of circles back, staying in the circle of white symbols until you hit your number.

Next, think real hard about your symbol, and Email or Comment me with a single word describing it.. SQUARE, MOON, CIRCLE, etc. Here’s the thing.  I’ve already guessed your answer and I’ll visualize my response back to you with an image– circle, square, triangle etc. Tell me if I’m right or not.  You may have to email me to not spoil for the next person.

Or, what the heck, just check here.  Was I correct?

Please, no snarky comments.  Sure, it’s a trick, and a danged fine one.  Thank you, Richard Wiseman.

What is a “hero” anyway?


RIP Lenny Robinson, our Baltimore Batman

The news reported that Lenny Robinson, the eccentric local Batman fan that took his hobby of collecting Batman memorabilia to a new level by converting a custom Lamborghini into a Batmobile (of sorts) and visiting legions of terminally ill children in the hospital, had been struck by a car when he got out of his car to check for engine trouble on a busy highway.  He was killed instantly.

Back in 2012, Lenny made the national headlines when a police dash cam of him being stopped by the police for driving his custom Lambo without a visible plate from the State of Maryland on display hit Youtube and went viral:

Of course it did.. there’s something inherently goofy and ridiculous about a grown man dressing up as Batman and driving around in a tricked up Lamborghini. Lenny had a screw loose, but it manifested itself in a wonderful way.

Lenny would use his free time (and a considerable amount of his own cash) to dress up (himself and with other “superheroes”) to visit extremely ill children all up and down the state of Maryland. He’d been doing it for years.. not asking permission, not petitioning a committee for advice or sponsorship. He just saw something that would make life better for a group of sick kids who were feeling miserable.. and he went out and did it.

Just like that.

Sure. I’m not going to argue when Nancy Grace ends her broadcasts by looking straight into the camera, with voice artfully choking and lip dramatically quivering… “PFC so and so, killed in Afghanistan.. American .. (pause) … hero.” that’s her thing.. and we should cherish our fallen. I get that.

And yet, there are other kind of heroes. Simple, goofy men like Lenny Robinson, doing the decent thing, on their own dime and their own time, because it needed doing, and nobody else was stepping up to the plate.

Lenny, you’re a hero—no, strike that, you’re in the Heavenly Justice League.

May God Bless and keep you.

The crazy world inside and outside the Dome


Remember BioSphere 2? This was that giant enclosed environment, designed by John Allen and a host of environmental scientists during the 1980s, and financed by enigmatic Texas oil billionaire Edward Perry Bass’s Decisions Investments company.  The design team had the goal of creating a totally enclosed environment consisting of various biomes (enclosed environments representative of various environments on Earth). They built in a rainforest, a savannah, jungle, agriculture, desert and other variations of environment. The stated purpose of Biosphere 2 was to explore the myriad interactions in an environment with an ultimate goal of containing them for Spaceship Travel and possible colonization of other planets. Can we take the “stuff that works in Biosphere 1 (the Biosphere 2 team nickname for Earth, get it?) and cram it into a container? Is it that malleable and transferable? Well, that’s a tall order, scientifically speaking. They certainly made a grand effort, adding thousands upon thousands of soils, bacteria, flora and fauna into the giant four acre facility. For my money, this is an important question that will need to be answered if we can ever leave this rock we call a home. There’s just no way we can colonize other planets without taking a workable, viable and sustainable “Earth” with us. The Biosphere 2 project was designed to have a crew of eight live in it for two years– totally enclosed inside the environmental shell and with no contact with the outside world beyond phone calls and email. Dutifully, a team of four men and four women did enter the Biosphere in 1991: Roy Walford, Jane Poynter, Taber MacCallum, Mark Nelson, Sally Silverstone, Abigail Alling, Mark Van Thillo, and Linda Leigh. They stayed inside for two years and 20 minutes.  That’s where the fun begins..

The goal of the team was to grow 100% of food required to live in the biosphere for two years.  They did come very near that goal– 80% of what they ate was grown and fertilized by the crew and other fauna on the biosphere during the first two years, the  other 20% was drawn from a three month supply of food that was grown inside the facility before the experiment began and from seed reserve.  So in terms of productivity, the four acres inside the Biosphere was probably the most productive in North America during those two years.   That sounds like a rosy picture but the first year was not a picnic in any sense.  The crew experienced continual hunger in the first year, but by the second, they were generating a surplus.  Mostly sweet potatoes, according to Jane Poynter’s TED Talk (which is worth watching).

Although many years of design contributed to Biosphere 2, you can’t anticipate everything.  CO2 levels fluctuated wildly during the two year stay, contributing to species die-offs inside including all vertebrates and pollinating insects.  Roaches and a local variety of ant that had been accidently sealed in during the experiment filled the niches left by their absence.  If your memory stretches back that far, you might recall the rapid decline of Oxygen inside the Biosphere during the first experiment.  Even though the structure was built to be more leak-proof than NASA testing centers, Oxygen was leaving the environment at an alarming rate during the the first year.  Oxygen inside the facility, which began at 20.9%, fell at a steady pace and after 16 months was down to 14.5%. This is equivalent to the oxygen availability at an elevation of 4,080 meters.  Crew members began to complain of loss of concentration, fatigue and pain, so the decision was made to insert more O2 into the system to ‘bring it into balance’.   Oxygen doesn’t just “leave” an atmosphere without conversion into some other form.. so where it went was a continuing mystery during the first mission, until the culprit was discovered in the massive amounts of unsealed concrete inside the structure, which leached oxygen aggressively.

I have to wonder what the group dynamic was inside the dome.  Three healthy adults of both sexes inside an enclosed environment for two years.. hmm.. no huge surprise that Poynter and MacCallum were married a week after they emerged.   The hijinks inside were nothing compared to the managerial problems outside.    In 1994, the managerial and technical teams started planning for a second, shorter experiment of ten months duration.  During the transition period between missions, extensive research and system improvements had been undertaken. Concrete was sealed to prevent uptake of carbon dioxide. The second mission began on March 6, 1994, with an announced run of ten months. Crew was Norberto Alvarez (Capt.), John Druitt, Matt Finn, Pascale Maslin, Charlotte Godfrey, Rodrigo Romo and Tilak Mahato. The second crew achieved complete sufficiency in food production.  Many of the technical problems were being overcome.  However, the managerial/corporate side was experiencing big problems.  The project was put into receivership and an outside management team was installed for the receiver to turn around the floundering project. The reason for the dispute was threefold. Mismanagement of mission had caused terrible publicity, financial mismanagement and lack of research. People alleged gross financial mismanagement of the project, leading to a loss of $25 million in fiscal 1992.  Acrimony between the Faithful (by that, I mean the those who conceived the project and contributed to the design) and the “Suits” must have been intense, as two of the original crew (Alling and Von Thillo)  allegedly broke in and attempted to sabotage the dome during the second experiment to break out the crew that was currently in residence, apparently as a response to the managerial implosion that was taking place in front of their eyes.

Donella Mathews (cited above) received this version from Alling:

I just received a letter from Abigail Alling — now charged with felony for the break-in — giving her version of the April events.  The letter says in part:  “On April 1, 1994, at approximately 10 AM … limousines arrived on the biosphere site … with two investment bankers hired by Mr. Bass ….  They arrived with a temporary restraining order to take over direct control of the project ….  With them were 6-8 police officers hired by the Bass organization….  They immediately changed locks on the offices ….  All communication systems were changed (telephone and access codes), and [we] were prevented from receiving any data regarding safety, operations, and research of Biosphere 2.”

Alling emphasizes several times in her letter that the “bankers” who suddenly took over “knew nothing technically or scientifically, and little about the biospherian crew.”

“I judged it my ethical duty to give the team of seven biospherians [inside Biosphere 2] the choice to continue with the drastically changed human experiment …, or to leave….  It was not clear what they had been told of the new situation.”

This probably was regarded as odd behavior from Ed Bass, who despite his Texas Oil money has always been attuned to ecological and scientific concerns relating to the environment.  I’m sure we’ll never find out exactly what transpired.  The ownership and management company Space Biospheres Ventures was officially dissolved on June 1, 1994.  This left the scientific and business management of the mission to the interim turnaround team, who had been contracted by the financial partner, Decisions Investment Co.

The second experiment  was ended prematurely on September 6, 1994.

In the ensuing years, Decisions Investment put Biosphere 2 up for sale in 2004 and in 2007   the site was sold for $50 million to CDO Ranching & Development, L.P. 1,500 houses and a resort hotel were planned, but the main structure was still to be available for research and educational use.  The University of Arizona acquired ownership in 2007 and has run it as a research facility and (more importantly) a tourist attraction ever since.

What did the Biosphere 2 teach us?  Obviously a great deal.  Important insights were gained about environments inside a closed system and experiments are continuing (admittedly on a less grander scale) to this day.  We’ll get to Mars, yet.  However, I can’t help thinking that Biosphere 2 was years ahead of its time.  Imagine the reality television show that could have been made from recording this experiment over two years!  The whole experiment could have been funded by advertising revenue if they had been just a tiny bit ahead of the curve.  Big Brother has nothing on Biosphere 2.

Board Games for Kids’ events, 11-18 years old


What’s this all about?

Playing Cosmic Encounter at the 2014 Game Camp. Still a massive hit.

I’ve been running game camps for kids for a little under a decade now, and a big portion of what success I’ve had with them is due to adding board games to a mostly miniatures-based program. Board games, especially designer board games (or Family Board Games, or Hobby Board games, take your pick..) fill up the gaps in a program where I’m setting up some big miniatures game and need to keep kids occupied for an hour or more on one side of the room.

I’m going to start recording the board games we use at Camp to keep kids engaged and having fun, and the reasons why I choose them.  I envision this piece to be an ongoing narrative that I update on a semi-regular (quarterly) basis.  There’s just too many to try to create an all encompassing list; once I’ve compiled a few, I’ll move this up to a page tab.

Let’s get started with my FALL of 2014 Recommendations if you are looking to find games that will play well with a group of kids from about 11 to 18 years in age, with a few hours to kill here and there.  I’ll try to do another one in January 2015.

COSMIC ENCOUNTER 

It’s no small secret that Cosmic Encounter is my favorite board game of all time.   I’ve mentioned it a few times here and there.   What was a surprise was just how readily younger kids take to this game.  There’s something about the Nomic quality of the changing Alien powers, the component mix from FFG, and the generally silly atmosphere.  I would recommend the FFG version over all others, for the artwork alone, but also the range of choices that add to the customization.  I think CE’s easy to perceive goal, plus ever-changing nature, makes it far more accessible to younger children than I gave it credit for before.

GET BIT

 

Get Bit was a charming little surprise I discovered through Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop web show.  It’s a simple positional race game not unlike GMT’s earlier Formula Motor Racing (which is another great candidate for a kid’s camp, but I’d play it with Matchbox cards).    Players put their cute plastic robots in a line in the water, followed by a shark with a taste for robots.   Single number cards (from a finite hand of cards) are played that move the robots around in order.   The last robot in line gets “chomped” and loses a limb.  When he loses all limbs, he’s out.  It’s no suprise WHY kids like this– it’s all about cartoon violence, of course, but there’s also some great decision making and strategy implied in the card play.  Immensely popular.

TSURO

Tsuro is another one of those great discoveries that came into my radar through the Tabletop show.  I knew it existed, and I knew that it had been out since 2006, but I had never played it.  I already had Metro by Queen Games, which reminds me of it quite a bit.  Essentially this is a path-finding puzzle style game where the players try to keep their dragons on the maze-like path built by placing tiles.   It’s simple and easy to pick up, and very visual.  The theme is a little more exciting than Metro (which is about streetcars), so I would recommend Tsuro over Metro.

THE RESISTANCE

 

It’s a little too easy to call  The Resistance “a Werewolf/Mafia variant” but people often do.   Certain elements are very similar to Werewolf, to be sure– such as the day/night turn and turn-based mechanics. However, the addition of the cards and the “going on a mission” theme really gives this humble little game a great framework that (I think) forces the players into using deductive logic much more than Werewolf ever will.  Werewolf games can devolve into silliness rather quickly– which is why I don’t recommend them that highly for younger kids, they might take accusations too seriously and have their feelings hurt.   The Resistance takes a similar riff and adds the cards and mission element on top of it, which tends to distance the younger players from the J’accuse! flavor of Werewolf.  Notes to adults: don’t even attempt to run this if you don’t have at least six committed players, and do NOT take the sixth spot yourself.  You’ll need to be in charge for the first game, anyway.

CODE 777

Code 777 is a modern reworking of Mastermind (in some respects).  It is a good design for 2-5 players, and I suspect 4 is optimal.  Each player has a Scrabble style rack with three tiles on it– tiles are a certain color and number, or have a certain symbol behind them.  The players have a grasp of certain facts– there are only so many of this tile, or so many of that tile, or so many blue tiles, etc. etc.  Cards are played with questions on them that help the players deduce their own sequences.  That’s right, their own– the tiles face outward; so the other players know only what every player except themselves are displaying.  The players can glean a lot of knowledge to make deductions with from what they see in every tile rack except their own.  Code 777 is a much older design (from 1985 at least, and maybe older) but has recently been reprinted by Stronghold Games.  This is a great game for problem solving and deductive logic; it never fails to keep kids engaged.

ROOM 25

 

Room 25 is a great maze style game where the maze starts built and flipped over and gradually is revealed by the player’s tokens exploring the map through trial and (often) deadly error;  the players assume a set series of roles (six, maximum) which are quite colorful but functionally identical (sadly; I think this could be improved upon in an expansion).  The game can be played cooperatively (boo!) or semi-treacherously (yay!) where some of the players have hidden traitor roles.  The theme of the game is very similar to a series of Canadian Horror/SF films called Cube/Hypercube etc.   Players have a limited series of actions, two per turn, which either affect their own player token or the token of whomever is on the current tile with them.  Room 25’s goofy imagery and characters, the changeable map, added to a soupçon of treachery makes this game a perennial favorite with younger teenagers.

ROLL THROUGH THE AGES

 

Roll through the Ages is the game that got me started on the notion of adding board games to the miniature-heavy events I was running for camp.  For some reason, over the years, I have  had my share of children who suffer from Asperger syndrome and even high functioning Austism.  These are special cases– they want to be engaged but they sometimes can’t engage at the same level as other children.  Sometimes they quickly grow bored of the main activity.  I was in such a bind several years ago and on a whim, I pulled a copy of Roll Through The Ages, which I had bought that week on an enthusiastic recommendation from Tom Vasel.  RTTA is a great game– you are really playing yourself more than an opponent, so there isn’t a lot of social interaction to stress a kid out, and lots of challenges and decisions to make as you try to score high by rolling for civilization advantages and building great works.  It’s an elegant little dice game with great chunky components.  Anyway, to get back to my story, I had an Asperegers’ kid.  He was bored and being disruptive.  I handed him Roll Through The Ages and explained very quickly how to play it.  It took him all of 5 minutes to figure it out (all of my kids are smart!).  He was entranced.  He played RTTA non-stop, for the rest of the week.  I had half a pad of score pads after he was done.  I didn’t care, he was happy as a clam and said it was his best camp that Summer.  Go figure!  It was the success of this desperate experiment in board gaming (totally unplanned, I just happened to have it with me that day) that led me to include board games as a regular part of the curriculum.

ZOMBIE DICE/MARTIAN DICE/NINJA DICE/LUCHADOR DICE/CTHULHU DICE…

This is a catchall for games that are all somewhat thematically similar, play fast and easy, and feature a series of specialized, thematic highly colorful dice that interact with each other in a specific way.

The granddaddy is Zombie Dice, where the players are playing the roles of the Zombies in a Zombie movie, looking for brains; there is also a very similar game where the players are playing the role of the Aliens in a UFO invasion called Martian dice.   You can play a Ninja on a special mission in Ninja Dice, Re-theme Zombie Dice with Hunting Dinosaurs and you have Dino Hunt Dice, and finally play a game of re-themed Put and Take with Cthulhu Dice.   The mechanics differ from game to game, but they all are rich in theme, very colorful, very simple and resolve and play very quickly.  This kind of game handles 3-4 kids comfortably.  The up side is they are all very affordable and you can probably buy all of them if you have a large crowd of kids.  Maybe even throw a dice game tournament, who knows?

Conclusion:

I could go on and on with this post but I think I’m going to limit these to about 8-10 at a time so I don’t feel rushed.  The games in this posting have all been played at kid’s camps and although some games have failed to garner support, these have all done pretty well since I started.  I hope you find these suggestions useful

Fair Winds and Following Seas: My first sea cruise, ever


“I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.”

From “Sea Fever” John Masefield

Cruising on a big commercial cruise ship wasn’t quite what Masefield had in mind when he wrote that, but I couldn’t help feeling a tad bit nautical, this being my first excursion out of sight of land since the early 90s.  If you were wondering where I’ve been since before Christmas (and I’m sure you’ve been at your wit’s end, admit it), I was finally persuaded to take a cruise with my family for Christmas.  For fun.  On the water.

We departed on Royal Caribbean ship Grandeur of the Seas on Christmas Eve, and sailed for ten days, visiting Labadee Beach, Haiti; San Juan, Puerto Rico; St. Thomas (U.S. Virgin Islands); and finally Saint Maartens, then a much quicker return journey to arrive back at Grandeur’s home port of Baltimore Md. by 03 January.

So, what was the trip like, and did I have a good time?  In general, I did.  There were some frankly wearisome aspects to being away from shore and in a very tiny crowded space for ten days.  The cabin was confining, I did not sleep well and the bathroom was an athletic challenge– to take a shower you basically encase yourself in a nylon tube of water and shower from top to bottom vigorously while avoiding flooding the bathroom.   As you might expect, I avoided the cabin unless necessity called.  Food was .. plentiful.  The one thing RC does to keep passengers quiescent is overfeed them until they can do little more than roll around like Violet Beuregard post-blueberry transformation.   Meals are highly ritualized and there are many of them– the three basics, plus free food at all hours from room service and a short order kitchen on the pool deck.  I was forewarned about this aspect of cruising and did my best not to overeat, though my son Gar pitched in like a good un.

Let me point out this was considered a “light breakfast” by Gar, and he did enjoy bigger repasts, several times, during the cruise

Service by Royal Caribbean staff and crew was uniformly excellent.  Everyone, from waiters, room attendants,  the sailing crew from the Captain on down.. simply everyone was friendly, accommodating and gracious.  RC makes its living in a very competitive market and they know they sell their service first and foremost as a market niche.

With that said, well, life at sea is a little challenging to keep people occupied when you cruise from port to port.  There were many shipboard activities, but not of the sort I find particularly breath taking– I did play in the trivia challenges and went to a couple of seminars, and I read an unexpected three and a half novels when I was at sea.  Fortunately I’m an old hand at keeping myself amused.  Christmas and New Years Eve were both celebrated at sea, and the ship’s crew did gainfully attempt to infuse the ship with holiday spirit.  The New Year’s festivities were lavish.

New Years Eve 2013 on the Grandeur

Grandeur’s 2013 New Year’s Eve celebration, in “the Centrum”, the main area of the ship. Directly after the giant balloon drop. The crowd is quite sozzled. Click on the picture to see a small New Year’s Eve pictorial on FLICKR.

New Year’s was fun, but Christmas at sea just doesn’t feel like Christmas at all to me.  Our celebration was meager at best.  I did get to attend midnight mass in the ship’s theater and did attend mass once more during the cruise, so that felt most like Christmas to me.

For me the singularly best part of the cruise were the destinations.  Labadee isn’t the Haiti you are thinking about– it’s more like what we termed “Disney Haiti”.  Labadee is a small peninsula jutting out from the island of Hispaniola, leased by the Royal Caribbean company until 2050.   So no squalid, grinding poverty or violence in sight, just happy sunshine, rum drinks and beaches, and lots of “extreme” rides to spend extra on.  This is Royal Caribbean’s land, bought and paid for, and though it wasn’t spoken of, I couldn’t help but wonder what keeps the people of Haiti from climbing the big hill that separated the beach from the mainland?  A lot of men with guns, hidden somewhere.. at least that’s my theory.  Still, we had fun.  I didn’t take any photographs of Haiti but really all we saw was the beach and lots of green coastline– when we pulled off the island receded quickly and then it was gone.

Fort San Phillipe del Moro

The Approach to San Juan, Puerto Rico. That’s the fort of San Phillipe Del Moro dead center. We toured it on foot later that day, and it was outstanding.

I loved visiting San Juan. We engaged a colorful local named Jose (yes, really) and he drove us around the city maintaining a non-stop imaginative commentary about life in Puerto Rico, American-Puerto Rican relations, a history of U.S. Presidents engaged in Puerto Rican history, exports, the tourism industry, the policy of cruise ship lines, the efficacy of the port tax, and other fascinating topics.  I loved this guy– he had a hipster sang froid about life and making a buck that I admired.  He dropped us off a few blocks North of the docks so we had opportunity to tour just a little bit of the extensive fortifications on the island dating back to the 1500s.  The fort in San Juan is amazing, and well worth the visit.  Later, we strolled down to a dockside bar and had a light meal offship and some VERY expensive rum drinks.  I wish we had more time in San Juan.  As the ship was leaving, we noticed a man leaving the ship– possibly being ejected, though the established reason was “medical reasons”.  Hard to say.

Saint Thomas

Saint Thomas was tinier than I imagined.. again we engaged a colorful local, this time named Elvis, and he took us around the island at breakneck speeds.  Since St. Thomas is essentially a volcanic island like many other Caribbean islands, it featured a big mountain in the middle with steep sides. The views from the top of the island are breathtaking. I liked Saint Thomas quite a bit.

Gar getting all coy in front of a sign at Orient Beach, St. Maartens.

Our final stop was Saint Maartens, which was (along with San Juan), my favorite stop on the trip. Saint Maartens has a Dutch side and a French side, both of which seem to get along with each other amicably. St. Maartens is huge compared to some islands and a mixture of development and wilderness. I liked both sides of the island– the Dutch side seemed more laid back but the French side was just stunning, visually. Again, we engaged a colorful local to take us around the island at breakneck speeds. The formula seems to work.

On the way back to Baltimore, we amused ourselves as best we could.

Bridge of the Grandeur

Gar on the Bridge tour of Grandeur of the Seas. Click image to see more images from the bridge tour

Garrett got a Bridge Tour of the Grandeur before New Years, and an Engineering deck tour the day after. It was quite impressive.

Check out that power! Click on the link for more of the Engineering deck.

New Year’s Eve was all out– and I didn’t really get the sense that it was nautical, it could have been a New Year’s eve at any hotel out there.

A very hungover ship the next day. Not being much of a drinker, I enjoyed being relatively uncrowded when I went up for breakfast the next morning!

The weather changed dramatically on the return trip, especially when we entered the welcome sight of the Chesapeake Bay. Temperatures dropped to 17 degrees and we noticed snow in the air and on the ground when we pulled in.. disembarking was fast and efficient, which I liked, but standing in the biting wind with only light jackets wasn’t a thrill. Lessons learned; bring winter stuff and pack it in the car.

So, that was our cruising holiday. Yes, it was fun and I would consider doing it again, though not soon. I liked it, but wasn’t insanely crazy about the experience, like some addicts were, and I never drank the kool-aid on this one. It’s a good time and I loved being with my family, but it didnt’ feel like the Holidays to me, and it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I’m a quiet kind of guy when it comes to day to day amusement. The ship was crowded, and always noisy. There’s just no quiet part of the ship to go to and hangout. I found a part of the fantail where nobody seemed to visit and went there repeatedly to read, but it gets windy on the stern. Many of the “activities” were thinly veiled attempts at selling something– art, jewelry, more cruises, etc. That’s one thing you have to take in stride on a cruise ship.. everybody has their hand out for something. This is sanctioned by the cruise line as they provide services by ride-along contracted services that sell stuff. Nothing is free, and nothing is cheap. Everything that can be segmented into a niche and sold, will be. For instance, I didn’t drink hardly any alcohol on the ship, because to drink wine or mixed drinks or even a beer costs big money– you pay by the “plan” or by the drink. Even drinking soda requires a magical cup (which they will sell you for 80 dollars) with a chip in it so you can be part of the privileged elite who paid to drink soda. I assure you I can live without soda, so I didn’t bother. The only thing I missed was an occasional beer, and I had one or two.

If you plan on cruising on ANY commercial line, understand that not everything comes with the package and the extras cost you dearly. If you have a gambling problem, the cruising life may not be for you– they start up on the slot machines as soon as the boat crosses into international waters, and make it TOO easy to extend credit. Not a good combination, especially with the liquor. If you can reign it in a bit and keep that part controlled, you’ll have a great time.

Happy New Year everyone!

Video

Veteran’s Day, 2013.


On Monday, the United States celebrates Veteran’s Day, and it is right and fitting that we should thank the military veterans in our lives for sacrificing so much in their nation’s service. I encourage you to do so.  Especially those that have been scarred by their experiences. Some veterans have wounds that aren’t so visible, yet their impact lasts a lifetime. Like Jim Wolf, pictured above, a homeless veteran who has struggled with alcoholism and depression for years. Thanks to the incredible people at Dégagé Ministries, Jim recently had a chance to undergo a makeover courtesy of Design 1 Salon & Spa, which he graciously allowed the people at Rob Bliss Creative to film in time lapse. I love this little video, it’s worth a watch.  Two lovely spa ladies flutter around the veteran in the center trimming, cutting, dabbing, highlighting… as he stoically gazes at the camera with his hard jaw set in world weary indifference.  That is, until he sees what a transformation they have wrought.  This is a hard movie to watch without tearing up a little.  You have been warned.  At the end, I couldn’t help thinking.. “well, hello! You were in there all along!  Who knew?

Yes, I know, it’s on the surface. Alcoholism is a serpent whose coils are strong and resisting of release. There’s more to changing your life around then a haircut. Yet, I find myself hopeful. Maybe, an ounce of pride is everything to a man like Mr. Wolf. He has a long, lonely road to walk, and I wish him well, realizing there’s no guarantees in life.

Thanks for your service, Jim.

Happy Veteran’s Day.

GET LAMP, a documentary


You are standing before a farmhouse… you can go E, W, N or S. What do you want to do?

My first computers were very definitely text adventures, and my favorite company was a small company called INFOCOM, who made outstanding games in the best packaging that has ever been achieved for mainstream games, now or since. Interactive Fiction, for you youngsters, is a text-based type of computer game where you were prompted to tell the program what you were going to do next. The program would parse the information and feedback results. Verbally. Or with very minor graphical interface. I’ve played ZORK, and Classic Adventure (on mainframes!), along with Empire. My first personal computer games I bought from a store were C-64 Infocom games, and I remember them with a special fondness that I still have to this day. Back then, IF games were the thing. Computer Games are more of a niche industry these days, being consumed entirely by console games with outstanding graphics, and deservedly so– that’s progress. I guess. The virtue of interactive fiction is that it NEVER needed cool graphics. Don’t SHOW me. TELL me. I can make the pictures happen myself.

Screen Shot from GET LAMP.

Screen Shot from GET LAMP.

Back in 2010, Jason Scott captured the story of this short period in time very well with his documentary, GET LAMP. The documentary plots the rise and fall of text adventures, from Colossal Cave and Zork to the first adventure game companies, particularly INFOCOM. INFOCOM’s rapid demise in the wake of the rise of graphic based games, and then the implosion of computer games in general in favor of consoles. GET LAMP, about two hours long, interviews the main players and some of the consumers of the interactive ficion gaming culture. If you’re of a certain age, you’ll love this. Even if you’re not, you might just like it. It wasn’t always about graphics. There was a time when you had to use your head and map it all out to play a game. It took a special kind of person to like that kind of game– I’m not saying a “superior” kind of person, but certain a literate person.

Fast forward about 7 minutes and some change for the actual start of the movie. You’ll like this. Give it a shot.

Related:

ASCII, Jason Scott’s blog

The Archive Team

From the NOW I’VE SEEN EVERYTHING Department.. The Mongol Guinea Pig


Lori Knight-Whitehouse, spouse of Howard “Mexican Jack” Whitehouse, recently brought the mongol armored Guinea Pig Armor on Ebay to my attention.

Yes, there’s someone who made a complete scale mail suit for their guinea pig out there. That’s love, I guess. Apparently the subject guinea went the way of all flesh recently and now the owner is selling the armor for charity.

guineapig1

The armor appears to be modeled after Mongol Heavy infantry but I admit I’m not up on Pig Armor and I’m sure there’s an authority out there to contest my judgement.

Here’s a little from the listing itself:

his auction is a charity auction for hand-made guinea pig scale-mail. (You’ve read that correctly)

Is your pet guinea pig tired of wandering around the house unarmored and vulnerable? Do they get picked on by other guinea pigs? Has your guinea pig ever wanted to go with you to a Renaissance Faire but had nothing to wear?

Fear not! A solution is here!

This hand-made scale-mail and tiny steel helmet will keep you guinea pig protected and secure in all situations. The scale-mail is made from polished steel scales and steel rings. It was painstakingly “woven” by me over several weeks in an effort to better prepare my guinea pig Lucky for the dangers of the modern world. The helmet was purchased at a Renaissance Faire later as it was the perfect finishing touch.

Lucky mostly wore his armor to begrudgingly pose for photos – once on top of a remote-control jetski. Don’t worry – he never rode the thing in the water… I don’t think he would have had the balance.

Lucky passed away this weekend, and no longer requires his noble suit of armor. In his honor and memory, any money from this auction (after Ebay fees) will go to the Metropolitan Guinea Pig Rescue in Virginia. Lucky was adopted from the organization, and they’re a fantastic group who do all they can to find, foster and adopt (to others) Guinea Pigs in the northern Virginia area. You’ll see them on this auction as a 100% donation – it’s not a hollow promise 🙂

Please bid high and bid often!

guineapig2

guineapig3

Again, if you’re safety conscious about your guinea pigs and can’t stand the thought of sending them into battle without proper protection, THIS IS THE AUCTION FOR YOU.

At a current bidding price of 1,050 USD, it’s getting too rich for my blood. I guess my guinea pig (if I had one) would be light infantry (perhaps a slinger). Good thing I can’t stand the benighted little things.. I don’t think I’ll ever find out.

Storm Eagle Software: a company that would have made George Orwell proud


IF this is the new paradigm for software distribution, it leaves a lot to be desired.  (written in 2012, not posted until now)

Note from the year 2013: I wrote this a year ago, and sort of let it lay in the draft hopper out of apathy.  It’s still all true, but I would add a small epilogue: I did finally get the software installed after two weeks of effort and lots of repeated system admin tasks…. and it sucked!  The game interface is moronic, you have very little control over individual ships beyond steering them and hoping for the best, and it’s a bit of a yawner.  Not really worth giving an in-depth review too.  Kind of anti-climatic after all that work, no?  I have to stress that Storm Eagle, cited here, did not create the software I’m trying to install in this transaction, so I can’t fault them directly for that, that’s all on Totem Software’s head. In the end, I wasted my money, and went through a lot of stress, to boot.  I’m posting this a year later, really because it amuses me more than it angers me.  The so-called customer service rep’s replies become blander and less officious as the exchange continues, and in the end I wondered if he could type that drivel with a straight face.

There are days when I feel like a relic, and the last four days have certainly made me feel that way. I have always had an interest in games with a military history element to them; that much might be obvious from casual reading of this blog. So when I was idly responding to an advert banner ad about Dreadnoughts at the Storm Eagle Software site, I noticed this boffo new-ish product:

Totem Games Victorian Admirals

They are having a sail on Totem Games’ VICTORIAN ADMIRALS collection for roughly 30 bucks. This is just ducky for a guy like me who’s nuts for the pre-dreadnought Age of Steam naval conflict era– I have reservations about the Totem Games interface– it’s a little clunky and not exactly inspirational, but the art is lovely and the history is obscure.

So I did a mental version of “Yipppeee!” and ordered it.

Full disclosure: I just ordered it. This is TOTALLY my fault for jumping and not looking.  Don’t even bother lecturing me or shaking your head.  I didn’t think about reading the damned fine print. I did zero research. I saw something about digital delivery, but so what? I’ve ordered games from Matrix Games with a digital delivery option, I just got a download code, downloaded the thing and that was it. I’ve even ordered from GOG.com in the past, and though it was slow, I downloaded their version of digital delivery. So what could possibly go wrong?

There was a link on the Storm Eagle website that informed me that they were selling the software as an affiliate for SES.  Yeah, yeah, so…

Without reading much more than that, I paid by paypal, and was then told I had to download the STORMPOWERED application which is the way they were going to send me VICTORIAN ADMIRALS.  I should have had alarm bells going off at that stage, but I complied, downloaded their “STORMPOWERED” client application, which is somehow beneficial to the software delivery process.   Digital Delivery, as my hipster younger friends tell me, is the way of the future for computer programs.  That’s progress.

FOUR DAYS LATER, after frequent attempts to download the product I PAID FOR, with NO CHANCE OF A REFUND, I realized that A) I was foolish and should have read the fine print, and B) this ain’t no way to run a railroad.  Because we’re in the age of “Digital Distribution”, Storm Eagle Software has essentially adopted policies that preclude the customer getting a refund if he or she is dissatisfied, with no redress whatsoever.  There are no reasonable alternatives offered if the client doesn’t work– I can’t get a CD download (hell, I’d even pay extra for it now).  I can’t access the software from a secure FTP site, like I can with Matrix Games.  Throughout the process of dealing with Storm Eagle Software’s so-called customer service agents, I have been told that this is essentially my fault.  I have followed their instructions.  I’ve tried to download this at home and at work.  The STORMPOWERED client, essentially, is defective.  It will apparently work if I add exceptions to my anti-virus software and log in as an administrator to install and run it.  I have done so, and it still doesn’t work.   So, apparently, I’m also supposed to do all these extra system administrator tasks to download a file.   I rapidly got fed up with the defective software, requested a refund, and was told that no refunds are granted.  I asked for a CD delivery, and was told they don’t supply software that way.  I asked for a FTP download and was told they wouldn’t make an exception for me.  During the four days of increasingly fruitless “customer service” emails from  the while, every message ended with a cheerful variant of “We’re committed to doing whatever it takes to make sure you get your product”.   Except, of course, CD Delivery, FTP delivery, or any other reasonable option to satisfy a very disgruntled customer.

Do you think I’m over stating this?  Maybe, being a bit of a drama queen?  Read on by clicking below.

But wait, there’s more!