Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Great Wee Fleet Project continues

I have a lot of irons in the fire these days. Most active are the 1672 project, the Renaissance project (more on that later), the Irish project, and the ECW project (again, more later) with AWI and ACW warmish and sure to heat up at any time. On top of all these is the serendipitous Great Wee Fleet project. These days all I can do with my hobby time is work on projects. I haven't gamed since February and still may not for another month or more depending on the shifting whims of my state governor.

I've always been a fan of obscure subjects for my wargaming enthusiasm. The pre-Dreadnought period fits that niche nicely, especially the nichier aspects of the niche like a lot of what-ifs that could easily have occurred on far away stations given the pre-WW1 flexing and saber-rattling between the great powers and wanna-be great powers over colonial territory. Kaiser Bill was especially eager to grab what could be grabbed. He was rather disappointed when America grabbed all that Spanish territory in 1898, but Germany still managed to grab several places in the Pacific and get concessions for bases in China. Japan had come out of its isolation and wanted more and more influence in the East. The French were in Indochina. The British were, well, everywhere. On a hot day in a contended place, anything could happen...

When Kevin Smyth got the ball rolling on gaming this period, it didn't really take a lot of persuading. I just had to psyche myself up a bit before I jumped in with both feet. A lot of the psyching was fondly looking at my money before saying goodbye to it. The greatest variety of pre-Dreadnought ships available in 1/1250th scale comes from Navis and Hai in Germany. The models are made for the collector market, so expensive as all get-out. A single unprotected cruiser can run up to $50.00; even small gunboats are in the $40.00 range. Building a wee flotilla or two can make a strain on the exchequer that requires a whole naval appropriations bill. The price of admiralty is daunting.

Kevin's big plus for the using Navis and Hai ships for the project was that they don't need to be painted, they're good to go right out of the box. That's true, but the colors the ships come in are hit or miss. The navies of this era had a variety of paint schemes. Ships on foreign station tended to be painted white with buff or ochre upper works. The models from Navis and Hai tend to come in gray or white. Some details are painted, others are just left the base color.

Gazelle, Arcona, Temerario, and T-14
After mulling it over a while, I determined to paint the ships and got to work on the German cruiser Arcona, one of the ships in my most recent buying binge. I wanted to paint it in a scheme that might be used in the Far East, like China or the Pacific. After looking online and chin-wagging with people on the Naval Wargaming Facebook group, I went with a white hull and yellow ochre upper works and funnels, finished off with a black wash. Ship models are actually pretty easy to paint.

SMS Arcona, WIP - the ship is complete, but the base is not done
I based my ships using  a variant of the sizes recommended in David Manley's Fire When Ready rules. Manley's bases are for 1/2400th scale. I doubled the dimensions for 1/1250th, but found that I had to move the lengths up a notch to accommodate the models. For example, the Arcona was 344' long. In FWR, ships up to 350' are mounted on a base 15-20mm wide and 40mm long. However, the model itself was just over 80mm long, so I added another 20mm in length to give me a final dimension of 30mm wide by 100mm long. That's actually the correct dimension for a ship 350' to 450' long.

I used .020 sheet styrene over a layer of flexible magnetic sheet. All my earlier naval projects have been troubled by problems of storage and portage. The ships on their bases bounce around a lot in transit. I went with magnetic bottoms for by 1/600th ancient galleys and have been meaning to retrofit magnetic bottoms to my vast ACW naval collection. Someday...

.020 plastic layered with 1mm magnetic base
I paint the bases Vallejo Blue Green with some splotches of turquoise and green, then cover them in gloss gel medium, which dries clear and creates a glossy, transparent rippled surface. Touched up white white wakes, they look pretty nice.

SMS Arcona
SMS Gazelle
Since painting Arcona and Gazelle, I went on to my two smallest Japanese ships Chishima and Kohei-Go. Both ships had very, very short careers in the Japanese navy, so the first what-if of my what-ifs is "What if these ships didn't sink days or months after their commissioning?"


Our idea is to focus on smaller engagements between smaller ships like protected/unprotected cruisers and gunboats. Ships that mostly run 1000 to 6000 tons displacement. The behemoths of these engagements would be a rare armored cruiser.

The plan is to use David Manley's Fire When Ready as the preferred rules. When it comes to naval wargaming, we're Manley men here in the Pacific Northwest. I like FWR, it's a fun game that goes quickly enough and is suitable for larger actions with larger ships like battleships and armored cruisers. I'll need a few games under my belt to see if that holds true when the action involves smaller ships.

The way a ship's damage value is calculated in FWR is based on its displacement. Smaller ships don't have a lot of damage to take before they become an artificial reef 30 fathoms down. That's not much of a problem when the gun sizes are smaller and don't inflict a lot of damage. However, firing HE instead of AP—which is a good option when all the ships are mostly unarmored—adds +2 points to any damage inflicted. If a ship's defensive value is 7 points, it could easily take half its defensive value in damage on a single hit. Very small ships, like the USS Petrel, a gunboat that was part of Dewey's squadron at Manila Bay, would have a defensive value of 3 points. A single hit from a 4.1" gun firing HE could obliterate it.

Although I haven't found anything in the rules that says so, I expect that shooting may represent several shots for smaller QF guns and single salvoes for larger ones. The turn scale is 3 minutes.

An alternative I've been mulling over is to use R.A. Walker's old The Devil at the Helm rules from 1978. Kevin and I used these decades ago to play a Manila Bay game using our 1/1100th scale Houston's ships. The rules have a lot more detail, but seem a bit inchoate. There's a lot more prep to do to make up the ship cards. For the Manila Bay game, I made up fairly elaborate charts with detailed deck plans showing the placement of all the weapons. I did it all in Aldus FreeHand 4.0, a now long-defunct software product. I can't open any of the files in Adobe Illustrator, so all that work would need to be redone from scratch.

The advantage of The Devil at the Helm is that it's more granular in how it models naval combat. Guns fire in single shots, larger guns may need 2-4 turns of reloading between shots. It might take several hits, even on smaller ships, to do critical damage—unless there's a lucky shot as Kevin's son Patrick (now Patrick Galactic) can attest when he played in our game somewhere back in the 90s.

Walker also has a later set of rules called Steam and Steel published by Navwar in 1991. I haven't really dug through them too much at this point. They seem to give smaller ships even shorter shrift than FWR. These may get a playtest, I think. Like with FWR, reading rules and playing the game are two different experiences. What seems too easily done, i.e., blowing up a ship in one shot, may be harder in an actual game. If my dice rolling is anything to go by, it may be impossible—though not impossible for my opponents.

Tsushima, by Graham Short (2002) is a larger scale set for  the period 1880-1906. They have a similar feel to FWR, but with an interesting method of assigning variable damage. Each gun uses a die to determine damage points. The dice range from D4 to D20 to 3xD10 depending on the gun size and range. I had thought of a similar idea myself once. I think it has a lot to recommend it. There's no guarantee that a hit will do a determinate amount of damage. Tsushima is intended for use with 1/3000 to 1/6000 scale models. It's also focused on actions between larger ships. The one hit and "bang you're dead" factor for smaller ships applies even more than in FWR given that a 6" gun at short range can do D8 damage and a typical cruiser will have about 5-7 damage points max. A gunboat has 3 or less.

Another set I've given thought to is Age of Iron: Navies in Transition 1865-1890. It's just a little bit early for the period we're looking at, but can be used with a little imagination and/or suspension of disbelief. I think I picked up my copy at The Emperors Headquarters in Chicago in 1990 or 91. At the time, there really weren't any available models for the period, but they've always intrigued me. I played the ACW Age of Iron rules by the same authors. I liked some aspects of them, but only played them once. (They might be worth giving another try in some future post-COVID age.)

I have a pre-made set of ship charts for the Battle of the Yalu (1894), which I've always wanted to do using the Houston's Ships 1/1100th scale ships I have for that battle. Mssrs. Walsh et Pugsley also have an later pre-Dreadnought set, which I have. Somewhere. I recall it also to be more focused on the BBs of the era and not the cruisers and gunboats.

It's fortunate that naval gaming is versatile. There's usually no special basing that's required. It's easy to run games using different rules. Our ACW naval games are a testament to that. We've played several different sets of rules with the ships we have.

I'm pretty happy with how this project is shaping up and the enthusiasm we're generating in the online chats with Kevin, Dave Schueler, Eric Donaldson, Bill Stewart, and John Gee. (Mike Lombardy is also on the emails, but he has no intention of getting wee with us.) We're psyching up for Freedom Day here in WA when all people of goodwill may once again go about their business. Maybe June, maybe July. Maybe the Murder Hornets will get us first.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

The Great Wee Fleet Project

I was innocently minding my own business working on various projects that entail buying a lot of figures that will take me forever to paint, when Kevin Smyth annouced that he was collecting 1/1250th scale pre-dreadnought era ship models for a gaming project.

I resisted. I truly did. In order to bolster my resistance, I started browsing the available products at Surely looking won't hurt and what I don't buy will make me stronger. So I'm gobsmacked that after manfully resisting temptation and just looking at pictures on a website, a package containing several small ship models should arrive at my home today. To my further surprise, they were all Japanese pre-1900 ships made by Hai models in Germany.

What could I do? It would have been heartless to leave them out in the cold. So now I'm the admiral of a Great Wee Fleet (well, 6 ships so far—and two of them mere torpedo boats).

Chishima is an unprotected cruiser built by the French. It was small and lightly armed with a main battery of five 3" guns and a secondary battery of six 1-pounders. It never saw combat, having been lost in a collision in November 1892, 6 days after it was commissioned. It's still a charming model.

Takachiho was a protected cruiser built by Elswick in England. Her sister ship, Naniwa, was commanded by the future Admiral Togo. Her main armament was two 10" guns in barbettes with a secondary battery of six 6" guns.

Akashi was another protected cruiser. Not as well armed as the Takachiho, with a main battery of two 6" guns in open mounts and a secondary battery of six 4.7" guns.

Kohei-Go was an ex-Chinese torpedo gunboat (formerly Kuang-Ping). At first, I couldn't find a lot of information on Kohei-Go, but that turned out to be because I just wasn't looking hard enough or smart enough. She didn't have a long career in the Japanese navy, sinking in a collision just months after being commissioned. Jane's doesn't have any information about here. Conway's provides information only about her career in Chinese service as part of the Kuang Yi class of gunboats. Jentschura provides details on p. 94 of Warships of the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1869–1945. It mounted just three 4.7" guns, four 47mm Hotchkiss QF guns (3-pounders), 4 MGs, and four 15" torpedo tubes, the arrangement of which is obscure (Conway's gives them as 14" TT above water, Jentschura isn't so sure).

Shiritaka and T-22 are torpedo boats. T-22 was built in 1895 in Germany. Shiritaka was built in 1899 in Japan.

My plans for these ships is to use them with David Manley's Fire When Ready rules for the pre-Dreadnought era. Kevin is focusing on Americans and Germans with a few South American ships on the side. My thinking is to focus on potential/hypothetical naval encounters in the Far East, which could entail Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Spanish, British, French, and American ships. Like Kevin, I'm interested in scenarios involving smaller ships, no bigger than a cruiser—and mostly just protected cruisers at that. I've only played Fire When Ready using battleships and armored cruisers, so I'm not sure how well the rules model fights between unarmored ships armed with pop-guns. We'll see.

Pursuant to my interests, I manfully resisted some Navis models of German ships (Gazelle and Arcona). I am also manfully resisting a few more Japanese ships from Hai, one of which is the old central battery ironclad Fuso spiffed up in its 1894 configuration.

I'm strongly inclined towards re-painting these. They look pretty nice, but the finishes that come from Hai and Navis vary, the Akashi, for example, is gray while all the others are white. I also plan to put them on bases with magnetic bottoms. The masts are very delicate and storage and travel could take a toll. They come in boxes affixed with the WORLD'S STRONGEST DOUBLE-SIDED TAPE™. So strong, I haven't tried to remove them yet. I figure I'll have to slice them away with an XActo knife.

I've re-painted and based some Neptun 1/1250th WW2 ships that I use for Action Stations! (another set of Manley rules for manly men). They turned out quite well, so I have that to recommend it.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The waiting

As I have blogged in the past, I'm a Mac guy. I expect I always will be. I bought my previous Mac in 2012. At the time, I figured I had a good six years ahead of me, which was sort of true. At the six-year point, I had a major hard drive crash, that required paying to recover data and also replace the Seagate hard drive with a nifty SSD drive. That cost me a bit, plus I lost data. Last year, the seven-year point, I had other major problems that required another fix, less expensive, but worrying. Add to that the general slowness that a formerly spry machine comes to after enough OS upgrades that it was never intended to work with. So, it was with eager anticipation that I looked forward to finally upgrading my Mac this year using some of my annual bonus money.

I had to get a custom configuration to avoid the Frankensteinian hybrid that is the Fusion Drive. The FD is standard for all iMacs. I assume Apple makes the FD standard because it keeps the price point lower. However, the lower price comes with too high a cost, IMO. After my hard drive crash experience, I wanted nothing to do with a storage device that had moving parts. I also wanted more RAM. The final cost for the configuration was just over 3K.

I ordered it on the Apple website. It had to be configured at the factory in China and shipped to my local Apple Store for me to pick up. I preferred pick up to having it delivered direct to my house because I don't fully trust any carrier anymore. Amazon Prime, for example, can't shake itself out of trying to deliver my packages to a place nearly a quarter mile away. Sometimes they eventually find me, often they just give up.

My pick-up was scheduled for March 17, St. Patrick's Day. A happy omen for an Irish Catholic like me. Alas, on March 14 Apple closed all of its stores throughout the universe (except China) because of the Covid-19 virus. They said they would be re-opening on March 27. A setback, I thought, but not so bad.

A bit later in March, the governor of my state announced a shut down that was projected to last until at least the end of April (but now seems to be indefinitely longer; end of May? June? Next year?). Anyway, the outlook was that I'd be waiting indefinitely longer to get my new Mac.

Then the emails came.

On April 4, I got an email from Apple saying that my order had been returned and I needed to reply to the email within 24 hours or my order would be canceled and refunded. I sussed out that it wasn't some phishing attack and replied emphatically that I didn't want my order canceled. The next day, I got the same email and I replied with equal enthusiasm. The day after that, another email with the same message. I replied again with full vigor, and not a little perturbation, to the same effect: DON'T CANCEL MY ORDER!

I also got on to the Apple website an initiated a chat with support. That didn't go well. I hoped that I could convey to a support person what I seemed to have been unable to convey via my email responses. The support person didn't seem to understand or care about my issue. He kept trying to have me cancel the order so I could get a refund and then order again. I tried to point out the absurdity of what he was saying, namely, that instead of Apple not canceling the order for my custom-configured Mac that had to be shipped from China especially for me, they would instead send the custom-configured Mac that had been sent from China especially for me either directly to me or hold on to it and I will pick it up at the Apple store whenever they reopen.

In the end—against my emphatically and repeatedly expressed instruction—he canceled the order and said I'd get a refund in 5-7 days. Livid doesn't begin to describe my mood. I recalled H.L. Mencken's quote that "Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats." Mencken was an irreligious, bigoted, racist misanthrope. I can't find any warm feelings for irreligion, bigotry, or racism, but at some point I can start to think that misanthropy is a highly underrated philosophy.

Shortly after my chat-buddy canceled my order against my wishes, I got an email saying that I could pick up my computer on April 21. Now confused as well as perturbed, I called Apple support—called, no more chat for me.

The person on the phone was delightful and as helpful as she could be, but she confirmed that the order had been canceled and, since the cancellation had already been initiated, she couldn't promise anything, although she heavily annotated my order and promised that she'd see what she could do. I was still baffled that Apple couldn't just cancel the cancellation and re-route back to me the custom-configured Mac that had been sent especially for me from China. I began to perceive, however, that corporations like Apple (and UPS, but we'll get to that soon) are simply juggernauts. Once a process has begun, there's no reversing it or altering its course. The best you can do is stand back out of danger and hope the casualties are few.

After my phone call, I got another email confirming that my order was canceled. I was now perplexed, frustrated, and in a bloody-minded mood. I wanted to go full Mencken. I think that a huge factor in my horrible, nasty, no-good frame of mind was the impotence I felt in the face of all this. I didn't like that my only option seemed to be to jump out of the way and dig out from the rubble after the dust settled. What I really wanted was to give Apple a piece of my mind, but I couldn't find any customer complaints email address. I cast about on the Interwebs and at last found an article from some online tech mag (I forget which) that said that anyone can email Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, and might just get a response if they did. So I did.

I sat there in the evening crafting my tale of woe. My email wasn't just venting my spleen, I really felt that there was a glaring hole in Apple's handling of this issue. I carefully explained the situation, proofread it, altered this and that, and then clicked Send. I wasn't sure what would happen. I was mostly sure nothing would. I really didn't even know if the email address I had was valid. It did come from the Internet after all.

To my surprise, the following afternoon, I got a call from Jenna from the Apple executive relations team. She was very nice and sincerely apologetic. Apparently my email struck a chord with Apple's executives. She promised to do whatever it took to get my computer to me. She still wasn't sure if she could get the actual one that had been sent especially for me from China (the juggernaut effect), but if it came to it, she would have another configured at the factory and expedited to me. This was, in the end, what they did.

Forward a week and a half. I was notified by Jenna that my Mac is on its way and I have a tentative delivery date of April 17. I was pretty jazzed.

On April 16, I got a notice from UPS that my delivery was aborted because they couldn't find my address. Pardon the following divigation, buy really? I've been receiving packages from UPS at my home for 14 years. Admittedly there have been a few rough spots, but they have been few and infrequent. Why now, and why with this order, has UPS suddenly decided that my address is like some lost city amidst a foreboding wasteland or impenetrable jungle? The pizza guy can find my house, why can't UPS? It's like that internet meme "You had one job!" UPS has, in fact, one job: deliver packages. Why can't they?

Jenna called, she'd gotten the notice too,  and said that she's working with UPS to get the delivery right. I provided all the helpful information I could that would guide the driver to my townhome. Friday's delivery attempt was another aborted mission for the same reason. Now I had to wait until Monday for a third delivery attempt.

Monday morning early, I'm on the UPS website tracking my delivery. It's scheduled for "end of day." It's always end of day. Why can't I be the delivery that starts the day? Just once? In any case, I'm kept watch on the tracking site and rushed to the window whenever any sound outside is remotely like a truck pulling up.

Curiously, about midday, I got an email from FedEx saying that I've got a delivery on Friday, April 24. It's for a Mac that's been sent from Mufreesboro, TN. I was, again, perplexed. I forwarded the email to Jenna. She said, she'll take care of it. My delivery from UPS is happening. The FedEx order must be a duplicate that somehow wormed its way into the situation.

I had an RCIA class to teach Monday night over Zoom. The virus lock down has really thrown a spanner into the works for the whole Catholic Easter thing. We've had to postpone baptisms and confirmations to Pentecost now—assuming we're out of lock down by then. In any case, the class started at 7:00 and I was still waiting after 6:00. I thought that I'd have to run out from the class for a moment to receive the package. But at 6:29 pm April 21, I saw the notice on the UPS tracking site  that the package had been delivered—left at my door, it said—but I had been looking out the window all that time and no truck had pulled up. I went to the door at 6:29:30 and no package. UPS had delivered the package, just not to me, the one whose name and address was on it. That me.

I started dialing UPS at 6:29:31. Then got on hold and waited. And waited.

I explained to our RCIA team what was going on. I logged into the class at 7:00 while still on hold, but then had to jump off at 7:18 because UPS finally picked up the phone. The call didn't go well. Apparently because the order shipped from China, I had to call UPS International to get help with it. The woman transferred me after promising that I wouldn't have to wait another 50 minutes to talk to them. About 15 minutes later, I got a pre-recorded international menu that told me to press 01 for this, 02 for that, etc. etc. etc. It was a long list. After it was done and I was perplexed as to who I needed to talk to, the recorded message started over. I pressed 01. Nothing happened. I pressed it again. Nada. The message just kept playing, "for blah blah, press 17. For blah blah blah, press 18..."

I was yelling into the phone now. It's funny that it actually has an effect. In this case, the message just paused a bit, and then continued. It was pure farce. It was like being at a customer service desk where some bland person with a soulless nasal voice is intoning my options. When I interrupt, with increasing frustration, the person stops, looks blankly at me, and then resumes in the same soulless nasal intonation. But more about the yelling into the phone bit: It does work sometimes. When I'm confronted with a lot of machine-voiced self-service options blather that can't possible help, my yelling "I WANT TO TALK TO SOMEONE!" has actually caused the machine to connect me with someone, for all the good that's ever done me. It's like being at that customer service desk again and after the umpteenth time of yelling at the person, they look blankly at you and say, in a soulless nasal voice, "Well, alright. Mr. Smithers will see you now. You needn't raise your voice."

I finally hung up on the endlessly repetitive menu recitation. As much as you hate to let go when you actually have a connection, like a shipwrecked sailor clinging desperately to flotsam, there comes a time to try another tack. I called back to the UPS international customer service number and waited again on hold.

58 minutes and 17 seconds  later, I get someone who proceeds to tell me that I need to call the UPS international customer service number; she can't do anything for me. I protested, now more in whimpering appeal than righteous indignation—they'd started to break me—that I did call the international support. I tell her that I've been waiting on the phone for one minute and forty-three seconds shy of an hour and I don't want to get sent back to the menu options recording from hell. No luck. She transfered me, but to my amazement, I got connected to someone—a real person—in about a minute (perhaps the whimpering helped). My high hopes were then pretty much dashed. She told me that they can't take my complaint. I have to file a claim with Apple first.

In the meanwhile, as I sat listening to truly horrible hold muzak, I was trying to find an email option to contact UPS. I tried to start a claim, but the auto-response immediately told me that I had to wait 24 hours before I could do so. The logic of this escapes me. The driver left the package at the wrong address. It's a $3000.00 computer. Time is of the essence in tracking down whom it was mistakenly delivered to. I thought what are the odds that some random person will find a $3000.00 Mac computer on their doorstep and say, "Oh my. UPS has misdelivered a $3000.00 computer to me. I must ensure that it gets to its original recipient as soon as possible." I was more inclined to think that someone opened that package like it was Christmas morning shouting, "Ha ha! I've got a free $3000.00 Mac, bitches!" Besides, even if someone wanted to get the computer back to me, what would they do? Call UPS and wait on hold for an hour only to get told they have to call the international customer service line and get the pre-recorded international options menu from hell? I'll go through that torture because dammit I want my computer. It's a stretch to think that someone will be similarly motivated because dammit they need to give back the $3000.00 computer that the magical UPS elf left at their doorstep like a foundling.

I sent an email to the UPS customer support address. About 20 minutes later, I got an automated response saying, and I quote directly, "Dear UPS Customer, Emails sent directly to or are not monitored or received." I restrained myself from throwing things, but my impotent histrionics to no one in particular did manage to get Bogart to give me stink-eye and exit the room.

I cast about the UPS website for another option and finally found another way to send email. I sent it in explaining that while my delivery status shows that it's been delivered, it has in fact, been delivered to the wrong address. Late Monday night, I got a reply to that email, "Thanks for contacting us. We see that your package has been delivered. If you need additional support, please send us a response and we will answer your request as quickly as possible."

I replied immediately to that email. In all caps. Using the largest font size. With bolded text for words like "failure." After I sent that response, I was so livid, I sent a response to my response. Again in all caps, etc. I have often deplored the contemporary fad of using the word "fucking" as a noun, verb, and adjective for everything. If ever there was a time for me to jump on that fadwagon, this was it. Nevertheless, I resisted.

Then, about midnight, it was Miller Time—or in my case, 12-year old Glenmorangie Time. It helped, but even then I was so worked up I didn't get to sleep until 2:00 am.

I emailed Jenna on Tuesday morning and asked her to call me. I saw an email from FedEx that the shipment I'd asked Jenna about on Monday had been canceled. I needed to touch base and figure out what to do next. Jenna assured me that she's on it. She had canceled the duplicate FedEx delivery on the assumption that the UPS delivery would arrive. She then un-canceled it as son as she saw that UPS delivered to the wrong address, so that we'd have a back-up if the misdelivered UPS package couldn't be found. So Tuesday was another wait and see day.

On Tuesday night, however, UPS called me to confirm my shipping address. They also told me that the previous three delivery problems were due to the fact that the address on the package was wrong. They said they would delivery the next day.

Wednesday dawned with me manning the UPS tracking website. I had not one, but two orders coming the same day. An order from The Assault Group (Renaissance Italians, lots of 'em) had been shipped UPS at no charge (it was a large order). I spent the day tracking every movement. The delivery—both items—finally happened around 5:30 pm. I contacted Jenna and she re-canceled the un-canceled FedEx delivery and got the alternate iMac headed back to Mufreesboro whence it came.

It had seemed like forever since I ordered my Mac with such hope, and now, after a comedy of horrors, I had it. I didn't get around to setting it up until Saturday, but I'm up and running for, I hope, another 8 years or more. That may be asking a lot for a consumer electronics product, but I know a lot about resisting built-in obsolescence; I'm 59, mine is kicking in and I have every intention of extending a useful existence well beyond my warranty.

I made my apologies to UPS. The misdeliveries weren't their fault if the package was addressed incorrectly. Nevertheless, I don't ever want to have a reason to call their support again.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Life during plaguetime

A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, 'You are mad; you are not like us.' 
– St. Anthony the Great

This ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this ain't no fooling around. It's THE END OF THE WORLD. Again. Hit me, baby, one more time. And, like so many ends of the world past and those still to come, it isn't. I'm not yet 60 and I've survived apocalypse after apocalypse that Those Who Know™ predicted would be curtains for us all: Malthusianism, global cooling, global warming, swine flu (H1N1), bird flu (H5N1), SARS, mad cow disease, Legionnaires Disease, Y2K, HIV/AIDS, Ebola virus, West Nile virus, the oil crisis, DDT, nuclear holocaust, the banking crisis, World War III (many instances), the cancelation of Firefly, disco, Ronald Reagan, etc. I and the world are still standing, as I expect will be the case for me for many years to come and for the world many, many years beyond that.

And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 
– Matthew 24:6

I'm not making light of COVID-19, a.k.a. the Coronavirus (or the Wuhan Virus—if you're a racist, so we're told). It's certainly serious, but the panic being generated is out of all proportion to the threat. The swine flu of 2009-2010 was much more serious. In the US there were more than 60 million infected, hundreds of thousands hospitalized, and more than 12,000 deaths. Worldwide, nearly half a million people died. At that time, there was relatively little panic. Life went on. The NCAA championship (a different March Madness than we're experiencing now) wasn't canceled. Instead, the press was ga-ga over Barack Obama's brackets, which he seemed to care about much more than responding to a pandemic.

Estimates for the 2019-2020 flu season aren't complete, but the US may have seen as many as 51 million infected, 670,000 hospitalized, and 55,000 deaths—and flu is an annual event. Every year results in tens of thousands of deaths. The 2018-2019 flu season had 61,000 estimated deaths. COVID-19 has a long, long way to go to reach those numbers.

Whether swine flu, bird flu, or annual flu, the responses were measured and reasonable. Businesses weren't shut down, public gatherings weren't canceled, travel wasn't forbidden.

Perhaps those measures would have limited the spread, perhaps not, but there was no panic, no insanity. I look at Obama publicising his NCAA brackets while thousands were dying less like Nero fiddling while Rome burned than like Drake finishing his game of bowling after the Armada was sighted. Calm amid the storm is never a bad option (besides, Drake had to wait for the tide anyway). The tendency to panic and then to attack anyone not panicking with you is just crazy.

We must carry on. We need that now, but it's not to be. The press is whipping reasonable concern into frenzied hysteria and the politicians are one-upping each other to be most responsive—or at least to avoid accusations of non-responsiveness—as well as to accuse others of inaction and establish "I told you so" rights in the aftermath. Most of it is pure posturing.

For the first time since the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, public celebration of the Catholic Mass in numerous places around the world has been canceled until further notice. It may turn out to be just a few weeks, but the Seattle Archdiocese, where I live, is scrambling for alternative ways to continue administering the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist, after the governor has banned large gatherings of all kinds, including church attendance.

Panic adds to panic and snowballs from there. One unprecedented response makes people think they need to do more, which leads to further unprecedented responses. Reasonable precautions give way to paranoia like the runs on banks during the Great Depression, a textbook example of people fearing fear itself, which only ever makes a bad situation worse.

Nothing epitomizes the absurdity of the present panic like the run on toilet paper. Toilet paper. At stores all over the US (and in other countries as well) toilet paper is selling out. Instead of the usual cornucopia of absorbent options, the shelves are empty because people are afraid they'll be quarantined with an insufficient amount of bog-roll to get them through. It's silly, but panic like that is infectious and normally sane people start to worry that they better get TP right now rather than wait until they're out because with everyone buying as much as they can, there may not be any left when they need it. Thus, there is none at all.

Travel is in upheaval. My nephew was due to fly to Chile on Monday to start a job teaching ESL. That got canceled because Chile is warning people flying in that they will be quarantined for several weeks on arrival. Friends who've flown in recent days have shared pics of empty airports. No one is traveling, either they've canceled because they're afraid or their destination has canceled on them.

There is also the compulsive need for every business that has your email address in its database to send you unsolicited emails explaining how they're addressing the virus crisis.

So far, all the restaurants and grocery stores are open and crowded, but businesses have made their workers telecommute until the end of March just to be safe. Some retail stores have shut down. I had a new customized Mac that I was to pick up at the Apple store near me on Tuesday. I was just notified that Apple is shutting all its stores outside of China until March 27. I'll have to creep along with my tired old Mac for another few weeks.

I was supposed to start a new job on Monday and left my old one on Thursday. Now the new job start is delayed due to chaos because of the virus. I have a week (or two) to kill before I start getting a paycheck again. People forced into telecommuting are also having to homeschool their kids because all the schools have closed. Microsoft gave telecommuting parents a week of paid leave to sort it all out.

The markets are freaking out, less from the virus than from the havoc of disrupted business. A market downturn could cause a lot of economic hardship for a lot of people if it continues for long. Which brings up the seedy politics of the virus. Some Democrats are eager for the economy to tank so they can unseat the Bad Orange Man and replace him with either a bad-tempered guy who often forgets who he is and what he's doing or a bad-tempered guy who thinks bread lines are fantastic, is offended by the variety of underarm deodorant available in a market economy, and is incredulous that people have bad opinions about Fidel Castro. One is demented, the other is crazy (or evil). That's the best they have to offer.

Maybe it is THE END OF THE WORLD. Given the fear-mongering, mindlessness, and low politicization of a situation that ought to pull us together for the common good, maybe that's for the best. It can only go downhill from here. Whatever comes will come, but for now, I feel fine—frustrated and a bit angry, but fine.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Drumbeat MMXX

We held Drumbeat 2020 on February 22, George Washington's birthday. It was also the 76th birthday of Dick Larsen, who founded the Drumbeat game day event 13 years ago (it seems longer). Dick's idea was to have a mid-Winter event to prime the Northwest Historical Miniature Gamers Society (NHMGS) members for our annual Enfilade! convention in May. I've been coordinating things for it the last few years since Dick's health has prevented him from maintaining an ongoing active role. It kind of runs itself, so it's a perfect gig for someone as lazy as I.

Attendance has fluctuated and costs have risen over the years, which may imperil its continuation. This year we had 13 games with almost 70 attendees. We're open to the public, so we operate on a donation basis for funding. We also provide space for a bring 'n' buy for which NHMGS takes a 10% cut of the sales. In all, we managed to come in at a mere loss of $55.00—a big improvement on last year's loss. Our attendance was higher and the bring 'n' buy sales were greater. It's not certain that we can maintain that going forward. We'll have to have the membership vote on whether we continue at the Lake City Community Center. We're looking into options for other venues, but LCCC has been a pretty good place for the last several years.

Game 1: The Englishman's Lament

I ran two games this year. The first was a replay of my Cnoc Uí Chinnéide scenario for The Pikeman's Lament. I'll be running this game at Enfilade! in May, so I'm fiddling with it to make it work right. The English got their hats handed to them this time after I reduced their firepower. I'm painting more English calivermen now and I've got some English cavalry I can add in as well. I may need another playtest in April or early May.

Game 2: Run faster

My second game was a joint venture with Kevin Smyth. Kevin came up with a scenario for Rebels and Patriots based on the race for the Dan river, which was a prelude to the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in 1781. He and I played it ourselves in the week before Drumbeat and we've been tweaking it since with, I think, more tweaks to come, although the game at Drumbeat played out pretty well.

The Americans have to get their forces over a ford in the Dan river without suffering a loss of more than one unit. If they lose two, it's over for them. Losses inflicted on the British don't factor in, so they pretty much have to make a running fight to get away. In the game at Drumbeat, the Americans seemed well along to winning, having wiped out all the British cavalry and one of their light infantry units. They got some units over the Dan, but still had most on the wrong side when they lost two units to the remainder of the British forces, which amounted to one light infantry, one skirmisher (Hessian jägers), two line infantry, and a light gun. I'm not sure if it's a winnable game for the Americans given the severe victory conditions.

Dice fetish update (Aus Deutschland mit Liebe)

Longtime readers of this blog will know I have a sickness when it comes to dice. I mentioned in a previous post that the antique bone dice I've been using for activations have a tendency to roll snake-eyes. For Rebels and Patriots and The Pikeman's Lament, that's bad, very bad. To see if I could get another set of unique-ish dice to use for more favorable activation/morale, I ordered a set of three from a German craft store on Etsy. They're about 1/2", definitely—though not precisely—cuboid, and handcrafted from laminated bone.

Sadly, I haven't had a change to test them yet. I figure that rolling any two of the three will randomize things a bit more than just rolling the same two every time.

Other games

I was so busy setting up, running, and taking down my games that I managed only a cursory look at other games. Kevin ran a big Lion Rampant game in the morning. Despite my tunnel vision, there were a lot of great games going on around me. I'm very happy with the strong response to the call for game hosts.

Filthy lucre

It was kind of spur of the moment, but I brought a fair bit of stuff to sell at the bring 'n' buy. I have a lot of debris from long-forgotten projects collecting dust in my garage—a lot of dust, actually, because I spray white primer on my figures in the garage and that dust settles everywhere and builds over time. A lot of what I was selling were unpainted 15mm ancients and WW2. At one time, they were a going concern, now they're just concerning. When the dust settled, I walked away with $100.00+ bucks in my pocket. I have a lot more of which to divest myself. That'll be a project for Enfilade!

Dick Larsen

A very poignant aspect of the day was knowing that Dick, the man who founded Drumbeat and was the prime mover behind starting our regional gaming group NHMGS (Northwest Historical Miniature Gaming Society) back in the 80s, is ailing quickly. Dick suffered a stroke three years ago on the same day that Phil Bardsley died. He'd been recovering slowly, but has been wheelchair bound for more than a year. He made an appearance last year, but now he's in home hospice. In addition to his stroke effects, he has liver cancer. Bill Stewart and I visited him a week before Drumbeat and spent about 40 minutes with him. Bill has been to see him multiple times since.