Saturday, October 17, 2020

A fond farewell to the cock-pit of King County

The Panzer Depot closed for business this week. John Kennedy had run the business for 17 years. Initially a distribution business, John was the first US distributor for the Flames of War minis and was a distributor for a few companies from the UK, he moved more towards a local retail-only operation in the final years.

In looking recently through the Cascadia Tabletop Wargamers Facebook group's photos, it dawned on me that more miniature battles have occurred on the tables in John's store over the years than anywhere else in the region. It was the (miniature) cock-pit of King County—if not the whole of Western WA. It was our own private Belgium. But while Belgium is still here, The Panzer Depot is gone.

COVID was the last nail in its coffin, although John says that the business had been struggling for the last few years. The news of the store's closing came unexpectedly in September and effected a small shockwave through the gamers in this region.

For those of us who live closer in to Seattle or Bellevue, The Panzer Depot was more than a store or even a venue for miniature gaming, it was a community, a hub around which friendships were formed.

Miniature gaming will continue—assuming we're not locked down forever—but we'll go old school. Most of us started miniature gaming in garages and private homes; we're returning to that now. I expect, however, some fragmentation. At The Panzer Depot you could stop by to buy something or just check in to see what was going on and meet a host of characters with whom you might connect.

We've been spoiled in this region for decades with several commercial venues to play. American Eagles hobby shop in Seattle (various locations) was a locus for miniature gaming since the 80s, but gaming there declined sharply after their last move because no one really liked the new gamespace. In any case, American Eagles shut down in 2011. The Game Matrix in Tacoma is still available as a place to game, although it's always felt iffy about planning a game there. Pokemon tournaments—replete with noisy children—could appear unexpectedly and your game would get bumped, if you were lucky; otherwise, you might be relegated to a small table in the back of the room where you'd be overwhelmed with the din. When I first came to Washington, 30 years ago, there were a few gamers who met in the attic of Plastics and Tactics, a moribund hobby store in Tacoma. That's where I first met people who have remained lifelong friends, though some are now gone.

The Panzer Depot was a lovely, cluttered hole in the wall filled with fascinating things, so I was startled to see the pictures John posted of the empty store.

I made one last trip this morning to see the old place where happy memories dwell and peek in the windows at the bare walls. The empty shell reminded of the words of Psalm 103:16,

For the wind passes over it, and it is gone,

And its place knows it no more. 

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Rule Germania, Germania Rule the Waves

We played our first game in the Great Wee Fleet project on Saturday. For me, it was the first gaming I've done since late February. It was an odd feeling of somewhat returning to normalcy.

Kevin Smyth and I had planned it for a few weeks. We decided on an encounter between a small American squadron and a small German squadron, mostly because I had some German ships painted and Kevin had lots of Americans he was eager to get into action. I contribute just two of the German ships, Kevin supplied the others and the whole lot of the Americans.

SMS Gazelle
SMS Arcona
Each squadron had 4 ships. The Germans were the following:

  • SMS Gazelle, a protected cruiser mounting 10 x 4.1" guns
  • SMS Arcona, basically a sister or cousin to the Gazelle—Conway's has them as sisters, but Jane's makes them different classes
  • SMS Iltis, a small gunboat with just 4 x 4.1" guns
  • SMS Luchs, another small gunboat in the same class as the Iltis.
Steve Puffenberger and I shared the command. I took Gazelle and Arcona (the ships that I brought to the game) and Steve commanded the two gunboats that Kevin supplied. The ships started in line ahead with Gazelle leading, followed by Arcona, Iltis, and Luchs.

The Americans were:
  • USS Atlanta, the "A" of the ABCD ships that were the beginning of the American Steel Navy way back in 1883, she was a protected cruiser with 2 x 8" guns and 6 x 6" guns
  • USS Detroit, an unprotected cruiser mounting 2 x 6" guns and 8 x 5" guns
  • USS Concord, a gunboat mounting 6 x 6" guns
  • USS Nashville, a gunboat mounting 4 x 4" guns
Kevin commanded the two cruisers and Dave Schuler commanded the gunboats. Atlanta lead the line, followed by Detroit, Concord, and Nashville.

The rules we used were Fire When Ready! by David Manley. The rules seem to be scaled to battleship actions. Ship damage is accounted for using two values: ADV is the damage value above the waterline, BDV is the damage value below the waterline. ADV damage affects whether your ship can fight, BDV damage reflects whether it can still float. ADV is BDV plus increased values for armored bits. BDV is calculated at 1 point per 500 tons displacement up to 2000 tons, at which point it's calculated as 1 point per 1000 tons +3. This gives a reasonable amount of damage that can be taken for larger ships that might be 15000 tons or more. As I mentioned in a previous post, we're looking at gaming actions with smaller ships. Even at 1 point BDV/ADV per 500 tons, you still have very low defence values. After discussing it, Kevin and I thought that 1 point per 100 tons was feasible. I worried that maybe that would generate defense values that were too large, but it turned out to be spot on.

Since we were using 1/1250th scale models, we also used inches for measurement, i.e., 1" =  1000 yds, rather than 1cm = 1000 yds.

Both lines of battle moved at only moderate speed. The German cruisers were fast at 21 and 22 kts, but to keep formation at the start, they had to keep down to the flank speed of the gunboats, which was a mere 13 kts. None of the American ships was particularly fast and their line started at about 14 kts, I think.

Our initial shooting was a bit dismal. We opened up at about 4000 yds, well within medium range. My first shots were failures even when I hit. Arcona got a hit on Atlanta, but my 5 x D6 damage dice only scored a '6', which was no damage at all. 

On the second turn, things got dicier. Steve's ship Iltis got blasted by a salvo that wrecked her upper decks and took out 3 of her 4 4.1" guns. There was nothing left for her to do but turn away and head out of the battle zone.

At this point, my dice rolling turned from failure to fantastic and stayed that way throughout the game. I pasted the Atlanta and Detroit for a couple turns inflicting steady, though unspectacular damage on them. I was not much hurt by any of the fire at me.

The German cruisers benefited from having a large battery (10 guns!) of all the same caliber. There are advantages in determining damage depending on how many guns are firing. The German cruisers could bring 4 guns to bear forward or aft and 5 to port or starboard, which gave me 5 damage dice if I hit with a broadside of 4 if hit a target ahead or astern.

With Steve's gunboats in dire straights, I split off the cruisers into a flying squadron to start moving full and turn about to go around the end of the American line. Going faster also helped me to avoiding getting hit. The Americans split off then as well, with Dave's gunboats coming my way with Kevin maintaining mostly the original course with his 2 cruisers, countered mostly by Luchs, Steve's remaining gunboat, though I maintained them as my targets as long as I could.

Breaking up the formations
Due to my speed, I was able to get in quick and cross the T against Dave's gunboats. That proved disastrous for him. I got significant hits with my 4.1" guns and did a world of hurt with nothing much coming back at me. The Arcona also managed to get a torpedo hit against the Concord. For a change, I rolled poorly and inflicted much less damage than I could have. Nevertheless, the Concord was hurting. Gazelle tried a torpedo shot at Nashville, but missed.

Normally, torpedo damage is 1 x D6 points against both ADV and BDV. However, because we pumped up the defense values, a single D6 would be a pretty anemic effect even if you rolled a '6'. I hadn't figured out what that would be before the game, so we just went with using 2 x D6 damage. As I mentioned, I rolled poorly and got, I think, 5 points damage against Concord.

Concord was bad off, but Nashville still had some fight in her. The next turn, I swung around to go broadside to broadside with Dave's line—moving very slowly now because of damage. Nashville got a good shot against Arcona, which up to that time had little damage, despite being hit a few times by Kevin's cruisers. In response, both Gazelle and Arcona fired at Nashville and left her not quite a wreck.

At this point, we called the game. Of Steve's gunboats, the Iltis had been much damaged with with her ADV nearly shot up and only a single working gun. Luchs was still in fairly good shape, although one lucky salvo from Kevin's cruisers might easily change that. Gunboats are brittle. Kevin's cruisers were still in the fight, but were near the 2/3 damage mark that might have sent them away. The American cruisers were slightly heavier than the Germans, with around 32 ADV/BDV. The Germans were 27. Arcona was hardest hit—mostly from the Nashville's last salvo—while Gazelle was nearly unscathed, with a lot of ruin left in her.

The game was a German victory.

We feel very vindicated in bumping the ADV/BDV up for the small ships. The game wouldn't have lasted three turns otherwise. The damage we took in a single hit would have wrecked or nearly wrecked any of our ships if we stuck with the formulation in the rules. We'll probably vary it to 1 point per 200 tons as we introduce armored cruisers to the game mix. That will make gunboats even less worthwhile in the battle line, but then gunboats have no business going up against armored cruisers anyway.

I commend the services of Purple D20 above all the brave actions of my seamen. I didn't bring any dice to the game, so Kevin loaned me some of his. I used one purple die throughout for my hit determination rolls. Apart from turn 1, I never missed a salvo, consistently rolling above '10', usually above '15'. I even rolled a '20' for my torpedo hit, which was the minimum I needed. The torpedo from Gazelle missed, but it was still a roll of '18'.

Lila, Lila über Alles, über Alles in der Welt
I was also happy to be able to use my new, nifty spalted tamarind Wyrmwood dice tray. It arrived just before the plague shut everything down and I've been itching to get it into action these past three months. I was not disappointed.

I have more HAI ships coming from Germany that will fill out my wee Japanese flotilla. I may get another couple German ships. I'm not sure how much I'll do after that. I still have my Lyzard's Grin Japanese and Chinese fleets for Yalu that I have to complete.

I expect more pre-dreadnought gaming through the summer. We've got a full head of steam as we move out of the lockdown.

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.