## Friday, 24 December 2010

### Janus Tendencies

So today I had a quick tidy up of the blog setup and I remembered that I had stopped recording, on board game geek, the games that I have been playing this year.  Shame really, I think there is a little Janus in all of us at this gateway to the new year and it would have been nice to examine the statistics like some latter-day sooth sayer and predict what it means about the changing nature of me and what may happen in 2011.

Note-to-self, must play (and record) more games.

## Thursday, 23 December 2010

### No Crib for a Bed

Last night we were lucky enough to be invited to stay for supper with some great friends following the annual Oakley Court carol service.  After eating we were casually invited to play some cards.  Fabulous.  The crib board was produced and the games began.  I took an absolute drubbing - not helped by playing against a Jedi Crib Master - "these are not the cards you're looking for".

Humiliated and dejected I decided to take on my iphone to claw back some self respect.  During this first game, I was taking the lead and feeling very confident and then I was presented with this hand.

So obviously I could sit and work out the mathematical possibilities and the appropriate probability distribution but I was taking a, ahem, 10 minute break and so I made a snap decision.  I would discard the 4 and the 3 since the resulting hand was worth 14 in its own right.

Blast, who'd've thought it, I should have kept the 4 and the 3.  This meant that my hand is now still only worth 14 but if I'd thrown the 10 and a 5 into my crib I'd have had a hand worth 18 and a stronger seeded crib.

Adding insult to injury my crib was only worth 4 points but had I have thrown in the 5 and 10, it would have been worth 8 making my total score 26, a full 10 points more than my actual score of 16.  I guess an implicit, Jedi like understanding of probability is what one must develop to make the more likely (to succeed) selection, repeatedly.  Still I beat the iPhone - scant satisfaction though, as I know deep down that Master Sandy would have punished the choice mercilessly.  I'll lay down my sweet head......

## Tuesday, 21 December 2010

### An Egregious Motor Car

The OED defines egregious as outstandingly bad as a modern definition and remarkably good as an archaic definition.  I think its safe to say the Bentley Packard in the link below fits this definition accurately.  We may indeed be at the end of the epoch of the internal combustion engine and we may or may not believe that exhaust fumes generated by consumption of oil and its derivatives has set the environment on a cycle of terminal decline; what we cannot do is fail to marvel at the engineering phenomenon that is Mavis, the Bentley Packard.

I received a link from my cousin-in-law Mike, a fellow petrol head, to the following video and article from the Telegraph.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading the article and watching the road test and wanted to share.  I only hope you can suppress your eco-guilt sufficiently to fully appreciate the inherent beauty of this gargantuan machine and the wonderful eccentricity of anyone wanting to build it.

## Thursday, 16 December 2010

### Didactic or Polemic? You decide - PART I

Not being a student of history, its often difficult for me to locate important events on a timeline and to see their relative importance and why they may have an influence on our lives today.  The hypothesis that humans have a single origin was published by Darwin in 1859.  There is significantly more evidence to support this theory today,  apparently hominids diverged from chimpanzees 5-7 million years ago and a discovery within the last decade puts this nearer the earlier date.  Modern humans, Homo Sapiens evolved in Eastern Africa 200,000 to 140,000 years ago and using genetic testing a much more accurate map of human ancestry and migration to all inhabited parts of the world is now available.

Apparently there is still much academic debate, which occasionally spills over to mainstream media, regarding the Recent African Origin (RAO) model.  Around 60,000 years ago a group of 150-200 early humans made it out of Africa and proceeded to populate the rest of the planet.  Ultimately surviving all earlier hominids that had journeyed out of Africa previously.  Looking at the timeline at the top, in the last 800,000 years (80% of the last section of the 7) there were eight ice ages, each interspersed with warmer periods of around 10,000 years.  The impact of the extreme cold on the planet does not only have the obvious effect, that of the ice sheets advancing across the northern hemisphere cutting off vital resources for these hunter gatherer communities, but also the locking up of water in these sheets meant that lower rainfall turned half the land between the tropics into desert.  A torrid time then for the human race.  About 12,000 years ago the last ice age was drawing to an end - temperatures rose, vegetation returned and animals spread into the former wastelands.  The hunters followed.  By this time in the Near East and Central America these humans had begun to develop new ways of producing food, farming had started.  During the 150,000 years that preceded this time, modern humans numbered only in their millions and had migrated the globe foraging and hunting in small groups.  This fundamental change in human behaviour signalled the start of the transition to modern society.

The Levant is an imprecise word with sometimes emotive definitions but in general it can be thought of to cover the area shown in the picture.  I have chosen the picture that has a very arbitrary shading and uses ancient names for the regions comprising it, clearly modern day  Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories fall within this region.  It is believed that the origin of the word is from archaic French and refers to 'rising' as the Sun rises in the East.  This crucible of humanity is where 10,000 years ago these once migratory small groups of humans had advanced their agriculture sufficiently to allow them to remain in one location permanently.  This is worth absorbing.  After 7 million years from the split from chimpanzee, 200,000 years after modern Humans evolved, 60,000 years after migrating out of Africa, after beginning to domesticate animals and selecting genetically superior plants to farm, finally Humanity started to take root.  Small villages with partially subterranean dwellings were clustered together in a community.  Around 8000 BC then, during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA), the world's first known town, Jericho, appeared in the Levant and was surrounded by a stone wall and contained a population of 2000-3000 people and a massive stone tower.   It was a further thousand years before the inhabitants of modern day China would start cultivating rice and farming appeared in parts of the Aegean, it was not until c 4000BC before this reached the shores of Britain and maize was first cultivated in Modern Ecuador and Columbia around 3000BC.  Tune in for part II, where I will explore what these pioneers in the Levant, our ancestors,  did with all their spare time, now they were not hunting for food every waking moment.

## Tuesday, 7 December 2010

### New Year's Revolution

As I have mentioned before the communication challenges that confront us all, with the advent of what is variously called social networking, Cyberspace, the Web, the Internet etc, are numerous and many people are struggling to come to terms with them.  From businesses to the media to private individuals the struggle is evident.  Some businesses can't cope with the onset of viral marketing the vast scale interconnectedness of their consumers.

The news media - in the 24hour constant reporting world - struggle to balance relevance and source verified factually correct reporting.

Finally the general public are swamped by the accelerating and rapid upgrading and introduction of new tools with which to communicate. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn are my current trio there are many more brands from which we can choose.

In all of these sites I am finding an increasing discomfort. It has been clear to me for some time that we are someone's product but the escalation of the disdain with which our information security and privacy are being handled I find increasingly frustrating.  There must be a business model that supports a more safe, secure and open relationship with the provider.  If so many people desire this type of facility I'm sure it can be provided as a low-cost fee for service type deal.  I have started sketching out a business plan, not sure how to fund it? My New Years Resolution is to complete the plan and if it looks sensible to get it funded and build an alternative, who's with me? Comrade Jimbo, leader of the people's popular affront.

## Monday, 29 November 2010

### Share and share alike

An interesting phrase, so obvious in meaning that you don’t have to think about it. This weekend I have been moved to think about sharing. In a previous blog I touched on “The Tragedy of the Commons” and “Enlightened Self Interest”, so philosophically at least I am familiar with the concept of sharing and sharing often being in one’s own best interest. I like to think of my self as a generous person, I never shy from the bar on entering a pub with a group; I like to make sure all people have their fair share or pay their fair cost. So why then, when I am asked to share a small piece of desert with my wife, am I moved to say “no”?

Logically this makes no sense, I bought a piece of caramel shortbread on Friday larger than I would normally have and when my wife asked if she could share a bit, my instant reaction was, “if I’d known that, I would have bought two pieces”. Clearly working on the premise that I would eat any of hers that she was unable to finish but ignoring the fact that the small 10% of the total piece that she was asking for was probably the same amount as the surplus on my piece over the average size – having indicated to the shop assistant to give me the largest visible piece. Obviously my life partner and mentor took the opportunity to explain my mistake and much later, when I had calmed down, I did feel the incongruity between my response to this request and my belief in Enlightened Self Interest. It is probably an infant behaviour pattern that has not yet evolved a more appropriate response mechanism in adulthood. Yes, I admit it, I was being a child.

## Thursday, 18 November 2010

### An ode to joy

“oo are yuh?”.  I’m not sure really.  May be that answer speaks volumes.  How does one define oneself in the modern world?  Is it by the nation state to whom we pay tax, to whom owe allegiance and in whose borders we reside?  Is it some socio political class probably given a dreadful acronym by the marketeers?  I’m not a DINKY, no really, I’m not.  I’m not “Mondeo man” and last time I looked my pound was neither grey nor pink.  Is it some racial or genetic label that defines us? I’m freckly, my hair has a sort of reddish tint, I enjoy “the beer” and I like swirly patterns, I must be a Celt.  Really, has it ever been so hard to define who you are?  I was listening to the news tonight, confident in the knowledge that I am British.  I believe this to be short hand for a citizen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  This, I have been led to believe, is my country, and is the source of my nationality.  So why do the BBC insist on presenting Scottish and Welsh stories as if they were a separate country.  Short pause whilst I read the Scotland Act 1998. zzzzzz.  Oh yeah, that's why, it's a separate country.  What!  was I asleep? Next you’ll be telling me Wales isn’t a principality and has it own government.  Short pause whilst I read the Welsh devolution referendum of 1997.  Oh.

So ok, Wales is its own country, Scotland is its own country, what about England?  for that matter what about Yorkshire (population 2.2 million) considering that Wales has c. 3 million residents, is it that daft?  How far will devolution go?  Minority interests fragmenting the Nation.  So we are devolving power to local government, in many ways this is a good thing.  Local people raising taxes and deploying those funds locally but understanding they are part of a larger collective that must collaborate to survive but this is not how government works for us.  So we are not creating mini nations.  Scottish sailors wear the British army’s uniform and go to see on British aircraft carriers (for now), Welsh shoppers spend British pounds (it’ll buy you 1 Euro 15 cents today) and English or Cornish athletes sing the British national anthem.  God save the Queen.  Yes, I know we enter a whole new realm of confusion here, the Queen is English as she burnt some cakes once or was that Alfred, or is she Scottish since she is descended from James the I  or is she Welsh from Henry Tudor.  Actually she’s German, as evidenced by her clear descendency from George of Hamburg or French from our all time favourite King, Guillaume le Bâtard.
Sovereignty lies at the heart of it.  Again though this is not as clear to me immediately as you would have hoped.  Who has supreme power of authority in the UK?  The Scotland Act deals with this in relation to devolution, clearly retaining sovereignty in Westminster but in reality will economy not drive this, will the size of the economy not dictate that not only will Scotland remain British but eventually Britain will become European?
So there you go, I’ve rambled for a while and decided I’m a Europhile.  Shocking.

## Tuesday, 9 November 2010

### Forgive me ether it has been 2 months since my last confession

Despite getting great satisfaction from SHOUTING into the ether, like some poor demented soul, I have been unable to put finger tips to keyboard for 2 months.  Yes, I have excuses; yes, they are all perfectly reasonable; no, I am not happy about it; no, I feel powerless to change it.  Well, until now that is.  Unfortunately, I now discover that I have literally nothing to say.  Actually, this is not strictly true, I have oodles to say but nothing appropriate to share on this medium.  I have struggled to spend quality time with my family, I have hardly cycled, I have read very few blogs, I have missed some games nights, I have not rung my Mum and why have I forsaken all these things?  Short pause whilst I try to grandstand the inevitable, yes you guessed it, like millions of other "saddos" I have allowed work to consume my life.  One maxim that has defined my existence so far has been "Life is about the journey, not the destination".  I feel I have been forgetting this of late fellow ether dwellers, so I herby vow to grab time back from work and share it equally amongst those pursuits listed above....  Look out for many blogs on these subjects in the weeks to follow.

## Friday, 10 September 2010

### Nose pressed to grindstone

Of late my head has been so choc-a-block with stuff that I have found no time to read any fiction, no time to write and very little time to ponder life's great questions. I have managed to keep my hand in with a few boardgames and I have sporadically updated my Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn sites. I am missing these simple pleasures, some would say luxuries. The holidays are finished, the kids are back to school and life is starting to settle down to it's normal rhythm. Just need need to get through the PhUSE annual conference and then it's the run up to Christmas.

Sent from my iPad

## Thursday, 5 August 2010

### Matt Ridley: When ideas have sex | Video on TED.com

Matt Ridley: When ideas have sex | Video on TED.com

If you can get past the attention grabbing title, this is actually a very interesting lecture.  The premise is a simple one; communication, sharing, support are the reason why humans have evolved.  Enlightened self interest.  Stunning thought, there isn't a single person on the planet that knows how to make a pencil!  Mining the graphite, harvesting the wood, manufacturing the tools to make it are all skills held by many people collectively but not in a single mind.

## Monday, 2 August 2010

### There can only be one.....

... winner!  Sadly, as with all competitions of true value, there can only be one winner.  Yes, for those that have been interested - and I am under no delusions that this may actually only be Jason and I - the 10 game series has just finished and the old master has been declared the winner.  7-3

The student accepted the lesson graciously - whilst revenge plotting  was evident on his face, gracious comments to the victor abounded.

Actually, this was a lesson in what gaming is all about.  We both had a great deal of fun, the ante was "upped" with the publicising of the results, and ultimately the pitting of wits and friendly competition meant that we both focussed our endeavour on winning but making sure that the activity itself was thoroughly enjoyable.  It was. I look forward to the next series in about 3 weeks.  For this, I may just publish the results!

## Friday, 30 July 2010

### are you bored yet?

Tension mounts, well for me at least, interest wanes, for Jason. A massive 4 wins in a row has set me up for "2 match points".  All I have to do is win 1 or more of the next 2 games and victory will be mine.  Of course if I lose both, then on goal difference Jace wins.  I lose.

"In many ways you're both losers", anonymous

### The Comeback kid

Having managed to squeeze in two more games yesteday, the score now stands at 3 all.  With an almost unassailable 60 points in goal difference - its all or nothing in the last few games of the series for Jimmy Mac!

What's that you're choking on Jace?  oh a piece of humble pie.....

## Wednesday, 28 July 2010

### Lessons from Mary Shelly

Two blogs in one day. There must be some drama. Well there is of sorts, for all us gaming types. I've coerced one of my colleagues to start playing board games, it may have been the bright shiny iPad (what still no product review?) version that drew him in but now he is in, well lets say he's hooked. After many games where the student has performed well and the patient but sage old master has coaxed and mentored him, and sufficient games were under the belt, the student declared its time to score - a true gamer at heart. This week we have set ourselves a challenge, play 10 games of Small World on the iPad and record the scores. In case of a draw we'll use point "goal" difference to declare the champ. Monday was a washout - too much work for both - yesterday saw us manage 2 games over lunch with a draw and Student up on goal difference. All fine so far. Today has been an humiliating defeat for the old master, 2 - 0 to the student. Faced with this stunning performance, the student was gracious, and courteous in victory and with self effacing humility reinforced the quality of the lessons he has received. Not. With taunting and jibing, and claims of "you're finished old timer", we have engaged in a little email debate. The scene is set, justice must be metered out, the universe must be brought back into balance. Game on for tomorrow :-)

Sent from my iPad

### "Honesty makes people sad"

To all my software development and project management pals.  Being on the bow wave of technology and technology adoption by corporate entities can be tough ;-)

Check out more Dilbert

## Wednesday, 7 July 2010

### Its about time

So I have had a self instigated moratorium on blogging for a while. Largely due to good weather (don't fancy being stuck at the computer for too long), good wine (couple of 'scoops' at the end of the day and I'm poleaxed), too much work (although I am conscious of the Steerpike maxim from my last attempt at this excuse - "you choose how much you want to work" - a little simplistic for my ethos but a grain of truth nonetheless) and too many end-of-term events. Anyway, with holiday season almost upon us I thought I'd better get this one off my, errr..., chest.

I've recently downloaded an app for my iPad (device review is long overdue - suffice to say 10:10) and it has pushed many buttons for me, the app I mean. I find a great satisfaction in knowing that mechanical watches with ever miniaturised and complex, accurate movements are manufactured - yes I love watches - I am also fascinated with Astronomy, thats the study of celestial objects not the study of terrestrial newspaper fillers. If you were confused by that reference you're probably a sagitarian - they always struggle with concealed irony. This app then, observatory, is designed for people like me - in fact its so perfect I sat there wondering for a brief egocentric-moment if I had actually commissioned it.

I'm not sure the purpose of the app is immediately clear, nor should it be, I have used it to marvel at the differences in various measures of time, to explore the heliocentric movement of the planets, to examine the "accuracy" of time at different points in history, to discover the position of celestial bodies at specific historic events and finally and most importantly to explore the physical, conceptual and philosophical nature of time. I have flicked back and forth between graffiti-pedia and the app grappling with the meaning of Solar Time, the Solar Day, Sidereal Time, The Equation of Time and now I am astounded by the complexity of evaluating what we simply call "a day".

Eventually, as is its wont, my mind drifted off to the subject of time perception. I remember reading that in reality our brain processes a sequence of images and uses "trickery" to make us believe we are seeing a continuous stream rather than this continual stream of separate stills. If one were able to process more images, one would in effect see the world in slow-motion (relatively speaking). This is one reason why we can't catch the fly with chopsticks, it processes many more images per second than we do. So where did this lead me? beyond the capacity to reason is the honest answer, so I was able to experiment - the app can "animate" the solar system with a number of different frequencies. Year, Month, Phase, Day, Hour and Minute. Enough for eons of experimentation. I'll publish the results when I'm done.

Sent from my iPad

## Thursday, 17 June 2010

### The Battle continues

The latest WotR session with Eric has proven one of the most challenging yet. Coming off the back of a series of morale bashing defeats Eric has managed to capitalise on having "normal" dice rolls and card draws. The game has started well for the Free Peoples of middle earth, after 9 rounds comprising 92 actions, the ring bearers are poised to be declared in Minis Tirith and they have zero corruption. The Shadow forces however are not making it easy for them, after a punishing onslaught of Uruk Hai, Rivendell has fallen. Isengard then turned its attention to Rohan, Helms Deep falling after a failed rescue attempt by Gandalf and the Rohirrim. The Shadow forces are mustering at all points, it is now a race against time for both sides.

Look out for a full report on my games blog.

Sent from my iPad (Which will be the subject of my next blog)

## Friday, 4 June 2010

### It's a Small World

This 2-player version of Small World for the iPad

(Vyvyan: “yes we’ve got a bloody video” )

is one of the best Apps so far! I played 3 games at lunch today. I do hope they expand it to more players, the table top mode would probably cope.  I wanted to write a review but this is better than I could do..

## Monday, 31 May 2010

### Check out my website!

Just trying out writing my own webspace. Publishing to Blogger is a bit tedious.

Hi everyone,

I just updated my website and thought you might want to check it out. To visit, just click on the links below or paste the URLs into your browser.

Site
Games Blog
Archive

Take a look and let me know what you think!

## Wednesday, 26 May 2010

### The Costa Complaining

Anyone who has read my Twitter Feed will know that I am a little obsessed with Coffee.  Costa is currently my favourite of the big chains.  As a fan of good service, good coffee and contractual consistency, despite having many other things to think about, I have recently become embroiled in a Costa related customer services shambles. You may be amused, and ultimately heartened, by the ensuing email chain……

________________________________________
Dear Customer Service
I currently use the Costa Coffee shop in Chineham near Basingstoke. I have a local 10% discount card that is valid for 1 year (sponsored by destination Basingstoke) and I have been using it for sometime. I recently got the new Coffee Club card in Oxford and decided to use it at the Chineham shop. Some staff have allowed it and some have not, on one occasion the response was quite terse – strange since the card is supposed to engender loyalty I thought – and so I called the customer services number on the card. I was informed that there was no problem with both cards being used simultaneously. When I told the staff at Chineham they did not believe me so I have mostly just ignored the card. This week one of the staff asked if I had the coffee club card and I replied I do but you won’t let me use it, he invited me to hand over my card and applied both the discount and the club card. The next visit this action was stopped by another member of staff, I explained that I really wasn’t bothered whether they scanned the card or not, as a regular customer it is important for me not to fall out with them and feel uncomfortable visiting the branch. I pointed out that I had called the customer services and been told that they can use both cards. Today she told me she had also called customer services and been told that she was correct and they should only accept one discount card. Promptly asking me which one I wish to use – the PERK card is 10% discount and the Coffee Club is 5% - my answer is obvious really. May I ask that you answer in writing which of the advice is correct?
Kind regards
James

Costa Fan

________________________________________
Sent: 28 April 2010 15:54
To: McDermott, James

Subject: Re: Confusion

Thank you for your email to Costa Coffee. I apologise for a delay in a response.
I can confirm that you are unable to use both discounts together, as per the terms and conditions.

I apologise for any inconvenience.

Kind regards

Natalie O'Hara

Whitbread Guest Relations Team

________________________________________
Thank you Natalie.

May I ask to which clause in the terms and conditions you are referring?

Kind regards

James

________________________________________
Hi Natalie,

I have not received a reply yet to my email. I have reviewed the terms and conditions that are published on the website and I cannot see which clause restricts the use of the card. Can you help?

Kind regards
James

________________________________________

Sent: 26 May 2010 13:41
To: McDermott, James
Subject: LR

Dear Mr Mcdermott,

I would just like to update you on the below. having looked into this in depth. Unbeknown to us, the terms and conditions should have been changed when we launched the card nationwide. I don't know if you were aware that we were trialing it in Scotland for a year, but we never changed the terms and condtions during the trail as we really did not know if the scheme would be a success. I therefore apologise for the confusion that has been caused. You will see now that the terms and conditions have been updated.

I am aware that you therefore lost out on some discount that you may previously been entitled to therefore I would like to add 200 points to your Costa Card if you would be so kind as to forward the full card number.

Regards

Lyn
Guest Relations Costa
________________________________________

From: McDermott, James
Sent: 26 May 2010 14:13
Cc: 'mc_dermotts@me.com'
Subject: RE: LR

Dear Lyn

Thank you for your response. The 200 points is very much appreciated. I was not aware of your trial in Scotland but I am glad Costa has now settled on terms and conditions for this loyalty card scheme that are consistently applied and communicated to all of the branches and franchises.
I do realise that managing the franchises with a central global brand must be a significant undertaking but as a regular user of Costa I am consistently disappointed with the response when I present any of the discount cards. I stopped at the M4 services franchise on Sunday and the response to my polite question about if they took the card was dreadful, in your role as guest relations you would have cringed. Thankfully the coffee was fantastic!
Thank you again for responding to my question.
James
Costa Fan

## Monday, 17 May 2010

### ...and now for the whether

Metoffice

Gone are the days where we can look forward to Michael Fish getting the weather forecast spectacularly wrong as the only point of interest for the weather updates after the news.

We may have to rely on this sort of chart for quite sometime before we choose whether to travel by air – oh I got that from the media so it may be totally wrong. However, it does make you consider what a world without air travel would be like….

No nipping to the US on holiday, no popping to Europe for a long weekend break.  No pointless business meetings that could have been better organised.  Actually, I think it’s a good thing that we are being made to consider our travel plans carefully before committing.

## Monday, 10 May 2010

### Beware what you wish for...

Taking the BBC results table, which still has one constituency to declare, and using some Exel™ jiggery-pokery you get this table.  That is, taking the popular vote and allocating the proportion of seats dependent on the proportion of the electorate that voted for that party makes interesting reading (don’t forget the rounding!).  Bare in mind that I have not read any papers on how proportional representation actually works, or indeed if people knew that we didn’t have a first past the post mechanism would they vote differently?  I’m sure they would.  So this table is not necessarily representative of a PR Election but it does make you think about the level of negotiation needed to reach agreement.

## Friday, 7 May 2010

### Swing-o-meter

Given that we need a 19.5% swing to liberals to get a hung parliament, is there really any chance of electoral reform?

I tried to post this yesterday but forgot to press the go-live button on the blogger dashboard. Less than prophetic in the most depressing way. Don’t try pressing the reset map button, it doesn’t work. Unfortunately we have all voted and the count is coming in. After all the haggling and horse trading is complete the botched government that is left will almost certainly be a travesty to the Popular Vote. Liberal Democrats have 8% of the seats from 23% of the electorate voting for them.

## Tuesday, 4 May 2010

### Bluebells and chaos

I have spent a large portion of today looking at and photographing
bluebells.
This evening I have edited the photos and I have tried to publish them.
I have 2 applications for managing and editing photos on my Apple,
Apperture and iPhoto. Both seem to communicate with MobileMe but only
one with facebook, meanwhile tweetdeck seems to have used Tweetphoto
not Twitpic and I'm not really sure how I managed this before.
Is it me or has this been overcomplicated?
Sent from my iPhone

## Monday, 26 April 2010

### WotR CE - Game Review

This isn't really a review of the game it's my description of how the game played out against Will.  We have played WotR (and CE) a number of times now and Will is getting pretty good at handling the Shadow forces.  We decided to add in the expansion rules and pieces to see what effect it has.  This added Ents, Galadriel and Smeagol for me, the fellowship and Will, the Shadow, had the Dunlendings, the Balrog, Corsairs of Umbar and the Witch King: King of the Ring Wraiths at his disposal.

After our initial set up the first turn laid out some key strategic decisions for both of us.  Will mustered the Sauron Nation to war very quickly and this allowed me to bring in Galadriel.  I suspected an attack on Gondor so I had to get the fellowship moving, I would need some of the main characters in the South very soon.  Galadriel's abilities in the main make you more confident to progress the fellowship and they whipped along in the early part of the game.  In the first turn Will decided to bring in the Witch King - a decision that meant that the Balrog would be consigned to the later part of the game, if ever, showing that he favoured military might to hunting for the fellowship.  He now had a decision, was he going to bring him in as the Black Captain - to provide support and strength to his ground troops, or was he going to bring in the new King of the Ring Wraiths and concentrate on hunting for the Fellowship.  Yes, Will the warrior went for military might and brought in the Black captain and immediately started to threaten Gondor.

These few decisions set the course of the game.  Will specifically didn't bring in Saruman as he didn't want to invite an Ent attack, I was keeping 2 of the very powerful Ent strategy cards in my hand and so this action held me back early on in the game.   Will's main tactic was a massive and rapid attack on Gondor, via Minas Tirith and Lorien to remove Galadriel.  With the new siege engines and mustering to Lorien within a siege I managed to hold on to the elves but after a devastatingly played "Denethor's folly" Minas Tirith was in jeopardy.  Due to the rapid moving of the Fellowship, Gandalf the Grey managed to fly out of the fellowship and enter the besieged city but ultimately it fell and Gandalf was dead.  The sting taken out of this assault Will struggled to keep the momentum up and I halted his onslaught at Dol Amroth on the coast.  Most of Gondor was under Shadow control but I managed to get Strider and Gimli into Dol Amroth and Aragon was crowned King in time to devastate the Shadow forces.

With the remaining shadow forces sweeping from Minas Tirith across to Rohan (still not at war!) Aragorn tried a sneaky assault and went towards the coast around the mountains to come in to Rohan from the West.  Will saw this coming and decided to muster Saruman to build an Isengard force to support the Rohan assault.  Having stormed through the East of Rohan there was only Helms Deep and the fords of Isen left.  However, Gandalf the White appeared in Fangorn forest followed swiftly by the Ents who stormed out to Helms deep and destroyed most of the Sauron forces that were now besieged in the recently fallen Helms Deep.  The new Saruman force (weak because Will feared to muster as this brings in the Ents) tried to take Helms deep but was destroyed by Aragorn and Gimli with a large force of Gondor and Rohan units.

During this assault Will had started another army from the Southron and Easterlings to attack the Souther edge of Gondor with a view to sacking Dol Amroth.  I managed to take Aragorn through the mountains with the Army of the dead and routed the Southrons.

With all this battling going on the sneaksy Hobitses had managed to reach Minas Morgul and had proceeded, with Golum now their guide, to the edge of Mount Doom and destroyed the Ring.  During the battling Will had managed to get 8 VPs of the 10 needed to win and had seriously threatened the final 2.

Another great game of WotR CE and an enjoyable few hours with my son.

## Saturday, 24 April 2010

### Obiter Dicta

Obiter Dictum

There are several themes or threads running concurrently in my internal narrative at any one time.  Herding them and focussing on the important ones is the eternal battle that I have fought my entire life - in fact if I'm honest it is my life.  My personality has been described as a "Butterfly" and for this rare bit of descriptive parsimony I thank that person.   On occasion I take a quick look at the external narrative, since in the modern era we have an accessible and apparently permanent record, and I gloss through my Facebook history, my Twitter stream and now the building archive of this blog.  What strikes me is that the things I think were important to me don't appear in the records anywhere near as much as I would have imagined before taking a look.  There are some elements that are censored for obvious reasons, very personal relationships, work and related private information has remained, well, private.  Out of the other elements that I thought would feature more, games is at the top of this list.  I play games once per week with a group of friends, I have collected over 100 board games I have introduced many friends and their families to a broad variety of modern board games.  So to celebrate this, and in the spirit of keeping an electronic record, I have added a "widget" on the side bar of the blog to show recent games as recorded on the Board Game Geek website.  I shall try to keep this up-to-date.

more art from Derek here

And another thing, currently I am trying to decide which way to spend my 0.17 of a vote.  I have skim read the manifestos and, more characteristically for me, I have reviewed the manifestos on my iPhone.  So I know what the politicians want us to think.  I have listened to the media so I know what Rupert Murdoch wants us to think.  I have endured the cringe fest of the live debates so I know which contestant I'd phone in for! but actually I have paid little attention to what I actually want.  So I need to sift through the untidy bedroom of my brain and find the key issues on which I should judge each party.  My current thoughts are:

1.  A government and leader with statesmanly integrity and presence - showing the UK as a leader on the international stage.
2.  Equitable, balanced governance steering the country with high levels of integrity displayed throughout.
3.  For major issues like immigration and taxation: clear, fair rules consistent with an evolved, just and benevolent democracy that are policed openly.
4.  Macro economic policies that ensure the wealth of the UK whilst we contribute to the global distribution of wealth.
5. Education and learning, not just vocational training, embedded at the core of our society.
6. Smaller central government, more power at a local level.

I've spent no longer than about 5 minutes drafting this list.  It may seem like nonsense but these were genuinely the first six things to form more clearly out of the morass.  I shall let them stew for a while before I settle on my final list, then I shall see which party measures up.

## Tuesday, 13 April 2010

### Jimmymandering

Not sure if any one else has seen it or not, but there is a general election in the UK on 6th May 2010.  It’s clear that voter apathy has lead to poor turnout at general elections in the UK previously.  This graffiti-pedia page has the UK ranked joint 25th.  My personal voter turnout has been just as poor, as until recently I lived in the constituency of Henley with such Conservative luminaries as Michael Heseltine and Boris Johnson – so I felt my vote would not make any difference either way against the swathes of Tory Heartlanders.  Currently the MP is John Howell, no I’d not heard of him either.

Last year we moved home only 4.3 miles away from where we used to live.  It struck me that we may just have moved far enough to be out of the Henley constituency and be in a position where at last my vote would actually count! So after a little bit of research I discovered I have indeed shifted from the Henley constituency to the Wantage constituency.  With a renewed vigour I started to brush up on the political agenda’s of each of the main parties and then looked for the current incumbent.  It turns out to be Ed Vaizey  a conservative, onetime close pal of the neighbouring Cameron family until a recent faux pas.  More conservative than Margret Thatcher, so again I think my vote has become redundant.

According to the Telegraph it would take a swing of 19.5% to switch from Conservative to Labour in Wantage – it would have switched to Liberals first clearly but still a similar swing is required.

This is the spread of votes at the last election in Wantage:

During my recent fervour of interest in government and politics I downloaded the 75Mb conservative manifesto, so perhaps I’ll précis it for you in the next blog.

## Saturday, 10 April 2010

### Big Brother is watching you

The ubiquitous reference to an authoritarian regime is perhaps overkill for this blog entry but I do feel kind of guilty.  It is apparent, from most people that I talk to, that in general users of the internet are not aware of the level of information that is routinely collected on them and stored for posterity.  Well, maybe we're all aware we just, in that typically human way, manage to ignore it somehow.  We can switch off that conscious part of the brain and hide from big topics like death, homework, tax returns and in my case the dishwasher.  My original intention for this blog was not an attempt to generate followers or readers but it does tickle me to think that others read it and I often look to see who has.  Recently I had my first Hawaiian IP address.  You can see on the map above there is a dot.  I can zoom into this and show the detail, this map shows the last 100 unique IP addresses that viewed my site.  If I paid money, there would be more detailed information available, so advertisers and others may well be getting significantly more info from each of us than this.  I have had a different - and less user friendly - counter running since the launch of my site.  Thanks to a tip from Simon. Currently, there have been 1066 unique hits and 1063 visitors to my site - excluding the IP addresses that I usually connect from.

The simple screen dump of info from the Sitemeter site looks like this:

This hawaiian visitor was on a peak day..... (UTC -11hrs = 08:08:22 am Mar 31st)

Lest you misunderstand my motives here, I should probably add that what I am attempting to do in "broadcast mode" is what I have been doing to certain individuals on a 1:1 basis.  Namely, inform them about the quantity, nature and automation of the data that is available on all of us.  So there you go.

You have a little peek at me and I'm peeking back through the curtains ;-)

## Friday, 9 April 2010

### Grand National on Saturday

I’ve just picked us a horse each at random from a sweepstake for the Grand National on Saturday!

 Will Big Fella Thanks    (8-1) Dad (Jim) Vic Venturi   (20-1) Mum (Anne) Backstage (25-1) Ellie Eric’s Charm (40-1)

Prizes 1st £24 , 2nd £10,  3rd £4 , 4th £2

Good luck McD’s J

## Wednesday, 31 March 2010

### Don't do the crime

..... if you can't do the time.

So, I guess it's in some way inevitable with modern cars, no training for 20-25 years and a certain complacency that we all seem to acquire with driving.  I've been caught speeding.  The social acceptability of this crime is clearly changing.  Depending on context and era, certain crimes are deemed acceptable one moment and then completely unacceptable the next.  At some point in this nation's history, killing a Scotsman would have won me many accolades right now - unless he was in downing street, I'm guessing there would be a public outcry.  During my lifetime, I remember chuckling with Pop (my grandfather) about how he seemed to drive better when he'd had a couple of beers!  This would be unconscionable in today's society only 25 years later.  Thus I hang my head in shame, I'm not proud, yes I was clocked speeding.

Before I go on, there is a brief anecdote about the actual incident that, should your opinion of me not be on the floor already, will make it fall further.  For fear of turning into Ronnie Corbett I'll be brief.

I was heading to Basingstoke one morning, not far from my home, entering the village of Moulsford.  This village has two schools directly on the main road, one of which Will went to for many years.  Quite rightly the speed is 30mph, as I approached the village, as ever, I slowed to 30mph.  When I rounded the slight bend I saw a mobile speed van parked in the lay-by.  I checked my speedo, c. 30mph good, so I piously drove by with a self-satisfied grin on my face.  I then proceeded to text as many contacts in my mobile phone as I could find who I knew would be driving through Moulsford.  I have left this purposely ambiguous as to whether I was driving or not as the law on mobile phone usage has changed recently.  Plausible deniability and self incrimination are not so comfortable bed fellows.

So it was with much swearing and protestation as to my innocence that I read the notice that I had been clocked doing 34mph on that very day!!  After my ranting affirmation that I would take this to the European Courts for a ruling had subsided, eventually I was calm enough to discuss the document with Anne.  There was an opportunity to opt for paying £60 to go on a "Speed Awareness Course".  No need to tell the insurance company, no need to get 3 [more] points on my licence.  It sounded too good to be true, just the catch of course - it was a 4 hour session.  Still it had to be better than the points, right?

Some thoughts:
In 2007 There were 247,780 road casualties in the UK.  There were 27,774 serious (life changing) injuries and critically there were 2,946 fatalities.  That is around 9 people every day die on our roads.
OK that's still better than the 70's proportionately.  Today 3k deaths out of 34M drivers and in the 70's it was 9k deaths out of 12M drivers.  We have improved from 9 deaths per 10,000 drivers to 1 death per 10,000 drivers but I don't think we should get complacent, that is still 9 people dying per day with the highest proportion of child deaths in Europe.

When the police attend an accident they have to choose from 54 categories as to what they think the cause of the accident is.  25% have excessive speed as the primary choice.  Over 75% have it as one of the top 3 reasons.  Speed is a major cause of accident and therefore death on the roads.

Roads are classified as Urban, Rural or Motorway there are some counterintuitive accident and death rates associated with this.  Where do accidents occur? Motorway 4%, Rural 25% and Urban 71%. Where do people die? Motorway 6%, Rural 54% and Urban 40%  The high rates of accident are simply related to the times that you are required to make a decision, on a motorway its rare in the town its common.  When we make decisions we are prone to errors.  The high rates of death in the town are the pedestrians, children and cyclist we kill.  On the rural roads it's just the myriad inanimate and animate objects that we are able to hit at high speed.

Conclusions:
Attitudes to speeding are changing - mine most definitely has, your tax payers contribution to my course has paid off.  Education and training surrounding driving is woefully inadequate - we should all be electing to do this type of course.  The driving test and maintaining your knowledge of the highway code should be tested much more stringently and regularly.

## Friday, 26 March 2010

### War of the Ring

I thought I'd honour the first outing of my new game by a little game review.  I have played WotR for a number of years now, ever since Simon got it in the "secret Santa" over on BGG.

When I first heard about a collectors edition I  - cue "Gollum like" precious comment - I thought I'd have to get it.  Actually, the prestige and desirability of the game were not my biggest draws.  The game developers had fixed many of the little niggles I had with the original version, oh and yeah they had crafted a beautiful case and hand painted all the pieces, to a good standard for volume production.  They had increased the already monstrous board to one that now if you look closely you can detect the curvature of "middle" earth! Plus the cards are big enough for the failing eyesight of many of my aged friends to read.

So who to play?  Simon, Eric or Graeme? I contacted all three to see who could be the "enemy" to experience this new game with me for the first time.  Simon had unfortunately been sent to India by his employer to - er - drink beer, eat curry and watch cricket it would seem, so was unavailable.  I took the opportunity to call him and discuss the missed opportunity and plan tactics for my eventual enemy.  Graeme "Grima" answered the call first but was unfortunately delayed in London and so passed unwillingly.  Thankfully Eric, who had played for the first time the day before against Grima with the old version, was up for the challenge.  I'll take this opportunity to mention the Eric had beaten Grima in Eric's first game, primarily to pitch his credentials as a worthy combatant but also to rub Grima's nose in it ;-) nice win Eric.  So, as ever with WotR, there was a brief discussion as to who would play the Free peoples.

As a balanced two-player game you are required to apply a different approach to playing each of the two warring factions.  The mechanic for the shadow forces allows an infinite number of replacement units in reserve, additionally the primary win criterion for the shadow forces is 10 victory point based on the capture of free-peoples strongholds.  There are myriad strategic options within this major option, such as divert effort to finding the fellowship and destroying them, or to harrying the Free-Peoples until they collapse, amongst others but in the main it is military might that wins the day for the shadow forces.  Conversely, there are many more subtleties to playing the Free-Peoples, not that it is any more difficult, its just slightly more unwieldy until to rules are clearer.  The finite reserves, the reluctance of the many races to join the war, and the significantly reduced actions along with the intricacies of the moving the fellowship makes the Free-Peoples awkward for the new-comer.  It was decided then, Eric would wield the mighty sword of Sauron and I would guide the Free-Peoples of middle earth out of the third age.

By now it was around 9pm and this game takes an optimistic 3 hours under perfect conditions.  It was going to be a long evening.

My preference for a guiding principal for the Free-Peoples is to focus on sneaking the hobbitses into Mordor and winning by destroying the one ring - The primary victory condition.  The military victory for the Free-Peoples is to achieve just 4VPs but with finite resources and a game mechanic that mimics a reluctance to move to war, this is only really possible with an unobservant novice at the helm of Sauron's forces.  Not being one to underestimate an enemy I avoided this obvious folly.  My military stance is best described as proactively defensive - I looked at where Eric seemed to be gathering and I bolstered the defences at this point.  Unfortunately, Eric had taken the "Might is right" mantra to heart and used the strategic element of his cards to devastating effect and poured out of Orthanc tower through the Fords of Isen and within a few turns had so devastated Rohan that this whole faction had been largely annihilated and what I have left is incapable of being mustered (past tense of recruiting military forces, not a misspelt condiment).

Meanwhile, I succumbed to deploying many of my cards in their less beneficial tactical capability in a desperate bid to aid my harassed troops - rather than reserving them for their more powerful but longer term strategic option.  Accordingly having failed to stop the crimson tide in Rohan I now had very little support to stop it swarming though Gondor.  I continued to try and progress the fellowship but took increasing risk, losing Legolas just outside Rivendell on the High Pass and Gimili took a bullet on the way into the relative safe haven of Lorien.  If things weren't bad enough, The Southrons and Easterlings, massed on the southern boarders of Gondor waiting to pick the bones after the Mordor hordes had swarmed over Minas Tirith.  Thankfully, Eric had an uncharacteristic poor play here and played Denethor's Folly, a card that significantly damages any Gondorian's besieged in Minas Tirith but allowed me an extra turn and I managed to ride Gandalf into the besieged city and destroy the cards effect.  By now several hours had passed and we decided to pause.  Competitus-interuptus.  Eric has gained 4VPs and is currently besieging 2 strongholds in Gondor (a possible 4 more VPs).  I have managed to get the fellowship to 1 space beyond Lorien with very little corruption (damage).  Both of us are approximately halfway to victory and its anyones game still.  The game is set to continue on Monday evening, watch twitter for updates on the score.

What always fascinates me about playing this game is the rich depth, the choices that are presented and the broad scale implications of the apparently simplest decision.  Each card having bot a longterm strategic component and a shorter tactical usage presents the most fascinating game dilemmas.  I feel I am really beginning to understand the rules of engagement and to explore various strategic options to beneficial effect - whilst developing my ability to engage tactically with elements of the game.  The collectors edition has added some much appreciated gild but underneath this game is a pristine white lilly.

## Tuesday, 16 March 2010

### Self Awareness

I find self awareness aids in marital bliss…..

This one’s for you darling.

Cartoon by Brian Barling - "Detect"