Sunday, June 28, 2015

Dinosaur Snuff Porn

I haven't seen my friends Morganne and Kate in quite a while so when the opportunity arose it was great to get out of the house and spend some time with them.  We went to the movies.  This is a great way to spend time with friends as you get the pleasure of their company without actually having to think of anything to say to them.  Having loaded up with enough popcorn to simultaneously feed and kill the entire population of Africa we toddled in to watch some hot reptile on reptile action in Jurassic World.

Jurassic World is the sequel to Jurassic Park I, II and of course III.  Subsequent sequels will be Jurassic Galaxy and Jurassic Universe.  The plot is basically the same in each one.  Nutcase scientists breed dinosaurs, dinosaurs go amok, our heroes have to somehow survive and kill what looks like an irritated gecko with a thyroid imbalance.  Along the way things get broken, things catch fire and a lot of supporting characters get eviscerated in graphic detail.

I suppose I should have thrown in the phrase "Spoiler Alert" before I said the above but I can't imagine that anybody is going to be particularly surprised by any of this.  One phrase you will never hear anybody say on leaving Jurassic World is "I didn't expect that."

In sequels you're supposed to offer something new.  Something that will make people who liked the original come back to a familiar scene eager for the new twist.  In Jurassic World newness is provided by taking something big, reptilian and scary and making it bigger.  It's also evil because it had a bad upbringing so naturally its evil, if things had gone on it would probably have started smoking and hanging out on street corners with a bad crowd.  That's pretty much it as far as newness is concerned.  There's also a subplot about a plan to weaponise the dinosaurs.  People have been coming up with story lines about weaponised dinosaurs pretty much since we knew there were dinosaurs.

So ultimately you're left with a movie about a theme park attraction that goes berserk.  Think of it as a more reptile intensive version of Westworld and you wont be far off the mark.  Except that Westworld had a better storyline, better acting skills and at the end of the day you were at least mildly concerned as to whether the principal characters lived or died.  Subtract all of these things, add honking big lizards and you have Jurassic World.

I'm not going to go on about the plot holes except to say that if the actors had discovered them they were big enough for everybody to have escaped the island through.  There's lots of guttural roaring as dinosaurs make the sort of noises that everybody thinks things that big should make and of course the obligatory scenes of people running in panic as various dinosaurs run, fly (and on one gruesome occasion) swim towards their prey.  There are the usual personality clashes between the people supposedly dealing with the situation and the usual conflicting agendas all of which peter out into pretty much nothing.  To be fair ninety tonnes of rampaging carnivore is a fantastic way of focussing attention on the matter at hand.

Vincent D'Onofrio, all greying stubble and swaggering belly, does as much as one can with a role that would be hard pressed to reach two dimensions and the two lead actors decorate the screen while simultaneously convincing us that neither would probably care in the slightest if the other was torn apart in front of them.  There are also a couple of kids because twenty thousand people getting horribly slaughtered is a statistic but a couple of telegenic kids whimpering at the camera is tragic.

Eventually the evil dinosaur gets its comeuppance at the very small hands of the resident tyrannosaurus rex.  Thus scoring a victory for the old, battered but soundly traditional monster over the slicked up newer version.  Where have I seen that before?  Oh yes, the latest Terminator movie. With dinosaur 2.0 in a watery grave (a mosasaurus got into the action towards the end) the disaster was apparently declared over despite the fact that an aerial army of pterandons and a tyrannosaurus rex were still on the loose.

We all know what happens next.  The hideous disaster and massive loss of life somehow persuade everybody that a dinosaur based theme park is a great idea and that they should build another.  No doubt with bigger dinosaurs, that breathe fire.  I see a possible crossover between Jurassic Park and Godzilla should anyone be interested.  Sadly, somebody probably will be.

Friday, June 26, 2015

JunoBear, Tale of Woe, Frozen North etc etc

Hoping for better results on my second day of gaming I was up bright and early on Sunday and promptly spent forty minutes outside the RSL waiting for the serving peons to unchain the doors.  Once inside I sat down with Darryl Lundy who had apparently flown all the way from New Zealand to break my heart.

The Red Wave

The Red Wave pitted a horde of Soviets poised to sweep from east to west swamping the German defenders along the way.  This is actually pretty much what happened.  It will come as no surprise to learn that I was cast in the role of swampee.

Darryl had eighteen and a half squads, a few machine guns and a small mortar.  A pair of T26 tanks (which are turning up like bad pennies in this competition) came on in support.  To ward off this raving horde I had eight squad equivalents, a hmg, a lmg and a 75mm gun.  Darryl had to either exist a significant amount of his force off the west edge of the board or capture all of the buildings of a small village sitting conveniently between them and the exit.  A road running north-south divided the village in two and I set up the bulk of my force to the west of it defending the village.  A squad sat in the forest to the south to cover that flank and I placed a couple of of squads in the buildings to the east of the road as speedbumps.  Over to the left (north) I placed a squad and lmg on the hill to cover the approach from that direction.  Unfortunately I placed them behind a wall in a foxhole thus cutting their field of vision down to almost nothing.  Have I mentioned I rather suck at this game?

Darryl set up a powerful force in the north and centre and kicked things off with a human wave attack that drove towards my hillbound losers.  The human wave was, typically, a hideous bloodfest for all concerned.  My hill squad died a miserable death but they were buried under the mounds of Soviet slain.  While Darryl was enthusiastically reducing the number of counters we both had to deal with on that side of the board the remainder of his force drove somewhat more circumspectly towards the middle.  He brought his tanks up to freeze my defenders in place and then finished them off in close combat.  If I were to identify one factor that lost this scenario for me (other than Darryl's skill and my own idiocy) it would be the tanks.  I couldn't hurt them.  I had a heavy machine gun, a 75mm artillery piece and eager, battle hungry SS troopers, none of it worked.  When the opportunity to take on the tanks in close combat presented itself my brave soldiers enthusiastically pinned themselves rather than take the shot thus rendering Darryl's subsequent close combat efforts somewhat easier.

That's pretty much how it went.  Darryl systematically dismantled my defences in the centre and seized the entire village.  I managed to cling on by my fingernails on the flanks but there was a yawning gap where my centre should be.  Weeping I conceded and tried to stitch my tattered morale back together before the final game.  Could I at least salvage a little pride?  By now you should know the answer to that.

Father Sunshine

I played Dave Wilson in the last scenario, Father Sunshine.  This took us back to where it all began, Finland only this time I would command the Finns.  A small force of Finnish infantry supported by a charmingly eclectic force of armour would attempt to force or sneak their way past a small but hidden Soviet defence and sneak off the board.  I have five squads of infantry and eight AFVs which turned up at various times.  The AFVs included a pair of German sourced StuGs, a pair of captured T34s, a pair of the now tiresomely familiar T26s and a decrepit armoured car which must have been found in a military museum.  Topping off this lot was a hulking ISU-152 assault gun.  Unfortunately the ISU had been captured only a few days earlier and the Finns hadn't finished reading the operating manual.

To defend David had four elite squads and two skillfully dug in T34/85s.  He would get another squad and tank as reinforcements.  To win I had to exit at least five AFVs off a very small area of the board.  For every AFV I killed that number was reduced by one.  This was my favourite scenario, by a sheer coincidence it was also the one I came closest to winning.

Since my infantry were essentially expendable I cheerfully expended them.  Sending them on fire drawing missions in the hopes of locating David's tanks.  David had set up the bulk of his infantry in foxholes in the centre of the board along with one of his tanks.  The other tank lurked back covering my exit location.

The first turn was about placement.  I found his defenders (at a cost in blood of course) and trundled my onboard armour around to avoid them, except for the ISU.  That I sent straight down the road.  As it approached Dave took his shot and immobilised the beast.  The crew leapt out yelping in fear but these were Finns and the very next turn they leapt back in again yelping in defiance (it is a little difficult to tell the difference).  The ISU managed to destroy his forward tank, now I only had to exit four.  As it so happened I exited three.

To be fair I mishandled the situation.  I slunk my best armour around the rear and then made a dash for the exit.  Dave calmly let them go.  Three vehicles off but also the only armour that could effectively deal with his tanks.  My immobilised ISU wasn't going anywhere and that left me with three thin skinned AFVs that somehow had to bull past two (don't forget the reinforcement) T34s which could kill anything on the field.  I know I should have kept the better armour back but I did have a plan.  I swarmed my surviving infantry forward surrounding his tanks.  What I suspected Dave had forgotten was that Finnish troops get panzerfausts.  Surely with four squad equivalents sitting next to his tanks I could get at least one more kill.  If I did the vehicles I had already exited would give me the win.

So I didn't get any kills with the panzerfausts.  A total of ten rolls for the game produced on faust which missed.  After which, recognising the danger, Dave used his remaining infantry to give my guys something else to think about.  In desperation I cobbled together a new plan.  I had my two T26 tanks and a positively useless armoured car limping down the road.  I drove the tanks directly at his.  If somehow they survived then the exit location was a handful of hexes away but more importantly because of this Dave absolutely had to shoot at them.  If he used up his firepower killing my tanks then there was a reasonable chance that the armour car could scuttle behind them for the win.

The first part of the plan worked perfectly, I presented my tanks to him and he promptly blew them to scrap.  Then I smiled and reached for my armoured car, and failed the start up roll.  That was pretty much it, there was another unsuccessful panzerfaust attempt or two and the almost irrelevant destruction of the armoured car by a honking big tank but it was all done.

So four games, four losses and I had a deathgrip on the wooden spoon.  I have enough wooden spoons to create a biodegradable cutlery set.  Not exactly a glorious moment in my personal ASL history although I did get a consolation prize for turning up.  Thanks to Aaron and Ivan who arranged the competition between them.  I'm going home to cry now.

JunoBear 2015: A Tale of Woe in the Frozen North Part 1

When the days grow short and a chill wind blows from the north it is a sign.  A sign that ageing warriors will drag themselves from hearth and home, strap the accoutrements of war to aching, creaky bodies and muster for combat.  No fresh faced young warriors here with the silky down of their first beard newly grown on rosy cheeks.  Rather grizzled veterans of many a combat relying on guile and experience to compensate for the sap of youth long run dry.

There is a wheeze as battlecries are shouted, a wincing and cracking as muscles are flexed and weapons hefted.  It is fitting that the muster should take place at that Fortress of Decrepitude, Paddington RSL Club.  Here among the soon to be dead my comrades and I have gathered for the cardboard bloodbath known as JunoBear.  Why here?  Becasue its the only place outside a retirement home where we're the youngest people around.  Plus they serve beer at 10 in the morning.

To celebrate (or exploit) the release of Hakkaa Paalle (its Finnish for "Go bugger a reindeer!") a certain number of scenarios would welcome this newest addition to the ASL family.  This required much scrabbling in the rules to understand ground snow, winter camouflage and the consequences of a  herring only diet.

With the introduction done I shall now take you on the journey of my games at this years JunoBear.  It's a rollercoaster journey from the depths of defeat to, well, even more depths of even more defeat.  In fact the journey is not so much like riding a rollercoaster as it is like falling down a mineshaft.  On that hopeful note, let us begin.

Armoured Car Savikurki
The first scenario saw me commanding a rather ragtag group of early war Soviet troops being given a lesson in exactly how unwise it is to invade Finland in Winter.  My opponent Ivan Kent was attacking them with the entire Finnish armoured force.  Said force being present in the shape of a single armoured car.  I had seven squads (four conscript) to defend half a board from four Finnish Squads and the eponymous armoured car of the scenario title.  To aid my somewhat dubious force I had a light machine gun and a heavy machine for which I had great (unrealised) hopes.  Ivan had to exit at least four VPs worth of personnel off the edge of the board, I had to defend it to the last.
The left side of the board was thick forest with a road cutting through it.  I set up the bulk of my force here as it seemed a more appealing approach than the frequently open ground in the centre and right.  I set up a squad with the hmg set back in a building that covered the only two exit roads and to cover the right set up a squad and lmg on the first floor of a building covering Ivan's entry area with some conscripts lurking in the trees nearby to help out.
Of course Ivan didn't go through the woods.  Instead he sent a diversionary force to occupy the lmg force on the right while the bulk of his troops moved down the middle.  Things started off rather well for me.  I quite literally (and by literally I mean figuratively) shot his diversionary force to pieces.  I killed so many that Ivan couldn't really afford any more casualties if he wanted to exit the required number of troops.  Unfortunately that was the end of my success.  While my defenders were thus occupied the bulk of his force slipped down the middle and got behind my guys in the building.  I wasn't too worried,  I had the heavy machine gun waiting for him and now that I saw the placement of his troops I started easing some of my forces through the woods on the left to meet the new approach.
Damn conscripts move slowly in woods!  Sadly sluggish conscripts weren't my only problem.  Like an avenging demon his armoured car swept forward.  Heavy machine gun fire didn't bother these heroes.  Under a hail of lead they roared down the road, slewed to a halt and shot the hell out of my machine gun squad.  Crap!  Most of my troops are out of position in the woods or the now bypassed eastern building and my heavy machine gun goes down.
The next couple of moves saw little shooting as Ivan raced for the exits and I raced (somewhat more slowly, damn conscripts) to try and stop him.  Meanwhile the armoured car trundled forward to make life difficult for anybody who tried to get in the Finns way.  I couldn't stop him,  I did get some guys into position to take a few shots as he ran for the exit.  I even managed to regain the hmg but I couldn't concentrate enough firepower in enough time to worry 8 morale Finns with the exit in sight.
Ivan exited his guys off leaving a broken rabble of conscripts licking their burnt patches and swearing revenge.
Barbarossa D-Day
It wasn't all about Finns of course.  No, I was given the opportunity to go down to defeat against a variety of opponents over the two days.  The second scenario saw me served up as a dish to David Longworth in Barbarossa D-Day which had me commanding the Germans attempting to introduce the concepts of Blitzkrieg to a sceptical Red Army.  If I had really commanded the Germans the Soviets would have occupied Berlin in 1941.

I had seven reasonably high quality squads mounted on motorcycles (very briefly as it turned out) attempting to seize a village from a slightly smaller number of Soviet defenders.  Supporting my efforts would be an armoured car.  In turn three reinforcements in the form of three Panzer IIIs of various letters would arrive.  David as the Soviets had half a dozen squads and a couple of light machine guns.  On turn three he too would receive armoured support in the shape of six T26 tanks.  My objective was to clear the village of Soviet troops (dead, fled or captured it didn't matter they just had to be gone).  Furthermore I had to achieve this and still have at least one AFV alive at the end of the day.

I set up what I thought was a clever plan.  To the southwest of the village was a straggle of woods so entered the bulk of my force to take advantage of this covered approach.  The armoured car plus a pair of squads I allotted to a largely diversionary frontal attack.  David had set up a couple of squads forward to delay my approach and these became the target of my frontal attack.  Starting as it meant to go on my armoured car roared up to the first of these defenders and promptly broke its main armament.  Foolishly I attempted to repair it and very soon my armoured car was trundling to the rear, its occupants no longer interested in proceedings.

This was actually  disaster because I needed to keep an AFV alive until the end of the game.  With the armoured car present I could be recklessly brave with my tanks, now not so much.  With the armoured car fleeing for the rear David cheerfully shot up my diversionary force and pulled back in good order to the village.  My main force did successfully creep through the woods and turn three found me nicely positioned near the village preparing to throw down massive amounts of firepower onto the defenders.  My tanks rolled on and I moved one up to add its firepower to my attack.  The other two lurked modestly in the background.  I pretended they were flank guards but actually they were just trying to keep out of harms way.

And this is how things stayed for the next three turns.  For three turns I pounded his forces in the village and for three turns he took it with barely a whimper.  His tanks turned up to support, a lucky shot killed one and another broke down but the remaining four bolstered his defences.  Not that they needed any bolstering, I simply couldn't hurt him while he gradually whittled away at my forces.  The end of the game found such forces as I had left still sitting in the woods I had reached on turn three.  There wasn't a bang but I may have let out a whimper.  Two games, two losses.

That was it for Day 1.  Check out my next blog entry to see if I did any better on Day 2.  Spoiler Alert: I didn't.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

From Supermarket Hyena to Office Jackal

I slink around the outskirts of the feeding pack.  They ignore me, focusing on the meal in front of them.  There is contempt in this disregard, they know I am neither fast enough nor strong enough to challenge them for this kill.  My presence is not so much tolerated as disregarded.

Hunger bites at me as I roam, my gait a visible struggle between fear and desire.  From time to time a gap opens in the feeders and I get a brief, tantalising glimpse of my target.  It is diminishing rapidly as the pack eats its fill.  Fear grips me; perhaps there will be nothing left by the time the pack has finished.  It has happened before and I have limped away from the feeding ground as hungry as I came.

My fear makes me bold and I edge closer, eyeing the gaps that have begun to appear as first one then another leaves, their sagging bellies a testimony to their satiation.  I must be quick, the unity of the pack may be broken but even individually those that remain could inflict terrible wounds and leave me helpless, prey for those equally desperate.

I spot my prize, a choice morsel unaccountably overlooked.  My slink turns to a prowl, I am the hunter now.  Hunting someone else's kill is the most dangerous hunt of all but I am practiced.  It is how I eat.  Twice more I circle, ignoring fleeting opportunities, waiting for my moment.  A gap opens, widens, I strike!  I seize the morsel and immediately flee ignoring howls of outrage, knowing they are too well fed to pursue.

I do not pause until I have reached the sanctuary of my desk, there to drool over my prize in safety.  A slice of chocolate cake from Loveday's birthday celebrations.  Moist, thick icing; delicious.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Pick the Soft Concrete

When I have heard of something then you can be sure that whatever it is has truly arrived.  If I actually engage in it then you know it has also departed.  I have been vaguely aware of parkour for a few years now but it has recently been brought directly before my eyes.

From what I've heard parkour was developed from French military obstacle course training and seems to involve running, jumping and vaulting over things that a few minutes thought would enable you to walk around all of which must be quite difficult to do while simultaneously waving a white flag.

Parkour has really caught on with the sort of people who delight in making life difficult for themselves.  Exponents of parkour will run up the sides of buildings, hurl themselves through narrow openings and slide under fences all to arrive breathless at a destination you or I would get to by catching a bus always assuming we wanted to go there at all.  To be fair there is a certain amount of dramatic presence achieved by suddenly turning up on top of a fence near your destination, rolling athletically off the top, skidding in the patch of urine left by last night's drunks and having your head bounce rhythmically off the concrete.  And when that does happen at least you're near a busstop so you can take yourself to hospital.

According to wikipedia people who partake in parkour are called traceurs.  Apparently in a recent poll this name beat "runny, jumpy, rolly people" into second place.  It is by and large a sport for the young.  Not the young at heart, just the actual young.  A fair bit of parkour involves bouncing off concrete.  Since concrete doesn't have a heck of a lot of give in it it is preferable if the human body in question does.  And thus a reasonably young one is best.  By the time you get to my age the body tends to be rivalling concrete for inflexibility which would make attempting to bounce of it a once only affair.  Most traceurs also tend to be male.  This is for the rather obvious reason that throwing yourself at concrete is not something a sensible person does, therefore females are rather thin on the ground.

My introduction to parkour came courtesy of the son of friends of mine.  He (his name is Eaden) does parkour and now he was taking part in a competition.  A large room in what looks like a warehouse/factory/drug lab had been filled with random obstacles and the parkour competitors were wound up and pushed roughly towards the middle.  Points were awarded for technical skill, rhythmic flow, excitement factor and not splattering yourself over the concrete floor.

Each routine took twenty seconds and in that time the contestants had impress the crap out of the judges, preferably without getting themselves killed.  Eaden didn't win, sadly, but it was his first competition and at fifteen he still has several more years of competing before bone brittleness makes it suicidal.  Eaden's parents and I watched with that combination of awe and envy typical of middle aged people watching youngsters do things that they can no longer even contemplate much less achieve.  Eaden jumped, tumbled, rolled and, on impact with concrete, managed to bounce rather than splat.  All in all he was pretty damned impressive.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Hadron Guys Want a Date With SUSY

It occurred to me recently that it's been a while since I checked in with the Large Hadron Collider to see if they've managed to destroy reality.  By an amazing coincidence just as I was thinking this news arrived on things Hadron.

You may have noticed that there has been a distinct lack of black holes being generated, universes demolished and all of the other things we’ve come to expect when people start hitting subatomic particles with the scientific equivalent of really large hammers.  The reason for this is that the Large Hadron Collider up in Switzerland (and France) has been lying dormant for a couple of years. I must admit I didn’t realise it was dormant, I thought it was finished.  The God Particle; found.   We can dismantle the collider and everyone can go home.  Of course I should have known better.  Apparently now that we know everything about the universe it turns out that one of the things we know is that we don't know as much as we thought.  Time to fire up the collider again and see what else we can pound into existence for a fraction of a second.

Actually it seems that the collider has been undergoing repairs after its triumphs of a couple of years ago but now physicists (or more likely minimum wage illegal immigrants hired by physicists) have finished crawling through the tunnels putting sticky tape over the wonky bits and chipping off charred bits of alpine sheep that wandered in for warmth in the Winter months and all is ready to go.  This time the physicists are looking for a girlfriend.  Her name is SUSY.  I’m not even going to pretend I know what SUSY is but apparently proving its existence would be desirable.  If nothing else it would allow us to fit dark matter (at present little more than an excuse for why the sums don’t add up) into our model of the universe.  Our current model of the universe (the Lego version is coming out at Christmas) is elegant and simple (if you're a particle physicist) but it has a couple of glaring holes.  One thing it doesn't explain is dark matter.  Or rather dark matter is the term that physicists came up with to explain the stuff the theory didn't explain.  It's rather like getting three quarters of the way through describing how something works to your child and realising you don't know the rest.  You have to fall back on magic.  Physicists of course can't say something is magic.  So they posited dark matter instead.  Dark matter would really explain a lot (apparently) the only trouble is no one can prove it actually exists.  Time to start pounding the protons.

In all the excitement of discovering the Higgs boson it went overlooked (except by legions of despairing physicists) that the Hadron Collider didn't provide too much support for SUSY.  Various, once hopeful, theories have apparently been tossed overboard.  But SUSY or supersymmetry to give her her full name is just too seductive to abandon simply because she mightn’t exist.  In keeping with the dating website theme SUSY basically involves pairing up bosons and fermions (Never heard of fermions?  Where have you been?).  According to the theory each boson should be linked to a particular fermion and these things should be relatively easy to discover.  The number we've discovered so far is nil.  Which means that there must be a reason (other than that the theory is rubbish) for why we haven't found them.  Enter the Large Hadron Collider, scientists are now hoping it can correct its original refusal to produce results that conform to the theory.  A physicist (or for that matter a high school teacher) could point out at this moment that I have no idea what I'm talking about.  Give me a break, there's only so much physics one can learn from newspaper articles and wikipedia.

Everything that the discovery of the Higgs boson was supposed to achieve might actually be achieved if we can discover SUSY, or not.  Physics isn’t an exact science which wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s meant to be.  A more accurate statement would be; physics is an exact science, we just don’t know what we’re doing.  There comes a point when all the obvious stuff has been discovered (rocks, fire, reality television) and then you’ve just got to make stuff up based on your observations, assumptions and best guesswork.  After that you dig a couple of dozen kilometres worth of tunnels in the Alps and start dismantling the universe to see if you’re right.  If you are then Nobel prizes and (based on current experience) a bunch of new intractable questions await.  If you’re wrong, then you look a little silly but at least you can try again always assuming you haven’t accidentally blown up the planet.

So with hope in their hearts and protons in their tunnels the collider boys are pressing the go button in the hopes that their previous success with the Higgs boson wasn't just a flash in the pan.  All new sorts of subatomic particles are waiting to be discovered.  Although I must admit I have a slight problem with the word "discovered".  If you smash a particle into bits and then name the bits are you really discovering something new?  If I drop a plate on the floor I don't call the scientific community excitedly announcing the discovery of twenty seven new pieces of crockery.  I just get a broom.

There is probably more to it than this.  For the sake of a rational universe let's hope so.  In the meantime the guys in Switzerland have come up with a very traditional way to try and get results.  They're going to do exactly the same thing they did last time but with more power.  I wish them well.