Monday, January 28, 2019

CanCon Briefly

I journeyed to Canberra in the searing heat.  So extreme was the temperature that even the cow commentary was lacklustre and intermittent.  It would appear that most of the cows had found somewhere to hide from the Sun that involved hiding from me as well.  The journey was ghastly, the heat bored into me until I thought I was going to die.  Well, when I say the journey was ghastly I mean the journey from the door of the air conditioned car to the foyer of the air conditioned hotel.  Still it was a pretty ghastly two and a half seconds.

The next day fifteen ageing cardboard warriors braved the heat and incipient heart attacks to do battle under a blazing sun and (more directly) an airconditioned roof.  We veterans know better than to fight outdoors.  I had high hopes for my CanCon results this year.  I felt I was playing well and peaking at the right moment.  This just goes to show exactly how flawed my judgment can be even without self inflicted head injuries (see below).  Before the inevitable slide into failure and despair there was one brief shining moment when my opponent proved to be slightly more off his game than I was.

Riding to the Rescue

The first scenario saw me pitted against Mark McGilchrist in Riding to the Rescue which involves a bunch of second rate British armour trying to rescue a bunch of second rate British infantry from being monstered by a bunch of definitely first rate Germans.  You may be familiar with this, I played it against Ivan a couple of months ago.  I won it as the Germans and history repeated itself at CanCon.  Mark attempted to go south but found the going slow against my inspired defence which largely consisted of me sitting where I was and hoping the smoke would hide me.  Eager to sweep aside the German rabble Mark plunged into close combat but failed to kill my guys.  Not learning from experience he reinforced the close combat so I moved a squad next to him, broke everyone in the hex and advanced in to butcher two squads and two leaders as they attempted to flee.  My taking out one of his tanks with a critical hit was flashy but had no real impact on the game.  With his leadership destroyed and his surviving troops getting nowhere Mark conceded.

The Chockos

I may have got a little cocky after the early win but I was brought crashing back to earth in the next scenario which saw me commanding a bunch of Australian militiamen defending a bit of the Kokoda track from some high quality Japanese.  My opponent was Joe Moro, he had four and a half turns to sweep across the board and capture a bunch of huts.  If I could hold so much as one hut Joe would be denied.  For the first couple of turns it looked hopeful.  I was maintaining a decent front and skulking effectively as the Japanese rolled forward but eventually Joe got around my right flank and positioned himself for a massive banzai charge at the huts.  There was blood, there were casualties but Joe got up into the village and slaughtered most of the occupants.  While he was doing this I managed to advance into a previously captured hut occupied by a Japanese half squad with a full squad of my own.  If I could kill the half squad in CC I would win.  Kill the half squad I did, unfortunately in return he killed my entire squad leaving the empty hut officially in Joe's possession.

The Glasgow Twins

Well a 50/50 result from the first day wasn't bad and on the second day I settled down to play Eric Topp with still a little confidence in my heart.  We played The Glasgow Twins which has a bunch of not particularly good French troops clinging on to a village in Syria while a bunch of Australian pioneers backed up by some carriers and light tanks.  Should the French survive that long they get a pair of late arriving "armoured cars" which appear to be some convenient trucks that they've bolted locally sourced scrap metal onto.  Eric acted aggressively with his tanks and carriers plunging deep into my rear to block rout paths while his troops pressed forward to inflict the required breaks on my defenders.  It was a tough battle that went the distance (I had the advantage of being in buildings surrounded by orchards) but eventually Eric drove my few remaining squads out of the last buildings to claim a win on the final turn.

Bounty Hunters

My final game in the main competition was against Gordon McClelland.  It involved a bunch of financially motivated Chinese troops trying to seize a village from a group of strung out Japanese.  Just before I was due to start playing this game I managed to split my forehead open on a bathroom door.  I'm not really sure what happened during the game but my opponent informs me that I lost.  He also said I played bravely and the game went to the last turn.  He may just be being kind as my sole clear memory of this game is moving a squad and leader into the open and watching them die under a 4-4 attack that a child could have predicted.

That was it for the main tournament, I'm not too displeased.  I was competitive in each game (the occasional concussion induced cock up notwithstanding).  Just to remind me of my place in the ASL pecking order I played a Hatten in Flames scenario against Jamie Westlake the next morning.  A better term would have been Hatten in Smoke.  It largely consisted of Jamie's Americans advancing behind smoke, killing my Germans and repeating.  I think I did rather well, I drew it out to part way through the second turn before conceding.

Thanks to Andy Rogers for organising another excellent tournament and congratulations to Novak Djokovic who beat an ageing cripple to win the Australian Open title at the same time.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Ant Issues

Our rain forest is doomed!  Why?  We've run out of bug spray.  Or to be more specific we've run out of funding to buy bug spray.  Apparently we need six million dollars worth or our incredibly important and significant (other people's opinion, not necessarily mine) rain forest is, as mentioned earlier, doomed!

According to The Guardian my favoured source of "Mankind is destroying the planet" stories (also my favoured source for "Trump is the Antichrist" stories) the yellow crazy ant is going to destroy our rainforests.  The yellow crazy ant is an invasive species and can be differentiated from the bog standard crazy ant because its yellow.  It's also one hell of an invader although there seems to be a fair amount of confusion as to where its actually invading from.  Yellow crazy ants turn up and invade the crap out of a place but there is no definitely documented native habitat that they might have originated in.  The closest we can come is to assume that the species evolved in packing crates onboard freighters and simply started invading the moment they hit dry land.

And wow are they impressive invaders!  Over in Christmas Island they are apparently redesigning the entire ecosystem to suit themselves (why can't we do that) and cheerfully wiping out any number of endangered crab species.  Or, at least, the crab species are endangered now that the ants have turned up.  In Queensland apparently an entire rainforest is under threat.  At this point I'm finding it difficult to understand why we don't just side with the winners and redesignate the rainforest as a yellow crazy ant habitat.  Possibly we're worried that if we don't stop them now we may find entire cities converted into ant colonies.  Is it too late to offer them Canberra?

To stop, or at least slow down, the relentless approach of the formic marauders an elite team from the Wet Tropics Management Authority including contractors (probably not a euphemism for mercenaries in this instance) and Aboriginal rangers has been deployed on ant extermination duties.  This is not without its risks as several members of the team have staggered out of the rain forest having bumped their heads on branches or twisted their ankles on uneven ground.  Formic acid which the ants use as a defence mechanism is also a mutagen so look out for Wolverine style super heroes arising in North Queensland in the coming years.

After attempts to destroy the ants in hand to hand combat proved unsuccessful the Authority decided to commit war crimes.  Poison is now the preferred method of operation and has the advantage of actually working.  The Authority was quietly confident that a few more years of atrocities would have the ants under control (by "under control" I mean "dead").  Unfortunately it appears that the state and federal governments have enough problems with the United Nations without having to admit that they've been deploying a weapon of mass destruction to deal with our latest threat to border security.  Funding for the next batch of poison has not yet been authorised and the Wet Tropics Management Authority is looking at increasingly bare shelves and trembling for the future.  Specifically their own future.  If the ants wipe out the rain forest it is unlikely we'll need a Wet Tropics Management Authority once we've run out of wet tropics.

I'm actually quite fond of rain forest. It's lush, rich in biodiversity (that means lots of plants and animals and stuff I think) and quite decorative from a distance.  Best of all I don't live in or near any of it.  So I'm hoping that the Authority gets its money and goes back to killing ants on an industrial scale.  But just in case I've cleared the shelves of my local supermarket of insect repellant.  If the worst happens perhaps my home can be an isolated fortress surrounded by an ant dominated wasteland.  Think of The Walking Dead only with ants.

Sunday, January 20, 2019


Yes here it is, the latest in my semi regular (and semi coherent) entries on light rail stations.  Blinking in the spotlight today is Arlington.  You may recognise Arlington from such phrases as "where the hell is Arlington?", "Arlington, is that a place?" and "why does Arlington have a light rail station?"  But you probably don't.  Arlington's name is not graved deep in the history of Sydney's suburbs.  I'm not even sure if it is a suburb.  I tried googling it but I got results for hiring male strippers in Arlington, Texas before there were any references to Arlington, NSW.

The answer to the three questions above incidentally are, in order;
  • The back end of Dulwich Hill
  • Yes, sort of
  • I suspect there was space for a platform and a little money left in the budget
Getting out at Arlington station I paused for a moment and turned in a circle to take in the view, much to the annoyance of various solid citizens attempting to get onto the tram (train?  I still haven't figured that out).  I stepped a little further from the rail vehicle and tried again.  There was a park with children's play equipment and across the road a recreation field for more organised outside activities.  The recreation field is situated on what used to be a bunch of brick pits and according to the local council is a "green space".  It's certainly green, that's the colour of the synthetic surface that covers the playing field and its definitely a space so I guess, technically the council is correct.  The park I had to walk across to get there had actual grass, growing in dirt.  At least I assumed it was growing in dirt, I didn't examine it in any great detail.

On the other side of the station was a residential area, complete with residents.  I know this because one walked past me while I was looking at it.  I have to admit its a little odd to hop off public transport and be staring at someone's back yard.  Normally public transport goes through shopping areas and other places of human gathering.  There's usually a bit of a walk before you find somewhere people actually live.  It is this more than anything else that speaks to the origins of the light rail as a goods line.  Goods lines don't have to go where people gather, they go where industry gathers.  Most of the industry is gone now and suburbs have spread so now people have a public transport link in their back yard some way from the shops.  Despite this the line is well frequented, much more frequented than planners actually planned for.  In this, if nothing else, it resembles every other piece of transport infrastructure in the state.

The presence of the light rail station has its own attractions.  At least I assume it does.  Advertisements for local real estate companies tout convenience to the light rail as a selling point and I'm sure they wouldn't do that if they didn't think it was desirable.  You don't see real estate agents in Kings Cross attempting to talk up their properties by highlighting how handy they are to the heroin injecting centre.  There is new development here (very convenient to the light rail).  In between old single story houses are some blocks of very new looking apartments.  These apartment blocks are both new and rather handsome which I actually thought was an oxymoron.  An apartment block is currently being built just down the road from me.  The designers need to be taken down to Arlington and have their faces shoved repeatedly into the apartment blocks there until they get the idea.

Not wanting to spend too long hanging out in a children's park or peering into other people's backyards (the terms of my parole are quite strict) I took a five minute walk up to the same bus stop I went to from Dulwich Grove last week and caught a bus into Newtown for lunch.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Loins Well and Truly Girded

The time has come!  Well actually it hasn't, which is a slightly anti climactic follow up to a first sentence that was embellished with an exclamation mark.  Nevertheless while the time hasn't come it's train is definitely pulling into the station.  That time when I gird up my loins, sharpen my game and head down to the overambitious sheep run that serves as my nation's capital for a long weekend of gaming.  Interspersed with the gaming will be fine (or possibly coarse) dining at some of Canberra's best (or at least most affordable) restaurants and of course incessant cow commentary on the trip down.

Last year I caught the train down but Ivan obviously missed the cow commentary because he tearfully begged for my company to lighten the tedium of the journey and help dull the fact that we were travelling to Canberra voluntarily.  Well, when I say he tearfully begged for my company what I mean is he didn't raise any objections when I said I'd be travelling with him.  Well, not violent objections anyway.  Or at least not particularly violent objections.  And I'm sure the death threats were a joke, reasonably sure.

The good thing about Canberra is; and I suddenly realise I have no way to finish that sentence.  No wait, I've got it.  The good thing about Canberra is that they don't try and prevent you from leaving.  However one advantage it has over, for example, Gulargambone is more hotels.  This means that a transient population always has somewhere to stay.  I'm staying at a hotel that has the advantage of being quite close to where Ivan will be parking his car which means that if I get up early enough and lie in front of it Ivan will be pretty much forced to drive me to the venue as well.

And what a venue it is, they even have air conditioning now.  This innovation presented itself last year to the dismay of those of us who had been living in a sauna for the previous week to acclimatise ourselves to gaming conditions.  Still on balance I think its a good thing particularly until such times as attendees heed the increasingly desperate pleas of the organisers to wear deodorant.  Within this climate controlled barn I and my fellow ASL fanatics (I think I can use the term, anyone who comes to Canberra for a game is definitely not making rational decisions) will seize a corner and then defend it with tooth and claw against Pathfinder freaks, Warhammer maniacs, Miniatures loons and occasional Magic: The Gathering nutcases.  Gathering what exactly?  Certainly not the respect of your fellow men. 

It's getting harder and harder to fight off the gaming hordes.  We don't actually take up a great deal of space but our tables and place in the air conditioning is eyed with jealous resentment by exponents of other games looking to expand their territory and influence.  Safely distant, I'm not privy to the vicious turf battles our organiser Andy Rogers has to go through to secure us this small but desired location but the strain is telling on him and his requests for early booking and a confirmation of numbers get more desperate by the year.  If we were to simply turn up on the day with our equipment and hopeful expressions on our faces we would be swamped beneath a tide of black t-shirts and unusual skin conditions.

I have great hopes for my chances this year.  I'm psychologically prepared.  I've girded the crap out of my loins (a sentence which gets more disturbing each time I reread it) and sharpened my game to such a point that I accidentally stabbed myself with it yesterday.  All my opponents have going for them is the fact that most of them are actually better at the game than I am.  I pity them for a storm is coming.  Fortunately we'll be inside in the air conditioning.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Dulwich Grove

Surely there are fewer things of greater social utility to an inner urban environment than a disused freight line.  The benefits such a thing brings to the local community are broad indeed.  It provides a playground for children, a gathering spot for disaffected youth, and a discreet venue for gangland "disagreements".  Additionally it is a handy receptacle for refuse, dead pets, used needles and of course vomit when you stumble out of the pub at midnight and realise to your horror that you're not going to make it to the doorway of the bridal boutique just down the road.  Finally it helps to lower property values in the immediate area thus making inner city living that little bit more affordable.

Sadly it has been some years since my neighbourhood had such a vital community resource.  We used to have one but at some point the state government decided to build a light rail route on top of it.  Why?  I'm not entirely sure but I suspect it had something to do with being able to claim to have built a chunk of public transport infrastructure without actually having to do very much work.  Questions such as whether it actually went anywhere people wanted to go seem to have been somewhat secondary.  Nevertheless it has actually been a bit of a success.  Partially this is because the urban has sprawled a bit since the original freight line was constructed and partially because in a city as short of lateral public transport links as Sydney you could build a light rail pretty much anywhere and guarantee patronage.

In keeping with a threat I issued on this blog recently I have decided to hop on this light rail, get off at random stops and see what's there (that strangled hiss you hear is the will to live slowly escaping from my tech support).  I will continue to do this periodically until I get bored (likely), lazy (very likely) or find something better to do (statistically improbable).  Brimming with enthusiasm I contacted my Tasmanian correspondent and told her the exciting news.  To say that she was impressed would be an overstatement.  Still one aspect of it did please her.

"Well at least if you're buggering about with that you won't be pestering me for content when I'm supposed to be out bushwalking."

That strangled hiss you hear is my correspondent throttling a brown snake with her bare hands.

With that somewhat qualified endorsement ringing in my ears I set out on my journey stopping only for a coffee and a smiley face cookie at the cafe on the corner.  Dulwich Hill light rail station is about as close to Dulwich Hill heavy rail station as can be arranged without precipitating a terrible accident.  I padded down to the station and hopped on a waiting; tram? light train? generic rail vehicle?  It's an indication of how little thought was put into the light rail that services run every few minutes.  Planned services are generally much less reliable.  The journey to Dulwich Grove took about two minutes.

According to wikipedia a grove is "a small group of trees with minimal or no undergrowth".  The only part of that description that Dulwich Grove meets is the "minimal or no undergrowth" part.  Overgrowth is also minimal or no.  The light rail station itself is in a cutting.  I'm not fond of cuttings, they strike me as being lazy tunnels. It's as if the engineers got three quarters of the way through the job but couldn't be bothered putting the roof on. You wouldn't want them building your house.

If you want to enjoy the sights of Dulwich Grove the station is the best vantage point because you can't see much of them.  As you ascend the stairs towards ground level your field of view widens and your expectations plummet.  The stairs spit you out into an almost solid bank of carbon monoxide.  Somewhere in there is New Canterbury Road performing the vital function of taking everybody on it somewhere else as quickly as possible.  Grove propaganda notwithstanding the light rail station essentially dumps you on the edge of Dulwich Hill shops.  Since the freight line never intended to stop at Dulwich Hill the station is actually about five minutes walk away from the main shopping precinct allowing you to stroll past the various lower rent shops and suburban offices that hang around the fringes of such an area like a gypsy encampment outside a town.

They have made an effort with the main shopping area, there's a supermarket, restaurants and loads of nice outdoor cafes just in case anybody wants to cripple their lungs without going to the expense of buying cigarettes.  Here you can purchase your weekly groceries, sip a latte and enjoy the sight of a vast number of cars and buses churning up and down the road.  If these things don't immediately fill you with a visceral delight it has to be admitted that Dulwich Hill is scraping to come up with a Plan B.  Having already done my shopping and being desirous of coffee with a slightly lower lead content I abandoned the light rail for the nearest bus stop to Newtown.  That strangled hiss you hear is the drunk fifty year old Irish woman next to me at the bus stop attempting to simultaneously drag on a cigarette, express her contempt for the people enjoying a coffee across the street, juggle a cask of wine and stay on her feet.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

All Right, Enough is Enough

It's fair to say that Facebook has copped a lot of flak of late.  What with handing our details over to dubious data miners, showering us with ads, and supposedly attempting to influence the opinions of its users.  I have to admit that I took all of this with a grain of salt.  For starters I didn't expect anything less and I find it both astonishing and appalling that anyone is astonished or appalled.  Come on guys, how dumb are you?  Mark Zuckerberg isn't rich because your photo of a perfectly cooked meal has some sort of intrinsic value?  It's possibly the least valuable thing in the history of creation.  Mark Zuckerberg is rich because he has access to all of your secrets and can sell them.  Facebook is little more than a giant market research tool, the only difference is that if a person approached us in the street with a clipboard we're more likely to punch them in the face than beg them to exploit us.

So I was fine with Facebook.  It did what it did and people currently throwing their hands up in shock are guilty of culpable stupidity at the very least.  But now Facebook has gone too far!  Do you know what those sick, depraved bastards have done?  I went on to Facebook to post my last blog entry and see if there were any particularly funny videos of kittens in blenders when a terrifying sight leapt out at my unprepared eyes.

Dan Brown was offering a masterclass in how to write!  Dan fucking Brown!  Teaching people how to write books!  I wouldn't trust Dan Brown to write a Christmas card.  He has got to be one of the most ghastly writers in creation and he has several fat, highly successful books to prove it.  And this violent and, largely, undeserved assault on human literacy was being served up to me via Facebook.

The only reason I can come up with for this is that Facebook has finally stopped caring.  Once you've trashed your reputation beyond a certain point you might as well keep on going and at least see if you can get into the Guinness Book of Records for moral debasement.  Having Dan Brown spruiking a course in writing is essentially Mark Zuckerberg extending an erect middle digit to the entire of human cultural history.

A lot of people like Dan Brown's books. That's fine, if you enjoy them by all means read them.  A lot of people like auto erotic asphyxiation as well (with better reason) but that's no justification for having such videos in a family planning clinic.

Strangely I don't actually have a problem with Dan Brown.  He has a talent; he writes books that people apparently want to read (check his sales figures).  I don't want to read them, dear Christ no,  one of them was enough (the Da Vinci code, I read it in about five hours and then spent six hours loathing myself for having lost time I won't get back) but others do and more power to Dan's pen.  He makes money which stops him from being forced to donate organs to make ends meet.  And people take pleasure in his work.  So far so good, or at least, so far so tolerable.  But must he train others to his craft?  Indeed, is it wise for him to do so?  Let's face it Dan, assuming a basic level of literacy amongst your pupils once they learn your tricks what's to prevent them eclipsing you?  Nothing that I can see.

As for Facebook you have finally gone too far.  Action must be taken and I shall take it.  I shall grumble incessantly about Facebook while continuing to use it.  That'll show them.  Mark and Dan will continue to get rich(er) and I will feel a smug sense of superiority that almost covers my sense of total impotence.  Win-win.

Some Changes Are In Order

The new year has burst among us all fresh and shiny and I have hit the ground running!  At least I've definitely hit the ground and my legs are kicking feebly.  I'm within ninety degrees of running at any event.  As the final few months count down towards the anniversary of my first half century on this planet I have decided that some changes are in order.

Bubbling with enthusiasm I contacted my tech support who were slowly emerging from a Christmas themed hangover (deck the halls with gouts of vomit, fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la).  Seriously if anyone wants to invade Belarus you just missed your best window of opportunity.  I was pleased to see that despite their dubious physical state my team were hard at work studying what appeared to be an anatomy project of some kind.

"Big news guys," I announced. "I have decided to live every day as if its my last!"

They were surprisingly enthusiastic.

"Excellent idea, seize the day all that kind of stuff.  Brilliant!"

"Thanks, what are you looking at?"

"Your latest medical report."

I let them in on my plans, they always like to know my travel itinerary and they usually have the illegal immigrants and Moldavian sex workers out of my flat by the time I get home.

"In July I'm going to Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore," I announced.  They frowned and studied the report a little more.

"Thailand and Malaysia are probably doable.  I wouldn't set your heart on Singapore though."

The news about Singapore was a little disappointing but I refused to let it spoil my mood.  The year beckoned, shiny and new and I was bubbling over with optimism.  Admittedly a certain amount of that enthusiasm was due to the fact that I'm now comfortably certain I'm going to die before the world finally goes to hell but it is enthusiasm nonetheless.

"Tell me guys, what are your plans for the new year."

"Sorry, that's classified, we could tell you but then we'd have to kill you."

They took another look at the medical report, shrugged their shoulders and told me anyway.  I can't tell you what they said but suffice it to say 2019 is one year that's going to go out with a bang, possibly in August.

In the meantime there is a blog to maintain and it has to be admitted I've been scraping to find things to put in it of late.  Bursting with pride I told my tech support of my plan to redress this situation.

"Light rail," I announced and waited for them to applaud.  They didn't applaud, instead they brought up a scan of my brain and started peering at it with worried expressions on their faces.  "Haven't you ever heard of light rail?"

"Of course we have, Minsk is crawling with trams and trolley buses.  What's your point?"

"We have a light rail line in Sydney, we might have another one in fifty years or so.  I'm going to get off at each stop, wander around and write a blog entry about it."  Silence greeted this momentous news.  "Guys, say something."

"Look, precisely three people currently read your blog, do you really want to drive them away?"

"If they haven't gone already their boredom threshold must be pretty high.  Besides I have little choice.  Such creativity and inspiration as I might once have possessed has long since run dry.  I can't keep on hoping for natural disasters in Tasmania to peak people's interest."

"You probably can," they replied.  "As a matter of fact we can help with that.  If you start raving on about light rail you're on your own."