Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Springfield or Bust

This last weekend I drove down to Springfield, MO, to visit my good friend Tony Turner. We hung out in the afternoon and he showed me the revitalization of the old downtown area that has been going on for the last six or seven years. When I was in school at Missouri State, that area was mostly abandoned and very run down. Now there are lots of new restaurants and art galleries and other shops, and that was good to see. That evening Tony and I went to the the Missouri Stave vs. Indiana State basketball game, and the Bears won, which was great. It had been over 10 years since I had been in the Hammons center, and I must admit that it isn't as impressive as it was to me back in 1992 when I was a Freshman. After seeing arenas at other schools the old HSC just doesn't seem like much. They are building a new arena, though, so in a couple years they should have a bigger arena befitting a big-time program.

Tony also hit my car with his SUV on Saturday, which was interesting. In my younger days I would have gotten mad about it, but I have matured over the last few years to the point where I just realized that it was one of those silly things that happens in life (and the damage is very minor), so why get worked up over it?

On Sunday I went to Tony's new(ish) church, Northbridge. It is a "non-traditional" model, and in fact reminded me of the Quest service at my church. Not really my thing, but it is always good to visit other churches and see that it doesn't really matter how you worship God, what matters is that God is worshipped with all your heart and mind.

And I would be remiss if I didn't note that the St. Louis Blues won their game last night against Pittsburgh. Yes, they won for the first time in a month, snapping an 11-game winless streak. So sad, but at least I got to see them win (on TV).

Thursday, December 14, 2006


When I was younger, my favorite board game was BattleTech, a game where you control giant mecha that can lay waste to the countryside, and your foes, if you are so inclined. I haven't played in a long time, but that was because most of my old stuff got destroyed in a flood at my apartment building when I lived in Virginia close to 5 years ago. Lately, I must admit that I have been trolling eBay looking at people selling their collections and pondering buying back in. Not that I would really have the time to play it much at all, but just to have it again would be cool.

However, I just learned of a game, distributed free online, called MegaMek. This game lets you play what is essentially BattleTech on your computer. The game is designed for network play, but you can play hotseat on the same computer by simply launching two separate clients. I just got done playing a rousing battle between two lances of 'mechs and supporting hover craft, and it was a hoot. It doesn't look quite the same, but the designers have done as good as they can with a top down view, and they have tons of optional rules programmed in. As a freeware project, the interface isn't immediately accessible, but you get what you pay for, I guess. Seriously, if you have any interest in BattleTech then you need to check out MegaMek, as it lets you play for free. You don't have to buy anything: no rules, no maps, no miniatures, no nothing.

Now I have to consider simply picking up a few scenario books and just using MegaMek to play some BattleTech battles. Totally sweet!

A Secret Atlas

A Secret Atlas by Michael A. Stackpole, 2005, Bantam Spectra

And now it is time for another book by my favorite author. This one is starting off a new trilogy. The setting is heroic fantasy, but with some differences. First, magic isn't as prevalent, or handled in the same way, as other popular fantasy series. Second, the political setting has many intentional similarities to Europe in the "age of discovery" period of the late 14th through 16th centuries. Two of our main characters are part of a family of map makers, the most famous map makers in the world. This sounds rather boring, but the fact that new maps can only be drawn after people explore new areas of the world provides the key to get the adventures started.

Of course, as a Stackpole story, the internal politics of the existing nations are enough to fill many volumes. Those of you who enjoy Machiavellian twists and turns among the rulers and their pawns will find much to enjoy here. I also like how there is an obvious bureaucracy that follows its own rules, which is a nice touch of realism while allowing for even more plot threads.

The basic plot is that Keles and Jorim Anturasi, the grandsons of the world's most famous mapmaker, are sent on voyages to discover more of the world so their granfather can improve on his maps. While all of this is going on, there are significant political machinations between two of the main powers in the world, and the world may be in danger from even darker forces. This goes on for a good 500 pages or so. The last few chapters, however, really throw a spanner in the works, as there are a number of sudden changes to set up the next book. Overall, it was good and I enjoyed it, and I look forward to seeing where things go next.

Hot Times in Bluesville

So, much has happened with my beloved Blues over the past few weeks. The old coach, Mike Kitchen, was fired, and a new coach brought in. I like Mike, I thought he was a good guy. Unfortunately, none of the players wanted to win while playing for him, so out he goes. But it turns out that maybe it wasn't the coach after all, as the Note has dropped another two games after Kitchen got fired. Hey, maybe my boys just suck again this year. Unfortunately, that is looking more and more like what the situation really is.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Terrible Thursday

Yesterday was one of the worst days I have had in a while. It started out innnocently enough. I got up a little earlier than normal so I could get to work at a good time, and I got there a little after 7 A.M. I worked for a few hours, getting all ready to tackle my day (which was going to involve lots of audit documentation writing), when I get a migraine headache. It's not too bad, so I pop 3 Excedrin and hope that the drugs will work for me. The headache starts to go away, and then I lose my network connection. The entire room I was working in lost connection. Since we use electronic workpapers on my current project, that is bad. I need to access the online "file room" to access my work. Over the next hour, the network comes up for maybe 5 minutes, so nothing is happening.

My team leader takes this moment to start sending me emails saying that the work I did the previous day isn't visible in the "file room," and the people I am auditing on Friday are getting all snarky about it. Since I have no network access, it isn't like I can even check and see if what they are saying is true or not. I also have a meeting in the afternoon for which I need network access to run the teleconferencing software. My headache is getting worse, so I decide to head home so I can at least access the network and check email.

When I get home I find I can access email, but the "file room" is down, and I can't access it at all. Everyone else in the world seems to be able to access it (I literally called at least 8 people), but I can't get to it. Eventually I had my team lead copy down the information I needed into a spreadsheet so I could do my audit work, but by 4PM I was totally shot from all of the stress of just trying to access my files. Why can't they give us software and tools that work? And why could everyone else see the files and I couldn't? Crazy. Everything worked fine today, so who knows what was really going on. I just hope I don't have another day like that anytime soon.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Brett Hull Night

So last night was Brett Hull night, when the Blues retired Brett's number 16 for all time. I missed the very beginning of the ceremony because I had to work late (my supervisor called literally as I was walking to the door), but I was there for all of the important parts. Brett gave a good speech, and it was just as good a ceremony as when they retired Al MacInnis' number at the end of last season. Actually, it was pretty much the same ceremony. It was cool that Bobby Hull was there, and he enjoyed himself razzing the local fans about how he played for CHICAGO, which always drew a chorus of boos, which just made him laugh. I'll bet the Hulls have had some interesting family gatherings while Brett was playing here.

After a great ceremony, I got to watch a horrible game. That may have been the worst hockey performance I have ever seen (by St. Louis; Detroit played well), including the minor league and high school games I have seen in my life. Seriously depressing. The Blues couldn't even pass, and they were always out of synch, almost never having anybody in proper position the entire 60 minutes. I actually left after the second period, as I just couldn't take it anymore. Still, the retirement ceremony was great, and even though Brett Hull is somewhat of a jerk, his performance on the ice was deserving of this honor, so I am glad I was there.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

By the Sword

By the Sword by Richard Cohen, 2003, Modern Library

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the seminal modern work on the history of fencing. This book is not really about how to fence, but about its history and many of the colorful characters that have taken up steel over the millenium. For not being an experienced author, Mr. Cohen does an admirable job of covering the subject in a thorough, and thoroughly readable, manner. The stories in here touch on many subjects, from the samurai of Japan to ancient duelling practices, to modern Olympic fencing champions.

One should note, however, that while all of these subjects are included in the book, this book is really about fencing, and not swordsmanship (or swordsmen) in general. The book's subtitle is "A History of Gladiators, Musketeers, Samurai, Swashbucklers, and Olympic Champions." This isn't completely accurate, however, as the gladiators get a page or so, the musketeers get one chapter, and samurai get a few paragraphs and one good story about Miyamoto Musashi. Swashbuckling gets a chapter on swordfighting in movies, but most of the book is about fencing in the modern sense. As an experienced fencing champion, obviously the author knows much about this subject, but I must admit that I was expecting a more broad-based discussion of swordfighting over the years, which isn't what this book is really about. I must also note that the book is rather long, and especially towards the end there is just too much detail for a gneralist to take on all of the travails of fencing over the last 50 years. I just don't care enough, I guess.

That aside, the first half of the book is marvelous, touching on such disparate topics as medieval dueling practices, ancient Japanese codes of honor, and why what you see of swordfighting in movies is pretty much all wrong. I really enjoyed the discussions of how different swordfighting techniques evolved over the years, and how each European country tended to develop its own unique styles, even favoring special weapons designed for those styles. If more swordfighting was discussed in schools, the boys at least would likely show more of an interest in history. Pretty much everybody at least knew something of dueling a few hundred years ago, and this book has helped me to understand why that was and how it played into overall society. So, in the end this is a good book, but it is somewhat too long and too exculsively focused on fencing in the end.

In This RPG

Can't ... stop ... laughing ...

Home, Sweet Home

Well, I made it safely back to St. Louis today. I had to spend an hour getting 6 inches of sleet off of my car, and the entire neighborhood was out at the grocery store when I stopped by on my way home, but I made it and I am now here and in no mood to leave. Because I was arriving so late in the afternoon I ended up cancelling my evening plans, so I have found myself with nothing to do. But wait! Is that a hockey game on TV? It is! Must watch...

Friday, December 01, 2006

Stuck in Seattle

Well, at this point I am supposed to be at my own home in St. Louis, but instead I am in Seattle, at the airport Hilton, since American Airlines cancelled my flight. I don't blame them, as calls home to my parents and my brother confirmed that the situation is really quite bad back in the Lou. So, even though I am stuck in Seattle, the weather is good and I'm not flirting with death trying to drive on icy roads. So, yeah, stuck without a car at the hotel, so I'm blogging on a Friday night. I should also mention that I am missing my Firm's holiday party tonight, but sometimes there just isn't anything you can do about it. I am in a pretty good mood, overall, which is a nice change from the past when a situation like this would have stressed me out like crazy. Instead, I was nice and relaxed the entire way. And props to my American Express travel assistant for booking me on a first class seat tomorrow to get home, which should make the flight smooth, at least.