Driving me nuts

A pirate walked into a bar. The barman said “why have you got that ship’s wheel in your trousers?” and the pirate said “Arr, it’s drivin’ me nuts!”

I’ve been pretty busy recently, working on a bunch of blog things of very specific interest, all about how I am learning / teaching myself unit testing and test-driven development. I’ll get around to tidying them and putting them online at some point, but I keep hitting snags with it. It’s one of those things that I believe I understand, but having never seen any real examples I keep getting a nagging voice at the back of my mind that says “are you sure you’re not doing it wrong?”

It’s time to update with normal-people stuff though. One of my resolutions for 2010 is to get a driving licence, and I had another crack at that last week. I can’t help but think that if it had been a different instructor, I may have gotten away with it… but I don’t know that for sure. As usual, I had two serious faults. I failed to check my mirror when changing lanes coming off of a roundabout till I was almost halfway where I was going. The other was failing to stop at a stop sign. I believe that I did stop, but maybe it wasn’t for long enough. My instructor was understanding about it and said that a lot of people do stop, then creep forward as they would at any other junction. But that’s a failure, so no licence this month. It’s doubly infuriating because there’s a stop sign on the way out of where I work, and no-one stops or even slows down for it. There’s good enough visibility to see what’s coming and there almost never is.

On the other hand, we were so confident about this test that we bought a car. We got it on eBay, never went to see it, and somehow everything turned out alright and it’s a decent car, we weren’t ripped off or robbed or attacked. So that went alright! Since the wife can drive, she’s going to be using that to get us about and all the things that I would have had to do instead. So finally, I’ll be (sort of) mobile! The only real downside is that since I have just spent out on a car and insurance, I’m a lot shakier on financial terms than I am used to being. That’s the reason I’ve not booked my next driving test yet… I just want to see how healthy the bank is this week first.

In the case of other resolutions, I have officially completely shelved Wargame Tools in favour of my new learning project for test-driven development. As I mentioned before, I’m doing that in the blog completely (eventually). I’ve managed to get almost an hour of painting done in the past few months, I’ve not even thought about trying German yet (I’m still enjoying the free time that I get after finishing some of the other bits) and we’ve not booked to see anyone about finishing off this first (easy) stage of the family tree. But with the car now sorted (mobile! whee!) we can probably get onto that one… it would be a good idea, as there’s only ten weeks left to squeeze in two more family visits!

Dammit, I Failed Again

failed21

Right, so it’s been a while since my last regular blog post. I think it’s probably the worst I’ve done so far this year… although it wasn’t one of my new year’s resolutions, I’m happy that I’ve been able to keep it going for a little way (although more pictures would probably be better) – and without the crutch of picture-a-day or the like. Although I freely admit the posts here are a little lacking in interest, maybe one of those crutches might be a good thing…

Anyway, it’s probably time to catch up with my resolutions! It’s a mixed bag at this point in the year, I’ve moved my own goalposts.

  1. Filing
    I’ve actually finished the bulk of the filing, and the ‘backlog’ from the beginning of the year! There’s still a small pile which I’ve not decided how to proceed with (it’s not urgent, I’ll keep it around for a bit anyway), and there’s a pile of documents to be shredded. But otherwise, this one is crossed off!
  2. Dark Elves
    Nothing has been done with these in a long time. I’ll definitely not hit my targets if I don’t do any work with them. I’m considering beginning to paint a small amount (ten minutes or so) every evening after dinner, as long as my son doesn’t fling his noodles in the paint pot. I already changed the criteria on this resolution once, I don’t think it counts if I do so again.
  3. Driving Licence
    I took a test on Monday, and failed. I had two serious faults in the last two minutes of the test. One was a complete flubbing of bay parking, and the other was not seeing a lorry that I almost hit. That’s not exactly comforting, but the doubt in my mind is that if I don’t remember it, and didn’t hit it, was I consciously moving around it and not worrying about it? Or was I just too close for the examiner’s comfort? Regardless, I’m convinced that third time is a charm and I’ve already booked my next test – although I’ll try to get a cancellation before that.
  4. German
    Still had no time for this one.
  5. Star Trek Cards
    Another one I can cross off! There’s a bit of tidying up to do – some of the cards didn’t sell – but otherwise, I’ve got rid of the lot. And funded a new television with the proceeds! Hoorah!
  6. Family Tree
    My weekends are mostly booked up till the end of August, but we’re going to arrange to get Jen’s Oma to discuss her side of the family at some point in September. I’ll have to practice the German characters on my keyboard!
  7. Wargame Tools
    Slightly bad news on this one – I’ve totally lost motivation. Because of the lack of time to work on the project (half an hour a day a few times a week on my lunch breaks) and because I am stuck in a less interesting part of the project for the foreseeable future, I’m just not motivated to work on this one. I’m considering scrapping the project completely, since I just don’t have the time for it. It would be too tempting to immediately start a new project, and I’ve already got a few ideas, but it’s something that I should think about further.

So, 2 things crossed off – more than 25% of the way there! One item I may fail despite trying (the driving test), two I may not finish (German and Dark Elves) and one I am thinking of giving up on (wargame tools) but the rest are alright. Not too bad!

Focus on the Wrong Targets

Originally posted at Year of Frugal Gaming

I’ll cut past the ‘hello, is this thing on’ and just straight up apologise – Sorry I’ve not written anything here for a while. Today, I’ll be blaming this on two things. Firstly, I’ve managed to accidentally nuke a few draft posts that were ‘in process’ – this was pretty stupid. Secondly, I’ve been failing in my mission. Or at least half failing, but failing in the fun half. Succeeding in the dull half is not really succeeding at all.

The mission is ‘Play More, Spend Less’. And I’ve been hardly playing at all. A couple of games of Warhammer Invasion when I can squeeze them in, and a short RuneQuest campaign I participated in. Though I’ve tried to plan a games evening (I have held one of the four I intended to by this time in the year), I’m trying to use it to get people round to visit who don’t normally come – so this too, is failing. I can blame a lot of things (increased demands on time, trying to make one games night do multiple things, etc etc) but ultimately, it’s down to me not setting aside time to play games.

I have managed to save money by not buying new things – indeed, selling off all of my old Star Trek CCG cards has allowed me to grab a new television – but that’s not exactly fun. It’s nice, once I got past the hoarder’s natural instinct of “But that’s my stuff!” but it’s not exactly fun. Certainly not as fun as playing games, which is why we’re all here.

This all came to a head this week when, on a rare day off work, I was told by my wife in a games store “It doesn’t matter how much that rulebook is – would you play it, since we don’t play the other games as it is?”

This hit me like a brick. For one thing, it’s a really nice rulebook. Heavy, hardcover, bionics and spaceship battles. What more could you want? Well, the time to play it, obviously, and the blessing of She Who Must Be Obeyed. It was at that moment that I realised that spending less on games was the trivial part of the frugal gamer’s mission – the gaming more part was actually, counter-intuitively, the harder part!

Despite the busy social schedule for the next couple of months, I’m going to try to remedy this by scheduling some roleplaying games in to kick life back into a long-left WFRP game. I’ll also try to sneak some zombie-themed games into a zombie-themed movie evening (to celebrate the new telly).

Hopefully, between planning games, playing games, and the other commitments which prevent the other two I’ll have some time to at least write some game reviews to put up here. Wish me luck!

Achievement Unlocked: Second Anniversary

One more year of marriage, oh yeah! This one is cotton, apparently. I checked online to make sure, and I found a site that suggested gift ideas. It also said that cotton or straw were traditional, but china or porcelain were the modern equivalent? Doesn’t that seem like quite a jump in expectations?

It also hit my (very, very small) feminism gland. Well, not exactly feminism, but sexism in general. Not enough to really bug me, but enough to get a disapproving remark here. There were suggestions for Him and for Her – for Him, ‘buy him an item of clothing’. OK, that fits cotton, what about her? ‘Buy her a new outfit, and top it off by taking her out for dinner’. Does that seem a little one-sided to anyone? Women’s clothes are often more expensive than men’s, and a whole outfit is obviously more expensive than a suit. Then there’s the need to ‘top it off’ by taking her out for dinner. Why couldn’t the woman take the man out for dinner, to show off his new shirt/jacket/shoes, and to show off her own new dress/suit/Sailor Moon costume?

Anyway, for our anniversary we got grandparents to babysit, wandered over to the cinema for Iron Man 2 (great film, real fun) and then to Chiquitos for dinner and cocktails. Back home, watched Zohan and enjoyed a nice lie-in before we become parents again at lunchtime. Good time, lots of fun, can’t wait till next year!

Nearly-Halfway Check-up

Well, I think it’s about time I brought an update on the resolutions. The last time I checked on those, things were progressing slowly, or not at all. And in the usual order:

  1. Filing.
    I got ahead last week so I could spend a bit of time off this week – I’ll be about ten pages behind for next weekend, but I plan to make it up then. I’ve almost reached the end of the top drawer, and the bottom drawer is almost empty. Then there’s just the backlog of stuff that hasn’t been filed since I started doing this in January! All in all, I think this one will be finished in a couple of months!
  2. Dark Elves.
    I went to stay with my parents over the Easter weekend and while they fawned all over Freddy, I got a good chunk of work done on the Corsairs. I believe I may be able to free up a bit of time in the evenings to work on them now, so for about 15 minutes a night I can chip a little closer to my goal. Still looking like I won’t finish the whole army this year, but I will see what I can get done and plan accordingly for next year.
    The other problem is that knowing I won’t get them all done, I’ve lost momentum on getting the remainder of the models ready to paint. I know there are more undercoated than I can paint this year, so I’m just not motivated to get the rest undercoated. The weather has been a bit off for the last few weeks too, maybe I’ll catch the bug when the clouds disappear again.
  3. Driving Licence.
    Lessons have been going well, I had a double lesson today and booked a double lesson for next weekend (knowing that the one after it I will be unavailable). The instructor is really good, and I’m recommending that the wife take a couple of refresher lessons before I take the test again. Speaking of which, I was told to book the test today – “For the second half of June.” So that’s good news!
  4. German.
    Looking at my schedule, I believe that when the filing is out of the way I would do better to try and concentrate my time on painting for now. There’s also the driving lessons (1-2 hours a week) that I may have free, but I think I should focus those too on painting. Maybe when I’ve made more progress on that one, I’ll reconsider this.
  5. Star Trek cards.
    The bulk of my collection has sold on eBay! The remainder has now been listed, and there are a few parcels still to send out. I’ve even received feedback on a couple of items, so I know that they got there OK. I got more money for them than I was expecting, so that’s a nice bonus too. I just need to get it out of my PayPal account and into my real world.
  6. Family Tree.
    As I mentioned before, we’ve had our first bash at that and added a whole bunch of new names to the list. We’ve got a lot planned for the next few weekends (weddings, fairs, guests, etc) so I think when it’s all over (middle of June?) we’ll be planning our next one. My original plan to have the main bulk of this finished by July was a bit optimistic, on reflection. We have at least two more meetings to go to get the basics down, and possibly a third, given the complexity of my wife’s ancestry. I’ll also have to practice my German spelling for that one.
  7. Wargame Tools.
    I came to a bit of an irk-point a while ago – none of my friends have been able to test the program so far, they are all too busy. My own tests turned up that I need to alter the data structure, and since it was a learning project it’s not quite consistent in the way things are performed… it was looking to be complex and time-consuming. I am rewriting it to teach myself MVC, and so far progress has been quick. This also has the advantage that I can shove it on a website and point people to it to test much easier – I’ll probably go straight to some war-gaming forums and ask for volunteers. I still think I can have it in test by September.

All in all, good progress! A driving test being taken by July, which was my original aim, and hopefully I’ll pass! Star Trek cards almost all gone, and with more money than I expected to boot! Family tree and Wargame Tools both moving along as expected, and the filing hopefully coming to a close soon! I’ll probably have very little to do for the winter months this year…

Family Tree Update

On Saturday, we visited my father-in-law’s family to make a start on my wife’s family tree. We managed to add just over sixty names to the list, bringing to total to over two hundred! As usual, a lot of the details are concentrated near the bottom of the tree – people who are still alive – but some of the older details were backed up with birth, marriage or death certificates. These are fantastic, it helped to fill some gaps in the knowledge that people either don’t know off the top of their head or never knew. I am indebted to the in-laws for keeping a hold of that sort of thing. I’ll definitely try and keep what I can for the future, and pass it on with the tree itself. We’ve gone back six generations from my son on almost every path now, and just think how amazing that will be to his children and grandchildren!

There are still some gaps, but with luck we should be able to get in touch with some of the more extended family and see what they can fill in (even if it is only their own details!)

Also, my parents are at home Easter weekend so we’re travelling down to see them – hopefully, I can meet up with my granddad and get some more information from him. I’ve been warned that he probably won’t have any documentation to help piece things together, but that’s not a major problem. We’re also going to start planning to meet with my wife’s other grandparents, to find out what we can there. It will challenge my family tree program and it’s text support, as most of the names on that side are German…

One thing my dad hasn’t tried when researching his tree is getting in contact with living relatives he doesn’t know or have a lot of contact with, to try and get more details that his main sources (close relatives, of which there are few) might not know. Although, I don’t know that there’s much more that they can tell him – he is from a small family, and his mother knows enough to place the top of the tree near the beginning of the 19th century. It’s at least two or three generations further than I’ve managed yet.

In other news, I have a small disaster to report. I was, over this year, going to try and re-post all the content I produced for pagan-gerbil.net way-back-when I was a student, and had the time, and some really weird ideas. Like eating noodles for 23 days, or flying to Glasgow on a whim.

This idea might have to take a backseat for a little while, as in the recent reformats of my drive… I’ve lost them. Now, I’m sure there’s a spare hard-drive knocking around somewhere that it should be saved on (some of the older stuff may even be on a CD backup I made many many years ago). I think that I have a bunch of IDE drives in a box, and eventually replaced the ones being actively used with SATA drives. So given the age of the content, I just need to find out any old IDE drives and see what’s on them! That’s almost easy! As long as the files still exist somewhere!

I’m not filled with a huge amount of hope. I have a few too many things to get sorted before I can search the drives out anyway.

Unwelcome Revelation

Well, it’s been a little while since I posted last. I’ve been a bit ill, again. Tonsillitis, for the first time in over ten years, which I can thank my son for – I seem to catch almost everything he does.

I’ve had a few days off this week as a chance to recharge my batteries, and to get a bit of headway on some of my projects and year’s resolutions. I think, since I am still thinking about my resolutions late in March, I must be doing pretty well at them.

The filing continues slightly ahead of my target, and I’ve worked out that it takes just under an hour. If I stick on a podcast and get going, I can get it out of the way nicely. I’ve just thrown away the first bin liner full of shredded documents, which feels good.

I’ve started driving lessons again, helped by the drop in stress that I’ve stopped looking for a new job. I’ve got to get back into the swing of driving, get used to the car, build up my confidence a bit more, then I should be ready to book the test. So I ought to be able to take a test by June or July, at the latest, allowing for long waiting lists.

The eBay sales have been slow – I got so close to the end, I didn’t bother doing any more work for a few weeks because I was ‘so close’. Still, I think I can push through that with the last few days of time off, and see if I can finally get one of these tasks crossed off. Since I’m not putting time into this one exactly, I don’t think I can start the German lessons even when it’s crossed off.

We had to cancel our planned Family Tree meeting a couple of weeks ago because of illness, but we’ve scheduled it in again for next weekend. Luckily, one of Jen’s cousins has already done a good chunk of work on their side of the family so we should have quite a head-start on that one.

Wargame Tools Datafile Creator has gone off to some friends for testing! I’ve got a list of tasks to finish before I give it out further, and the second program (the Rosterfile Creator) has had some good progress so far. Both parts should be out in open test by the end of the year (almost definitely by September), very easily.

The unwelcome revelation is the Dark Elf plan. I counted over 150 models, and given how much of the year is left I’ll be needing to paint 4 of those a week (and some of those are cavalry or monster models) to reach the target. While not impossible, I have all these other things to get sorted too (alongside a full time job and a family) so I doubt this one will succeed. With my batch process of painting, I know that many will be finished in one week (after several weeks of no progress), so this is difficult to gauge but I am going to prioritise and say that all the Corsairs will be finished first, then the Cold One Knights. Then I’ll have to pick something else (probably the Dark Riders). Ultimately, this resolution will not be finished and I know it. Still, there’ll be a lot less for me to do next year!

That being said, I’ve been able to get most of the models assembled, based and undercoated ready to go. While the weather holds this morning, I’m going to get another batch sprayed and that will give me all of the Corsairs ready to go. It’ll be my largest batch yet – about sixty models, altogether!

I may yet be able to finish it – as I reached the end of my Wood Elf army, I went to stay with my parents for a week and spent the whole time painting. Needless to say, you can make a lot of progress when you plug away like that!

Dark Elf Plan

(Originally posted to A Year of Frugal Gaming)

If I’m going to get anywhere with my resolution to have all my Dark Elves painted by the end of the year, I’ll have to have a plan ready before I lose too much time.

Having ransacked the shelves and boxes that house my collection, I’ve taken stock of the unfinished models. When I say ‘ancient’ below, I’m referring to the (mostly, if not exclusively) Marauder miniatures that Games Workshop sold in the mid-1990’s. I expect most of those models are also made of lead, and were carved by hand using flint tools.

Paint needs removing   painttostrip

  • 1 Dark Pegasus, without rider
  • 1 Manticore with partial rider
  • 1 badly damaged Hydra that has been glued, puttied, pinned, and soldered and still won’t stay together. I really don’t know what to do with this one, except corrosively strip the various layers of adhesive and paint off, and maybe try something new (like magnets). It’d be nice to get it back together, but I have a bad feeling I’ve ruined it.

These models will need some extensive work on them. I got the Dark Pegasus and Manticore in an eBay sale, and they don’t have (complete) riders. I’m planning to put a Crone Hellebron conversion on the Manticore eventually, but I’ve not started looking at parts to complete that yet. I don’t want to rush them just to fit within the year’s resolution, so I may treat these models as ‘bonuses’, if I have the time to do them.

  • 19 ancient plastic swordsmen
  • 1 ancient Corsair that needs some repairs (weapons missing!)
  • 4 ancient Corsairs

Unassembled / modelling required 

  • 2 modern Cold One Knights
  • 4 modern Black Ark Corsairs
  • 3 ancient plastic swordsmen that need a weapon swap.
  • 2 Gamezone harpies

Undercoating requiredleadpieces

  • 1 modern Hydra needs a nice base added (bits of enemies, etc) before undercoating.
  • 20 ancient Corsairs
  • 2 ancient bolt throwers and 1 modern one, all with their matching crew. I may delay the ancient bolt throwers to try and give them a bit more sex appeal, since they are rather… blocky.
  • 7 ancient Cold One Knights
  • 10 Dark Riders to undercoat (horses already undercoated).
  • 12 ancient Witch Elves
  • 6 ancient Crossbowmen
  • 12 ancient Black Guard
  • 1 ancient command group
  • 2 ancient assassins
  • An ancient male sorcerer
  • An ancient Morathi model (with clothes on!)
  • 1 Chariot crew
  • 1 modern Hydra Beastmaster team
  • 1 modern Sorceress on foot and 1 mounted on Cold One
  • 1 modern Master on foot and 1 mounted on Cold One
  • 1 modern Assassin
  • 3 modern Cold One Knights
  • 1 Malekith on Black Dragon
  • 1 Lokhir Fellheart

I do have an additional Cold One knight, left over as I got four ancient Cold Ones without riders as an eBay win and inherited a rider without a steed from a friend of a friend’s old bits box. But I’m unsure yet whether or not to make a Black Chariot with four Cold Ones pulling it, or two regular chariots, or have a Black Chariot with three creatures and use the spare to bolster the Cold One Knights. Having three chariots would be fairly nice… Although I often face cannons (boo).

Unpainted

  • 10 Dark Steeds
  • 12 modern Crossbowmen
  • 4 modern Witch Elves
  • 1 ‘middle-child’ Beastmaster team for the (damaged) Hydra
  • 6 Mengil Manhide’s Manflayers

So my first task will be to assemble the remaining Cold One Knights and Black Ark Corsairs, and perform any repairs on the existing models. Then I can devote a bit of time to painting each week before the good weather comes and I can undercoat the bulk of the models, which will give me a lot more to work on! I figure I can probably get about 2 hours a week, spread across evenings and the weekend, to chip away at this mound of metal. I’d rather hoped that there would be more models ready to paint, so if I got the time before undercoating weather came along I’d be able to get ahead on things. No matter, I like a challenge!

Blog Power Up!

I just upgraded the blog to version 1.6 of BlogEngine.NET, using the incredibly useful guide from David Wynne.

Two things he missed though: Remember to change your CSS file as described in the ‘official’ instructions (change #widgetzone to .widgetzone, and #widgetselector to .widgetselector) and to be sure that any changes you made to your web.config file are copied across with the rest of your site (default blog provider, database connection settings, and the like).

If you did change to the database provider for your blog, there are scripts to manage the upgrade (especially since Blogroll is now stored there!) in the setup folder.

Since you can see this, I made it work! Hooray!

Now to mess around and see what’s changed… and finally get that BlogRoll working!

A Night To Remember

[originally posted on A Year of Frugal Gaming]

As I mentioned before, I plan to hold more Games Nights this year than I have previously. Here’s what I’ve found that works for me, but I’m refining my process continually and if anyone else has any advice I’d be happy to try it out next time.

Know Your Audience – “What Do I Do Again?”

Not everyone games like a wargamer games. Wargamers are a little scary, they can assimilate any rules system almost on contact, and be playing the game without the rulebook in under ten minutes. However, not everyone has this ability. They need a little more time to pick something up, and maybe a couple of practice runs.

Knowing what sort of people have come to your games night is important, unless you want to be a speaking rulebook all evening!

Know Your Audience – “Has Someone Won Yet?”

Some games take a long time. Everyone’s been part of a 30-hour Monopoly marathon, where four players are gripping onto their last mortgaged properties in the face of the last two players, who’ve neatly divided the board between them. Being one of those destitute four is not fun. Games with clear end goals are best – ones that state that ‘the winner is the first to grab the McGuffin’ are better than ‘the last one standing’.

Cheat Sheets

If you know what games you’re playing in advance, get an A3 pad and some marker pens and make some quick bullet-point notes to remind people of key rules. Good things to put on these reminder sheets are the win conditions, the order of actions in a turn, or the options available to a player. As noted above (“What do I do again?”) if you need to use too many bits of paper, you might have picked a complicated game!

Bit of Fun

One thing we ask people to do is to bring along a token or pawn for themselves to use in the games. Wargaming friends are likely to bring a painted model, whereas normal people usually bring more interesting or unusual things (a bolt, small crystal, box of staples, etc). I recommend limiting to things that generally balance themselves and are no more than an inch square at the base. I reserve some goblins for people who neglect to bring their own.

Survival Considerations

This is less specific games advice and more basic party etiquette – you should have a selection of sweet and savoury snacks, and drinks around. We normally ask people to bring their own beer, and stock up on cheap colas ourselves. Popcorn will go a long way. Another good practice is to appoint someone as Pizza Prefect. It is their job to memorise a takeaway pizza menu, calculate available offers, sort out what each individual wants and then make the order. If you happen to be ordering a lot of pizza, you may get an additional discount.