This is the (I imagine) last website of Bob Portnell (that's me!). Please find my latest journal notices and useful files from my past and present.
Bob is a technical writer living in Sparks, Nevada. Bob is also a father, husband, nerd, disciple, and some other things. His internet presence beyond this website is not large.
Mail? My nvdaydreamer address in Google's mail service is my basic public contact address.
Facebook? Yeah, I'm back there again. But not using it for much. Find me under my proper first and last name. Invite me to be your friend, and if I know you I'll probably reciprocate. Fill my feed with FB game spam or rude politics, and I'll mute the source and unfollow (or maybe even unfriend) you.
Twitter? I am there also, but I tweet seldom and follow very few.
I've been crazy about dice since I was a toddler watching my grandmother play Yahtzee with her pals. I've designed and bought "ideal" sets. I've written many dice-rolling programs. At this point in my life, I'm resolved that less is better. The current inventory is: 5d20 and 5d6 (for use with the Fake Book, below), plus my Microtactix 2d10, my TFT 31d6, my Fudge 40dF, my antique 3d20, my aluminized 2d6, and a miscellaneous 20d6. Total of 108. That's not a lot, is it? I think I'm forgetting some.
Bob's Dice Fake Book
A booklet that shows how to do any common dice roll with true mathematical fidelity using only a d6 and a d20. There are two versions: print with booklet settings or view on portrait screens.
Dicepick Dice Rollers
Speaking of dice rollers, here are these two again. DicepickXR has positive dice on the right; DicepickXL has positive dice on the left. I might make a Windows version of this …
Dicepick Manifesto, Brief Version: I like dice rollers, but I think most of them take us too far away from the physical and mental activities that make rolling real dice a meaningful and fun part of gaming. The DicepickXR/XL programs better echo the "real dice" process (or so I believe).
As a kid who was in elementary school during the prime of the Apollo missions, anything to do with space is prominent in my makeup. And yes, just "stargazing." Maybe someday I'll put more investment into it, but for now I'm content learning and discovering via naked eye or binoculars. I've had two telescopes that didn't get used, so probably no point trying that again.
Being a nerd, I'm overprepared. I haunt weather sites — no point in going out if you can't see more than 10 miles up. I have grab-and-go bag with all my stargazing supplies: binoculars, basic star atlas, dim red flashlight, and a copy of Sky & Telescope's annual guide to sky events, Nightwatch. I don't use electronic tools in the field — I need my night vision! I just do a lot of prep, and here are some of my favorites.
NAVSTARS, my report that tells me where to look. Directions: Unzip the file, but don't open it with the browser yet! First, use a text editor to edit the location and time fields in the source code where indicated. Save, and then view it in the browser.
The classic space war game by Marc Miller, now ably published by Steve Jackson Games (and out of print again). I've written an article on the Basics of Space Flight which I hope is useful for the novice interplanetary traveler.
Steve Jackson Games' card game of the fantasy gaming experience without the pesky roleplaying. I made a (legal-size) playmat! And a long time ago I made the one-page Flowchart. It's dated, but might still help you through the first few games.
Spacemodeling is what the rest of the world calls model rocketry, and I've been doing it since 1975 off-and-on. My building skills are basic but sound. I have eccentric launch equipment and fantasies about building more. My models are mostly small and light, with low-power motors, and I build with the fewest and simplest (and often cheapest) techniques. But it's still rocket science. I've had lots of fun with the math and theory side of rockets, too, which is good when flying opportunities are rare.
Model Rocket Safety Code
The bottom line on how to build and fly rockets safely and within the law. The master copy at NAR is fine, but the inconsistencies in measuring units bother my professional technical writer sensibilities. Here's my edit.
Roleplay Game Stuff
I've been engaged with tabletop roleplay games since 1980. My websites have always had plenty of RPG documents; why stop now?
The first RPG I loved, and I'm over the moon to see it back in print and well-supported. Most of my roleplay these days is the solo sort using this game.
TFT: Bob's Option Helper (0.0 MB PDF) — A quick reference making it easier to see the relationships between options and movement in TFT Legacy Edition. Designed to be folded into a two-sided half-page card. (Don't tell anyone, but what I like to do is pick the movement on the initiative step, and then pick a valid action. Sssh!)
TFT: Superhero (0.5 MB PDF) — House rules and design notes for how we played superheroes in the '80s using TFT Classic. Contrary to the article contents, I probably won't revise this for TFT Legacy Edition ... but y'all can figure things out if you need to.
I love Risus so much, I stole ideas from it for EZFudge (below). And I'm (twice) a member of the International Order of Risus, so I can completely testify to its utter grooviness. I've written a few rules tweaks and designed some variant character sheets. They're in the Risusiverse somewhere, along with many other, much cooler, things.
This is part demonstration Fudge build, part game-engine heartbreaker.
Essentials Edition (2.9 MB ZIP of PDFs) — Roleplaying basic rules, with updates to latest popular Fudge practices and revised fight scene rules (which actually are a better match to core Fudge.
GM Screen and Quick References (Essentials) — coming Winter 2020.
Ultimate Edition — Available on request, but you don't want it. The Essentials edition is better.
It has been suggested here and there from time to time that EZFudge should be given a fantasy setting. I've worked on that for a while and haven't yet made a magic system that retained an EZFudge vibe. I recommend Fantasy Fudge, the not-very-heavy fantasy rules included in the free Fudge SRD.
I spent many, many years immersed in GURPS, and I even managed to get published a time or two. Probably my best GURPS work is Final Frontier (0.4 MB PDF), roleplaying rules for the Star Trek universe, rather minimalist by GURPS standards. Final Frontier requires GURPS Lite (3e) (see below). (I have no plans to update Final Frontier to GURPS Lite (4e).)
GURPS Lite (3e) is a 0.4 MB PDF, "… the boiled-down 'essence' of GURPS: all the fundamental rules, but not the options and embellishments that often confuse new players." As commented elsewhere in my journal, GURPS Lite (3e) is probably all the rules I want for playing GURPS, with the right balance between detail and inspiration. It's free, at Warehouse 23 or from my library.
A wild and fun take on the original roleplaying game, light, quirky, and flavorful. My twist is The T22 Hack (0.2 MB PDF), a rules hack to make rolling higher always better. Supports any version of TBH including the spanking new Second Edition.
Steffan O'Sullivan's roleplay game to be played outdoors. Here's my house rule to make Sherpa higher-is-better: For unopposed tasks, add the trait to the random number (and modifiers). The total must meet or beat 11. And here's my Character, Reference, and GM scene cards (0.1 MB PDF).
I love writing short, blog-like posts. Five hundred to a thousand words is a fun length, and I can get some good things said, or maybe interesting things, or maybe just drivel. I'm only human.
But 'blogging,' the activity of creating a weblog, building an audience and a brand, and trying to be important? Doesn't interest me at all. That's why I'm hand-coding this instead of resorting to pro-grade blogging tools.
In this journal will be: news about my life; brief reviews of things I want to review; rare commentary on the issues of the day; revivals of old posts from prior blogs; and whatever else I feel like.
Comments can always be submitted to my Gmail account, but history tells me there's little I do here that people find deserving of comment.
Sat 21 Nov 2020 — I Had A Terrific Post Title This Morning
And a teaser, too …
I'm feeling change in the winter-onset winds.
Oddly enough, writing (typing) on the tablet with a Bluetooth keyboard is more pleasant to me than typing at the desktop machine. Not in this website, but GMail was nice. Maybe something will turn there.
A friend pointed out a new Casio graphic calculator with MicroPython. Which would be more interesting and perhaps more useful to learn than HP Prime or relearn TI_Basic. Something is likely to turn there.
Gotta do exercise. Also wanna start playing a wind instrument again, to maybe rebuild some lung strength. Yes, I know there's no science to back that up, but that didn't stop us when I was 11. I need to make turns there.
Model rocketry is not for turning. Though I may not come back to it until the days start to lengthen again.
Wed 11 Nov 2020 — Post Toasties
In which Bob goes round and round …
I have been positively plagued of late by impulses to write essays. An essay about VTTs, or about all the computers I've known in forty years of serious exposure. An essay about what Star Trek means to me. But having the essays fully formed in my head does not mean I have to write them. And when I sit down to write them, I'm just overcome with a sense of labor. (Work is enjoyable; labor is not.)
That's part of why I seem to have stalled on rocketry. The next thing I should do is apply the decals to the Honest John, but they're small and fiddly and boy is that labor. There's nothing but cold winter days ahead, so I may as well get to it. Outdoor spray-painting season is definitely over, but I can work on assembling my other kits to be ready for spring. And the fire restrictions have been lifted so I can use my public land launch site again. (A record-breaking snowstorm last weekend can make that happen.)
As for games, I spent some of yesterday revisiting Tabletop Simulator, and it's as annoying as I remember. And the free support for The Fantasy Trip: Melee for Tabletop Simulator seems to have vanished. There's a workshop module for classic Melee. None of it is as flexible as what I've made for use in GamenienTabele. Unless someone invites me to a game night in Tabletop Simulator, I'm probably done with it.
Speaking of, I did one of those "my tech stuff" loops lately. The summed-up: games now happen on my PC instead of the tablet. That's all. Other than my desk is now 4" too high and my seat 3" too low.
Or maybe COVID Brain is finally setting in.
Sat 24 Oct 2020 — Iidying Up and Moving Things Around
In which Bob plays code-monkey for a while …
Some of my spare time this week has been turned to, of all things, website maintenance. Not that there's much here to break or need minding. But I did decide to rearrange the sections in the library, and I edited some descriptions here and there. I also took down one article, with a mind to revise it and see it properly published.
A fun update was making a better set of images for the Triplanetary Basics of Space Flight article. I remember laboring mightily over those a couple years back. Today, different computer, different tools, less than an hour to remake all five graphics. It was, of course, necessary to edit the article here and there to harmonize with the new pictures.
I have a coding and documentation project for work to finish this weekend. Naturally I am distracting myself with other tasks or napping. Or thoughts about games. The graphics updates made me think about all the graphics work I did in that same couple-years-ago to make digital elements for use in playing with virtual tabletops. Having made those elements, I can't play with others because that would be an illegal conveyance of copyrighted material. I do see loopholes here and there, but I shan't trust my happiness to loopholes. I have also invested materially in solo-play games this past year. So I am a weird hybrid of tabletop gamer using electronic means to play alone.
And I have two places to play! There's Tabletop Simulator, a wonderful realistic 3D environment with controls that drive me crazy and which cost $30 besides. And there's GamenianTabele … a mouthful to say now, but it's the open-source free gaming whiteboard co-developed by (now-novelist) Andy Weir and still available but no longer in active development. At least it makes sense. I'll probably keep using that.
A cold snap rolls in tonight. I have to finish the work project and then get one rocket kit built up to the "paintable" mark for later next week when the weather warms enough. Plus groceries and shopping tomorrow. Deep breath.
Sun 18 Oct 2020 — More Musings on Launch Sites
In which Bob might be de-ranged …
I learned that the fire codes for model rockets were updated in 2017, and the update allows me to use expected altitude to determine range size... Yay! It also says that the minimum dimension should be 1/2 the expected altitude … not 1/4 like I was planning. Boo. And the NAR did not (yet) extend this provision into its Model Rocket Safety Code, so if I do fly a bigger motor on a smaller range, my insurance would not apply if there was a mishap. Boo some more.
At my preferred public-land site (all sandy, no fire risk), I can have up to B-impulse (and any altitude) with coverage or up to 400 feet altitude (and any motor) but no coverage. This is a kind of hard decision. Or it would be, if I didn't notice that day-before-yesterday the fire restrictions order on that site was extended indefinitely.
So the search for a launch site begins again, or I just cave and fly with the semi-local club. Decisions, decisions. You think it would be easy to find a two-football-field area to fly in.
Sat 17 Oct 2020 — The Weave
In which Bob updates and downchecks …
We had updated internet equipment installed this past week. Now we don't have to fret about competing for bandwidth between me (working from home full-time), spouse (working from home part-time), and college student (learning from home mostly).
I did a lot of my early fan writing with ClarisWorks/Appleworks. Loved that program. I've got it running again on Windows 10. Probably not for long, but long enough to convert/archive a couple dozen old files. Also very tempted to use this to create a bundle of printables for EZFudge Essentials.
I have ideas now and again. I don't put them in the blog. I must be rolling into one of my low cycles, 'cause I'm not enthused about blogging. I think I need to do something else, not something I've done over and over and over again. I wonder what that something else will be.
Sun 11 Oct 2020y — Old Dogs and New Tricks
In which Bob rules the rules of thumb …
For all the model rocketry has always declared itself "a scientific hobby," a lot of the science is more empirical than analytical.
In the mid-1960s, the safety recommendations for range size were "minimum of 1/4 the expected altitude." Later the code acquired a table with minimum range sizes based on motor size. But where do those sizes come from? Turns out they're around 1/4 of the expected altitude of an average rocket for that motor. You've heard me sing that tune before, but it amuses me so much I keep bringing it back. These hard and fast rules have nothing behind them except ... long experience of safe flying. And hey, that's good enough for me.
Another challenge is making sure you've selected a motor that will get the model flying fast enough off the rod for the fins to provide stable guidance. One rule of thumb for that is to expect a minimum speed of 30 mph. Another rule of thumb is that the ratio of the motor average thrust to the model launch weight should be 5:1 or higher. And another is that the ratio of motor peak thrust to the model launch weight should be 4:1 or higher.
My FIDO rocketry calculator already did speed-off-rod. Today I installed checks for the other two. Having these additional checks improve my level of comfort with the flying designs. I love my FIDO.
Sat 26 Sep 2020 Catching Up
In which Bob circumloquates about recent developments …
How is it that it's taken this long for it to sink in to me that the first chapter of The Hobbit is titled "An Unexpected Party" and the first chapter of The Lord of the Rings is titled "A Long-Expected Party"?
A small unexpected financial windfall landed here recently. So I did some shopping.
I bought a new office chair for the college student and took my office chair back from her.
I caught up on missed supplements for Beyond the Wall, my second-favorite D&D retro-clone.
I caught up on a missed supplement for ICONS: Superpowered Roleplaying, the only superhero RPG I'd actually want to play or run any more. So I'm caught up for rules there. Maybe someday I'll splurge on all the adventures.
I finally caved and bought Thousand Suns, a sci-fi RPG inspired by "imperial sci-fi" of the 1950s-1970s. The author is a long-time acquaintance, and he actually gave me a thank-you on the credits page. Thank you right back, James!
I finally caved and bought The Magical Land of Yeld, a fantasy RPG companion to the "Modest Medusa" webcomic (and possibly the "Ghost Kiss" webcomic, too). I dig the art, and the setting world is refreshingly colorful (but the colors include dark bits, too). The rules are also fun and fit the world nicely.
A Bundle of Holding popped up for Fudge-powered games. Most of the games I don't care for or about, but I donated generously for the sake of getting Deryni, Terra Incognita, and the Tenth Anniversary core book, all in PDF.
And I bought the rest of the fin and tube tools from Qualman Rocketry. I've already mentioned I like the designs. They're not going to have me making perfect rockets overnight, but thinking about how to use them well has also made me think about how I work and how to maximize my feeble skills.
And then I remembered I had to get a smog check and renew the license plates on my car. Oops.
Sun 13 Sep 2020 — Far Future Enterprises
In which Bob looks ahead while commiting a sly callback …
In consequence of yesterday's decisions, I browsed back through the current Estes Rockets catalog to see what now could be in my future. Truthfully, not a not jumped out at me. I don't like complicated builds, and I don't need more basic (fins-and-nose) builds. I saw maybe a half-dozen kits of interest, most of them things that it seems like every rocketeer should have (Big Bertha, Der Red Max).
There's a nostalgia thread in my head that wants to recreate some of the models I lost in the early years, or built but never got to fly. There are some out-of-production designs that appeal and which I could clone without fuss. And I still have the mini-motor projects which I'd still like to do.
If I get to the AP composite motors, I'll need a new launch controller. Not sure if I'll build that or buy that. We'll see what the NARTREK Advanced assignments look like. If I ever get there. This all a long way ahead.
Sat 12 Sep 2020 — The Fixed Stars
In which Bob rewrites the rules, which is better than starting over …
After a couple hard days thinking, it is decided: I'm going to widen my rocketry world plans a bit. Just a little.
First: my flight ceiling is now 600 feet. This still fits comfortably inside my targeted range space, with room to spare.
Second: my motor limit is now by physical size, not impulse. If it flies on an 18 mm by 70 mm motor and stays under 600 feet, I will consider it.
This means never ever guessing about how it's going to fly. I've got to do the measurements and the math and have a good prediction for the outcome. A scientific hobby!
This also means I can build bigger models. Which I think would be easier on my mind. I'm probably still looking at pretty light models, but now the 5- to 16-ounce range of model is available.
This also also means, when I get around to it, I can play with the Quest Q-Jet and AeroTech RMS 18/20 motors. AP Composite, I'm on my way. I'll still probably stick with the A or B class motors, but I may have some models in the horizon pipeline that would need a D.
And that's where I draw a hard line. Higher motors than that mean new and tougher launch equipment and new build techniques that I'm not interested in tackling.
Interesting side effect: This keeps me in the realm of model rocketry as it was when I started, mostly.
Fri 11 Sep 2020 — Waffles
In which Bob demonstrates his spine of steel-colored gelatin …
The smaller boxes have arrived. I have actually used more of them than I expected to (only one to spare). I did not have to cut the tube-fitting jig; a box surfaced that fit the bill. I did have to order a razor saw blade and some safety covers for the hobby knives. There are some things I have way too much of; the overflow now has a box of its own.
Another thing I need to do is make an electronic record of expected performance by motor for each model, records that I can access in the field. That information feeds my goals of keeping rockets in sight and keeping them under the ceiling for my range. That's easy enough, just have to sit down with the scale and FIDO.
I might have worked out what I did wrong while spray-painting models earlier this summer. 1) The primer coat was fine, except maybe I could have been more genteel about the application. 2) The topcoats I messed up by giving too much time between sprays given the temperature (hot) and humidity (low). Next batch of rockets should be better.
I find my resolve to stick exclusively with 13 mm motors eroding under two pressures. The first pressure is the discovery the some of the models I built in the '80s may have survived. I'd love to see them fly, even though they have to have 18 mm or 24 mm motors. The second pressure is the expanded offering of 18 mm AP Composite motors. These look like fun to try, but the challenge will be fitting them to models such that they will stay inside my small launch site. (As discussed before, that means managing weight and drag.) There's no rush for that. I still have four models to build and finish and fly before I really start thinking about stretching the envelope that way.
I also need to make my new launch pad jet deflector. Might need some metal snips for that.
Mon 07 Sep 2020 — Less Labor Day
In which Bob natters about rocketry tools some more …
I'm making one more attempt at a manufactured fin alignment guide before I resort to making my own. I'm impressed by the manufacturing quality of this guide and the careful thought that went into the design and execution of the product. I've also learned a refinement to my fin attachment technique that should improve my satisfaction with the work.
I'm also making an eBook explaining model rocketry concepts. It will be in ePUB format. It will be in a conversational voice. And there will be other wrinkles. If I work diligently, I can have the first draft done by the end of the year.
A slight detour. I subscribe to a YouTube channel called "Adam Savage's Tested." This is a group of photographers, makers, pop culture fans, and all-purpose nerds based in San Francisco and featuring the former Mythbuster. Many of Adam's videos are filmed in the shop space he leases some blocks from his home. Adam's "Cave" is a physical and visual manifestation of Adam's enthusiasms, curiosity, and many many skills acquired through a life in the practical entertainment arts.
Adam makes shop organization a priority with drawers, bins, racks and shelves everywhere. He describes this as essential to his workflow. The tool that's a hassle to get to and use is the tool that won't get used, even if it's perfect for the task at hand.
Here's where I am with my tools: I have two medium tool boxes, one labeled "Range" and one labeled "Build." And neither is full, but both are cluttered and fill me with annoyance every time I have to open them. So it's time to do it over again. Instead of one build box, I will have several smaller, easily-stacked, cardboard boxes. Each box will be clearly labeled with contents, and I will drop dividers into boxes as needed, sticking the dividers in place with a glue gun. Other boxes will have spare parts and liquid supplies. The range box will be retained for its rugged outdoorsiness but stripped back to only what's needed on the range (pad, launch controller, motors, starters, recovery wadding), with one extra cardboard box of emergency repair supplies.
There are interesting side effects to this plan. My tube-cutting jig will not fit in the cardboard boxes. I will have to cut off 3 or 4 cm, but that's okay. The jig will still be usable even for long tubes. I already had started storing recovery devices (chutes and streamers) in a box of similar size.
Mon 31 Aug 2020 — Rocket Madness, Ground Support Edition
In which Bob spins in a relatively new circle …
Looking beyond the completion of my NARTREK Gold project is an advanced Ground Support Equipment project. I had thought about a launch system in a lunch box — Launch Box, get it? — but that was really only part of the issue. I want something clever for the pad as well. I had been looking over all those old rocketry catalogs, and I really dig the ones with the battery at the pad. I also need a standoff for the launch leads.
And as an out-of-shape middle-aged dude, the higher off the ground I can make it, the happier I'll be. And I'd like to reduce the number of Things I'm Carrying Around. Which leads me to this:
Imagine a suitcase, or maybe a range box, 12" x 18" x 4". Inside is everything except the launch rod. Carry it like a briefcase. For launch, set it on a narrow side (putting the 12V motorcycle battery at the bottom). Remove the Odd'l Rockets Adeptor, the launch leads, the controller, the controller cable, the launch standoff, the blast deflector, and the legs. Two legs slide through a holes across a short side of the bottom and are for tipover stability. The third leg slides in at a right angle to the other two, providing stability on the other axis plus a lever for launch angle adjustment. Then the launch standoff (basically a 12"-16" strip of something with a 1/4 holes at either end) goes over the 1/4"-20 bolt end sticking out of the top and is secured by the Adeptor. The rod goes in, and the blast deflector (the traditional cut steel can) goes on. Don't forget the safety cap! That's the pad.
Connect the launch leads to the designated connector on the suitcase and run them up to the standoff. Connect the 5m controller cable to its connector, string it over to your launch position, and connect the controller. Controller is done and you're ready to fly. Reverse steps at the end of the day to pack up again.
There are issues of geometry to resolve: running the wires around the perimeter walls inside the case, securing the battery, orientation of the launch leads, deflector, launch rod, and stand-off. Do I want a master power switch and indicator on the box? The box bottom has to be waterproof, and maybe the top needs its own flame protection. The stand-off needs to be short-proof. I don't plan on "advancing" to mid-power, but if I did, I'd need a 10m controller cable and a way to secure thicker launch rods. I'm still trying to decide if the legs are wood or PVC. Hmm, maybe use PVC tunnels in the box for the wiring.
Pondering in progress, more news next year.
Sun 30 Aug 2020 — Hopping the Clouds Some More
In which Bob commits meta-posting …
I have edited the post of 27 Jun 2020 on cloning the Estes Cloud Hopper and the post on 28 Jun 2020 about my fleet status.
And I'm writing about that here like you care.
Fri 28 Aug 2020 — Summer's End
In which Bob meanders around the season change …
September is always part of autumn for me. Never mind it's still hot and sunny. Summer ends when school starts, and school has started. Never mind I'm not in school nor have I been for nigh on two decades. Summer is over. (School is still present, as the University Freshman in the house demonstrates on a daily basis.)
Model rocketry is on hold. Not only am I still working on the tool problem, air pollution from the regional wildfires makes painting impossible. That's fine, there are plenty of other things going on. I look forward to diving back into the four kits I have on hand in October. Possibly I'll have them done and flown before Thanksgiving and be ready to head into a proper winter build season. I have a few designs of my own I might tackle, and there are still a few interesting mini-motor-powered kits out there that have caught my fancy.
One Paragraph Review: Star Trek Adventures from Modiphius Publishing. Yes, I'm late to the latest Trek game. I will say it's very pretty. I will say the Starter Set is essential because it has the pretty gameplay tokens and it has the rules in compact and clear form. The corebook is huge, as the times demand, and it's chock-a-block full of details. It thankfully goes away from skill-list driven characters to a more descriptive play model. It is engagingly written, and very mindful of Traditional Starfleet Values. It uses custom dice for one play aspect, which mildly irks me. I got a huge PDF library from Humble Bundle and I will say it was entirely worth it.
Sat 15 Aug 2020 — Night Errands By Day
In which Bob goes shopping again …
A quick revisit on my rocketry tools post from last month.
The big irk about the fin alignment jigs I bought and the tube cutting/marking guides that I haven't is that they constrain my work to limited specifications, namely the Estes tube diameters and the jig's fin sizes. This makes my brain itch, even if it is true that I expect to work with those tube sizes most of the time. (But the BT-20 fin jig has slots too narrow for some fins I'm using, so it's for-sure out.) Basically any rocket building is on hold until I fix this issue.
And for the price of a short brass angle for marking, I can buy a yard of aluminum angle and a carbide hacksaw blade with which to slice off useful lengths. Three lengths become three fin jigs for each typical fin thickness I will deal with, usable on any diameter tube (once I figure out how to make the slot.) One length becomes a marking guide. And the four take up way less space than the Estes contraption and the other fin jigs. (I'm glad they're all recyclable.)
That just leaves tube cutting, and for $4 more than the Estes kit with its five specific diameters, I can buy a single jig that will cut any size tube I'm likely to handle.
As usual, I've wasted some money getting here, but I'll be happier and better skilled in the future.
I'm reasonably well-resolved that I won't be doing the club launch site again, for several reasons which I will not post here.
Sat 08 Aug 2020 — Flight Day
In which Bob reminds his family what used model rocket motors smell like …
Up early (0430) to shower and dress. Quick run to the store for ice, water, snacks, and breakfast sandwiches. College daughter and I hit the road around 0800, with her doing her second round of freeway/highway driving practice. Traffic was light, until a wave caught up to us, but that was fine. About an hour and one minor detour later, we pulled up into the parking zone. We watched some other launches while I prepared the Alpha 1975 for flight.
I'm not going to go through every movement at the club launch. The people running the show (safety officer, range control officer) were kind, patient, and well-versed in their roles. We flew, in order, Alpha, Athena, Mini Honest John, and Cyclone. All were perfectly normal except Mini Honest John's parachute got scorched. I discovered afterward that I had put no recovery wadding in it. That could have turned out much worse. We also watched many other rockets, big and small, fly, most of them well.
Just before noon, we rolled out and drove into Fallon, grabbing a bite to eat at a fast food drive thru, before heading home a rather longish way around. Interesting sights were seen, and College Daughter got to see a bit more of the variety of Nevada. And I got a thorough sunburn.
I don't know if I will go again. Club will be busy next month with a major high-power launch event on the Black Rock Desert. Next launch would be October or maybe into November ... by which time fire restrictions should be lifted and I can use a closer place to fly. On the other hand, odd rocs deserve a bigger audience. So. We'll see.
Sun 02 Aug 2020 — Gone Shopping?
But not for piston engines …
I like getting things and paying less. It's probably why most of my RPG buying of the last decade or so has been PDF eBooks. They're not as completely satisfying as a proper book, but usually less money and so much less space.
I've hesitated for over a week on the Star Trek Adventures Humble Bundle. I'll be ignoring half the bundle (adventures, STO add-ons), but it's still a bargain and a half.
This post may seem odd. It started as a long meditation on why I wasn't buying it. In that process, I just couldn't find enough reasons to resist at that price point. So here we are.
Fri 31 Jul 2020 — A Reflection on Rocketry Tools
In which Bob takes the measure of his work …
Model rocketry is a hobby built on a few simple techniques and tools. You need to be able to measure and to mark accurately. It helps to have a way to hold the work off the tabletop horizontally. And then you need to be able to join pieces well and then decorate them. As I look back at the last three months, I'm seeing things in my toolkit that I feel a need to change.
A metal ruler with a corked back is recommended for measuring. I have one. It works fine. It's twelve inches and a nice maroon color. I could use a smaller one, maybe. The recommended marking tool is a pencil. I have a suitable mechanical pencil and plenty of regular pencils. No problems in either of those fronts.
I'm half-pleased with the Estes Tube Marking Kit. The discs for setting fin spacing are cool. The measuring-line marking-fin alignment thing is not convenient to use and hurts to look upon, like something from a Lovecraftian outer world. I feel a strong urge to get other tools for those tasks.
For marking lines down the length of a tube, a piece of metal angle is ideal. I'll check the hardware store, but I expect all those pieces to be too long. I'll probably have to order one from the internet. Either way, it'll be cheaper and take up less space than the Estes Ultimate Tube Marking Guide.
For marking around a tube and cutting same, the Estes Tube Cutting Guides will be swell. I do have a bunch of tube-cutting in my future, so I'll add those to my list.
I made a cradle stand out of a box a motor shipment came in. So that's taken care of. And I'm pretty happy with my glue technique all-in-all.
For getting fins aligned well, neither my eyes and hands nor the tools and jigs I've already bought have been really good. That's close to $100 gone, not to mention the pieces of my soul which fell away with each successfive botch. I think the only option left is to buy some simple wood trim and make my own, using my unused Dremel tools and the instructions in the Handbook of Model Rocketry. I think I'd better put some Dewalt safety goggles in the cart while I'm there.
Surface finishing and painting are something I've always struggled with. I'm exploring techniques like laminated fins and body wraps. (At some point it's okay to say "I'm bad at this," as long as you're not just being lazy.)
Wed 29 Jul 2020 — A Dice and Rocketry Update
... 3 ... 2 ... 1 ... roll! …
I mistakenly double-ordered my DoubleSix dice. So the Young Dungeon Master (college daughter) got a set and I got a set. And then because I'm often nitpicky and have to have things just-so, I raided the new Chessex online store for d20s to match the appearance of the DoubleSix dice. Two of the three were good matches; one is less good but I can live with it given the others.
The personal dice toll sounds this way now:
22 d6 in the Fantasy Trip bag (all properly products of SJ Games)
5 d20, 5 DoubleSixes, 8 Fudge Dice, and 8 teeny d6 (for no reason other than they're cute) in my personal dice box. For other dice, I have the Dice Fake Book and the Varda.
1 Gamescience d20 (0-9 twice), 1 Gamescience d20 (1-20), 1 Gamescience d20 (micro), and 2 aluminum-color d6 in the "museum" storage. These were gifts, oddities, or (in the case of the first two) the first hobby dice I ever bought, circa 1980. Forty-year-old dice!
A bag of 20 numbered d6 that I have no idea what to do with.
In rocketry news, the IQSY Tomahawk made me so upset that I tossed it before trying to apply decals. I'll use the Mini Honest John in its place for my scale model project. Truthfully it's no better built but at least the paint edges aren't awful, the fins aren't warped, and the motor mount isn't askew. Looking at a flight day on Sat 8 Aug to get that off the ground.
The research project rocket is still half-finished. I need to laminate the fins, assemble, and paint. I have two other kits on hand and I should probably try to get them done before outdoor painting season ends. On the drawing board are a two-motor (cluster) model and a two-motor (staged) model. I might still buy a glider kit. And in my head are thoughts about ground support equipment. I have a real challenge there, trying to build compact and portable but also accommodating to my middle-aged desire for comfort. We'll see.
Sat 18 Jul 2020 — A Computing Update
which Bob needed ten minutes to remember he wanted to write …
Thursday I got the urge to make the 2011 MacBook Pro work again. (In spring I did a disk wipe on it and then discovered my macOS installer media was corrupt.) I made a USB installer drive for Linux Mint, plugged it in, and everything went tickety-boo.
Of course, with it up and working (and a new power cord ordered to replace the very chewed-up one), I began wracking my brain to find a use to put it to. I thought about media streaming, but then I remembered it gets very hot when it's doing a lot of visuals. It probably would not last long. After an afternoon, I gave up, powered it down again and put it back in the box. I imagine I'll be selling it, if I can tolerate the hassle.
There's also this Dell box just sitting around. Actually, I do need to power it up so I can do a proper wipe of its hard drive before it goes to the recycler. It also would do okay as a media streamer, but I'd have to get a wireless controller for it. And an Android Box takes up a lot less room. Let it go, Bob. Just let it go.
After that, I guess I'm off to the store to pick up more cleaning supplies.
Sat 18 Jul 2020 — A Calculator Update
including special bonus rant …
Much tidying has been going on in Stately Portnell Manor. One item that emerged was a TI-25X Solar pocket calculator. It was a cute little thing, functionally equivalent to my first pocket calculator (TI-30) but much smaller and less thirsty for electrons. I say "functionally equivalent" as if it worked, which the TI-25X did not. I gave it a good solar charge, but two segments of the display were still bad. Reviews at Amozon indicate this is not rare. That's too bad, but into the e-waste it goes.
I have to own up to being a TI calculator guy, I guess. My friend is a serious HP collector, and lots of people will say HPs are better. I'm happy to say HPs are better for them, because you need to find tools that blend with how your brain works, and for many HP does that better than TI. For me, TI is fine.
TI marketing, however, is evil in the extreme. Let me say this, with all the emphasis to be mustered:
YOU DO NOT NEED A TI PROGRAMMABLE GRAPHING CALCULATOR FOR ANY MATH CLASS.
If you take the time and learn the tool, any basic scientific calculator (for this discussion, one with built-in trig and log functions) will do. I did Algebra I and Geometry with my old TI-30, Algegra II and Trig/Pre-Calc with a TI-35 (today's equivalent would be the TI-30X IIS). I had a Sharp programmable scientific calculator for Calculus and Statistics, but it did no graphing.
Somehow in the 1980s and 1990s, TI got their hooks into textbook publishers to include examples of how to use the TI-8x calculators for problems. This practice spread, and now school districts are telling parents this overpriced piece of 1980s tech is needed for their wee freshmen. Balderdash!
I would choose the competitor product from Casio, or even the NumWorks calculator over a TI-8x for a younger student and I expect it would probably last them through most of their math instruction needs. Only a scientist or engineer might actually need a TI-8x in the long haul ... and even that's less likely, given the state of portable computers. (I'm ignoring apps and online tools due to the standardized testing environment, but those are perfectly good everyday solutions too. My everyday calculator is a NumWorks version for Android.)
That said, I circle back to brains. Some students' brains will be happier with a TI-8x because it suits how they think. In such cases the TI-8x will be worth the $110+ you pay. Otherwise, the calculator becomes just like one of those required-course textbooks that you sell off and forget about after you're done with it. If your net expense is $70 and you have no calculator at the end, well, why spend $70 to rent when you can spend $50 to own (the Casio)? Or if you don't need graphing, the TI-36X Pro has a vast array of functions and a multi-line display for a mere $20.
My daughter the college freshman has a TI-36X Pro and a TI-84+ CE in a lovely shade of blue. Having completed a semester of college calculus and a semester of college statistics during high school, she has no actual need any longer for the TI-84+ CE. It helped her because she doesn't visualize math easily, so the graphing display and menus served for her. But now it's probably done. Some use may turn up for it someday. Hard to know.
Mon 13 Jul 2020 — A Stargazing Update Post
The omens were right …
With the maroon laptop bag going to use as my daily carrier, my former daily carrier -- a black Batman backpack -- needed a new job. So I relocated my stargazing supplies into it. Those are now better organized. Plus I made some interesting discoveries.
I found out the operation which publlishes Sky & Telescope magazine and related books was acquired from a bankruptcy sale by the Americal Astronomical Society. The excellent magazine goes on, as does my annual-must-buy SkyWatch viewing guide.
I found out the U.S. Naval Observatory is revamping its website this year. They thought they'd be done in spring, but then COVID happened, so now aiming for fall. I hope it's back soon, and the tools I used to use are still there.
I found the Estes AltiTrak elevation gun which I thought I'd tossed. And which I bought a replacement for. So now I have two. This is a perpetual story for me: a short time after buying a replacement thing, the original thing resurfaces.
I got up early on Sat 11th to see Comet NEOWISE, and dragged the daughters out with. We had a perfectly decent view of the comet from down at the corner (with the rotten streetlight behind us). We'll probably go for some evening viewing attempts, too, on the upcoming weekend, though we'll have to go 'round the corner a ways to get a decent look at the western horizon.
I found my green laser pointer still works, though I don't dare use it outside near the house. We're right under one of the approach cylinders for the big airport, and aircraft pilots are (rightfully) touchy about lasers in their eyes at night. Not something I want, even by accident. (People who do that on purpose need to be made to drive a bus through an obstacle course of their family members, blindfolded.)
Mon 13 Jul 2020 — The Shaving Cream is a Lie
And so is the shaving gel …
I'm finding that I get the best results on a facial shave with a simple lather made by hand off the soap bar. Clean the face and then shave the face.
Spray can shaving cream just gunks up my razor. And shaving gel is worse. Score one for the cosmetics industry for making us think these goops were necessary. But I don't think I'll be buying any more.
Sun 28 Jun 2020 — A Gaming Update Post
In which Bob accepts some inevitables that have been around awhile …
Given the demands on my time by family, health, work, other hobbies, and circumstances of location and time, I don't expect to play an RPG in a group again. I have scant hope of playing any games with my family. So I'm a solo gamer now. For real.
It's kind of a good time to be a solo gamer of the early 1980s sort! I've talked extensively here about The Fantasy Trip and the solo adventures being produced for it. Last year I picked up Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes which has a couple solo things. And last week, I picked up a vast haul of Tunnels & Trolls Deluxe material which I've never seen before. Plus the Project Aon gamebooks. I think I'm set in that regard.
Video gaming might happen! I'm trying to get the hang of Mario Kart 8. I'm laughable at it, but at least it's viewable to these tired eyes. I tried original Mario Kart on the Super Nintendo Classic ... ack. Not sure any of the other games will take my interest. Don't like shooters, or quests, or sports. I'm fond of vector-based games, which are of course so very retro. Maybe hanging out at the Internet Arcade makes sense.
Otherwise, that's that.
Sun 28 Jun 2020 — A Rocketry Project Update
In which Bob confesses to surprise but not ruthless efficiency …
We are almost ready for next weekend's flying. All the models are painted. The Alpha '75 has its go-faster stripe and is done-done. There's an hour or two of teeny-tiny waterslide decals to put on the Mini Honest John. There's an hour of home-printed stickers to put on the IQSY Tomahawk, and then an acrylic seal.
Two more kits arrive this week: a Break-Away and a Cloud Hopper. (Okay, not really a Cloud Hopper, but the parts necessary to create a clone of the Cloud Hopper. Which I wrote about yesterday.) So the fleet looks like this:
Estes Alpha - basic parachute sport rocket. I want to fly this often.
Estes Mini Honest John - basic parachute sport scale rocket. Will fly sometimes 'cause I like its look.
ASP IQSY Tomahawk 13 mm - basic streamer "scale" rocket. Will fly once. I hope. But I'm only building this for the NARTREK Silver requirements, and neither scale modeling nor this design appeal to me.
Portnell Minitross - basic streamer sport rocket. Must fly at least six times for NARTREK Gold, but if I can get to a fin shape I like, it might become a regular flyer.
Odd'l Cyclone - monocopter odd-roc. Will fly regularly.
Odd'l Break-Away - break-apart odd-roc. Will fly regularly.
Estes Cloud Hopper clone - goonie odd-roc. Will fly at least once. Might give it away to a deserving person.
On 12 Jun I figured the rocketry "kick" would be over this fall. After spending two hours this morning trying to design a cluster model to play nice with A3 and A10 motors, I might have figured wrong. There seem to be many challenges yet which will sustain my interest. Like:
Cluster mini motors? or staging? The challenge here is the short delay time, which means these need to be really draggy models but light enough to get off the pad safely and also stay under my personal 400-foot ceiling.
Glider? Estes has a kit for that. (Not trying anything like the Semroc Hawk again.)
Decor. Gotta find ways to make more visually interesting models with feeble paint skills. Wraps, stickers, and decals are a-comin'. The glider is going to get markered.
Fins and me. I don't like shaping or filling fins. So I might end up with laminated cardstock fins on some models. or paper lamination on balsa.
I think I might visit iconic designs in the mini context. There are kits for some of these; others I'd have to scale and clone.
A homemade launch controller? Every controller I've tried has features I like ... and dislike. And there are features of past controllers and launchpads that I wish were still around. Maybe that becomes a NARTREK Advanced project.
Yeah. Sounds like I'm in deep.
Sat 27 Jun 2020 — Cloning the Estes Cloud Hopper
In which Bob is in full rocketry nerd mode …
The Cloud Hopper was one of six "Goonybirds" introduced in the 1973 catalog. Goonies had short, squat, borderline tasteless or comic themes in the decals (Cloud Hopper was a bunny). Goonybirds weren't in the catalog very long, but they left an outsize impression on flyers, and making Goonie versions of kits is now a prominent niche in the hobby. Here are the rules I've come to as I prepare to clone a Cloud Hopper.
I will start with the Estes Baby Bertha.
I have to cut the body tube to five inches length to match the design length.
I will not use the 18mm motor mount in the Baby Bertha kit. I've bought a 13 mm BT-60 mount kit and motor hook from Uncle Mike's Rocket Shack. The 13 mm mount is what the model was designed for, and I need that to buy back space in the body tube and weight distribution.
I have been saved from having to hand-shape the fins. Semroc makes a laser-cut fin set for this model. Yippee!
I will add about 6 g (0.25 oz) of polymer clay to the nose to ensure static stability. Even with the plastic nose, this is a tail-heavy model and needs a smidge of help. Unfortunately, the added weight means I can only fly it with A10 motors. No biggie, that's my main motor these days, plus it seems appropriate given the tail profile.
I will not be recreating the original bunny decals. I have a more personal decal design in mind, and with in a new name for the model. More on that later.
Tue 16 Jun 2020 — Seven Nights Later
(and not a zombie yet) …
A week ago I had comprehensive medical assessments for my allergy and asthma conditions. My back still itches in spots where the test reactants were stuck. But the new inhaler seems to be helping my asthma. It also seems to be changing my voice. I hadn't thought to see if that was a side effect. (Looks. Yup!)
Back when I was a wee little Bobby, the family decided it would be good to have me learn a wind instrument as a kind of lung exercise. In April 1975 I was given a soprano recorder, made of maple. But in fall of 1975 I started in band and ended up in the low brass, starting with baritone horn and moving on down to tuba.
Fast forward to the present, and I think a wind instrument might be nice. Unfortunately I don't have any school districts to loan me any. Also, tubas are wicked expensive. There is such a thing as a plastic euphonium! It's still out of my price range. Staying in low brass, I've thought about a plastic trombone. Many plusses, but one big minus: I'd have to put my lips back into shape for buzzing a horn. I don't have that kind of patience any more.
So I'm planning for a tenor recorder, made of resin (plastic). As cheap as the plastic trombone, with a nice soothing sound that won't peel paint, and it requires a goodly regular air flow. Time to start saving up. (Saving up? Yes. After the debacle of the furlough, my income continues to drop.)
Among other corollaries, I have to re-learn how to read music. I'd gotten acquainted with treble clef during third through fifth grades, and then I was downshifted to bass clef. Now back to treble! I can still read the notation well enough, I'm glad to report. (Some thanks there to the younger daughter when she was in middle school)
Sat 13 Jun 2020 — Rewriting Some Rules
In which Bob repaints the goalposts …
Reflecting on the rules I've set for myself to help model rocketry stay fun. Recent thoughts included:
Being able to fly bigger models in smaller ranges, using a Jolly Roger Chute Release to "shrink" the recovery area. (Rejected; probably still a violation of safety code.)
Shift to 1/8A motors. (Rejected; my build skills and eyes aren't that good, having only one motor class chafes, and it wouldn't solve my range issues.)
Allow A and B motors, but mind a ceiling of 400 feet. (Rejected; would allow some bigger models not not really any more features.)
So after all that, the only new rule I'm taking on is: ceiling 400 feet. My heavier models on A power can reach that. On A power some of my lighter models would sail right through. That ceiling keeps me cleanly inside my range, which I know I can easily drift out of.
Fri 12 Jun 2020 — Never Read The Comments
In which Bob comments …
I'm seeing this phase of the model rocketry mania waning by November. It might steady down into a new model once or twice a year, or it might just ebb completely. Like many other things, I have nothing particular to prove to myself. Will I still be enjoying it? I know I don't enjoy the hassle of finding a place and time to fly, and flying is supposed to be the point.
I'm getting an itch to tackle amateur radio, but it's a foolish itch. I had fun during the CB days, and our GMRS radios will be useful to us I'm sure. It would be a new realm to develop knowledge in. But that would be about it. My introvert side isn't interested in talking to people around the world or whereever. And the equipment is outside my budget now and for years to come. So getting an amateur radio license would be like getting my High Power Rocketry certification when I have no intent of using it. It seems like a pointless path. Even if the custom callsign I have in mind would be wicked cool.
I'm still fairly excited about the revival of The Fantasy Trip and cheerfully spending money on product. But, it turns out, less than I was as I work through what I'm actually doing with this stuff. Some of it is just to have physical markers so my family can see "this is something Bob loves." Part is that I do love this game, and I'm continuing to buy the solo adventures for it. But I'm not buying the party or campaign books any more. And I'm still trying to get a handle on how I want to play. Do I just use the electronic tools I have (which are nice)? Do I use the classic-scale play kit I've invested deeply in? Do I use the Legacy Edition components even though they're much bigger than I like?
And how long do I keep looking at the online TFT community and when do I just stop? The majority of people seem nice and knowledgable, but there are two or three who pepper the community with questions that I find pointless to how I play. And there's one person who's only reason for being seemingly is to aggravate with ridiculous system or rule hacks completely in violation of the spirit of any game. And for him alone I am sorely tempted to bail from the entire community.
I've given up on the idea of writing for publication, not even YA fiction or anything at the children level. There's nothing there that I can say with the confident, or clarity, or honesty that such storytelling demands. And nothing from my personal experience that I want to haul out, share, and recast. There are occasionally scenes I see, people I hear in my head, and I basically have to write those to get them out of my head. That's about it.
The Mandalorian is good clean fun.
Tue 02 Jun 2020 — Where Were You When ... ?
In which Bob speaks briefly to the current time …
I don't write about politics or religion or current affairs here. While I have opinions on these topics, writing them down would only be (from my point of view) an exercise in repeating myself. I already know my opinions. I'm not egotist enough to think those opinions need to be shared with anyone who cares to read them.
Except one: VOTE. It's the literal least you can do to contribute to the political health of our communities, state, and nation. Please. Think about what you want, find a candidate who more or less agrees with you, and support them in the polling booth.
Sat 30 May 2020 — Flights of Fancy
In which the sky is not the limit …
I didn't look in on the Crew Dragon countdown until about five minutes before, only to discover weather was okay and the launch went on. Rocket launches are always tense, and I find I don't let up until everything has gone right and orbit is safely attained. It may not be a reasonable way to behave. After all, the Falcon 9 rocket is a well-proven launch vehicle, and the Crew Dragon 2 crew are able veterans. Still. Getting up is the hard part, where the most things can go wrong. After that, getting down is easier if there's trouble.
Construction on my Estes Alpha model rocket finished last night! It was long interrupted, but I finally cleared the decks and got it squared away. It's not finished. There's still painting to be done. But it's a little too windy today. I might get to prime them tomorrow.
Them? Yes, them, because as I write this, construction of my Estes Mini Honest John is nearly done and it will also be ready for priming tomorrow. Yes, I did the whole thing in less than a day, but then I did give the Alpha a little more TLC because of its place in my personal flight history.
My Odd'l Rockets Cyclone is under construction. As I write this, the stabilizer unit is nearing completion. It's not clear to me if I will get the Upper Spin Unit finished tonight or not. But I expect it to be done by tomorrow.
So that puts me about halfway through full completion of all five models. The Semroc IQSY Tomahawk is next and gets a TLC build, since it's my "Scale" requirement for the training program I'm in.
Post material ends here
Sat 23 May 2020 — Now Presenting: RUST -- The Oxidation Extravaganza
For audiences which couldn't get enough of WATCHING PAINT DRY and WATCHING GRASS GROW …
No phone surgery yet, haven't worked up the nerve or the clear desk space.
No rocket progress, again due to clutter and distractions. For instance, youngest daughter finally picked up her cap and gown and most of her regalia. Also picked up her yearbook, in which she appears more than I did in my senior yearbook and also did some proofreading and page layouts (uncredited). And her team finish fourth in state in the Go Girls Cyber Challenge Nationals. So much to be proud of in her, and it will only go on.
Asthma still coming and going. Weight still bad. I don't want to give the impression that things are actually bad. Just that things are. That's all.
Oh, I forgot! I read Andy Weir's novels this week (in between tablet recharges which were quite frustrating). Not much for me to say about The Martian since it's already infused into pop culture. As for Artemis, I was entertained although the characters (even the narrator) felt thin. But no thinner than Mark Watney & Assoc., certainly, nor the cast of Casey & Andy.
Next reading stop: The X-Wing novels by Stackpole and by Allston. I can't resist an omnibus, and my county library had 9 books-in-one e-book.
Wed 20 May 2020 — Space Race
In which Bob sets a goal … ?
The word has come that I will be recalled to work on the first of June, albeit still working from home full-time. I am of mixed feelings about this. It will be nice to feel more productive during the day. But I will miss being able to do what I do at my preferred speed. And there are still, even after two months, many many tasks around the house that will have to all get done before fall.
In the personal tasks dept. are five model rockets to build and fly. One of them actually needs to fly six times as part of a research project. None of them are terribly complicated, but I don't want to rush any of them. Still. I need to get as far with them as I can before I start selling my time and energy again.
Maybe I can have them done and ready to fly on the 30th?
Mon 18 May 2020 — Letting The Days Go By
In which Bob reflects with fondness …
Whilst prowling the quieter corners of my cloud storage this weekend, I ran across a hack of GURPS Ultra-Lite I made in 2011. I did a bit of editing on it to make the combat rules cleaner and easier to use. And then I put it back. It's an absolute violation of copyright, so I can't share it. But it would be great for a pick-up game with a few pre-gens tossed in. Hmm. What I'd need to do with it, then, is add some rules quick-ref to the character sheets and then a rules quick-ref for the GM. Hmmmm.
GURPS Ultra-Lite is published as a one-page PDF that you fold into a little booklet. (This was part of why I needed to hack it: the print was too small, and the organization across the 8 mini pages didn't suit me. Plus, no character sheet! Also I want higher-is-better rules.) I demonstrated the booklet printing and creation to younger daughter and just about fried her cortex. She'd never seen such a thing.
Uresia: Grave of Heaven was the "deal of the day" at Drive-Thru RPG on Saturday. Half-price. I bought it (again) … that's a fair price for getting it secured in my DTRPG library. While I was about it, I bought copies of the PlainLabel Game System rules I worked on for MicroTactix Games at the turn of the millennium. And I briefly considered trying to stage a one-man revival, putting my old PL fan works back on the site and making some new ones. That urge passed fairly quickly, but I still dig that system.
I've discovered something about myself and solo adventuring: the character matters. The "Lone Wolf" books I like, because the character has an implicit core of positive values brought from his history as a student of the Kai Masters. On the other hand, the first new solo for TFT has a character that's compelling but unappealing to me. Her mission is dark and bloody revenge, and I find I don't want to go there or be her. This gives me great pause as I look ahead to more TFT solos being published this year. I'm going to have to get choosy, and this I did not expect.
Thu 14 May 2020 — Another Week Indoors
In which Bob catches up and looks a little ahead …
Another week gone by. Nevada has entered a "phase one" reopening of businesses, which is going about as well or poorly as might be expected. My shipment of bandannas finally arrived, but the hairbands I bought for improvised masking don't really fit. I will be sacrificing some model rocketry supples for better-fitting elastics. Some of us need haircuts, but we're approaching that cautiously. Some of us need nail treatment, and that is happening today.
The moving-back of the eldest daughter is proceeding apace. A slow pace. We'll do some moving of material to storage today, and might get some time to go to the apartment and do some packing. Tomorrow will be the big push, with rental truck and all. Moving out was six hours start-to-finish for the truck and included packing. I'm planning for that or less since there will be less packing. The weather is actually delightful for such activity: cloud cover and light to moderate winds, but not very hot.
Perhaps this weekend, after the moving, I can resume work on the Estes Alpha. When it's done, I can move on to the Estes Mini Honest John I picked up on clearance. I built a Maxi Honest John back in the early eighties, one of my higher-skill-level builds. It never flew for me, but it was pretty. The Mini should come up nicely, and give me good practice on fin shaping before I tackle the Semroc IQSY Tomahawk again. I did some digging on the Excel spreadsheet I wrote for rocketry predictions and calculations, and it's still sound. Whew. Oh, and I finally found what what I was doing wrong with the sanding block. So perhaps that function will get easier?
Early in the quarantine, I was pointed to Project Aon, the online publisher of the Magnamund solo adventure game books by Joe Dever and friends. I have a checkered history with solo game books. I had the Sorcery! books by Steve Jackson (UK) for the longest time, keeping them for my "thing to do if bedridden for an extended period." Eventually I just gave up on them and moved on. Lone Wolf and sequels look much more approachable, and I dig the combat mechanic. I don't dig the combat results table, though, so I wrote an Excel version to do the lookups for me. And I downloaded the whole lot of game books. I expect to die frequently, as warm-up for the TFT solos.
My asthma is seriously acting up, and I'm not sure what's triggering it. Otherwise, we're doing fine and hope you are doing the same.
Thu 07 May 2020 — Upside-Down Again
In which Bob has mixed feelings …
The good: I hacked the motor database of the rocket design software I bought as a design and drawing aid. It now lets me put 13mm motors in adaptors on designs with 18mm mounts. It's a timesaver.
I'm still wrestling with a possible design for altimeter-lofting rocket of minimum diameter. So far it just looks dumb, but if I buy a smaller altimeter ... ugh.
The Alpha is nearing final assembly -- time to sand the fins a final time and glue 'em on. But a lot of the joy of this has fled. Because ...
Older daugher is moving home. The experiment in independence was going fine, but a disaster struck in the middle of all the other disasters. I'm happy to have her back, but I hate moving furniture.
Sun 03 May 2020 — Speedy Delivery
In which Bob reports on the "new" computer …
I was quite surprised by the arrival of the newly bought computer yesterday afternoon. Setup went smoothly, with only one tardy driver issue. Oh, and a microphone port issue that I half expected.
And then I learned that even this system is not modern enough to do real-time background swapping in Zoom. I'm one processor tier and two generations behind that capability still. C'est la vie. This will still be fine for what I need to do. It's fast enough and uncannily quiet.
Wed 29 Apr 2020 — Let Me Tell You About My …
(roleplayers know to run away right now) …
… model rocket launch gear. Because it's weird and I like to talk.
I did not own a "launch system" until 2008. Prior to that, it was either school equipment, or (in one case) a welding rod stuck in some scrap lumber, launched by an overelaborate controller made from magazine plans (I didn't make, but I bought the parts and did the case detail). But when I opted back in as a club leader, it felt like I needed to have resources to support a club. Which meant picking up rocket starter sets off eBay and Craiglist. I acquired a Quest set and two Estes sets that way.
But as a "grown-up" I wanted fancier stuff for me. So I invested in an Aerotech Mantis pad and a Pratt Go Box controller, both of which were cool and capable. Too capable, really. After the club days waned and I discovered the bigger rockets and higher flights didn't appeal, I sold that rig and mostly tossed out the rest.
My launch pad these days is a camera tripod. I extend two of the three segments on each leg to raise the work area high enough to be comfortable and to put the end of the launch rod up above eye level so I don't ever have to worry about capping the rod. I've marked one leg as the "wind" leg -- I always put that leg downwind, and then I have a reference when I use the tilt head on the tripod to adjust the launch angle if I need to.I've got a small clamp on that leg to act as a strain mast for the launch leads.
On the camera mount is a washer and then on that, threaded to the mount screw, is an Odd'l Rockets Adeptor. The launch rod is clamped into the adeptr, and then a standard Estes standoff and blast deflector plate go on top. Ready to fly, and stable enough for the small rockets I'm into these days. If I go for big rockets someday, I'll fly them on club equipment. (I have a daydream of doing the one necessary build and flight to qualify for Level 1 High Power Rocketry, and then stopping to the bafflement of the rocketry community.)
I have an Estes and a Quest controller. And for a while I wasn't sure which to keep. The Quest is just a little small for my hand, but it has a cool safety key, makes noise, and can launch with one hand. The Estes is simpler and entirely reliable, but it demands two hands (that's a feature, to be clear). Quest uses a 9V battery, which I hate. Estes uses 4 AAs, which are fine for single launches but not great for clustered motors (not that I'm doing that any more).
Two pieces of info helped me settle my mind. First, while I was away, it was determined that the old model rocket igniters with black powder pyrogen at the tip fell into the oversight of the BATFE. So the manufacturers changed their products to not use that pyrogen. That makes current igniters that much more sensitive to the power applied. In this environment, both the 9V and the 4AA batteries are likely to drain much more quickly.
The Quest controller has a party piece, though: an external battery connector. I have this and can connect to a 6V lantern battery that will launch all day. That more or less settles me on the Quest as my go-to launcher. I probably will keep the Estes for backup.
And so, more than you wanted to know about my Launch box. Time to load the box up and build some things to fly with it.
Wed 29 Apr 2020 — The Modest Step Forward
In which Bob continues to embrace the state of the art of five years ago …
Our MacBook Pro (13" late 2011 model) has been retired. It's still a capable enough machine, but I fatigued of the small screen and the weirdnesses in how Microsoft Office apps behave on the Mac. I thought about repurposing it as a console game emulator and decided against. I don't need that project when I have three perfectly fine Nintendo consoles at hand.
That meant putting myself back into the old Windows desktop machine, which is of an age and has its quirks but I could live with them. And then found out that Zoom could not replace my cluttered background with something pretty because my computer was just too feeble. And then I looked at the Microsoft site and discovered I'm barely meeting the minimum system requirements for current installs of Office.
Clearly, something must be done. I toyed with adding more memory before I realized that the Windows OS I have would not be able to address that memory. So, after a brief stop to see what minimums universities are requiring lately, it was off to the shopping sites. Where I learned it can be very hard to buy old tech, although old tech is just as reliable and much more affordable. After two days, I found a machine that will do the job, I think. I might even be able to bring the older hard drive and less-old graphics card from the old PC to the "new" one. It arrives next week, I already know its name, I chose a form factor to give me back some room on my desk, and getting it set up should occupy a nice long day next week.
Fri 24 Apr 2020 — Assorted Assorteds
In which Bob gives a smattering of news and updates …
After two months of intermittent struggle, I finally have Microsoft Office running on the home desktop again. I am so much more comfortable with Word for Windows than Word for Mac. In fact, it's getting likely that I will retire that MacBook and stick with the comfortably large screens on the desktop. Need to review the Mac apps I need to find equivalents for and be sure I'm ready.
Deliveries of model rocket material have been trickling in as I notice gaps in my supplies. I have two models to build this weekend, and then I'll try to get some flying in before the lockdowns for fire safety are set. I decided against making the cardboard box into my shop, and put my toolbox from the 2010s back into service. Ditto for the launch supplies, which will be much pared down compared to years of yore. My minimalism has picked up some leftoever clutter from the past, but at least it costs no extra money.
I've rejoined a couple of old favorite wellness apps, with intention to stave off the quaran-15. Yes, I've wasted most of a month being inert. If I don't take advantage of this opportunity to reset, I'm probably doomed. Off to prepare dinner now. Ta-rah!
Sun 19 Apr 2020 — Taking Stock
In which Bob reflects some more and maybe plans …
Rocketry activities this week:
I bought some dowels, suitable for converting into paint wands and model stands. Also I bought some fresh hacksaw blades suitable to the task of converting dowels into wands and stands.
With a jaundiced eye I culled my paper files of rocketry material, freeing up two loose-leaf binders. I also streamlined my electronic files of rocketry material, sticking with core reference works which still have contemporary use. (Ancient technical reports of model performance, for instance, do not reflect current technology. Besides, I've embedded all that knowledge into FIDO.
I spent a while investigating catalogs and made a list of a dozen or so models I'd like to build and are within my skill set. The common denominator seems to be they mostly all use different recovery systems. As I look back on the list of past models, parachutes dominate. I'm fine with pushing away from those.
But there are two models on the list that will be more challenging. I really want an Estes Mini Red Max, but they've been out of production for a few years. Likewise I'd like a mini version of the Estes Scout. In both cases, it appears I'll need to buy suitable parts and "clone" them (as the jargon goes) using the original instructions as my guide.
That's a lot of rocketry engagement I'm imagining. The cubic foot of The Fantasy Trip material behind me is saying, "Yeah, we were your obsession last year and look what happened. Do you really mean it with the rockets?" Well, gaming stuff, life with you is still possible. I've now got a decent set of Melee assets for the Tabletop Simulator ... I can still play solos (as few as they are). But the rocketry thing is designed for solo. And I am getting a little excited about pushing myself as a balsa engineer. One of my rediscovered electronic assets was a huge set of useful patterns ... including cradles and stands.
So, yes, I think I'm in it for real with the understanding and continuous reminder that I'm keeping it basic, still trying to keep the functional workshop inside the range box. (I might want to buy another range box or two for overflow storage.) Still preferring to make instead of buy (which means I need to lay in some tubes, nose cones, and fin stock).
Next project, when the first rocket order gets here, is to build some compartments into the workshop box to help it stay organized.
Tue 14 Apr 2020 — Memory Skylane
In which Bob visits the past and accuses the future of treason …
Today around the house included an emergency visit to the vet for the elder chinchilla (he's fine, just pink eye), some grocery shopping, some craft supplies, and some appointments for the dog for later this week and next.
I spent part of the day wracking my memory for model rockets: trying to remember flights, reviewing catalogs for an "oh, yeah, I built that" memory, and scanning my records for flying from 2008 to 2014. There were a lot more "easy to assemble" or "ready to fly" models in there than I recalled, but there were also enough actual builds of sufficient challenge to confirm my fictional rank of "Craftsman" in the Estes Aerospace Club. Whew! That's 21 models built over my lifetime, and most of them flown.
I also looked back at the last two days posting and I can only think that cabin fever is getting to me. None of what I've written sounds like any fun to me! Here's what I think I'm actually doing with this project.
One, don't stress. Experiment with new build methods if I feel like it, don't bother if I don't. I do think I'll try to paper the Alpha's fins. I won't be trying to shape fins to gain best possible performance; rather, I'll do what I like while trying to avoid the nastier performance penalties. I might also build a launch system that fits my oversize hands.
Two, stay small. Not just the models or motors. I'm going to try to fit my workshop into a 12"x18"x4" box. The paint shop is already in its own tool box. The launch rig and field kit will each go into a cat litter bucket. (The launch rod has its own carrier already.) Back when, making trip after trip to unload the car was really annoying. Not doing that any more!
Three, "NEVER PUT YOUR OWN MONEY IN THE SHOW." Yes, a Producers joke to wrap with.
Mon 13 Apr 2020 — Balsa Engineer Apprentice
In which Bob meanders around the topic of model rocket building …
I've mentioned recently the low opinion I have of my building skills and my patience with them. Today I realized the only way that changes is if I start to try different things. Like what?
Some are simple, like keeping a wet pad of paper towel near the work area when I'm applying glue. If I'm using a finger to smooth a fin fillet, it makes sense to get that finger clean again before moving to the next fin. (Besides, I've always hated having wet stuff stuck on my hands.)
Some are old news to old hands but I've never done them. Using a sanding block, for instance. I watched a video of a master builder (Command Master Chief Balsa Engineer) and saw a tiny piece of block technique that was very easy but I'd never thought of. Learning. Also watching for better tools and better ways to use tools.
Some might be crutches. For instance, I fear the filling and sanding. I can avoid most of the filling and sanding by laminating paper over the faces of the fins. But should I? I think I probably will on the Alpha, since it has simple fins which are agreeable to such treatment. Other projects I have in mind for the future would not make "skinning" easy and I'll have to deal with filling and sanding on them as they happen.
All a long way of saying that if I want a different experience out of rocketry this time, I have change, too. And odds are good I will be bad at new things at first. I have to give myself permission for that.
Oh, the Excel workbook update went fine. I love that workbook. It's called FIDO after the NASA Mission Control station in charge of managing flight dynamics. I'm pretty sure the Alpha will fly well here on the motors I'm thinking of. The B-power composite motors from Quest are very tempting, but they're a) noisy! and b) would be breaking my A-power limit. I need to build and fly awhile inside A before I think about stretching the envelope that way.
Sun 12 Apr 2020 — Bob and Yuri's Weekend
In which Bob blathers about some news …
Yesterday I started my 56th lap around the sun. It was a routine Saturday, by and large. Oldest daughter did her morning shopping, and then came over for family time in the afternoon. Dinner was had. I received a gift of an interesting new pack of cards. Youngest daughter finished spring cleaning her room (a three-day affair).
Today is Easter, of course, but also the 59th anniversary of mankind's first flight into space. I have the weekly grocery run to make and some linens to wash. Just a thrill a minute here, but growing up in my grandparents' home has given me some appreciation of stillness now. It's not a foreign place at all. (But next year's Yuri's Night needs to be special.)
My model rocketry supplies arrive later in the week. A model as simple as the Alpha can easily be assembled in a morning, but I think I want to spread the process out over a week, gently striving for quality and letting processes like gluing, filling, and painting take the time they need to take. Plus I'll be watching to see what methods or tools I need to change.
Computers with rocketry are fun. OpenRocket and RockSim are outstanding simulation programs. And I'm feeling they are also too big for what I want to be doing right now. I don't need a full-on simulation, just computational answers to a few essential questions. If I fly with a given motor:
How high will it go?
Is the ejection delay compatible with the predicted coast time?
Will it be flying fast enough when it leaves the launch rod?
There are lots of other questions I can ask and do math for, of course, but those are the most important ones -- the first relates to the needed size of the launch site, the second affects the safe recovery of the model, and the third means I'll have a stable flight to altitude.
Being me, I made a tool for all those things and more, years ago. It's a fairly basic Excel workbook, but it does all that stuff. I need to update it to have the latest motor data (and remove the motor data I'm not using). That's a task for this morning, I think. See you later.
Tue 07 Apr 2020 — The Die is Cast
In which Bob reports a commitment and a change of plan …
The food budget came in light this week, so I ordered some rocket motors, the Estes Alpha kit, and a tool. It should ship today, and probably take most of a week to get here (since motors cannot travel by air).
I spent most of yesterday morning angsting about the tool situation. I had everything I needed except something to help mark straight lines on tubes (I don't trust our drawers or door trim) and something to help hold fins straight while the glue sets. There was a mighty battle over letting go of dreams and imaginations of things I could or might make. At the end of it all, I said to myself, "Bleep it," and I ordered a multi-tasking tool made by Estes.
This relates to the reservation. My mission here is to have fun focusing on Doing the Things. Rejoining the NAR is more expensive than the order I placed, and it leads to even more expensive "gee-I-oughtas" related to unfinished past goals. So I think I'll hold off on that and pay attention to the "now." Alpha first. I should grab some cardboard and make that cradle.
In related news, I see that Estes has finally retired the numeric skill level designations. They're now words: "Beginner" (ready-to-fly or easy-to-assemble), Intermediate (requires glue, sanding, and paint but simple models -- used to be Skill Level 1), Advanced (more complex assembly or flight modes, used to be SL2-3), Expert (SL3-4), and Master (SL4-5). It's a shame the color-coding to go with the new levels doesn't match the old colors for the achievement levels in the Estes Aerospace Club.
As I said, I'm pretty much Intermediate with occasional surges to Advanced. What I want is to be a really good Intermediate builder. Bigger projects don't interest me right now.
Sat 06 Apr 2020 — Flying Again
In which Bob lays plays for the spring "and beyond" …
My employer has thoughfully provided me a month or two of unpaid leave. Finances will be fine, but this does give me a great deal of time to fill. And seeing as how the 45th anniversary of my first model rocket flight occurs next week, and this is prime flying time in northern Nevada … well, it just seems right. Plus I want something to do that's not staring at a computer screen. Like I'm doing as I write this.
But people who know me well know I can go overboard with things, as I did during my previous rocketry revival from 2008 to 2012. So this time I'm setting myself a framework to guide my perspective.
First, last, and always, fly within the strictures of the Model Rocket Safety Code published by the National Association of Rocketry.
Fly only models requiring motors of A impulse or less. My reasons for this: those motors are less expensive; those motors enable the smaller launch sites which are more accessible; and historically all the "great problems" of model rocketry (gliding, payload, helicopter recovery) were solved in the 1960s with motors of just this capability. So there's no technical reason not to.
Master the essentials. "Master" is about my build skills, being patient and doing the work right from assembly to finishing. The "essentials" parts means sticking to the core skills and materials (glue, filler, paint, sandpaper, cardstock, balsa). My sweet spot is Skill Level 2 but able to deliver on Skill Level 3. (I have made SL4 models in the past, very badly indeed. Not going to bother.)
So what's on the build list?
An Estes Alpha, in the 1975 Estes Catalog paint scheme, in tribute to the anniversary. The Alpha was my first flight, but it hung up on a telephone wire and I never got it back. SL1.
An Odd'l Rockets Cyclone. This is a break-apart model with both sections recovering by spin. Should be terrific. SL2.
A boost glider. I had a Semroc Hawk that was nice (SL1). The Estes Tercel looks nice and is actually a SL3 model.
A Semroc IQSY Tomahawk. Scale models are the apogee (beg pardon) of the model rocket world. I ruined my first attempt at this model. I want to get it right. A deceptive SL1.
A multi-stage rocket ... no. Actually, no. Not only would this force me to break my "A" impulse rule, it would make me buy a pock of motors that I could only use with that model. Inefficient. No.
A model of my own design with a payload compartment for an altimeter, targeting 1/2A and A motors. SL2.
Things to do:
Audit the tools and supplies, I probably need glue and wood filler.
Rejoin the National Association of Rocketry. Which means digging up the box of material stored from the previous rocketry fit to find my member number. This membership isn't strictly necessary, but it comes with a card that will tell the reader I'm insured for up to $5 million. Not that any property damage these little rockets could make would get anywhere near that.
Make a cradle or two, or maybe one for each model. If I go that way, they'll just be cardboard.
Order a kit.
Things to NOT do:
Extensive record-keeping. Model rocketry may be a "scientific hobby," but I refuse to indulge in flight records, logs, or other such paperwork hassles (with the exception of personal designs). I'm just in it for the memories. Blog posts will be about it.
Going overboard (except on this foundation statement). Last time I bought every supply I could imagine, motors to last years of flights, tools I've never used and am still unlikely to use. Flight days had me houling four toolboxes onto the range. No more of that. Mind the essentials, shun the rest.
Rejoin the rocketry forums. The noise-to-signal ratio, for my purposes, was appalling.
As usual, more news when it happens.
Sat 28 Mar 2020 — The Month That Was
In which Bob recounts the past four weeks …
The final week of February included a county school district honor band concert, a mandatory meeting for the trip to Europe in development for the graduating senior, and regional competition for the state High School Mock Trial team. This was one of the most intense weeks in living memory. And, naturally, the Mock Trial team qualified to advance to the State Championship. And the first cases of COVID-19 were suspected in Reno and Las Vegas.
The following week marked the start of mid-terms, and a weekend in Las Vegas for Mock Trial plus some sightseeing. The Mock Trial team placed as usual, but a good time was had by all. (This was when I pooched my phone.) Meanwhile, back on Monday, Oldest was invited to be roommate with an old friend, to move in on Saturday. We weren't quite that quick.
Second week of March now. Finals conclude. A high-stakes language exam is taken, resulting in the graduation senior receiving the State Seal of Biliteracy on her diploma. My new phone arrives, and the headphone jack broke within days. Oldest moved out of the house that weekend.
Third week of March, first week of Spring Break. Another trip to Vegas for a campus tour. Nice enough day, lots of walking, some good information learned and good people met. Two major casino operations announce closures while we're there. The following day, the school district announces spring break will be extended a week. Trip to Oakland for another campus tour is cancelled due to California pandemic management. Graduating senior develops symptoms that could be COVID-19 or any number of other upper respiratory issues. She stays in her room for the most part. And through this week the state governor ratchets down business activity.
Fourth week of March. My workplace has me and many others working from home. Road construction near oldest daughters' house causes unexpected water shutoffs, so we brought her home for the weekend. Graduating senior's fever finally broke on Friday. Also on Friday, work leadership signalled furloughs are coming. I can cope with a reduced schedule. We can cope without a paycheck for two or three months. After that ...
Right now, I'm really really scared.
Tue 10 Mar 2020 — Finnegan, Begin Again
In which Bob starts so many things over …
The move was postponed a week in the interest of acquiring a proper moving truck. Upcoming weekend will be very, very busy.
On the Computing Devices front, my five-year-old smartphone is no more. I accidentally killed it on Sunday, thinking a factory reset would solve a memory frustration I was seeing. Problem solved, all right. A new smartphone should arrive today, with awesome cameras that I won't use to their potential, facial and fingerprint recognition that I won't use, many many apps for me to disable, and an evening's worth of online chicanery to restore all the functionality I'd lost. And a stylus, which might become very entertaining for an old scribbler such as I. The most aggravating losses turn out to be my digital check register and the 2FA authenticator apps. Fortunately I had saved off all the photos last Friday, and the music was all on the removable memory card.
Also gives me my annual reflection on how I live with devices. Actually, I'm not seeing much change. The phone will still be for on the go things: voice calls, messaging, playing audio, tracking checks, and some retail things. (So nice to search the store from the app and have it tell you what aisle to go to.) The tablet is still for reading, playing video, playing games, and light document writing/editing. Desktop? Until Word or Excel Online are as capable as the desktop programs, I still need one. Not sure that I won't bail out of the MacBook for something Windowsy again.
Tue 03 Mar 2020 — Sunrise, Sunset
In which Bob is blindsided by an unexpected aspect of parenting …
My oldest daughter will start moving out of the house this weekend. And I am an utter bawling wreck.
I don't think I'm supposed to be, or at least not where people can see and hear me. It's something we've been working toward for a long time. Maybe I've been in denial that it would ever happen. She has health issues that make her world complicated. The world doesn't always see her for her power and spirit.
But here we are. A friend with similar challenges found a place she wanted to move to, but needed a roommate. Oldest agreed. And in the housing market around here, you have to move quick. It's a nice little house in the west university district. They'll be paying more in rent (total) than I'm paying on the mortgage for a house twice as big and a third the age.
But there she goes. And I'm being ridiculous, because she's only a 25-minute drive away and we'll see her very often, probably many times a week. But for now, I can't stop crying.
Sun 23 Feb 2020 — Where Have I Been?
A few updates …
The Star Wars Project: Going slowly. I'm trying to get traction on Clone Wars, and suddenly a new season drops. I think I need to look for a tablet stand for the exercise bike.
The Health Project: No progress. Intermittent fasting looks more and more like a good fit, if I can figure out when I'm eating. Do I start with breakfast before work? Breakfast at work?
EZFudge: Well. Months after getting a question about ranged fights, I looked really hard and realized I was not making clear a really vital design choice: one roll per round, made by the player. I'd also neglected to pick up the penalty to evade arrows, bullets, and beams. And then I looked at my character sheets for Final Frontier and noticed they were botched. (Especially Janice Rand, which I had never actually finished. Sorry, Janice! I hope you approve now.) All of that took fixing, since my software tools today don't match my tools from two years ago. But it's fixed now. I hope.
College: Not me, the youngest. College tour season is in full swing. She's seen one of her final five, and we're going to hit two more during spring break. Whee!
Sun 26 Jan 2020 — Pocket Boxing
In which Bob recalls two games and reports news …
Belated acknowledgement to friends and family who have or had birthdays in January. You know who you are or were.
My 2019 Reproduction edition of the Pocket Box edition of The Awful Green Things from Outer Space (hereinafter AGT) arrived. This was a Kickstarter from last spring, mildly delayed by production issues. It's still very fine. The new counters are great, and the rest is just as it should be. The publisher might have a few more of these in their online store come March. Or might not. I am not prescient. This is another of those "I only played it once but I loved it" games.
There are now 2019 Reproduction editions of Car Wars (first edition) in the world now, too. I was given a used copy of the original first edition, but never played it. Three more editions went by, but I didn't buy them. Fifth Edition stripped back to the basics and changed the scale. I bought many of the Starter Sets, but didn't play them. Sixth Edition has just funded on Kickstarter (bit of an understatement), and it looks nice but I won't be playing it either. I think this is all down to my feebleness at duel games plus my lack of patience with fiddly bits. I keep thinking about getting Mini Car Wars or Car Wars Classic (fourth edition, intermediate volume of rules between first ed. and fourth edition Compendium). Then the urge passes.
In the health news, I've been about as diligent as usual with the 20K resolutions, which is to say not at all. But I've realized my blood pressure is up and it's staying there, meaning my health risks are much higher than I thought and I really need to act on this.
In the reading news, my Bible reading plan is ticking along. I have read the three Middle Kingdoms novels by Diane Duane, and am moving into Harry Harrison's memoir. I checked out a book on the physics of sci-fi and fantasy, but was alas the prose was what a physics professor thought popular writing is like. Quite a disappointment.
In the Star Wars project, I watched episode I, watched most of episode II … again fast-forwarding through much of the "romance" bits. Oh, that dialogue. The Clone Wars pilot movie was reasonably fun. I am up to episode four in the series ... a long way to go and I'm not sure I'm liking it. Still. This is the road I've chosen.
Wed 15 Jan 2020 — This is Madness
Slowly digested over a thousand years …
The project begins. I subscribed to Disney+ with intent to catch up on the Star Wars and Marvel media libraries. Today I've started in the galaxy far far away … and I'm going chronologically. And horrifying as that seems, that means Episode I.
Actually, I'm having fun so far. It's just about "Summon Bigger Fish" time … I was pleased to hear Newman's "Fox Fanfare with CinemaScope Extension" … and the captioning is very very good.
Sat 11 Jan 2020 — Odometer Rollover
Reflections and resolutions abound …
A new year is upon us. Today is my 19,999th day. Both are causes for reflection and resolution. Here are a few fruits of that labor.
I often think how much I'd like a monastic lifestyle, and I try to make a personal schedule that echoes the Daily Office, or the Hours of the Church, or whatever your particular branch of the tree calls it. I have since realized it's impossible. I'm not a monk, I'm a working dude with a family firmly in the world. Anything I try to do to improve my life is going to have to fit into that ... not supplant it, not be supplanted by it.
What I really want is a discipline, a routine to cling to against the sciroccos of chaos that is my environment. In defiance of all the "small steps over time"/"one thing" crew, I will make all of the changes below starting tomorrow, Sun 12 Jan 2020, my 20,000th day of life.
As a side note: to support these changes, I have acquired the cheapest 10" Android tablet I could lay hands on. It's not fast or furious, but that's okay — it's an opportunity to practice more patience. And it's SO much nicer to read on or edit with than the phone. I revived my Logitech K480 Bluetooth keyboard, which also requires a certain flavor of patience but it works.
For spiritual me, daily Bible reading and more prayer. I've got reading plans and my Olive Tree bible study app and I'm not afraid to use them. In fact, I started this discipline yesterday. To strive for: patience, gentleness, and kindness … but any or all of the fruits would be welcome, really.
For mental me, more reading and games. The tablet makes this easy to approach. I started Diane Duane's Middle Kingdoms novels today. The TFT Helper app isn't optimized for my device or accessibiity settings, but it's cute. Hello, Ticket To Ride my old friend. And new games, too, surely.
For physical me, part one: exercise. Wake up is 5:15, do a few self-care chores, nudge the water heater if necessary, and then 30 minutes of activity, mostly calisthenics, bodyweight resistance, and walking or exercise bike. That's the start, and that's the minimum. After a few weeks, I'll add some evening cardio.
For physical me, part two: food. The evidence is building that intermittent fasting is good. So I will only eat between 7:00 AM and … 3:00 or 5:00 PM, I haven't worked out which. (Funny about the evidence on eating earlier in the day being better, that was known anecdotally at the Cooper Clinic back in the 1990s. It's all coming together.)
For creative and student me: I haven't decided yet. Possibly a daily post, plus get serious about learning some ASL. For work me, a new work-only backpack to keep firm boundaries between my employer's needs and my own.
Join me tomorrow for day 20K, won't you?
Thu 19 Dec 2019 — A Random Mess
In which Bob just starts writing and sees what happens …
First thought: I'm pretty happy with this blog. It takes a little coding to make a post, which I don't mind. And I don't have to feel guilty about not having tags or hotlinks or other organizers.
Second thought: I have checked out a Python book from the library. I'm going to see what I can trick a NumWorks emulator into doing. Probably something like DicePickXR/XL.
Third thought: There are many games I love but I'm totally useless at playing them. It's hard to remind myself not to buy that, or that, or even that because ulimately they will not be played. Car Wars comes to mind here. The current Kickstarter program (hands tried to type "pogrom", which is interesting) for Sixth Edition is easy for me to resist, as it's out of my price range. "But what about the classic reprint," I whisper to myself. Then I think, and look, and I ponder at the 64-page rulebook … and all the counters and tokens and then the urge passes away.
Fri 13 Dec 2019 — Bye, O'Rhythm
In which Bob plays with numbers and mocks the hive mind …
I think I first met biorhythms in a paperback book my mom had. She was always interested in things like that. I became fond of them when they were presented in The Great International Math on Keys book that came with my TI-30 calculator. Biorhythms are for me a fun math game in which I put no particular stock. Like horoscopes (except astrology math I stay away from).
While browsing the Wikipedia entry, I came across the following which says more than I can. First quote:
Each of these cycles varies between high and low extremes sinusoidally, with days where the cycle crosses the zero line described as "critical days" of greater risk or uncertainty.
Later … a whole TWO SENTENCES LATER … this:
The numbers from +100% (maximum) to -100% (minimum) indicate where on each cycle the rhythms are on a particular day. In general, a rhythm at 0% is crossing the midpoint and is thought to have no real impact on your life …
… and I just couldn't not post that here.
Thu 12 Dec 2019 — Calculating Ways
In which Bob goes nerdy on old tech …
Being a teen in the 1980s, I think pocket calculators are cool. In fact, I think pocket calculators are way cooler than digital watches. My first calculator worthy of the name was a TI-30. Then I moved to a TI-35 (statistics!). Those saw me through high school. For my college math, I had a Sharp programmable in Radio Shack trade dress. There was a bit of a lull in calculator land for a decade or two until I had to help my wife get through her college maths. That's when the TI-8x series came into our lives and I got to play with the TI-82 and TI-83 Plus. After wife was done, there was another decade lull before the younger daughter, aka The Gifted One, had need of TI calculators. She has a TI-84 Plus CE in Lightning blue, and used a TI Nspire CX for a year which she liked better for stats.
My dear friend Gary also likes calculators. His like is focused on the Hewlett-Packard (HP) products, and he has a very nice collection of them.
Some observations here: HP and TI both created calculators with intent of reaching professional users: scientists, engineers, etc. The education market was a secondary thing. When desktop computing supplanted pocket calculators, HP's interest faded away. TI doubled down on education, managing to get the use of their product into textbooks and curricula for colleges and high schools. And with that market lock, TI has been able to keep their product price silly-high.
I wasn't paying attention when NumWorks hit the scene in 2017. I learned about it this fall and I am very, very fond of it. NumWorks is a programmable graphing scientific calculator aimed for the high school market, it's completely open source, and it's only 2/3 the price of a TI Nspire. It has become my favorite calculator-at-hand, since the software is also ported for a browser app and for smartphones. Same code, different case, you might say.
I saw many complaints that NumWorks is nowhere near as functional as the TI Nspire, TI-84s or HP Prime. The complaints miss the point. Remember when I said the TIs and HPs were designed for professionals? The NumWorks is designed for students. It nicely supports what students do in high school classes. Complaints about the version of Python in the calculator (!) go into the same bucket. It doesn't need to be the replacement everyone wishes existed -- it does what it does, well. I like it fine.
I do wish it were cheaper. NumWorks falls between the high end and the low end (Casio's graphing calcs) for price. But it's not like they have HP or TI or Casio resources to force the benefits of large scale. I'll buy one, probably sometime next year.
Sat 30 Nov 2019 — Logocycles
In which Bob learns, albeit slowly …
I've grumbled in recent posts about my tendency to revisit old problems, analyze them yet again, and more often than not come to an unchanged conclusion. After reflection, I think I can say there is some value in it, in that when I remember it all, I can be confident that I've done the homework, it adds up, and the answer is the right one for me. So it's a tiny bit of psychic security.
Also, sometimes I catch news that I'd missed that can be important to me. For instance, English Bibles (not Bibles from England, but Bibles in the English language, although I do have two here in the former sense). I like scholar Daniel B. Wallace's opinions on what Bibles a believer should have. Summed up: Have an Authorized ("King James") Version, for its beauty and historical importance; and also have a translation that's readable, a translation that's accurate, and a translation that's elegant. In my library, the elegance is covered by the Revised English Bible, the readability by the Common English Bible, and the accuracy by the New English Translation (NET). (I also have a New Revised Standard Version, as it's the long-preferred translation for academic use.) (And we have at least four other translations in the house as well, plus others I have in electronic form via the Olive Tree Bible Study app to which I've been connected since my Palm PDA days.)
But the news I'd missed was that at long last the NET Bible had found a mass market publishing partner, the Thomas Nelson imprint of HarperCollins Christian Publishing. So now there are muliple print formats, including large print which makes my middle-aged eyes happier and economy versions that make my wallet happier. Oh, and Olive Tree is part of HCCP, so electronic versions too.
(You can probably infer things about my beliefs from my Bible translation preferences. And you could easily be correct.)
You might be wondering "What about <insert translation here>?" And I would say, "I'm sure that's fine. I probably have a copy of that somewhere. But these are the ones that speak to me such that I keep copies with me always (i.e., in my cloud drive and on my reader device)." The Word doesn't need me to specify how it should speak to you.
Mon 18 Nov 2019 — Echoes and Reverberations
I don't remember Memory Land being this round …
As I've been window-shopping (screen windows count) for the tablet mentioned in the previous post, I remembered that I've done this same assessment of my tech needs twice before in this decade, and with mostly similar results. Both times, a primary motive was to get stuff off my phone and let the phone focus on the really mobile activities (phone, messsaging, GPS, audio, stuff for emergencies). The other device would be something I can do light editing, reading, web stuff, and media viewing on.
In 2011, the solution for browsing, productivity, and media was a Nexus 7 tablet. I dug this tablet very much, but the screen wasn't much larger than my phone. Plus I had issues with the limited memory in the version I bought. So I passed it on to a new home. In 2015 or so I bought a 10.1" 2-in-1 tablet on the theory that it would become my personal activity machine, and I'd get out of the desktops altogether. That didn't work, mainly because the OS would update monthly and consume all available memory.
What is different now is that I do most things in a browser, with apps connected to cloud storage. (Hey, I've been paying for this cloud for years … might as well use it.) For Windows, I run a portable version of that browser on a stick. I use the store versions of it on MacOS and Android. Working well so far.
I'm back to thinking that 10.1" is the right size, comfortably between my 5" phone and 14" laptop, for my budget and the activities. The winner is … the Nook Tablet 10. Eventually.
Sat 09 Nov 2019 — Round the Whirl'd in 80 GHz
In which Bob looks yet again at his use of tech …
Tech is everywhere and it's cheaper all the time. And my needs and wants likewise change over time. Every couple years or so, I find myself heading down a rabbit hole of overanalysis and there's nothing to do but ride it out and see where it takes me and if I learn anything. Welcome to the 2019 edition.
Fitbit? Not wearing any more, didn't make me feel motivated or tell me anything I didn't already know about myself.
Watch? I keep fending off impulses to put my Casio hunting watch back into service. Sun and moon rise and set times were cool, but they're as easily found online or with a phone app. So, no.
Last time I did this dance, I settled on having documents or web browsers on the laptops at work or at home, and keeping my smartphone just for interesting things I do on the go ... listening to music or podcasts, for instance. Oh, and taking phone calls and messages. Two things have happened since. I don't really have a home PC, so I've been doing more and more document handling on the phone. Also, I do my e-mail through the browser. And for both of those things the phone has been terrible.
I'm just about resolved that I need a tablet again, to have a larger screen factor to handle my reading, browsing, and e-mail. I had a Nexus 7 back when, and also a 10" 2-in-1. I think 8" or 9" would be right for what I have in mind. And I think Android would be fine, since the phone has that. But of course, few manufacturers are doing Android tablets any more, and I'm stuck with either more expensive than I want, or less reliable.
Alternatives? 7" would be fine, I guess. I don't think I want to go to 10" … I found that big for a tablet but too small for typing. With Black Friday coming, there may be a deal to be had somewhere.
So, the idea sits and gels.
Sat 02 Nov 2019 — Over My Shoulder: The Dice Fake Book
In which Bob answers the question "What were you thinking!?" …
In the early 2000s I had this notion: If you're going to use d20 for all actions, why not use it for all results as well? My solution, being under the sway of the PlainLabel Game System at that time, was to make lots of itty tables. The tables I made did deliver the average values correctly, but they did not deliver correctly equal weights for each outcome. Bad. (Interestingly, this math heresy appeared in the final edition of d20 Weekly … and another math heresy to make all GURPS rolls higher-is-better appeared in the final edition of Pyramid vol. 2. Oh, and for the record, I think the Blue Rose method of effect checks is a much, much better solution to the "use only d20" problem. Schooled by Steve Kenson again.)
In reflections this year on how to reproduce the "0 to 9 twice" dice of days long gone, I decided the solution was a d6 with the d20. And in a trice I saw this was the solution for just about any common gaming dice roll, and even a bunch of uncommon rolls. I resolved to share this amazing insight with the world.
It was first necessary to decide which dice needed emulating. I wanted the usuals, of course, but I also wanted to be sure I covered the wacky dice used in the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. One wrinkle was how to handle the d7. Then I made the tables. Then it was time to write and layout the document.
First attempts came to six digest-size pages, digest-size being the natural habitat of RPGs. I wanted eight pages for easy booklet printing. What could I add? Fudge/Fate dice came to mind, naturally. There are 81 outcomes for Fudge dice. That's very conveniently close to 20 times 4. So I made a Fudge table that, true, wasn't an exact emulation but was very, very good. What's another common roll? Well, 4d6 keep the highest 3 ... or 4d6, drop the lowest one, if you prefer. The attribute roll for D&D. Hmm. 1296 possibilities. A 2d20 table would be too big. A d6 and d20 table ... 120 outcomes? Factor of ten? Good enough.
The battle of layout began in earnest. Most of my side jokes slipped away. The introduction shrank. But the disclaimer grew. What was I to do with that? Then I realized the disclaimer should be in really small type. That saved my disclaimer snark and the pagination.
A fake book in music is sheet music with just the melody notes and a chord notation. The experienced player is expected to be able to elaborate well based on that beginning. So it is with my dice fake book. Starting with a d6 and a d20 only, the experienced player can generate any roll they need. Two of each is better, of course, and better still if they are in differing colors. My (non-Fudge) dice bag is now exactly 8 dice, four sets of d6 and d20, each in a specific color.
And that's how that happened.
Fri 01 Nov 2019 — Propulsion
In which Bob reports on the battle with inertia
Wow. The gap between posts here makes it clear that while I was willing to do the work to set up a blog page, I still do not necessarily know what I want to do with it.
I have started several 'where am I now?' posts, but I've done so many of those and there's nothing new there. I'm still stalled on just about everything I want to do vs. everything I have to do. Any time I think I'm lined up to start making progress on something, a new factor enters the picture and I'm dumped right back into stasis.
I did finally break down and buy the big Fantasy Trip box. There was an unexpected windfall and there was only one left in Warehouse 23 — a situation guaranteed to have me clicking 'buy'. Now that I've bought in, I will probably pick up the other set of Megahexes and maybe some more counters. The extra copies of games may end up with youngest daughter, who I think is having a good time as DM.
With the demise of Yahoo! Groups and the reduction-in-force at Cumberland Games, I have been lacking my dose of S. John Ross's genial wackiness. But it turns out he's focusing that energy into small doses on the Twit-thing. It's tempting to go back just to hear him and the conversations with other folks we both know and like. But Twitter ... guh. No. I can't. I'll just peer in wistfully from the web every now and again. We'll always have PyraMOO.
In my Kickstarter impulse buys, the Big Eyes, Small Mouth material is nice. I'm curious to see the Fourth Edition. A version of Champions Now was turned out. I'm disappointed, and that's all I'll say about it here. Over at Bundle of Holding, that Catalyst games bundle was a happy-making haul. And here comes The Magical Land of Yeld, based on the Modest Medusa comic (or vice-versa).
And here I am again, just blathering about games. Maybe it's 'cause I don't have or won't take permission to write much about the other things going in my life. Maybe it's 'cause I love games and always have, and RPGs have just been deeply important to me (along with the people I played with).