Remembering Dad

Dad and I shared the same birthday. I have to admit it: when I was a kid, it was tough, sharing my birthday with someone else. (Thank goodness it was not also Christmas!)

I've been continuing my series of colorized B&W photos (see my older post, below), usually picking military subjects or historical subjects that interest me. It finally dawned on me that I could be looking in the family archives for subjects, too!

I chose this photo of Dad from sometime in the 1960's. He is standing on the front porch of our house, not too many years after his big project to turn the facade from a mid-19th century farmhouse to a colonnaded Southern mansion. He is posing with a plaque he made, depicting his succession of occupations. 

The symbols on the plaque are cast in lead. He had helped me try casting lead soldiers in molds he had bought me for Christmas, and I guess foundry-type work had always interested him. As a separate project, he carved these symbols from hard paraffin wax, then made molds by the lost-wax process. Finally, he used lead we had scrounged to cast these symbols. (As an aside, I'll mention that when he took up silversmithing as a hobby in the 70's, he also did lost-wax castings, this time in silver.)

The book and slide-rule represented his college days at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, where he graduated with a degree in chemical engineering.

The anchor in the upper right represents his wartime service as a midshipman in the Merchant Marine. His detachment manned guns for self-defense on freighters convoying supplies to troops overseas.

In the lower left, the buffalo represents his first post-war job, which was with the Federal Bureau of Mines, part of the Department of the Interior. I believe he worked on mining technology for titanium.

In the lower right is the castle edifice that symbolizes Ft. Belvoir, Virginia, where he was employed as a civilian engineer working for the Army Engineering Research & Development Laboratories. Interestingly, because of his excellent handiness with tools and machines, he was listed as a mechanical engineer, and because of that, I never actually knew of his ChE college background until I had chosen that field myself! Dad worked at Ft. Belvoir, just outside Washington, DC, for most of his working career.

In the middle is a plowshare and at the bottom the word "FAIRFIELD" represents the farming he did in his spare time. He purchased the 275-acre farm I grew up on from his parents. He never intended to make his living farming; he was content to raise enough livestock and crops to pay the mortgage and the taxes so that he could raise his family in the Virginia countryside. Back when I was young, addressing a letter "Fairfield Farm" and our town and state was enough to get mail properly delivered to us.

I took the original photo, and I made a print of it when I learned how to make enlargements in a darkroom. The print shows signs of my imperfect technique - dust specks aplenty! The emulsion in places has also degraded and flaked over the decades. I scanned the photo about six years ago and then disposed of it. I believe that the overall smudging and the dark streak in the lower right corner were due to insufficient fixing with the hypo solution. No matter. The power of PhotoShop allowed me to restore most of the original quality.

So here's my Dad, standing with a family escutcheon of his own design and manufacture, as I remember him on this, our shared birthday.


Ah, The Diet!

I loved the fact that as a young man and an early/mid adult, my weight never varied by more than a pound or two, regardless of what I ate.

I had read that most people add a pound a year, starting around age 40. Left to my dietary preferences, that pattern fit me, too. But my wife and I made a conscious decision to push back. (See http://techsmiths.blogspot.com/2012/10/and-so-on_11.html) We discovered, after some experimentation, that the South Beach Diet worked for us. But it can't be a one-time thing. We're now on a pattern to spend 2-4 weeks on it about twice a year: after the Christmas splurges, and after summer vacationing.

Which goes to say - we're on it now. Six pounds down after six days in. Pretty good so far. The South Beach Diet weans you from carbohydrates, and during the transition from fueling on carbs to fueling on proteins, normally I feel like gnawing on table legs because I feel hungry. But I know from past experience this goes away after a few days. And fasting one day a week, as we have also been doing this year, teaches you to accept and ignore the hungries.

So this cycle (so far) is not so bad...


Back From WBC

I'm not generally good with faces. But when I went to WBC, I saw many, many people I recognized from my last trip 3 years ago. Even remembered a few names! It seems that when you bump shoulders at a gaming table you get an impression of people that will stick with you. And after a week, the 1500 or so attendees have crossed your path so many times that even people you haven't met and played with seem comfortably familiar.

It's nice, too, being part of a recognized group. My group, The Greenville Mafia, is always prominent because we issue a group shirt yearly and a specific rotation is arranged. For long-time attendees, the shirts cover the whole rainbow. For us relative newcomers, we match the assigned daily color as nearly as possible with a polo shirt from our closets. When Mafiaites group together, the colors identify us nearly as well as the pocket logo.

This year, our dons decided to break the mold on solid colors. We went in for a Hawaiian shirt, modeled here by yours truly.

When we counted up how many of the Mafia planned to go to Lancaster, we discovered we had more than enough to field our traditional four teams - which we style as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. (I'm a member of Pestilence, by the way!) So we commissioned a fifth team this year. It didn't take long to name the new one - what with Hawaiian shirts, it HAD to become the Parrotheads of the Apocalypse! To get us in the mood, we even had a Jimmy Buffett-themed party before leaving for the Con!

Well, WBC's over and we're all home. Time for tall-tale tellin' at our weekly gaming meetings!

Pushing My Games Ahead

In December I made plans to attend this year's World Boardgame Championships (WBC) in Lancaster, PA. It's been 3 years since I last went. Since then I've hopefully gotten somewhat better at the games I play. Also, I decided it made sense to take my tower game on a test run to see how the public reacted to it.

With travel in mind, I again enlisted my talented neighbor Alex Olyarchuk's assistance in producing a new prototype, this time built of sections that could be easily broken down and stored. I had a plan of how to construct this, but Alex rapidly demolished it by pointing out the improvements he could think of. (Those kept coming during and after the construction!)

What resulted was a big improvement from the prior version. It has only two towers, giving better access to the playing surface, and the stages are locked in place. Best of all, I could incorporate play-tester Ken Richard's suggestion to support the stages on the edges of the hexagons instead of the vertices. This allowed wind placement that was much clearer and more understandable to new players, because each vertex has a straight line of hexes through the center of the stage (trust me!).

During WBC, when I was not in a tournament or seminar, I took my game - now re-christened BLOWN AWAY! on advice of my wife - to the Open Gaming Hall, about 12,000 square feet of space where people could engage in non-tournament games. I got adept at flagging people down for a demo or a game and teaching them how to play in the 2 minutes I claimed.

There were very few 3-dimensional games in evidence, and, at about 3 feet tall, BLOWN AWAY! was clearly the most visible! After a while I realized I didn't need to use one of the precious 60 or so game tables in the hall, and I set up the game on a chair near the entrance so that even the people who didn't stop by still got a view of it.

On one afternoon, I noticed a table with a bunch of microphones manned by four people. They turned out to be a podcasting group, The Party Game Cast, and their show "The Party Gamecast."  They came to WBC intending to produce a mini podcast each day of the convention. As I characterize BLOWN AWAY! as a party game, I told them they needed to talk to me! So they did. The interview came out late this week and can be found at

I also put up a Facebook page for the game; it's at
If you're interested, Like it and keep informed!


Finding Miss Gardner

I have been continuing my series of colorized photos and posting before-and-afters in an album on my Facebook page. Yesterday I posted this one.

Elizabeth L. Gardner, Class 43-W-6

I think it turned out very well. The lovely lady pictured is Elizabeth L. Gardner of Illinois. She might be termed the face of the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) because the photo is an official one and it turns up in many or most casual searches regarding the WASP. It also heads the Wikipedia article.

In the course of researching the proper colors of her insignia, I learned some of the relevant facts about this wartime effort to relieve male pilots of some of the non-combat flying duties so that more of them could be spared to the front line.

There were 1,074 women who graduated training. They flew 60 million miles while performing a number of non-combat roles. Chief among them was ferrying new aircraft from the factories to air bases or ports of embarkation. That is why I captioned the photo "WASP Ferry Pilot." In fact, my further research indicates that Elizabeth "Libby" Gardner performed her service towing targets for anti-aircraft practice. It is unlikely, therefore, that  the B-26 she is piloting in the photo was painted in camouflage colors.

President Obama presented the WASP organization with a Congressional Gold Medal four years ago next month. As the WASP was a Civil Service organization, its members did not initially receive the recognition that military organizations had. In fact, the 38 ladies who lost their lives in accidents were sent home to be buried at their families' expense and without even a letter of appreciation from the government. WASP was finally militarized after-the-fact in 1984 by an act of Congress, spearheaded by Senator Barry Goldwater, who himself had been a ferry pilot during the war.

I was curious to know if Libby Gardner had survived to learn of the Congressional Gold Medal and after a search I was gratified to find she had. In 2010 she was interviewed by StoryCorps, a public service that records the personal recollections of Americans - some 90,000, so far. Some of these interviews are aired on NPR's "Morning Edition ." I also discovered that the Texas Woman's University has many other images of her in its archives.

I am posting this as my salute to the WASP and Libby Gardner. Thank you for your pioneering service to our country and for providing can-do motivation for our young women.


Colorizing History

I recently became aware of a Facebook entity named "Colourising History". It's a site that displays historical B&W photographs "re-imagined" in color by people who digitally paint them.  I did this myself manually, with special tints, back in the day of actual photographic film and printmaking. It lends a peculiar aspect to the picture, since the palette is extremely limited and the technique relies on existing line and shadow, which show through the tint.

I actually found Colourising History through another entity, called "Tank Lovers." I've been a military history nut from of old, and yes, I love tanks! Tank Lovers shared pictures from Colourizing History that spoke to its focus area.

Since I like photography, tanks, and digital techniques (in that order, by the way), I resolved to try this out. A question regarding "how" was answered by this video:

Armed with that and my copy of PhotoShop Elements, I've made these, among my first tries.

Abandoned StuG, photo by Staff Sergeant Robert E. Mingus

The photographer was the father of a longtime friend of mine, Scott Mingus, who, among his many attributes, is a Civil War historian & author.

I don't know the provenance of this photo, but the plight of these tankers spoke to me! I guess that since the
driver got them into this mess, he's elected to bail them out of it.

But he'll need more than his helmet!


Naked Politicians!

Now that I have your attention...  The title comes from yet another of my attempts to fix Congress all by myself. After all, none have worked, to date!

But the topic is more comfortable under my Opinion page, so it resides there. Quick-link to my ideas on Naked Politicians here:


Game Design Gets to Be a Habit

In my October post I showed a prototype for my MOVIE MAGNATE game. It turns out Version 3 still didn't get the job done. I needed to shorten the game, and I needed to recast one of the economic tables to encourage play oriented toward the bigger films. That's done, but it's still awaiting a new playtest.

In the meantime, I've been busy! I've invented six more games and I'm finishing up a prototype of one for a playtest next week. In addition, I prototyped and completely tested one of them, and it's in a finished state.

BOOM or BUST! - This game tracks two industrial activities, finding and mining iron ore, and smelting ore to steel. Each player commands one company in each industry, making the decisions for them during a full economic cycle. Secretly, each is accumulating stock and attempting to make money off any of the other players who may be captaining their companies better than they.  This is a fairly specialist game.

DROP TOWER - I'll not go into the details on this one, as it has a good chance of going commercial.  The idea came to me as I lay on my back, looking at scudding clouds. My initial playtest group suggested only one change to the rules, which I adopted. It's simple - I can teach the rules in under 2 minutes, and at Christmas I taught it to a 7-year old neighbor who then proceeded to beat a college-age girl! It handles 2-8 players, never plays the same, and takes (usually) 45 minutes to an hour, so it's great for parties. I've gotten enthusiastic feedback from my players.
I call it a "sofa table game." It's 3 feet tall, so the top is too high on a dining room table and the bottom too low on the floor, but a low sofa table is perfect.
I owe my handy neighbor Alex a lots of thanks for helping me with the construction.

WAR PROFITEER - Players are part of the industrial base that makes the weapons of war in World War II. Contracts come zooming from the War Department with tight deadlines and little concern for cost effectiveness. Players who research new military technologies are showered with orders from a grateful nation. Anyone can make scads of money in these circumstances, but who can do it best?

BUSINESS CONVENTION - This was a design challenge I set myself. My gaming group, The Greenville Mafia, started playing a newly-published game, Libertalia, which to my mind has an implausible backstory and major holes in the logic of how the character cards interact. I tried to think of a scenario that could correct these flaws but use the very interesting mechanics put forth in Libertalia. This design does it!

CITY-STATE - Players are knights in a province left leaderless by the deaths in battle of the King and the local Baron. As the Baron had no heirs, each of you attempts to mobilize enough of the local population (from Country, City, Church, and Army tracks) to become the obvious candidate for the next Baron. Or if the country stays politically unstable, you might carve out your own city-state. This is a Euro game with a lot of choices and no clear winning strategy, especially as you are each backed by a different local faction that throws its weight behind you at the end of the game. I'm currently preparing the prototype; the picture shows proofs of some of the cards. I'm excited by this; I think it will play well.

CAVE MINER - Players lead teams of miners into a dangerous gemstone mine which is being gradually flooded. The better stones are down deep - but the penalties for losing a miner will be prohibitive. How low do you go? I see two sets of rules for this game: one for kids that uses straightforward rules and another for adults that takes into account such things as the formation of air pockets that can allow a player to wrestle out more stones before abandoning a flooding gallery. This game came to me during a 10-minute break while I was photoshopping cards for CITY-STATE - then I had to take the rest of the afternoon to get it down on paper!

When I say I invented a game, it means I've written a document, usually 6 - 14 pages long, detailing the situation, the game mechanics, the charts and tables (if any), the sequence of play, special situations, a list of the needed game components, and enough notes to write a ruleset. I'll also list the areas that have to be felt out by the playtesting crew to see if the balancing and play mechanics mesh properly. In CITY-STATE, for instance, which has the 14-pg design document, I even have all the 268 cards (4 player decks and 2 game decks) detailed out, but on most of the others I only have general notes describing the cards and maps used. That work gets fleshed out during prototyping.

PhotoShop Project

As just a noodler, and neither a PS pro nor an artist, permit me my small victories when I learn how to do something new.
A project I've just finished is learning how to convert texture files from my library into 3D text. This isn't hard, and is potentially useful for titling a slide presentation.

This first one is from a close-up of the rusted steel on a bridge on the Virginia Creeper Trail near Damascus, VA. The Creeper is an excellent example of a rails-to-trails project. You can mount a bicycle at the upper end of the trail and coast virtually the entire 13 miles to Damascus. Of course, if you want to go the remaining 12 miles to Abingdon, you're going to have to pump hard!

 Buried in an old post on this blog is a 2010 story about my son Hunter and me helping the Greenville community attempt to persuade Google to do their 1GB/sec fiber optic test here. It failed, but it was fun! About 2,000 of us spelled out GOOGLE in their correct logo colors on a hillside after dark, by swinging lightsticks rapidly in circles while a helicopter filmed us.
This picture is of an arc of light from Hunter's lightstick while we were waiting for dark. The light looked solid and the picture resembled the edge of a china plate. I thought it really captured the essence of "Light Fantastic!" And after some experimenting, I was able to get the words to follow the same curvature.

It's unlikely you would guess the basic photograph for this image. It's a cropped selection of feathers from a picture of a peacock that Brenda took in Charleston, SC.!

But to me it looks kinda sea-floor-ish or maybe reminiscent of waves - hence the title.

This photo is pretty straightforward. I shot the blue, blue water as our cruise boat headed west around Kauai to the Na Pali coast on our trip there a couple years ago.

I made a nice title for the slide show of our trip, but maybe this one will replace it.