Friday, August 23, 2013

A Picture of my son from College & Some New Gaming Loot

I received this copy of the formal class of 2017 picture from Carnegie Mellon in a recent alumni email.  The mascot for CMU is a Scottish Terrier and I thought it was a pretty neat formation - I hope James B over at Exiles blog gets a kick out of the picture as he's a Scottish Terrier fan.  Sean is in the front leg, extreme right of the second row.

The big news we have from his ongoing orientation week is that Sean has been moved up a few levels in Physics by the department chair who is actively swaying him from engineering to physics with a very creative tag line "Engineers are hired to fix problems that are know, Physicists are hired to find those problems first"  Very catchy, but I'm not sure how many jobs exist for physicists outside of academia and the government.  Oh well, at least he's very excited about school.

On the war gaming front a few odds and ends arrived as I begin to stock up for the fall/winter painting season.  First up I just received 2 box sets of Windsor Newton Series 7 paint brushes. Each set has 4 brushes sized 0 through 3.  Dick Blick was having a sale (through Amazon).  If you haven't tried a Windsor Newton brush I really recommend you give them a shot.  While they are expensive, I've found my painting has improved dramatically with them AND, if cared for, they last much longer than other less expensive brushes.  All of the ACW stuff I painted was done with just 2 Windsor Newtons and those brushes are still serviceable as almost 9 months of use.  The guys over at the WWPD blog did a review of the Windsor Newton Series 7 which can provide more information - here's the link.

I also received my copy of the new ACW rules and cards from Sam Mustafa, "Longstreet".  My initial impression after a quick read last night is very favorable.  I'm looking forward to putting a game on in the next few weeks to try the rules out.  The game looks to have a very nice balance of simplicity and command friction (via the cards).

As for the gaming room, progress has been made toward final approval by executive management (AKA my wife).  I think I'm beginning to see her master plan with this project.  It seems that a recurring response to granting an approval for some aspect of the project goes like this.  "That's wonderful dear, but if you're going to repaint the game room, you might as well repaint our dining room and replace the old dining table chairs that you've been promising to do for years..."  This game room project may require me to redo the entire house!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Redoing the Game Room

 An unexpected benefit of becoming an empty nester is that I've received an edict from the wife to make the game room "presentable".  Our downstairs has taken a beating from 5 years of robotics teams beavering away for 8 months out of the year so it does need a bit of a sprucing up.  This is one "Honey-Do" task that I will not shirk.

The picture above shows the gaming room with the 8x4 foot table in the center.  The room measures 21.5 feet long by 11.5 feet wide.
 Running down the right side of the room is a storage closet that's 4 feet deep and 21 feet long so there's lots of storage.  Of course 3/4 of that space is taken up with non-wargaming stuff most of which hasn't moved in years so we're planning to have a pitch out / sell weekend to clear some space.  You can see the how I've used the space I've got to store my ancients, Napoleonic naval and War of 1812 collection (in the blue boxes).  I'd like to add some display cabinets to the room.

In a fit of madness, the wife has also allocated me the space that leads into the game room which is 14.5 x 14 ft.  This is where we used to set up the 12x12 ft robotics field(*) and now will become my gamers "lounge".  There's some storage in the pictured closets but that's been labeled as off limits by executive management.

I've been given a good bit of space to play with (approx 450 square feet).  So now I need to figure out what to do with it.  So far of the "to do list" consists of:

- Build / Buy some display cabinets for the minis and 30+ robotics trophies.  IKEA make some nice and inexpensive cabinets so that may be the way to go.

- Improve the lighting over the table

- Build leafs to let me expand the playing surface of the table to 12 feet long and 6 feet wide

- Add some seating to the lounge area including a recliner for my more "reflective" moments

- Add some game room appropriate "decor" military paintings the odd musket or saber

- Redo my sectional terrain the consist of 2x4 ft panels rather than 2x5 ft.  I'll get more flexibility and they are much easier to store / transport.

- Do so on a very limited budget - I'm still in budget negotiations with the Boss on this but lets say she's figured out the only real way to control this endeavor is the financial lever.  It is very difficult being married to someone who is WAY smarter than you.

- Get all this done by Nov 1 - why Nov 1?, all projects need and arbitrary and unrealistic deadline in order to get done.

So here's my question to you - if you had the game room of your dreams what would you like to see in it?

(*) I'll still be coaching robotics this year but we will be setting up shop at another parents home - the wear and tear of 18-20 high school age boys for 5 years has proven a bot too much for the house and my wife.  I do expect to fund some of the project from the reduced grocery bills I'll have - you will not believe how much food those lads can consume!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Taking My Son to College

 This past Saturday and Sunday were a bit bittersweet as Mary Beth and I took our son, Sean, to Pittsburgh to start his freshmen year at Carnegie-Mellon.  The first picture is of the SUV being packed up.  At first I thought we were over-packing as we almost filled the whole thing up and had to take two vehicles to Pittsburgh, which is a 4.5 hour drive from where we live in Maryland.

 Sean, sitting on our front porch just before departure.  You might be able to discern from the photo that he is more than a little excited to be going to CMU.

 Our route took us past Sean's elementary school and we stopped off for a quick picture - when he first started at Triadelphia Ridge he was shorter than the bushes!

 At bit of history.  We stayed at the William Penn hotel in downtown Pittsburgh and the Terrace dining room is a 60 foot mural of "The Taking of Fort Pitt" during the French and Indian Wars.  The William Penn is a grand old hotel which is a lot of fun to stay in.

 To be honest, I was dreading the move in process as Sean's room is at the top of a hill and all his crap - oops I mean, important school supplies would require multiple trips.  We were all very pleasantly surprised that once we parked in the designated spot our car was descended upon by an army of CMU students who carried everything to Sean's room while he went and got his student ID. All I had to do was stay in the car and then move it out of the way once it was empty after a few minutes.  It was an amazingly well organized affair.

 Here's a shot of some of the academic buildings at CMU, which has a very nice campus in Pittsburgh.  Sean is enrolled in the Mellon college of sciences and is currently planning to major in physics and robotics.  The university is a temple to geekdom, which means Sean will fit right in.

 A shot of the room after we've finished unpacking.  As I indicated earlier, I thought Sean was bringing too much stuff to college but after seeing what the other kids brought he's definitely one of the lighter packers.  We do need to get some wall art for the room.  Sean will share the room with one other student.  As far as dorms go, it's a very nice room - he was very pleased with the wi-fi speeds.

We had a wonderful day at CMU and there were some programs to occupy the parents while the students got acclimated.  There was also a firm deadline for parents to leave which we adhered to.  While I'm very excited for Sean - college is a great experience and CMU is the finest place in the world to study robotics, it will be very different not having him around the house.  Did I cry as we left?  Lets just say I had something in my eyes...

Friday, August 16, 2013

We've returned from Sea Base!

Sorry for the limited activity on the blog but we just got back from two weeks in the Florida Keys.  The first week my son and I went on his last Boy Scout outing at Sea Base.  What's Sea Base?  It's a Boy Scout high adventure (survival) camp that's located on a 110 acre island that's owned by the scouts in the Florida Keys (on the Atlantic side).  You paddle out 6 miles in a war canoe (a twin hull canoe) and then stay on the island of for a week with limited food and no running water or other facilities.  The boys learn basic survival skills and I got to fish every day to provide dinner.  It was also lobster season in FL so we also got to "bug hunt" and had lobster for 2 nights (they're harder to catch by hand than you might think).

 Here's a shot of out camp site - we had a propane stove, half a tank of propane and a small cabinet to store food to keep the animals out.  The Island is called "Big Munson Island" and has Key Deer, Vacaoons (a type of raccoon) and lots and lots of rice rats.  All of these mammals have become very adept at stealing Boy Scout Food.  The island also has a lot of Iguanas, which are labeled as an invasive species.  In fact, the scouts are encouraged to hunt down and kill them for a treat from the Island Commissioner - it was very "Lord of the Flyish" and very fun.  One tip, a Nalgene thats full of water makes a very lethal projectile with an accurate range of up to 20 feet.

 The camp site offered some tents, but they're very hot so we brought hammocks which are very nice to sleep in.  Some of the boys put the high up in the trees - see the upper left of the photo.

 Sitting down for the evening meal, which we just caught 30 minutes ago.  The fishing around the island is the best I've ever experienced - Mangrove Snapper, Mahi-Mahi and Yellow Fin Tuna were our mainstay.  We ran out of propane 2 nights in and resorted to grilling our fish over a fire - it was an improvement.

Here's the view of the Atlantic from the camp site.

 A shot of the war canoes we used to get to the island and fish from.  A war canoe is a ungainly craft.  Sean managed to find a 20 foot piece of bamboo in the surf and fashion a sail for our canoe which made getting around a lot easier.  I'll put up a of picture of the sail rigged canoe in a future post.  Sailing is much better than paddling.

 The boys gathered for a game Hodgie-Pogdie on the beach - it's a silly word game that brings the kids out of there shells and is hilarious watch.
 Big Munson island has lots of interesting trees, but my favorite is the gumbo limbo tree which was crazy branching structures and just cries out to be climbed.  The tree's peeling bark can be used to make tea and is a natural source of acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol).  Trust me when I say that tea was wonderful for an old guy like me after fishing / paddling all day.

 The boys are choosing two scouts to go with me to set the chum line for night fishing.  It seems the losers had to go with me.  We had to wade out 300 yard to set the bait and the chum attracted lots of sharks, rays and tarpon.  Don't worry the sharks where only gray reef or nurse sharks and under 4 feet.  We caught some great Mahi-Mahi that evening.

The second week of our trip we stayed in a very nice resort that close to Big Munson Island called "Little Palm Island".  Mary Beth came down to join us and we had a very nice week together.
 Surprisingly, Little Palm has nicer facilities than Big Munson!

 The most famous resident of Little Palm is a Great Blue Heron named Spencer (seen here eating a snake).  Spencer is very tame but aggressive - he'll walk up and take fish right out of your hand.  When a charter boat comes up to the dock, Spencer will be waiting to get his "cut" of the catch.

I did a lot a salt flat fishing while at Little Palm.  Here's a picture of me with a 4' barracuda I caught - they put up a heck of a fight.  Don't worry we released him after the photo and he swam away fine but I doubt he'll be biting any shiny / green plastic lures in the future.  Lesson learned.

All in all it was a great two weeks.  I'm now helping my son get ready for college as we're heading off to Pittsburgh tomorrow to drop him off at Carnegie Mellon.