Tuesday, April 25, 2017

First Autonomous Buggy Role at CMU!

My son, Sean, is the President of the Robotics club at Carnegie Mellon University and they just achieved a huge milestone in the world of geekdom - the first autonomous buggy role in CMU history.  What's "buggy"? - its a very specific competition that happens every year on campus that combines cutting edge engineering, physical athletics and a lot of fun.

From the CMU Buggy organization Website:
Buggy (also called Sweepstakes) is a race held annually since 1920 at Carnegie Mellon. Teams of 5 atheletes (the pushers) push an un-motorized vehicle (a buggy) containing a driver around a 0.84 mile course in a relay format where the vehicle serves as the baton. Roughly half of the course is uphill, during which the pushers run and shove the buggy uphill. During the other - downhill - half, drivers are on their own to navigate tight turns at speeds of up to 35mph.

The races are a hoot to watch - you can check them out here

It may sound simple but building a completely autonomous driving system to navigate the course is really hard and people have been trying for years.  Sean and the team have been working really hard over the past few months designing the guidance software and hardware and have been getting up at 4:30am saturday mornings to perform test rolls - 4:30am is unheard of for college students.

Its a good day to be a Geek!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Historicon 2017 PEL is Out

The Preliminary Events List (or PEL) for this summer's Historicon has been published and can be found here.

The con will be held for the last time (maybe) at the Fredericksburg VA Convention Center during July 12-16th.  I'm looking forward to going and this will be my 8th consecutive Historicon and my 7th as a Games Master.  I really look forward to the con and appreciate all the hard work the volunteers put in to make it happen.

Speaking of games, I've got six events listed in the PEL, two on each day.  The core scenario of all the games are the same - a Egyptian themed dungeon crawl using conventional (either WW2 or Current) forces.  The table will be 6x14ft and will have two levels - the ruins above ground and some catacombs below.  Still working on exactly how I'll pull that one off....

Here are the game Listings from the PEL:

DAK and Dragons Theme
World War II; 10 AM; Length: 4 hrs; Hosted by: Miles Reidy; Scale: 28mm; Rules: Donnybrook (modified); Prize: Beyond the dreams of avarice; No. of Players: 8.
It’s October, 1942 and in the remote Libyan desert strange new Egyptian ruins have been discovered via aerial reconnaissance. There’s something ominous about these ruins as it’s got both the Axis and the Allies sending teams racing to discover what lies hidden there. DAK and Dragons is THE historical simulation that answers the age old question, can a Panzer III take on a dragon? You’ll command a team of crack troops that will explore both the ruins and the catacombs under them. Sign on for fun and adventure. Kids are welcome if accompanied by a parent guardian. 

PEL#    Date/Time
T-384    Thursday July 13th at 10:00am
F-385    Friday July 14th at 10:00am
S-386    Saturday July 15th at 10:00am

SOCOM and Sorcery Theme
Modern; 3 PM; Length: 4 hrs; Hosted by: Miles Reidy; Scale: 28mm; Rules: Donnybrook (modified); Prize: Beyond the dreams of avarice; No. of Players: 8.
In the remote Afghan desert strange new Egyptian ruins have been discovered. There’s something ominous about these ruins as it’s got all sides scrambling to send units racing to discover what lies hidden there. SOCOM and Sorcery is THE historical simulation that answers the age old question, can a RPG take out a dragon? You’ll command a team of crack troops that will explore both the ruins and the catacombs under them. Sign on for fun and adventure. Kids are welcome if accompanied by a parent guardian. 

PEL#    Date/Time
T-387    Thursday July 13th at 3:00pm
F-388    Friday July 14th at 3:00 pm
S-389    Saturday July 15th at 3:00pm

We'll be using a slightly modified version of the Donnybrook ruleset.  I find them fun and intuitive and really like the dice system.  The game using a set value to accomplish an action - for example a too hit for shooting is a 6.  The dice rolled is based on troop type with recruits using a D6, regulars a D8, elites a D10 and heroes a D12 (some monsters too!).  Most models have a single hit but heroes and some monsters have four hits with each hit reducing the die the roll.  I'll add in some rules for vehicles and artillery/airstrikes.  If you haven't tried Donnybrook, I really recommend them.

If you're a serious historical miniature gamer who uses the hobby to push the understanding of military theory and practice AND have always wondered how a Panzer III would fare against a Dragon, then this game is for YOU!  It also works for anyone in the mood to have fun playing with toy soldiers in a rather whimsical setting.

Please give the games a try - last year I ran nine games that were all "sold out" so hopefully that works again this year.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

I'm going to Salute, Not!

Salute, the reported "mother of all wargaming shows" is today and I almost got to go.  Yup, I came within 16 hours of being able to attend Salute.  In fact, I had even bought a ticket!

 An impromptu business meeting this friday in London had placed me on the correct side of the pond the day before the show - a golden opportunity ehh?  I thought so.  I then made a mistake of calling my wife to ask permission to stay a few days more and was greeted with a sigh, 15 seconds of silence and then a rather stern reminder that we were going to the wedding of a daughter of a very close friend and one of my business partners the same day back in the states.   AAGGHHH curse-words, moral dilemma.  The picture was taken at the gate in Heathrow as I was weighing the morale consequences of which way to go.  It was if the The Clashes "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" was on a permanent loop inside my head

Just boarded the flight - the door's still open, I could just dash off the plane for a full day gof gaming goodness.  Of course that would be followed by years of guilt and a deeply disappointed friend.  Since it's Salute, I'm sure all of you could understand how this decision could really go either way.

Damn I'm airborne, with the decision effectively enforced by the BA flight crew.  As I was enjoying a nice glass of Shiraz while finally watching "Rogue One" I pondered the unjustness of the universe to place me so close to Salute only to deny me my white whale of wargaming shows.  It is a cruel world we live in.

I'm back in London the week of May 15th - can anyone tell of this show called Partizan?

Monday, April 17, 2017

Hirst Arts Molds: Some Thoughts

I've spent about a week casting and building with my new Egyptian themed Hirst Arts molds and have come to some conclusions about them for terrain making.  Overall I'm really pleased but have determined these are not always the perfect way to go.  No real negatives so I'll break my thoughts into positives and "considerations".

Bear in mind that my casting material of choice was dental stone - which casts up rock hard but is heavy.  I think the pyramid weighs close to 5 pounds.

So lets go with the positives:

(1) There is a wealth of choice of molds and the supporting materials on the website are top notch.  Anything you might like to cast is likely there and the how-to instructions are really very well done.

(2) The details come out very nicely - if you follow the instructions on mold prep and pouring.  The most important part is to pound your fist around the mold as the plaster is poured in, as this releases any air bubbles.  I did this for every cast and had very few miscasts (less than 5%).  If you want to have detailed carvings or forms in your scenery these molds are probably the best way to go about it.

(1) The molds are small and you'll need to make a lot of casts to finish a project.  The 9 level pyramid pictured above required 14 casts of the pyramid mold.  Each cast takes about 30 minutes start to finish so it will take a good bit of time to build up your "inventory".  Casting is messy so you need to prepare a work area and make sure to clean up as you go along.  I did dave all the over pours and used used them to make "gravel".

(2) You need to plan out what you want to build.  Most of my terrain projects start with a sheet of Extruded Polystyrene Foam (EPF or "pink/blue foam) and I kind of wing it.  The molds construing you to the shapes they form so require a bit more planning than just "winging it"

I really like the Hirst molds but will only use them for "center-piece" terrain constructions.  It just takes too much of the hobby time I have to use them for every project.  That said, they are well worth the investment and any serious terrain maker should have some in his/her tool kit.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

28mm Egyptian Terrain: Initial Assembly

 After a week of on and off casting I had enough blocks to start building some ruins.  I need 4 different terrain pieces for the Historican games as each will have a hidden entrance to the catacombs.  First up is a small Pyramid.

 The 9 level Pyramid required me to cast the Pyramid mold 14 times.  The structure is then built layer by layer.  Pictures are levels 8,7 and 6 (level 9 is the point!).  The Hirst website has fantastic instructions on how to build structures.  It also suggests using Aileens Tacky glue to affix the blocks, which I did.
 It took about 45 minutes to assemble all the layers / segments.  It's really important to us a square to keep all the corners at right angles.  With the bottom level glued up I let the glue cure for about 3 hours.  Its still tacky be then but holds together enough to allow one to build the levels up
 Once the bottom level glued up I added each successive level.  The model is getting heavy do I decided to build it in three parts.  As you can see from the photo I used extra blocks to support each level to keep everything square.  given the shape of the blocks the bulk of the weight overhangs the bottom level and the block will tilt inward with support until the glue fully cures.  Make sure you supports don't touch the bottom level or you may glue them to the model.

 Level 1 - 3 are done and glued up.  I realized that I could also use excess blocks as spacers to ensure everything stays nice and square.

 I let the pyramid dry over night and then flipped over the base and added some supports in each level corner and added a small "hallway to the entrance.
 Another shot of the front and then a side shot.  I like how this piece came out and am debating if I should add some details to the interior.  The answer is "yes" of course.  I also made some casts from other models to build a small temple complex and the beginnings of a tower.
All in all I've made 27 casts and have enough for three solid terrain feature objectives for the games.  I'll probably need to make a few more casts for the fourth one.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

28mm Egyptian Terrain: Casting, casting, casting....

Casting to date (after two days).  I've managed to cast the Pyramid mold six times and the other molds one of two times.

It takes 24 hours for the dental stone to fully cure (the lighter shaded ones are fully cured).

The casts have been remarkable good with the exception of a few pieces from last night that have some air bubbles.  It's all due to user error as I was rushed.

Casting is very simple but best done in an assembly line frame of mind - its a lot easier to do a lot of these over a long sessions than one or two a night.

I do wish the molds were a little bigger as I've got to cast the pyramid one a total of 14 times (6 down, 8 to go!)

Monday, April 10, 2017

28mm Egyptian Terrain: Hirst Arts Molds

 I finally cleared enough space off the gaming table to break out my recently acquired Egyptian themed Hirst Arts Molds.  Pictured is my first attempt at pouring the pyramid mold.  The website has some really easy to use instructions and videos.

I'm using buff colored dental stone for the casting material which is easy to work with and is very durable once dry.  I bought a 25lb box on Amazon for $35.00 bucks and its was delivered to the house for free the next day.  Amazon Prime is an amazing thing.

The out put from the first cast was successful.  I just need to do this 17x more times to build the pyramid!  Over the course of yesterday afternoon I made 3 more successful casts from the Pyramid mold and test out a few of the others.

The molds themselves are not cheap at $34.00 each but I've both been read and told they are very durable and you really open up a range of creative opportunities for terrain.

It takes a little less than 30 minutes to prep the mold, pour the plaster and then have it set so it's best do work with several molds at once.

It's funny in a world of 3D printers sometimes the old fashioned ways still are the best.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

MMMMM - Portobello Bisque

 Tonight my lovely wife made her world famous Portobello Bisque.  My gosh is it good.  I've been working some of the advanced features Google released for Blogger yesterday - if you scratch the picture on the screen, you should be able to smell the Bisque.  Go ahead, give it a try.

I'm a little worried there are very large honey-do task on the horizon as she made meatballs last night ( mix of pork, lamb and beef) and the Bisque tonight.  Usually this portends some herculean task like painting the ouse, adding a room or, gasp, attending a ballet.  Who knows what horror awaits me but at least I shall be fortified with a belly full of bisque.

Action shot!