Sunday, April 16, 2017

Poetry for Springtime

My lover is the storm tossed sea

My lover is the storm tossed sea
And the calm after.
She is waves
Cresting and falling in nearly
Rhythmic succession.
Each mounting taller,
The sea spray
Broken from her by
Wind that curls her peaks
Down onto my decks,
The troughs between, so deep
They bear my keel,
Threaten to break me,
Bow unsupported as I
Steer my course into the

My lover is the oasis
And the mirage.
I am mad, dehydrated,
Sun blind from her brilliance,
Thirsting for the water
She shows me lying after the next
Slipface, down the next
Dune, in the secret garden
Nourished from her hidden

My lover is the winter mountains
And the avalanche.
She is granite feet,
Cedar thighs, obsidian
Glances, sharper than knives,
Snow and the sunlight on
Snow, movement like
Glaciers unstoppable,
Carving my world,
Cutting me asunder and
Lifting me up, her springtime
Waking my desert and filing my

21 March 2017

Friday, April 7, 2017

Morning in the Sun and Other Distractions

So it seems that in the midst of all the hubbub of the new year there were a few things I'd meant to post and never did. And now it's April.

Wherever has sweet time gone while I wasn't looking?

I've posted these one or two other places, so if you've already seen them I beg your indulgence. All are motion picture experiments of one sort or another. All are accompanied by music I've written and haphazardly recorded after a fashion. Two use my toys. One video was even intentionally designed specifically to go with that music, in that MTV way . . . if rock bands had no budgets and stood an inch and a half tall. All tell a story in one way or another. So, hey, they fit, right? Anyway . . .

Let there be video!

I call this first one Christmas on Tartarus. The toys you'll have seen. The over-scale tree in the middle of town? What was that about sweet time? The two piano pieces aren't particularly recent, both hailing from the early aughts. But the video was from last December, so it's new enough.

This next one is more of a story, and less "classical", save possibly in the rock sense. And hey, that's 28mm me and my 28mm sweetheart, so maybe it's a love story.

(Word of warning: this one's a little longer and starts out slow.)

This last one is more of an "art" piece. It's really just a Koyanisquatsi reference if it were a video for Short Ride in a Fast Machine. (Which . . . has been done, of course.) But hey, I think of this as Rachmaninov meets Glass, so maybe that's not altogether inappropriate. The piece probably owes something to both.

Anyway, thank you for watching. And listening.

The Composer

(See? I really do compose. Honest.)

The TransRim MB-1210 Starshuttle

All good space games need space ships to get folks on and off planets and from one star system to another. To that end, I've found myself contemplating what to do to give myself some usable models. This is one possible solution.

It's probably not a huge shock that I'm an aviation enthusiast in my off time. (By which I mean time not spent gaming or pursuing other oddball hobbies. It's all off time from one perspective or another.) So I wanted something that could combine this . . .

with something more like this . . .

(Credit to NASA both for the ship and the shot.)

Of course, "bathtubbing" something for a 28mm table means you end up with something more along the lines of a Learjet than an L-1011, but hopefully I've managed to suggest most of that. Honestly, I'd set out to build a sort of Learjet shuttle, but as the thing shaped up in my head it started to look a little beefier and more businesslike and somewhat less luxe. 

I started out with a transformers toy I picked up on clearance for a few dollars. Can't even quite tell you what it was, but you can see some of the pieces below. It was a short, stocky thing: all nose and tail and no body. The wings were originally forward swept in a way that was popular in 70s experiments and 90s sci-fi, so one of my first surgerizings was pulling them off and reversing them. The intake grills became . .  . acceptable if odd exhaust nozzles. (Honestly, it was a weird dang little "aircraft." It also had two giant arms and legs that paired up to become a sort of jet fan disk and exhaust section. I left those on the cutting room floor for a future project.) 

Next I took a plastic tube that had originally contained some concentrated fruit juice and test fit it to the newly divorced bits of transformer. The fit wasn't great, but the size was about right. So I (mostly) sliced the ends off the tube and cut out a part of one side so I could give it a flat  bottom. And then I drilled a bunch of holes into the front of the tail and back of the nose and inserted some brass rod pins to form my juice fuselage around. I've lost the pictures of that process, but you can see the results below as I hold the tube in place to dry.

A couple of pieces of cardstock became the belly and part of the underside of the tail. All of this was coated with spackle a few times and sanded smooth. I also filled the odd waffle texture of the bottom of the wings with spackle. Who ever heard of waffle wings? It gives the bottom of the shuttle a suitably ceramic texture, perhaps suggestive of an ablative heat shield. (All those bricks on the bottom of the space shuttle were, after all, made from good Missouri clay of the sort mined from quite near my house at one time. Still mined a little further west, in fact. You want some refractory brick? We got it for you.)

The landing gear was a bit of a kludge, in the end. I couldn't really convince myself that a shuttle would ever have spats or fixed gear, so I'm sort of pretending that somehow those gear pivot horizontal right at the wheel and then telescope back into the wings. Goofy, but mostly I'm just ignoring it. It was a practical modeling problem I couldn't solve quickly or easily enough for my taste.

Of course, that left the top of the shuttle an undifferentiated cylinder. Which had seemed fine nitially, but I decided it wouldn't do. I pulled a bunch of drop tanks and radiator cowlings out of the bits box (I have dozens from an assortment of WWII models) and found a couple that seemed suitable. I figure the drop tank covers some coms antennas and the radiator cowling protects a sensor array containing the spacey equivalent of pitot tubes and the like.

The reinforcing strip for the portholes was the plastic guide from a brand of fastener called a "toggler." The toggle attaches to the plastic. You push it into the wall, where it pivots vertical. You then pull it back and snug it up to the inside of the wall and break the plastic strips off at a little collar that snugs to the outside of the wall and guides your bolt in. So I had these odd curvey bits of plastic handy. (I save all manner of odd stuff if it looks cool and structural. Coworkers used to make jokes about this calling things "robot parts" and "bunkers.")  Anyway . . . after setting up an improvised jig and drilling some small regular holes into the things with my handy drill press I ended up with what you see below.

A piece of cardstock provided a crude door. Should really have engraved that into the tube somehow, but at least it has a door.

At this point all that remained was slapping some paint on the thing. During most of my youth the local terminal was the main hub for a certain defunct airline, which meant about every plane you saw in town was the same color. And there were lots of them. (At its peak the airport saw around 40 million passengers annually.) Not too surprisingly, the first plane I ever rode belonged to that airline. (You can see it pictured above.) I was disappointed at the time that it was a "lowly" L-1011 and not a sexier 747. Now . . . I can't complain. How many other folks can say that the very first bird they ever boarded was a TWA L-1011? That would carry them a quarter of the way around the world to places exotic? (By way of a Minoru Yamasaki terminal from 1957 and Eero Saarinen's iconic JFK T5. And I hit Dulles on the way back, too. All the truly classic modernist terminals in one trip. And the return was aboard that 747, so I got my big bird experience as well. The only thing I really missed was a DC-10, and TWA never bought any of those.) Anyway . . . there was really only one possible inspiration for the livery. I simplified it, added the obligatory black belly for inter-atmo ops, and took the "world" and "airline" parts out, replacing them suitably and making my poor bird think it's a Tandy computer. But hey, we had those too! :)

Isn't that thing almost mean looking from the front? Yeah. I can live with that.

So it's an odd little bird, but I think I like it. :)

Thanks for coming along for the flight.

The Composer

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Project Iowa, Ep. 9: Knockout Punch

This continues a story begun in Project Iowa, Ep. 1 and Moab Daily News: Rex-Avis to Sector Six. The episode immediately previous was Ep. 8: The Dragon's Lair.

No sooner had Guimar disembarked from the shuttle than he realized that the situation was somewhat out of hand. Again. Instead of a clean rendezvous with the 103rd Crimson Dragons at the . . . what kind of temple was that? Surely it was no temple. Looked more like a brothel! Rim cults indeed! . . .

 . . . instead of a nice clean meeting with brother Marines he was greeted with a gathering of pointy eared space faeries and those void blasted Rex-Avis clowns! Fortunately it looked like de Bayamon had brought a full squad and adequate support, so this might still be salvageable. The space faeries were good, but . . . not that good. There couldn't be more than a squad of them, at most. Even counting the little pop-gun they'd unpacked on the hilltop. And the Rex-Avis conspirators or . . . were those the Colores people? Who could tell anymore? In any case, they had one too. The cursed natives were dug in with field pieces everywhere you looked!

. . . . .

"Bring their artillery under fire!" Guimar barked. "We'll move out with the hostage. Cover us as best you can and maybe the they'll hold their fire long enough for us to get the warp imploder to the Crimson Dragons rather than kill one of their own!"

Captain Geoffrey and his meager squad brought the artillery under fire, but under strength as they were it was almost completely ineffective. Still, the enemy artillery didn't return fire, so maybe they could at least suppress the worst of the enemy forces for a while.

Barely had the shooting begun than some kind of aerial vehicle streaked to the heavens from behind the enemy lines on a tremendous pillar of smoke and fire.

"Well, that beats all." Geoffrey thought. "It'll be air strikes next. Please, by Holy Terra, let de Bayamon have triple A. Or something to turn that back."

The artillery remained silent, but the elves shot their bolts at the distant enemy. The invisible stars whizzed and zipped past Geoffrey's men, raising dust where they struck.

Guimar moved out unmolested with his treasured machinery and the involuntary guest he hoped would shield him. Unfortunately, he made little speed across the sands, encumbered as he was. His guardians sank into the shifting surface in their heavy armor and the hostage never moved quite as he felt she should.

In the meanwhile, Geoffrey's men continued to raise dust around the enemy artillery, aided now by fire from the Crimson Dragons.

But the Colores forces finally managed a reply. An angry cloud of gas and dust boiled up behind Guimar, where he had been stumbling through the sand bare moments earlier.

His luck wouldn't hold. Geoffrey's troops couldn't maintain the volume of fired they'd used to distract the artillery as more and more shots zinged around them. The Colores cannon woofed again. A second shell dropped bare inches behind Guimar. The sand smelled almost sweet, blowing past his cheeks, but it carried an odd bitter taste that Guimar barely registered before he passed out, frozen standing in place by his own armor. 

Meanwhile Arthur Zanzibar Rex-Avis dispensed the same agent from the rockets of an Elven Shrike fighter they'd so kindly loaned him for the occasion. Thus Geoffrey and his men found themselves in the same predicament, though some remained conscious thanks to their helmets. And several fell forward, unable to keep their balance as their suits shorted out.

With the formalities completed and the quarry stunned Captain de Bayamon and the soldiers of the 103rd ceased firing. The elves and Colores agents did likewise. And they all marched forward and surrounded the stunned imperials. Few but the oldest had witnessed their brother Marines in such an open act of rebellion, and none of those still conscious. There was little they could do, incapacitated as they were by their own equipment. They acquiesced without further violence.

. . . . .

As the day wore to a close the Rex-Avis clan gathered at the sapceport one final time to see the ambassadors from Colores off.

"You're sure you're comfortable taking the Inquisitor and his . . . psychic sidekick back to Colores?" asked Colorado.

"Absolutely. After suitable readjustment we can probably let him go on his own. I'm thinking we'll let him escape with a phony warp imploder, a false impression of what it's really for, and perhaps the idea that it doesn't work; that it's a dark ages dead end." Sophie glanced at the shuttle as the spaceport crew loaded the genuine imploder aboard. "We'll let him come to in a similar desert, give him the impression that the battle moved beyond him and a hand picked crew of special agents to shuttle him and his 'data' back to holy mother Terra from 'Moab.' There are deserts in the kingdom too. And many look so much alike. No reason to really inform him of how much time has passed or precisely where he is. And once he's in space aboard a jump ship he'll believe he's anywhere we tell him he is. Apart from navigators who really knows anyway?"

"That might almost work. We'll still have to figure something out with the 32 Marines squad," Colorado replied. "But we can question them about what they actually saw and what Guimar told them first. Knowing the Inquisition it probably wasn't much. They classify everything almost as if by instinct. They've never understood how the free flow of information can lead to innovation and discovery and how that could possibly help them. Our fortune that, I suppose."

"Sure. And maybe you can keep it to a low grade diplomatic incident and hand them off in some kind of exchange," Sophie said. "As long as they really didn't see anything. Or Guimar didn't talk in his sleep. But you know your business, I suppose."

"Oh look, there's Zanziboy!" squealed Onyxia, always more pleased to see her older brother than she ever wanted him to know. His Shrike coasted to a stop just by the control tower. He stepped out gingerly, sat down in his tank chair, and rolled quickly to join the happy circle by the Trans-Rim shuttle.

"Well, that all went alarmingly well," he said.

"Indeed," Sir Stanley intoned.

"I guess this is it," Kitty said. "The shuttle should be about ready, and everything loaded aboard. Safe journeys."

"Thank you," responded Applebeck. "We will miss you terribly, but it will be good to be home."

With that the squad of Colores soldiers, the diplomats, agent Sophie boarded the shuttle. It taxied out to the launch cat, the ground crew made the necessary connections, the mag-block shot it forward along the long, sloping track, the shuttle lit its engines, cleared the end of the track, and soared heavenward. In seconds it was gone from view, barely even leaving a vapor trail in the dry air. And with it, the final chapter in the Project Iowa saga reached its conclusion.

. . . . .

Appendix: For the interested I will say that I ran the rather one sided final battle as a solo game using my old favorite Stargrunt II rules. These are the skirmish rules from the same folks that brought us Full Thrust. 

Lately I've been playing fluffier games. Stargrunt II . . . is not that. It's more of a classic combat simulation, albeit a quick one. Individual models have few, if any stats of their own. Almost everything is determined at the squad (or fireteam) level. But even the roughly four by four space I used for the game didn't feel too crowded with a few dozen models spread out between eight (mostly understrength) squads. I played through four turns and I'd guess it took less than ten minutes a turn. (I spent far far far more time composing pictures and putting little cotton puffs around the table than actually rolling dice.) It's a fast game, but it never feels simplistic. If what you want is on the larger and grittier side of skirmish SGII is really the way to go. It's not a place for heroics or Hollywood style, but hopefully good storytelling can help. One of these days I'd like to find someone who loves it as much as I, since I think it'd make for a fantastic campaign. But a word of warning: there is no native points system and in the interest of speed the game uses counters. I kept track of things quite adequately by simply placing the counters on data cards instead of on the table. And if points are what you want, there are systems out there.

Once again, this game proved that small arms really are remarkably ineffective alone and at range in the game, no matter how skilled the troops. (And possibly also in combat. I can't speak to that, but SGII is quite well reviewed by those who would know.) So it's not too surprising that no one at all inflicted any casualties before the final artillery and airstrikes sealed the deal. In a more conventional fight Guimar and his guards would probably have gotten pinned down crossing the open terrain. (They'd attempted to run but made an absolutely bollocks roll. Twice, managing to cross a total of ten inches in two turns, which is less than they would have covered using conventional movement. On the other hand . . . tanks on soft sand with a hostage and heavy equipment in tow. Actually makes sense.) Once pinned, there they would have died, armor or no. So it's rather a mercy that the hammer Sophie, Colorado, and company brought down on them was of the soft rubber sort. Crossing open terrain is quite literally hell in SGII. Movement is closely linked to morale and command. Experienced troops tend to retain morale better. Experienced commanders can reorganize their troops and move in more difficult situations, but there's always a limit. Troops take hits a lot more in the open. Getting hit really does a number on morale. When you lose morale you cannot move towards the stuff that's causing you to lose morale until you regain morale. And so you get shot more because you're still in the open. And it's more or less impossible to regain morale when you're still getting shot. Which . . . means you get pinned down if you're lucky enough not to just break and run. Open terrain. Don't do it without a lot of help from a friend to keep Jimbo with the spam cannon from shooting too much. Better yet, just don't do it. It's not your friend.

Had the Crimson Dragons remained loyal it's quite possible they could have saved Guimar's bacon in spite of the artillery, and maybe even in spite of the airstrike. There would have been enough command and communications on the imperial side of the equation to call in some off-board help. (And the Crimson Dragons presumably even had some.) Maybe they could have kept the Colores and Eldar heads down. (Even behind cover where you're not getting hit, if you're taking too much fire you really can't move. Or shoot. Or radio company artillery for a little relief.) So . . . it's possible there was a way to get Guimar out of town. Though it's also probable that without the Dragons on board the allies would have concentrated firepower on the final objective. So he still might not have gotten home to Mama Terra. Let me say it again: Open terrain is not your friend. Fences are a right pain when your rear is hanging out to the enemy.

Anyway, it was an enjoyable game. But then . . . I really wasn't looking for Guimar to make a successful exit. Honestly, why did the kids on Terra send one schmo to do the work of an army? It doesn't work well when the other side knows you're there . . . and has an army. (Or a Marine Corps. Or a guard force, or most likely a Sheriff's department or metro police force. Might have worked against my Boy Scout troop before half the Gozer boys went through Ranger training. [The US Army sort, that is.] But that's about it.)

So the outcome was . . . predictable. But thank you for reading along just the same. Hopefully the telling made it worth the while.

The Composer

Project Iowa, Ep. 8: The Dragon's Lair

This continues a story begun in Project Iowa, Ep. 1 and Moab Daily News: Rex-Avis to Sector Six. The episode immediately previous was Ep. 7: Whistle Stop.

Once in orbit over Moab Colorado beamed off a quick coded message. "Well, with luck that will do," she muttered to herself. Once she'd made planetfall she found Captain de Bayamon awaiting her at the spaceport.

"Ah, Captain! How kind of you to stop in."

"Think nothing of it, Madame Rex-Avis. You've always been a great friend to the corps. What can I do for you?" the tall man replied.

"Would you be willing to join me long enough for a cup of coffee and a quick bite? It's a somewhat complicated matter and it will require explanation."

"Of course. There's a staff car waiting for us in front of the terminal. Follow me."

A brief ride found the two at a small Rex-Avis shipping office not far from the port. Once seated and adequately supplied Colorado unfolded her story to the captain.

"It's an agent of the Inquisition," Colorado began delicately. "He's followed us from the trade mission to the Kingdom of Colores, and it was he that attacked us."

"Oh?" de Bayamon replied, looking a bit surprised. "That does sound tricky."

"Indeed, but I don't wish to start a war."

The captain looked both surprised and relieved as he nodded for Colorado to continue.

"In fact, I'd like to secure his passage back to Terran space myself . . . once we've had a little while to clear up a point or two."

"In that case I think I can help you," de Bayamon interjected. "I've no objection to feeding my blood to the sands if necessary. Or my men. But it's not something I'd wish to do lightly. Where does Commodus stand on this?"

Rex-Avis produced a document from a pocket inside her flight jacket. Captain de Bayamon examined it briefly, little expression touching his sunburned features. He returned it and replied "Well, that settles it then. So long as the Proconsul approves I'm bound to assist. I am at your command, madame."

. . . . .

Meanwhile on Blanding Agent Sophie of the Kingdom of Colores and Rex-Avis chief advisor Sir Stanley watched as Inquisitor Guimar and his growing retinue debarked the train at a tiny frontier airstrip.

"Oh, perfect. They've taken the crew hostage," grumbled the grizzled chief advisor. "Well, that precludes simply finishing this in deep space. I hope Colorado has this worked out adequately."

Professor Applebeck glanced over at Sir Stanley and said "I may have an idea of my own. Are you familiar with the thermoplas material that comprises the outermost layer of most imperial hard armor?"

"Of course," replied Sir Stanley.

"Well, I've long wondered if it might be a sort of Achilles heel. Plastics can, of course, retain a significant static charge. And the powered suits use a sort of electro-chemical contractile fiber for their musculature. I've been working on a latex like fine particulate that, if ejected at high velocity, can induce a static charge in the armor itself. It's an entirely surface effect, thus it's no threat to a person even in direct contact with the armor, but the contractile fibers are generally embedded within the armor's skin. As soon as it's discharged all of the fibers contract immediately and tend to remain that way until the suit's built in power supply can be reset. The wearer should be completely immobilized, at least until they figure out what's going on, and often they will require outside assistance to cope with the problem. A degaussing coil would mitigate some of the effect, but none of the imperial suits I've examined have had such a unit."

"What if you combine that with the vapothane used in anti-riot knockout bombs? Could you do that?"

At this Applebeck scratched his chin. "I believe you could, yes. But we don't have much time. It will be crude and we'll need something at least as large as a standard 70mm artillery shell or rocket. I'm sure it could be miniaturized, but I haven't the time."

"Very good. In that case we should depart now so we can get there ahead of our quarry."

. . . . .

Inquisitor Guimar felt pleased with the situation as it unfolded. The MB-1210 wasn't the newest shuttle, but it was fast enough. And it seated nearly two dozen passengers, thus it had space for himself, his guard, the full squad, and all the hostages he hoped would keep Rex-Avis off his back long enough to rendevous with the Crimson Dragons on Moab. An automated jump repeater had just made contact bringing a reply from the local Captain. It had included rendezvous coordinates at a disused airstrip east of Logansport near a remote cult temple of some kind. Probably some bug infested den of proscribed heresies of some stripe or other. The sorts of unbathed individualism that passed for free thought out here in the back of beyond horrified Guimar. The place needed a proper crusade to clean everything up

"When can we begin loading everyone aboard for liftoff?" Guimar asked the odd brown hairless woman pilot.

"Anytime you like, but the fuel truck won't arrive until 0600 mean. We weren't scheduled to depart for another day and a half," she replied.

"All right, fine. But we can at least begin loading equipment," Guimar shot back.

"Absolutely," said the pilot. "What of that is coming?" she said pointing to the small sea of supplies and equipment.

"All of it, of course."

The pilot barely even missed a beat before  responding. "Absolutely not. Banish the thought. That must be the equipment for the whole squad, and quite a lot of engineering equipment as well."

"Of course. The squad, the warp imploder, my guards, and six guests, including yourself."

"Out of the question." This time the pilot didn't even blink. Her reply was immediate, flat, and by all appearances final.

Guimar was taken quite aback at this. "You don't seem to understand the gravity of the situation, miss. You are my prisoner. You'll do as I say or . . ."

"Gravity is precisely what you don't seem to understand," the pilot interjected before Guimar could even finish. "If I do what you want we'll all be dead. The thing only has so much thrust."

"But it seats twenty four, not counting the two seats in the cockpit! I counted them meyself!" Guimar spat back.

The pilot slowed down a little. Men with large guns often had the hardest time accepting facts they could not change. "Sir, this is a civilian shuttle. The seats are installed to accommodate the maximum passenger load of standard civilians and their luggage, not large strong soldiers and their gear. With all your men and all their equipment we'd be lucky to get a hundred feet off the ground before crashing in a spectacular fireball. Make a pretty show, I suppose, but it's not a role that gets you in the sequel."

Guimar was clearly stung, but he began to slow down in the way of someone confronting the edge of the cliff they've nearly run off headlong. "All right," he said slowly. "This is your area. How many can we take?"

The pilot quizzed Guimar briefly about the masses of his men and equipment, did some hasty calculations, and replied: "Nine, including me."


Guimar looked shocked all over again at this revelation. "All right. Eight alive is better than fifteen dead. Captain Geoffrey," he said, looking at the marine. "I want you, your squad laser, and your three best boltermen. That's the five of you, myself, and my guards. There's our eight. Plus our guest the pilot. And we are, of course, taking the imploder as well, so lets get that loaded aboard then with all our equipment."

"Aye aye, Inquisitor," Captain Geoffrey replied, snapping off a salute before barking orders of his own to his men.

It was going to be a long night.

. . . . .

Agent Sophie strode out the gate to inspect the preparations. She hoped the time had been enough. Alecto was not the fastest ship, but she wasn't as slow as she appeared. Implacable anger could, she supposed, be persistent; and maybe that fury drove the ship in a way that a more usual benefactor would not have.

Seeing everything in place she thought to herself, "This just might do. It's not a lot, but it should be enough. Between Applebeck, Arthur, and Sir Stanley we seem to have a credible plan."

. . . . .
To be continued.

Thanks for reading along.

The Composer

Continued in Episode 9: Knocout Punch