Tuesday, September 25, 2012

An Open Letter To NFL Fans and Replacement Refs

I am a huge Seattle Seahawks fan, and a huge fan of the NFL. It is the only professional sports league I follow with any regularity at all, and I include college athletics in that category. After the embarrassing win last night over the Packers, I can only say that the replacement refs must leave, and they must leave immediately.

The trick is how this can be accomplished. As many have said, so long as the owners are getting revenue, they will continue to avoid the $100,000 in extra benefits per club per year the refs are asking for. I believe that a boycott of games would help, but like most "gas-outs" (where people were told not to buy gas on a given day), there is little chance of this actually happening.

No, what we need are for one of two things to happen.

First, and I believe the best, is for the replacement refs to simply refuse to work. Really, replacement refs, are you enjoying yourselves? Is this in any way, shape, or form worth the money you're being paid to try to accomplish a job that you are, frankly, completely unqualified to take on? Do you really need Bill Belichek chasing you across the field at the end of the game? No. In a word, no. This is not worth it. Just refuse to take part in this charade, regain some self-respect, and see how quickly the league and the owners cave to the demands of the trained officials who do this job well. Week 4 is not going to be better for you, it will be worse. Much worse. We know you're doing the best you can. Unfortunately, that's not even remotely good enough. Please, just stop enabling the joke that is the 2012 NFL season.

While I'd love to see this happen, I believe that the real motivation will come via the fans, but aside from those who pay for tickets, they only have one way to pressure the league. With a boycott of products advertised during NFL games.

This could actually be kind of fun. While you watch your favorite team play, write down who is advertising during the game. Put together a form letter (a simple sample is given below) and send a copy to every advertiser via email telling them you won't buy their products while the game is in such a shambles. Advertisers pressure the networks, and the networks pressure the league. You can also boycott NFL Network advertisers, all six of them.

Help stop the sick joke that is the NFL referees lockout. Because you know that if this continues even a few more weeks, this season will have a giant asterisk next to it in the record books.

Here's a sample template letter you can cut and paste:

Dear NFL Advertiser,

Because of the replacement referee debacle currently unfolding at NFL games throughout the league, we have decided to temporarily boycott all products advertised during NFL games. We are very sorry to do this, but unfortunately we don't see any other way to convince the league that the game we love has been severely damaged by the continued lockout of the trained referees. As such, we ask you to put whatever pressure you can on the networks and the NFL to call a halt to the lockout immediately. Once the lockout is over, we will go back to purchasing and using your products. Thank you for recognizing that the NFL is the crown jewel of American sports and can only continue to be such with effective and competent officiating. Thank you for your time.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Gone, Baby, Gone

No posting recently. My pinched nerve is still a problem, and we finally have insurance through my wife's work so that I can start pursuing treatment. Right now, my left shoulder feels like it's been tased just sitting here at the computer.

I've been playing a few games, but this year has been a trying one for me. My mother is, probably, dying from a urinary tract infection that her Physician's Orders say we can't treat (and frankly, that's for the best). She's been on hospice care for nearly three months, and I honestly thought she'd have gone by now. I'm sure that sounds crass to many, but she's got dementia that makes her extremely anxious and this is no way to end your life.

Perhaps the most influential person in my life outside of my family, Roger Doyle, died in April. We held a wonderful memorial for him in Portland a week ago, there were something like 150 musicians involved in a three hour performance. I was unable to sing because of health reasons, but I was able to direct two different choirs and that was a huge honor. I give enormous props to the Balladeers from the Multnomah Athletic Club, who sang America the Beautiful with a grace and power that I think surprised them. Not me, I know that there's a choir in this group of largely senior men waiting to bust out.

Healthwise, the gout has been gone completely for about a month, and I'm tolerating the Colchicine as I  transition to the Allopurinol. So that's good. However, the pinched nerve is getting worse, and it may be related to a structural problem in my spine. Yay. For now, I can't bike or spend more than a few minutes at a computer or in a hard chair. Even my new Honda Pilot requires me to sit in a particular way or get a massive pins and needles attack. I'm very hopeful that physical therapy will alleviate or remove the problem. Oh, and the hypertension is about where it was. I'm seeing a nephrologist (kidney specialist, who knew they were hypertension people too?) for that, but I think that I'm one of those people for whom medication gets me a short way to a solution and no further. I'm very hopeful that when the aneurism happens it's a big one and I'm not driving at the time.

The worst part of the year, though, believe it or not, has been the return of a vocal problem I had in 2003. What happens, as I now know, is that a nerve that controls a good part of my larynx is either suppressed or dead. The result is that I can't really sing above a certain pitch, and that pitch is below a useable range for even a baritone voice, much less for a rock singer. In 2003, the nerve regenerated well enough for me to sing in 80% of my range within three months, and in nine months I was back to my old self, but a little nervous. Turns out I had good reason to be, as the problem appeared out of nowhere nearly two weeks ago.

Fortunately, I have a much better idea of what the problem is, what the possible surgical options are should the nerve not regenerate, and that it will almost certainly go away in time. Unfortunately, my band Raindriver got very nervous and fired me. Via email. While I was on vacation. It appears that this was simply some very poor decisions on the part of a few members of the band who got very nervous that I would never sing again, but it was enough for me to never want to work with any of them again. The lack of compassion and sense was so unexpected that I picked up my gear, told the leader of the band what I thought of the entire situation, turned on my heel, and left without another word. I've done that maybe twice in my life.

Life is simply too short to make music with, as my good friend Chuck put it, ingrates. Or play games. Or do anything. I expect my voice to recover around August/September and that's when I'll start looking for a new band. A terrible shame, as this band was a lot of fun and had good musicianship and, I thought, a good consensus model. I don't mind the concern about my voice coming back, I do mind that a decision was made without my input or apparently without concern or respect for what I bring to the band. I note that they have removed all information about me from the website, as I would prefer, but I also note that they've left up recordings of me singing. I may need to mention that to someone if it isn't rectified, although a couple of band members have told me that they may not wish to continue. Amazing how fragile community can be, a lesson for us all.

Hilariously, my pinched nerve was never a problem with the band, or with my directing. Maybe the only activity I take part in that hasn't been seriously affected by it.

As for game related material, I just haven't been feeling the love lately, and a long post like this really takes it out of me as I do a lot of starting and stopping as my numb arm allows. We held WBC West 2012 in mid-May and I fully expected my mother to die while I was there. It was fun, but it had a very different feel because I was not trying to play a lot of new games, which turned out to be a very good decision on my part. Lots of Combat Commander, and a gratifying 5th Fleet session where I sank the Wisconsin on the first game day with the Red Air Force.

I've also been attending Rip City Gamers sessions, but right now the company is more important to me than the games, and it's nice to have that support right now. When my wife lost her job last October, I stopped preordering nearly as many wargames, and have almost completely stopped buying Euros (I'm down to a few wargames and experiential games now, mostly expansions to games I have). To be honest, it feels good to have pushed back the collecting monkey on my back, and I expect that by the time we move next year my collection will be much thinner. At some point you just realize that the weight of having all of those games does not make you happier, it just makes moving a bitch. The same goes for books, CDs/DVDs, all the media that has been slowly making it's way to a hard drive (and a back up, always a back up).

For now, though, I'm going to simply announce that the blog is going on hiatus, which it's effectively been doing since the beginning of the year. I've even stopped logging plays on BGG, which is kind of surprising. This isn't depression (I've had depression, I know what it feels like), it's more of a psychic "growth spurt". I suspect that part of it is losing the last two major role models I had in the previous generation. I feel a bit like I've gone through a rite of passage and emerged on the other side changed in some essential way that I don't fully understand but definitely sense. Like I've become an adult, perhaps, forced to face the hard truths about life at last. Maybe it's because I'll be 50 years old in less than nine months and I just can't visualize myself at that age. Hell, I still can't visualize myself at 40.

Regardless, this will probably be the last post for quite a while. There's more change coming in the next 12 months, from my son-in-law graduating from college, us selling our house on the golf course in Wilsonville and moving back into Portland with all of it's foibles, and what I can only imagine will be my mother's last days. There will be a new band, there will be recovery for my voice, hopefully a solution for my pinched nerves, and I expect some things that I frankly don't see coming at all.

Just so long as there aren't as many unexpected changes. I've really had enough of those this year to last for a while. Like I have the slightest control over the world!

For those of you who have been following this blog for the past several years, I thank you for your insight, your willingness to read my long and often rambling posts, put up with my frustration of how the world works, and my strong opinions on pretty much everything. I expect I'll be back, and I'm not shutting the blog down entirely, just continuing to not post. I will put something up when my mother dies, but otherwise I expect to be dark for a long period of time, probably a year or more.

Thanks for listening. It's been surprisingly comforting.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Saying Goodbye To Roger

I lost a very good friend a few weeks ago, Dr. Roger Doyle. Roger was not only my choral directing mentor and an enormous influence on my musical life, but to my life in general. I don't think my experience as one of his students was unusual when I say that he was perhaps closer to being a father figure to me than my own father.

Roger died from ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. Over a period of three or four years, Roger gradually lost motor control of his body, all while his mind continued to function. For a man who lived for conversation and whose career required fine motor control of his body (especially his hands), this must have been hellish, although I never heard him complain ever.

He was 72 years old. My own father died at 75 and it felt as though it was his "time" to go, but Roger still had a lot to say and do with his life.

With my mother also in her final days (and much of the last six months she has not been "with" us), it seems to me that all of the people who were my authority figures have gone. There are still many friends who I look up to and treasure their opinions and talents, but these two people were the last of this group from my formative years.

For those who don't know who Roger was, this article was published in the Oregonian today. I have heard it is hard to find online, so I have put a scan of the file in my DropBox public folder, and you are welcome to read it. My apologies for the quality, I was not the person who scanned it. So you know, I performed with Roger with the University Singers at U of Portland, Choral Arts Ensemble of Portland, the Balladeers (a group I now direct, at Roger's request), and I also performed two of the G&S shows at Mock's Crest back when the company was first formed. I met my wife in the University Singers, and asked her out on our first date while putting away music. I acted as Roger's assistant with the University Singers at the Master's level, and also performed the Missa Solemnis, prominently mentioned in the article under his direction.

Roger was also a friend. We roomed together in Sydney, Australia, when we attended the World Choral Music Symposium in 1996. When I was at U Colorado, Boulder and struggling to understand a radically different academic environment than I'd been in at U of Portland getting my Master's degree, Roger was an anchor to sanity when he came out for the ACDA convention in San Diego, where I was performing with the UC undergrad choir as a ringer. We enjoyed meals together on many occasions, and I did a lot of tech support for him for over 20 years, both in his home and occasionally for his work. When the daughter I gave up for adoption contacted us, Roger was one of the first people we told.

I've even been told I look quite a bit like him, but then overweight white guys with shaved heads and glasses tend to look like each other I guess.

Please keep Roger's widow, Kay, and all of Roger's many many students in your thoughts and prayers.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Car 54, Where Are You?

I've not been blogging much over the past couple of months. A big reason, at least lately, has been a pinched nerve that made my left arm go numb every time I sat down at the computer, among other places. It's been slowly getting better, although I still go numb if I sit on the commode for more than a couple of minutes. Most of my online activity has been via my iPad, but it's hard to type more than a few paragraphs at a time using that interface, even with a bluetooth keyboard.

I recently got a comment on an unrelated entry asking about how things have gone with my wife's RAV4 after we shipped the vehicle's ECM unit off to Brooklyn for "the Serbs" to replace the cheap capacitors and prevent the "hard shifting" problem that has become a major issue for this generation of RAVs. I'm happy to say that the fix worked - there has been no hard shift issues, or actually any transmission-related issues with the vehicle since we had the work done. My only regret was that we can't seem to find the paperwork that would allow us to get a refund from Toyota, but at around $300 it's something I can live with. Had we spent more than $1000 getting the ECM replaced (or considerably more getting the tranny replaced) I would have dismantled my house trying to find the correct receipt. All in all, I was extremely happy with the solution we chose, although I have to admit it required a bit of a leap of faith.

I've not discussed my Totaler Krieg game either, and part of the reason for that was because of the same things that kept me from posting on the blog. We've had about a month hiatus and I'm looking forward to getting started again once I feel I can sit for an hour at the computer (what I figure it will take for me to make my move - probably the last big Axis push of the game, although there will be smaller ones in the form of Citadel/Wacht am Rhein), but fortunately my opponents have been patient with me. We're also moving into a part of the game where support unit placement becomes really critical and it's hard to do quickly with an asynchronous VASSAL game. We'll get there.

Finally, over the last couple of months I turned 49. That's not a terribly exciting birthday, and to be honest I have avoided celebrating my birthday during my 40's in general. I've decided that I will start observing my birthdays again once I turn 50, and in fact I've decided that as part of hitting the half century mark I'm going to try something a little crazy, like audition for a reality television show. I will have a little more on this in the near future, and I will actually be asking for your assistance at that time.

My arm is getting numb again, so time to stop typing. I know that several people who follow my blog were a little concerned that I'd dropped off of the planet, and I just wanted to mention a few things that had been requested or that I left hanging a bit.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

TK - Fall '40 through Summer '41

Just a quick update on my VASSAL game of Axis Empires: Totaler Krieg! It's been a hard slog through Poland, but I finally took Warsaw in the middle of the summer. More like WW1 than WW2 in many ways. The good news is that Poland is now a conquered country and Eric no longer gets the benefit of those units. On the down side, I still need to garrison cities.

I chose not to go to Total War for a few reasons, but the main ones were a) bringing in the Americans, b) bringing in the Russian Emergency Mobilization units (a good choice as it turned out - Eric has maxed out his forces at long last, which I *think* is good). Plus a deteriorating Delay Box situation. So I went with Operation Marita for the summer, which was enough for me to take Warsaw. Now the question is whether I go for making the Poles an ally, or do I try to bring in Hungary or Rumania? A tough call. Occupation isn't that bad, especially as the Poles are not really able to come in in force right away anyway, but I'm still one hex away from the historical Nazi-Soviet Pact division line and it will take a while to push the Soviets out.

I brought in the Italians on the Axis side as well, right before Chuck attempted to Demand Cyrenaica. At the same time, he's got a pretty big army brewing down there, and one of the drawbacks of not being at Total War is I don't get the Afrika Korps units yet. At least I have two steps coming in per season with the Minors.

Of course, I am not someone who can let well enough alone. Hence Finland and Poland going Soviet early, which has been a bit of a problem. At the same time, I'm very interested to see what can happen in this game, so for my second Treaty attempt of the fall, I went for Greece. I got it, but also Bulgaria coming in for the Soviets. At least I have the Western Allied Strategic Hex in Athens with no German blood shed, and I'll be going to +4 on the strategic cities, with Minsk and Kiev in sight. Maybe. There are a lot of Russians squeezed into a very small front right now, but a lot of people don't have much in the way of card plays. Exciting.

As we stand, I have a plan for the coming year and it will be fun to see how it plays out.

As Eric has already said, "I love this game."

Friday, January 20, 2012

Totaler Krieg - The Campaign Begins

Eric, Chuck, and myself got together last Sunday to start playing our campaign game of the new edition of Totaler Krieg!. Eric and I had previously played the Fall of France scenario to help get the rules under our belts, and I'd gone through the "How To Learn This Game" steps in the Scenario Book.

Let me be clear - even if you're an experienced wargamer, unless you've played this game before you want to go through the process they describe. As I've said in earlier posts, the ruleset is very good for the most part, but there are some processes that span several sections of the rules and there is not always good cross-referencing. However, once you've learned the game they are *excellent* for a reference source.

I've also discussed why I like this game in an earlier post. I'll just say that playing the campaign game has not changed my thinking at all.

I took the Axis in this game, as everyone felt I had the most experience having tried running through the Pre-War period as a solitaire exercise to see what sorts of things happen and what options the different factions have. There is an Option Card Strategy Guide on the back of each player's play aid, but it's one thing to read a few sentences and another to go through the process. Chuck took the Western Allies (which I will call the Wallies, despite the fact that the designers aren't fond of that term), and Eric took the Soviets.

I started the game fairly historically, although my intent was to activate Poland as an Axis Minor country and head East First just to be different. I was very glad I'd run through the pre-war, as you make a few long-term decisions during this portion of the game, and there are some subtleties that you wont get any other way. I began by Supporting the Nationalists in Spain, which gives me a roll on the table of the option card. Things started going the Germans way immediately as I reduced a Republican Stronghold. We went with the historical option and just gave the Republican Control marker to the Soviets. However, the marker switched sides a couple of times, usually just as Eric or Chuck was about to play a Support Republicans card, and I was able to turn Spain Fascist within a year with no breakaway countries.

It was the first Wallie turn, however, that was the fun one. Chuck rolled on his option card table and it resulted in me getting to roll on the Minor Political Event table. For those of you that know this table, you know that it's kind of an Anything Can Happen Day. This particular day, Poland and the Baltics had a Border War, with Poland going to the Soviets. So much for my initial plan. And the Baltics! Hooray! They have one Res unit!

Things went pretty historically, at least for me, through 1938. Austria fell to the Anschluss, and rearmament and mobilization went along well too. Eric went with a more cooperative approach with his neighbors, partly because he already had Poland, and managed to get the Finns as well when I again rolled on that damned table. Because I wanted to see what would happen. I took the Czechs as well. He was hoping to get French-Russian Entente out, but I was ready with the Nazi-Soviet Pact.

I went for Demanding Switzerland at the beginning of 1939, since the Wallies hadn't made any Guarantees, so even when they resisted I was able to win a Military Victory. Only drawback - I couldn't get the free Influence on a country since no one was at War yet when all of the Outbreak of War conditional units came out because of the Mil Victory. It did make the Wallies a little nervous to have their Maginot Line flanked. I picked Switzerland because nothing else was legal or worthwhile (who cares about Denmark - you get that almost for free along with Norway), and it simply paid off.

I finally played 6a in early 1940 in order to get to Limited War with the Wallies. It was really the only chance I had. Guarantees had come too late to help them, and I was able to trigger Case Yellow in mid-1940, right on schedule. What wasn't on schedule was taking Denmark-Norway, which I did in the Autumn. The problem was that now that Finland was a Soviet Minor, Norway had a 50/50 shot at becoming anyone's Minor, and that country was the Soviets. Suddenly, with a ton of Soviets in Poland and me just getting my units back from France, I was at war with everyone. Wow.

As I type, we are finishing up 1940. I have made a little headway into Poland, but it's tough without air or Blitz markers. As Chuck was planning to Demand Cyrenaica, I brought in the Italians with Treaty (and with a +1, next up is Hungary who also has a +1 Influence marker). Posen and Krakow have fallen, and Warsaw is sitting waiting for my next turn or two to fall. Once that happens, and if Hungary comes in, Russia may need to fall back to it's historical boundaries and I have to decide if I want Poland to become a Puppet Government or not after it falls. The only drawback is that I have to consider whether or not Occupation will be an issue, as I don't have the benefit of having multi-step units in a friendly minor, at least not without a serious cost, and why bother bringing in Poland if I can't just drive through it when I want to? The other option is aggressive Treaties and thinking about the rest of the Balkans. Yugoslavia is only useful if I really want Italy in the game in Russia, and the only thing worth considering besides it is Athens. Crete is too far away from anything to be a threat. Of course, a certain amount of peace means that I can start to build up if the Italian War Economy kicks into gear. I already have the +1 for Axis Minors.

Perhaps it will be time to try to steal land from the Russians through the Anti-Comintern Pact, which looks interesting. We are so far away from history at this point that I can't say what will happen at all, but it's sure been a fun ride so far.

I will continue to give updates, probably on an annual basis, but perhaps seasonal. I'll throw in some screen shots as well from time to time, probably should have done that here, although only Poland is really interesting at all right now.

I'll say one thing - this game is everything I was hoping it would be. A somewhat variable start position, combined with some major wackiness on the diplomacy front, and a real feel that you are in control of pretty much your country and not a lot else, at least for the Axis. My only disappointment is that we have shifted to VASSAL after a great 7 hour starting session, and I am making lots of noob errors (like how I set up in Libya, which I was fortunate to figure out before Chuck took his turn - things like you don't have an Open Port in a port in a dependent unless it's got a friendly unit there). That said, there's a lot to think about, and it's nice to be able to take my time to do that. I sure hope Chuck and Eric are enjoying the game as much as I am.

On to 1941. Will I invoke Barbarossa in the summer? Mwahaha...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

WoW. Done.

Yup, I'm done. After something like six years of paying a monthly fee, I've finally quit playing WoW.

In truth, I more or less stopped playing not long after Cataclysm came out, mostly because the game suddenly seemed very easy but partly because the novelty of the quest system had worn off. When you don't take the time to read quest details that you've never been on before, you know it's a grind.

I actually stopped the credit card payments back in October, right after we needed to make some financial concessions to the economy, but I stopped payment on the 22nd and the three-month payment had gone through on the 19th.

Today is January 19th, three months later.

I'm sorry to say I did not quite get my first character, Leonadril, my Assassination Rogue Gnome, to level 85. He's at the Twilight Highlands, hovering in the air in his Turbo-Charged Helicopter Thingie, trapped about 2/3rds of the way to the final level. He has about 4000 gold, but I'm a terrible entrepreneur and never did learn to work the farming/auction house part of the game to my benefit. '

The only other character I really spent significant time on is Amahiah, a female Feral Druid Tauren. She's at level 80, and to be honest I'm not quite sure where she's at. I never got her to any of the new areas.

In the course of the last six years, I think I tried every race and every class, although nowhere near every combination. At one point in the early days, I think I had four alts going at once to better allow my characters to rest. At the end, I don't think I *ever* rested with Leonadril, and he was getting 200% for critters the whole time. Maybe I'd saved up several months worth when he was inactive.

I played with guilds for a short time. The first one was fine, but there were a couple of people that just wouldn't shut up. When we moved down to Wilsonville and spent almost all of our free time trying to fix things in the house, I didn't play for a month and that guild kicked me out. I did not try to get back in, as they didn't ask me what I was up to and if everything was OK.

The other guild(s) I played in were a cross-faction guild that had an Alliance and a Horde side. The Alliance side broke off, and kicked me out after I'd stopped playing for a while when my mother had so much trouble 18 months ago. They were nice enough, but wanted to do heroic raids and I wasn't geared for it. I did contribute more than I took from the bank, and even contributed 200 gold (which was a lot for me at the time, saving up as I was for a cycle, which I eventually got) toward one of the leaders for a birthday present. Again, no notification, which kind of annoyed me, especially as they knew I went back and for with two different characters for long periods of time.

I had more luck with the Horde side, going on three or four dungeon runs with them. Unfortunately, at the time I had an extension in my system for DivX that was making ventrilo useless, at least for me talking, and dungeons are no fun if you can't make jokes that people can hear. I suspect that Amahiah is still part of that guild as we speak, but I haven't touched that alt for nearly a year.

There was a time early on when WoW absorbed much of my life. I originally started playing to have an avenue of communication with my daughter, who I ended up playing with for one session. When I said that I'd been waiting for that moment for some time and was very happy, she freaked out and we were never on at the same time again. Kind of sums up my experiences with my daughter, I'm afraid.

In the end, I was good for about two hours. I love exploration games where you go on to the next thing and see what's there and kill it, but there was so little differentiation between critters in the end (at least in terms of how I went about killing them) that every quest became a grind. When I heard that the next expansion was going to feature a new race of Kung Fu Pandas, I knew that the time had come, and it didn't take much for me to pull the plug.

At this point, I've had no luck in my handful of attempts to find a replacement MMORPG, and I really have no interest in doing so, even when my discretionary budget rises again at some point. The iPad has introduced me to micro-gaming with games like Ascension, and the ability to play a game within 10 or 15 minutes to completion is more in line with my mindset these days. WoW was a big part of my life for a few years, arguably too big a part of my life, but like all things it has run it's course. I suspect at some point I'll get a little nostalgic and pay for a month to get Leonadril out of Airline Hell and finish his storyline off, but it will be a while.

I'm just glad WoW wasn't around when I was in college. I would never have graduated, like many others of that age who got into it. I don't even want to think of what I'd have run into  That said, as addictions go this one was an awful lot of fun.