Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Home-brewed Flags - Spanish backlog

My 1809 Spanish army has now progressed far enough for the lack of flags to have become an embarrassing bottleneck, so I am obliged to crack on a bit with them. These have been produced, as ever, using my ancient version of PaintShop Pro, and they are intended for my own use, but (as ever) if anyone wants to use them, please feel free - they are non-copyright. The resolution is not brilliant, so they are not recommended for 54mm - if you wish to print them out, click on the image below, save the larger version and print each one at 23mm high for 1/72 scale (I'll leave you to do the arithmetic for other scales!).

The green border is not part of the flag - it is simply to enable me to cut a white flag out of a white sheet of paper. The 1st battalion of the regiment would carry the coronela - the colonel's colour - and the 2nd battalion the sencilla (or ordenanza).

There will be more of these (there had better be!) - what I might describe as an intermittent rush. The queue includes long-overdue flags for the otherwise complete regiments of Africa, Reina, Irlanda, Guardias Walonas, Murcia and a bunch of others - and then there's the cavalry...

Regto de Burgos - coronela
Regto de Burgos - sencilla
Regto de La Corona - coronela
Regto de La Corona - sencilla

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Hooptedoodle #174 - Charing Cross - any clues?

There's one
A chance, once again, to display my ignorance. I was interested to know what Charing Cross actually means, where the name comes from.

So I did a bit of reading, and I'm probably more confused now. The official version of the background to the Charing Cross in London is that it takes its name from one of the Eleanor Crosses erected by Edward I in memory of his wife - the one in the old parish of Charing, in fact, the most southerly of the twelve crosses, which were placed in a very approximate line at sites between London and Lincoln. The name Charing is thought to be derived from the Old English "cierring", referring to a nearby bend in the River Thames.

There's another one
Fair enough - it's a place in London, that was once called Charing (or something similar), and was noted for Old Ed One putting a cross there. Ah - but there are also Charing Cross areas in Glasgow and in Birkenhead, none of which ever had an Eleanor Cross anywhere near them.

So I got to thinking, maybe a Charing Cross is a more general thing - some kind of cross (obviously), serving some community purpose, or commemorating something more general than Eleanor. That didn't get very far. One interesting fact is that there seems to have been an important Charing Cross Hotel at both the Glasgow and Birkenhead locations - you don't suppose they were just named after the place in London? Might they have been railway hotels? Hmmm.

And another
Anyway, I shall do some more casual research, but it occurred to me that the real explanation might be something that everyone knows except me. Please - anyone know anything about this? Obviously it is of little real import, but it will niggle at me if I don't find out, so I'd be grateful for the shedding of a little light.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

1809 Spaniards - More Generals

Right - back to more appropriate subject matter. I've had very little time for wargame-related activities lately, but I had a stroke of luck. I supplied some spare Napoleonic figures to a rather mysterious chap named Goya, and he offered to do some soldier-painting for me by way of repayment. He has very kindly produced these splendid Spanish generals for me (I am confident I got rather the better of that deal) - they really are most welcome - the expansion of the 1809 army proceeds, but - as we all know - you just can't get the staff these days. Generals tend to be a catch-up item once the combat units are approaching critical mass.

Here you see a division commander - complete with his ayudante - and a brigadier. Fine fellows, and I'm very pleased with them. The castings are OOP NapoleoN 20mm - which only briefly saw the light of day before they passed into history. I'm trying to make my Spanish generals suitable for either of my two Spanish armies (1809 and 1812) - it is tempting to paint one or two up in the white uniform of a colonel of infantry (like the paintings of Castaños at Bailen), but that would be a no-no for 1812, so I'm holding back on that.

I am now prepared for all the predictable comments about the supposed incompetence of the Spanish army - do your worst; they are still a smashing little army!

Monday, 18 May 2015

Waco - again...

Still trying to get my head around breaking news of the biker shoot-out in Texas. Someone will be making a note of the casualty figures. All we need now is for some hero to start reminding us how the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution allows (as a divine right) something which was originally intended to let the militia carry muskets.

Waco - how aptly named
I realise Texans are very keen on their guns. I just wonder, are there any grown-ups at home?

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Hooptedoodle #170b - Scammers - Thoughts at 3am

Well, I’m now getting daily phone calls from the scammers, so I guess we must be on some priority list or other. Unless something remarkable happens, this should be my last mention of phone scamming – these guys are already a huge drain on everyone’s funds, time and patience, and I’m probably one or two posts past the point of having said quite enough.

However, I do think that anything we can do to maintain awareness is worthwhile. I had a couple of emails in response to the Donkey Scammers posts which described some very tragic instances of people being victimised, and they served to remind me that, while ridiculing the perpetrators may help me to cope at a personal level with the affront offered by their mere existence, it stops some way short of actually making them amusing. I confess I have found this episode quite upsetting, and I am fortunate enough to be pre-equipped with an understanding of how the scam works, how to recognise the calls, and sufficient technical savvy and specific case history to fill in some gaps.

For the moderate sum of £75 I have now ordered a new, replacement, 3-handset phone which will enable us to solve this problem once and for all – it has a sophisticated range of options allowing the user to block selected individual numbers (including the one that just phoned), all international calls and a whole raft of other helpful alternatives, including a facility to accept or reject individual calls, identified by the user’s settings. I will not have to change my phone number (which would have been a catastrophic thing to do, and – since we are ex-directory anyway – would only give us a short relief before we were back on the scammers’ lists; I understand that they buy their lists from staff working for real phone companies; money will always win over security - of which more later).

This new kit will arrive Wednesday; a little set-up effort and we should be well protected. I still feel very uneasy – there is a brooding malevolence out there, somehow. A few days ago, when we put down the phone on a scam call without answering, the caller rang back and left a voice message. He said, “I know you are there, sir – I am going to call you all day until you speak to me”. We played it back a few times – there he is – the enemy – he even thinks this is funny. Creepy. He is, in fact, a creep.

Not a huge deal – we know he’s there, we aren’t going to answer (and he did try another 5 times in quick succession); it is reasonable to assume he can’t spare enough of his premium, dollar-earning time to waste in chasing us, and it would cost a lot of international call-time for him to deprive us of our phone service by staying on the line. We can, in any case, manage without our landline phone for a little while. So what the blazes is he playing at? He knows that we are not going to do business with him, that, apart from accidentally, we are not even going to pick up his call – we can see who and where he is from the caller display. No chance. Is he now prepared to commit some time to just causing a nuisance, trying to intimidate us?

God knows. I sincerely hope that his god knows. It does not help a great deal to know that he and his pals will move on and attempt to cause loss and damage to other innocent souls, but at least by Wednesday night we will be off the hook until someone thinks up a new scam.

That’s what is bothering me most – that is the Theme at Three in the Morning. There is a comedic side – years ago, when we were students, my cousin and I used to tell each other stories (usually in the pub) about the Land of Bong, where things were usually ridiculous extrapolations of what we saw around us in the Land of England.

At one point (mugging must have been a growth industry at the time – or at least was getting a lot of publicity) we explored a situation where mugging became such a successful way of earning a living that everyone abandoned any other form of employment, and became a mugger. That’s right – for a while (at least until 10:30pm one evening in the Rose of Mossley) the entire population of the Land of Bong became muggers – they roamed the city streets, trying in vain to find other muggers who still had watches or cash, breaking each others’ heads and having a generally unrewarding time. [Parallels with a modern economy in which everyone is in a service industry, or is a scammer, and nobody makes, mines or grows anything are interesting, but a digression at this point.]

Imagine, then, if the phone scamming industry is so successful, and is such a colossal currency earner, that eventually no-one in Mumbai or Kolkata does anything else – in particular, the police and security forces have disappeared. They can only prey on outsiders – and they are restricted to outsiders who speak a language they can more or less cope with [if you answer your phone and speak French they will hang up, at present]. Preying on outsiders has some other advantages – it is easier to be contemptuous of people from another culture, easier to be untroubled about the morality of one’s actions. [The term “mug” was a boon to muggers, since it implied that there was something wrong or comically incompetent about the victim, and thus that in some way his fate was partly his own responsibility]. But this is a growth industry – what happens when everyone they can possibly phone is already working in the same industry? When Rajasthan – or the whole world – turns into the Land of Bong?

My cousin and I realised, all those years ago, that a criminal industry only works if there is still a residual non-criminal world to feed off. This isn’t philosophy, just economics. The anarchy implicit in criminal action must not completely wipe out the ordinary, structured world which contains people with watches and cash, or it will starve itself to death. So there is a balance (by some bizarre, unhinged definition) which would seem to limit, for example, scamming activities. The calls have to be rare enough to still find people who haven’t had one before, and who don’t know what you are up to. They must also stop short of the point at which no-one answers the phone any more, or at which the counter-activity of building scam-proof phones becomes so general that it is too labour-intensive to get through to anyone. The bad news is that there is plenty more money to be made and damage to be caused in the short term, but the faint good news is that eventually the scam must become impotent – must become something that isn’t worth carrying on with. The evil in the world will have moved on to something else.

What really troubles me at 3am is a growing suspicion that our growing reliance on technology – especially the internet (of which I am an enormous fan, by the way) – provides such a rich field for the corrupt and the greedy that it may be doomed. One of the odd jobs I was given toward the end of my working career was as head of Technology Security at an insurance company, so I have thought a great deal about this stuff before. The technology itself has moved on since my day, of course, as has our complete reliance on secure internet banking and so on, but human frailty is constant.

Security is very largely an illusion. If you haven’t thought of that before then write it down, and hang it on the freezer. If the rewards for dishonesty are sufficient, you can buy anybody’s integrity. There is a basic principle of auditing which involves division of responsibility – a risky or high-value procedure must be carried out by a number of individuals or departments, independent of each other and with separate reporting and audit lines. Bunkum. It only works up to a point. If the pay-off is high enough, you can place as many of your own (corrupt) people as you want in all the separate positions – it is just a matter of cash. Anyone, whatever you might think, can be bought or overruled if there is enough of a reward.

At 3 o’clock this morning, my estimate was that there is about a 30% chance of a secure, trusted internet still being in use by 2025. I haven’t made any estimates yet for expected use of telephones. That sneering bastard on the answering machine is still out there.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Hooptedoodle #170a - The Donkey Scammers are Back!

I recently recorded my disappointment with my experience of the Windows phone scam call I got from India, and I received some useful advice in the comments.

This morning the creeps called me again - this time the number was withheld, and I just got INTERNATIONAL on the caller display. Anyway, there they were.

The man introduced himself as the "Windows Helpdesk", at which point I made an extremely loud noise into the phone for about 25 seconds and hung up. He rang back! - what a hero! - he got through to our answering service, and left a message to say that he would call me all day until I answered. Well, he rang about a further 5 times in quick succession, and got through to the answering machine each time, and hung up.

Eventually he gave up - no doubt he will call again when he has nothing to do, but the idea that he should have to pay international call rates - even for the brief instant he is connected to my answering machine - is appealing. When he does call, I think a change of tactic might be in order - I shall say "I'll go and get the account holder" (as advised), and put the phone in the waste paper basket until he hangs up. This scam is all about money, after all, so let's spend a bit of theirs.

Here's a message to the Windows Helpdesk man, from our management team:

Late edit: And again this morning (15th May)! I just kept quiet, and the guy hung up. Different caller from the last one. If you can do it on your landline phone, put these numbers in your directory



and name them SCUMBAG1 and SCUMBAG2 so that it shows up on the caller display, and - if you can do it - programme your phone to play a distinct (and preferably derogatory) ring tone if they call. Don't answer, and they'll get fed up and try the next number on their list. It is depressing, but if you're careful these bastards can't hurt you. 

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Hooptedoodle #173 – Swines & Roundabouts

Because my parents never owned a car until after I had left home, and because I spent my youth living in cities, with not a lot of money (in the days before boundless credit card balances), I did not learn to drive until I was in my thirties. Which means that I had a young family before I owned a car, and that I missed out completely on the Boy Racer thing.

I enjoy driving – I am not especially slow on a journey, I believe, but I particularly enjoy the freedom from strain that comes from trying to drive politely and considerately, not taking risks, sticking to the rules – especially the speed limits. Defensive driving – you can’t beat it. I was taught to drive (in the sense of “I was guided through my driving test”) by a guy named Derek, who had previously been a driving instructor in the army, and he was a diamond. He made driving a sensible, logical, low-stress process based very largely on awareness and consideration for others. One of his catch-phrases is still with me – still plays in my head.

“The things which cause more accidents on the road than anything else are surprises,” said Derek. People going at the wrong speed, using the wrong lane, changing direction without signalling – all that sort of thing. “Surprises” is a broad category, but it does cover a lot of ground. We are all safer if we have a good idea what is going to happen next, what that driver over there is doing.

Some things contain an element of surprise just because that is the way they are; some things are designed badly, so that surprises can result (I have never understood, for example, the British fetish with landscaping slip-roads joining a motorway so that you cannot see the traffic which is about to be dumped into your lane until it arrives); some surprises are just a result of misunderstandings, or thoughtlessness, or stupidity. None of them are helpful.

I am, of course, leading up to a whinge.

My wife is currently recovering from a broken bone in her shoulder, so one of the things she is unable to do is drive. This means that I am the duty chauffeur for the school run – morning and evening – and it means I have increased my daily exposure to what passes for the rush hour traffic in these parts. Understand that I am not talking about the M25 here, but I am talking about the A1 – the main road from Edinburgh to London – at times of day when people wish to be somewhere else very soon, thank you very much, so get out of the way.

Great - assuming the procedure is clear and universally understood
Now then - roundabouts. I am a fan. They are not universally popular, but you know where you are with a roundabout. In the UK, you normally give way to anyone who is already on the roundabout, which (since we drive on the left, and circumnavigate our roundabouts clockwise) means you give way to traffic coming from your right. Dead easy. This has been complicated a little by the introduction of big, spiral roundabouts with defined lanes and traffic lights – these are good things if everyone follows the rules and nobody changes lanes or runs the red light, but they have introduced some different procedures and also a little confusion. There is also some additional complication introduced by rude or aggressive driving, and by simple ignorance of the rules.

Here is a photograph of the roundabout at which I am currently averaging about 2 to 3 slightly sweaty “moments” a week. My son’s school bus stops in a supermarket car park beyond exit A. When I am/we are on our way home again I have to emerge from the slip road at A, travel (clockwise) round the island and take the 3rd exit, along the A1 at B. To do this I wait for a suitable gap in the traffic, enter the roundabout, signalling right, keep right (adjacent to the island), signalling left as I pass the 2nd exit and then moving over to exit at point B in the left-hand lane.

The problem is that it is not unknown for traffic coming up the main road from C (and also aiming to exit at B) to attempt to overtake me on the roundabout on my left. It’s usually a guy in a tradesman’s van, but yesterday it was a well-groomed young lady in a well-groomed, white Honda CR-V. She had to brake fairly hard to avoid me as I moved across to rejoin the A1, and she wasn’t pleased.

Obviously I surprised the young lady – Derek would have been disappointed. I am not clear what else I could have done – I suppose I could have joined the continuing A1 in the outside lane, heading towards B, allowing the Honda to “undertake” me on my left, but I’m pretty sure that’s not correct either. As far as I am aware, the Honda should give way to me because I am on her right, and already on the roundabout. The fact that she is in a hurry and thinks that there is room to pass me on the roundabout is immaterial.

If I am mistaken then clearly I must change the way I behave on a roundabout, but the real disappointment is that there are lots of people negotiating lots of roundabouts all over Britain every day, and my 2 to 3 incidents a week at a relatively calm junction suggests that there is a lack of clear understanding of the rules. Maybe it’s me – but I don’t think so.