A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Changing a Light Bulb

Recent email exchanges with a couple of friends got on to the topic of a variation on everyone's favourite racist/sexist/occupationist joke, viz "how many miniatures wargamers does it take to change a light bulb?".

To be honest, we were so disappointed by the poor quality of our own efforts that we thought it might be a nice idea to invite suggestions on this blog. To give an idea of how humble a standard you have to match up to, the best we could manage were:

Crick: However many it says in Charge!

De Vries: 1 to prepare the lightbulb to collector standard, 2 to write the scenario for changing it, 6 to test it out (of which 1 writes it up in TMP) and 114 to suggest ways in which the procedure might have been improved.

My own offering, now I re-read it, is suppressed for reasons of embarrassment.

Any suggestions welcome. I haven't thought of what prize is on offer, or even if there will be one...

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Hooptedoodle #33 – OMG, Austria's just the same

Preamble: Even I am beginning to realize that yet another rant on the subject of smart phones is getting preciously close to boring. What follows is primarily intended to be humorous, and – naturally – I hope that any readers will take it in good spirit. A few preliminary notes may help set the context here.

(1) However it may appear, I am not opposed to Apple, or their very impressive products, nor the people who buy and use them. I am, in truth, something of a technology fan myself. If you have an iPhone and find it useful for making telephone calls, sending messages, taking pictures and entertaining yourself then that is excellent. My problem is the addictive, life-smothering hold which the device has over the susceptible young.

(2) My concerns are real and well-intentioned; friends and former associates of mine, seeking to recruit good quality school leavers in Britain, have growing concerns about the ability of supposedly bright kids to spell, write a sentence, actually (like) speak to people, even to form relationships in the shadow of the uncontrollable growth of communication technology.

(3) Doctors, social workers and educators are confronted by new kinds of nervous and mental disorders in the young which may be attributed to excessive exposure to the Internet, video games and the smart phone.

(4) At a personal level, I am a bit saddened, spending my vacation in an unfamiliar country, to observe that the situation looks to be similar here.

(5) I have difficulty imagining someone writing in to claim that he/she is obsessed with a shiny electronic device which they carry around in their pocket, and thus that they are wounded by my perceived hostility. Since I am clearly a madman, given to spasms of ridiculous intemperance, it seems unlikely that anyone is going to be sufficiently bothered by my views to take offence (though, of course, there may be some helpful souls who just cannot help themselves from putting me straight).

Enough with the preamble, already – let’s get on with the rant.

On my train journey back from Innsbruck the other day, a young man sat opposite me for about 8 minutes or so, as the train took him from one suburban station to the next. From his clothing, I guess he was a plasterer, possibly a bricklayer - a working man, anyway, and he was going home from work. Good for him. During the 8 minutes (no, I was not staring) he listened to music on his iPhone, and looked - every 15 seconds or so, I would estimate - to see if he had any messages on this same device. Then he was gone, and I was left to wonder idly at the extent to which the iPhone and its close equivalents have altered the lives of a complete generation across all nations. Pavlov's dogs had nothing on this.

Yesterday I was in the town of Landeck for a few hours. At the bus station, there was a group of completely decent teenage girls, chatting, emitting forced laughter, like teenage girls throughout Europe, chewing gum and - inescapably - constantly checking their iPhones for incoming text.

Apple is now the biggest company on the planet. A vast, sad, worldwide cohort of young people who believe themselves to be some kind of technology-enabled quantum leap for Evolution spend a depressing amount of their time on non-communication. I realise that it is a stupid generalisation to dismiss all messages passed on smart phones as dross, but I strongly suspect that the meaningful stuff is completely swamped by the amount of subtransactional excrement about what Tracy said Fiona said about Emma's boyfriend, and what a bitch she is anyway. Technology my backside.

My good, if profane, friend Mr Crick tells me that recently he read with surprise that some magazine or other had conducted a survey of iPhone users to learn what was their favourite position for sex. He says he deliberately did not check the results, since it might have damaged his (totally unreasonable) belief that, in general, iPhone users prefer their sex unaccompanied. [Anyone who is offended by this should have read Mr Crick’s original version.]

Apple now owns all our souls because advertising and mass idiocy have convinced vast numbers of kids that they are compelled to belong to something trendy. I have no doubt that in a year or so I too will have such a device, and probably I shall depend upon it. If it happens, it will be because it is no longer possible to park your car, use internet banking or book cinema tickets if you don't have one. I am also confident that my spelling, word power and imagination will have declined dramatically, along with everyone else's.

I wonder what the next big leap will be? What invention will make iPhone dwellers realise that they no longer have total control of the Universe, that they really need to move on to the Next Big Thing? Somehow, I find this article strangely comforting - though the source is the dreaded Daily Wail, a newspaper whose ideological alignment is usually some way from my own.

Maybe it isn't just me, then, though I have to admit that if it's just me and the Daily Wail then I may consider suicide more seriously.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Bergisel 1809 - the Panorama

I'm presently on holiday in Austria, and yesterday I made a solo self-indulgence trip to Innsbruck, to visit my new chum Andreas Hofer. I've been to Innsbruck years ago, and, as before, I found it to be a hard-working, mostly modern-looking city, not especially inspiring depite its setting amid the Alps and its history.

What I did not see on my previous visit was the recently-restored panoramic painting of the Battle of Bergisel, which is absolutely wonderful. Presented very cleverly, the enormous painting is done in a trompe-d'oeuil style which is very 3-dimensional anyway, but the lighting effects and the use of solid objects and landscaping in the foreground set it off brilliantly and make it very difficult in places to distinguish which bits are just painted on the walls. The Tirolean forces under Hofer (who is depicted looking for all the world like General Longstreet in the Gettysburg movie) are seen, in remarkable detail, defeating the Bavarians in May 1809. I must check out my Nafziger OOBs when I get home - I would have expected to see at least some of Archduke John's white-uniformed Austrian regulars there.

My snapshots (no flash, please) cannot hope to do any justice at all to the wondrous subject matter, but I hope they reinforce my recommendation that the place is well worth a visit. The neighbouring Kaiserjaegers' Museum is also a fascinating place, and featured a remarkable film about the restoration of the panorama.

Late edit added: Hofer is in my 5th picture (the one with the white building in the left middle - he is in large hat and beard, just to the right of two guys in pale clothing. Far better than my photos, there's a pretty good view of the Panorama available on YouTube, complete with stirring music - you'll find it here.

Anyone interested in a 1/72 Tyrolean army for 1809 should check out the only known figures here.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Hooptedoodle #32 - The Blue Peter Effect

There is a high probability that any non-UK readers may not understand this post, though I am sure you can change the names of the shows and find parallels on your own domestic TV channels. For so long that I cannot remember its beginning, there has been a kids' programme on BBC TV called "Blue Peter". It is a hugely successful programme - it has had countless millions of devoted fans over the years. Yet it was always notable as a very soft target for a send-up by undergraduate comedy shows, TV skits and so on - particularly for the very odd way in which groups of presenters, their numbers carefully balanced as regards gender and ethnic origin, took it in turns to read (very unnaturally) from the autocue, smiling uncomfortably at a spot some feet from the camera when it was not their turn to speak. Oh, how we larfed - it was a national tradition. Growing up, apart from the appearance of pimples, and of hair in previously bald places, was identifiable as the time when one began to find Blue Peter hilariously stilted.

Well, we needn't have laughed. The Blue Peter presentation style won hands down in the end, and it has taken over - it is everywhere. Breakfast TV, news programmes of every known sort, nature reports, popular music shows - it is everywhere. Couches loaded with matched pairs of grinning gits are inescapable - presenter B attempting to pull an appropriately regretful face, nodding absently, while presenter A reports a plane crash in Indonesia. Switch on your TV, skip a few channels - there they are - any number of the beggars. Is it compulsory? Has someone passed some equal opportunities law which requires multiple presenters at all times? Does someone, somewhere, believe that we are going to find the news more acceptable, less threatening, more readily understood, if it is presented to us by some sincere but terminally uninteresting couple, the like of which you could find in the bar of any provincial golf club?

Is it designed to help with some attention span disorder I have? - and how did they know, anyway? Yet again, I am saddened that I am so far from the mainstream. There must be a really big point here and, as ever, I am missing it - I honestly do not want the people on breakfast TV to be my friends, or part of my family. I do not even particularly wish them to have personalities - it doesn't add anything. Robert Dougal never had a personality. This is just radio with pictures, after all.

How much of BBC's burden on the licence-payer could be lightened by halving the number of presenters (and thus, presumably, quartering the number of makeup people and dressers)? Anybody care to guess just how big a team the BBC are planning to deploy for the flaming London Olympics?

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

So What's Next? - Summer Stock Taking

This blog doesn't seem to follow any discernible logic anyway - things crop up pretty much by themselves. I am coming into a busy period leading up to my holiday (to ensure that I am in a state of collapse before I go away), so it's going to be fairly quiet here for a few weeks, blogwise.

The Grand Plan for the armies is definitely getting there, and there is a shrinking to-do list for painting - I have a unit of Spanish volunteers which it is taking me ages to get around to finish (S-Range Minifigs with a few conversions), 2 units of Spanish irregular lancers (Falcata), 2 units of Portuguese cavalry (Kennington conversions), an odd battalion of French light infantry (possibly 2 of these, though the second one might be Neapolitan lights), a couple of British siege guns, some singly-based British infantry pioneers, and a bunch (maybe 6 or 8) of Spanish general officers. I've been holding off with the generals, to see what happens with the rumoured re-appearance of Falcata, but time is moving on, and there is no news, so I'll get them sorted out and painted up before long.

And then, of course, there's all the damn artillery limbers that need painting. Adoption of Commands & Colors rules has rather reduced my need for limbers, so it's really the completist illness that pushes me to get them done. I have been collecting them for many years, there's a hefty box full of the things - limbers, horses, drivers for the various nations - so it would be a shame not to do them, but there have always been higher priorities. There's some nice old Hinchliffe 20mm equipment in there, too, so they'd better stay on the Plan. OK - keep them in, but later.

There's odds and ends such as replacing that stupid oversize flag I let myself be talked into for the Regiment de Prusse, a cheeky little Qualiticast French command group which I am thinking of painting up as a mini-diorama piece involving King Joseph's coach, a couple of substandard buglers in the British LI that need replacing (creeping elegance again). At that point, I am scratching the bottom of the barrel, no doubt. Except that - well, except that I recently acquired at hardly any cost a great mass of unpainted French infantry - sufficient for 11 or 12 battalions. Now then. I could just do another vanilla French Line Division - my interest in campaigns is always haunted by Charles S Grant's awful warning that you should have figures in the cupboard for all the troops in your campaign, which might be just the sort of feeble excuse I need to add even more troops to a collection which is already stupidly large. Or - just think - I could do a Neapolitan army (ah, but that would get me started on the 1813-14 campaign in Northern Italy - I already have Italians and French, all I would need then would be a few thousand Austrians.... STOP IT).

What I think I'll do is this: I'll put my new unpainted Frenchers in a nice big box and do nothing with them for quite a long time. At least I won't be making any mistakes that way. Which brings to mind Foy's Eleventh Law, the Theoretical Snobbery Paradox:

If you are not doing something, you can afford to be very picky about just what it is you are not doing, and exactly how you would do it if you were.

In many ways this is an extension of The Principle of Enforced Expertise, but it is an excellent, and very useful, law in its own right. As a very specific example which I've seen a bit of recently, it empowers people who do not fight wargames to dictate how everyone else should be doing it, and allows all of us to be very critical of all sorts of things about which we know (if truth be told) naff all. All those who are sick of people who claim to embrace, or represent, or speak for the true spirit of something-or-other, without any evident qualification, credentials or mandate so to do, please put up your hands. Thank you ever so much.

One thing I have been spending some time on, and which will eventually find its way into a post or two, is the revamping of my campaign rules to co-ordinate and dovetail with my CCN battles. I have taken part in, and run, campaigns in the past, and enjoyed them greatly, but am well aware of the challenges they present. Anyway, the main concepts are firming up, there is a wealth of detail to be sorted out, but I am pleased that I have a blend of things which have worked well for me before with ideas that I have improved on, or have shamelessly nicked from elsewhere. I need a campaign system which is capable of being played solo, which makes sense, which covers things like scouting and supply without removing my will to live, and which generates interesting and stimulating combat. That in itself is a fair old shopping list, but I should also add that the game must also allow for off-table resolution of petty incidents which do not warrant a separate game, and some means of integrating sieges nicely into the rest of the action - anything else would give a sad parody of the Peninsular War, would it not? The excellent NapNuts website's campaign material has provided a lot of useful thought, I've also pinched bits from Omega Games' War to the Death (and Rafa Pardo's excellent work with Gamebox maps for it), and from Ray Trochim's campaign system for Battle Cry. I need to have a look at Frank Chadwick's A House Divided next. I always like to take a notebook and some pens on holiday with me - I think I know what I'll be scribbling about this year!