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

Saturday, 27 August 2022

WSS: Pause for a Ponder

 It seems remarkable, given the short timescale, but I'm now giving some thought to the "5th Army" in the Phase One plan for my WSS Project. It was always my intention to have big(gish) armies for France, Bavaria, Britain and Austria, and an additional small army to add to the Alliance forces.

Without thinking about it for too long, I always assumed that it should be a Dutch contingent. I even bought the Robert Hall books on the Dutch forces, and very nice they are, too.

I am basing these Phase One forces on the Schellenberg/Blenheim period - if necessary, to keep Bavaria in the war, they can go on fighting around the Danube area for as many years as I like. Fine. The problem, of course is that the actual Dutch army was a bit committed to the defence of Flanders at the time, therefore the support for Marlborough which they sent along (belatedly) consisted of other nations' troops fighting on the Dutch side.

So, now that I can afford the time to think about this, I decided that Your Actual Dutch may appear in a potential Phase Two, but the exact identity of my 5th Army is up for review.

For a while, the Hanoverians looked like a good bet, but there are a lot of red uniforms in there. In the interests of visual variety, which is important in the world of toy soldiers, I also rejected a couple of other possibilities who were mostly dressed in grey. What else was there?

My latest thinking, and I am quite pleased with this, suggests that Hesse-Kassel would be suitable. They had a nice little army, with the foot resplendent in dark blue. Accordingly, I now have another (rather smaller) Robert Hall book on order. Sadly, their horse seem mostly to have worn grey, but I can make it a rather paler grey than the French. Promising.

The 5th Army is planned at 4 units of foot, 2 of horse and a battery. I'm still tracking down the adventures of the artillery. I think they may not have turned up on the Danube - still reading about this. According to Charles Spencer's large (and flatulent) volume on Blenheim, Francis Hare's journal (another Marlborough fanzine) states that it was arranged with the Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel that his artillery should be sent to Mannheim, to meet up with Marlborough on his march to the Danube. Whether they turned up or not I don't know. If not, of course, it would do no harm at all to have an artillery unit from somewhere else. This is, after all, my own version of the war, so I can please myself.

Landgrave Karl I, in suitably warlike garb

So that's as far as I've got. Present thinking is my 5th Army will be the forces of the Landgrave, presumably commanded by the Hereditary Prince. I may, of course, change my mind next week.

Anything is possible.  

Wednesday, 24 August 2022

WSS: French Infantry Complete (Phase One, anyway!)

 There you go - the heatwave has moved on, my attic room is once again habitable, and a parcel of newly painted soldiers has arrived safely from Lee, who has done his customary excellent job (thanks again Lee). Any minute now I'll be back working on my hobbies!

Three battalions, which I have now based up and fitted with flags, all ready for the Duty Box. Here we have 2 battalions of Béarn and 1 of Toulouse. The castings are, as ever, 20mm Les Higgins/PMD, though the mounted officers are Irregular, albeit sitting on Higgins horses to keep the scale tight. The flags are by David of Not By Appointment, which I have had professionally laser-printed by Malcolm at Lothian Printers, in Dunbar. 


This completes the French infantry for the official "first" (probably only) phase of my WSS project. I should probably do a new group photo, but I'm still waiting to get some general staff figures back from the caster (it can't be much longer, surely?).


Very dark, wet morning here, and my flash photo wasn't very successful; I've included a couple of photos from my official WSS Catalogue collection, to make up for it.

Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Zoom - Back on the Nursery Slopes

 This follows on from my previous post on this topic, a couple of months ago.

My attempts at Zoom wargaming have been frustrating me because of the poor quality video, and I've decided I should get on with sorting this out. I can hang on to my "Pro" level Zoom account, for which I think I'm paying £14 a month, and try to get the visuals up to a satisfactory standard, or else I should get realistic about the short-term prospects for Zoom (for me), and drop down to the freebie account level, which is good for short chats with small numbers of attendees.

My Zoom set up is as it was two and a half years ago; a brave attempt, largely improvised using ageing mobile devices, suspended from gaffer tape and sky hooks. Heath Robinson for the 2020s. Since the Zoom service has improved in sophistication during the period, and my broadband speed is now about 3.5 times what it was, I was hopeful that I might utilise some better tech at my own end and try to make a difference. If it doesn't work immediately, the prices of the kit have dropped a lot as the pandemic has receded, and there is a good chance that the infrastructure will continue to improve, to justify the investment. 

As I mentioned in the previous post, I was very enthusiastic about - and pleased by - my early efforts with remote wargaming, and only gradually became aware that the video I was putting out for visiting generals was really rather crude, compared with how it looked at my end, and didn't necessarily offer a fulfilling experience.

So my new plan has been to use the two desktop machines in my den/office, which is adjacent to the room where my games are set up, and buy a couple of proper webcams.

At this point, I have to make public admission of a personal trait of mine; where others will go about things in a quiet, businesslike manner, and get good results with little or no fuss, I tend to thrash about and tell everyone about it, which makes it a bit less comfortable when it doesn't work! In the current situation, I think there may be one or two things I find out which may be of use to others having the same struggle, so I shall persist for the moment.

[At this point I must also acknowledge the advice and support I've had from Jon Freitag, who successfully runs games by Zoom which are very much like what I'd like to be hosting myself. I've visited Jon's set up and learned a lot, so I am truly grateful. A splendid fellow. Thank you, Jon.]

I purchased two Logitech StreamCams, which Amazon had on special offer, plus various bits and pieces - thread adaptors for microphone stands (I'll be using old mic stands to support the cameras) and what photographers apparently refer to as "ballheads" [which is a joy and a delight, since "ba'heid" is a children's insult of great and noble lineage in Glasgow] and a variety of USB cables. This stuff has all arrived now. Thus far things have gone pretty well, but I have learned a couple of things which might come in useful to others.

This is Camera B, at the East End of the table, on its microphone stand. The mic stands are very stable, and infinitely adjustable - also I have a few old ones of good quality, which is a selling point. The adjustment thing is maybe a mixed blessing - trying to get the same view twice might be a challenge! This is a trial placement, and the camera is 174cm from the floor, and 64cm horizontally from the centre of the table edge. [This is not unlike trying to get your car seat comfortably adjusted again after it's been serviced...] 
This is the Logitech StreamCam. At the top of the mic stand there is a 3/8" to 1/4" thread converter, and on top of that is the tripod-style "ballhead" - the camera screws straight onto a little platform supported on a lockable ball joint


They work "plug & play", but I had problems immediately since they both produced images which flickered badly. Not unreasonably, being American, these cameras, which are smart enough to correct flicker caused by phase difference between the image refresh rate and the natural flicker of electric lighting caused by the frequency of the mains supply, assumed that I would have a respectable 60Hz rather than our British (almost said "European" - forgive me, O Lord) 50Hz, and flickered their disappointment. Easily fixed - I downloaded some device management software and re-set the flicker correction to the right speed. Finding out what was needed was a lot more tricky online - this obviously is not a problem in American colleges. Here's a nice man I found on the Web to tell you how to do this:

A couple of comments:

(1) The program you need (if you are a Logitech user) is no longer called the Logitech Camera Settings Software, but is now called Logi Tune, available from the Logitech site. This will only be of relevance for this brand of camera, but the flicker problem must be generic, so there will be equivalents.

(2) The flicker is at its worst if you use LED lighting, which is relentlessly strobe-like. Before the cameras were re-adjusted, I practically eliminated it using old-fashioned heated coil bulbs, but I was delighted to be able to reinstate my fancy 2500 lumen daylight LEDs, which are dimmable and also run very cool (and avoid wasting energy - always a fine thing).

USB Cables - Length Limits

The problem in hand - a plan: to replace the current tangle of old mobile devices, I have invested in a couple of webcams, shown here as A and B. To give a scale for the project, the room containing the wargames table is 5m x 3m, the table 8ft (to 10ft4in) x 5ft. The positioning of the laptop mentioned below is shown (under the table)

OK. I have to connect one camera to each of the Mac and the PC in the adjacent room (my office/study/den/hidey-hole). My experimentation bore out what are the industry recommendations. My cameras each have a 5ft cable hardwired in, and I have a number of female-to-male USB extension cables, in lengths of 3ft and 10ft. A camera connected through a 10ft extension plus a 3ft extension to one of the desktop computers will work OK, but that is the limit. Beyond that, the camera is not detected at the computer, so 5 + 10 + 3 = 18ft becomes a new fundament of Nature, like Planck's Constant, the speed of light and the number of oatcakes in a pack of Nairn's Rough Scottish.

I can, as it happens, manage quite easily to connect Cam B to the Mac with an 18ft cable, but I have no chance of getting anywhere near the PC from Cam A without exceeding the limit. 


One solution might be the use of an active "repeater" cable - these are powered by a wall adaptor (5v), and include circuitry to amplify the signal, so can extend the overall range, which could be the answer. I may still try this, but I am not keen on solutions where I buy something in the hope it will work.

Or I could use my Windows laptop (which may actually be of higher spec than the PC), connected by a short USB cable to Cam A, instead. This is not as tidy, but it has proved to work, and I can place the laptop on a little coffee table, safely tucked under the main wargames table - once it is set up and connected to Zoom, I don't need to be able to see it. This is what I have adopted as my starting configuration.

Here's a screenshot of the view from Camera B in the position shown in the photos above. Camera A should be set up in the equivalent position at the other end. The picture resolution here is shown straight from the camera to my Mac, so it hasn't been anywhere near the Zoom server - I'll say something about picture quality when I've gained a little more experience of this configuration

That's more than enough for now. I have a lot to do, and try out, but there are no absolute stoppers yet. Ultimately, this stands or falls by the quality of the video output via Zoom. If that is unusable then I can either wait for the service to improve or leave the cameras to my kids. How can I lose? - all right - please don't comment on that bit.


***** Late Edit *****

OK - later the same evening, I've been checking over picture quality, comparing pictures that have not yet been sent to Zoom with incoming pictures from Zoom.

First off, I got a nasty fright. I was getting some pretty terrible, inconsistent results - blurring of images when I didn't expect this. I did a little reading, and tried switching off the autofocus on both cameras, using the Logi Tune app. Bingo - immediate improvement. Maybe the poor camera can't decide what to focus on, with a lot of little soldiers spread out. Maybe the level of lighting has an effect. No idea, but it seems much better with the autofocus off; I'll do some more reading tomorrow, and see what the terrible bad news is if you turn it off...

Anyway, with the autofocus put to sleep, and the manual focus set to minimum (deep focus), I did some screenshots, just for interest.

This is a screenshot of a picture coming in from the laptop (the remote participant, connected to Camera A), as seen on the Mac (which is the host here, attached to Camera B) - so this is "incoming", having been through Zoom

This is "outgoing", the view on the host's Mac from its own attached Camera B, which has not been to Zoom. You can't count buttons in either view, but the comparison isn't bad is it? I'll do some more work on this.



Saturday, 13 August 2022

Hooptedoodle #429 - How to Keep an Idiot Entertained

 Like most of Britain, we have been in a heatwave again here. Being Scotland, it is not so severe as further south, but still oppressively hot - especially uncomfortable at night for those of us who are not accustomed to it.

Yesterday was a lot cooler. I live on a farm which is on a headland at the junction of the Firth of Forth and the North Sea, and a quirk of the local geography is that our heatwaves usually have limited duration. After a few days of high temperatures, we get sea mists (haars) rolling in and the temperature drops sharply. There are many occasions when we hear on the radio about the rest of Britain basking in glorious sunshine, while we are tripping about in the gloom, with sweaters on. 

Yesterday the temperature dropped a lot - I believe the maximum here was 17degC, and the minimum was around 12degC, so, though dull and misty, it was pleasantly cool. Suitably invigorated, I made a special note to step out in the evening for a little adventure. The RAF's Red Arrows display team were to appear, flying over the Castle Esplanade in Edinburgh at 21:00 to open this year's Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

No, I had no plans to go into Edinburgh - Heaven forfend! The team would be flying just to the west of the village of Whitekirk, which is about 2 miles from my house, and is visible from the farm here, so my plan was to pop out a little before 9pm, to hear, though probably not see in the mist, them pass. The speeds of planes these days are familiar to us all, but they are still mind-boggling. The Arrows would be taking off from Scampton, Lincolnshire at 20:14, would fly up the East Coast, coming in off the sea somewhere near St Abbs, and would be at Whitekirk, in open country in East Lothian, at 20:56, passing over Edinburgh at 21:00, arriving at Rosyth, on the far side of the Forth Bridges, at 21:03, and then turning to land at Edinburgh Airport.

Friends of mine (in particular Stryker, Goya and the Archduke) who have personal experience of travelling around this area by road will appreciate the unbelievable journey times in the flight plan.

So, around 15 minutes to 9, I walked down to a gap in the row of trees which separates us from the next section of the farm. Through this gap runs a concreted road which passes between two large fields, both under wheat this year, and the view is extensive. Straight ahead, which is south, the land drops to a shallow valley which contains the (Scottish) River Tyne, and then rises to the Lammermuir Hills in the distance. To the left, which is east, beyond the wheatfield is the open sea - straight on for Norway if you keep going. To the right, which is inland, looking west, you can see as far as Traprain Law, and you can also see the church and the roofs of Whitekirk, about 2 miles away. I was in plenty of time. It was a still evening, I could just hear the occasional train in the distance on the London line, the traffic on the A1 and the waves coming in on the beach at Scoughall, so I was confident the Red Arrows would be very distinct.

Whitekirk in sunshine

I stood there for a while, enjoying the peace and quiet, wondering how long the planes would be audible before they got up here. By about 21:10 nothing had happened, and it was obvious I had missed them. Not to worry; I enjoyed my walk back to my house, and on the way I saw a few deer in the wheat field (they were watching me carefully - they may even have been giggling a little), and I also saw a large dog fox crossing the path in front of me. It was getting pretty dark by then.

My wife has recently heard foxes at night; this is the first one we've seen for ages. A few years ago, before the farm's ghillie retired, there were no foxes here - he used to shoot them. Similarly there were no rats in the woods, no magpies, we never saw squirrels. Times have changed - you can't get the staff, you know.

When I got home I learned that the foggy weather had caused the cancellation of the Red Arrows' flight. I don't know when they cancelled it, but it got less publicity than the original programme of events!

My wife's friend in Edinburgh had gone to the trouble of walking to the top of Corstorphine Hill to watch - a real grandstand view up there - so she must have been rather more disappointed than I.

Anyway, it didn't take up much time, and I had a laugh about it. I wonder what excitement I'll get up to today? Yesterday I didn't see the Red Arrows; today I could fail to see - well, anything, really. Spanish Armada? Visitors from space? Any requests?

Thursday, 4 August 2022

Away Day - Another Grand Day Out

 Last Thursday I was privileged to take part in one of Stryker's extravaganzas - Up North - so set off early to pick up Matt from Edinburgh Park (a place where the normal rules of Physics do not apply) and cross over the Forth on our way to battle.

Ian has been quick off the mark, serialising the official history of this battle on his blog, so I shall be careful not to drop any spoilers here. Suffice it to say that the game was spectacular, and faultlessly set up, and the company and the hospitality were excellent, as always. Thanks to Ian and everyone involved - hugely enjoyable.

[Non-Spoiler:] My combined Guard Lancer unit gets off to an early start, and takes some losses, but they recovered to have quite a good day...