Thursday, March 29, 2012

Chess and Starcraft

Today is going to be a bit different from my usual 3 Gs.....but its another G that I enjoy a lot, Gaming!

Now, some people hearing "gaming" and sneer at such a "waste of time".  That's fine.  Simple solution...don't play.  However, for many people gaming is a fun activity to share with friends.  For example, I play a lot of Starcraft 2 with high school friends that live in different areas of the country.  Using VOIP, we talk while we play.  Its a great way to share an activity and stay involved with friends I don't get to see very often.

In addition, studies have shown that games involving problem solving increase cognitive function and perceptual skills.  Another study of laparoscopic surgeons found that doctors who played video games were faster and less likely to make errors than their peers who did not play. 

Now that the "video games are bad.....mmmkkkaayyy" counter arguments are out of the way, I want to compare a modern Real Time Strategy(RTS) game to an old classic game no one would argue is bad for you: Chess, the game of Kings. 

A Chess board:

As everyone knows Chess a 2 person game, turn based game played on a board, where the players start with an equal army that can only move certain ways, and tries to force the other player into a checkmate.

A Starcraft 2 map:
Starcraft 2(SC2) is an RTS (in other words, both players make moves at the same time, instead of taking turns), where each player starts with 1 base and 6 worker units.  See the blue crescents on the map?  Those are resource patches.  In SC2 you use workers to collect money, which is then used to make new bases, buildings, and fighting units.  There are 3 different "races" you can play, and each race has ~15 unique units.  They walk on the ground, or fly in the air and some air units cannot attack ground units or vis a versa.

Using these units, players attempt to keep their opponent from collecting money to build armies, destroy army units and buildings of their opponents, all while building their own units/buildings, collecting money, and scouting what their opponent is doing.

In summary, in chess you take turns and focus on army positioning to destroy each other.  In Starcraft, you have to build an economy, make your army at the same time your opponent is....oh and unlike chess, unless your enemies units are within a certain range of yours, you can't see them.

That's right.  Try playing chess while your opponent is making moves simultaneously, and you can only see the 2 squares adjacent to your own pieces. The difficulty, strategies involved, and additional requirements make SC2 a worthy successor to chess in the arena of strategy games.  It expands upon the army positioning that is so critical in chess, adding economic concerns, intelligence gathering and excellent hand coordination. 

Chess may indeed have been the game of kings, but Starcraft is a modern strategy game that I would argue is more involved, requires more thinking, and is more fun.

If any of that has grabbed your attention, check out this youtube video of a game between 2 pro players: Starcraft 2 gameplay

For anyone who enjoys strategy, competition, and out thinking opponents, I highly recommend checking out Starcraft 2.  Email me and we can even play some together.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Reclaiming the garden

After the tomatoes died off last year and I cut down the pepper plants, I just left our garden beds alone all winter, so they needed a little TLC this year.

 One thing we noticed last year was the tendency of grass to creep up over the beds, and for both purely aesthetic reasons and the practical "i hate grass in my garden" reasons, we decided to put in a plastic liner, spray to kill the grass, cover with a lawn tarp, and add mulch.  It didn't even take a full day of work, but made things look MUCH nicer in my opinion.

Here's how things were looking after a good 6 months of outright neglect (Yes, I threw our dead tree onto the beds so I could mow).

First thing we did was mow on the shortest grass setting around the beds to get a feel for how it would look with the mulch. 

Since we thought that was a pretty good border, I went ahead and sprayed the low cut grass with a grass/weed killer to keep it from coming back up through our tarp/mulch.  After that, it was time to put in our 4" plastic border.  Honestly, I don't know if the border will do a lick of good other than keeping the mulch kind of where its supposed to be, but it looks okay and clearly defines the edge, so thats good enough.  Installing it required digging a nice little trench all the way down the 3 sides of the garden.

While I dug, my wife pulled the stray grasses out of the garden beds.  After I got the border installed, we staked down our weed mat tarp in the feeble hope this spray/tarp/mulch combo will keep grass out of  our gardening area.  Time will tell if it does or not.

10 bags of mulch around the beds and 2 bags of compost on the beds later, I'd say our garden is looking much improved! 

The plan is to go ahead and plant seedlings this weekend.  We will probably go with one full bed of tomatoes again, varying types from cherry and grape to full sized, and one bed of squash/peppers. 

We are also going to be putting some pots between the beds and the fence and attempting to grow some herbs this year as well.  Basil for certain, maybe rosemary as well. 

Amazing what an afternoon of work can do to transform how a garden looks! 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Pistol Caliber Carbines

 In the land between handguns and rifles, there is a unique little set of firearms that are larger than pistols, stocked, but smaller and lighter than rifles (usually) that are chambered in calibers traditionally used for pistols.  I call them Pistol Caliber Carbines, though they're known as PDWs, subguns, submachine guns, machine pistols, etc depending on who's doing the talking. 

My personal view on these guns:
They have a specialized niche where they are a fantastic choice.

When compared to other weapons, PCCs fall into an interesting little niche in my view.

They do not conceal or carry as easily as a pistol, but can make more reliable hits are further distances and some have higher capacity.

They do not hit as hard or at as long range as rifles, but are lighter and easier to conceal or carry.

Every weapon man has made has a specific purpose in mind. When used in that mode, it shines. When used outside of it, the weapon will normally lag behind other weapons specifically designed for that purpose. However, weapons can be adapted to better fill certain roles.

For example: A 28" barreled shotgun with birdshot is an ideal weapon to hunt bird. (its original, specific purpose. I know not all shotguns were designed this way, but for this argument I'm referring to the most commonly owned pump guns, 870s and 500s.) It doesn't do as well in a home defense scenario. That being said, a shotgun with buckshot or slugs and an 18" barrel is a much more desirable HD weapon. Not its original purpose, but adapted well to fit it.

Pistol Caliber Carbines (or SMGs or Machine Pistols) were originally designed as short range suppression weapons to be used primarily on full auto. Almost all military forces in the WW2 era used them for this purpose, to allow their bolt action or Garand equipped buddies the ability to maneuver, close with the enemy and destroy them. It was the house to house fighting towards the end of WW2 that really showed everyone involved how handy a man portable, intermediate cartridge automatic rifle would be handy in modern warfare, and thus the "assault weapons" were born.

So if we have rifles and pistols, what niche would a PCC fill in a civilian arsenal(especially one that isn't capable of automatic fire...)?

I will preface that to me, the ideal PCC to fit this role should be a high capacity Short Barreled Rifle (or SBR, requiring 200 dollars to Uncle Sam and some paperwork), preferably with a folding or collapsing stock. (thus more compact than a rifle). Common examples would be an SBR'd Uzi, or SBR's Sterling, H&K MP5 style weapon, UMP, etc.

To me, it fits 3 roles better than either pistols or rifles.
1) Home Defense in a suburban setting (I'll take a rifle in the country)
2) An in car weapon (not trunk gun)
3) A woman or child's primary weapon

1)Home Defense:
Like many of you, I live in a brick home, with neighbors nearby no matter which direction I look outside. Penetration in the suburbs matters, and I'd rather not wind up with holes in my neighbors house if I have to use a weapon. Certainly frangible rifle ammunition helps if you're only option is a rifle, but a PCC would be far LESS likely to over-penetrate. Carries more rounds than a shotgun or pistol (generally), and is lighter/easier to handle than rifle.

Advantages over a handgun:
Larger capacity magazines
A 2 handed weapon with a stock is far easier to make accurate hits with than a handgun

Advantages over a rifle:
Less likelihood of over-penetration
Lighter, easier to maneuver in the home

Advantages over a shotgun:
Higher capacity
Lighter, easier to maneuver in the home

2) an in car weapon.
This is kind of a unique role, but one I think is worth considering. Holstered pistols are hard to draw while seated in a car. Rifles are long and cumbersome inside a vehicle. The PCC balances this out nicely. In a a problem arises type situation where you must be worried about mobs or carjacking, or even a simple hurricane evacuation where traffic is jammed and tempers are short, throwing a towel over a PCC allows you as a driver or passenger to defend yourself in car. The advantages over our other common weapons are basically the same in this situation, so I see no need to spell it all out again.

3) A woman or childs primary weapon.
My wife is what most southern women would refer to as a "sweet little thing".  She's barely over 5 feet tall, weighs next to nothing, and isn't a gun nut like myself.  Pistols are to hard to manipulate, rifles are too heavy.  What's a girl to do?  She does like shooting my .357 lever gun.  Its light, handy, and doesn't kick much.  For those who are physically incapable of lugging around an AR, AK or shotgun, a PCC offers a lot of value as a home defense gun.  Enough rounds on board they hopefully won't have to worry about reloading, light, but still packs a good punch.  As well, it would be a good next step for a kid once they graduate from the .22 rifle to something with a little more "uumph", but not so recoil heavy or cumbersome as to turn them off shooting. 

A PCC has a valuable niche to fill in a civilian arsenal. While you can use other weapons for the scenarios I think it shines in, its hard to beat it in regards to those situations.

And if nothing else, there's something awfully cool about subguns. 

I'd love to hear others thoughts on why I'm right or way off base.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Garden Teaser

This is a teaser post that's going to kind of recap how BAD our backyard looked when we moved into this house, and what we've done to improve it.

So far, we've put in grass seed, raised garden beds, planted 2 bushes and a tree, dug up 2 dead bushes and a tree (all three died in the desert of a summer we had this last year), and put some mulch around our raised beds (detailed post on that to follow later this week). 

Plans this year include expanding our 10x10 concrete patio to a larger gravel patio with space for our outdoor patio furniture and a fire pit, and some sort of "bench feature" with hanging plants and a trellis at the rear right of the yard to offset the garden on the left.

All in all, I am very proud of how far we've come, and look forward to our continued backyard improvements. 

Some pictorial proof of my boasting....

When we signed papers on the house:

When we moved in (2010):

Last year:

Today, 3/25/2012:

And my dog enjoying the good weather and nice grass:

Stay tuned for another gun post tomorrow (a discussion of pistol caliber carbines), followed Tuesday by a detailed post on our mulch project around the garden beds.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Been a while

I know you're not supposed to "apologize" for being away from blogging, but since in the span of time I've been gone Germany could have conquered France a time or two, I feel my absence was long enough to merit an explanation.

Last summer, my paternal grandfather had a stroke.  I am quite fortunate compared to many in my peer group, because I was out of college before I lost a single grandparent on either side of the family.

We returned home to help out the family, and things seems to be improving slowly but surely by the time we returned to Temple.

During our month long trip, I set up a timer to keep the garden watered.  As anyone who was in Central Texas this last summer knows, it was HOT and DRY.  My drip was not sufficient, and we returned to a rather withered garden.  I started 2 new jobs shortly after returning from the panhandle, and with a dead garden, blogging just didn't get done.

My grandfather was improving, until he suffered a fall in the rehab center he was staying, and hit his head on the corner of a nightstand.  He passed away peacefully in his sleep in no pain on Christmas morning.

He is an incredibly hard man to summarize.  The son of a poor tenant farmer, he went on to attend Texas A&M before finishing a degree at Howard College.  Married to the same woman for 60 years, he survived polio, a broken neck, and many hard years of farming.  He spent money prudently when it was for his own benefit, gave generously and anonymously to others in need, and into his 70s was saying "I'll retire next year" for at least 5 or 6 years in a row, and left his family and everyone else around him better off than before they knew him.

In our modern society, many families are so scattered over the country that its hard to truly consider an extended family as close.  Our family, with my grandfather and grandmother as patriarch and matriarch, can almost more accurately be described as a clan than an extended family, primarily due to our wonderful grandparents who kept us all close in each others hearts and minds, if not geographically.

So I am back and ready to resume blogging.  Though I will be sticking primarily with my 3 Gs of guns, gardening and grilling, I will occasionally be adding random posts with my thoughts on gaming, politics, news, and any thing else that I feel like writing about.

In closing, I leave you with 2 pictures of my grandfather.  One as a freshman cadet at Texas A&M in 1946, and one of him with his favorite rifle, a Savage model 99 in .300savage.