Monday, October 31, 2005


It hasn't rained, literally, in 3 weeks, so of course it started raining about half an hour ago, just in time for the sun to set and kids to go out for Halloween. Figures.

While I was away in Michigan Alana came home to find a business card in the door. The card was from a local pastor. He possibly thought we were in dire need of saving due to the Halloween decorations on the front yard of our apartment. (I'm not sure if I'm more scared/amused at the idea of a pastor stopping by our apartment because he happened to be in the neighbourhood and saw the decorations, or of a pastor who is campaigning door-to-door. I mean, it's not like there are that many "undecideds" around here...)

Halloween is a little different here in the bible belt than it is elsewhere in the country. Evangelical Christians have a hard time with Halloween. On the one hand it appears to celebrate paganism. On the other hand it's a part of American culture (at least secular culture), and the "celebration" of it is growing.

I'm in the cusp of Gen-X and the Boomers, when Halloween started to become very commercialized in our youth. This seems to have translated to a rise in popularity for adult Halloween parties. You can now find more adult costumes for Halloween than kid costumes.

This increase in popularity goes against the grain of Southern Christians. Halloween was, originally, pagan after all. They fail to note two things:

  1. All Hallow's Eve came before the day of All Hallowed Souls, but it was taken over by early Christians as the even of All Hallowed Saints day, so it's popularity is due to Christianity absorbing the fall festival into its religion.

  2. All Hallow's Eve is hardly the first holiday to be absorbed by Christians. It's pretty certain, for instance, that Christ was not born in December, and that early Christians set Christ's birthday mass on Saturnalia to absorb the popular pagan winter solstice festival.

In these parts Christians absorb Halloween and try to de-paganize it with "Fall festivals". These "festivals" look a lot like Halloween — kids dress up in costumes and receive candy — but overtly pagan costumes are frowned upon. As a result, there's not a whole lot of ghoulishness present. Kids play games and hang out almost exclusively at the church. It does make Halloween safer, and parents appreciate that.

The "Fall festival" idea has spread to schools. Local Christians have managed to eliminate the "Halloween party" from schools. Instead, schools have their own Fall festivals. Kids aren't allowed to wear costumes, but they do get to go from room to room playing games and getting candy. Ironically, the decorations used in Logan's school were most definitely Halloween-ish, with ghosts, bats and spiders well represented.

(Aside: there has never been a documentated case of tampered candy. Or, rather, there has never been a case where the person doing the tampering wasn't involved in the victim. That's right, no tampering has happened. It appears to be an urban legend. There are cases of tampered candy, but these are all by people who sought to harm a specific child. They assumed that there was so much tampering that they'd never be caught, only to have the police discover the truth pretty quickly.)

Not only do some Christians believe Halloween to be pagan, they believe it to be Satanic. This is quite misguided. Halloween corresponds with the Celtic holiday of Samhain, with November 1 marking the first day of the Celtic year. Celts believed that the ghosts of the dead could best mingle with the living on this day of the year, so they held a festival to honour the dead, to help them on their journey to the Celtic underworld, and to keep them away from the living. It was not a celebration of the Satanic or evil but a way of protecting the living.

For more information, see the Wikipedia entry on the history and folklore of Halloween.

It's now after 6 pm and it's still raining. It's dark and I turned on the orange lights draped over our decorations. Nobody has come to the door yet. I suspect we will have a fair bit of candy to eat by ourselves.

If it stops raining long enough, I'll take — and post — pictures of our apartment with the Halloween decorations up.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Xenu (the link checker, not the Scientology guy)

I was searching for a link checker for work, when I came across Xenu's Link Stealth. This is a freeware program that searches web sites for broken links. I ran it on my web site and found I had some broken links in it. Thanks to Xenu, I've been able to fix it. If you have a web site, I heartily recommend that you download and use Xenu.

The name Xenu comes from the Church of Scientology's mythology. To quote Wikipedia:

In Scientology doctrine, Xenu (also Xemu) is a galactic ruler who, 75 million years ago, brought billions of people to Earth, stacked them around volcanoes and blew them up with hydrogen bombs. Their souls then clustered together and stuck to the bodies of the living, and continue to cause problems today. These events are known to Scientologists as "Incident II", and the traumatic memories associated with them as The Wall of Fire or the R6 implant. The story of Xenu is part of a much wider range of Scientology beliefs in extraterrestrial civilizations and alien interventions in Earthly events, collectively described as space opera by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology.

You can find out more about Scientology on Wikipedia's Scientology page on Xenu. At the very least, you'll see that Tom Cruise is a bigger whack job than you might have thought.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Clear Channeling of America

The worst part of visiting southwest Michigan was the radio. The radio stations sucked pond scum. There was a single alt-rock station out of Grand Rapids, but it was pretty faint in Kalamazoo and kept fading in and out. Locally the only thing half-way palatable were a couple (as in "more than one") classic rock stations. You know, I grew up with classic rock. By the mid 80s I was pretty tired of classic rock. Why it's outpacing modern rock is beyond me.

Ironically, while I was there the news reported that sales of CDs were down last year. The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) blamed illegal downloads. I'm sure that's a big part of it. Why pay $15 for a new CD when you can grab it for free via file sharing. But that's only part of the issue, and maybe not even the main issue. My theory is that CD sales are lower because radio stations in America suck pond scum.

It used to be that you'd hear two or three songs off a successful album, minimum. Now you're lucky if they play more than one single from an album, taking the word all too seriously. How do you decide to commit $15 to a CD when you only hear one song? What if the rest of the album bites? Besides, if you wait a month you'll be so sick of that single that you won't even want to buy the album.

Radio in Monroe is pretty awful, too, with one exception: 91.1 KXUL, the University of Louisiana at Monroe radio station, which is the only true alt-rock station in the area. The other stations are pretty much the same garbage as I found in Michigan: top 40, classic rock, country, and a handful of religious stations.

I blame Clear Channel, the huge conglomerate that owns most of the radio stations in the country. They control the music. They aim their stations at the lowest common denominator in each musical genre in order to pull in the most advertising money.

I also blame the recording industry. They pay stations to play their songs (not in money, which is illegal, and not directly, which is also illegal, but by offering tickets and prizes through middle-men known as "indies"). They pay to have the same tripe played over and over. I'm not sure why they push a single song from each album, unless its because they figured out the kids will by the CDs to get the one hot song so there's no need to push more than one song.

Except that the kids aren't buying CDs. They are illegally downloading them. After all, how do you decide to buy a 15 song CD based on the one song that you're sick of hearing? Instead, they download those albums they've heard about on the Net but never hear on the radio. Plus they've learned that most CDs contain crappy filler and are not worth the $15 price tag.

The RIAA is looking to shut down file sharing. I don't think they'll ever be able to completely shut it down, but I also think it's just a delaying tactic while they work on stronger encryption. If they succeed, I think they'll be in for a surprise: CD sales won't increase dramatically. Why? Because the only way to hear new songs these days is on radio, and radio sucks pond scum.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Sears Auto Center worse than we thought!

Last week I mentioned how Alana took the car to Sears Auto Center on Sunday to get the oil changed only to find that the car was leaking oil. This is the third time one of our cars leaked oil after a Sears oil change, as I mentioned last week. Well, Sears Auto Center in Monroe really managed to show off its incompetence last week.

Alana took the car back to Sears last Monday to get the leak checked out. They hadn't sealed something properly, either the cap for filling the oil or the plug in the oil pan. I can't remember if Alana said which. She was not happy taking time off Monday morning to get this done, but she had a trip to Alexandria planned for Thursday for work and didn't want to be driving with a leaking car. They did not offer to pay for her time or anything, even though it was their fault.

Monday night Alana discovered that there was still a little bit of oil leaking, but it was not an awful lot. Furious, she went up to Sears Tuesday after work. The guy hoisted the car up and showed her the problem. Oily fluid was all over the engine. He pointed out that it wasn't near the plug in the oil pan. Instead, he said it was over by the transmission. He pointed to a "seam" in the transmission and stated that they didn't come from the factory that way. Someone had done work on the transmission of our car, which freaked us out since we bought it with only 197 miles on it (and it was driven to Monroe from a dealership in Little Rock). The grease monkey told us to take it to the dealer to get sorted out. I was on the phone with Alana at the time, and we were seriously upset about the possibility of being the victims of fraud. Alana was additionally angry because she would have to get this all sorted out before her trip. The dealership is in Ruston, about 30 miles away. She would have to take off work the next day in order to get this problem seen to. We weren't looking forward to a fight with the dealership, either.

The next morning Alana had the car checked at the dealership. They discovered that the fluid the grease monkey at Sears said was transmission fluid was actually engine oil. The oil had not come from a leak, but had splashed around the engine compartment. It could only have been splashed if the car had been started with the oil cap not in place. Further, there was nothing wrong with the transmission. Whatever "seam" the grease monkey saw was a normal part of the transmission. Hmm... trust Toyota or trust Sears? No difficulty in choosing there! Since there was nothing wrong with the car, they charged us $40 for the inspection.

Alana drove back to Sears. She asked to see the manager. He wasn't in, yet. She waited. After a while he still hadn't come in, so she cornered the assistant manager again. She said that they had better get the manager in right away. She explained that at the moment she was looking to have the oil change and the $40 service charge from Toyota reimbursed by Sears. If she did not receive immediate satisfaction she would also be looking for the cost of the gas out to Ruston, time missed from work, and court costs, because she was most certainly going to take it to court. They got the regional manager on the phone and he authorized the reimbursement of the oil change and the $40 service fee.

It's ridiculous that a national chain, who presumably pays their mechanics more than minimum wage, is less able to change the oil on a car than the local "speedy lube" places with their part time high school and college employees. I mean, it's an oil change! It's not rocket science. Needless to say we will not be going back to Sears.

Oh, and Alana figured out how to turn off the maintenance light after the oil change. You have to press the odometer reset button a number of times in order to reset the light. She found the sequence on the internet.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

It's good to be home!

I had great expectations of updating my blog when I was in Michigan. That fell apart for a couple of reasons. Most nights I didn't get out of the client's office until 6 pm EDT, two nights I did some work when I got back to the hotel, and all but one night I was out until at least 8 pm exploring Kalamazoo (that was Thursday, when I had to write up a report for work). Most of the time in the hotel was spent on the cell phone with Alana, or online chatting to her. Sorry, but I much prefer spending time with Alana than "blogging"!

So, what is there to do in Kalamazoo? Well, as it turns out not a whole lot but shopping. Most things are closed by 7. I wanted to get to the Air Zoo (an aircraft museum) but didn't have the time. There are a couple of haunted houses around for Halloween, but that's more of a family thing. I spent most nights checking out stores.

Kalamazoo is about half again as big as Monroe, a little smaller than Monroe and West Monroe combined. It seemed to have fewer restaurants, but that's not surprising since that's about the only thing that thrives in Monroe (that and clothing stores, if the mall is to be believed). They did have a Perkins and a Denny's, neither of which exist in Monroe. I ate at the Outback once, only because I wanted lamb. Well, come to find out they didn't have lamb in the Kalamazoo Outback. They did in the one in Baton Rouge a couple of years ago. Without lamb there is now officially no good reason to eat at the Outback Steakhouse. There are better steak places in Monroe at much lower prices.

So, in the restaurant category it's a point for Monroe. In books it's a tie. We have Books-a-Million, they have Barnes & Noble. Barnes & Noble has a more interesting clearance section, though our Books-a-Million has a better military history section (and a Civil War section about twice as big as the B&N, but that's probably a regional difference). B&N did have a display of Osprey military books, including some on samurai. B&N has its own line of horror anthologies. I see that the Wicked Little Witches book is still for sale. This has a story by my friend Michael Skeet! I understand that West Monroe is supposed to get a B&N sometime.

I think Kalamazoo wins in the hobby store category, by a hair. I didn't see a listing in the phone book for a Michael's (though there has to be one somewhere), and most of Kalamazoo's hobby stores focus on radio control models. Our Hobbytown does that, while we have Michael's and Hobby Lobby. They have a comic/game store (the Game Shop). It's bigger and brighter than Clint's here in Monroe, and it has more game stock, but not a lot more and the prices are higher. They have the edge in selection so we'll give that to Kalamazoo. I also discovered two army surplus stores, one that specializes in paintball and airsoft. The ones around here are just camouflage clothing stores. Assuming there are craft stores in Kalamazoo and they just weren't under "hobbies" in the phone book, it wins out.

Kalamazoo has a Circuit City. This is something Monroe is seriously lacking. The only place you can buy computer peripherals here is Office Depot, Wal-Mart, or the video game places. That's pretty sad. We need a Circuit City, Best Buy, or Compusa. The closest stores to Monroe are in Shreveport or Jackson. Maybe someday someone will figure this out and put one in instead of yet another clothing store.

With all those places to check out, it's not surprising I didn't get back from supper until around 8 pm most nights.

I wasn't training clients in Kalamazoo, I was training clients in Plainwell, which is about 20 or so miles north of Kalamazoo. After the first two days I was told of a back roads route to Plainwell along a street close to my hotel. The trees were at their peak for changing colour, making this a beautiful trip each morning. I took my Nikon SLR with me, so I hope to have some nice pictures once I get the film developed. (Yes, I still use a film camera for this stuff. Film cameras still have way more resolution thant digitals.) I spent much of Tuesday taking pictures of trees and houses in Plainwell. There are some wonderful old houses in Plainwell that are striking with the trees changing colour.

The training went okay. Not great, but okay. We had some data conversion problems due to our client's current system set up, so things were failing because of that. We also had program issues. It turns out most of those were because an old version of the system was on their server and the folks back at the home office failed to tell me that they didn't install the latest version (they put it on their server, but left me to install it when I was ready; they forgot to cc me on that e-mail). As usual I had to work around this with a lot of "wiggle words". I hope that these problems are ironed out by the time our next client is trained. I'm not looking forward to Monday, because I know I will have to do some more data set up for these new people and support the last installation (our last beta test client) and get our next client up and running.

On the other hand, it's wonderful to be home! We're hoping the next time I have to travel Alana will be able to come with me.

I'm still not comfortable about air travel, but it's not as fear inducing as it once was. I even managed to nap a little on one of the flights back. I had to fly from Monroe to Atlanta, Atlanta to Cincinnati, and Cincinnati to Kalamazoo. I learned from my last trip, to South Dakota, that an hour between flights doesn't give you much leeway, so I made sure there was at least a 2 hour gap between flights. That worked out well, even though there were no delays. If I've calculated it right, the flight from Atlanta to Monroe was my 40th flight. I still like to close my eyes on takeoff, but I'm now able to stare out the plane on landing.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Howdy from Michigan!

Alana and I had a wonderful day yesterday just hanging around together, without needing to be anywhere at any place. Unfortunately our weekend was cut short because I had to fly off to Kalamazoo, Michigan. Actually I'm training in Plainwell, Michigan, but I'm staying in Kalamazoo.

Here's a warning: never use Sears Auto Center! At least never use the Sears Auto Center in Monroe, LA. Alana asked them if they knew how to reset the maintenance light on the Corolla before she had the oil changed. They said they did... and then it turned out they didn't. When she got home she found that the car is leaking oil. They did this twice before on the Tracker. The first time they apparently forgot a gasket. The second time they had to replace the plug. The plug was stripped that time, but it was unclear if it was something they did or something that was wrong with the 5 year old Tracker. The Corolla is a new car so there should be no problem with the plug. Idiots. Alana is going after them this week. I would hate to be on the receiving end!

While we're talking about incompetence, just before Alana told me online about the car I got a warning message about a trojan trying to access the laptop. It must be on the hotel's network. There's no excuse for this sort of thing. I mean, the laptop's virus scanner caught it! There's no way a server should have missed something that the laptop caught!

Just as an aside, I ate supper at an Outback in the airport in Cincinnati. They served their meals with metal cutlery. They've apparently only been doing this for a week. After 9/11 they had to give people plastic cutlery. Considering how hard it was for me to cut through my steak (it wasn't tough, but Outback insists on small, thick, sinewy steaks; I actually ate there hoping for lamb) I can't imagine using plastic knives and forks.

One thing did go right today. None of my flights were delayed and the flights were actually pretty pleasant... or as pleasant as they can be for someone who is not a major fan of flying.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Better news

Alana found out this morning that there is no plan to cut the hours of the state's Medicaid eligibility staff. They wouldn't come right and promise that they won't cut their hours at some point, but apparently the Medicaid people are not on the immediate chopping block. This makes sense, given the large number of people applying for Medicaid.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Rotten news

I haven't felt like updating the blog recently. Alana got some rotten news from the Dysfunctional State of Louisiana. Due to Katrina wrecking the Gulf coast, tax revenue has dropped and Medicaid claims are up. The state is now facing a budget shortfall of $1 billion. To alleviate some of this shortfall, they are looking at laying off state employees or drastically cutting their wages.

The state can cut wages by up to 16 hours per 80 hour bi-week, for up to 12 months in order to forgo layoffs. They are asking to have these rules changed so they can cut up to 40 hours per bi-week and extend it beyond 12 months. It's unclear if the affected workers would work half days or work one week on, one week off. Either way, Alana is — unfortunately — a state employee.

This is supposed to affect certain areas more than others. Technically her region should be okay, as it's one of the few where people are swamped with work. Everyone in her office is stressed out due to the amount of work they've had to do processing Medicaid claims. The problem is that the state has an assinine policy where someone who lost their job can bump someone in a different job of the same level. This means that Alana, who volunteers for a lot of extra work and who knows her job quite well, can get bumped by someone of the same level in a totally unrelated job in a different parish simply because they've worked at the state for longer, even if that person is virtually incompetent.

Even if she doesn't lose her job, there's a good chance she will have her hours cut, perhaps drastically. At the very least we'd lose our health insurance... assuming they let us drop it. It's entirely possible that losing 50% of her hours will not be a "qualifying event" that would allow her to change her enrollment outside of the open enrollment period.

Alana's been working a lot of hours, some of which she might not get paid for. We hoped to get away next month for a short vacation, but that idea's shot. We've put a moratorium on buying Christmas and birthday presents. Alana has 3 weeks vacation built up, which she could use if she was laid off. I'll have 2 weeks built up once I get back from next week's training in Michigan. I'm going to see what happens if I don't take it (whether I will lose it or if the company will pay it out). This will give us a short reprieve if the worst happens.

The state will know early next month if they can cut hours, etc. That doesn't mean we'll know anything next month. The threat of being cut or bumped will continue to hang over us for at least the next year, though presumably the worst will be over by the new year. Maybe. In the meantime all we can do is curse incompetent state and federal politicians for cutting budgets and driving up deficits to the point where they can't cope with any serious adversity.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Living in the CD player - 10/9/2005

The two CDs I listened to the most the past couple of weeks were from back in the 90s: Garbage's first, self-titled, CD, and Day For Night by The Tragically Hip. Day For Night is my favourite Hip CD.

The Fuel CD Something Like Human is still on rotation in the Corolla, as is a compilation CD of American alt-rock that I made.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Review: the new Chile Verde

Life's been more hectic than usual. I was home with Logan on Thursday because he wasn't feeling well. I wouldn't have bothered going in to work today to catch up if it wasn't for the fact that I have to do on-site training in Michigan in a week. So, not much time to update the blog.

On the way home I passed the new Chile Verde. Chile Verde is a local chain of Mexican restaurants. The one on Louisville is one of our favourite places to eat. They opened their fourth restaurant on September 26. We had dinner there on the 29th. The good news is that it's only about a 3 minute drive from our house. The bad news is that we probably won't eat there very much.

The location is pretty. It's on the west side of highway 165 north of Forsythe. The rear dining area has a nice view of the bayou/canal and the woods beyond. The building has been a succession of bars and restaurants. Considering how busy it's been since, the location doesn't appear to be a problem. The place is painted in gaudy, bright colours, but you expect that in a Mexican place.

You also expect a certain amount of disorganization in a restaurant's first week. At the same time, the new Chile Verde had big shoes to fill. We're usually served in under 10 minutes at the Louisville store, regardless of how busy they are. This new place was pretty busy, but definitely not up to capacity. There were several empty tables in our section. Our order was taken shortly after we sat down and the waitress came by our table a couple of times in the next few minutes, so she was not overworked. Even still, it took about half an hour for our food to arrive.

I ordered the enchiladas a la crema, my favourite. When it arrived, I was dismayed. Instead of the usual mixed Mexican cheese sauce, it had a white sauce with red and green peppers throughout. The peppers overpowered the dish. It was spicey enough that I took one bite and then sent it back. To their credit, the manager came to the table right away. He explained that the chef made the dish in a different manner from the other restaurants. Okay, I can understand wanting to do something new, but they shouldn't change the recipe of an established dish! People expect their food to turn out more-or-less the same way at each restaurant in a chain, otherwise why bother eating at a chain?

Alana wasn't crazy about her taco salad. She thought it was a bit tasteless (ironic, considering what was wrong with mine). Logan did like the kids' pizza meal, though.

I doubt very much that our waitress will make the cut. She seemed a bit nervous and shy at first, but this later became disinterest. Maybe she was worried that having a dish sent back would hurt her tip. When I brought the problem of my dinner to her attention she argued that the restaurant was essentially the same as the West Monroe store (there are slight variations in the Louisville and West Monroe restaurants), and that the enchiladas were made the same way there. We ate at the West Monroe location a month ago and I know it wasn't made this way. Restaurants, like other retail establishments, tend to over-hire for the first month and pare down the staff after the initial rush is over. I would be very surprised to find her still working there by Thanksgiving.

In spite of the proximity, we'll continue to eat at the Louisville location. We might give the highway 165 store another try, but it's definitely on probation. It's not that it's a bad Mexican restaurant — it still beats out El Chicos — but it's nowhere near as good as the Louisville store. Monroe isn't so large that an extra 10 minute drive, even with gas at its current extortionate price, is that big of a pain.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

FEMA's web site is as well run as FEMA

I picked up the following from the RISKS digest. (RISKS digest is a newsgroup, with web digest, dealing with the risks of using computers.) Apparently FEMA's web site only works if you use Microsoft Internet Explorer, and it only barely works when you use that! This post is by Douglas Jones.

The FEMA web portal violates a number of good web usage guidelines. The first page at is fixed-width, not conforming to the user's browser window. Things get worse from there.

The web page is a mess when viewed under iCab, my preferred web browser, the browser spent what seemed an eternity blinking from grey to white and back again before stabilizing with content. When I clicked on Register for Assistance, it went back to blinking and kept it up for so long that I gave up.

When I repeated the exercise under Safari, Clicking on Register for Assistance, which takes me to I got the following error message:

500 Internal Server Error
Servlet error: java.lang.ClassNotFoundException:

When I tried it under IE, it got farther, letting me through an automated test to distinguish humans from bots, but then it gave me the message:

Integrated Security Access and Control (ISAAC) Unavailable Your request cannot be processed because the ISAAC system is unavailable. Please try again later or contact the FEMA Helpline at the number listed below.

So, it's clear to me that they've engineered a web system that is:
a) Extraordinarily over-engineered to work under only one browser,
b) Nonfunctional under that browser,

This, I conclude, is simply another example of FEMA incompetence.
You can read the RISKS digest at

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

My life, in miniature

Although I spend most of my down time playing roleplaying games these days, miniature games are my favourite. It's hard to play a large battle in a small apartment, and the roleplaying games are taking up so much of my time (between write-ups and scenario creation) that I don't have much time for painting. Hopefully that will start to change soon, once I am caught up on my RPG write-up writing (I have our latest Delta Green and HârnMaster write-ups to do, as well as the World War II Delta Green/Feng Shui game from the July 4 weekend).

I'm currently playtesting three sets of rules, two of my own design. The one I'm working on right now is Bujutsu. This is a set of miniatures rules for Japanese samurai skirmishes. It is based on the BattleLust rules by Columbia Games, which is the miniatures version of the HârnMaster combat system.

Version 1.1, available on my web site, is very much an expansion of BattleLust. It required BattleLust to play and used almost all of the BattleLust rules. Version 1.2 is shifting away from the parent rule set. Most of the concepts are the same, but the combat tables — except for the missile tables — are different. I may even change the missile tables when all is said and done. I'm debating making it a stand-alone product (doesn't need BattleLust to play). Right now I'm not comfortable doing that because it's just too much like the parent game. If, however, I end up modifying the morale rules there will be little reason not to make it a stand-alone rule set. At that point I'd want to change the way injuries are handled, thus divorcing the game from BattleLust entirely. We'll see how far I get along that route.

The second set of rules I'm playtesting allow you to play Call of Cthulhu games with miniatures. The basic activation, movement, and combat systems work well. I'm now working on the sanity/morale rules. I may even steal the activation system for use with the standalone Bujutsu rules.

The third game is PKombat. This is a science fiction skirmish version of Piquet. Piquet is a game people either love or hate. It does a wonderful job of duplicating fog of war, but at the expense of taking away some player control. I find it a fascinating system, which works well solitaire. The abbreviation for Piquet is "PK", which resulted in PKowboys, a western skirmish rule version of the game. PKombat, by Nick Hawkins, is in the same vein as PKowboys. I hope to do some playtesting of PKombat this coming weekend. We don't have much space in the apartment, but I can play the game using some 15mm figures (instead of the "standard" 25mm figures) on our dining room table.

There are two other rules I could/should be playtesting, both by Ground Zero Games: Full Thrust 3 and FMA Skirmish. Full Thrust 3 (FT3) is the next version of the popular starship combat miniatures game. FMA Skirmish is Jon Tuffley's small scale science fiction skirmish game.

I haven't played Full Thrust in about three years owing to the amount of space needed. Even though I helped playtest the first set of Fleet Book ships in the late 90s, I feel I'm way too far behind the rest of the FT playtesters to be of much use. Besides, there still is no coherent manuscript from Jon Tuffley, the author. Instead there are a number of rules proposed by the playtest group, some of which may or may not show up in the final version. I know the group needs people to test some of these rules, but I don't have a lot of spare time. I did some FMA Skirmish testing of rules created by one of the other playtesters only to have Jon come by at a late date and nix those rules completely. I just don't have enough spare time to be burned that way again.

FMA Skirmish (FMAS) is in an aggravating state of flux. Jon started writing the rules back in 1998, I think, maybe sooner. I joined the playtest group in 1998 specifically to work on this game. My original intention was to use FMAS for Call of Cthulhu miniatures games. Jon's been slow in supplying us with rules to test. I have played it a fair bit, but I haven't touched it in several months. The playtest group hasn't discussed the game in months, either, with their attentions focused on FT3. Jon is leaning toward publishing FT3 by next spring. If that's the case, it will be at least the end of 2006, and probably spring of 2007 at the earliest before we see FMAS.

So, while I wait for Jon to concentrate on FMAS again, I'll just have playtest my own rules and PKombat. And work on our roleplaying games. And add more of my battlefield pictures to my web site. And work on my battlefield essays...