Tuesday, 18 December 2012

LoAP Puzzle Hunt 2012

So, I've not been good at this blogging thing recently. And one of the myriad reasons is that my friend Dan (of the rap battle) and I (well, mostly Dan, but I helped) have been writing a puzzle hunt in the style of the MUMS and SUMS hunts, but a lot more primitive (at least on my behalf), starting on December 30. Here's a little teaser...

If you'd like to join in, head to the site and sign up (there's lot of details on how to play there). If you can find the hidden message in the puzzle above you get a bonus point towards your campaign for LoAP Puzzle Hunt 2012 glory.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The Press War: Said Russian Dan

Of course, you can't get away with that sort of thing in the press releases before somebody responds, in this case my erstwhile Russian colleague with this little riff on an old favourite of mine, Said Hanrahan, by P.J. Hartigan.

"We'll all be rooned," said Italy
In accents of despair,
And turned from France most bitterly
with cunning plots to share.

The politicians stroked their maps
Of nations set for war,
And talked of fleets, and stabs, and traps,
Like every year before.

"If we're to last," came Turkey's call,
"Bedad, to hold our ground,
Sevastopol this year must fall - 
It's Russia we must hound."

"Don't turn on me," Russia bemoaned,
"My force is scant and spread.
For Trieste Rome has not atoned;
It's he whom we need dead."

"I had no choice! I needed lands!"
Came Italy's reply,
"We'll all be rooned if France expands,
To Paris turn your eye."

"Ah, 'méfiez-vous de tout le monde'"
Was all that France could quote,
"Wake up! The Germans have you conned!
Quick, seize the Kaiser's throat!"

"Fight me?" The Gothic leader's eyes,
were wide with great alarm,
"'Tis clearly Britain I despise.
When did I do you harm?"

"They would not dare to turn on me,"
The King of England laughed,
"And any Austrians I see
will soon in brine be bathed."

"My army's strong, and though you'll try
You'll never reach this far,"
The Archduke crowed, "The Turk strike I,
While Ank S Con to BLA"

Once friends and allies, now as stones:
their treaties left to rot.
With ears blocked to conspi'ring tones,
They each alone did plot.

Just then a ray of hope appeared,
"Lets play Ticket to Ride."
And so, just as the Germans feared,
we ruled their countryside.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Press War

While we're ripping off better poets, let me also share with you a couple of snippets from my ongoing diplomacy game (now down to three players thanks to a debilitating move to Trieste last turn). The press in this game has been a lot of fun, as after our earlier rap efforts, we turned to other sources for inspiration. These verses followed my Spring 1901 move to Trieste, and was mainly (and somewhat unwisely) directed at taunting the Austrian.

"You are weak, Father Thomas," the young Archduke stressed,
"And your armies are looking quite green;
And yet you incessantly hold in Trieste-
Just what, by such moves, do you mean?"

"In my youth," Father Thomas replied "My dear son
I feared it might injure my chances;
But now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
It was either steal yours; or steal France's"

"You are weak," said the Duke "As I mentioned before,
And have grown uncommonly haughty;
And so you have marched your men up to my door-
Don't you think that's a little bit naughty?"

"In my youth," said the Pope, "I rented my corps
To nations in martial trouble;
The price of these legions, one centre,-or four-
Allow me to lend you a couple"

"You are weak, Father Ted, and I'd hardly suppose,
That your wit was as present as ever;
But your scheming is keeping my troops on their toes-
What made you so awfully clever?"

"In my youth," he replied "I studied the moon,
and I wrestled with bears in my prime.
Your neighbours and 'allies' all dance to my tune;
We'll take all your centres in time."

"You are weak," said the Duke, with a wry little smirk,
"If you hurt me you know that you'll rue it.
Yet you plot with the Tsar and you plot with the Turk-
Pray, how do you think that you'll do it?"

"I have answered three questions, and that is enough;"
Said the Pope "You're alone for the rest!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off! Or I'll take Budapest!"

Monday, 22 October 2012

Raptember V: Rap-ematica

It took me a couple of weeks of on and off work to pull this monsterpiece together, but I am perversely proud of it. If I ever find the time, I will be hoping to make a music video based on this little gem from my childhood, but for now you just get the lyrics.

So-ciety, let's wig it!

Ice-ak Newton...

All right, stop.
Put a plug in all your ructions.
'Ice' is here with my brand new deduction.
Something of importance so heightened,
at the end of the age we will all be Enlightened.
Why do apples drop? Yo, you don't know?
Turn up the lights, and I'll show.
Something extreme to rock your naive world-model,
mess with your head, and contradict Aristotle.

We need a bit of background.
Oblige me a while as I attempt to expound.
In Hist'ry, 'til we get to Gallileo
(you're gonna need this to get it to the full, yo),
they said objects stopped 'less you interfered
and when he disagreed, said he was weird.

Seems there's a problem? Yo, I solved it.
Check it out, Hooke, while my DJ revolves it...

Ice-ak Newton... Inertia
Ice-ak Newton... Inertia
Ice-ak Newton... Inertia
Ice-ak Newton... Inertia

That "An object in motion
continues to move (like waves on the ocean),
constant in speed, in constant direction,
unless it's compelled by a force of deflection".
No aether or classical elements
are in action, just rational events.
This is also why a body at rest
will stay right there. Now, ain't you impressed?

Hold on, because I ain't done.
Yo, my Mathematica's just begun.
I'm not just re-statin',
time to get creatin'.
Am I done? No! I'm cognatin'!
Keep on attending to the next one.
Ain't stopping me now, 'cause I'm getting to the real fun.
Momentum time.

Let me continue to "F = m a (multiplied)".
F is force acting upon a center.
m is the mass (as defined by me elsewhere).
a is the change in the speed
on time (acceleration's the word that we need).
Concept's so revolutionary,
when a unit is defined I guess they'll name it after me.

Clearly, from here can be inferred
that momentum has to be conserved.
Fallin' like an apple, real fast,
down from the tree, onto the grass.
A force is acting, to bring it to ground,
bringing that mass its way, sure as the earth is round.
From where comes this flow, and why is it so?
Just let me say, hypotheses non fingo!

Seems there's a problem? Yo, I'm solvin'.
Check it out, Hooke: Why the world is revolvin'.

Ice-ak Newton... Gravity
Ice-ak Newton... Gravity
Ice-ak Newton... Gravity
Ice-ak Newton... Gravity

Take heed, 'cause I'm a physical poet,
discovery machine, just in case you didn't know it.
Law: see that "Each and every action
has an equal and opposite reaction,
in opposing direction". You know it's true,
push on a stone, and feel the stone pushing you.

For engineering, this is a critical concept.
Isaac Newton. I authored these notions,
I've given to you all my laws of motion.
If there is credit due, 'snot mine,
belongs to all science.
Seen further by standing on the shoulders of giants.
Knighthood, your Highness? Then I'll take it, I guess.
Thankyou all for your time. That concludes my address.

Seems there's a problem? Yo, I'm solvin'.
Check it out, Hooke: Why the world is revolvin'.

Ice-ak Newton... Show's over
Ice-ak Newton... Show's over
Ice-ak Newton... Show's over
Ice-ak Newton... Show's over

Yo man, let's get out of here.
Word to your professor.
It doesn't scan that nicely, I know, but I feel like it holds reasonably true to the original, which does'nt either, and with rap it's pretty easy to cheat. That concludes Raptember 2012, and few raps short, but it gives me something to aim for next year. If you want to be in the music video, let me know.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Raptember IV: A Night to Raptember

Just because his partner in rhyme wasn't producing couldn't stop this messenger from going about his appointed rounds, so come another week and Dan Thomas, VIP of rap, delivered this one too:

'twas the night before Chris'mas, the mood was all good.
I was just hangin', chillin out in ma hood.
But somethin' was naggin', tho I couldn't grizzle,
then I knew what it was, I wanted some egg-nizzle.
I leapt on the 'net, found this sweet recipe,
and that's what I'm gonna be rhymin' at ye.

If ya think these beats good, then you should've seen
me beatin' one dozen yolks into a cream.
I added sweet sugar, one-point-five of a cup,
and mixed for 10 minutes 'til the [EDITED FOR RADIO] thickened up.
I added in milk, a whole one-point-five litres,
and stirred it by hand - no more electric beaters.

Now I ain't no fool, who needs booze to feel sweet,
but if you want, Now's the time to add canned heat.
Two cups of Klippies' what you use if you can,
and three-fourths of Marlon if they doubt you're a man.
Whip to stiff peaks, now, two cups of cream,
and separately all of the whites you stripped clean.

Fold ev'ry thing together, fo'shiz
and mix it like it ain't nobody's biz.
Now I must confess to my Yule eggnog vice,
two teaspoons of the Myristica spice.
Keep the mix chilled (that is, if you can wait,)
either way, this recipe should serve eight.
I was really going to have to yet on my metaphorical bike.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Raptember III: Sarajevizzle Rapdizzle

Dan followed up his masterpiece of madness from the week before with this charming little number, which I thought was my favourite of the month. Listening to Dan talk about pre-WWI Europe is always fun.

In the early months of eighteen-seventy-one,
von Bismark was out there, havin' his fun.
He marched his ol' army into Alsace-Lorraine;
Would'nt exit from France, unless they paid for the train.
He took all their cash, kept some of the land,
and to stop other nations from takin' a stand,
proclaimed the Empire of Germany there
and made a network of allies like he just didn't care.

One such alliance, the Dreikaiserbund pact
united Germany with two powers, in fact:
Austria-Hung'ry, the German's ol' friend
and the Bear of the East, who's lands never end.
This was all signed in one-eight-seven-three,
and poor little France looked all lost at sea.
But Russia had visions of it's noble fate,
as protector of Balkan's in '78.

'cos Austria wanted to master the Slavs
and Russia denied them by blockin' their paths.
The Dreikaiserbund at once fell apart,
But Bismark, he knew it was only the start.
The followin' year the Hun was inclined
to charm Austria, the Dual Alliance was signed.
But that was not all, he moved like a shark,
that plottin' ol', schemin' ol' Otto Bismark.

Peace was restored when the Österreich
was forced to back down, and Otto was like,
"Russia, come hang here, Dreikaiserbund's on!
Lets all hate on France because we're so strong."
The followin' year, it was '82,
Bismark tried somethin' a little bit new:
A triple alliance with Italy's state
and once again Austria, his closest mate.

For the next five years, ev'rythin's chilled
then Russia and Austria think blood should be spilled.
Each just starts poppin' caps in the ass
of the other, and Bismarks all "You guys are a gas!"
So he just signs a new deal with the Bear -
I told you he allied just like he don' care -
But in '88 Willy II takes the crown,
and next year von Bismark gets kicked outta town.

But Kaiser Willy, he don' have a clue,
days later he simply forgets to renew
the Russian alliance. France needs nothin' more,
and signs an entente in the year '94.
Up 'til now Britain's been hangin' right back,
but from '99 to '02 they go on the attack.
They're fightin' the Germans in the Boer War,
but only in Africa, where Willy wants more.

The war ends in '02, and Britain real cheesed,
because her two rivals for new colonies
are workin' together, (that's Russia and France)
and now the proud German's refusin' to dance.
"I need a strong ally, someone who can
help me in Europe; wait, I know - JAPAN!"
All the great powers were R-O-F-L
'cos Japan was too small to serve Britain well.

Or that's what they thought, but then in '04
began the Russo-Japanese war.
The Japanese conquered, went straight for the neck,
and Russia fled screamin' "Dude! No! What the heck?"
Meanwhile Britain signs deals with the Frank
The Entente Cordiale is safe in the bank.
Three years post defeat, poor Russia joins in:
"Sign me up, Triple Entente for the win!"

The lines were drawn, though the war's not begun:
Italy, Austria-H and the Hun
versus Britain, Russia, France and Japan.
Though some of the blame goes to the Schlieffen Plan.
Austria's up to its usual tricks,
seizin' the Balkans, gettin' his kicks.
The Archduke is cruisin' about in a car,
when a terrorist cell decides he's gone to far.

This militant group is called "the Black Hand"
and chuck a bomb at ol' Ferdinand.
They miss, the bomb bounces and hits the next car,
and the would-be assassins head for a bar.
The convoy pulls over, checks everyone's fine,
then carry on, all their cars in a line,
when on the way home, the driver gets lost,
goes down the wrong street to a terrible cost.

By chance the car stalls, by chance its outside
the cafe where one terrorist went to hide.
By chance he was packin' some heat just in case,
so he goes out and shoots the Archduke in the face.
Austria thinks he can probably take'em
and issues an unreasonable ultimatum.
Still, Serbia says "We'll comply to thirteen,
but this fourteenth point we'd like to discuss, if you're keen."

"HOW DARE YOU?!" the Austrians give their reply.
"For such disobedience you all shall die."
"Do it," says Germany, right there and then,
"Do it, I'll back you up with my fine men."
But Russia cries "No! These Serbs are my kin.
Hurt one little hair, and our war will begin."
"Do it," Germany urges again,
"Do it, remember I'll lend you my men."

The Austrian strikes, the Russian's yell "Go!",
but over such distance the motion is slow.
"What?" asks the German. "Why did you attack?
Now my men will have to cover your back!"
But Schlieffen, the Gen'ral, expected no fight
with Russia where France had not joined with delight.
The only plan to take on the Tzar
was an early strike at France (Que Sera).

To hit at the east, the Hun headed west,
but not in a straight line, that could not be best.
Through Luxembourg and Belgium they fly
Then Britain yells, "Wait, Belgium's neutrality
is violated - think way back in time
we all agreed in 1839
Belgium is neutral, read it and weep,
we to the Belgians defence must now leap."

It was true they had written, in London that year,
That Belgium would never have nothin' to fear.
Britain had signed it, so had the Hun,
the Frank, the Austrian, the Bear and Belgium.
So A-H hit Serbia, Russia backs Serbs,
Germany backs Austria, and France she disturbs.
France leaps at once to her ally's defence,
and Britain aids Belgium who's trapped on the fence.

He's one hoopy frood.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Raptember II: Can't Build This

Dan Thomas, an old friend of mine with too much time on his hands, is never one to back down from a challenge, so this was his contribution for the next week or raptember, with apologies to M.C. Hammer and the public at large:
You can't build this.
You can't build this.
You can't build this.
You can't build this.
My- my- my-
my pictures hit me, so hard,
with their blatant disregard
for the, laws of physics;
No Euclid for these graphics.
Goodbye, to old Newton,
now left is right and up is down.
I'm not, unskilled.
and this is a house (uh) you can't build.

I told you, Darboux...
You can't build this.
Yeah, that's not realistic, and you know...
You can't build this.
Look at my stairs, man.
You can't build this.
Yo, let this world melt before your eyes.
You can't build this.
All my pics, are great.
a fish and duck gonna tessellate.
Water, flowin' uphill
drivin' my perpetual watermill.
Your mouths are... agape
I'm sketchin'
my reflection on convex shape.
With chairs. And shelves.
Meanwhile my
hands are drawin' themselves.
This art ain't... for the weak willed.
This is a house (uh) you can't build.

Yo, I told you;
You can't build this.
How you standing there man?
You can't build this.
Get down before you come unstuck there.
You can't build this.
My list of works, carries on
nonconvex regular polyhedron
which, they hype
with doors. Inside
a dozen turtles, together reside.
In my, pic called
Metamorphosis III chess towns unfold
into, strange birds
and fish and bees, then squares and then words.
Right to left, of course, you know...
You can't build this.
You can't build this.
Break it down.
Stop. Escher time.
continues up and down the constant, eternal
stair case, recalcitrant folk
briefly rebel, then conform to the main yolk
of our, social system.
as another set of stairs where you fall, fall, fall, fall
You can't build this.
Look man,
You can't build this.
There ain't no council, boy, will ever approve this,
You can't build this.
"This structure's, too unsound"...
Break it down.
Stop. Escher time.
You can't build this.
You can't build this.
You can't build this.
Break it down.
Stop. Escher time.
Then I play some mind games, and draw my picture's sane
I leave you to try to find what's wrong within the frame.
My impact is so great, that when you try
your sure there's something wrong with, a real pond or sky.
My works have influenced, Lemmings and Doctor Who,
You can't build this.
You can't build this.
You can't build this.
You can't build this.
I told you,
You can't build this.
Can't build this.
Can't build this.
That was going to be a hard one to beat. I thought that I was up to the challenge, but it took me a while to come up with a response, and in the mean time, Dan didn't let up...

Tuesday, 16 October 2012


The challenge, a rap every week for September, where 'rap' is defined as any piece of verse that could conceivably be conveyed by a teenager in baggy clothing to the accompaniment of his little brother inexpertly beatboxing. Dan Thomas, of future archeological fame and reknown, leapt into the fray:

I was just hangin'
out in the hood,
doin' whatever I wanted or could.
I looked at the date,
just then I remember
this here is the very first week of Raptember!
I sat down at once
and wasted no time
gettin' down to business and pennin' a rhyme.
I sent it at once
with hopes to engender
Tommy-D to reply on the third of Raptember.
Now there's nothing left
to do but kick back
in a warm leather chair with a glass of cognac
and soak up the warmth
of the coals in the fender,
contentedly glowing, each one a "Rapt-ember".
Break it down.

So, Dan had delivered, it was my turn, and there was no way that I could let a line like that last one go unpunished:

Well the days fly by
like the discounts at Coles,
an' my muse has vamoosed, it's outside my control.
But jus' like Marlon Brando,
I wanna be a contender.
I'll get back on the track, 'cause this is Raptember, yo!

Time is a-wasting
like the Bloods and the Crips.
I wanna tighten my writin' but I'm coming up zips.
Danny-T threw the gauntlet
And I gotta accept 'er,
Or admit I'm not it when it comes to Raptember, yo!

I ain't got what it takes
to re-master the beat?
I ain't ceding to that reading: 'cause I'm here to compete.
Yeah I know it ain't so
An' I ain't just some pretender
been dreaming of Em-Ceein' since I was a Rapt-embryo!

[Baboons and Pigs]

It's your turn, dawg.

But wait, it gets worse...

Monday, 15 October 2012

1901: Disgrace Odyssey

In a currently ongoing game of Diplomacy, myself (as Pope) and my short-lived Russian ally, having exhausted our political and tactical options, set about a campaign of intimidation in the public press wires, designed to terrify our Austrian neighbour into folding before our combined military and ghetto credentials. And what better way than to rap our oppenent into submission?

 On a rest in Trieste where the beaches are fine
 Rehearsin' ma sermons, revisin' my lines
 Don?t go messin' wit' me while I'm watching the surf
 Cause the papa is here, and I'm claimin' ma turf

 When the hood's in the woods, well you better watch out
 When my homies are homin' ain't no room for doubt
 Ain't slackin': we packin', and we got a bad rep
 Watch out for the men from the thirty-nine steppes.

 Thomassino's the name and Popin's the game
 And mountain assaultin' is my claim to fame
 Silver-tongued asp in a slick armoured car
 That's it from me -hit 'em, D-Tzar.

Yo, the popey-posse say that Europe's at war
 Austria's nervous, an' Turkey is more
 Rolling with my armour down Ukrainian hills
 Sayin' 'Sultan/Duke, get out of my (Bear) Grillz!'

Pretty silly and not well executed, I know, but you get the point. As a diplomatic technique, as evidenced by his elimination and my continuing half-existence as a Turkish puppet-state, it leaves a little to be desired, but it set off a yearning to say "Yo" at inappropriate moments and spawned a monster called "Raptember", whose delectable fruit I will share with you in the coming days. It's not exactly high art, but please promise not to laugh at me.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Read: The Uncommon Reader

My mother taught me to read. I don't remember how, or any particular moment in time in which the process was happening, and I'm sure that my father had a role in there somewhere (both are keen readers of the sort of books that they like), but my mother has a love of the written word that she passed on to me, giving birth to and nurturing what many, including my mother, would not hesitate to call a bit of a monster.

At some point in the past, somewhere in high school, my mother stopped recommending books to me and I started recommending books to her, which while it makes me feel good hasn't been bringing any new books in. So it was nice to get a copy of this one pressed into my hands after I'd enquired about it, with a knowing glint in her eye and a reminder that I was, on no account, to claim it as my own.

And I can see why my mother, perceptive and wise woman and occasional reader of this blog as she is, would recommend it to me, because it is a book about books, and I am always a sucker for that type of thing. The book is Alan Bennett's The Uncommon Reader, a 120-page novella in which the Queen, while walking her Corgis, comes across a mobile library, borrows a book and begins an alarmingly intense love affair with books, to the detriment of her timetable, her staff, and the public at large. I devoured it last evening, perhaps nibbled is a better word given the length, and can happily say that I did enjoy it, so there's no need to start checking out nursing homes for the old dear (my mother, I'm not in a position to comment on the Queen) just yet.

The book feels like one of those silly conversations that you have in the middle of the night. 'What would happen if the queen suddenly became obsessed with reading?', where ideas are taken to their logical, or not so logical, conclusion and a subtle, snort-worthy humour is born from the juxtaposition of ideas. For anyone in the Commonwealth, the queen is a ubiquitous figure, and the idea of our stately and elegant ruler secretly reading Proust or Dickens while waving from the royal carriage or sneaking away from a dinner to catch a chapter or two is an amusing one. And of course, jokes at the expense of Prince Philip are always appreciated in my household.

Page 23:
'Do you know,' she said one afternoon as they were reading in her study, 'Do you know the area in which one would truly excel?'
'No ma'am?'
'The pub quiz. One has been everywhere, seen everything, and though one might have difficulty with pop music and some sport, when it comes to the capital of Zimbabwe, say, or the principal exports of New South Wales, I have all that at my fingertips.'
'And I could do the pop,' said Norman.
'Yes,' said the Queen, 'We would make a good team. Ah well. The road not travelled.'

An amusing idea, and a diverting one, but not one of great substance, and I had hoped from the first half that the book that it was going to go farther than it did, and was left with the feeling that instead of telling me a story Mr. Bennett had merely told me a joke, all be it an extremely well-executed and charming one. I had hoped for something with just a little more bite to it, and though the book moves passably fast and the writing (though it's easy to write pompous Brits, for some reason) and the twists are most enjoyable, it's not a book that I'd be lending to most people who ask what I'm reading.

Which is just as well, after all, since I have to give it back. It has my mother's name in the front.

Reading Progress:
Number of Books read: 11
Australian dividend: 3.045
Science Fiction dividend: 2.5
Fantasy dividend: 3.5
Biography dividend: 2.5
Literary dividend: 1
Mystery dividend: 1.5
Humour dividend: 1

Up next
Turning Japanese.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Can Christians play chess?

Monday. Vaguely religious-themed day. You guys get to be my diary for a bit. Could get personal, will be muddled, will probably contradict myself. You've been warned.

When I arrived at church yesterday I was greeted by a number of activites in the foyer, abrightly coloured parachute, a pool table, some giant jenga blocks, a game of twister and a large foam chess set. It was an all-ages service, something that our church does every now and then, and I look forward to them because 'all-ages' generally means 'for the kids', and that means that I can dance to the music without getting funny looks (because kids songs generally have actions), don't have to listen very hard to the sermon (if there is one), and can generally act up, just enjoying being in the company of my friends in a gentle and welcoming atmosphere of the church community. The service didn't disappoint, it had enough depth to it to be a nice reminder to me about the nature of prayer, allowing people to share with each other instead of just sitting back listening to a minister, while keeping the kids at least moderately interested. This is a difficult task which I've tried to achieve before with only limited success, as it's hard to gear something so that adults will still get something out of a service that is by neccesity built for and around young children, and the old rule about never working with children or animals is a rule for a very good reason.

But that's not what this post is about. No, as you may have guessed given that this is the Leaflocker and I am who I am, this is a post about the chess and the Christian attitude towards it and other games, and just a bit of a braindump in general. It's going to ramble a bit as there isn't really a plan and I've got a couple of different ideas that I'd like to play with, a little bit serious and a little bit tongue in cheek, and of course it'll come at things from a Christian perspective, so if you dislike poor prose or religious content, this is your first and final warning: go read Dinosaur Comics or something.

The board was set up underneath a poster that explained that 'Chess is like our Christian lives; it requires forward planning, respect of your fellow players and the ability to adapt to new challenges' (I meant to take down what it said exactly, but the sign had disappeared by the time I got back there after the service, so I must apologise if my quote is not spot-on). This is an example of a habit of religious people that I find incredibly irritating, the idea that the word 'Christian' in that sentence makes any difference, implying that those who aren't Christian can't plan for the future or respect others, and aren't equipped to deal with new challenges. It might be true that non-Christians don't come at problems the same way that we do (at least when we're coming at things the way we should), but the kind of attitude that supposes that the heathens are somehow lesser than we are must be avoided like the plague.

I'm certain that this isn't what was meant by this sign, that for whoever wrote it 'Christian life' and 'life' are seem like synonyms in a religious setting. The ability that some people are blessed with, to look at parts of everyday life and see what it can teach us about the nature of God and creation, is a beautiful and precious gift that I try to foster in myself, but I see a danger here, an extension of the 'us and them' mentality that only causes divides and breeds an isolationism and disconnect between Christians and the rest of the world, something that worries me whenever I see it.

But I also see another message in this simple sign, something that as a gamer paused me to stop and think on a topic that I've visited many times in the past and will undoubtedly visit again. The mere presence of the sign, the acknowledgement that a game needs some justification of its holiness to be in the church foyer, worries me. Why can't a game be there as something for people (players and kibitzers) to do together to pass the time before the service? Why does it have to be justified as something that builds us up and can teach us something about God? A pool table is just a pool table, a chess board is just a chess board, a medium for us to exercise or minds and our bodies, share with others just by being together? Maybe that's enough. But when we spend hours bent over a pool table or a chessboard, honing our skills and testing our mind alone, is that enough?

When I estimate the hours of my life spent playing or thinking about video games, for example, playing Pokemon, watching re-runs of Doctor Who, reading pulp science-fiction, things that have little or no positive effect on the world around me, it adds up a very large amount of time. Am I not only wasting that time, am I practising something that is inherently sinful? I've always settled on the position that as long as I don't set up these things as idols that distract me from the important things in my life, that they're acceptable, that they're beneficial even, to relax me, to occupy me, to improve my brain in some abstract and not easily defined way. Do I have to find something in every activity in my life that makes me more holy or helps myself or someone else in some little way for it to be justified?

It would be easier to just do as the Romans do, to justify things by saying "I am enjoying this, therefore I shall do it more", and trust that my God made me in such a way that I would only enjoy those things that are good for me, but that's a pretty cissy philosophy that doesn't gel with Christianity. I am fortunate enough to be part of a religion where there is a guidebook, albeit a few thousand years out of date, and it's pretty clear that doing as we wish isn't how we please God. So how do I find a middle-ground, where I can enjoy the little things, help bring joy to the lives of the people around me, and grow closer to God at the same time.

I don't know. I've never known. I try things, and they mostly don't work. But I know that I can't spend my life concerned only with Godly things or I'll go mad, and I know that I could easily spend my life playing games, but I'd be just as mad. I guess I just keep trying to spend as much time as I can bring myself to in the first category, pray for the strength and the wisdom to know the difference, and get as good at the French Defence as I can along the way.

But since I like to hedge my bets, here's a few tongue-in-cheek justifications for the way I seem to be spending my down-time at the moment:
'Chess is like life. It teaches us that those who move first have a slight advantage, that learning from the book isn't enough without real experience, and that sometimes a draw is the best outcome we can hope for.'
'Trumpeting is llike life. We'll only get better at it if we grow the calluses, and until then it's sometimes going to be terrible.'
'Chaturangaraja is like life. It teaches us the power of the King, not to neglect the little pieces, and that even the smallest actions can yield unexpected fruit.'
'Doctor Who is like life. There's always time to talk, the nice guys always win in the end, and that there's always another Dalek just around the corner.'
'Pokemon is like life. It teaches us to devote time to levelling up, even when it seems like a grind, to regularly check the guidebook for handy hints, to talk to everybody, and to always keep a stock of pokeballs. And you can always make it harder if you want a challenge.'
'Drinking tea is like life. It might be bitter, but the world be a less interesting place and conversations would be more awkward without it.'

Thursday, 9 August 2012


The world of chess variants is a weird and wonderful place, full of curious boards, exotic pieces and no small number of nutters capable of thinking in three or more dimensions, but the most popular chess variants are, and have always been, games that are only a little bit different to the chess of the common people. Strange chess variants come and go, but those that last have only small and elegant differences to the normal game. In this way modern FIDE chess grew from medieval chess, which grew from Shatrang, which grew from...let's not get into the whole India/China chess origins thing today, except to say that chess has been growing and changing for as long as there has been people with the time and cranial capacity to sit down and play games against one another.

It's with this in mind that I sat down a few months ago and designed two modest chess variants that I was fortunate enough to be able to subject a couple of friends to at the second of our occasional chess variant tournaments earlier this year. I've designed chess variants before, but these were actually playable and actually interesting, belonging to the family of chess variants distinguished by pieces inheriting their powers from others, one of the simplest and most common types of variants. They're not better games than chess, if such a thing could even be imagined, but I feel that they're interesting while still being very familiar to the chess player, and they certainly seem to have some replay value, at least amongst amateur players such as ourselves.

The first of these games, which am identical starting position to Orthochess, is a little something that I call Chatarangaraja, which I, in my utter ignorance of foreign languages, believe might translate to something like 'The Game of the Quadripartite King'. This is a play on the name of the postulated first ancestor of chess (depending which school of thought you belong to). The rules are the same as those of orthochess except that:
A) The King has no movement powers of his own, but instead gains the powers of all the pieces remaining in his army except the Queen. 
B) There's no castling, as the increased powers of the King makes it unneeded.

In the beginning of the game, the King has the movements of a Rook, Bishop, Knight and Pawn, becoming an incredibly powerful offensive piece (an Amazon, in fairy parlance), but loses power as his pieces are taken. In the example below, though the white King may appear to be exposed and is down a Queen, White retains the full movement of the King while the Black King has lost his bishops and no longer has his diagonal movement (except for one square while capturing, like a pawn). A queen sacrifice for a minor piece in order to use a more powerful King more effectively to check the opponent is a common tactic in this game, as the other pieces have a value greater than their orthochess counterparts.

The game is easy to pick up and play passably well, but many learnt chess positions and strategies no longer apply. The powerful King means that an all out blitz straight away is almost certain to fail, and the King moving as a knight has been a trap for many an invading force. But as is typical for games with strong pieces, the game is typically over faster than orthochess, and the play seems to shift more easily too.

Perhaps more properly this game should be called Chaturangaking, with the -raja version being reserved for the same concept in a game of Shatrang, rather than modern chess. But hey, I like the name better like this, and due to the glacial pace of Shatrang and its variants I'm unlikely to play it anytime soon, so we'll call that version Chaturangashah and be done with it.

That's it for today, except to say that I'd recommend this game to those of you that like chess and would welcome any comments that you'd care to make on it, and any games of it you'd care to play against me if you happen to live nearby or can devise a way to play it online. I had intended to leave you with a puzzles that I've devised to demonstrate the game and give you some concept of the ideas of this little variant, but I've made a fundamental error that I can't think how to solve this early in the morning, so that will have to be a post for another day.

Keep on Chooglin'

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Wednesday Quiz (iii.iii): The Olympics

Let us continue with our long delayed quiz season with this everybody's favourite topic, the Olympics! Like a good shotgun, each of the following five questions is double-barreled, so watch out for that second blast that you just weren't expecting or you may just lose your head. 

1. At the time of writing, the team from Kazakhstan have six gold medals in the London 2012 games. Which metal are olympic gold medals predominately made of and which of Kazahkstan's neighbours has won the most this year?

2. Someone from Cyprus (of hideous map-related flag fame) has won a medal in the sailing. What would you call someone from Cyprus, and what other countries represent their geography on their flag?

3. This dashing figure on the left is Bacchus, youngest and most irresponsible of the original Olympians, by which name was he known to the Greeks, and who is the sculptor?

4. My home nation of Australia held great hopes of securing our first ever medal in the gymnastics overnight. Gymnastics medals at the olympics are awarded for rhythmic, trampoline, rings, vault, floor, parallel bars, horizontal bars, uneven bars, beam and which other event? What does the greek word gymnos, from which gymnastics originates, mean?

5. And finally, which other years has London held the Olympic games? (Hint: It's more than once)

Read: The Messenger

Unfortunately, though the Leaflocker has not been busily producing content for the last few months, we have also not been filling that time with reading, so I'm afraid that it will take us very little time indeed to work our way through the piles of books consumed since March. In fact, once this review is over, that'll be it, back to square one, so it may be a little while until our next book gets finished unless I resort to reading either novellas or comic books.

On first being lent Markus Zusak's The Messenger, my assumption was that this was the new novel of the award-winning author of The Book Thief, which I'd enjoyed quite a lot a number of years ago. Now normally the cynic in me would say that this was the book that he really wanted to write but he wrote The Book Thief first because writing a book about Jews in the Holocaust is a good way to make yourself famous, but that would be extremely unfair for two obvious reasons (if not many more). Firstly, it turned out that it was actually his first novel, and then on further research it turned out that it was actually his fourth one, but still written and published before the Book Thief, and secondly it's just a demeaning thing to say about the Book Thief, a heartbreakingly beautiful book about which I will hear no criticism.

Thus, I went into this book expecting a lot, and looking forward to again experiencing the slightly odd way that Markus Zusak comes at telling a story from an unusual direction, looking for the signs of an author that would just a couple of years after this go on to write The Book Thief, and I was not at all disappointed. The Messenger tells the strange story of Ed Kennedy, a taxi-driver who gets a strange playing card in the mail and ends up trying to save the lives and make a difference in the people around him. 

The pace is slow at first, as we were eased into the story, but the gentle conversational tone is a pleasure to read (very Australian) and the interaction of the characters, who are all fundamentally genuine and decent people (some would label them superficial), particularly in little personal conversations with Ed, is a real joy. It shares the informality of The Yiddish Policemen's Union that I so enjoyed reading last year, so I must have a soft spot for this kind of story.

Page 123:
It's the truth. I don't know. My jeans feel a thousand years old as they wrap around my legs. Almost like a blue-bottle. My shirt burns me cold. My jacket scrapes at my arms, my hair is frayed, and my eyes feel shot with blood. And I still don't know what day it is.
Just Ed.
I turn.
Just Ed walks on.
Just Ed walks fast.
He begins at attempt at a run.
But he trips.

Well, that's the other sort of style in the book, the attempt to be 'literary and serious' that I found a little too forced. It works well, don't get me wrong, but it feels a little too put on to be taken seriously, the one thing that puts The Messenger down a peg on my personal rating system compared to The Book Thief. But I did enjoy the conversational tone too.

There is, as with all books that are trying to be literature, as well as all good mystery stories, (which this book most definitely is) a big twist ending, which I failed to guess although with a couple of chapters to go I was just a hair's-breadth from the right answer. I found it charming, but I suspect that it was supposed to be a 'Whoa' moment. This feeling was reinforced by the 'reading notes' in the back, which are apparently widely used (I recently discovered that I have a friend who studied it for year Twelve English), and it much be a handy tool for school classes and book groups to have the questions all written out already, even if they are a little on the side of 'So class, how clever do you think the author is on a scale of 9 to 10'.

Overall, I'd recommend this book, not as much as I'd recommend The Book Thief, but still more than any other book that I've read in recent times. I don't know how well-known Murkus Zusak is outside of the country, but I should note for my American audience that this one is called I Am The Messenger in the US, and that at the prices that you guys get away with buying new books for I see no reason why you shouldn't get yourselves a copy. For my Australian readers, this is a good book by an Australian author who really is something special, and you should at least borrow it from your local library or something, as I can't lend you this copy because it needs to go back to its owner (who knowing my penchant for books has carefully pencilled her name onto the front page).

Reading Progress:
Number of Books read: 10
Australian dividend: 3.045
Science Fiction dividend: 2.5
Fantasy dividend: 3.5
Biography dividend: 2.5
Literary dividend: 1
Mystery dividend: 1.5

For those of you wondering how the dividends work, they're merely the overall number of books in each category (decided mostly by whim), which when divided by the total number of books read would yield that category's quotient (I was using the wrong terminology earlier and it was bothering some nice and helpful readers. In other words, 3.5 of the 10 books read so far have been loosely categorised as fantasy.

Next Up: Who knows? Probably not Neuromancer.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Tie of the Week

Working on the premise that a tree does not fall in the forest if there is nobody to hear it, it stands to reason that I have in fact been failing to live up to the company dress code the past 15 weeks since there's no photographic evidence that I have been sporting the appropriate neckwear. Let me rectify that for this week with this snazzy little green number, which also came with a matching bow tie that you'll all have to wait a few weeks to see.

Since that photo is a bit far away, and I look a little scary, let's try the close-up.

Ugh...let's never do that again. Well anyway...

Tie Number: 008
Designation: The Straight and Narrow
Provenance: Ian's Stash, February 2012
Manufacture: Givenchy, Australia
No. of Comments: 4 (Moderate)
Most Favourable Comment: "I love the colour"
Least Favourable Comment: "Is it even worth me commenting on your ties any more?"
Observations: People seem to like my boring ties more than my exciting ones.

Undocumented ties have gone back in the to-be-worn pile for a second attempt, we'll see how far we get before I let that pile of ties get me down again.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Blaugust 2012

So it's that time of the year again, when AVCon has passed and we go looking for things to do with all our miraculously free evenings, but instead of doing something constructive we turn to rambling incessantly about unimportant things on the internet, keeping spouses awake with our rattling at the keyboard and generally making a nuisance of ourselves.

In keeping with this fine tradition, here is a list of goals for the month, some of which will get done and make interesting content for this here blog, some of which will get done and not make interesting content, which will be posted regardless, and most of which won't get done at all and will be discarded with only this buried post floating in the ether to remind the world that sometimes people aren't very good at following through with their promises. To help me with this last point, we've set the bar high, and fully expect to fail many if not all of these goals, but that is what Blaugust is for, after all.

Leaflocker: Post five times a week, on a variety of topics, including one a week touching in some way upon religion. Actually keeping an posting answers for any quizzes that ensue. Encouraging others to attempt to meet ludicrously unrealistic posting schedules as well. Try not to be bothered if nobody reads it.

Wesnoth: While I wait for inspiration on Habemus Papas, I have fallen back on my old Wesnoth hobby, this time focusing on maintaining and restoring the Imperial Era and associated bits and pieces. If this means nothing to you, dear reader, don't worry about it, as you're unlikely to see much more about it here unless I get really desperate for content (by which I mean 'until early next week) and for the sake of your sanity do not type 'Battle for Wesnoth' into your search engine and download this excellent open-source fantasy turn-based strategy game. It really is the TV Tropes of the gaming world. Anyway, I intend to update the old 1.6 campaign 'Alfhelm the Wise' to be compatible with version 1.10 in the coming months, making it to at least the end of chapter two by the end of the month.

Domesticity: There are some projects that need to be done around the house this month. They include reattaching the door to the cupboard under the stairs, finishing cleaning the gutters, actually mowing the lawn, cutting the ivy that is attacking the upstairs window, buying and fitting a new lock for the shed, building the barbeque and deadheading the roses. Once all this is done, I can reward myself by re-organising the library to my heart's content.

Library: Read and report on at least four books for the month. To get this one done, I may have to choose small books, as my current reading rate would be considered glacial by many garden snails.

Setting Alarms: Getting up earlier in the mornings to have breakfast, do a series of stretches to prevent my neck and shoulder muscles from seizing and turning me into a hunchback, and spend time either reading or working on my new Diatessearon project, all things that I have been neglecting in recent times.

Internet: None at all at work. Work towards winning current game of Diplomacy.

Sleeping: Nah.

Seems like a sensible list to me. Tune in at the end of the month to find out how we did. If you want to follow other Blaugusty peeps, check out the clever folks at www.chenonetta.com.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The Leaflocker Olympics

When it comes to the little bits that make up me, my Australianess trumps my nerdosity. I have committed the cardinal sin that one can commit in geek society, I actively follow, support, and on occasion even play, sport. While most of the people that I interact with on a regular basis roll their eyes and mutter something about 'the sportball being in town', I live and breathe sport during the Olympics.

I am not alone, it seems sometimes that the entirety of the country is mesmerised by Olympic gold. Of all the countries participating in the games this year, Australia (the 52nd-largest country in the world) has the fourth-most participating athletes, with 410 (yes, one in every 50,000 Australians, or one Aussie for each town the size of Mildura, is an olympian this year), and every paper and news report in the country will devote a large percentage of space to covering the minutiae of the athletes and the Games. If we weren't all completely convinced already, here is further proof that  the nation is make up, if not entirely, then at least primarily, by nutters.

However, because I have to be different and because I admit to finding the Australian obsession with sport a little bit creepy, I have for the last four olympic games followed a policy of supporting teams from countries with a less ridiculous approach to the games. I do this in a sort of ad-hoc way, because following the results for any country that doesn't wear green and gold is difficult when there's a possibility that an Australian athlete might even think about turning up for training or a press conference at some point in the next hour, but the internet is a wonderful place, so we do our best.

I support countries that have not won an olympic gold medal, based on a number of criteria which are selected randomly from a pool of categories that change each Olympiad based on my flights of fancy, but this year the teams that will have the weight of in-principle Leaflocker support are:

Earning permanent placement in this list by virtue of being our official favourite country here at the brand-spanking new Leaflocker offices, Lesotho! Lesotho has sent a team of 5, including 3 participants in the marathon. Due to the altitude, we imagine that marathon runners from there are pretty respectable, but our special favourite Lesotho competitor is the 50m freestyle swimmer 'M'asempe Theko, whose best swim has a time more than double that of the fastest qualifiers:  not bad considering that there is probably not very many olympic-quality swimming facilities in the tiny mountainous country. It's also worth noting that the London 2012 website informs us that marathon runner Tsepo Ramonene (running in only his second marathon) has the same height and weight as Mrs. Owl, the sort of information that you're guaranteed not to get anywhere else that makes the Leaflocker stand out, I know. Lesotho is also sending a taekwondo judge, who is quoted as saying:
 "We are a nation proud about sport. Our country is small and, because it's landlocked by South Africa, people don't know about it. It's through sport that people can learn about Lesotho. We have a lovely country that we want the whole world to know about." 
Well, the Leaflocker is doing our part in getting the word out, Lesotho. Make us proud.

In the 'impressed in the cricket this year' category, narrowly edging out Papua New Guinea, is the team from Nepal (it seems to be a year for the mountainous countries). Nepal might not have excellent chance, given that all five of their athletes qualified by wild-card or universality place, but we'll be supporting the guys from the country with the two-toothed pennant. Some might doubt Nepal's place on this list, given that they actually won a bronze for taekwondo in Seoul the year before I was born, but since it was an exhibition sport and we like their pluck, they get the nod. We're paying special attention to Pramila Rijal, representing in the 100m. I'd make a joke about there being no flat land in Nepal, but I know they have cricket fields, so a sprint track is not out of the question. C'mon Nepal!

In the 'competes in the Greco-Roman wrestling' category, always my personal favourite, are the Federated States of Micronesia. Keitani Graham is the man to watch, if you can stand to watch Greco-Roman wrestling and can find a TV channel that will broadcast his first-round match. There are also five other competitors from the country, including Manuel Minginfel, who could actually be an actual chance for a medal in the weightlifting. One presumes that with a currency that is essentially made of enormous rocks, weightlifters from Micronesia might be quite formidable.

In the 'we supported them last time' category, it's the six men and women from Cambodia, whose best hope was Ratanakhomy Khom, who made it to the second round of the Judo by virtue of having a bye in the first round before being knocked out by a Mexican with no appreciation of the level of support and investment in Cambodian olympic hopes by the editorial team here at the Leaflocker. It's only logical that a country with a flag this cool can't be far away from an olympic medal.

Well, that's all the countries that we're supporting, but there are also some competitors from Southern Sudan and Netherlands Antilles competing under the Olympic flag who will have the full force of Leaflocker support as well, so go those guys, wave that neutral flag! Tune back in in a couple of weeks and we'll give you all the low-down on how everyone went and hopefully eliminate some of these countries from being eligible to be supported by the Leaflocker next time around.

This is not to say that I won't be tuning in to watch the Australians as well, particularly in the team sports, but I will not live or die by the medal count or the media frenzy. We here at the Leaflocker are taking the time to acknowledge the little countries, those that are participating in the games with little to no chance of winning anything, and the few athletes who carry the hopes and ambitions of their nations on their shoulders. And you know, you should too. There's plenty more teams out there, guys, and if you want, I'll even share mine. My only regret is that Sri Lanka have won medals in the past, so I won't be spending my time shouting "Go Lanka Go" at the TV. Well, I might a little, but you don't get to hear  about it.