Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Scientists Discover Chimps and Props Related

In a startling study scientists have been able to decode chimp DNA and find it surprisingly close to Prop DNA.

"P500" Business Model

Talking about my game development experience on Sword of Rome earlier this week, I alluded to the difficulty of getting game designs published. The problem essentially comes down to the fact that there are probably more aspiring game designers out there than there are game purchasers. We're not talking about Monopoly or Candyland here. Games you find in Toys R Us sell 100s of thousands or even millions of copies for basically pennies. Hasbro can rely on the classic "small margins / large volume" principle of making money. On the other hand, hobby wargames are considered a success if they sell more than a few thousand copies over their entire *lifetime*. They retail for $30-$100 per copy just to get to the break-even point.

As a result, hobby game publishers have a hard time figuring out what to publish that they won't take a complete bath on. A number have adopted an interesting business model to stay afloat: They put designs that they feel are promising on a pre-order list on the web and start collecting pre-orders from fans. When they hit the magic number of orders that more or less assures them a break-even proposition (usually 500-1000 copies), they begin full-fledged production of the game and subsequently charge the pre-order customers' credit cards to get the funds to pay the printers.

As far as I know, GMT Games was the first company to go entirely to this model (after very nearly going bankrupt on at least once on a bad production decision), and they called it "P500" (for 500 pre-orders). Many other hobby game publishers have followed GMT's lead. Obviously, this benefits the publisher by helping them print only the games that won't lose money -- that people have pre-committed to purchase. The games that get published are essentially selected by popular vote. The "voters" also benefit by getting a reduced pre-order pricing and being the first ones to receive their new games (which can be very important to us true game geeks). It's a very creative win-win solution, for which I truly salute GMT Games.

With the ever-increasing footprint of the web, I actually think this is model that may be able to be applied to more and more "niche" consumer areas -- "on-demand production". The downside is time -- It took about 1 year for Sword of Rome to garner enough pre-orders to warrant publication.

What say our resident economists?

(Update: I don't know about resident economists, but the administrator would like all links in RED, please)

Tempus is PMP'n, but the Major Adjusts

Tempus might be a PMP, and sure he had to study, work many hours, etc., etc. But as for sheer professional clout - BOW DOWN, YOU MORTAL FOOLS, BEFORE HE WHO HAS PASSED THE RHODE ISLAND COMMERCIAL ADJUSTER EXAM. I reckon it took me 1/308th the effort that Tempus had to put in to be a PMP...

Gratuitous Afghanistan Photo of the Day (71)

An alley of metalworkers in Charikar. When I saw this, I immediately thought of a similar street I had seen in Sarajevo in 1997 (how is that for place-name dropping!). Both a bit Middle Ages-ish, in having similar hand-plied trades grouping together on a street or small area.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

More Shameless Self-Promotion

Everyone who enjoys playing board games, please raise your hand. Keep your hand up if you enjoy playing strategy board games (yes, like Risk, but moreso). How about wargames (no, not computer games)? Strategy-card driven wargames a.k.a. CDGs? (If you have no idea what that even means, just go ahead and put your hand down.) Ok, now that we're down to the approximately zero humans that make up this niche.....

A strategy card driven wargame, or CDG, is one where the action of the game is driven by one or more decks of special cards that are dealt to the players. Each card gives a player a number of different options, from moving their forces on the board, to solidifying their current position, to gaining reinforcements, to triggering certain historical events. These games are usually at the operational or strategic level, fairly highly abstracted, but the variety of the cards available can instill a lot of historical flavor and "chrome" with a minimum of extra rules. They also add a very nice "fog of war" element to the game, since players can't be certain what cards will be in play at any given time, even if they are very familiar with the contents of the deck. A designer named Mark Herman was responsible for the original application of this design, and it has become very popular in the hobby.

Sword of Rome is a CDG which I helped design and develop for GMT Games. It was published last summer, which is a fairly notable accomplishment unto itself, but that's a story for a future posting. This game is about the time when Rome was a relatively small city-state, struggling for supremacy on the Italian peninsula with the Gauls, the Greeks, the Etruscans, and the Samnites, along with several other smaller powers, plus Carthage's mercantile empire just over the horizon. Historically, Rome came out on top in a big way, of course, but it was really a very critical time in history which could have gone any number of different ways.

This summer, the various game design awards select their winners for the previous year, and I'm proud to say that Sword of Rome was recognized by several. We won the Origins Award for "Best Historical Board Game", the International Gamers Award for "Outstanding Historical Simulation", and the Charles S. Roberts Award for "Best Pre-WWII Board Game". I'm told that Sword of Rome is the first game to win all 3 of these awards, which is really amazing to me.

Most of the acclaim falls to my partner, Wray Ferrell, who conceived of and designed the game. He and I were both big fans of CDGs and Roman history, so I started out as his primary sounding-board and a playtester. When GMT's chosen developer had to quit the job, Wray asked me to take over, which I gladly did. We went through five full years of development from initial design to publication. Wray especially poured a huge amount of research and creative thought into the game, and he certainly deserves the praise the game is getting.

Gratuitous Afghanistan Photo of the Day (70)

Between the villages of Jafarkhil and Shaka. The police officer really wanted his photo taken, so I obliged. The father has quite a protective look about him, so I am not so sure he was as enthusiastic as the cop...

Monday, August 29, 2005

Gratuitous Afghanistan Photo of the Day (69)

One Friday at the Bagram bazaar I saw an odd looking thing on one of the tables. After closer examination, I saw we had a genuine Erie Chemical Company 47mm smoke grenade launcher from the 1960s. I asked where this had come from, and got a vague answer of "the Panjshir valley". The Panjshir valley has always been a heavily armed place, but this was bordering on the absurd. BTW, the launcher now is mounted on a board at the customs police office at Bagram AF...

Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Unbound Inner Prop...While the Major gets by

The Illinois Men's Rugby Club Old Boy's Weekend (alumni versus youngsters) saw the Inner Prop unleashed. Able to activate what Doug Buffone once described as "the Neanderthal Gene", he did quite well. I was lucky enough to play lock behind him, and did the better for it. The Prop also played in a second match, putting the rest of us to shame. Fortunately, I am not old school Shinto, or I would have had to commit seppuku right there and then.
The top picture shows the Inner Prop ready to crush his enemies, see them driven before him, and to hear the lamentations of their women. The bottom picture is me preparing to miss yet another line out throw...
It was good to catch up with old rugby friends and see how nice the University of Illinois is coming along. We aslo got to meet some blogging friends - Gail (and her family) and the Prairie Biker. For those wondering; Gail and her family are very nice, and the Prairie Biker does obey his own rules.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Lots of Guilt and a Great Parody Website

"I never had any friends later on like the ones I had during the rebellion. Jesus, does anybody?” I met with my long-time, childhood friend Major John last night in Champaign-Urbana at Murphy's Pub, a location dating back to our Undergrad days. So... he buys me a couple beers, makes some small talk, waits until I finish the tasty brew, and then thrashes me about my lack of Blog participation. So... check out Stars Wars Photoshop Project. Long live the Blog!

Friday, August 26, 2005

Good Bye K2

I don't have a picture of our base in Karshi-Kanibad (which we call K2). It was one of the 5 bases that our unit and our successors had to operate. From what I hear it wasn't really essential anyway.

I can't believe that the US presence was bad for the environment either.

Well, they don't want us there and we don't want to be there. Sounds like an amiable split. I'm pretty sure we didn't have a pre-nup and there weren't any kids so this should be pretty quiet.

A Rugby Weekend

I know this picture has terrible exposure, but what can you do with an old, non-digital photo... The 'Prop and I are off to Urbana, IL for our "Old Boy's" (alumni) match. The picutre is of us in 2003, after a hard fought victory.

UPDATE: Simon did what he could to improve the picture, so I replaced it.

A Little Test


Go to EU Rota and see if you can pass a little test. Hint: it helps if you know Dadaist art from EU bureaucracy, heh heh.

Gratuitous Afghanistan Photo of the Day (68)

What happens when you put a 'Prop on a camel? Personally, I think the expression on the camel's face is priceless...

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Porto and the toddler

"Connor, be sure to sample the bouquet before drinking!"

My wife and I were indulging our passion for port wine the other night, and our two year old felt left out.

"You know," I said, "it might help him sleep better tonight..."

Actually, it's just grape juice. He felt left out because he didn't have a neat glass like mommy and daddy. So, Connor had grape juice, and we had 'special' grape juice.

Any other port wine fans out there? I've been looking to find a reputable establishment near Chicago/Madison to purchase fine vintage ports, but I've not found one. Has anyone had any luck buying wine on line?

P.S. Actually, its the blood of the Fedykinder's first Harkonnen ;-)

Greyhawk discusses 'Jihad'

Greyhawk is analytical, but a bit steamed as well, about 'jihad'. The conclusion really makes the post.

Gratuitous Afghanistan Photo of the Day (67)

Well, while I am recycling photos I previously had posted on the Instapundit, I might as well put this one up - a man in Charikar going about his business.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Economics and the Cannibal Living Dead

Tim Worstall points us to the answer to the question, "Why is it that economists like zombie cannibals?"

Gratuitous Afghanistan Photo of the Day (66)

Afghanistan adheres to the "Central Asian Child Labor Law". The law is very simple - Children shall labor. Now you know why we were helping build so many schools...

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

A PMP is me!

I haven't been contributing much for some time. Here's one reason of many: I had been studying for the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification exam. This is kind of the official declaration that yes, "you do indeed have mad project management skillz and you're not just making it up". Sort of like passing the bar, but nowhere near as grueling nor rewarding.

Anyway, I took the exam last Friday and passed! I began this process back when my company was telling large numbers of people that they shouldn't really bother to come in any longer, because it's kind of the thing you need to have on your resume if you're looking for work as a project manager and you'd like to earn more than minimum wage. Also all of my friends were doing it, so naturally I had to do it too. Tomorrow we're all jumping off of a bridge together.

Gratuitous Afghanistan Photo of the Day (65)

Breakfast is served. Myself, I prefer something a little more French toast-like. But to each their own.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Gratuitous Afghanistan Photo of the Day (64)

A shop stall in Charikar. This one has been posted before. Not here, but on the Instapundit. The Professor told me he got a lot of e-mails about it...

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Weekend Destruction

All I wanted to do was hack down a few plants and get rid of a old layer of seed blanket. Five hours, one broken mattock and one shattered rake later, I decided that I was probable finished for the day.

A Terrible Thing

I do not know why, but I have had the song verse, "Girls, they, Girls, they love me...I'm the overweight lover Heavy D..." running through my mind for the last 15-20 minutes. I wonder if my TRICARE insurance will cover treatment?

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Gratuitous Afghanistan Photo of the Weekend (63)

I was going to say this was a fire engine from the Charikar fire department, but I think it is the fire engine of the Charikar fire department. Might be the only Afghan fire engine in all of Parwan Province too. Of course, they haven't got a lot of trouble with fires when you think about it. No real industry, houses primarily mud brick, hmm...

Communion of Silence

I have a new story on Another Realm. Go there. You can avoid my story if you want and read all the other good stuff. Maybe we can start a Prop-a-lanche.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Gratuitous Afghanistan Photo of the Day (62)

Village Elder from Qal'eh-ye Golay. Anyone who thinks poorly of an American military presence should ask this guy how they like it. We put a road at the edge of the village, and it was much better than what they had been using before. We leased ground from 5 different families, and the terms were so generous that they kept asking for extensions of the time of the leases. They had highly sought after jobs on the base. We drilled wells. The Koreans built them an enormous school. Sometimes I think they got together and just gave each other a bunch of high fives and satisfied smiles, chuckling all the while...

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Gratuitous Afghanistan Photo of the Day (61)

This photo is from the first patrol I went on in Afghanistan. I had recently become the CMO (Civil-Military Operations Officer) of Task Force Eagle (the outfit that was responsible for about 110 square km with about 300,000 people and two provincial capitals) I found out that I had little first hand knowledge of many places in this area. Only one way to fix that little problem - go out with the infantry. Almost all of my Afghan photos you see on this blog are a direct result of me trying to learn about the people and places in Parwan and Kapisa provinces. I was very lucky that I had the help of the 3/116th INF (Virgina National Guard) most of the time. Other times it was people like CSM Mark Bowman, the various RAF Regiment officers I have previously written about, and our own unit that kept me on track.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Gratuitous Afghanistan Photo of the Day (60)

Hell's Angels, Afghanistan Branch? Nah. But motorcycles were popular, and with good reason. The roads were appalling...

UPDATE: Contrast with this.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Kite Runner

Khaled Hosseini's book, the Kite Runner, wore me out. Literally. I made the mistake of opening it up about 8pm last night. I finished around 2am. My obvious fascination with Afghanistan aside, it is a very good read. The author also manages to cover a period of time that people don't often know about, the end of the monarchy in Afghanistan. Give it a look.

The Virus That Ate The (Computer) World

Zotob, a series of viruses and worms, has apparently caused a bit o' havok with some big company computer services. It managed to send me home 30 minutes early today, as we got an urgent message to shut down and stay off while IT figured out how to stop this.

Bad News

Bad news, unfortunately, from one of our allied contingents in Afghanistan.

Good News

Arthur Chrenkoff might be leaving blogging - but others, like the Signaleer, are picking up the torch.

Gratuitous Afghanistan Photo of the Day (59)

Since we were talking about "jingle trucks" earlier, I thought this would be a good example to show. Painted, decorated, and driven everywhere by Afghan and Pakistani drivers - the "jingle truck". Name sort of speaks for itself...

Monday, August 15, 2005

Brick Billets at Salerno I

They "jingled" everything. Above left is a water trailer used for mixing concrete in Salerno for the brick billets. Above right is mid-level of sophistocation in concrete mixing (at the high end we had a concrete batch plant and at the low end we had a pile of components on the ground that water was poured on (imagine making homemade pasta)). Afghans have pretty good bricks, but they normally use mud not mortar. They also don't butter the sides of the bricks so that at times you could see right through the 18" walls before they put the stucco on. Keeping things at an American level of quality control was very difficult. The brick does offer better protection over tents, its easier to cool and heat and it uses all native materials.ADMINISTRATOR'S NOTE: "Salerno" is the name given to a Forward Operating Base (FOB) that the Inner Prop commanded. "Jingled" means carried by "jingle truck" [see also above]

AUTHOR'S UPDATE: Salerno was set up by the US 82nd Division and it was named, as all other bases they set up, after a place they jumped into. In WWII the 82nd jumped into Salerno Italy.

Military Question - Battalion aid station?

A very good friend of mine just touched down in the Middle East for an 18 month tour in Iraq. He's a physician and will be operating a small aid station attached to an infantry battalion. I'm having a tough time envisioning what such a place is. The only image I have in my head is from watching M*A*S*H, but I suspect that image is inaccurate.

Anyone familiar with such things?

Gratuitous Afghanistan Photo of the Day (58)

There sure aren't any Home Depots or Lowes in Charikar. If you want a board or a beam, however, drag some wood over to this fellow, and he'll make what you need. Seeing things like this always reminded me what a marvelous thing we have in our country's advanced economy. Every once in a while, when I am in a Menard's or a Super Target or such, a sense of wonder will come over me.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Gratuitous Afghanistan Photo of the Weekend (57)

Don't go on the other side of this sign. No. No, no, no. Don't.

Friday, August 12, 2005

al-Faw Entertainment

Gail, of Scribal Terror, sent me this link. Al-Faw must be some place to be stationed...

[Thanks to the Prairie Biker]

Corporate Sloganeering

So what do you think of this as a motto? We are Swiss owned in the end - and isn't the French word for all, "allez"? Then, literally, there IS "z" in "all of us", oui?

UPDATE: Non! "allez" is a command, not "All" or "us" I should have run Bable Fish or something...

Gratuitous Afghanistan Photo of the Day (56)

This is the back of a "jingle" truck. The drivers would paint all sorts of intracate designs on their cargo box, tanker, cab or whatever they could reach. If only they had spent the time aquiring better driving skills...But when I saw this one, my first thought was, "Oh, the Wisconsin Dells." Now I know the mountains in the background are a stretch, but still...

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Gee, I hope I get to go to Corporate HQ someday...

When I left the world of litigation, I ended up at the Mass LitigationClaims department at Zurich. I am trying to figure how I can wrangle a visit to the world HQ in Zurich, Switzerland...

Gratuitous Afghanistan Photo of the Day (55)

We had a contingent of New Zealanders with us at Bagram. They were terrific to be around - fun loving and had a way of lifting your spirits just by being there. I happened to have some pieces of my rugby kit with me, so they supplemented it by giving me an All Blacks jersey (The New Zealand National team) and one of their Kiwi hats. I don't know what possessed me to have my picture taken like this...

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Gratuitous Afghanistan Photo of the Day (54)

"Backblast area? Sure, its clear. Just show everyone how the recoiless rifle works now, Adjmal..."

Prop Update

From little acorns great Props shall grow. Mrs. Prop and the little "Prez." That's my brother's boy, Garrett William.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

A New Enemy

Some of you may remember my death-struggle with the weeds. Having beat them down, Nature, red in tooth and claw, decides to throw a new foe at me. More wasps than a Daughters of The American Revolution meeting. Nothing says summer like getting a face full of wasp spray blown back at you by a sudden gust, and while you totter at the top of an 8 foot ladder to boot.

The Good News From Afghanistan

The latest in Good News From Afghanistan is up over at Arthur's site.

Gratuitous Afghanistan Photo of the Day (53)

Elder of the village of Loghari. Apparently the burden of leadership does not sit lightly...

Monday, August 08, 2005

The RAF Regiment

The RAF Regiment is the Royal Air Force's ground force protection element. They are highly trained and fairly tough to boot. I had the pleasure of serving with 4 different officers from the Regiment. Up top are Squadron Leaders Matt Radnall (L) and Jamie Kendall (R). In the middle is Flight Lieutenant Adam Thompson and below is Squadron Leader Rich Langley. Damned good officers, and fine people all. To learn a little more about this rather unique bunch try this Website. Per Ardua!
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