Sunday, 30 November 2014

Winter

Orange glow, night's breath,
Cold fingers hide the sunrise:
Grey dawn, Winter comes.


Please read Michelle's Tiffin Box blog, it will warm you up!

Friday, 21 November 2014

The Middle Game in Diplomacy

For those that don't know, I am a very keen games player...   I'm republishing the following to help, errrr. friends with an essential basic few concepts to help them in planning their strategies!

The Middle Game in Diplomacy


Whatever country you are playing there are a few basic guidelines which you need to follow, unless you derive a clear practical benefit from not doing so. Much of what I have to say will strike the better players amongst you as being pretty self-evident, but I have seen many glaring where these underlying tenets have been ignored by the players, to their own eventual discomfort. 



The board and countries in Diplomacy fall naturally into two parts. These bits, for want of more interesting names, are the Western Triangle and the Eastern Square. The opening period of play should see you establish a fairly solid relationship with one of your neighbours and the demise of the other one(s) in your part of the board…

You will now have to evaluate your position and determine what course, or courses, of action will lead to your final victory. The problem that you have is that several other players are also scheming towards their own inevitable final victory!


The critical factor during and immediately after the first two to three years is whether you have been able to crush all but one (or even all) of your neighbours before the other part of the board has been able to achieve a similar state. This means, for example, that if you are England you have reduced or eliminated Germany and/or England before Russia has reduced or eliminated Italy, Austria and/or Turkey.


The Politics of Defeat

It is important to bear in mind exactly what you're going to do if you haven't reached the delightful state of affairs described above. If you haven't, then you are going to have to co-operate with your neighbours to stop the other part of the board from overwhelming your side.


If you are part of a conflict which has yet to succeed in coming o the limited resolution described above and the other side of the board is already there, then you must seriously consider burying the hatchet with your immediate neighbours and setting about protecting yourselves. This can be regarded as the politics of defeat, but the fact is that you cannot win if someone else does. It is at this point that you need to establish an overt relationship with your neighbours and a covert one with one or more of the other side of the survivors from the other side. This latter "secret alliance" can work well in splitting the major alliance and gaining you ground when the situation stabilises to the extent that you can start looking forward to your own expansion again.  

It’s why talking to other players, even if they’re your active enemies is pretty much essential.  Most times it makes the game more fun, too!


This is true, even when the other half of the board is not immediately adjacent. Let us postulate a situation where Germany has Bel, Hol, Den, Par, Mar, Mun, Ber and Kie, while England has Nwy, Swe, Spa, Por, Bre, Lon, Lpl, Edi. In the Eastern part of the board, you are Turkey and have come under an attack from an Austro-Russian alliance while Italy has belatedly come to your assistance. You know that Italy is likely to come under attack by a combination of England and Germany. This looks reasonably good for survival (which it is) but it is not a good situation. England and Germany will both make headway against the opposition with your four or five centre country sniping away and weakening any defence your current enemies can make. If they split their forces and attempt to contain you whilst defending themselves, the result is a slow but gradual extirpation of your neighbours - both England and Germany will gain as many centres as you AND they are already ahead of you.

Staring Disaster in the Face


So, if you're not well ahead or at least as equally ahead as the other side of the board, then it is worth exploring ways in which the remainder of the board can stop the big boys carving the rest of you up. It is important to do this sooner than later. The real danger signals are when a unit from a reasonably settled part of the board crosses the major stalemate line (which is StP, Lvn, War, Sil, Boh, Tyr, Pie, GoL, WMS, NAf). If this has happened, then it's time to shut up shop and stop them getting any further, whichever country you are. The same is true to a limited extent when Turkey, France or Austria crosses the minor stalemate line of the ION, when Germany rounds the Straits of Gibraltar, and when Russia gets a foothold across the North Sea. This often means that they've achieved a position whereby it is going to take a concerted effort to stop them winning and thus stop you from winning.

How will you win?


It is worth restating that to win a game you have to eventually capture 18 supply centres. Many inexperienced players overlook this obvious fact and don't have a "shopping list" of centres that they will need to win. Let us look at the centres, given a normal sort of game, which are normally on that list (Those that are occasionally added to the core list to complete the wining pattern are shown after the totals and in italics):

Western Triangle:


England: Lon, Lpl, Edi, Bre, Par, Spa, Por, Hol, Bel,Den, Nwy, Swe, Kie, Mun, StP, Ber, Mar (17) Tun, Ven, Rom, Nap, War, Vie

France: Bre, Par, Ma, Lon, Lpl, Edi, Spa, Por, Hol, Bel, Den, Nwy, Swe, Kie, Mun, Ber (16) Tun, Ven, Rom, Nap, War, Vie, Tri

Germany: Kie, Mun, Ber, Bre, Par, Mar, Lon, Lpl, Edi, Spa, Por, Hol, Bel, Den, Nwy, Swe (16) Ven, Rom, War, Vie, Tri, StP, Mos

Eastern Square:


Austria: Vie, Bud, Tri, Ser, Gre, Bul, Rom, Ven, Con, Rum, Ank, Nap, Smy, Mos, Sev, War, Tun (17) Mar, Spa, Por, Mun, StP, Ber

Italy: Nap, Rom, Ven, Tun, Tri, Vie, Bud, Gre, Ser, Con, Smy, Ank, Sev, Mos, Rum, War, Bul (17) Mar, Spa, Por, Mun, StP, Ber, Par

Turkey: Con, Smy, Ank, Nap, Ven, Rom, Tun, Tri, Ve, Bud, Gre, Ser, Sev, Mos, Rum, War, Bul (17) Mar, Spa, Por, Mun, StP, Ber

Russia: Mos, War, StP, Sev, Nwy, Swe, Rum, Bud, Vie, Tri, Ser, Gre, Ank, Smy, Con, Bul, Ven, Rom, Nap (19) Mun, Kie, Ber, Den, Hol, Edi, Lon, Tun, Bel




Although the Eastern side of the board has more potential areas for expansion, it also has more competitors for each supply centre then the western side of the board. You can also see that StP only appears in the core list for England and Russia. This is because it is relatively easy to stitch that side up against invaders by supporting the unit there already, which in most cases is either English or Russian. If these two countries have been eliminated (or are in anarchy) there is nearly always someone in a position to support a StP unit to stop someone else's onward progression.

It is crucial, therefore, that you try and get across one of the stalemate lines which will enable you to secure those extremely difficult last two or three supply centres. I will never vote for a win concession (unless it's me that's going to win!) if the major country has failed to "cross the line". Until that point, any player, no matter how good, can be stopped. Of course, there is always the possibility that some idiot is prepared to sacrifice a share in the draw for a petty and self-immolating revenge.

How Do You Improve Your Chances Of Winning?


There are a number of basic concepts which I use to judge how well I'm doing in a game and to assess how I can improve my situation.

Security


This is quite a simple concept to understand and it is measurable. You can establish how secure a supply centre is by counting the number of your units which can move to it and the number of other units which can move to it. If you have more units or the same number of units adjacent to you supply centres, then you're relatively safe.  (Obviously, there may be localised areas where this is not the case.)  If less units, then you are not secure and you should establish security as a priority. You can refine this by grading your security level and by grading the units next to your supply centres according to the reliability of your allies, but don't forget that you really rather encourage them towards indiscretion and they can stab you at any time. Similarly, you can count the number of units with two moves of your centres as an approximation of your medium term security.

Lebensraum

This relates to your "hit list" of supply centres. It is a count of current supply centres, plus a count of those which you might be able to get in the short term by a judicious stab. If the stab leaves you secure and in a good position to continue your onwards expansion then it is well worth doing. This assessment also gives you a idea of how close to victory (or not) you are.  Conversely if the stab doesn’t achieve this then DON’T STAB. 

Allies and Enemies


This is much more difficult to judge. It depends on your assessment of how reliable your allies are and how implacable your enemies. But that is only one part of the story. You mustn't just view your own situation. You have to view the alliance structure of the whole board and it can also be helpful to assess other countries' security and lebensraum. And the only way to do this is to have regular communication with all the other players, even the ones who appear to be implacable foes. This is because players cannot avoid giving away information if they write back; and even if they don't, a significant minority of players will act upon your suggestions, even if they don't reply! Besides which, you can stuff them up with apparently true information. Very, very, few people will throw a letter away without reading it and it is rare that they would fail to take the information in.  But don’t lie... just emphasise the facts you want them to act on.

Having assessed all these factors, you are in a much better position to determine your future strategy and to decide what to do and when to do it.
 

I mentioned stabbing. A stab (except for the first few moves) should be used sparingly and only when (a) it is required to put you in a winning position and offers significant gains; and (b) you can hold what you've taken. Ration yourself to perhaps one or two stabs a game. Whenever possible resist the temptation to lie about what you are going to do - lying destroys credibility, so you might as well only lie if you are going to get something out of it. 

(First published in Gallimaufry Issue 53, edited and updated this date.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Memories of a sausage...



In 1964, in the international restaurant at the only campsite in Leningrad, I ate a small piece of sausage, which the person behind the counter had taken off the counter (with her sausage like fingers*) put into a saucepan of theoretically hot water, pulled out, cut into four 2" long chunks put onto 4 flyblown plates and put them onto the counter. She put her hand out for the roubles, which was about £10 (a helluva lot of money in those days). It had so much gristle in it that I could not finish it. 

We came across her sister driving a huge road engine, laying tarmac, arms as thick as my thighs.  This was in the middle of Leningrad.  I'd like to tell you the name of the street, but because it was the cold war, there were no street maps available, apart from one in a 1901 St Petersburg Baedeker my father had purchased from a second-hand stall**.  All the road names were in Cyrillic script, without Latin equivalents...  This 'great adventure' as my father called it, started to turn into a film noire when one of the traffic policemen (loudhailer on chest, red in face, brandishing pistol) got off his platform, shouting at us to stop.....

We had been driving the wrong way up a one-way street... matters were not aided by my brother whispering "burn on, Dad, burn on!" while this bloke, now almost purple with rage at these law-breaking capitalists sitting like stupid oxen with total ignorance on their faces at his language. We were, in fact, lying capitalists, because we could certainly understand the word passport, and we had no intention of giving them to him... we made our escape by being shepherded in reverse all the way back down this street by the by now furious cop!

(A picture of a very similar dormobile)

Back at the campsite after these twin delights, my mother decided to cook us egg and chips in our battered old dormobile. One of the simplest, but most welcome meals we had.  But there was a catch: one of the proscribed items listed on our visa was potatoes, so we had to dispose of the potato in an open drain.  There was to be more clandestine disposal before we would leave the Soviet Union, but perhaps another time.

*she looked like a gurning Arthur Mullard, and you could see tracks of all the food she'd handled and 'cooked' on her off-white apron, her face set in a permanent scowl....
**Sadly this was worth a lot more than he realised, in today’s prices £1,652!

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Well, that was a bit of a gap...

So, where have I been, briefly:

Since I last wrote I've nearly died three times.  On one occasion my blood pressure dropped to  68 over 38, I collapsed on my stairs, upside down; the district nurse who found me after 23 hours, called the ambulance.  She thought she wouldn't see me again. Another occasion after a three month patch in hospital, my hands went blue - that was a kidney infection too, but complicated by Raynaud's disease - a beautiful pastel blue, whilst it was sealing the capillaries and destroying the nerves in my finger ends. And to cap it all, I had to sleep on a special bed (a Nimbus 3) which they put together wrong and gave me a monster pressure sore, which has lead to severe contact dermatitis.. I dropped 97 lbs in weight...  I am the lightest I've been since I was 12 years old.

So not only am I recovering these, but also from the leg ulcers with periodic infections [at one point I had to fight to get the consultant not to cut my left leg off), kidney problems.  Please ignore any typos... I  have to use a wireless keyboard, holding it in my left hand while pecking at it with the other as I can't sit down.  It's going to be a very long time before I'm entirely better, but given that I was in hospital for the best part of 9 months, and nearly died...  The  cause of the repeated, deadly kidney infections was a nearly undetectable layer of infected tissue in a thigh which appeared perfectly OK on the outside.

As you can guess I've been concentrating on staying alive and looking after myself.  No council help for moi....  a real catch 22 situation, but it has forced me into being active and getting around the house which is improving my muscle tone. 


Bless the majority of those working in the NHS, which is under immense pressure.  I may resume my rants, but the very few rotten apples, and the occasional honest mistake should not hide the honest effort that health professionals put into the job.  So thank you to the staff of 4 hospitals and 9 wards!  But there are major dysfunctional aspects caused by managerial and administrative staff making decisions that impact on the core aspects of the clinical role.  However, the biggest culprit have been successive governments, whose inability to realise that constantly reorganising demotivates and confuses  staff


So that's where I've been!

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

An Alien Encounter of the Green Coated Kind

If you are offended by swearing, please do not read any further!

I was going to tell you about my MRI scan, wasn't I?  And I'm only 6N *whimper*...  At first I thought it was aliens, subjecting me to this strange ritual... they had all dressed up in green uniforms...  but they had sent me to a different building, leaving me to find out that I was 15 minutes early needing to get to a building 1200 yards away on bandaged feet in slippers and hobbling along on a walking stick.

Oh how we laughed!  I met an old friend, a chap who has LOVE on one set of knuckles and HATE on the other.  We passed the time of day while my feet complained... eventually I made it into the antechamber to the Alien spacecraft.  There was one person who directed me, a la Star Trek, to follow the green arrows [And yes I was thinking there was simply too much green in all this].. to an antechamber... where I was told I would wait for the .... examination.

I sat my by now spent carcase on the biggest and most imposing chair I could find.... did they not know this was Chumbles of the Internet....  a legend in his own lynchtime?  They told me they would be a short while, because the consultant had f****d off for a quick ciggy break (my words not theirs).  Aeons passed; I need not have crucified myself hurbling and hurpling along that 1200 yards.  But!  I am not without resource, I had brought a small bottle of water: I finished that.  A book with 3 chapters to go: I finished that.  My patience: I'd almost finished that when an orderly (ho ho ho) arrived and took me through a group of supplicants.  A lot of these had appendages of the artificial kind and plastic tubes...  a strange pulsing noise and flashing lights came from a room...  I was swiftly lead past into the second antechamber, and told to take off my garments with metal in them...  Aliens, witches and MRIs are a bit similar, iron f***s 'em up, but they were wise to this.

They made sure my mobile phone was also with my garments and stowed in a lead lined safe ('Screws up our antennae chief, we bump into each other in the dark and get all horny')  But I knew it was to keep me from calling for help on my handy.

They then wheeled out some poor bastard who looked just liked the poor s*d who'd preceded me in the queue for the colonoscopy in December.  You know, the utterly zonked out one, with blue skin who leaked pain in psychic waves....  I was starting to wonder whether I could out-hobble them down the corridor when they grabbed me, chucked me on a trolley cart, stuck a f***ing great plastic widget between my legs, strapped me in and then....

... stuck a needle in my arm.  This is for the cannula.  So they can pump you full of stuff...  One of the greencoats looked at me and clearly thought: dirty old b*gg*r, I'll fix him, but her fellow alien spotted that I was leaking red fluid all over the place....

At this point, they mopped up, simulating concern (but with that certain edge of stress that says: you s*d, why are you bleeding?)  They then fled the room...  They threw over their shoulders "Don't worry, it won't hurt, but in Scotty's name stay still."  There was a low hum and the platform I was on moved into the enclosed chamber, my fat upper arms constricted against the sides with me staring at an old fashioned video screen with measurements and flashing numbers and.... a countdown!

Kind of them to tell me when I was going to be inseminated with one of their green coat wearing kind.... And then, lights flashed and
BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM
...

Strangely I felt nothing; more numbers, more distances, more lights flashed and
BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM
...

And then I was told that it was all done and don't worry about the blood on my clothes: lucky I was wearing black, piss off and I would hear from the Alien gynaecology unit in due course.  By now I was certain they were.  Aliens that is...

Well.  That went well didn't it?

Monday, 27 May 2013

And onwards to BT Infinity!

Don't get me  wrong, BT isn't a bad service and the speed of connection in this area is streets ahead of the competition, but..

I have spent too much of today, reviving a Thinkpad T40... this was because I rang the BT broadband helpdesk in Utter Pradesh (by name and by nature) to be asked to do all the things I had just done, in my underwear, in the cold last night, simply to play my games and read my regulars.  I mean, how much am I meant to suffer before I lose my latest Chess game.

So I'd turned the hub off, and the router, made myself a small libation, got the torch back out, replugged the stuff into their sockets in an artfully hidden corner of the room... several decads of minutes, having found the carefully filed number which doesn't simply route you through to a message telling you to go to wibbly-wobbly-woo and look it up on the interweb thingie. Just how am I supposed to do that when you fools at BT have poked my virtual eyes and ears out?

And I get through to the only human interface that BT still have. Some poor so and so even further into the night with a degree manning a help desk responding mostly to people who forget to plug their laptops in when their batteries run out. No wonder they sound tired, knackered and fed up... at 3 in the morning, watching the cockroaches run around the wiring in the basement of some sweatshop with 96 degrees of both humidity and temperature trying to speak patiently to some well-fed English idiot... and I am not overtelling this, their conditions are horrible...

But that's not my problem! I have a seige coming to completion on two cities and need to pull my troops if my attack isn't going well and this bozo is telling me to check stuff I've already checked, run tests I've already RUN AND I'M GETTING VERY ANGRY! So I tell him to hold the line, take more BP tablets and tell him I used to do his job, but now it's been outsourced to monkeys who get paid peanuts. I think my faux sympathy might earn me some consideration... in spite of the phone harpies recording the conversation and even though English is his second or third language, he hangs the phone up...

Well, I go swinging from one telephone menu to another until I reach the same call centre in Utter Pradesh... must be a quiet night... it's the same bloke! So I faux apologise and say that I've now done all he asked me to. And repeat it when he repeats back to me all the steps. Trouble is, now he remembers the phone harpies and is going to get me to do every. damned. step. and. tell. him. once. I've done that. I bite the inside of my cheek (eating the remains of pork scratchings, I tell him this so I get some of my own back). I get through all this...

Do you have a laptop Mr Chumbles. It's late, it's an unguarded moment. Now I have both and stupidly tell him this. He tells me I need to connect it to the hub with a lan cable. The laptop was last connected to the net in November 2012. It will take forever to boot up, update Widows*, update the AntiVenom software and recharge the battery sufficiently to do what he asks (5 hours to be precise - I've done this whilst writing my memoirs),

I give up. I go to bed. I know perfectly well it's a screw up at their end, I just want someone there to admit it. But every so often I wake up in the night and thank my lucky stars I am not an outsourced help desk guy in Utter Pradesh.

*Widows TM: the code name for Windows 9

Sunday, 6 January 2013

A serious thought to start the year...

I was reading an article in the Guardian.... Vicky Coren is unquestionably the woman with the combination of looks and mind I most lust after and fear talking to. A honey with a mind like a steel trap. She was writing in Comment is Free in the Guardian about the expansion of the original hunt for hidden crimes by Jimmy Savile. I guess I'm born near enough to remember the witch hunts for communists in the mighty US of paranoid A to see the parallels... the witch hunts have begun, and because the actual crimes are undeniably abhorrent, this appears to give licence to all kinds of activities that would otherwise be castigated as either disproportionate or inappropriate.

I am going to get some flack here. Since thinking about the VileSa [Jimmy Savile] I have seem trying to put my instinctive revulsion for the man from when he was a DJ behind me (bad taste joke - ignore) and try to see the situation from a balanced perspective. Very, very difficult. I have an astonishingly violent reaction to people who hurt other people. Cannot abide bullies at any price.
 
But the thing is this. Stoke Mandeville Spinal Injuries centre as part of the fallout from this has been forced into giving the monies given by SaVile to other charities. The unit has been absolutely key to providing a new approach, a new capability to many, many thousands of people crippled by horrid injuries, including our War Heroes as the Sun would say. And SaVile's contribution to the funding this was critical.

This is why mob rule does not work. Why the will of the majority has to be tempered by people we trust to make balanced decisions. For all he was a monster on an individual level, some part of me wonders whether there wasn't some part of him trying to find redemption through good works.  If there is a hell, he is probably in it, but I have no personal evidence.  And that is the point.  All of what we hear is via the same broken media that covered it up in the first place.  Like a state's evidence guy they're all assiduously hunting around for anything to conceal their own incapacity.  The moral bankruptcy of most of the media never fails to live down to my expectations.

One of the most telling and emotional comparisons for me is from the wonderful To Kill a Mockingbird - the film which in my mind made Gregory Peck one of the finest actors of his generation. The lynch mobs represent the majority... those who react to the moment and who only after a long period of consideration can come to the long, the better view.