KattCon Gaming Convention

I spent Friday and Saturday with Junior at a small gaming convention in Katrineholm, a town two hours’ drive from my home. (I stayed nearby in May of last year with my wife.) With less than 100 participants, not all of whom were there at the same time, it was a friendly and welcoming con where it felt like our presence made a difference. Here’s what I played:

  • Descent, a dungeon game very reminiscent of 70s Dung & Drag when everything was still combat-centric and no role-playing asked for. Fun game though the underground catacombs full of magically appearing monsters of course have no chance of making you believe in or even care much about them.
  • BattleLore, a hex-based Medieval fantasy battle game. If standard hexagon tactical simulation games are Lego, then BattleLore with its great big hexes and simple rules is Duplo. I entered a small tournament and placed second despite never having seen the game before. It was fun too.
  • Tigris & Euphrates, mentioned here before: I played and beat two noobs and an experienced player, and one of the new guys placed second!
  • Munchkin (a dungeon parody card game), Munchkin Quest (a board-game version of the aforementioned), Kogworks (abstract, with cog-wheels).

      At the second-hand games table I bought Hansa and Lost Cities cheaply.

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Continued Afro-Chinese History Manipulation

In the early 15th century, Imperial Chinese mariners under the eunuch admiral Zheng He made great voyages of discovery in enormous ships. Then the Hongxi Emperor decided that what they had found on far shores was underwhelming, the whole fleet was scuppered and the Chinese paid no further attention to seafaring. In 2007 I discussed a silly story about alleged descendants of Zheng He’s non-eunuch crew in Kenya who had suddenly remembered their Chinese heritage, which was convenient since the Chinese were interested in local mining rights.

Now the Guardian has news about the Kenya – Zheng He – China connection, relayed to me by Aard’s Chinese reporter who happens to share my bed and board. A well-funded group of Chinese maritime archaeologists plans to spend three years searching for the wreck of one of Zheng He’s ships off the Kenyan coast. According to the newspaper, the impetus of the project is “Kenyan lore” about a shipwreck taking place in the 1400s. If so, then I am very sorry for my Chinese colleagues. They have a “likely shipwreck site”, but no actual shipwreck yet.

I hope the project does find a 15th century Chinese shipwreck. But if they do, then this will in no way validate the suddenly remembered folklore. It’s a ridiculous product of current Afro-Chinese economic relations, and I’m sure no well-educated Kenyan or Chinese archaeologist believes one word of it.

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Free Books in My Phone

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I got the Aldiko e-book reader for my Android phone the other day – for free over the net. It came with two apparently random free books in epub format: H.G. Wells’s The Invisible Man and Sun Tzu’s Art of War. And whenever I like I can get more books for free over the net from within the e-reader: either old ones whose copyright has expired, or newly written ones with a Creative Commons licence. Austen, Doyle, Lovecraft, Twain, you name it! I can also buy copyrighted e-books and put them on my phone. The cost works out to about the same as if I mail-order a used paperback from the UK, the difference being that I don’t have to wait and I will have nothing to put on my shelf (which is pretty full already). My next book purchase will probably be an e-book.

Meanwhile, a top-tier literary agent representing a huge number of huge names has made an agreement with Amazon to deliver his author stable’s output directly to the on-line book store for e-reader access without the involvement of any publisher. New times! Will we see the high-street print-on-demand booth soon? Or will the paperback novel soon be obsolete?

The cheapest way to get hold of a copyrighted book, though, is still to borrow it from a friend or the library. My local doesn’t have much that interests me, but they offer an excellent inter-library loan service. I order over the net, they notify me by SMS when they receive the book, and then I pay €1 to borrow it down at the library. (Local loans carry no such fee.)

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Has Robyn Credited Trans-X for the “Cobrastyle” Melody?

The other night my wife suddenly hummed a familiar melody line. After some mental searching I identified it as a slightly modified version of French Canadian synth-poppers Trans-X’s 1983 hit “Living on Video” that I haven’t heard in 20 years or more. But my wife said, “No, it’s this Robyn song I heard on a Letterman clip on YouTube”. That turned out to be Robyn’s 2006 treatment of the Teddybears’ 2004 song “Cobrastyle“, where she’s backed by the Teddybears. The 2006 version introduces the Trans-X line which is not present in the 2004 original. Now I wonder, have Robyn and/or the Teddybears acknowledged the loan from Trans-X? I mean, the 1983 song is hardly an obscure piece of music, having peaked at no 9 on the UK singles chart. Googling robyn +cobrastyle +”living on video” produces nothing useful.

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Teaching and Going Home

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Spent 5.5 hours on site in Wales today and 7 hours by car, train and plane to get from there to Skavsta airport. I’ve got another couple of hours by bus and train before I’m home. The trains I rode in the UK were on time but often did not leave from the platforms indicated by the online trip planner.

No big news on site today. I did some topless deturfing in the sun and taught a bright student to use a metal detector. Funny how much wordless knowledge you accumulate and spell out only when teaching. “Grab clod, wave over dish, listen, divide clod, wave, listen, toss quiet half, repeat. Close your fist when you wave the clod over the dish or you’ll fling the object away. You’ll find it by ear, not by eye. It’ll look just like a piece of stone until you clean it.”

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Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

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The Department of History and Archaeology in Chester is moving from their lovely but run-down Georgian building at the north city gate to the main campus. So I spent most of today helping with the move: shifting finds from a Tudor manor site at Stokenham in Devon and excavation gear. On our way to the excavation site we then stopped to check out the Pontcysyllte aqueduct, an amazing 195-year-old piece of hydraulic engineering where a transportation canal has been made to cross a river 38 metres above its surface. The afternoon’s fieldwork was interrupted and finally cut short by torrential rain, but I had the time to metal detect a new trench out in the ploughed field beside the barrow, and found a piece of a line-decorated lead object. Then back to Gwersyllt for some excellent Bengali food delivered to the door and an unsuccessful attempt to find a geocache near the railway station.

Photograph by Akke Monasso from Wikipedia.

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Wednesday in the Trenches

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Professor Nancy Edwards and associates take stock of the western trench at the end of the day’s work.

Today offered much better weather, but due to permit trouble very little metal detecting. Instead I’ve been “cleaning” with the students, which basically means slow removal of soil using a trowel and a brush. I found a large piece of glazed Buckley ware (19th century), a piece of clay-pipe stem, some quartz and not much more. Somebody found a piece of Roman black burnished pottery that had been partly refashioned into a crude spindlewhorl. But we’re still on top of the barrow’s capping slate-shingle cairn (put in place by the 18th century antiquarians who re-erected the Pillar of Eliseg?), and it is uncertain whether it will be removed at all this year.

In other news, Dear Reader Sandgroper points to some interesting information about a venture capital firm that owns much of Seed Media Group.

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Digging in Wales, Watching Sb Crisis

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I’m in north-east Wales for a few days’ work on a Universities of Chester and Bangor dig. We’ve had a rainy day, which meant that we couldn’t work effectively for very long. But I did some metal detecting, finding lead spatters that may have to do with 18th century repairs to the 9th century Pillar of Eliseg, and two 20th century coins, and of course a few aluminium ring-pulls. And I took part in de-turfing and trowel cleaning on the flanks of the barrow and the flat field around it. The weather forecast for the next few days looks somewhat more favourable.

Meanwhile, here at Sb, the crisis set off by Pepsigate has worsened. GrrlScientist and Bora Zivkovic among others have left, mirabile dictu, and Pharyngula is on strike. The latter fact is of critical importance to Sb’s future since PZ pulls in 2/5 of the entire site’s traffic. The problem is no longer about journalistic ethics: bloggers are leaving Sb because SMG doesn’t seem to care what they do. This isn’t news to me: my blogging situation is no worse now than before Pepsigate. But if Sb loses Pharyngula, then the upheavals we face won’t be about SMG selling the site as I suggested recently. It will be about the site no longer being profitable nor sellable at all.