LinCon 2010 Gaming Convention

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My two days with Junior at the LinCon gaming convention in Linköping turned out even better than I’d hoped for. I had lots of fun myself, and as a geek dad I was extra happy that Junior took to the whole thing with such gusto. On Thursday evening, for instance, he was play-testing a convoluted unpublished sci-fi board game with some guys in their 20s and 30s while I sat at another table some ways off and played simpler games with my friend Hans and others. Dad proud.

Everybody at the convention was uncommonly friendly and open, as gamers often are. Most of us looked pretty geeky, but not everyone was a bespectacled male, by far. Plenty of ladies and children too. And I was amused to see that the rave-synth-Goths attending the convention managed to look a little nerdy too despite being in full sub-cultural panoply.

One group of charming people had set up camp in the entry hall, treating everybody to free tea. Another group grilled humanely priced burgers for the conventioneers on a charcoal fire outdoors. And the people at the free S.A.R.Z. board game bar amazed me with their friendliness and willingness to teach us games. The acronym means Swedish-Asian Roleplaying Zone (though these days they do board games instead), and as a member of a Swedish-Chinese household I felt right at home with the Cantonese Swedish guys.

I played twelve different games. My favourites were:

  • Alibi Saknas: HerrgÃ¥rdsmordet. Story-telling card game where the players collaborate at piecing together an exceptionally lurid whodunnit plot. According to the rules, the player who has the most fun wins.
  • Hey! That’s My Fish! / Pingwin. Jumping from one hexagonal ice floe to another collecting fish. I like the way all the penguins finally end up in the drink.
  • Ticket to Ride. Build a railroad network. Ranked #56 on Boardgamegeek.com.
  • Tigris & Euphrates. Dominate Bronze Age politics in Mesopotamia. I brought this myself. Ranked #10 on Boardgamegeek.com.

And eight others were also pretty good:

  • Badaboom. Card game where goblins get shut up in a dungeon and have to live-test bombs for their Overlord.
  • Enkounter / Kaleidoscope Classic. Abstract, tiles.
  • Munchkin. Card game, fantasy parody.
  • Kogworks / Mechanix. Abstract, cog wheels.
  • Pentago XL. Abstract, 5-in-a-row on a mutating board.
  • Rabbit & Carrot. Card game demanding fast addition skills and reflexes. Gets the adrenalin going.
  • Spank the Monkey. Card game, build absurd junk towers to discipline an unruly simian.
  • Through the Desert. Sex toy-coloured camels divvy up a hexagonated desert, scoring water holes and oases.

Organisation wasn’t great at LinCon this year. The web site advertised a bus service between Stockholm and the convention but never told us when or whence the bus would leave. The program folder told us roughly what was going to happen when, but in order to learn where you had to visit the reception desk. Definitely a problem at a large convention like this. But thanks to Hans, the S.A.R.Z. people and many friendly gamers, we kept ourselves pleasantly occupied.

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Schoolyard Sprouts Pagan Burial Monument

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Last year part of my daughter’s schoolyard was landscaped and fitted with new entertainments. The landscapers also built a stone circle right next to her classroom. (I attended that school myself in 1982-85. The building in the background was the council dentistry clinic where I was fitted with braces.)

Structures like these are known as domarringar, “judge circles”, in Swedish archaeology. They’re Early Iron Age grave superstructures dating from c. 500 BC to AD 500, each usually with a cremation urn buried somewhere inside the circle. The term “judge circle” comes from recent folklore (or antiquarian speculation?), which held that judicial assemblies once convened at sites like these, with one member sitting on each stone. I don’t know how old that idea is.

A number of details show that the judge circle at school doesn’t belong to their main period of construction. Firstly, when (rarely) there is a central stone in the Iron Age structures, it’s just one, not two. Secondly, while the Iron Age ones are pretty much perfectly circular and were probably drawn up with a central pole and a rope, the one at school is irregularly oval in outline. And finally, with twelve stones in the circle, the one at school doesn’t conform to Early Iron Age numerology.

Intact Iron Age judge circles have 7, 9, 11, 2*7, 2*9 or 2*11 stones. The same numbers recur in the knobs on amulet rings that women in certain regions wore in the 5th and 6th centuries. There’s at least one case where an amulet ring has been found in a judge-circle burial. The most common number of knobs is nine, and I’ve suggested that it might have something to do with the months of pregnancy.

Archaeology aside, Juniorette tells me that the school stone circle is quite popular, as can be seen from the absence of turf inside the circle. She describes three different games you play with it according to the number of available participants. One is named “The Singing Giant”.

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Nigerian Islamist Senator Outdoes Catholic Church on Child Rape Issue

It is of course a major issue of public discourse these days that the Catholic church has long systematically covered up child rape in the interests of the organisation’s public image. But to my knowledge, nobody has attempted to justify the rapes with reference to Catholic religious doctrine. The church’s attitude has roughly been “We think this is really nasty behaviour, but more importantly we don’t want any bad press”.

In Nigeria, it is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to marry. But senator Ahmad Sani Yerima, 49, is under investigation for taking a girl as his fourth wife when she was allegedly 13 years old. He is said to have paid a dowry of $100,000 for her. Sani is an Islamist who, as governor of Zamfara state, oversaw the introduction of Sharia law there in 1999.

Sani denies that the girl was only 13 but agrees that she was under 18. However, he is not concerned with secular Nigerian law on this issue, which may strike the reader as odd given that the man is a member of the National Assembly of the Republic of Nigeria. Said Sani to the BBC, “I don’t care about the issue of age since I have not violated any rule as far as Islam is concerned … History tells us that Prophet Muhammad did marry a young girl as well. Therefore I have not contravened any law. Even if she is 13, as it is being falsely peddled around.”

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Easter Egg Hunt and Club-House Ruin

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On Easter Saturday, many Swedish kids receive candy-filled cardboard eggs. Mine have to jump through a lot of hoops to get theirs. Often I have made paper trails around the house, “Under yellow table”, “Inside broom closet”, “In Dad’s rubber boot”. Then increasingly (as Junior grew) I have obfuscated the clues by swapping Ö for all vowels, writing them backwards or writing them in English. Sometimes I’ve prepared GPS-based outdoor egg hunts. And that’s what Juniorette faced this year, without any help from her older brother who was with his mom. She found the egg soon enough, once she had learned to look at her surroundings, not fixedly at the arrow on the GPS unit. And right beside the egg’s hiding place was a club-house ruin – or at least a poorly kept club house that was used last summer and hasn’t wintered well.

Rundkvist Sibs Sing “Handy Manny” Theme Song

You know the bit in Khalil Gibran where he says that children are arrows and parents bows, not archers? The other day my kids recorded this rendition of the “Handy Manny” theme song, and then Junior edited it in Audacity. The same evening he played his first game of Agricola where he ended up sharing second place with me despite making tea and sandwiches for everyone while playing. He’ll be twelve in July…

Baby Christened, Dad Unhappy and Surprised to Learn

Here’s an interesting case. A woman took her baby to Danderyd church (where I once took first communion) and had the child baptised — against the father’s wishes, as it turned out. He isn’t happy. And the priest admits that he should have checked with the dad but that he didn’t.

Bo Larsson, provost of the see of Stockholm, comments (and I translate):

“When I became a priest in the mid-70s, the nuclear family was the unquestioned standard, but today’s relationship patterns are infinitely more varied than they were 20 or 30 years ago and I feel that it has become even more important that the priest is both painstaking and wise and really makes sure that he understands the situation.”

To me, christening a baby is a pretty harmless thing to do, certainly not like circumcision. It’s a superstitious ritual, but not a dangerous one, and not one that has any significance to me. Of course, I wouldn’t want to help expand the membership roster of a church. But I imagine that if my wife had really, really wanted to have Juniorette baptised then I would have allowed it, just like I let her dose Juniorette with Chinese herbal cough syrup. In the abovementioned case, though, I don’t know if the parents are a cohabiting couple, and if you’re not, then I suppose you’re far less willing to humour your co-parent.

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Skiing Break

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Last week was skiing break for my kids. I couldn’t find anywhere good to stay in the mountains, so we didn’t go off on holiday. Here’s what we did for fun instead.

  • Dinner at the home of a Chinese friend. It was one of those no hablar parties that spouses in multi-ethnic marriages know all about. The food was great and everybody there except me spoke Mandarin – loudly and incessantly. I’ve never minded much: this time I had brought a book and there was a computer to play with.
  • Birthday party at the home of an Iranian friend. He used to be a death-metal kid. Now he’s a pro-democracy Persian patriot. Everybody wore green.
  • Watched the new Alice in Wonderland movie in 3D and in the country’s largest movie theatre. The kids loved it. I didn’t. Instead of Carroll’s original bad acid trip with language games they’ve made it into a slightly sappy Narnia thing where the characters have names and relationships and there’s even a fixed geography. But the lead actress does a fine job and is nice to look at.
  • Karaoke night: my kids wowed all the grown-ups with their skillz. Did you know that there’s a Chinese expression for someone who won’t share the mike? Mai ba, “Microphone Tyrant”. All the Beatles songs were accompanied by embarrassing footage of a look-alike band. In order to believe that they really look alike, you have to think that all European males look the same.
  • Went downhill skiing at the towering old Flottsbro landfill. It’s just across the lake from Älvesta, in plain view of where I practiced fieldwalking back in ’08. For skiing, I still use the gear my parents gave me in 1988. Need to sharpen the edges.
  • Went skating and cross-country skiing.
  • Got beaten twice at Yspahan and once at Settlers of Catan by my buddy Oscar. That’ll teach me to take up with strange men that I meet at on-line discussion forums about, ah, shall we say… specialised pastimes.
  • Juniorette went with the neighbours and watched The Princess and the Frog, and Grandma took her to the Museum of Nordic Culture.

The skiing break then ended on a non-fun note when the entire Rundkvist family was laid low by a calicivirus on Sunday.
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Population Will Come Down — We Choose How

It’s time for the annual Global Population Speak Out. We all know that in order not to crash the planet we need to consume less energy and raw materials and we need to emit less pollutants. But it doesn’t seem to be generally known that nothing an affluent Westerner does can have anywhere near as beneficial an effect on the future environment as not having kids. Riding a bike to work, recycling milk cartons, turning off the outdoor lamp before you go to bed — all of those green efforts of yours will be swamped and obviated if you have that extra kid.

Think about it. If there were only a few million people on the planet, then we wouldn’t have to worry about consumption or pollution. The problem is partly our environmental footprint per capita, but more the sheer number of people on the planet.

So, as I once wrote, for a person to produce more than two children is unethical. If you want lots of kids, then adopt — preferably from an affluent country, as you only make things worse if you move people from cultures with a small environmental footprint to a land of big cars and hamburgers.

We need to give little girls worldwide a good education, because that makes them have fewer kids when they grow up. And we need to combat various religious organisations that sow doubt about the efficacy and moral acceptability of contraceptives.

The population will not continue to grow for ever, nor remain constant on a high figure for very long. Sooner or later the human population will come down. It’s up to us to decide if this should happen through contraception and a global single-child policy or through a catastrophic die-off.

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Like an Elephant

My 6-y-o daughter usually sleeps really solidly over in her room and is not easily woken by sounds she’s accustomed to. But this morning she told me over breakfast, “Dad, you and Mom made the weirdest noises last night and woke me. First Mom kind of whined and sounded as if she was gonna sneeze. Then nothing for a while. And then you started sounding like an elephant! You made one heck of a racket — Det var ett jäkla liv.”