Being a CFO and other topics

Not just finance, hobbies too ….

Category: Hobbies

Evil High Priest – First Impressions

 

Might as well lead with the main link. This is my quick review of Evil High Priest that I used their print and play preview to try out at the local board game Meet-Up that I go to every week. This is a new game by noted game designer Sandy Petersen which he co-designed with his son, Lincoln Petersen.

The game is a worker placement game for 2-5 players. You are all part of an evil cult trying to summon your patron Great Old One from the Cthulhu Mythos. There are two cult boards included in the print and play (Cthulhu and the Black Goat) plus all the boards, cards and tokens you would use in the basic game.

The object of the game is to have the most resources (the best places High Priest) when the Great Old One is released. All players are working to summon the Great Old One, no player is working to stop it. Other than the normal worker placement rule of only one worker (cultist in this game) per space, the other interaction is to trigger raids when they are not convenient to the other players.

Before I discuss the game mechanics, a few things about the print and play. The boards are not set to standard paper sizes, so make sure you have a plan on how to print them (I used “poster” settings for the cult boards and then cut the pieces out and taped them together, for example). You can take the files to your local office supplies / printing shop, but color printing on non-standard paper sizes can be pricey. I managed to print everything on my home printer, it just took a little bit of work. Petersen Games should take a look at paper sizes for a print and play file and a printing instructions page would help, especially if you have to explain it to a copy shop. Also, be careful when saving the file. I saved from Adobe Reader, and it flattened the file and I lost an icon on one of the boards when it did that.

I used light card stock and then laminated it using this machine:

AmazonBasics Thermal Laminator

I bought it a while ago for a print and play and card stock terrain projects and for around $20 it does a good job.

The game needs some game pieces and 3 6-sided dice. I have plenty of dice and I could have repurposed some Cthulhu Wars cultist figures, but I didn’t want to take them back and forth to the Meet-up. Instead, I did a quick search and for a design for some meeples I could print on one of my 3D printers. I used these ones, but there really are many, many choices:

Meeples!

I used 2 different types – the wizards with a staff to be the high priests and the regular ones to be the acolytes. I wish I have made the wizards about 15% larger than the others, but they served well enough. I also did not want to switch out colors 5 times and print 5 times, so instead I did this:

Once the paint dried I ended up with 5 different colors of meeples (red, white, bluse, black and gray). I used spray paint, but model paint for miniatures would work just as well.

I happened to have a 1″ circle punch, so that made punching out most of the circular tokens quick. That was a little large, you could use a 3/4″ one for the smaller tokens and the 1″ one for the larger tokens worth 3 units each if you wanted. A circular punch is a lot faster and neater than using scissors, but not needed if you do not have one. There are punches in all sorts of shapes, check out the scrapbooking section of your local crafts store.

In the end, it ended up looking something like this in the Meet-up:

Overall, it looks good and helps in playing. I like the fact that the turn order and the victory point values are on each priest card.

The game itself

Like almost all worker placement games, you pick a turn order and then each player places a worker and then you rotate with each other player in turn placing workers until there no more workers to be placed. You then resolve the skulk action and the action phase ends. You then resolve the preparation phase which involves one of the boards (ritual board) and return cultists that were used back to their pool unless they are still performing a ritual.

There are 5 resources in the game – treasure, blood, magic, spellbooks and Elder Signs and that is the ascending order of victory point value as well, with treasure only valuable in the end game if you have the most. Different action squares cost different (or no) resources in addition to having a cultist placed there and sometimes the cultists themselves are the cost (except there is a no self sacrifice rule so one of their companions is sacrificed).

There are three main boards and a player board that you can perform actions on. These are the Town board (get or exchange resources or become first player), the Cult board (get Elder Signs), the Ritual Board (gain more resources at the cost of 2 or more turns use of your cultist), and the Priest board (everyone has one, only the priest can be used). The ritual board only becomes active after the first raid by investigators occurs.

In the basic game, you only get generic monsters. There are no unique Priests, Monsters or Investigators. These will be added to the game via an expansion and potentially via stretch goals unlocked in the campaign. This made the first play through somewhat generic. An easy fix for the monsters would be to name them and add flavor text with no rules text and the 5 power. *poof* you are now summoning Sandy’s Dark Young instead of a generic monster. Same for the 5 starting high priests. Give them each a name and flavor text and no ability. Vary the art on the cards making, some women and some men and maybe even non-human and you instantly have a game with more flavor with just a little effort and cost.

The game itself played well. We played 4 players and first time for this game for all of us, but we all have played worker placement games before. It took us 2.5 hours and we were all pretty even until about 2 hours in and an ill-timed raid against me knocked me so far back that I never recovered. The designers say 60 to 90 minutes play time and I would add 15 minutes to set-up and tear down the game. We got faster as we learned the game, so 90 minutes is probably doable.

The mechanics tie into the genre. As you break more and more seals, you attract the attention of investigators that raid you. Your cultists start in the asylum (you have 6 and 4 start there) and are not available until they “escape”. You sacrifice cultists (goes back to asylum) and monsters to stop raids and once they penetrate those defenses, the innate defenses you build up slow down and hopefully stop the investigators. If not, they destroy resources. The raids hit everyone, not just the person that triggered it and it is a nice touch. It also adds some chance for all players to do something, even in other peoples turns.

Unless you use your priest to Chant (action on the Priest board) or otherwise gain a Chamber card, any resources you gain are unprotected. You use resources to get Elder Signs which are worth the most victory points but it is not the only way to win.

I liked the different areas to play in, but thought that only having chambers vary made it a little to plain. Switching out Cult boards (2 in the basic game plus 4 more in the expansion) will make the game suitably different each time. The dice are only used to set raid strength (1 to 3 dice so from 1 to 18 total).

All 4 of us liked the game and want to play it again, so it passed the first test. Compared to other “premium” worker placement games, the base game looks shy on components. very few cards and the resources being tokens (most premium games use wooden tokens of some kind at least). I know of a few rules we got a little wrong the first play through, but I found the rule book well done in general.

Since this is still in Kickstarter while I write this, they still have time to add more marketing elements to it. The design looks very solid, but I expect that from Petersen games. They just need to add extra sparkle and fun to the game to make it stand out a little. The extra miniatures you can add do not count for me as I think the boards will need to be much bigger else they will block game text. I also found some of the shadowed white print on parchment background a little hard to read.

Also, since this is a Kickstarter, Petersen Games has a reputation for delivering what they promised  (Sandy Petersen even mortgaged his house to make sure that happened one early Kickstarter) but they are generally late in delivering (not worse than the average Kickstarter). They say they have changed it this time and are ready to produce, but they are not great at delivering on time but good at delivering great games.


Other good Worker Placement games

Lords of Waterdeep

Viticulture – Essential Edition

Scythe

 

My Technology Life – An Update

I recently built myself a new computer after using the last one for almost 5 years.  My old computer was able to run all the programs I had without any real issues, but it was slowly getting more unstable over time, and the update to Windows 10 had been rough.

The Computer

This time I wanted to build a computer that could run the latest virtual reality headsets and I wanted to have something that again would last me quite a while.  I typically buy the second fastest consumer CPU that is available as the fastest is normally at a high premium in cost but with little extra speed, but the Intel 6700K had finally come down to suggested retail price.  I wanted the modern chipset that went with it so something on the Z170 chipset was what I looked for in a motherboard.  My timing was not that great for a video card in that both NVIDIA and AMD were about to release their latest generation, so I actually waited over a month after buying the rest of my components before fully setting the computer up.  The motherboard did have built in graphics and the CPU did as well, so I was able to test everything except for the new card.

I will make two observations.  The first is that I have always felt it important to be agnostic about brands when making choices on most of the components.  Years ago there was a great deal of variety in motherboards and how features were implemented on them.  Today, the two main CPU makers (Intel and AMD) release a new chipset with each new CPU generation and that chipset is very full featured.  I have almost always used Intel CPUs because for many years, they have been the best performing.  AMD often wins on the cost to performance basis, but it has been quite a while since they have had a chip that can compete for pure performance.  I did build an AMD-based computer a few computers ago because that generation they did have the best CPU.

CPUs are fairly quiet, but there often are techie “holy wars’ over video cards.  I admit to have fought a little in them back when 3DFX and their voodoo chips revolutionized 3D, but I got over it.  Now I just buy the card that I think does the best for me.  The two main graphics processor unit (GPU) providers are NVIDIA and AMD (they bought ATI years ago).  My last generation computer has an AMD video card (a 370) and that was based on AMD having better multi-monitor technology at the time as I like running 3 monitors.  There are edge cases where AMD has had better chips, but for the most part, NVIDIA has had the highest performing chips for a while.

Unlike CPUs, the price jump to the most powerful GPU to the second best is still enormous and unless you really are a power gamer or power user, there is little need to get the best GPU.  For the computer I just built, I ended up with an NVIDIA 1070 based video card (the board maker was MSI).  I had considered the AMD RX 480 as it was a lot less expensive, but the demand was so high that cards were hard to find and the custom cards had not come out yet.  So I went with the 1070.

I could write pages and pages on the latest and greatest differences between the board makers and the different CPU and GPU you could choose, but this blog entry will exist for a long time and tech sites are always much more current (I go to anandtech.com but ownership changes have made it less useful in the last year).  So I will give some more general observations.

The premium priced components in the consumer space are all aimed at gamers.  This tends to result in multi-color LED lights and a black (and usually red highlights) color scheme.  There actually is very little value add from what I can tell from my research for the extra price you pay.  There certainly is much less bang for the buck.  The video card I bought is branded as an MSI “gaming” card and it looks nice but does not really offer any performance improvements over non-gaming cards.

Motherboards are similar.  The Z170 chipset has plenty of solid boards that cost around $150 (can be found for less during sales).  You can spend $250 to $300 and just get a few extra bells and whistles that you may never use.

One final comment, if you build the computer yourself, be prepared to troubleshoot yourself and to have to refresh your knowledge.  I had a faulty power supply and it took me quite a while to track the problem down.  Google and technology forums are your friends here.

This is the system I ended up putting together:

Intel Skylake Core i7-6700K
– the fastest CPU currently available. Depending on luck, can be overclocked a fair amount
Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO – CPU Cooler with 120 mm PWM Fan
– One of the bestselling coolers. Quite tall, was interesting to install
ASUS Z710 – AR
– all of the modern features of the chipset and none of the “gamer” bells and whistles that jack up the price. PCI-e sharing (which is common for the chipset) so might be a concern for dual GPU use but I plan on only using one GPU.
GPU – MSI Gamer NVIDIA GTX 1070.  As I mentioned, both the main GPU companies just released new cards and it is hard to find cards priced at regular retail prices.

G.SKILL TridentZ Series 16GB (2 x 8GB) 288-Pin DDR4 SDRAM DDR4 3733 (PC4 29800)
– this is actually somewhat of a waste. Super-fast RAM that I probably would not need and I could of gone down a few notches in speed and double the amount for the same price as I will not heavily overclock
CM Storm Scout 2 Advanced – Gaming Mid Tower Computer Case with Carrying Handle and Windowed Side Panel – Black
– This is an updated version of the case I have been using the past 5 years. Roomy and has a handle on top which comes in handy more often than not. Plenty of room for fans, and a good front panel for USB
Antec 750 Gamer power supply.  I originally had a corsair power supply but it was faulty.
– Should be way more power than I need, especially if I do not have 2 x GPU
SAMSUNG 950 PRO M.2 256GB PCI-Express 3.0 x4 NVMe Internal Solid State Drive (SSD)
– Very fast SSD (motherboard supported) that will be my boot drive and will have some applications on it
Mushkin Enhanced Reactor 2.5″ 256GB SATA III MLC Internal Solid State Drive (SSD)
– Secondary SSD for often accessed files and other applications
Seagate 3TB Desktop HDD SATA 6Gb/s 64MB Cache 3.5-Inch Internal Bare Drive
– Should be plenty of room, especially since I have a 16TB NAS
LG Black 16X BD-R 2X BD-RE 16X DVD+R 5X DVD-RAM 12X BD-ROM 4MB Cache SATA Blu-ray Burner
– I debated if I really needed an optical drive and finally decided to get one as I can see myself watching movies on the computer and I have a lot of Blueray disks (PS4 is my main player)
Razer BlackWidow Ultimate Stealth 2016 – Backlit Quiet Mechanical Gaming Keyboard with 10 Key Rollover
– Decided to try a mechanical keyboard. These have Razer designed mechanisms, not sure if as good as Cherry-MX switches. Quieter version.
Logitech G600MMO Gaming Mouse – Black
– Will move over from my existing computer. I do not use all the buttons and may look at another mouse

VR Headset

The latest technology that is just starting to go mainstream is Virtual Reality.  There are two main contenders for the headset market right now – the Oculus Rift (which is backed by Facebook) and the HTC Vive which has teamed up with Steam (owned by a company called Valve and the main marketplace to buy PC games online).

If I had to sum up the main differences between the two headsets, I would say that the HTC Vive comes with two controllers and can be used standing and moving (called room-scale) and sitting down while the Oculus Rift is mainly meant to be used sitting down and does not as of now come with VR controllers.  The Vive has a lot more content available for it now, but many programs are made for both headsets and there are not many non-game programs available.

I got to try out the Vive at uploadvr.com ‘ s offices in San Francisco when I was there for a meeting with a McGill University representative who wanted me to help in their entrepreneur program.  I had read that the room-scale made a big difference and when I tried it out I agreed.

The experience in both headsets is pretty good and you do really get a sense of immersion far beyond what looking at a screen will give you.  The Oculus Rift is about $600 and the HTC Vive is about $800, but the Vive comes with two controllers and two sensor boxes that enable the room scale VR.

I picked the HTC Vive as it has more software available today and because the built in ability to move around instead of just sitting down sold me on the system.  The actual graphics capability is about the same between the two controllers and both are just emerging, so the “best” choice may change rapidly.

I have only used the headset for a few days., so I will hold off on a detailed review, but I can tell you that the base experience lives up to the hype.

I am waiting to see what non-game uses there are for the headsets.  There is a fair bit of work being done to develop approaches and applications for the virtual world the headsets put you into that make it useful for non-games, but there are not that many real life examples yet.  I will be attending a meeting on that topic in a few weeks and will update and right a new blog after I have more information.

Getting the headset to work was somewhat of a struggle and the programs are all new and very much “early access”, so I hesitate to recommend it for everyone, but it has been quite fun so far.  One of my friends brought his young son over (son is around 10 years old) and the son was fascinated with the headset and wore it for hours.

3D Printing

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, 3D Printers are technology that is still not quite ready for mainstream use.  They still take a lot of fiddling with to get to work well and consistently and you need to be comfortable with at least some light mechanical work.  I recently bought another 3D printer, the Wanhao Duplicator 6.  It is over twice the price of the Wanhao Duplicator i3 I started with (and that is an excellent starter machine), but it is much more capable as well.  I will do an update just on the new printer and what I have learned since I bought my first one.  This update will include using a raspberry pi mini-computer to remotely control and monitor the printer.

The raspberry pi mini-computer part of my coming update will be extensive as well.  Quite remarkable what you get for around $50.

Why Bother?

This is a blog on being a CFO and I usually have Tuesdays are purer “CFO” topics and Thursdays are where my occasional other blogs show up.  So you may be wondering why I am writing on building a PC or VR headsets or 3D printers.

My reasons are quite simple – career growth and personal growth.  I live in the Silicon Valley area and there is a lot of interest in the technology around computers, VR and 3D Printers.  More and more, companies are looking for CFOs that are more than just the accounting and numbers person.  IF I don’t expand my mind and learn by doing in areas like this, then how can I be credible when I claim to be a good fit for a technology company CFO role?

I get personal satisfaction on learning new things, but with the competition out there today, I really think that you need to keep actively learning.  If you stop and rest on your laurels, you will be passed by.  I often have had staff ask me how I got to know our company’s products, and it is the same drive that makes me want to understand VR Headsets that made me dig into how electricity comes from a solar panel.

So try not to dismiss other people trying to learn and very importantly, encourage your staff to do so.

 

 

Book Review – The Greatest Knight

This is one of my infrequent book reviews where I make a recommendation on a book you could enjoy on a trip you are about to take. I try and recommend lighter and easier to enjoy books and I provide a link to the book on Amazon.com in kindle format in my reviews so you can download it right away if you are reading this in an airport and are interested. I actually use Audible.com a fair bit and listen too books when driving or traveling (link is also below), but I find reading more efficient and I still read 4-5 books a month.

For those that access my blog via a computer or other device that has a full browser that shows the full site, you will notice that I have a statue of a knight as my banner image across the top. That knight is William Marshal and I recently finished a book called “The Greatest Knight:The Remarkable Life of William Marshal” that tells his story. The book is written by Thomas Asbridge, a noted historian who has written several other books on the Crusades.

William Marshal was a younger son of a minor noble in England. Born in 1146, he lived in the era of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine and he served both of them and their sons, Henry, Richard the Lionhearted and John (the king who was so terrible that no other British King has been named John since), and finally as Regent for John’s son Henry who became Henry III of England. He died around the age of 72 in 1219. He was almost killed at the age of by King Steven when his father had given him up as a hostage to the King and then promptly broke his word. When King Steven threatened to kill him, William’s father told him to go ahead, saying ‘I still have the hammer and anvil with witch to forge still more and better sons.” King Steven decided to spare him and he went on to have a remarkable career.

Asbridge bases his book on a book dating from just after William’s death called “The History of William Marshal” which was commissioned by his family and disappeared from history only to be recovered in the very late 1800’s. The advantage of this source material compared to other histories of the time is that it was not written by the clergy and it represents the point of view of the nobles and knightly class who had very different goals than the Church.

Hostage, youngest son, poor knight, servant of kings and the realm, tournament champion, the story of William Marshal and his time is very interesting. The book moves along at a good pace and paints pictures with enough detail that the important facts are clear but not so detailed that it gets bogged down.

William Marshal was so deeply involved in British history from the 1160’s to 1219, and so much happened then that the writer easily could have fallen deeply into various rabbit holes and bogged the story down. Fortunately this does not happen. Instead, a vivid and engaging story of the greatest knight is told and by the end the reader is left with no doubt as to why the title applies to William Marshal. He not only was a great warrior, he was a key person behind the Magna Carta which is considered to be a significant constitutional document for England and thus for much of the Western world.

If I had to sum up the lesson that William Marshal can teach us today, it is that being true to your word and duties, even when difficult, is the right course of action. Several times during his life he had to choose between duty to his King or an easier path that would lead to more immediate, material reward. In every case, William chose duty and loyalty. That is not to say he liked his King in all cases (he did not appear to like John at all) but he still knew what his duty was and made the difficulty but right choice every day.

The author fills in the historical details of people and places when needed, but he does not get in the way of this rags to riches story. William started off almost penniless and ended as one of the most powerful and richest men in England. He was a sports star of his day, a noted and respected tournament champion and he also was a feared and renowned warrior. He inspired great personal loyalty in his friends and allies and they were steadfast in their support of him.

I recommend the book. The story is interesting and well written. The history of those times is fascinating. And the main focus, William, is deserving of his fame. What would William Marshal do?

The Greatest Knight (Kindle)

A Squire and their Knight

The one regret that I have for my “career” in the SCA is that my actual career has made me move all over the place, every two years or so. These moves have taken me to Asia and back twice and across the country several times. Because of that. Even though I have been asked a few times, I have never been able to properly commit to a knight/squire relationship. I was squired to a Master at Arms before I was knighted and I have observed several decades of relationships over the 30+ years I have been a fighter, so here is my blog on this topic. Much of what I will discuss applies to choosing a mentor outside the SCA for career or other pursuits, but this is mainly targeted at the core SCA relationship – Knight and Squire.

I generally try to avoid the discussion of which Peerage in the SCA is better. As a matter of pure fact, we are all equal. As anyone who has been in the SCA long enough to really understand us, you know it is not just the legal paperwork that says it, the SCA would be a poor sports club without the arts and service that adds to what the SCA needs to be special. One thing that is true about the Chivalry is that we are the most visible Peerage doing what we were selected for. Most SCA events are built around a tournament or war and that means fighting. The fighting Peers and the storybook Peers are the Chivalry. Deeply engrained into the storybook are squires to knights. The humble page that becomes a squire and later a knight is the coming of age story for centuries and centuries and the SCA provides an excellent stage for the play to be shown to a new audience.

I am going to use Knight to mean Chivalry for the rest of this blog. I was squired to a Master-at-Arms but I don’t think typing out both for the rest of this blog will add to this discussion.

It is my firm belief that almost all bad Knight/Squire relationships are the fault of the Knight. The problem is normally caused by a Knight accepting the relationship without making sure they are the right person for the squire. Sometimes in less populated areas there is no choice as there is no one else closer, but there are some Knights that are too concerned about building a household and not enough about training a future Knight. Some cannot commit the time needed. This is not to say that the squire may not work out for reasons particular to the squire, but in a teacher/student relationship you need to be able to commit the time to teach. Often times you are not showing a particular technique, you might just steer them to the right person to learn from. You should always be able to work on the soft skills as well as the physical ones. I have seen to many cases of someone becoming a Squire and then their Knight moving away 6 month later and the Knight knew it was coming. I have seen a little too much of Knights trying to grab hold of someone that starts showing promise without remembering that the Squire should benefit the most from the relationship.

For me, I have had to satisfy myself with teaching at practices as I have moved every 2-3 years for the last 20 and no move has been reasonably local. I cannot take a squire that I cannot commit to. I need to be there. In a company, I can train and mentor someone and rely on the company process itself to do the rest of the work if I move on. Since the training is not physical, I do not to do a lot of in person time and I can continue a mentors hip even. If we do not work at the same company, I can continue a mentor relationship. It does not work so well for a squire. At worst, you need to be there when they finally come up for awards.

I started in Montreal and was pretty much in the first small group I was (and am) quite driven and I wanted to be a Knight. The Knight/squire relationship was very public and obvious in the first few events I went to and I wanted that relationship. I had hit is off with another suburban guy that was quite driven that lived in Rhode Island. He was suited to Master Feral, who to this day is still legendary. I went to my first Pennsic and served as “man at arms” to my new friend Jaye Brooks (Duke Sir Lucan now). I liked it and liked the spirit of the Northern Army group. Feral was pretty far away (6 hours drive) so I needed to find someone local to squire to.

The two choices (both in Vermont) were Master Randal and Master Tearlach. They both had traveled up to Montreal to do some training and to hang around and get to know us. Randy was driven, fought hard, wanted to win Crowns. In my mind, what I needed and certainly what I wanted. Someone I figured would push me very hard and who I could learn the fastest from. Little did I know, but Randal and Tearlach had already talked to each other and Randy thought he was a little far away and not really interested in a new squire to two but Tearlach was. So Tearlach asked Sonny (Master Allyn – my best friend from before we even found the SCA) and me to be his squires. I turned him down. Sonny came to talk to me and told me that Randy was not interested in taking me on as a squire and to think about who showed up more often, made more armor for us and who was actually interested in doing something for us to the point that he had just offered his highest commitment of time.

I did not know it then, but the one that looked to be a strange fit for me ended up being the right person. That was solely due to Tearlach keeping his end of the commitment even in the face of the challenges my personality and drive added. I did my part for sure, I put the hours in, travelled and did not dishonor myself or him on the field. Sonny and I became one of the now many “Northern Region Death Twins” (the first were actually twins or at least brothers so it fit a little better) and killed prime target after prime target as directed by our commanders.

Even though Tearlach has always been known as a polearms fighter more than any other weapon form, he had a huge influence on my main form which is sword and shield. Early in our relationship and quite possibly even before I became his squire, I broke the strap on my heater shield and he leant me one of his shields. Tearlach has a pretty unique shield shape and to this day I use it. We explained to me where the shield came from, but that was a while ago and he was good enough to remind me.

image

Master Tearlach: “In my early days as a fighter, Feral would come up a few times a year with the then cutting edge techniques from Siegfried’s practices. Partially a moulinet from a hanging guard then a strike to the opposite (weapon) side then a shot to whatever opened up. My technique was therefore always 6 months stale. I borrowed the double ended kite from the much earlier Celts and Roman auxiliaries. Those were typically center gripped but some were strapped. I then developed my own style as a counter, using this shield and an opening strike to the weapon side, totally nullifying the hanging guard attack.( I invented the “fan strike” which had been used by the Filipinos since at least the 15th century) While polearm is my usual weapon I am probably just as good with sword and shield. When I was doing tournaments I used sword and shield to go as deeply as possible. If I made it to the quarter finals I usually would switch to pole, which I could use more effectively against top tier swordsmen.”

A lot of what I do today is still based on this. I rely more on a timing shot, a sort of “flip snap” designed to skip a little to get over a shield edge and hit the target. The shot is pure timing and works by being where the block is not. My other main shot is an opening strike to the weapon side which Tearlach’s shield is very well suited for. To be honest, the shield is not very efficient as it is thin near my head and legs, I could do almost everything I do now with a regular kite and a kite is much more defensive.

Returning to my main point, Tearlach was a Knight who was willing to make the commitment he needed to so I would develop to my potential. I rejected him and he took it in stride. About a year before I was Knighted I told him that I thought we were no longer Master and Squire, that he and I were close friends and equals and I stopped wearing my baldric until my Knighting ceremony. Even today the influence that relationship had on me is apparent. I came from a Catholic family right down to attending an all boy Jesuit High School. Tearlach certainly was alternative in religion and other lifestyle choices that only my liberal parents had done any work preparing me for (the Jesuits actually did a good job of opening my mind to the many ways people can see God).

I certainly frustrated him on a regular basis. I listened and tried what I was being taught, but I always insisted on doing other things my way. He was way stronger than me and much larger, but I always tried to fight him super close where he could use his weight to maximum advantage. The thing that made Tearlach different was that he simply punished me in practice until I developed a style that worked well in close. I was not lectured, told I was wrong or asked to stop. I was doing the other things I was being taught, and then I figured out how to merge with the polearm haft and grab it. I then spent years beating him in singles fights, most of which involved him throwing me from side to side as I threw shots whenever my feet actually were touching the ground.

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(A much younger Tearlach.  At that time I was a short hair suit wearer.  I guess I still am that, now that I think of it.  he was the closest to a “hippy” I had ever met.  Don’t think he was ever actually a “hippy”, and he was kind of serious and bookish when relaxing at home.)

I have seen many other styles of Knight to Squire work. I have seen very military houses with everyone stepping in formation and pretty much saluting. I have seen the loose style that Tearlach and others up North used in which the joke amongst the Squires was teasing the more traditional relationship where the Squire would carry their Knight’s gear by telling them that it was expected of us to tell our Knights to carry their own damned armor bag.

If you are going to take someone on as a Squire, I really hope that you are up to the commitment. I learned a lot of how to be successful off the field from Tearlach. Successful in my accounting career, not just in the SCA. My parents laid a good foundation, but Tearlach and his friends showed me what being accepted into a group where prowess mattered meant. If you take a Squire, you are not only accepting them, you are bringing them into your close circle of friends and you need to be sure that is the right thing to do. Outside the SCA, if you are mentoring someone, then make sure they benefit the most from the relationship and that you bring them into your circle of peers so they can see what that feels like and what they need to reach to truly be part of it.

Reading Comic Books the modern way

With the recent success of super hero movies and TV programs, especially the Marvel Universe movies, liking comic books is solidly back in the mainstream. That is probably a little bit of an exaggeration as comic books have been widely popular for decades and decades. They are about the purest example of popular fiction out there and for a very long time the comics code authority kept them no worse than PG rated and a G rating was probably closer to the truth except for the violence.
What I think happened is that the mass market appeal dropped in the 1980’s and they started appealing to the collector crowd and not so much to the regular kid. Newsstand sales became much less important and specialty comic book sales became more important. There were still plenty of Saturday morning cartoons and I don’t think there ever was a period without at least a TV show that was super hero based in some way, but the comics themselves moved solidly up in printing quality and cost and moved away from dime sales to younger kids.
So there was a whole portion of the nerd population that was into comic books when the average person wasn’t. The late 1970’s and the 1980’s was my period of reading comics in a more classic way. I went to the comic store weekly and bought what I had allocated from my allowance. I quickly learned to buy a bag and a cardboard insert and I carefully read and saved my comics. I think I was a very typical cross-section of the group that would like them. I was playing D&D, reading SF and Fantasy, had just started programming on my high school’s Apple ][+ computers, and I was reading comic books. At the time, I was a big Marvel fan, and in particular, the X-Men and any comics associated with them. I also liked The New Teen Titans a lot and read the occasional Batman issue.
By the time I got to my last year of University, I had a pretty decent sized if narrow collection and I had some bills I needed to pay. There was a large comics book dealing in Montreal (called 1000000 Comix or something similar) that advertised in the comics themselves and I took my collection out to the West Island and sold it to them. That trip was important to me in a few ways. The first is that I was able to negotiate better than average dealer buy prices for my comics. The second is that I was actually at their warehouse, and I got a first hand chance to see just how big an industry comic collecting was. The owner had well over 1,000,000 comics there. I was able to find an interview of the owner from back in 1986 on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7j03FeFuZkg
After I sold off my collection, I occasionally would buy and read a comic, but I was travelling and moving a lot after college and hauling around comics just didn’t seem like the best use of my time and space. I missed reading them, but they were not very convenient when on planes and packing suitcases as they were guaranteed to be ruined. The Batman movies came out, and that rekindled some interest in comics. I still had the same problem, though. Too many moves, too easy to damage the comics when on planes or in hotels. Plus, for the time it takes to read a comic, they take up a fair amount of room and add too much weight to your luggage. I had pretty much resigned myself to reading only the occasional “blockbuster” series that came out in graphic novel status, until maybe 5 years ago I found a new way to buy and read comic books called Comixology. Comixology not only had real comic books from Marvel and DC in ebook form, they had a very good reader for my iPad. At that time, you could even buy the comics directly from your iPad (today you need to visit their website).
Comixology developed a very good method to read comics on a smartphone screen or on an iPad called Guided View. Basically, they give you the choice of reading the whole page on one screen similar to how it would look on the actual comic book page or by naturally zooming in panel by panel (even word balloon by word balloon) . On top of that, they had regular sales of back issues for 99 cents each.
I now had a way to buy comics and could buy them anywhere I had an internet connection and my storage worries were solved. What followed over the last 5 or so years was an explosion of me buying comics, both new issues and catching up on back issues. I now have over 5,000 comics in ebook form and new comics Wednesday is a day I look forward to again. Comixology carries the comics from many publishers, not just DC and Marvel and their back issue library keeps growing and growing.
If you used to like reading comics when you were younger, or even if you never did, I suggest that you give it a try. The maturity level of comic books writing and the art has greatly increased compared to the time before the 1980s. The comic code authority is gone, but the mainstream comics are still owned by major media companies (Disney for Marvel and Time Warner for DC) so they still are tame enough. Many titles are solidly in the PG range, but only smaller publishers make comics that would be R rated.
I had dropped out of reading comics right when many of the smaller, independent publishers were springing up and starting to gain market share. A good example is Image Comics that publishes The Walking Dead, the source for the popular TV series. Image was founded in 1982 by several artists to try and keep ownership and copyright of their creative work. Another example is Mirage Studios which published Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I actually started reading TMNT when it first came out, but I think it was the only independent comic I did read back then. Comixology opened up those comics publishers to me and I was able to greatly expand my comic book reading horizon.
The Comixology app on a tablet makes it very easy to read and enjoy the comics. You can drop in and out of guided view if you want to see how the comics were originally laid out on the page. The artwork looks very good and you can carry many comics on your device with all the books available on the server if you want them. I was a little worried that maybe they might go bankrupt and I would lose access to them, but then they were bought by Amazon.com and I am a lot less worried today.
I could go on for quite a while describing which series I like (the main character/series I buy is Batman but I buy quite a few others regularly) but I think it is better that you try it yourself if you want to take a look. You can download the app for iOS or Android tablets or read the comics right on your computer screen if you want to.
www.comixology.com
If you used to read comics when you were younger and now are coming back to them, I should warn you that DC and Marvel have had several events where they have blown up and reset their universes. For example, as of this writing Batman is Commissioner Gordon, not Bruce Wayne and Thor is a woman. They also have taken a jump to much more of a PG rating and there are plenty of publishers that go past that. Comics have always been a place that pushed the boundaries of social acceptance, and this is even more the case today. The X-Men have featured bigotry and the effects on the mutants since their very first issues, and the comic has carried on that tradition to the comics today. A good example is homosexuality. There are many openly gay characters in the mainstream comics today (Midnighter by DC features a gay main character). Someone wrote a letter to Marvel a few years back complaining about a gay couple in the X-Men comics. Marvel responded by having them get married and that was on the cover and the main story that issue. I don’t think anyone should get offended by such stories, but the language and open nudity and sex scenes in some titles from the independent publishers might not be appropriate for younger readers. I even have to be careful on planes from time to time in case something is too explicit.
I have had to slow down my buying a little as I have a few too many back issues to catch up on, but maybe I’ll be sitting next to someone reading this one day in the future and then I’ll know that my blog helped someone else become a fan or rediscover their fandom.

Marvel Encyclopedia

The DC Comics Encyclopedia, Updated and Expanded Edition

In case you want a preview of some upcoming movies:

Captain American vs. Iron Man
Civil War

Batman vs. Superman
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

Infinity Gauntlet
Infinity Gauntlet

Pressing Words – How I started my blog

This blog entry is going to be self-referential, because it is about what I did to get this site up and running and what I discovered along the way.  I am brand new to this and I have never done most of the things I am going today, so all of it is new to me.  I did have a website on Geocities ages and ages ago, plus something hosted by Comcast well over a decade ago.  The only real HTML I had ever done was in notepad, and I cannot say I was all that skilled, but I did learn the tagging system at least.

A few years ago I received some form of Black Friday advertisement from GoDaddy.com for what was essentially a free domain for a year (you needed to pay some small ICAN fee, but otherwise no real cost).  I reserved mgpotter.com for no reason other than vanity.  It is my name, after all.  I had some vague idea of using it for something, but I was pretty busy and never got around to doing very much.

About 6 months ago, after yet another month of intensive work to get a financing for a solar project over the finish line, I decided that I needed a little more investment into myself.  I have already written a blog on starting to play D&D again, and taking the time to actually write was one of the things I wanted to do.  I thought that I had enough experience as a CFO of public companies (12 years now) to add value in sharing my experience and I also wanted to write about the different things I do for fun.

The past Black Friday there was another sale email that came about hosting WordPress on your own GoDaddy site and I decided to try that.  I had absolutely zero experience with WordPress but it looked like it was the leading blogging product out there.  I now know that it is actually one of the leading website or content management systems in widespread use today, but it certainly is pretty powerful for blogging.

Once I had bought the WordPress option, I decided to start writing.  I wanted to get at least a few weeks done in advance so if my schedule became too busy I would not lack content.  I’m not a few weeks ahead now, but that is OK as I’ll have some time to bank some more blogs soon.

I decided to post Tuesday for CFO topics and Thursday for other topics.  I decided on the very first topic while drinking some beers after an SCA fighter practice.  One of the other knights there was interested in my put selling strategy and that was my first blog I wrote.  Over the Christmas break I wrote most of the first month of content.  This was just typing into Word on my iPad, I hadn’t done more than initiate the WordPress option at this point.

Now that I had some content done, I turned to actually getting the blog part working.  I decided that instead of reading a book on how to set things up, I would just try and do it cold.  I had deliberately chosen to host under my own name and to keep away from politics as a topic to write about because I spend about ½ my time in China and wordpress.com is blocked there.

There are many different hosts that support WordPress.  GoDaddy has a nice and integrated approach called “managed WordPress” but I even could have hosted it on my Asustor NAS if I had wanted to.  By using an external site, I was able to outsource the bandwidth and the maintenance of the WordPress program itself.  Managed WordPress means that WordPress itself is always kept up to date.  The releases for the major NAS are not as regular as WordPress itself, so you may have more security issues if you self host.  If you just want a small, local version of a blog or a website, then hosting on a NAS could be a good solution.

The first step seemed to be choosing a theme which seems to be the look and feel of your blog site.  I initially used one of the prominent starter themes called 2015, but I didn’t like the multi-column look.  I searched through for something simple and found a theme called Lovecraft and decided that I liked it.  There are thousands of free themes and lots of themes that you need to pay for as well.  I have marked exploring themes down as something to do in the future.

My chosen theme used a horizontal picture across the top and I made my first design choice and picked a picture of the effigy of William Marshall that I had taken myself at the Temple Church in London.  I have always been fond and interested in him and I was able to figure out how to upload the picture onto my site.  WordPress uses a media repository and serves up pictures from there.  You also can use a URL to a picture if you want that instead.

With a theme and a top picture chosen, I clicked on “publish” and now I had live content.  I used wechat to get a colleague in China to check if my site would load.  A quick test later and it did work.  I puzzled and puzzled over how users were supposed to login to make comments.  I even contacted GoDaddy customer service and they helped me to figure it out.  Nothing appears  on the main page, but there is an option if you go to the individual blog page (click on a headline on the front page if you did not use a link to go directly there).

A blog with no readers is not that useful, so I posted the link to my page on my Facebook feed.  I did that manually, and noticed that the picture of William showed up as a preview.

The next thing I experimented with was publishing into the future.  WordPress makes that easy with an obvious scheduling option.  I tested it out, scheduling my post to show up the next mornings and, sure enough, when I woke up, there was the post published for the world to see.

I grew concerned that perhaps with the comment system turned on, that I might attract spam.  So the first option I looked for was something to handle spam.  There was a prominent option called “plugins” on the left menu when I signed in as the editor of the site (you can have multiple editors).  Just like themes, there is a powerful built-in search I was able to use.  A simple search for spam and I was able to find a plug in with a very large number of users called Akismet.  It was pretty simple to install and I quickly had spam protection.

The next thing I wanted is something that would track users.  I know that Google has quite an extensive suite of options to track visitors to websites called Google Analytics and I search for that in plug-ins .  I found one called Google Analytics for WP Dashboard.  I later found out that Yoast is probably the most popular, but the one I picked is near the top in popularity as well.  That plug-in inserted the needed tracking code into my website and now I could see statistics on the tens of people visiting my blog.

I also knew that there was something called Search Engine Optimization of SEO, and I searched for a plug-in that does that.  I picked All In One SEO Pack and it seemed to do what I would expect such a plug-in to do.  There is a Yoast version of that as well.  I am still not 100% sure what all the options do there, but I have slowly started using the different features.

By now I was several weeks into the blog being posted and was posting links on my Facebook and LinkedIn.  This was completely manual at this point.  I knew I would be travelling and I needed more options.  I again did a little searching in the plugins and some Google searching as well, and discovered that Jetpack which is by the same company that does WordPress is a very popular option.  It can automatically post to many popular social media sites but does have some limitations like it does not post to LinkedIn groups.  Since the few groups I belong to have the broadest reach anyways, I thought a more manual touch was appropriate and that did not bother me.

Jetpack actually adds quite a lot more features than just posting to social media .  It adds a much better commenting system but it is hosted on the WordPress site so it is not a good solution for users in China.  It adds the option to subscribe to new posts but the final step to that involves the WordPress site as well.  I may turn that on anyways.  Is does add the sharing buttons which are now on my site and an optimized theme for mobile devices which I am trying out.  If you are looking at starting a blog or a content-rich website, you may want to consider using all the other features of Jetpack.

The final thing I added to my blog was advertising.  Google and Amazon seem to be the most popular advertising options out there.  I did not want to make any advertising too obtrusive.  Far too many posts on LinkedIn and Facebook are just click bait with ad after ad in the middle of the article you are trying to read.  I am trying to keep the ads out of the way.  Because Google is blocked, I decided to go with Amazon.com.  I signed up for Amazon Associates which gives you a special ID and the ability to generate links with the ID embedded.  I first used links for books and then tried to figure out how to post a more generic ad as well.  There are plug-ins that help, but I found that using the text widget with the HTML in it is the best.  I still have not figured out how to place the more natural link for products that is generated, online seems to refer to posting them in HTML mode but I seem to have visual and text as the two modes to post in.

I guess I am now a professional blogger as I have made $0.65 as of this blog being posted.

This has been my process so far, trial and error by someone that has seen some concepts mentioned (like SEO) but never actually had to do anything about it.  I keep discovering extras like featured image which allows each of my posts to have their own image plus the SEO package has it’s own way of populating the OpenGraph (Facebook standard) excerpting.

If you are wondering if I really am a technical CFO, this blog and the process I just described is typical for me.  I am fine with someone showing me what to do, but I like to struggle through things myself to learn.  It really is not that hard or expensive to do.  You can write only on social media, but I feel you have more control and reach on your own website.

As a quick summary – find a host that you trust that can provide the WordPress program.  If you use WordPress itself you limit yourself to non-China visitors but maybe gain additional functionality.  Pick a theme and add in the plug-ins you need.  Publish and publicize.  Don’t be overly annoying when you do the publicity.  Unless you are a large and well established blog, you are unlikely to make any real money from your writing, but there are easy to use ways to monetize yourself a little.

Next up for me is to turn my blog posts into podcasts.  Something else for me to learn from scratch.

30 years of SCA fighting

I joined the SCA when I was 18. I am in the home stretch to 50 now. So have been fighting for over 30 years. I think I was knighted about 8 years in. Probably could have happened sooner but the editor between my brain and mouth was not as good back then. And, I am sure, some people were just jealous about how handsome I was.

Well, that couldn’t have been true, so better editing is what I will go with.

I consider myself to be a pretty solid knight. Never won a Crown but I have lived and travelled all over the place and I have always given a good account of myself. I try and follow the spirit of the people that taught me and teach anyone who asks. I guess that includes sharing some stories and advice here.

I expect that I will write a lot about the SCA on the blog. It stands for the Society for Creative Anachronism. You can find out the basic information at http://www.sca.org . It is very hard to explain exactly what the club is because it is different for each person in it, but the basics are it is a Middle Ages recreation club. Not quite like the Civil War reenactors because it is very rare that even the theme or the start of a battle is the same as a historical one, but some members of the SCA are as serious about every little detail of the clothes they wear as anyone in any other history group.

For me, the heart of the SCA is that it allowed me to become a knight. My main love is armored fighting. Armored meaning wearing armor and fighting with swords and other medieval weapons. The weapons are made of rattan (a type of wood that is slightly flexible and breaks in a much safer fashion than other types of wood) and the combat is full force and blows are hard enough to dent steel (well at least 16 gauge steel, and maybe 14 gauge. 12 gauge is pretty safe.). The fights are real in that they are not choreographed or decided in advance and it is not just a touch kill system like modern fencing. There still is a certain amount of “counting coup” in the fighting as a hard blow to the head or torso kills your opponent and it is highly unlikely that one such blow on an armored opponent would have actually killed them but the rules do work well enough.

So here is the start of some stories and advice and I will slowly add my thoughts into this blog and may not stick to Thursdays for hobbies only and might post further SCA items on other days.

The first question I get asked quite often by people just starting is how do you learn to fight and get good? I can assure you that I was no athletic standout. I played only house league hockey and baseball growing up and am to this day not the most balanced and smooth fighter out there.

There is a pretty simple answer to that question. You need to actually fight to get good and the sooner you start and the more you do the better you will get.

My personal example is this. I found the SCA in Montreal at a war gaming tournament I was running in my CEGEP days. I was 16 and 17 in CEGEP (community college) so I am not 100% sure how I am stuck on me joining when I was 18, but I guess it is because it was the summer between CEGEP and university that fought for the first time.

My qualification bout was my very first fight ever. I had joined the SCA and managed to get my hands on the known world handbook and the basic armor standards, I had found a place in Montreal that sold rattan and bought enough for a sword. The recommendation then was to split a piece in half and use it, with a little carving, to make a cross guard. So I did that. I did not carve the hand grip.

I made a heater shield out of plywood and attached leather straps to it using some soft leather I had. I made carpet armor and modified hockey equipment to protect my shoulders, elbows and knees. I used hockey gloves to protect my hands. I had no helmet and there might have been one in the entire shire. I walked around in my backyard holding my shield and tried to imagine what actual fighting would be. I hit the tree in my front yard turning it into a pell and tried to swing like the “snap” was described. I did this for weeks, every day, getting ready for the very first event I was going to. Master Tearlach was coming and he was going to run qualification bouts.

I went to the event and borrowed a loaner helm that Master Tearlach has made. I think it was an army helm with sides riveted to it. Tearlach was a big and pretty scary guy to me, but I have always been able,to overcome that. I squared off for my qualification bout. The very first blow on my shield snapped both straps. I had not known that I would,need much stronger leather for straps. No one had hit me before. Tearlach leant me a shield (and that was the fateful day I started using a Tearlach coffin kite) and I went right back out there. I fought. I swung. I blocked. I took the blows that hit me. I was deemed safe and qualified.

After my qualification bout, Tearlach asked for my sword. With one grip he realized that I had not carved the grip. He didn’t say a thing, he just took a knife, carved it really quickly, and handed the sword back to me.

I fought as much as I could that afternoon, basically whenever I could borrow the helm.

Since then I have fought and fought and fought. Practice, tournaments, wars. Pell work. Sometimes still walking around and imagining it. Hours and hours and hours of pell work. Doing it. Fighting. Not talk about it, not posting on the internet about it, not trying to make the perfect armor before doing it. Crappy carpet armor. Cuirbolli and plastic body armor that I made myself (pretty bad looking but protective). Ugly white helm with Templar red crosses which changed to blue after my first Pennsic friendly fire experience.

The love of battle filing my heart, my blood on fire with the glory and exchange of blows. Dropping into the Void and striking my opponent dead from the heart of emptiness.

So my answer to that question is get your ass out there and fight. Borrow armor. Travel. Make it to tournaments and wars. Be the first in armor and the last out of armor. Never stop. Fighting makes you good. Teachers help and the right form makes improvement faster but fight.

Another question I get often from beginners is now do you hold a sword. To that question, I rely on Miyamoto Musashi.

From The Book of Five Rings, The Scroll of Water

“The Way of Gripping the Sword

You should grip the sword holding the thumb and index finger as though they were floating, the middle finger neither tight nor slack, the ring and little fingers very tight. It is bad to have an empty space inside your hand. Hold the sword with the thought of slashing your opponent. When you slash your opponent, the posture of the hand remains the same, and your hands must not tense up. It is with the sense of just slightly moving your thumb and index finger that you beat back your opponent’s sword, that you receive it, strike it, or exert pressure on it. In all these cases, you should grip the sword with the thought of slashing. Whether you are training at slashing an object or in the thick of combat, the way of holding the sword remains the same—it is held with the intent of slashing your opponent. In sum, it is not good to let the hand or the sword become fixed or frozen. A fixed hand is a dead hand; a hand that does not become fixed is alive. It is necessary to master this well.”

I often go back to The Book of Five Rings and it is my personal inspiration on how to be both a better swordsman and a better person. Musashi is brilliant at describing how to fight and his advice translates very well to SCA fighting.

I also can say that I sometimes shift my grip and hold tighter with my index and ring finger and get the whip and direction change from tightening my bottom fingers, but I much prefer the ring and little finger as my anchor fingers just like Musashi recommends.

The Book of Five Rings is very good and I recommend that any SCA fighter read it. Constantly repeated in it is the advice to do what is written. To practice. To fight. Or in another way, learn how to win.

“The Principle of Combat

In strategy it is by the principle of combat155 that you will know victory with the sword. I do not have to write about the details. The important thing is to train well and learn how to win. This has to do with sword techniques that express the true way of strategy. The rest must be transmitted orally.”

My final topic for this week is on speed in SCA fighting. Many beginners think that speed is really important. They get hit by a blow from an experienced fighter and they think it is all because of speed. Actually, in my experience, it is not raw speed that is the most important but timing and rhythm. Time a shot to match the rhythm of how they move is more important than raw speed that ends up right at someone’s shield.

Again, Musashi says it better than I can.

“ Speed is not part of the true way of strategy. When you say “fast,” this means a lag has occurred in relation to the cadence of things; that is what is meant by “fast” or “slow.” In whatever the domain, the movements of a good, accomplished practitioner do not appear fast. For example, there are messengers who cover forty or fifty leagues at the run in a single day, but they do not run fast from morning till night. Whereas, a beginner cannot cover such a long distance, even if he has the wind to run the whole day.

In Noh theater, when a beginner sings following a good, accomplished practitioner,276 he has the impression of lagging behind and sings with the feeling of haste. In the same way, in the drumbeat for “Old Pine” (“Oimatsu”),which is a slow melody, a beginner has the feeling of lagging behind and having to catch up. “Takasago” is a rather fast song, but it is not appropriate to play the drum too fast. Speed is the beginning of a fall, because it produces a deviation in the cadence. Of course, excessive slowness is also bad. The movements of a good, accomplished practitioner look slow, but there is no dead space between his movements. Whatever the domain, the movements of an expert never appear hurried. Through these examples, you should understand a principle of the way.

In the way of strategy, it is bad to try for speed. I will explain. In places such as a marsh or deep rice paddy, you cannot move either your body or your legs fast. This is all the more true for the sword—you must not try to cut with speed. If you try to cut with a fast movement, the sword—which is neither a fan nor a knife—will not cut because of the speed. You must understand that well. In group strategy also, it is bad to think of hurrying up in order to attain speed. If you possess the attitude of mind of “holding down on the headrest,” you will never be late. If your adversaries act too fast, you apply the opposite approach, you calm yourself and avoid imitating them. You must train yourself well in developing this state of mind.”

Speed is nice but relying on speed and thinking that speed is the way to victory will lose you way more fights than you think it well. Be fast enough, not the fastest.

The Book of Five Rings quotes are from a translation called The Complete Book of Five Rings and it can easily be found via online booksellers. There are other translations and most are good enough. I highly suggest you buy and read the book.

Website with an online, free copy of The Book of Five Rings

The Book of Five Rings

Books, either in paper or on Kindle (all links go to Amazon.com)

The version I quote here:

The Complete Book of Five Rings

The Complete Book of Five Rings – Kindle version

The translation I first read

A Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to Strategy

A Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to Strategy – Kindle Version

An account of Musashi’s life

The Lone Samuari: The Life of Miyamoto Musashi

Fictionalized versions of Musashi’s life

Musashi

Musashi – Kindle version

Samurai Trilogy [blue-ray]

3D printers are not ready for prime time

The news quite often mentions 3d Printers. 3D printer companies were the darlings of the stock market not too long ago. Mainstream press is full of little interest stories of the latest thing to be printed out. Technology websites and social networks have many mentions of the “Maker” movement and that movement includes 3D printing and printers.

I am somewhere in the “tech” scene or at least in a few smaller segments. You can tell that by a few things), but having the username “michael” on the an old school computer technology site (Anandtech) is a good sign of how long I have been involved. I have seen mentions of 3D printers for years and occasionally checked prices to buy a printer, but they were always well over $1,000 which seemed too much to me.

One day I noticed this campaign on Kickstarter:

The Kickstarter ended a while ago, you can find the products for sale here:

http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/166074/DRAGONLOCK-Dungeon-Starter-Set

For those of you too lazy to click the first link, it is plastic terrain used when playing a roleplaying game to build up a dungeon. If you are not familiar with tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons, the players often use 28mm scale miniatures to more easily run the fights that happen within the game rules. I guess you can say they are the
dolls the players use but the players tend to be men so they would at least claim action figures.

If the miniatures are the dolls, then products like Dragonlock are the dollhouses. I have played in a couple of games where the DM had very nice hand drawn maps that were drawn to scale and I have played in a couple of games with folding cardboard terrain, but I had only seen the full out plastic modeled dungeons in pictures from conventions. The existing products are interesting in theory but quite expensive and hard to use because you never seem to have exactly the right combination of pieces to build what you want. A set that is meant to be 3D printed solves those two problems. The cost per piece is small and you can custom print what you need.

I signed up for the Kickstarter and then started researching the current state of the 3D printer market. I quickly discovered two things. There were a fair number of printers below $1,000 today and that reviews on them were all over the map.

I will save myself typing a long description of the different printers out there. Here is a fairly representative list with examples from owners actually using the printers:

http://fatdragongames.proboards.com/board/24/3d-printers

I selected the Wanhao Duplicator I3 V2. I mainly selected it for two reasons. The first is the cost (it was under $300 for me) and the other was the strong user community that could be found in a Google Group. The brand was recommended to me by my friend Gabriel who runs a small drone business in Singapore called Sensory Robotics (www.sensoryrobotics.com ). I had asked him for an inexpensive printer that would meet the specifications needed and he said if I was willing to tinker the Wanhao printers were popular. I was able to find them direct from the manufacturer via Taobao in China for just under $300 shipping included (they are between $350 and $400 in the USA) so I decided to give them a try. The Wanhao I3 is basically a pre-built open source kit printer. It really is not much different in price than buying parts and assembling it yourself, and the design itself is somewhat well tested.

Before I pulled the trigger and bought the Wanhao, I looked through Amazon.com and read the message boards of many of the more popular printer brands. I was quite surprised at the results. For a product that had been sold to consumers for several years and had made it into popular press, reviews were surprisingly bad every printer brand out there.

I am not talking the occasional disappointed buyer on a crusade, I am talking about bad review after bad review. Even even the Printerbot Simple that is recommended by the Fat Dragon, the company that made the Dragonlock pieces, has quite a few bad reviews on Amazon and in the Dragonlock boards. Some printers appear to pretty much never work. Some printers use proprietary printing materials that are much more expensive than standard printing materials. All the printers I researched had very disappointed customers.

Why so much disappointment? Let me explain a little how 3D printers work and what easily goes wrong with each step.

The first is that all of the consumer level printers (under $1,000 and meant to be used at home) are made by smaller companies. The bigger companies that make printers for commercial use all have quite expensive models that are far out of reach of the average consumer. A cottage industry sprung up around some of the older technology that was open sourced by larger commercial companies, and lots of little start-up, mainly of pretty young entrepreneurs were created. Kickstarter still sees 3D printer designs show up on a semi regular basis and two years ago they were very popular on the crowdfunding sites. So that means lots of people with little or no real manufacturing experience started modifying designs or trying new but pretty much untested designs out on the public. Full of Open Source circuit boards and designs that sort of worked but that really were not close to optimal and often had serious flaws.

Before I get to some of the flaws of my particular printer, let me give an overview of the printers and what is done to make a 3D print.

The first thing you need is an actual object to print. This comes in the form of a computer aided design (CAD) file. Typically this is in an .STL format. You can find these files on various internet sites or you can create them yourselves. Many of the people making the files are new to CAD, are using free and not so powerful CAD programs, and probably do not have a lot of 3D printing experience. That means you get a lot of files that very honestly are not set up well to be printed in the first place.

You load the computer design into a program called a slicer. 3D printing is done layer by layer, and a slicer takes the CAD file and slices it into as many thin layers as you have instructed the printer to use. It then generates a series of commands that tells the printer what to do to actually print the device (generally in the form of a printer language called GCODE) and saves that file. A popular free slicer is called Cura. A more powerful but costly program is called Simplify 3D.

Right away, you may have ruined your print. The programs need to have the exact right settings or the code they write does not work. Some files are not well set up to print but an experienced user of the slicer can either change the orientation, break the object into smaller and easier to print. None of this is well documented and the documentation that does exist is written using terms that someone new to 3D printing is unlikely to understand. You even need to measure the diameter of the filament and input it into the slicer program. I hope you have a digital caliper.

Once you have the file ready to print, you then are faced with the printer itself. 3D printers work by melting plastic and depositing it in thin layers. The printer head (the part that melts and deposits the plastic) needs to move in all three dimensions in a consistent and controlled manner. The surface needs to be flat and level to the printhead and the starting distance between the print head and the surface needs to be small but not zero. The basic way of setting the distance is using a piece of paper to slide under the print head and go by feel.  If you are a beginner, you have no real idea what it is suppsoed to feel like.  The surface must have something to help the first few layers of plastic stick. The print head will move in at least two and maybe three dimensions on rods, gliding on bearings or moved by what essentially are large screws, The file with the instructions needs to be read from a memory card or the computer needs to maintain a good connection for what might be 24 hours or even more.

The rods I mentioned about are often held in place by just a little set screw. Shipping the printer has a good chance of working a rod loose or maybe even bending it. The electronics and cabling are so so on average and shipping may jostle a connection loose.

The standard advice for the printer I bought is to take the extruder assembly apart and replace the gear that moves the plastic filament through it with another one. While you are at it, rotate the heating block to give more clearance when it is at the top. Before you print one item, you have already taken the printer apart. I guess I should mention that the wiring in the older models is defective and can cause a fire. Plus it has been determined that the main circuit board does not properly ground the electricity running through it and it causes temperature readings to swing by about 10 degrees when the heater switches on and off. The suggested fix is to solder a wire from one place on the board to another.

I wish that these types of issues are only from a cheaper kit based one like the Wanhao I bought. However, I would be lying if I said that. I could not find one printer aimed at consumers that did not have a large number of design issues and frustrated users.

Now if you ask me if I like the printer I bought, the answer would be yes. Once I learned and worked through some things, I actually was able (very quickly) to print out the Dragonlock pieces with no issues at all and other files as well. A 3D printer is a fun thing to have and my kids like it and want me to print more things for them. However, these are not even close to being a consumer product. Be prepared to spend time scouring the internet for training tips, to be watching youtube videos showing you how to use your computer and software, and generally spending a lot of extra effort to make the device that you paid for work.

Here are a few pictures of what I have been able to do with my printer.  A well known space ship, some Dragonlock pieces (painted and unpainted) and the printer itself.

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