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Sunday
Jun232013

Books I Read in the Last 18 Months

I’ve been reading a lot of history. Like, a lot of it. I’ve read almost no novels in the past 18 months or so. I think the last one I read was really re-reading The Hobbit before I went to see the movie, so that was in December. And before that it was Red Plenty, which is a novel set in the Soviet Union that’s really a history book masquerading as a novel. That was pretty good.

My bachelor’s degree is in history, as is my unfinished master’s degree. I focused on Ancient Greece and Rome two decades back, and this history kick started with me wanting to revisit that period and refresh my memory. That was really rewarding, and sucked me back into reading history for pleasure.

 Then I dove deep into the American Revolution. It’s a period I never studied after 11th grade, and one I didn’t know really anything about. That sucked me in big time, and as you’ll see I went deep into American History in a way I’ve never done before. I also had an idea for a video game and a board game I want to make some day, so that kept me going.

 I’ve always been fascinated by revolutions, ever since I took a class on them in college called Dynamics of Political Change (American University loved it’s evocative/obscure course titles). The American Revolution naturally led me into the French Revolution and that led me right into Napoleon.

 I’m now deep, deep into the Napoleonic Era. I’ve got a shelf and a half of Napoleonic wargames. I’ve got super-fancy limited edition books. I’ve made custom boxes for my game pieces. I’ve got that Napoleon bug bad. I’ve got import-only DVDs of movies. I’m looking at miniatures with a longing in my heart.

I never knew anything about Napoleon, or at least I didn’t remember anything. Now I know a lot, mostly how little I know. I keep thinking I’ll take a break and try something else for a while, but then I find another book I have to read first. Why I’m fascinated by Napoleon and his wars is a topic for another post. Implying I’m going to actually post on a regular basis. That’s the plan. Really.

But hey! I have not given up on novels. In fact, starting tomorrow my friend Becky and I are going to start reading Moby Dick 1 chapter a day until we’re finished. There will be tweeting and facebooking on it every day.

In the meantime, here’s the list of 36 History Books I’ve Read in the past 18 months or so, in the order I read them. Or listened to them. A lot of these were audiobooks, especially early on.

 

Absolute Monarchs by Julian Norwich

Rubicon by Tom Holland

Carthage Must Be Destroyed by Richard Miles

Augustus by Anthony Everitt

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt

The Great Fire of Rome by Stephen Dando-Collins

Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia byChristopher Clark

Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff

The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China byDavid Sibley

Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen

Proving History by Richard Carrier

Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War by Fred Anderson

The Glorious Cause by Robert Middlekauff

The Black Count by Time Reiss

The Thirty Years War by C.V. Wedgwood

The American Revolution: A History by Gordon Wood

American Tempest: How the Boston Tea Party Sparked a Revolution by Harlow Giles Unger

As If an Enemy’s Country: The British Occupation of Boston by Richard Archer

The Radicalism of the American Revolution by Gordon Wood

Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow

Forced Founders by Woody Holton

Common Sense, The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine

1848: Year of Revolution by Mike Rapport

The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin by Gordon Wood

Cradle of Violence: How Boston’s Waterfront Mobs Ignited the American Revolution by Russell Bourne

Empire of Liberty by Gordon Wood

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Thomas Jefferson by R.B. Bernstein

The Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir

What Hath God Wrought by Daniel Walker Howe

Napoleon by Frank McLynn

Napoleon by David Markham

Finding Florida by T.D. Allman

The Oxford History of the French Revolution by William Doyle

Desperate Sons by Les Standiford

Vienna, 1814: How the Conquerors of Napoleon Made Love, War, and Peace at the Congress of Vienna

by David King

Incomparable: Napoleon's 9th Light Infantry Regiment

by Terry Crowdy

 

Currently Reading:

The Campaigns of Napoleon by David Chandler

 

Tuesday
Sep112012

Kickstarter Trials and Tribulations

The last two days were a bit of a rollercoaster over on the Haunts Kickstarter page. I made an announcement about changes to the game's focus and content, and did so in a decidedly unclear way that led a number of supporters to feel justifiably upset and concerned. It took me a lot of back and forth and thinking to realize that I hadn't made myself understood very well at first. And then there was a lot of constructive feedback from supporters that helped me chart a new path forward that most everyone seems happy with. 

The big takeaway for me was that it's easy to forget that not everyone knows what you know. I wrote that we were cutting back the single player story a lot because we are - by comparison with the sprawling, overly-ambitious, and impractical vision I'd originally had for the story. But none of the supporters had any idea how crazy-complicated what I'd been planning really was. What we're actually going to do is not very far off from what they were expecting (ie, something reasonable and fun). So they thought I was giving up on doing even that much, which was never the case.

Anyway, things seem to have worked out for the moment anyway, and it's a good lesson for me about clarity and thinking about things from the audience's point of view and answering the questions they're likely to have rather than writing to respond to my own internal monologue. 

Thursday
Sep062012

Trivialities 2

Trivia again last night. We had a good first round and then kind of tanked in the second. Yet we still would've won, or at least tied for first, if we'd gotten the last question right. As is so often the case, we managed to come up with the right answer and then talk ourselves out of it and turn in the wrong one. In retrospect, I don't know why I ever went along with the idea that there are more Old Navy locations than there are Sears locations.

No real stand-out, interesting questions from last night. I guess I didn't know that the town where the Twilight novels are set is called Forks, which isn't very interesting. Although one of my teammates did indicate the name by pointing to a fork on our table. I wonder if that's how they came up with the name for the town when they founded it? Let's see what Google says...

Hmmm - the town's chamber of commerce web site has a whole Twilight section! http://forkswa.com/twilight/

And there can't be much to worry about there, since the official town site's Current Issues page hasn't been updated since 2010, when there were three hot issues, including this one:

Support of the Forks Beautification Committee. Council Members Mike Breidenbach and Bruce Guckenberg are assisting Marsha Yanish, Bill Sperry and the rest of the beautification committee in their efforts to make Forks “sparkle” for our Twilight visitors as well as our residents.

So, yeah, Twilight and stuff. Big deal there, just like the trivia question suggested.

Wednesday
Sep052012

Thing I Learned: Washing Machines Are Computers Too

So, my washing machine stopped spinning, which means it wasn't really cleaning clothes effectively. I went to the place I bought it and they turned me onto a fellow from Frankfurt named Tim who they recommended. Tim came over the same day I called him (yesterday) and had a look at me busted GE, top-loading washing machine, which is only a few years old.

I anticipated some sort of opening up and messing with screws and gears and motors and stuff. Tim opened it up, and plugged it into his laptop, which then told him what was wrong with it. The computer said something was wonky with the motor, maybe, but like any computer, the first step was to reboot the thing. 

Tim rebooted my washing machine and it now totally works. How do you reboot a washing machine? He showed me! Unplug it, let it sit for a minute, then plug it back in and during those first 30 seconds, open and close the lid 7 times in rapid succession. There's a little magnetic sensor in the lid that makes a connection when its closed, so cycling that connection 7 times resets the mother board.

I just learned that.

Sunday
Sep022012

Rick Played: Through the Ages

Friday night, Brian and I played Through The Ages, a boardgame where each player creates a civilization from its early days and sees it through to the modern era, competing with the other civs to score the most Culture Points and thus be named Bestest Civ of them All. 

It's a very highly ranked game on Boardgamegeek.com, and it's by one of my favorite designers Vlaada Chvátil (of Space Alert, Galaxy Trucker, and Mage Knight fame). I think it probably is a really good game, but it's also very finnicky. I've played it twice now, once the simple version and once the advanced (still haven't played the Full version). Brian and I enjoyed ourselves, but we kept thinking we must be doing something wrong.

In some cases, we totally were, but we figured those mistakes out mid-game. As we were packing up, we both talked about how it felt like we'd made some basic, fundamental error. I got online after he left, and discovered that, no, we'd gotten everything pretty much right (except obviously the mistakes we caught ourselves). I think then what we maybe got wrong was the strategy, especially in the early game. I don't think we were using out population as much as we should've been, maybe because neither of us upgraded our farms. There are a lot of moving pieces and mechanics to this game, but we both want to play again, with at least a third person, to see its full potential.

Friday
Aug312012

Steam: Greenlight

Steam's Greenlight initiative/storefront/thing launched yesterday, and I think it's a pretty cool idea. I'll let them describe it:

Steam Greenlight is a new system that enlists the community's help in picking some of the next games to be released on Steam. Developers post information, screenshots, and videos for their game and seek a critical mass of community support in order to get selected for distribution. Steam Greenlight also helps developers get feedback from potential customers and start creating an active community around their game as early in the development process as they like.

The exact number of votes to get a game for sale on Steam remains a moving target, which makes sense, because the voting base should (hopefully) grow over time. It provides for a weird but useful mix of inputs - first-look interest in a game from people who've never heard of it combined with concerted and organized up-votes from the game's aready existing fans. There are a number of games on there I've seen on Kickstarter, so I assume those folks are reaching out to their backers and asking for votes. Or at least they should be.

Obviously we're going to give this a try with Haunts, hopefully sooner rather than later.

In related news, I used to really like that show, Project Greenlight, about funding indie movies. I did not, however, like any of the three movies that got made because of the show.


Thursday
Aug302012

Trivialities

Every Wednesday I am part of a pub trivia team. We tend to do pretty well, usually in the top 3 out of 15 or so teams going into the final question. The final is where you can bet up to 20 of your points (we had 69 points going into the final last night, 1st place had 71, last place had 45 or so). Basically, with that many teams, you have to bet it all to hold your place. We notoriously mess up the last question a lot more than we get it. We did not put the following food brands/companies in chronological order from the date they were started/launched:

Wheaties

Chiquita Banana

Burger King

Hamburger Helper

That's the right order, we had the last two switched.

We did get the halftime question right, though. Name the four most commonly spoken languages in the United States:

English

Spanish

Chinese

French

I was part of an ill-informed minority pushing for Portuguese instead of French for some reason. I just got it in my head that it made more sense, based on zero actual knowledge. That's something I have gotten better about seeing in myself. A year ago I might've argued for my wild-ass guess, but now we calmly consider things and when nobody knows for sure, we vote. And that usually gets the right answer.

Wednesday
Aug292012

John Paul Jones

He of the famous, "I have not yet begun to fight quote," supposedly shouted to the captain of the British vessel Serapis right before serious hardcore boarding action began between the French-crewed, American-commanded ship Bonhomme Richard. His real name was John Paul, but he added the Jones when he fled from Tobago to America because there was a price on his head (maybe unjustly). 

I seem to recall seeing in some coverage of the new Assassin's Creed 3 game (which takes place during the American Revolution) that there's a way to board ships and throw down explosives into the hold and blow them up. This, it turns out, really happened in the engagement between the Serapis and the Bonhomme Richard. One William Hamilton, according to The Glorious Cause by Robert Middlekauff, "dropped a grenade through one of her hatches into the loose powder cartridges. The explosion that followed killed at least twenty men and wounded meny others."

I found this naval-combat centric trailer for the game - it shows the main character shooting a pistol into the hold and causing an explosion, which probably wouldn't really work even a little bit, but it does make naval warfare look pretty thrilling.

Tuesday
Aug282012

I should do something with this space...

And so I will!

I'm planning on doing a lot more with this moribund site of mine. I was going to use it as a test bed for trying out Squarespace 6 (this site being on Squarespace 5 I discovered). It turns out that S6 is a whole other platform and you need to make a new account and site and migrate your content over.

That's really annoying.

I'm sure there are legitimate technical reasons, but it's the last thing I have time to mess with right now. So I'll stick with good old version 5 for the time being.

Yes, I'm still making a game. Haunts. Well, me and four other people. It's absorbing a lot of my time, as well it should, and it's coming along pretty well. I'm not going to talk much about that here. Here I think I'll talk about other stuff that's fun and interesting - books, games, other stuff. I don't know. Maybe something else, like "What I Learned Today." We'll see! But I want to try and post every day for the month of September, and right now this is like a practice lap.

What did I learn today? Well, it's only 7:45 am, so, not much. I did watch Pawn Stars while eating breakfast, so according to their little post-commercial trivia thing (sponsored by Newcastle!) Marilyn Monroe said kissing Tony Curtis was like kissing Hitler. Most days I learn more interesting things than that though.

Tuesday
Feb072012

Woman in Black and other Horror Musings

Over at Mob Rules, I posted a piece yeterday about The Woman in Black. Check it out!

I've been delving more into horror movies of late, mostly because of Haunts. I came up with this ambitious scheme to have the single player campaign in Haunts mirror the history of horror cinema. That entails learning more about said history, which is interesting. The first book I read on the subject was really more of an overview than any deep analysis. It was nice for what it was, but provided little deeper insight, especially in the movies of the past few decades. 

Right now I just downloaded Interactive Nightmares by Mark Butler. It's about the history of horror video games so, clearly it's a must read. It's also available to read for free through te Kindle Lending Library, so that's how I got it. I have to say, I'm really enjoying that feature on my Kindle Fire. So far, I'm pleased to see that Interactive Nightmares seems very up to date and Butler seems passionate about the subject, so I've got high hopes for the rest of the book. 

I'm setting up a movie-watch list for myself so I can go through that history of horror cinema in person. We're planning to do some sort of book-club like thing on the Mob Rules site, but for movies, so I want to have that all planned out sometime in the next week or so. I'm flying out to LA in two weeks and want to load up my Ipad or Fire with some horror movies, but I think I'll need to stick with the earlier, less bloody features - I'm try to be considerate of the sensibilities of my fellow passengers. Almost all the movies are available on-demand or streaming, but there have been a few exceptions, like Suspiria, which would definitely not be plane friendly.  I might have to reactivate the disk-rental part of my Netflix for the occasion.