Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Unbearable Naffness of Being

It has been a while since I posted in this venue, owing largely to the intrusion of life in my, er, life, which has crowded out all leisure-like activities.

For one thing I had to dispose of a three and a half foot long, 18 inch diameter log the tree fellers left on the curb at the corner of the property. I decided to do this on the last Sunday in November, the one after Thanksgiving. The deck at the front of the fabulous Steviemanse was also beginning to show the inevitable results of not waterproofing the cedar decking for two seasons. One of the planks felt distinctly springy. I resolved to replace it on Thanksgiving Thursday. What a weekend of productive handymanism it would be!


Thanksgiving dawned and I leaped from my bed, dressed and ran to the Steviemobile for a quick trip to Home Despot to get replacement cedar planks. I learned a valuable lesson that morning. It turns out that against all expectation, Home Despot does close on at least one day of the year. Thanksgiving.


I decided to play computer games instead until we were made to go to the In-Law's for dinner, and do the job on Friday.


Friday was lost to trying to understand the computer game "Sid Meyer's Civilization".

It's not my fault. Mrs Stevie bought me this game last Christmas, but it came with an instruction book about a quarter of an inch thick1 which put me off trying it out for, what, ten months or so. I love complex games. I used to play SPI military simulations and they read like the Tax Code in places. But I like my computer games intuitive and easy to pick up. "Sid Meyer's Civilization" is anything but.

Mrs Stevie meant well. For years I have bemoaned the loss of my gaming fraternity, and have often cried to the four winds2 that I could no longer scare up a game of Civilization, a perennial favourite from my once-huge collection of Avalon Hill games in which players vie to get their assigned people from the late stone age into the iron age. "Sid Meyer's Civilization" would seem on the face of things to be a perfect solution to this dilemma. If the computer game played more like the board game it would be, but it bears only a superficial resemblance and lacks the face-to-face byplay that was a big part of the point of the exercise in my gaming days. "Sid Meyer's Civilization" is actually a retread of a game called "Sim City" and as a result, far too much time is wasted on micro-managing the cities you build during a game instead of working strategically to beat the others into the Iron Age.

I'm not saying that the game is bad, far from it. It represents a truly staggering amount of work and once one understands how the damn thing works can be engrossing3. Gaining that understanding is a laborious and not altogether enjoyable process from my viewpoint though. Your Mileage May Vary, and if you enjoy playing Sim City to the bitter end (I don't) you will certainly find the additions "Sid Meyer's Civilization" makes to the game interesting.



Saturday dawned and so did the realisation that if I didn't get Mr Finger out and fix the deck, Mrs Stevie was going to do me some serious nagasaki5. Action was called for.

I dashed down to Home Despot (now open) and selected three new planks for the deck. This gave me two insights:

 a) Cedar planks are expensive.
 2) The surface of the deck was worth about a yard and a half6.

I looked at the deck with a new found respect for the phrase "Thompson's Waterproof Deck Sealer"7. I vaguely remember the damned thing costing a few hundred bux to build back in 1996 or somewhen thenabouts but had not kept up with the inflation in the precut cedar decking market. Still, no real harm done and it would be easier than I thought to replace the stair tread damaged by a tree fall last spring, since upon measuring it it didn't need me to make it narrower than a standard decking plank8 and could just drop in a new piece after cutting off about 6 inches of length9.

I removed the screws using Mr Drill-Driver. A satisfying number of them snapped off or were jammed so tight I had to drill off the screw heads, prise up the plank and then use Mr Self-Adjusting Mole-Grip10 pliers to wrest the rusted ruins of the galvanised "weatherproof" screws from the furring strips I had laid over the original concrete stoop, upon which the deck is actually constructed. Once I had the springy board up I could see the problem. The underside of the deck where the old green plastic scuff-mat had been was soaked through and had been eaten11 out by carpenter ants. The furring was also waterlogged and needed to be left open to the air for a couple of hours to dry. I whipped off a couple more planks, the ones that were obviously wet underneath, but they were unmunched by freeloading Formica so were left to dry in the sun and then replaced using nice new screws. The rotten board was replaced by a new one, as was the cracked stair tread, and our grey weathered deck now has two bright orange stripes in it.

Part of the problem is that this was my first attempt to build a deck. The construction itself in many ways is quite innovative. I overhung the original concrete stoop on either side by about 9 inches, thereby widening the stoop by a foot and a half and making the front door look much nicer. The side panels lie flush with the deck, and are hung on a spaceframe secured to the decking rather than the stoop, meaning I could raise it slightly from the earth, providing some ventilation to aid drying and offset dry rot. This part actually worked out well: the ends of the decking were remarkably dry and well preserved underneath. The problem lies in that the furring strips prevent the air circulating across the width of the structure, allowing the center of the deck to become waterlogged in wet weather. This effect is exacerbated by the fact that I butted the decking planks closely together instead of leaving a small but defined air gap between them. I think the answer will be to route a few narrow slots in the joins to open up "breather" holes. I could do it with either Mr Router and a veining bit or Mr Dremel deployed in its mini-router persona. In either event, I think it will have to await the coming of better weather (we had our first snow fall on Sunday (December 2nd).

So that was Saturday. Mostly. One of my neighbours popped over to ask about the tree limb on the curb, and said he might like to make a coffee table from it. I looked him in the eye and said that if he wanted the limb he could have it, but that I was going to butcher it the next day if it was still there. If he took it before I got to it, he was welcome to it. If he left it until tomorrow, I would work my will upon it because Mrs Stevie had spoken and It Had To Go. He "ummed" and "ahhed" and I pointed out that it would take at least three people to lift it into any sort of truck, and they would probably need some sort of hoist. I pointed out that he could cut it up in situ, but added that I would be upset if I found the wreckage left for me to clean up after such an operation. He left, saying he would "think about it".

I got the Stevieling to bag the leaves that the trees had dumped on us during the course of the morning in accordance with some sort of arboreal hidden agenda, and took her to see Jim at Men at Arms, my absolute favourite Game and Hobby store, which lies east of us by about 30 minutes. We almost made it out of the gate, but Mrs Stevie ambushed us and demanded to be allowed to come too. Thus was a pleasurable Father-Daughter trip rendered into 30 minutes of Sheer Hell each way. Mrs Stevie disapproves of almost everything my daughter and I feel are appropriate trip-shortening subjects for conversations, and usually enforces a strict "shut up" policy during trips of less than four hours duration so we had to settle for playing "snigger ping-pong"12.

Upon arriving at Jim's store, The Stevieling indulged her favourite hobby du jour and used the Wages of Leaf I had given her to increase her collection of Pokemon cards. Don't ask me to explain Pokemon. I have no idea how they work, why they are so attractive to kids or how to play the various games based on them. I used to have to play a board game called "Pokemon Master Trainer" with the then much younger Stevieling, but I cured her of the habit by singing "Bow, Bow To The Master Trainer Elect"13 any time I won. At the time she was a very bad loser and would turn purple with appoplexy as I sang this, refusing point-blank to add her sweet soprano to the chorus. I would also sing the song (and bow) when she won I hasten to add, but that also made her mad (she was also that rarest of things, a sore winner). She eventually stopped making me play the game. Job done!

I stood aloof from The Stevielings mad dash to the Pokemon cards and scanned the racks with a detached air. I had come for the express purpose of obtaining a copy of the expansion kit for my Munchkin Cthulhu card game14 and could undertake this with adult detachment. Then I saw the tank kit.

The kit was for the game Wonkhammer 401k, a collecting hobby with a gaming facade nailed on it to boost sales that was, from the late 80s to about 2001 the most addictive thing I'd found to hurl money at bar none. I had weaned myself away from it in a process I likened to quitting smoking15 after a particularly disappointing convention/tournament I attended in the spring of 2001, when I decided that the people I was meeting while playing this game were about as pleasant as getting simultaneously audited on my tax-returns while getting a rectal examination from Doc "The Whole Fist or Nothing" Rubberglove. I had initially resisted getting dragged into the wretched hobby, seeing how it could easily bankrupt even someone with as well-balanced sense of proportion as myself. In any case, I was already hurling money at The Call of Cthulhu, a role playing game I ran in those days and had none left over for lead soldiers. Then Ralph gave me a small collection of the figures so I could "play him" and the hook was set.

At first it was fun. The average game involved only 10-20 figures a side and the rules were more guidelines for building your own games, much like many games are in Edition 1.0. Then the loonies began to take over and games began to get bigger. Soon the game was re-issued as a boxed set with extremely nice plastic figures included. Very high quality items, and the cost was actually less than if you had to get the stuff together from scratch like you did with the first edition. The rules now emphasised larger armies, with some topping out over 50 figures, and had been streamlined in many areas to speed play. The game was re-issued again, with newer, better figures and a "simplified" rules set designed to appeal to a younger gamer, one with the attention span of a booze-addled gnat. Much of the detail was now removed from the game, but the rules had been revamped to make them less susceptible to lucky dice rolls swamping the tactics as the second edition's sometimes did. Army sizes were even larger, and costs now included the need for small, army-specific rules additions purchased as "codex" booklets. The 3rd edition removed many of the more complex rules in a general move across the range of Goons Wonkshop products to "dumb down" the rules to broaden the appeal. Armies were bigger. Codex books were, sadly, thinner. All very high quality artwork, but lots and lots of margin space. The problem of Codex rules additions breaking the core rules beyond repair was also getting worse. New models would often spur the introduction of excessively powerful rules to go with them, often invalidating the core rules and causing no end of confusion in the community. "Rules Lawyering" became a catch-all insult applied to anyone trying to make sense of the game, and on-the-spot improvisation became the order of the day. The 4th edition went one step further, and printed no statistics for any armies an the grounds that most people already had Codex books and so the cost of printing this information, which would be out of date in no time, was not warranted. Of course, the information was still needed, and Goons Wonkshop sold a codex booklet containing it...

Nor was all this nonsense conducive to calming the hearts and minds of the players. The people I was meeting via this game were becoming more and more unpleasant as time went on, culminating in a convention I attended in Baltimore in 2001 in which I became convinced that the only way to enjoy a game of Wonkhammer 401k was to actually shoot my opponents dead before the game commenced.

I decided at that point that enough was enough and put aside all my stuff. Besides, I had grown to hate the painting part of the hobby once I had been enslaved to the production-line needed to finish dozens of identical front-line troops of whatever kind were called for. I had literally dozens of expensive models that, were you to come upon them unknowingly, you'd think were from the movie Aliens. I had a couple of hundred soldiers modelled to look like the guys from Zulu. I had around fifty futuristic Space Marines. I had a bunch of plastic tanks produced to go with these. Only some of this collection was painted, and I couldn't face the thought of painting the ones that weren't any more. I was done.

Until I saw the superheavy tank kit.

The kit was part of a coordinated effort to restart the hobby for those people who had huge collections of stuff (much bigger than mine, I might add), and it made me start thinking seriously of the parts I liked about the hobby when I was active in it. I was hooked all over again and had to have one of those tanks! Who cared that it cost as much as dinner for two at a local restaurant?

I resisted the urge to buy there and then and we returned home. As darkness fell I once again turned my mind over to the problem of the humungous tree limb sitting on the curb And I resolved to get stuck in the next morning, assuming it was still there of course.


Naturally this called for yet another deployment of Mr BSN16 Chainsaw, but the job was a little more complex than the previous session had been. In that previous triumph of man over tree in a World Gone Mad all that was required was that the bits of sawn tree be portable (in order that freeloaders could port the stuff away from The Steviemanse to their fireplaces). This time I was determined to salvage as much of the nice-quality heartwood. I had the idea that it might be resawn into all kinds of useful shapes for various half-worked-out projects such as the autoharp I've always wanted to try making, some blanks for turning on my router-crafter17, perhaps a cunning puzzle-box sawn using tha band saw I don't (yet) have and so forth. I would attempt to saw pieces as large as possible from the limb. Who knew? I might get planks for a coffee table from it.


The wood was so dense it fought the chainsaw in almost every direction, forcing me to resharpen the blade twice (always a luvverly job). The limb became hard to wedge and support as I cut more and more wood from it, and in the end I had to settle for cutting cubes about a foot and a half on a side from the wretched thing or run the risk of having it fall on me.

Eventually I had the damn thing in pieces and the pieces stacked in the garage for use next year. No doubt I will end up giving the wood away as firewood in ten year's time, but for now my intentions are to turn it to good use.

If I can find time between all that production line lead soldier painting I've gotten the urge to do.

  1. None of which was repeated in other languages. This was a big instruction book
  2. Well, walls really
  3. as the total loss of Thanksgiving Friday4 proves
  4. Called "Black Friday" by retailers because of the hysteria their sales provoke in otherwise semi-rational people
  5. Nagasaki: a truly staggering amount of damage handed out in as short a time as possible, typically one volley in a game of "Star Fleet Battles"
  6. $US 150.00
  7. Although in all fairness I couldn't put down the waterproofing agent without cleaning the deck first and I couldn't clean the deck because Mr Pressure Washer went nails up during the attempt to clean the barrel that had lain for Lo! so many years in my garage episode back in September and I hadn't assembled the avoirdupois to obtain another one yet
  8. Which would involve deploying Mr Tablesaw and hoping that we didn't get a repeat of the "curved cut" problem I had during the construction of the Hexagonal jewelry Display Case of Inconvenience
  9. Using Mr Chopsaw, a very easy operation
  10. US Vise-Grip
  11. Against all expectation and assurances about the insect-repellent properties of cedar
  12. One player serves a muffled laugh to the other. The other player volleys it back. Play continues until the third person in the vehicle screams "What are you two idiots laughing at?", at which point a win is declared for everyone except Mrs Stevie
  13. Sung to the tune of the Gilbert and Sullivan "Daughter In Law Elect" song from The Mikado
  14. Four Steviestars
  15. Yes, I've done both
  16. Brand Spanking New
  17. a sort of lathe. I have a real lathe that I have no room to set up

No comments: