29 February 2012

Battlefield 3: A tale of a UH-1Y

After getting pestering emails from EA, I went back on Battlefield 3 multi-player and had a go at Rush.

So, there I was, playing Caspian Border on the US side. I hop into a UH-1 as a gunner and after I take someone out with the Gatling gun, the pilot lands at the Russian defender deployment and runs off. I decide to stay in the chopper to act as a gun platform lest anyone else spawn on me...

Then this guy RPGs me in the face and steals the helicopter for the Russians. Said helicopter flies around and the pilot kills me a couple of times.

A while later, I'm playing Engineer, armed with a Stinger missile when I spot the Venom. I line up and get a lock, then fire.

The heat-seeker barrelled into the chopper and blew it up. Even I was surprised at the points I got. 400 for killing the four people on board, 90 for a "comeback" and 100 for a multi-kill. Later on, I grabbed a weapons unlock for the M4...

Must do this more often.

27 February 2012

TacOps AAR Part 11: Contact!

0910 to 0919


0910 saw some further vehicular destruction from a red airstrike, but Coyote was gradually running out of aircraft. The following turn saw Red eliminate a few units in 0701 and a Hummer put an anti-tank missile straight into a BMP’s face. His forces started to make their way through the gap at the top of the map and then ran into an M1 unit I’d cunningly concealed for such an eventuality – although one tank had been spotted earlier and taken out. Better positioning needed next time.


I dropped a lot of artillery on the map around this time, but it is very difficult to take out a moving target just by shelling it (especially when you lack the experience to calculate ahead and shifting the target resets the accuracy that you’ve built up. Most of my shells just rearranged the landscape.


In square 1102, an infantry unit fought against a moving BMP squad and lost. Not a good idea to take on something like that when you’re out of anti-tank weapons. We did have a few armoured-on-armoured fires, which resulted in a number of successes for me (120mm main gun on the Abrams – lovely) and I had a couple of successful airstrikes as well.


As 0919 finished, the initial part of Red’s main force was hitting my lines in the south. Or so I thought.




26 February 2012

Syrian "referendum"

So Bashir al-Assad's regime is holding a referendum for a new constitution it has drawn up and probably will ignore anyway.

The sooner this guy is in a prison cell, the better for all humanity.

19 February 2012

The History of 'Doctor Who': Season 1 - Wanderers in Time

As the 50th anniversary of the time-travel show is approaching next year (23 November 2013), I’ve decided to do a roughly fortnightly series on the history of the show, going season by season until the present day i.e. Season 34 as it will be in 2013. I’ll be briefly discussing each story, going onto some other topics and hopefully getting some of my readers interested in the classic era. Entire books have been written on just individual aspects of the show’s history, so I won’t go on too long.

So, let’s begin at the beginning. The classic era of Who consists of multi-episode serials, with numbers in each ranging from one to fourteen, but typically four or six. Runtime was usually c.25 minutes. However, when discussing the first three seasons of this show, we need to point out that what you got were individually titled episodes with the viewer not being able to guess in advance where one serial ended and another began. The titles for these serials are therefore sometimes educated guesswork, gleaned from the BBC paperwork – this particularly applies to the first season. Not all fans agree on the titles, so I've gone with the DVD titles the BBC uses.

Also, I’d better beginning by mentioning the missing episodes. Of the 784 episodes of DW produced to date, 106 are missing from the archives (it was 108 until two turned up late last year). All from the era of the first two Doctors (when the show was in black and white), the reason these episodes are missing was simply that the BBC had a policy until the late 1970s of junking master copies when it felt there was no more value from them in a pre-VCR era. It’s only through the hard work of fans (whose off-air audio recordings ensure that we have everything in at least audio form) and various episodes turning up among private collections or in foreign TV vaults that we have just over half of the black-and-white era available to us. I’ll mention episode status in brackets for each story where relevant.

The Creation

If you remember “Human Nature” and the comment about “John Smith” having parents called Sydney and Verity, you may know that this is a reference to two of the show’s key creators

The “father” of Doctor Who was Sydney Newman (1917-1997), a Canadian who also created The Avengers, a classic British spy series. The BBC needed something to fill the slot between sports show Grandstand and music show Juke Box Jury, so he came up with the original concept for the show. He intended it to be educational as well as entertaining, although the former fell by the wayside.

The “mother” was Verity Lambert (1935-2007), the show’s first producer and actually the first woman producer at the BBC – before she’d even turned 30. There is a great drama about the creation of this show just waiting to be made and I wouldn’t be too surprised if we got one next year.

Present at the birth were Ron Grainer (the composer of the original theme music), Delia Derbyshire (who arranged it) and Waris Hussein, the first South Asian BBC drama director, among others.

An Unearthly Child (four episodes, all available)

[A pilot version of the first episode was made first, but another version was ordered as the BBC weren’t happy with it. The original version is available on video]

Our story begins with two schoolteachers, Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright, wondering why one of their pupils, one Susan Foreman, is acting strangely and being very bright (as well as talking about decimalisation of the currency). They visit her home at 76 Totter’s Lane, which is a junkyard and encounter her grandfather – the First Doctor. After the two teachers push their way into the TARDIS, the Doctor the reveals he and Susan are aliens (although the name “Time Lords” does not appear at this time) essentially kidnaps the pair of them.

After the first episode, Team TARDIS (as I shall refer to the TARDIS crew at any given time or in any given grouping) arrive in pre-history and enter a plot involving a tribe who have lost the secret of making fire. At the time, most of the past setting stories did not involve aliens in any way and so these stories are called “pure historicals” among fans.

Episode one is a wonderful piece of sci-fi. Most people don’t really bother too much about the other three.

The First Doctor

Played by William Hartnell, the first Doctor was a crotchety old man, with a marked tendency to go “Hmmmmm…” and mangle his words, a feature of early 1960s TV production when things were basically recorded “as live” and going for a retake wasn’t done unless you absolutely had to. Possessed a great sense of cunning though. Hartnell’s portrayal has been somewhat overshadowed by the other ten – it’s a somewhat different portrayal from the rest.

The Daleks (7 episodes, all available)

Arriving on a dead alien world with high radiation levels, the team enter a futuristic city – where Barbara has a memorable encounter with a sink plunger. When a vital TARDIS component is left behind, they must get it back by persuading a pacifist tribe to fight the Daleks.

The Daleks

Nobody had seen anything like the Daleks before – in fact we might not have got them at all. Terry Nation’s creations (his estate still co-owns the rights) were vetoed by Newman, who did not want a procession of “bug-eyed monsters” in his educational show. Lambert overruled him – a correct decision for the longevity of the show.

The Edge of Destruction (2 episodes, all available)

Set entirely in the TARDIS and only featuring the four regulars, the ship is heading back towards the Big Bang and the crew must figure out why. This was originally meant to be a two-episode filler of a thirteen episode season  - in the end Season 1 got 42 episodes – but it’s good filler at that.

Marco Polo (7 episodes, none available)

The team take a road trip across 1289 China with Marco Polo. I haven’t seen (or heard) this one. Plan to get the audio version at some point though.

The Keys of Marinus (6 episodes, all available)

An alien world is threatened by another lot of aliens, so the team have to find the keys to a machine that makes evil actions impossible, hoping around the planet with ‘travel dials’. Essentially a bunch of fairly good mini-adventures penned by Terry Nation.

The Aztecs (4 episodes, all available)

Arriving in 15th century Mexico, Barbara gets mistaken for a god and knowing the unpleasant end of Aztec civilisation, decides to try and make it better, while the Doctor gets engaged. A rather fondly-remembered story, this one.

The Sensorites (7 episodes, all available)

Arriving on a spaceship, the crew find humans terrified of a race called the Sensorites. When they encounter the latter, they find that the Sensorites are just as scared of the humans… An early example of the clever writing and playing with conventions that this show is so at.

The Reign of Terror (6 episodes, 4 and 5 are missing but are being recreated through animation for the DVD release later this year)

A pure historical set during the latter part of the French Revolution, this was the show’s first go at location filming. I haven’t seen this, but I certainly am going to get the DVD.

17 February 2012

The end of 'Hustle'

Tonight sees the broadcast of the final episode of Hustle, the BBC con-artist drama that has run eight seasons, after a decision by the production to end it before it became stale. It’s been a highly enjoyable show, but I think it’s best to end it before it’s forced to end by declining ratings. I just hope the grifters actually pay their tab.


For this who will miss this show (what has happened to all the good Kudos shows), at least grifter fans will still have Leverage. J

16 February 2012

TacOps AAR Part 10: Ambitious but Rubbish

0850 to 0910

The first few minutes passed quietly, with limited artillery fire and an airstrike by me that found nothing, so didn’t even bother to drop a bomb. At 0854, 155mm killed a couple of my guys. Watching this period back, all that really happens was Red moving forward slowly but steadily.

At 0900, things changed. My Marine reinforcements arrived and they were packing M-1s. My plan was to have this come in around 06 Easting, which I figure would be far enough to meet up with the incoming Red Force that was due at around the same time, with some of the force reinforcing my main line and the other blocking map exit. The initial Hummer units arrived at 085945 at in the next turn, one blasted an IFV who had poked his head out of a forest for the final time.

Red promptly countered with an airstrike (Coyote had his units pre-plotted to interdict my movement) and took out said Hummer. Oh well. I dropped artillery in the area where the smoking IFV had been, to no effect and made a second Red air attack miss due to Stinger fire.

No less than three Hummers were hit by ICM fire at 0905 and the battle turned into one with more vehicular destruction than an episode of Top Gear as missiles flew across and up. Two minutes later, a Red airstrike followed by an artillery barrage hit a mechanised company and did some noticeable casualties, while an infantry squad took out a BRDM2.

I suffered a further blow at 0908 as a Red MRLS ICM strike followed by a smaller artillery strike took out a number of vehicles and squads, inflicting 3% casualties in one turn. Clearly my point of ingress was not a good one at all.

The next turn saw some infantry death on both sides, but things were definitely not going my way.

08 February 2012

TacOps PBEM Part 9: Moving into place

0830 to 0849

We had four minutes of artillery exchanges that mostly missed – I came out the worst, losing that anti-tank squad that I mentioned before it had even fired a shot.

A couple of minutes of quiet followed by the same thing happening to another Javelin squad. Red was moving his forces into observation positions, allowing him to better direct his artillery fire and make things easier for the main assault. Some more artillery followed, along with my elimination of a BTR squad by an airstrike at 084215.

In fact, much of this turn was quiet, but little did I know, Red had found the gap in my lines and was starting to send some of his units through. A gap he would later use for his main assault (see circled).

06 February 2012

60 Years on the throne

60 years ago today, Elizabeth II became the British monarch. Not that I can remember anyone else, but I'd say she's not been all that bad, has she?

The Queen of the Castle (Grand Review: 'Borgen')

DR, the people who brought you a sweater-clad woman trying to solve murders, now bring you a suit-clad woman trying to run a small European country.

Borgen ("The Castle", the BBC deciding not to use the English-language title of Government that DR uses) is the tale of Birgitte Nyborg Christensen (Sidse Babett Knudsen), the leader of a small party who finds herself, through a combination of her own skill and a spin doctor dying while in possession of compromising information about the incumbent, becoming Prime Minister of Denmark. A morally upright politician, we see the corrosive effects of power and government on her morals, along with her family life.

At the same time, we follow the work of a TV news team for the fictional TV1 channel, as they report on the goings-on with this administration. The key character is journalist and anchor Katrine Fønsmark, who used to have a relationship with Kasper Juul, the Prime Minister's spin doctor.

Borgen is definitely a dramatic show - the deterioration of the Christensen family relationship is uncomfortable to watch and there's some big stakes at play. However, it's also funny. The dialogue sparkles and the whole thing reminds one of The West Wing - something the writers did deliberately (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, who plays Fønsmark, has said that she based her line delivery on CJ Cregg's - it's pretty obvious now that she's mentioned it).

In fact, it is the best contemporary political drama I have seen since The West Wing. In comparison with The Killing, it actually surpasses it in a number of key aspects. In particular, its lead character is far more interesting than the rather dour Sarah Lund (could you see her playing with children?). Considering she speaks "better" English than some Brits, Knudsen would be highly welcome in any BBC drama.

This is not to say that this is a perfect show - Episode 4, involving CIA rendition flights, is a bit too heavy handed and rests on the premise of an essentially out of control PET (rendered "Special Branch" in the subtitles, this is the Danish equivalent to MI5). The season ending is also a bit weak.

However, none of these detract too much from what is a wonderful achievement for any network, especially DR, who has a tiny drama budget that an American show could blow through in four or five episodes. It's witty, it's meaningful and it's clever.

Well done, BBC4, you've surpassed yourself again in buying this.


PS One final thing - there are quite a few alumni from The Killing here, including both of Sarah Lund's previous detective partners and Theis Birk Larsen as the Defence Minister. So, you've got another reason to watch.

05 February 2012

TacOps AAR Part 8: Never bring a Hummer to an IFV fight

0820 to 0829

To try and get a view of the enemy forces, I sped a section of HMMMVs forward. Unfortunately, Hummers cannot stand up to RPG fire and by 0824, the entire force had been wiped out. Learnt that lesson the hard way.

Another plan went wrong as well. Red detected the anti-tank Javelin unit dug in on the road and starting dropping 152mm shells on them, which knocked the size of the unit down considerably.  While I did knock out a squad with an airstrike at 0827, Red’s forces (which I can see from the playback) were rapidly spreading out and so were a lot harder to localise. A lot of them were dismounted and were able to see me, whereas I couldn’t see them.

Things, to use the technical term, were all going Pete Tong.

04 February 2012

A little project I've been doing in Google SketchUp

Can’t really say it’s all that much. Still early days.


This is Rostock, a spaceship owned by a mercenary group and used as a carrier, that features in one of the sims that I play one at Phoenix Roleplaying. I’ve added a model of Serenity (done by Abraham Katase) to provide some scale.