Monday, August 29, 2005

Fighting Comment Spam

Last week was apparently the week of "spambots crawling Blogger". It's not unusual for me to see a dozen or so posts in an hour on a Skeptics' Circle Thursday, but I had a rush last week that seemed unusual. Checking the details on my hit counter showed the symptoms of some kind of automated program crawling through weblogs. Apparently, the spambots were on the move, and they left a half dozen spam comments on the Saga. I cleaned those out, but I wasn't sure what to do to prevent future infestations. I didn't want to go back to requiring readers to register with Blogger before commenting.

But Blogger apparently saw this kind of problem coming, and they've taken action. I'm not sure when they implemented it, but they've made "word verification" an option for comments. I've turned that on, so now when you want to enter a comment, you'll have to type a word that appears as an image on the screen in the comment form. Word verification should keep the blog safe from spambots until some jackass invents an image-recognizing bot that can read words in images and type them in the appropriate field on a form.

Tourney of the Foxes

We had good weather for Tourney of the Foxes over the weekend, and there was some pretty good fencing on Saturday. We ended up with four teams, and mine ended up in second place. Congratulations to Corbin, Ysabel, and Feodor for taking the prize. After the tournament, we fooled around with some additional melee scenarios, but nothing major. Feodor also became a Companion of the Argent Rapier, so double congrats to him.

While there was no scheduled revel, I naturally took my music with me, and Julianna and I improvised a revel shortly after feast. This turned out fairly well, since we had four couples on the floor some of the time. At one point, someone mentioned that it would be amusing to do the Amoroso drunk, which immediately prompted Julianna and I to do an improvised performance of the "Drunken Amoroso". Fjorleif was wishing she hadn't left the camera at the cabin. I foresee that little variant being performed again in the future.

Issues with the Event:
  • The site has only one shower house, and it has something like twelve showers. Unfortunately, it doesn't have a divider that you could used to separate a ladies' area from a lords' area. This made getting a shower a logistic nightmare. A simple improvised curtain could have easily taken care of the problem.
  • The cabin's were annoyingly filthy. A quick pass through the cabins with a broom would have made the stay much more pleasant.
  • There was no air-conditioned place into which one could retreat.
  • Feast was extremely unfriendly to anyone on a low-carb diet.
I bring up these issues in the hope that future Tourneys will address them.

The next significant event coming up for us is Unchained Doom. Tavern Brawl and Thing in the Woods are also September events, but we really don't want to try to do more than one event a month; it just makes life too hectic.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

WoW: About the Deadmines

I've noticed that a fair number of visitors to the site are following searches for "wow deadmines" and getting my short report that I actually finished that dungeon. I imagine that doesn't help them a great deal if they're looking for advice, so I thought I'd elaborate a little on my experience. There are spoilers in this article, so don't read it if you want to discover these things for yourself.

As most know, the Deadmines run beneath the village of Moonbrook, which lies southwest of Sentinel Hill in the region of Westfall. The village itself is crawling with Defias rogues and mages, although there are usually enough players working in the area to keep them under control. You should be at least level 18 before you attempt the Deadmines, and you should have a well balanced party to assist you.

You enter the Deadmines through what looks like an old tavern in the southwest corner of the village. You'll find a shaft inside that leads down into the mines proper. You have to maneuver through the tunnels for a while before you find the entrance to the "instance dungeon", at which point only your group will be present. While working your way to the instance, be wary of "elite" monsters that wander this area. These can easily defeat a lone player, and they can wipe out your group if you "pull" too many of them into a fight. The rule of elites is to try to fight one and only one of them at a time; use "crowd control" abilities to keep additional monsters at bay while you bring them down one-by-one.

If you have the "Collecting Memories" quest, you don't actually need to go into the instance: the quest items you need are in the "public" part of the mines. Just look for an area with violet-colored stone on your map.

Once you enter the "instance" most of the monsters you kill will stay dead, but there are patrols that occasionally reappear even if you kill them. You don't want these patrols to fall on your party from behind while you're fighting a tough boss, so check for them before starting a hard fight. A Hunter using the "Track Humanoids" ability can be particularly helpful for detecting patrols.

The first major encounter is with a big ogre. He's apparently immune to a Hunter's "concussive shot" effect, so don't waste energy on it. Let a Warrior get his full attention before your mages start unloading on him; you don't want him beating on a fragile character.

In the Lumber Room, you'll find Lumbermaster Sneed riding in his Shredder. There are several other goblins in the room, and it's both easy and recommended to pull them out and take care of them before engaging the Shredder. The machine is tough and it hits hard. Again, make sure a very durable character (Warrior or Paladin) has its full attention before your spell casters unload on it. Don't relax when the Shredder falls; Sneed himself will jump out and immediately start attacking.

Past the Lumber room, you go down a tunnel to the Smelter, which has a spiral ramp downward. The goblins in there have guns, flame grenades, and little mechanical beasties. An oversized goblin named Gilnid is the boss at the bottom. A patrol apparently starts into the Smelter about the time you defeat Gilnid and open the next door; they seem to be timed to reach the bottom of the ramp about the time you're engaging the guys on the other side of the door. Plan for them!

After that, you're off to the secret construction dock for the Defias pirate ship. Your first major obstacle is Mr. Smite, who guards the boarding plank. Someone tough should hold him off while the rest of your group eliminates his assistants, then everyone can wail on him. He'll use a mass stunning effect twice to delay you while he runs to get a better weapon; it's best not to have his buddies beating on you while you're stunned.

There are a couple more mini-bosses as you work your way up the ship, ending with VanCleef himself at the top. VanCleef can supposedly resurrect his fallen assistants, but he won't if you keep him busy enough (I never saw him try it during my run). Better still, you can just use crowd control techniques to keep his aids out of the way while you concentrate your firepower on VanCleef himself.

That's the quick and dirty on the Deadmines. I hope you find it helpful. Hopefully I'll be able to put together something for Ragefire Chasm in the near future.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Could he have said anything stupider?

IDiot television evangelist Pat Robertson recently suggested that the United States Government should assassinate Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela (as recorded in an AP article):

On Monday, Robertson said on the Christian Broadcast Network's The 700
: "We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that
we exercise that ability."

"We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know,
strong-arm dictator," he continued. "It's a whole lot easier to have some of the
covert operatives do the job and then get it over with."

I'm trying to think of a way he could have been more offensive, but it's just not coming. What does it say about Pat Robertson that he would suggest on live TV that we murder another nation's Head of State? God supposedly issued a decree regarding that kind of behavior in Exodus 20, didn't he? And Pat claims to be one of God's advocates, doesn't he?

I'm drowning in the tidal wave of hypocrisy.

Besides, such an assassination wouldn't be nearly as easy as old Pat thinks. Remember, the US government tried several times to take out Fidel Castro without success, and after that they publicly disavowed the practice. And I'm sure he hasn't considered the political consequences of such an act for our country.

Mystery Guest

I'd love to know who occasionally visits this site from Ogden, Utah. I'd kinda like to hear their opinion on State Senator Buttars.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Those Pictures I Promised

You need a fair amount of equipment to make mead. A five gallon class carboy, plastic tubing, a funnel, honey, yeast, clean water, an airlock, drilled stoppers, and so forth. Fortunately, most of these things are "durable goods" that you can use over and over in your brewing and vinting hobby. You actually need more than one carboy, since you'll need to "rack" periodically, but that's an issue for another post (we'll need to rack this in a month or two).

Stage one of the process is to clean and sterilize all of the equipment that will touch the "must" or unfermented honey-water mix. A contaminated must produces five gallons of extraordinarily expensive vinegar, so be clean. We sterilize with a bleach water solution, then rinse thoroughly.

As you might guess from the picture, we don't particularly like to use the water from our tap. We have a really high chlorine content here, and yeast don't like that. Besides, it just doesn't taste all that good. If we had a really good water filtration system, we might use our local water, but until we get that, we just buy inexpensive "spring water" at the grocery.

We used roughly fifteen pounds of honey for this project. If you've ever tried to pour honey, you know just how slow and tedious a process it can be. Fjorleif's solution is to run a hot bath for the honey containers so it will run relatively easily when you're ready to pour it into the carboy.

Incidentally, that widget you see on the faucet is a bottle washer. It's basically a stem with a valve that jets water up into the bottle when you press the bottle down on to the little lever. This makes washing and rinsing bottles and carboys SO much easier. If you're going to make wine, you definitely want one.

Now that we've got our clean carboy, it's time to pour in the honey. Keep your water supply handy. There will be honey residue in the container; why waste it? Just pour some water into the container, recap it, shake it good to get the honey mixed into the water, and pour it into the carboy with the rest of the honey. No fuss required.

Notice that the honey goes in first, so that when you add the bulk of the water, it will rinse the honey residue out of the funnel. No wasting honey for us.

With all the honey in the carboy, it's time to add the water. Depending on your recipe and mead-guru, you may also want to add gypsum, acid, yeast nutrients, or some other additives. You'll probably be working with wine yeast, which prefers grape juice to diluted honey. Adding yeast nutrients and adjusting the acid balance may increase the speed of your fermentation. A quick fermentation isn't really important to us, so we decided to just let the yeast adapt and figure out how to do without those things in this batch. If we were exceedingly conscientious, we would try to capture some of the yeast dregs from this batch for our next one, so as to breed yeast specifically for mead fermentation. As you might guess, we're not that conscientious; preserving yeast is a rather tedious process which we have not attempted -- dehydrated, packaged yeast being so easy to obtain. Heck, if we were conscientious, we would also have tested and recorded the specific gravity (sugar density) of the batch at this point, but we just plain forgot.

With the carboy filled, it's time to add the yeast. Cote des Blancs is supposedly a pretty robust variety of yeast that can do well for mead-making without stripping out the floral character of the honey. You rehydrate the yeast in water and then add it to the must. As you might know from reading my previous article, the Cote des Blancs actually didn't do so well. In fact, it didn't seem to be doing anything. Therefore, Fjorleif added some Premier Cuvee wine yeast the next morning. Premier Cuvee is a somewhat more vigorous yeast used to restart "stuck" fermentations, among other things.

Adding the Premier Cuvee got a swift reaction. Maybe the Cote des Blancs was just waiting for some "fertilizer" to help it along, and it fed on the incoming Premier Cuvee. Maybe the opposite occurred. Maybe the Cote des Blancs was a bad batch and the Premier Cuvee was good. It matters little why; it's the result that's important. In mere moments the mead must started bubbling vigorously. The image at left shows the state of the mead after it's been fermenting for several hours.

Making wine and mead is a wonderful hobby because it's not labor intensive. Now that this batch of mead is started, we can stick it in the closet and ignore it for a month or more. We can also start a batch of something else in between, staggering the times when we actually need to do something with the fermenting products.

That brings us to the end of the beginning for this batch of mead. Tune back in a few months when we perform the first racking.

This is Honey, which any fool can eat...

Yes, that's about my favorite line from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

We started a batch of mead this weekend. Somewhere around fifteen pounds of honey in about five gallons of water, with a little Cote de Blank yeast thrown in to turn sugar into alcohol. Months will pass before our little yeast ranch runs its course, and it may be years more before the finished product is actually drinkable. There will be rackings and other intermediate steps to do, as well. As of this morning, the fermentation hasn't started off as it should; Fjorleif suspects that the yeast was too old and will be rehydrating and adding a new colony today.

We took pictures of the humble beginnings of the mead, and I'll try to post them in the next few days. Maybe a few of you will decide you want to give it a try yourselves...

Friday, August 19, 2005

WoW: Photo Roundup

Since I've provided shots of my other two active characters, I figure I might as well provide one of Haokan, as well.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

WoW: Had to Make Another

The Earthen Ring server is pretty busy. In fact, it was full last night, so I created yet another character on the Scarlet Crusade server. Behold Gondul...

Gondul is an undead priestess. If plans to start a couple of Order of the Stick guilds on Scarlet Crusade go as planned, she'll probably be a busy girl.

Skeptics' Circle 15

Yep, the Fifteenth Skeptics' Circle is up, and -- as usual -- I couldn't resist submitting something (not that you haven't already read my contribution if you're one of my few regular visitors).

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

WoW: Look at Grimbor

OK, I finally got image editing software suitable for converting World of Warcraft screen captures into something suitable for the weblog. So, without further ado, this is what Grimbor and Freki look like.

An Outright Lie

In an August 8th article in USA Today, Utah state senator D. Chris Buttars makes the startling claim that...

There is zero scientific fossil evidence that demonstrates organic evolutionary linkage between primates and man.
That's a pretty amazing claim, since a very brief search turned up a list of at least nineteen fossil finds that support the link between modern humans and earlier primates.

The rest of Buttars' article is basically a rant about how the education system is anti-religion, dragging in questions about school prayer which are irrelevant to the Evolution/ID debate. He's oblivious to the fact that the opposition to ID stems from the fraudulence of teaching a concept (ID doesn't qualify as a theory) with no scientific support as science.

It takes incredible audacity for a politician who presumably has no scientific training to bluntly deny the existence of evidence that the overwhelming majority of the scientific community recognizes. What Senator Buttars is saying is an outright lie, and it constitutes nothing short of a blatant attack on the scientific method. You know, the method that produces real, useful knowledge? Knowledge that produced modern medicine, computers, fertilizers, automobiles, satellite communications, and military equipment?

Does Senator Buttars realize that when he attacks science like this, he attacks the foundation of American prominence in the world? If we dismiss science and its methods, we turn from the path of progress and head straight into the Dark Ages. Maybe that's where Senator Buttars wants us to go, but I don't.

If you're a voter in Utah, you should be deeply concerned about this man's remarks.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Zotob Outbreak

Microsoft announced a new Windows vulnerability this morning.
A programming error in the Plug and Play (PnP) service used by Microsoft Windows machines can present a remote attacker with the opportunity to overflow a fixed length buffer, execute code on the vulnerable system and escalate privileges on the host to the extent that they could take complete control of the affected machine.
In English, some jackass hacker can use bad code in a Windows "feature" to turn your computer into a Spam generator. To fix the problem, open the Start menu on your computer, look for the Windows Update program, and run it. Don't delay either, because an automated internet program to exploit the bug is already at large.
The Sourcefire Vulnerability Research Team (VRT) has received reports of a new worm variant, known as Zotob, that makes use of the Plug-and-Play (PnP) vulnerability (MS05-039) to propagate.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Nectar of the Gods

bottlingYes, Fjorleif and I have been busy doing arts-and-craftsy SCA work this weekend. It is with great delight that I announce the bottling of our 2005 Red Muscadine wine. As usual, we have produced about two cases of bottles, although many of the bottles are odd sizes or shapes (thanks to those Moldovan vintners who ship their products in such interesting glassware). It being on the sweet side, this wine won't really need to be aged to drink, although it is a teensy bit on the green side (yes, I am having a glass right now, thank you).

Hopefully I can get off my duff and cast some pewter for my next trick.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

WoW: Deadmines Complete

I finally managed to group with some people long enough to go all the way through the Deadmines and assassinate VanCleef, the leader of the Defias Bandits. Not a bad run, and picked up a few nice items out of it. It's nice to have that dungeon behind me, so to speak.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Event Approved

The shire has approved Golden Rule. Now we just have to secure the date on the kingdom calendar, which is the seneschal's job.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Event Proposals

My bid to do the Golden Rule event in April goes up for vote in tonight's shire meeting. There will probably be some issues to resolve with the budget and how many days we reserve facilities at the site, but hopefully we can iron out all of that. The break-even point on my current budget (which may be overblown) is 128 attendance. I don't know if that will be considered high or not. Frankly, I'm not worried so much about making attendance and breaking even (since we're in pretty safe territory financially) as about having a really good event and establishing an event that belongs to Glaedenfeld and has a solid reputation. If that costs the shire a bit more money than it makes the first year or two, so be it (make up the difference with fundraisers or Kingdom-level events).

We shall see what others think.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Find of the Day

In following links from an article on about a bardic competition at Pennsic, I found myself at Dagonell's Bardic Notebook. Songs both silly and serious abound.

And there was much rejoicing.

A New Drill Thought

I was musing over fencing drills and thought of this one.
  1. Attacker thrusts to the head (target 5 in our Capo Ferro sequence); defender uses parry 5.
  2. Attacker disengages and thrusts to the lead leg or lower body on the sword side; defender uses parry 2.
  3. Attacker disengages and thrusts to the body on the off-hand side; defender voids (using a volta, or "compass step") and counterthrusts, adding a hand-parry for extra safety.
I plan to inflict that on my class next week (or sooner if we do something over the weekend). If I'm particularly diligent, I'll even take pictures and put together a real web page for drills.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Drill, Drill, Drill

When there's a pollution alert on a 90-degree day, people just don't want to put on all of their armor for fencing practice. That includes me. At least we didn't waste the whole evening. We did drills on footwork, basic parries, hand parries, and disarms.

I suspect that such weather may in some ways be a boon. Ysabel has complained that she thinks she has reached a plateau in her fencing skill, and she's probably not alone. We need to do more than just get together and spar with each other every week. That just trains us to beat each other. We need to do the drills; that's what trains us to be better fencers.

Here's to more warm weather...

WoW: Killing Time

I was up early playing World of Warcraft this morning, and I did manage to complete a couple of quests while I was out and about. It being a Tuesday, the servers generally go down at about 7am local time for maintenance, and apparently some Alliance players decided that they would burn about half an hour smiting Horde players before the servers went offline.

That's how I ended up scoring four "Honorable Kills" in Player-versus-Player combat this morning. I don't know what level my opponents were; all I could see was that I was fighting a "L?? Rogue" and a "L?? Paladin", but odds are that they were about 40 levels higher than me. No, I did not beat them single-handedly with my L17 Shaman. I mostly cast healing spells on higher-level Horde players who were doing the hard fighting, taking a whack at the invaders every now and then when opportunity allowed. They mostly ignored my attacks, but every now and then one would get annoyed or bored enough to drop me with one swing. Tedious, but not actually un-fun, especially when you know you have to quit in 30 minutes or less, anyway.

Monday, August 08, 2005

WoW: A Successful Dungeon Run

Over the weekend I managed to successfully complete a run into a dungeon for the first time. I joined a group for a trip into the Stockade to put down an assortment of convicts, inmates, and insurgents. People in the group understood their jobs pretty well, and Grimbor managed to come through without dying once (although some members of the group weren't so lucky).

I hope I can find as good a group to go with me on another Deadmines run soon, as my Deadmines quests have started going green (meaning their getting pretty easy for a character of my level, meaning they won't return as much experience).

Intelligent Design Google Bomb

I'm joining the effort to make sure that Google searches for Intelligent Design return the National Center for Science Education's page on the subject. If you have a web page or blog, and you care about the subject, put a link on your page. Generally speaking, Google rates a site by how many other pages link to it, so the more of us that have links to NCSE, the higher it will be rated on Google searches.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

How Can It Be a Mistake?

Rick Santorum, Republican Senator from Pennsylvania, stuck his foot in his mouth during an interview on NPR this morning (August 4, 2005). I don't suppose it's his fault, he's just speaking from his religious indoctrination instead of using independent thought.

The interviewer asked what he thought about President Bush's recent statement that Intelligent Incompetent Design should be taught in schools. Rick started off well enough: he said that Intelligent Design shouldn't be taught in science classes because it isn't scientific. Then he started munching on his big toe: he said that the evidence against the Theory of Evolution should be taught along with the evidence in favor of it.

Sorry, Rick, but there simply isn't any evidence against the Theory of Evolution. Many refutes have been attempted, but every genuine attempt to scientifically show that Evolution doesn't happen has failed. There are still unanswered questions, but there is no contrary evidence.

He reasoned that we need to look at the evidence against Evolution because, according to the Theory of Evolution, mankind has no purpose: we're just a "mistake". It's impossible for the evolution of humanity to be a mistake, Rick. A mistake is doing something wrong; setting out to do one thing and doing something else instead. The process of Evolution has no target, so it can't go to the wrong place. An Intelligent Designer could make mistakes, but an unintelligent process like Evolution can't.

Does humanity have a purpose? From an evolutionary standpoint, successfully reproducing and expanding into new environments makes a species a "success", but species also change in the process. No, if humanity has a purpose, we need to define it for ourselves, but it need not be incompatible with evolution. Creating and maintaining a secure and comfortable living environment for ourselves and our fellow human beings is a realistic goal that I think anyone could agree to pursue.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Hand-Parry Drill

I used to do a simple hand parry drill for both hands that I adapted from my jeet kune do training. That was basically a repeating pattern of three attacks that you parry until the motions become automatic. Essentially the same thing works for fencing hand parries.

"Hopper" was my guinea pig at fencing practice yesterday. After seeing him spar a bit with Jaime, I could see that he needed to work on getting his off hand into play. We've done hand parry drills with completely empty hands before, but I wanted to try to make a slightly more practical drill.

We both went onto the field with a single rapier. He was in full armor, but I wasn't, since I wasn't going to be in any danger. With him on guard, I held onto the tip of his blade with my left hand. This was to simulate a situation in which his rapier was bound or otherwise engaged, leaving him no choice but to defend himself with his off hand. I then began a repeating series of thrusts, two to the head and neck followed by one to the body.The students task is to parry all of the thrusts with the free hand using consistent technique.

Assuming that it's your left hand that's free, you should parry the first thrust away to your left; you should also turn your hand so that you have an opportunity to grab the blade in the process.
Parry the second attack to your right, again turning your hand so you can potentially catch the blade. Make sure that you carry the tip clear of your body; you don't want to push it away from your head into your shoulder.

The for the final parry, you sweep your hand down and out to the left again.

Initially, you should practice the drill at a slow, steady pace and concentrate on developing good hand motions. In later sessions, you can vary the speed and rhythm of the attacks to force the student to actually react instead of just anticipating the thrusts. Finally, you should vary the actual order of the attacks, so the student learns to parry with the correct motion depending on the angle of the thrust.

We'll be doing more of this drill in future classes, and I'll try to remember to write an update on progress.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Illusory Causation

Illusory causation is a term that came up on NPR news this morning, and it caught my ear as something worth discussing in detail. Illusory causation is probably the root of belief in a lot of worthless alternative medicine products that you can find on the market today.

Illusory causation occurs when someone attributes a specific event to the wrong cause. In the story on NPR, for example, they explained how many people credit the herb echinacea with curing their colds. They believe the herb cured their condition because they started taking it when their cold symptoms started, and the symptoms went away soon afterward. However, three separate clinical trials have shown that echinacea doesn't make a cold go away any faster. The echinacea users believe that the cause of their relief is the herb, when the true cause is simply the human immune system, which can usually eliminate cold viruses given a little time. The belief in echinacea is an illusion, but the users want to believe it, and repeated association of echinacea with cold relief simply reinforces the illusion. They build up strong personal, anecdotal evidence for their beliefs.

Illusory causation can be attributed to numerous alternative medicines. Homeopathic remedies like Similisan are obvious candidates. As I noted in my previous article, Similisan makes a remedy for pink eye. Pink eye can have at least three causes, one of which is a virus. The human immune system will defeat viral pink eye after a few weeks, much as it will defeat the common cold. A person who uses Similisan during that time might easily assume that the homeopathic product cured the condition, when it really did nothing at all. Such a person would see Similisan as the illusory cause of his or her relief.

But as I said, pink eye can have more than one cause. There is also a bacterial form of pink eye, and this form doesn't easily go away on its own. Those who contract bacterial pink eye often need antibiotic eyedrops to cure the disease, and Similisan won't do a thing to help it. That's why Similisan has a disclaimer telling users to see a doctor if their symptoms don't improve within a few days (the time it normally takes for viral pink eye to start going away).

It's easy to believe in illusions and false causes, but they won't help you in a real emergency. Evidence-based medicine doesn't offer a cure for everything, but at least you can feel secure in the knowledge that evidence-based medical treatments really will deliver the effects that they claim to have.

Monday, August 01, 2005

A Small Regional Practice

Hawk and Phillip came up from Huntsville/An Dun Theine to join us for a bit of a regional fencing practice on Sunday. Jaime and Nealy (sp?) hopefully learned some new things, and we got in some 3-on-3 melee practice, as well. I've got to start doing drills of some sort at home; I just don't have the point control that I need to make the most of my attack opportunities.