Five for Friday

Lonely yacht – Netanya, July 2008

Lonely yacht – Netanya, July 2008

After last week’s London excursion, this was almost a normal week, at work, rest, and play. It was a bit strange being somewhere that Shabbat came in so early again, but there was the compensation of sufficient time for a pre meal nap to charge the batteries! This week has been dominated by work and its many challenges, though there was an epic games session in the middle, so no complaints from me. Unfortunately, the current terror wave continues. I am in awe of those who daily put themselves (literally) in the firing line, and sometimes wonder if we underestimate the toll on our young people. There are no easy solutions. We keep going.

And, talking of that, here are the regular selection of links for you:

This week’s bonus

Here it is: the five best Adele ‘Hello’ parodies, so far. Enjoy.

Shabbat Shalom!


More Adventures at the Post Office

I do try and pay attention. I do try and learn from my mistakes. I do try and benefit from my experiences. So, earlier this week, when I went back to the local Post Office to collect a parcel, I headed straight for the ticket machine. I printed up two tickets for myself: one for general services, and one for package collection. Easy!

If this doesn’t make much sense to you, check out the background in my previous post.

OK. So now I am ready.

I have my little red notice telling me there is a parcel to collect. And I have two tickets for the queuing system. What could go wrong?

The ticket machine was working fine. Unfortunately, the queuing system wasn’t. They hadn’t even turned on the screens. There were no numbers being announced. It was first come, first served. (Or, as close to that as any queue in Israel can be.) Taking the tickets had cost me a few places in the queue. Aaargh! I suppose it could have been worse. At least I got to collect my parcel. Did I ever tell you about the time I collected somebody else’s parcel, by mistake?

Ah, the Israeli Post Office. Where East meets West, and neither seems to know what the other is doing…


Warriors 3

Warriors 3 – edited by George R. R. Martin & Gardner Dozois

This is the final part (3/3) of a series of short story anthologies edited by two of the best known names in the business. (See the review of 1/3 here, and 2/3 here.) The absence of genre restriction means the contributing writers could have delivered a good mix, though in this volume there is much more of a common theme and setting. Inside the book are six short stories, and Diana Gabaldon’s 90 page novella.

Robin Hobb‘s The Triumph is a dark, sharply observed tale of honor and loyalty, set in the times of the Punic War between Rome and Carthage. The story fits the format perfectly, and the end result is a satisfyingly good taste of the author’s prodigious talents.

Joe R. Lansdale‘s Soldierin’ is a bittersweet war story set in the Cavalry v Indian backdrop of the good old USA. With African Americans playing the leading roles, the author cannot quite deliver enough variety to match the freshness of that idea, and the writing – while colorful and entertaining – is not enough compensation. This one was too familiar, and made little impact on me.

Lawrence Block‘s Clean Slate is the story with the best kick in its tale. It’s about a young lady, revisiting her past loves, and encountering some new ones. But not in the traditional, normal fashion. Scary, smart, and slick. Best of the bunch.

Carrie Vaughn‘s The Girls from Avenger brought me back, far too quickly, to Soldierin’ with a similarly disappointing after taste. The story, such as it is, features American women pilots contributing to the WW2 war effort. So, again, a break away from the mold. But after that, lifeless characters, and a bit of a flop. No tension, no believable drama; just a decent initial idea, let out on its own, and doomed to end with a whimper. Worst of the bunch.

James Rollins‘ The Pit is a story that volume contributors Lansdale and Vaughn should study, for it takes an interesting idea, and backs it up with solid characterization, good writing, and a better sense of timing and polish. At the core, it’s a story about a dog. But the author manages to raise questions of loyalty, humanity, and compassion into the rather steely center piece. This was an experiment that worked.

David Morrell‘s My Name is Legion gets the prize for the best ripped off title, though I doubt Roger Zelazny ever did a piece on the French Foreign Legion; that’s what you get here. It’s a story of WW2, featuring soldiers of the Legion on each side, and the inevitable bloody clash. It’s quite atmospheric, does a good job of building up the tension, and delivers a reasonable conclusion. Probably the runner up in the volume, in terms of quality.

Diana Gabaldon‘s The Custom of the Army features one of the author’s minor characters from her other fiction – John Grey – and gives him a leading role in this 18th century military adventure. It starts well, though quietly, with a strange electric eel ritual, and then goes off in several directions. As much as a couple of the stories here were perfect matches for their format, this novella tries to do too much and cannot manage the feat. I did not enjoy the journey, finding Mr Grey to be less than interesting. Admittedly the French Indian Wars are not my favorite historical setting, so that didn’t help. But overall it was the author’s writing style which just did not connect. Not for me.

Conclusion: not quite up to the same level of overall quality as the other two volumes – maybe that is why it was the last part? – but, on the whole, reasonable enough. If I had read this first, however, I would not have read the other two parts. This one is a 6/10.


Five for Friday

Here we are again. Can you believe it? It only seems like yesterday that we were at the weekend. Now, here we are again. Oh well. Time for the regular selection of links. I hope you get something out of them:

Shabbat Shalom!


Chess tournament in Israel

Ilia Chavchavadze and Ivane Machabeli playing chess, Saint Petersburg. Source: Wikimedia

Ilia Chavchavadze and Ivane Machabeli playing chess, Saint Petersburg. Source: Wikimedia

From Chessbase, good news for Israeli chess fans:

The strongest invitational tournament ever to be held in Israel will be hosted by the city of Ashdod, in collaboration with the Association of Chess Professionals (ACP) on December 7-10 during the Chanukah holiday. Twelve players will fight three stages of rapid games, in what promises to be a thrilling and intriguing event.

More information, here.

Looks good, I must say. I may try and get down to see some of the action, though watching remotely is probably a more likely event!


Heard about the Tweet-Milah?

Only in Israel, as they say, are you likely to see a story like this:

Rabbi sits down on train to Jerusalem, lays out newspaper, opens up box, lifts out parakeet, places on table. Reads calmly.

Authorities recommend: Do not approach. Parakeet considered winged and dangerous.

Situation ongoing.

Check it out, here. I presume it’s a spoof, but it is funny. Brought to you by the ‘It’s important not to lose your sense of humor’ party!

[A tip of the hat to Sarah-Lee for the spot.]


A smart starting place for smart glasses?

Globes has a story (looking suspiciously like a re-post of a press release) about Israeli startup Everysight, and its launch announcement for smartglasses for cyclists.

It’s a cool idea. However, I’m not sure how many people will pick up on the irony that military technology is being adapted for use by cyclists. Why? Well, if you cycle in Israel – especially if you dare to cycle on the roads – you are, indeed, at war. It is damn dangerous.

One to watch.

Oh, and yes, I want a pair!


They just don’t get it

David Horovitz has an excellent op-ed at the Times of Israel here. It’s a must read. If you are too lazy to do that, at least note the following extract, starting with the situation of the Second Intifada:

As bombers and gunmen targeted our buses and our shopping malls and our hotels and our colleges and our restaurants, we did two things that France, the US and the rest of the free world will have to do if they want to defeat this latest, particularly despicable Islamist terror iteration: We learned how to reduce our vulnerability to terrorism, and we tackled the killers in their centers of operation. Short-sightedly, hypocritically, and abidingly, the international community, including most of the Western world, barely understood the need for the former strategy, and castigated us for the latter.

Note, in particular, the last point. I would express this as a continuation of the theme They didn’t understand then.

He continues:

We made it harder for terrorists to kill us by doing what those CNN experts are saying is impossible: yes, protecting all our cafes, and restaurants, and shopping malls, and hotel entrances, and buses, and every other public place where our citizens gather, with barriers and metal detectors and security guards; all these years later, suicide bombers still can’t just walk into our theaters and concert halls. We bolstered our intelligence-gathering in the viciously hostile Palestinian territories, notably including the West Bank cities from which we had withdrawn years before in the vain quest for peaceful coexistence. And to the ongoing fury of misguided critics everywhere, we built a security barrier — a mix of fences and sections of wall — so that Palestinian suicide bombers could not just drive into Israel and blow us up. We became a nation of domestic security analysts, gauging where to shop and whether or not to take the bus as we sought to minimize our exposure to the killers. And we toughed it out.

Who remembers the wall? The life saving wall. Every person opposed to it, was in effect against the protection of Israeli citizens. Unforgivable.

He also says this:

At the very least, however, I do recommend that the leaders and security chiefs of France and the rest of Europe and North America reach out to those Israeli counterparts they’ve so often judged and critiqued, to benefit from our bitterly accumulated experience in fighting Islamist terrorism.

And his piece is entitled with a question:

Will the West now adopt Israel’s anti-terror strategies?

I’m guessing they won’t. Why? It’s that theme, brought up to date: They didn’t understand then, and they don’t understand now. They just don’t get it.


Escape from the Dark Valley


Ted Raicer‘s Dark Valley, published by GMT, is a fresh approach to tackling the eastern front of WW2. Out of the box, there are some issues (see my initial post, here) but it is worth persevering, especially if the topic interests you. I would neither recommend this to a novice gamer, nor a gamer whose playing style is to seek the ‘perfect plan.’ First, there is a lot of game to digest, and yet the game can be won or lost in the details of an encounter at one of several key points on the map. Second, the chit pull sequence of play can – and generally will – cause havoc with plans, challenging you to perpetually weigh  your options and your risk taking.

I have played the first (8 turn scenario) through to a conclusion once. I made several attempts at getting the crucial turn one right, and know I got nowhere close. (I decided to pack the game away, for now, intending to return to it in a Vassal format.) My comments are based on that limited solitaire experience:


  • Apart from the needless difficulty with the Soviet Military Districts, the graphics – map and counters – are good.
  • The different chits and the chit pull system produce a great, fun, exciting gaming experience. The emphasis here is on the game.
  • Logistics is not a phase; it’s a chit. Adds chaos, friction, and enjoyment.
  • Even at high odds, there is no guarantee of eliminating a defending unit. So, the initial Axis offensive is unlikely to wipe out vast numbers of Soviet units, unless the Axis recreates the historical practice of pocketing the enemy, and letting the lack of supply kill the pocket. A welcome change.
  • Not every unit has a zone of control. Maintaining a  front line can be a challenge, as it was in the campaign.
  • Simple, but effective supply system. There are depot units for the Axis player, with a variable movement allowance. That can really screw things up!
  • High replayability.


  • Different air unit rules – some have bases, some don’t have bases. I would have preferred a simplification here.
  • The rules are full of exceptions tied to game turns. The drag is exacerbated by the way the information is presented. Fan resources partially offset this, but it remains annoying.
  • Lack of setup sheets in the box. Again, fan resources to the rescue.


  • The game system does not have an overrun (combat while moving) and at times that was very frustrating. This is probably due to my inexperience with getting the best out of the existing system, but it is an aspect I will be looking at again in future plays.
  • I cannot help wondering if, for a future design, it would be possible and worthwhile to enhance the different chit system, whereby available chits are dependent on economic resources, rather than just the game turn. In other words, the sides could buy chits with resource points.
Dead pile at the end of turn 1.

Dead pile at the end of turn 1.

This is one I will return to. It is a mini monster, and to get the best out of it, I need to have lots more time available to play than I do just now. I can certainly see why it has been popular at Consimworld Expos.


Paris is burning

Notwithstanding the expected operation by Western security forces against those they identify as fundamentalist Islamist terrorists, I do not expect the situation to be materially different or better for the foreseeable future. To put it simply, I don’t think the people in charge (or their advisers) understand what is going on.

A shorter summary may be my tweet from yesterday.


Meantime, any reasonable, independent, objective observer of matters in the Middle East, would surely take note of these two stories:

The inevitable conclusion should be (another) wake up call to those who see Iran as a potential force for good, and those who see the PA as a mature, responsible, peaceful body.

Finally, the post by Paul M at Harry’s PlaceWhat will not be said – is a must read. He concludes:

“This is not schadenfreude; there’s no pleasure in France’s pain, no grim triumph. My thoughts and sympathy are completely with the French people. Jews overwhelmingly will be wishing France well and safely through this. Israel will be offering not only sympathy but whatever practical support it can. Jews en masse have consistently sided with western, liberal democratic values against their brutal enemies, not only because we would be the first victims but because that is the just cause. It would be so refreshing if Europeans would repay the compliment. If it’s too much to hope that they would do it out of idealism, at least let them understand that it’s the same ideology of hate that is gunning, literally, for both of us, two fronts in the same war.”

It may be too much to hope. As I said at the start, they do not understand.