Thursday, 28 November 2013

Tensions in the Pacific

See China, this is the problem with drawing lines in the sand. Everyone else involved will just cross them to show that they can. A diplomatic solution is always the best option in these circumstances.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Greenpeace fights back

Well done Greenpeace! The travesty of Russian attacks on legitimate protestors against Arctic exploitation just shows how out of control the energy giants are in a world that urgently needs to wean itself off fossil fuels.

As for Shell's reponse, it is beyond contemptuous. If they should have learned one thing from the recent fuss over price hikes it is that they cannot hide behind secrecy and obfuscation any more. A debate over potential Arctic resources is preferable to allowing the grasping opportunism and cowboy behaviour that prospecting firms have exhibited elsewhere on the globe.

Cyclist deaths mount in London

I agree with Andrew Gilligan' sentiment that a little risk is acceptable when deciding whether to cycle as a form of transport. People do get injured and even die while cycling but the health and environmental benefits are fantastic and if more people took it up we would ease congestion in our cities and possibly even meet those emissions targets we are meant to be working towards.

However, what a bone headed way for the London authorities to react to the spate of recent deaths caused primarily by buses and large lorries. Blaming the victim is not the way forward and will do more to discourage cycling than any number of infrastructure failures.

A far more realistic approach is that of Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe who, while hinting that cyclists should be considerate to other road users, accepts the statistical fact that cyclist deaths are not primarily caused by bad behaviour but by the 'killing machines' that they are forced to share roads with due to a totally inadequate network of cycle paths.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Drox Ancients adds some much needed spice to the mix

So I was an earnest fan of Drox Operative. For a few weeks I couldn't be dragged away from it and blogged embarrassingly gushing reviews and accounts of my exploits. Unfortunately it eventually became a bit samey and I abandoned the grind for other games of emergent behaviour such as FTL and Don't Starve.

However, the release of the first major expansion, Invasion of the Ancients, has rekindled much of my enthusiasm. The alterations are fairly slight; one new playable ship, the Scavenger major race, the titular Ancients who have serious chips on their collective shoulders and a rather fiddly upgrade system for components using computer chips.

As ever the joy is not in any individual change but in suddenly being confronted with something new or seeing how a novel factor can completely rebalance a system's dynamics For example, I assumed that the invasion by a nakedly militaristic Ancient race would automatically lead to a union against them but, as in human history, jockeying for position and even outright wars between other races continued unabated.

So here is the inevitable account of how I got in in my first three Post-expansion galaxies. Having gained some familiarity with the setting I now play 'Hardcore' as standard.

Game 1: A fairly uneventful opening. Naturally I picked the new Scavenger ship to try out their new warlike model. I was pleased to find that the Scavengers were also generated as one of the resident races although they played little part in proceedings. I picked up missions in abundance and sailed to an economic victory with only one minor war to interrupt things.

Game 2: After this workmanlike beginning I was plonked down in the middle of a warlike galaxy inhabited by Brunt, Lithosoid, Cortex, Fringe and Hive. The latter were exterminated before they reached them but these vying races should have given me adequate cover to fulfil my secret objective of wiping out Cortex. However, in an unexpected twist they became my best and only real allies meaning that there never seemed to be an opportune moment to betray them. We ultimately prevailed in a major war against the Lithosoids and after approximately 50 ship kills and a couple of planet destructions I managed a Fear victory.

Game 3: The Herzog (the only Ancient race I have yet encountered) had made a brief appearance in the second galaxy but I had quickly exterminated them for declaring war on me. However, it was in this game that I saw what they could manage if left unchecked. Starting with a single rogue destroyer they managed to sweep the Utopians from a dangerous galaxy and establish a beachhead of two planets. By the time I moved to meet their threat they had already seized three planets in the next system and driven out all rivals. In an epic battle I single handedly swept them back to their first conquests. A raid into this territory found that they were in an unending war with the resident monsters there and by picking off their weakened fighters I managed a Legend victory. However, worryingly their survival meant that the Herzog 'emerged' as a race. I suspect that this will have bad consequences for future scenarios.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

The Heavy Water Coup of 1940

Now this is a story that deserves to be as well known as the legendary activities of the Norwegian commandos and British bombers that destroyed the heavy water production capabilities of the German nuclear program.

These actions explain why the Germans were unable to make use of Norwegian heavy water after 1943 but of course the plant had been open for nearly a decade before that. One of the reasons why the Germans didn't find a nice cache of heavy water waiting for them on the occupation of Norway is that the French government had already obtained the entire world stock, approximately 40 gallons, on the instructions of Lew Kowarski and Hans von Halban.

In the chaos following the fall of France and amidst the installation of the Petain government the two scientists smuggled all of the heavy water by automobile and British ship to the United Kingdom where it could be commandeered by the Allies. For a characterful and idiosyncratic account of this adventure read sections II and III of this interview with Kowarski in 1969:

... and just in case that doesn't grab your attention the captain of the boat that recovered the heavy water was a wonderfully piratical, bomb-diffusing Earl of Suffolk.,_20th_Earl_of_Suffolk

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Downed drone in Israel

Funny that the Israeli Defence Force have spoken out on this one. I seem to remember in the wake of the recent strikes into Syria they made the mind boggling statement that they were not prepared to comment on individual strikes (despite the implications for any attempt to monitor their compliance with international law).

I guess the rules are different when the IDF feels that it is being portrayed in a negative light. Obviously whether or not the Palestinian rebels have the capacity to shoot down drones is far more important than any moral or legal concerns in the media about Israel's belligerent actions.