Litko Building

I’ve been adding to my collection of buildings for Pulp games.  In a very general, abstract, nostalgic way, I’m working on constructing the town of Granville, IL, which is a small town near where I spent my Summers as a kid.  I’m not being overly “realistic,” but looking for the right feel of a 1200-person town with a single main street. 

Finished Litko pizzeria
Finished Litko pizzeria. Each of the floors comes apart. The company also sells windows to go in the holes.

I’ve become a big fan of the Litko building kits.  They are laser-cut, hard wood kits that have brick and other detail scribed into them.  They assemble and paint quickly.  For Christmas, my parents got me another of the 2-story buildings, the pizzeria, and the small garage.  The garage is on the project table, but I finished the pizzeria.  My daughter did the dry brushing of the bricks, and I painted in the detail. 

Close-up of front door
Close-up of the front door. I didn't use the sign that came with the kit, but instead decided to make my grandmother the proprietor.

I’ll post a picture of the garage when I finish it.  I’m hoping to run a large pulp game in the Fall some time at a HAWKs night.

War Rocket!

Since this project was announced by Hydra about two years ago, I’ve been excited about it.  I’m a huge fan of the old movie serials from the 40’s and 50’s, having quite a few of them on DVD.  While I was in Iraq, my wife ordered some of the ships for me for my birthday.  By the time I redeployed, Hydra had released a few more ships and the rules.  The rules and additional ships arrived while I was on vacation, but I was able to get them painted and ready for their first game for last Friday’s HAWKs night.

Zenithian Fleet
The Zenithian Fleet, which is the only one that has all four classes of ships available
Valkeeri Fleet
The Valkeeri Fleet. For some reasons no matter what I did the purple washed out on these photos. They're brighter in person.
Galacteers
The Galacteer Class III and three Class I ships. The Class III was the slowest ship on the table, but the Class I's were the fastest
Imperial Fleet
An Imperial Class II and several Class I ships. Don't these look like they are straight out of the Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon serials?

These ships were very fun to paint.  There is enough detail to help with the brushing, but not so much detail that they get gunky when painting them.    I was able to paint all four fleets in a weekend.

So…  I signed up to run War Rocket at a HAWKs night before I had even primed the ships.  There’s nothing like a deadline to increase focus.  Having never played the game, I ran two iterations for the club.  As this was our first go at the rules, I paired up the four fleets into two alliances (Valkeeri and Galacteers vs. Imperials and Zenithians) and ran a “meeting engagement.”

Duncan Adams moving his Imperials
Duncan Adams moving his Imperials between the planet my 11-year old daughter made and an asteroid field

We didn’t play with the rule about delaying your actions until the next turn for this introductory game.  We found that all the fleets had nice plusses and minuses to them that made them interesting.  Our feeling though is that the forward only fire of the smaller Valkeeri ships put them at a bit of a disadvantage compared to the others.  I think my favorite fleet is the Zenithians.

Valkeeri ship "slingshotting" around planet
Valkeeri ship "slingshotting" around planet

I made this planet from a styrofoam ring and ball from the floral section of the craft store.  I like the effect.

Chris Palmer and my daughter Sam face off
Chris Palmer and my daughter, Sam, face off

Chris suggested that I put sparkly pipe cleaners sticking out the back of all the ships.  That might be a neat effect as well.

Fur ball near the end of the second game
"Fur Ball" near the end of the second game

I think we all had a good time with the rules.  They’re simple, fast, and bloody, but there is enough nuance and detail to make the games interesting.  It’s a step down in detail and complication from Firestorm Armada that the HAWKs started playing while I was deployed.  I like the feel of the game and the speed of play.  While we found a few typos in the quick reference sheet, we all picked up the rules quickly.  With four fleets of about 8 ships per fleet, we were able to complete two games in about three hours.

I eagerly await the release of the missing ships and the two new fleets.  A combination of Class III and IV ships are needed to complete the Imperial, Galacteer, and Valkeeri fleets.  I have six Class I ships per fleet, a Class II, and where available, a Class III and IV for each.  I think the right composition is six Class I, three Class II, two Class III, and one Class IV per fleet.  When the new ships are available, I’ll purchase enough additional ones to put this together for each fleet.

This game gets a thumbs up.  I recommend it.

Saw More of the West

After visiting Mount Rushmore and Devil’s Tower we headed across the Rocky Mountains to Yellowstone National Park.  The first night we stayed in the Mammoth Springs Lodge.  The room was VERY small and had a bathroom down the hall.  The Mammoth springs were very fascinating.  As the steam and water push their way to the surface, they bring various minerals with them that form interesting terraced structures or form multi-colored pools.  Below is a picture of one of the multi-colored pools.  You can see all the steam rising up from the nearly-boiling water.
Steam Vent at Yellow Stone
One of Many Multi-Colored Pools at Geyser Basin

Of course we saw Old Faithful Geyser.  Old Faithful is not as clock-like reliable as it once was because of an earthquake in the 80’s that changed the underground “plumbing” of the geyser area.  Still, if goes off every 90 minutes or so.  Not far from Old Faithful, however, is a much more impressive geyser, the Grand Geyser, which blows about every 11 hours.  We were lucky enough to catch the 15-minute, 40-feet tall event.  Tremendous!

The next two nights we stayed in one of the cabins in Old Faithful Lodge.  These too were quite small.  Bathrooms and showers were in another building.  It was fun going to the bathroom in the middle of the night with a flashlight hoping to not run into a bear or moose.  In the evenings we gathered in Old Faithful Lodge at a small table in the common area.  From there we had a picture-window view of the gyser.  Since it was cold in the evenings, it was good to be inside.  We had bought a brick of cheese and a box of crackers and played dominoes all evening while watching the occasional geyser eruption.

Dominoes in Old Faithful Lodge
Each Evening We Gathered in Old Faithful Lodge for Cheese and Crackers, Dominoes, and a Great View of Old Faithful

 One of the best things we did at Yellowstone was get off the beaten path.  We took a three-mile hike to find the Fern Cascades.  The trail head was not well marked, but the trail was.  We saw no other people for three hours as we hiked through the woods and found the “falls.”  In fact it was so quiet, the kids and I started singing Kingston Trio songs to ensure we didn’t surprise a bear.  We left Yellowstone after three days in the park.  On the way out the South gate toward the Grand Tetons, we passed by the waterfall shown below.  There was a lot of dead-fall stretching two thirds of the way across the river below the falls, so of course, the kids had to climb out on it.

Buck at Water Fall
This is Me in Front of a Waterfall Not Far from the South Entrance to Yellowstone.

 We saw elk, deer, beaver, sheep, bison, and bear in Yellowstone, but we didn’t see any moose.  Finally on our second day in the Grand Teton National Park we saw a moose during our float trip down the Snake River.  We also saw three bald eagles perched in trees.  The views in the Grand Tetons were superb.

Moose
Moose Seen from Float Trip Down the Snake River in the Grand Tetons National Park

 After visiting Candy’s brother in Boise, ID, we headed to the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.  We only had a day and a half there, which was about a day too short.  This place was probably the most scenic of any of our stops during the trip.  Incredible views and hikes.

Surdu's in Rocky Mountain National Park
Surdu Family in Rocky Mountain National Park

 On the hike, Candy and I kept a leisurely pace while the kids rushed ahead and climbed rocks.   Below is a picture of a hiding place that Sam occupied at one point.  The four-mile hike began at about 9500 feet and climbed to over 10,000 feet.

Sam
Sam Found a Hidey Hole During our Hike in the Rocky Mountain National Park

 From the four-mile hike we took another three-mile hike to a waterfall.  The picture below shows Candy near the base of the falls.  She and I stopped to take some pictures.  The kids kept climbing.  We looked up to see Sam dancing on a cliff just over the top of the falls — on the other side of the river.  It was too late to do anything about it.  We didn’t know how they got across, and they couldn’t have overheard me over the water if I had tried to call them down.  On the way back, however, Sam slipped on a rock and fell up to her chest in ice-cold mountain water.  Fortunately the water was only a foot deep there, so she didn’t get swept over the falls.  You can imagine the conversation with Tommy about poor choices that followed.  We let Sam stay in here ice cold, wet clothes until we made it back to the parking lot; we figured she’d remember the lesson better that way.  🙂

Candy
Candy Near the Base of the Waterfall Where Sam Took an Accidental Swim

 From Rocky Mountain National Park we stopped in Ft. Leavenworth, KS, and then spent half a day in Hannibal, MO, learning about Mark Twain’s boyhood and seeing many of the sites that inspired Tom Sawyer.  The trip through the caves was intersting.  We also spent a couple of hours at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.  The next day we stopped at a truck stop for gas and drinks.  A man in the truck stop had just won a prize from the claw machine.  Since his kid didn’t want it, he gave the chicken hat (seen below) to Tommy.  He wore it all the way home, including trips into gas stations and restaurants.

Tom with Chicken Hat
Tom with His Prized Chicken Hat

It was a great trip.  We have lots of photos and memories.  It was great quality time.  The trip home felt rushed, because I needed to get back to work.  While the trip was already 17 days long, another three days would have made it feel more leisurely, and we would have arrived more rested.

Seeing Still More of the West

Yesterday, 10 August, we headed set out after a really nice continental breakfast at the K Bar S lodge.

Sam and Candy in front of K Bar S
Sam and Candy in front of K Bar S in the mountains around Keystone, SD

Our first destination was Devil’s Tower, WY.  We were worried about getting into the park.  There is a huge motorcycle rally going on this week in Sturgis, nearby.  Apparently up to 500,000 bikers show up for the rally each year.  The Rangers at Devil’s Tower were well prepared for the huge influx of people.  Parking was well organized, extra stations were set up for people to get bottled water, etc.  While traffic was heavy we were able to get into the park and find parking very quickly.

If you are not an excellent mountain climber, what there is to do at Devil’s Tower is admire the scenery and take a couple of different hikes around the base of it.  The kids had fun climbing around the boulder field at the base of the monument for a while.   We spent three hours at Devil’s Tower, about an hour longer than we thought we would, but some of that time was consumed in just getting in and out through all the bikers.

Tom, Candy, and Sam at Devil's Tower, WY
Tom, Candy, and Sam at Devil's Tower, WY

(By the way, while the vast majority of the bikers look “different,” they were well behaved, quiet, and made no trouble.  Tommy wanted to know why all the biker women walked around half naked, to which we had no answer.  This seems to be a case of not judging a book by its cover.)

Bikes at the Entrance to Devil's Tower
Bikes at the Entrance to Devil's Tower

While there is debate over the exact mechanism that created it, the scientists agree that Devil’s Tower was once the inside of a volcano.  The outside eroded from wind and rain.  The long streaks that you see in pictures are the seams between long columns of once-molten rock.  These columns are actually hexagonal in horizontal cross section.

From Devil’s Tower we headed up into Montana to visit the Little Big Horn battlefield.  At the visitor’s center, we saw the 17-minute movie, which was pretty good.  The battle has a lot of maneuver, and I thought some better graphics and overhead maps could have helped understand what is a confusing engagement.  There are no step-by-step descriptions of the battle in the visitor’s center.  We drove the battlefield tour, some of which is on Park Service land and some of which is on the Crow Indian Reservation.  The drive along with the descriptions of events in the park booklet gave a fair understanding of the battle.  I would have liked more time there and some time with a Ranger; however, we had arrived late in the day and two hours was about all Candy and the kids could tolerate.

Buck near 7th Cavalry monument on Last Stand Hill at the Little Big Horn Battlefield
Buck near 7th Cavalry monument on Last Stand Hill at the Little Big Horn Battlefield

After two days of driving and site seeing, the kids enjoyed the pool with a long, curving water slide at the Rodeway Inn in Hardin, MT.  Today we just have a three-hour drive to Yellowstone.  I’m off for a six-mile run before everyone wakes up.

Seeing the West

After returning home in July, I spent a couple of weeks getting settled into my new job, meeting people in my new organization, and doing battle with the IT folks.  (After three weeks, they still haven’t gotten my Email working properly!)  I didn’t go directly on vacation, because 1) the kids were in a series of Summer camps and 2) we planned for our vacation to begin with our family reunion in Mark, IL, (population 400-500, depending on the source of the information) on 6-7 AUG.

Family sitting under pavilion in Mark, IL
Family sitting under pavilion in Mark, IL

The reunion was largely planned and organized by my Cousin Linda and my Aunt Margaret.  As usual, the Illinois part of the Serafini side of the family bore the brunt of the preparations.  As the Serafini side of the family is Italian, the reunion involved a huge amount of food, which included Linda’s famous masticioli recipe, my Aunt Margaret’s famous canolis, and something called bognacalda (sp?), which is reputed to be the first food dip invented.  Bognacalda is essentially garlic, anchovies, and butter cooked down into a paste with some whipping cream added at the end.  You dip bread, cabbage leaves, and/or celery into it.  You also don’t spend much time around other people for a day or two.

I also had a chance to visit the graves of my paternal grandparents and the old family house.  My grandfather was born in 1914, and my grandmother was born in 1918.  As I spent most of my Summers in Mark with my grandparents, it still feels to me that an era ended when my grandmother died two years ago, just a couple years after my grandfather.

From Mark, we headed West.  The first day (7 AUG) was a killer, 12-hour drive.  We stopped at Brooklyn, IA , where they’ve put up a nice display of American, State, and Service (e.g., Army) flags.  On these vacations, we like to avoid chains and hit mom-and-pop places, so for lunch we bought some ham sandwiches at the local grocery store, just about the only place open on Sunday in the town.

On the 8th we continued West, stopping in Mitchell, SD, to see the Corn Palace.  We arrived in Keystone, SD, mid-afternoon, after a stop for lunch at Al’s Oasis.  Al’s Oasis had billboards along the highway for miles, like South of the Border (between North and South Carolina along I-95).  It wasn’t nearly as large or involved as South of the Border, but it made a nice one-hour break.  We spent two hours in the Badlands National Park, including a mile or so hike and climbing a few rocks (which was authorized).  The scenery in the Badlands was amazing, something between the Bryce Canyon, the Grand Canyon, and the Painted Desert.

After checking into the K BAR S lodge in Keystone, SD, we headed up to Mt. Rushmore.

Surdu family at Mt. Rushmore, 8 AUG 2010
Surdu family posed on the Grand View Terrace at Mt. Rushmore, 8 AUG 2010

Arriving in the evening, taking photos was a problem as the Sun was to the left and behind the monument.  We were able to get a few good shots.  This photo, because of lighting, looks fake, like we posed in front of a green screen.  We were actually there!  In the evenings, they hold a nice ceremony.  It began with the park ranger describing the hardships of the 1804 Lewis and Clark Expedition, a 10-minute movie on the history of the four presidents featured and the making of the monument, and a salute to veterans.

The presentation and movie included more political correctness than I would have liked.  I’m getting really tired of revisionists who want to recast everything in terms of today’s social outlook.  The description of the Lewis and Clark Expedition harped on the involvement of Clark’s slave.  Lincoln’s achievements were overshadowed by the Emancipation Proclamation, rather than the preservation of the Union.  Roosevelt’s position on the evils of big business were described, but there was only passing mention of the Panama Canal or the creation of the national parks.  (By the way, it was the Panama Canal that was cited by the sculptor as the reason Teddy Roosevelt was included on Rushmore.)  Finally, I really wish people would just sing the national anthem the way it’s written instead of “interpreting it” like some Vegas lounge singer.

So far, this has been a nice trip.  We have a short drive today, with stops at Devil’s Tower, WY, and the Little Big Horn battlefield.  Then we’ll spend a couple of days in Yellowstone National Park.

I’m Home!

I arrived safely at BWI after a VERY long “day” at 2300 on Sunday, 18 July.  The day began for most of us at 0400 Saturday morning Kuwait time (2100 Friday night East Coast time).  Lots of bus rides, long hours on planes, and waiting to get in line to wait some more.  The whole process went quite smoothly.

We arrived in Atlanta about 0800 Sunday morning.  In 30 minutes we were in a bus heading toward Ft. Benning.  There was a short welcome-home ceremony in Freedom Hall at Lawson Army airfield, a quick lunch, and then off to CIF to turn in weapons an gear.  Many of you will remember the old days of CIF in which they played games with you about whether the canteen cup you never used and was still wrapped in plastic was clean enough to turn in.  Those days seem to be gone.  Clearing CIF was just making sure you had the equipment and it was serviceable.

By 1515 many of us were ready to leave.  I shared a shuttle to Atlanta airport with several other guys.  I was going to cut it close for my 1900 flight.  Fortunately, there is a state law in Georgia that no flights in or out of Atlanta area allowed to be on time.  It had rained somewhere in the Western Hemisphere that afternoon so my flight out of Atlanta was delayed almost two hours.  That gave me time to change out of my reeky uniform, scrape a piece of metal across my face, and get a salad for dinner.

My bags arrived (hooah!) and came off the belt quickly, so we were on our way within 30 minutes of landing.  Candy had a cold Vernor’s ginger ale for me in the car.  It is a short ride to APG from BWI, but I still had trouble staying awake.  The bed felt great!

Kung Fu Fighting

While in Iraq, during our copious free time (not!), I introduced a couple of the guys I worked with the Kung Fu Fighting, the card-based game from Slugfest.  In this game you get to throw flying, flipping, running up the wall kicks at each other.  It’s a lot of fun, and it was a nice break from the “Groundhog Day” existence.

Kung Fu
Rick Martell, MAJ Rhett Murhpy, COL Mike Linick, and Lamar Garrett playing Kung Fu Fighting

The Journey Has Begun

I’m currently in Ali Al Salem in Kuwait awaiting the “Freedom Flight” back to the Ft. Benning to turn in my weapon and head home.  It’s difficult to get the Air Force to do anything in a hurry.  They are also famous for “crew rest” that stops aircraft from flying right when you need them most.  Strangely enough, just about every flight I’ve been on during my tour seems to get to Ali Al Salem at 0230!

Tent City at Ali Al Salem, Kuwait

This trip was no exception.  We had to form up at 1900 for a 0245 flight.  Yes, that’s not a typo.  We had to be there 7 hours early!  By the time we pulled our bags off the pallets and I was assigned a space in the “VIP tent” (yes, you read that right a VIP tent), it was almost 0500.  Fun.

Anyway, I’m safely in Ali, and will get two days to read and decompress before heading home.  Looking forward to a real pizza.  The food was great in Iraq, but real pizza was rare.

I’m Heading Home

I have been in Iraq for a little over six months.  Later this evening, I’ll head to Sather Airbase here on Camp Victory for the flight to Ali Al Salem in Kuwait.  There I’ll wait for a couple days and then fly to Ft. Benning to out-process the CONUS Replacement Center (CRC) and fly home.

RDML Morneau presents my service award, 12 JUL 10
RDML Morneau presents my service award, 12 JUL 10

My tour here has been a tremendous experience.  I was able to really make a difference and get a lot done.  Despite popular belief and the dearth of coverage in the media, there’s still a war going on here.  US soldiers are still getting killed.  As the Science and Technology Acquisition Corps Advisor (STACA) I was able to help ensure the right technologies were brought into Iraq to ensure the safety of US soldiers.

Rear Admiral (Lower Half) (RDML) Morneau said a very nice thing to me as he was pinning on my award.  He said, “Many receive this award, but you earned it.”  That made me feel that my tour was worthwhile.

I’ll be changing jobs when I return home.  I’ll become the Military Deputy Director of the Communications Electronics Research Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) on Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), MD.