A word about one of my favorite games


I gotta say, tabletop games are probably my favorite form of game. I’ve played board games, computer games, console games . . . but the ones I always return to and am always ready to play are the paper-and-pencil games, the ones where you have to use your imagination and a great deal of wit in order to win at them.

There are plenty of them out there, and they continue to be popular even in this day and age of nearly limitless graphics and processing power, but there is one in particular that I really have grown a liking to, and that’s the old FASA Star Trek Starship Tactical Combat Simulator, or STSSTCS for short (I know, it’s not that short . . .).

I don’t quite remember how I got into this game, but I do know it was through Brad Torgersen’s site, the Starship Tactical Combat Simulator On-Line Database and Archive. While he doesn’t have the rule system, he described a game that I knew I would love if I were able to get my hands on it.

Motivated chiefly by a lack of funds to purchase the game off eBay, for at the time the game was long since out of print, I decided to try and interpret the stats listed on his site into a game I could play, and I think I was modestly successful, but I still wanted the actual rules. Then I found an auction which was not only reasonably priced, but the game was in very good condition. I snagged it quickly and was rewarded by one of the best tabletop games I’d ever played.

One thing I love about this game is the learning curve is quite shallow. It doesn’t take a long time to pick up the mechanics, meaning a lot of people can enjoy this game, especially if they share a love of Star Trek. It also means the game doesn’t get bogged down in procedures, like Battletech’s damage allocation system, so it’s extremely attractive to today’s gamer crowd, and you’re able to just sit down and have fun.

Setup is also a breeze, if you can photocopy the pages out of the Master Control Book, which has premade sheets for all the core starships. Otherwise, you’ll have to spend anywhere from ten to twenty-five or even thirty minutes filling out the record sheets for your ships.

The last main thing I love about the game is that FASA made a line of metal starship minis of most of the designs in the core rulebook. I’m really big into minis, so sometimes I scour eBay looking for a good deal on one of those figures. I don’t have much of a fleet at the moment, because the cardboard tokens that come with the game are, frankly, quite attractive, so I don’t feel the need to replace them with anything.

All in all, I’m quite happy I stumbled upon this game. It’s not a perfect system of course, and it’s ignored for the most part by The Powers That Be, but I’ve gotten hours of enjoyment out of it and have gotten plenty of friends to play it with me (ignore that chloroform in the corner . . .).

Bottom line, if you like Star Trek or are just into tabletop games, don’t pass up this little gem. Even if you don’t know a Klingon from a Kzinti, you’ll love this classic from the 80’s.

Brad Torgersen’s site: http://home.comcast.net/~ststcsolda/


Job search just turned up some luck

No ruminations today, just some rather good fortunes coming my way.

A week ago I met up with my gang of modeling buddies at the hobby store in order to build and chat, and then afterward we all went out for dinner at Chile’s. When we had finished our meal, I was asked by one of them if I’d had any luck finding a job.

I should probably mention at this point that I actually have a job at the moment. The work is fun and easy, I love my co-workers, and my boss is great and will always make accommodations for me if I need off for any reason whatsoever. Sound’s great, right? Well, there is one tiny drawback: I make horribly small paychecks. How small, you ask? Well, they come on a monthly basis, and last month’s check was (drumroll please): $40. No, I didn’t forget a zero. My entire month’s pay was forty dollars. They aren’t always that small of course, but the biggest I’ve ever gotten is about $850, which is what most people make in a week.

So you can imagine that I’ve been pursuing other means of work. For the last year and a half I’ve been driving around Wichita, putting in my applications and resumes in every place I can think of, and nobody would hire me. It sucked.

So last week I told them that I’d had no luck, and then my friend says, “Well I just heard through the grapevine at work that we’re hiring and designer, and you seem like just the guy we’re looking for.”

Where does he work, you say? Oh, no place special, just SPIRIT AEROSYSTEMS, one of the largest aircraft companies in the world!

I almost couldn’t believe my luck, and naturally I asked him if he was sure I could get a job there. He was reluctant to promise me anything, and I wouldn’t have believed him if he had, but he said that based on the work I’ve done that I would be ideal for the job, especially considering the time, or lack of it, that it takes me to build a model or draw a starship.

I sent him my resume for review that afternoon, and a couple of days ago he gave me some corrections to make. I just completed them, and am going to send it in Monday when he gets back to work (I only have his work email), then he’ll send it to the guy hiring the designers and put in a really good word for me.

I’m really stoked about this. I’ve drawn and built models of airplanes and starships since I was, like, five, and always dreamed of having a position where I could do what I love and actually make money at it! They say if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.

Wish me luck! 😀

Oh, and you might want to know why he thought I was qualified to do this kind of work. Judge for yourself:

Wulf-Faulken L-37D Osprey Keyring starship SCAN0288 ICS Moldy Crow

looking for employment in the field of Mechanical and/or Aerospace Design work.

A true, true friend . . .

Sad pony is sad . . .

Sad pony is sad . . .

Okay, I should probably get this out of the way right now:

I’m a brony.

Yes, that means I’m an adult, male fan of the children’s show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

I’ll wait for the inevitable groans to die down before I continue.

. . .

Better? Good, now let me get to my story before I lose all my nerve.

Currently I’m studying Mechanical Engineering out of Wichita State University in Wichita, Kansas. I’m told this is one of the best engineering schools in the country, and I suspect this is true from my experiences so far as well as the fact that this campus is home to NIAR, the National Institute of Aviation Research. I really feel I’m getting a great education so far, though one particularly bad experience I had a month ago really hit me where it hurts.

I was in a math class, Calculus I to be exact. This would be my fourth time in taking it. Wow. An engineering student who’s bad at math? Well, not exactly.

See, I’d taken the class three times previously and had different experiences each time. The first time, which was at a community college, I really didn’t put forth much effort into it and had to drop it because I didn’t give it my full attention. The second time however, I go a C+, which is a passing grade. However, I wanted to increase that to a B or even an A, so, like an idiot, I took it again Fall 2012 when I transferred to WSU. I got a D in it, because the instructor wouldn’t correct my homework to account for the astoundingly picky online homework submission software. Eight or nine problems out of ten would be counted as wrong, despite my own work being correct in every respect. This teacher would also not budge an inch if I had to miss a quiz or test day, which I did on two occasions due to a job interview and sickness. I even offered to come a day prior to the test day on the day of the job interview and take it early at the on-campus testing center, but he refused. After that, I didn’t even bother to do the homework out of spite. My final grade reflected the stupidity of that move . . .

The really bad part about this decision was that the school takes the latest grade, not the highest grade, when deciding if prerequisites have been met. In short, I would never be able to pass on to higher classes unless I got another C at least.

But this semester, I decided to do it right. I would go to class every day, do the homework on my own (I couldn’t afford the outrageous price of the online homework program this time), and take the tests, and hopefully get a B. I remembered most of the material after all, and despite not doing the homework I felt confident in my ability to do the work on the tests and make up for it. Plus I was attending every class, which the teacher said would grant extra credit, so why should I have to put up with the ridiculous program they use?

After a couple of weeks I started going rather intermittently, because it was all like an extreme case of deja’ vu. Everything discussed was intimately familiar, to the degree that I was able to do every single odd-numbered problem in every chapter on my own, sometimes needing to refresh my memory, but usually without needing any help from outside sources. I’d had the class three times previously; it was like riding a bike.

Eventually I stopped going altogether, attending only so I could find out when the next test was. I had a pretty good idea of when he would give them, so I would go to class a few days early, jot down the test day, and basically goof off until class was over.

The first test seemed to prove my method correct, as did the second and third. Every problem seemed to come naturally to me. I blazed through them, doing everything correct to the best of my ability. Some problems were not as easy as others, because I simply forgot to refresh my memory the night before on some basic things, like trig identities and other simple things. But I didn’t attend class the next day because I had a pretty good idea of how well I was doing based on how easy it came to me.

Then that fateful day happened.

I attended a class near the beginning of October, and after it was over I headed out, ready to get some more work done on a model I had sitting on my work bench. However, the teacher called me as I was leaving and asked me to stay until he could talk with me. I knew that would happen eventually, so I prepared to tell him why I hadn’t been coming to class — a perfectly justified reason in my opinion.

After the last student left he looked for a private classroom so he could talk with me one on one without interruptions. When he found one, he sat behind the empty desk in the dark room and asked me how well I thought I was doing. I told him I figured I was doing at least in the 80s. He got a funny look on his face and asked me where I got that idea from, which sent up a few red flags, but I told him it was because I had very few problems on the tests.

Then he told me something which shocked me to the core: my score was 43%.

I was too dumbfounded to ask him how this could possibly happen. All I wanted to know at that point was whether it was at all possible to make the grade up to at least a passing grade. He told me that, based on my test scores, realistically I couldn’t expect to even pass the class at all, let alone with a grade high enough to move on in my studies.

I was cordial, but by the time I got back to my on-campus apartment, I was a nervous wreck. I’d heard that community college classes are easy compared to university-level courses, so I figured I might have been fooling myself this whole time into thinking I was good at calculus. Even if I was doing great when I did the homework, it obviously wasn’t sinking in, or else I’d do well on the tests as well, right?

Before I go on any further, I need to bring up something which I promise is entirely relevant to this story.

As I said before, I’m a big fan of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. The stories are good, the characters are relatable, and the overall story arc is something I’m following with interest. It culminated last spring with the transformation of Twilight Sparkle, the main protagonist of the series, into an alicorn. The events in the episode leading up to this transformation however are of more relevance. The other main characters — Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, and Rarity — all had their cutie marks switched with each other, which had the effect of making them think they had each other’s talents as well. It’s not entirely clear in the episode, but they seem to possess memory of doing jobs all their lives which they actually hadn’t done. The result was that they all tried to do these jobs, but failed miserably. Applejack, the Earth-Pony farmer, was trying to make dresses like Rarity, the fashionista. She in turn was trying to control the weather, which was the domain of Rainbow Dash, who now is trying to take care of Fluttershy’s animals. Fluttershy meanwhile is trying to entertain the townsfolk, which is normally what Pinkie Pie would do, but she’s now trying to maintain Applejack’s farm. If you pay attention, you can see how much this shatters their self-confidence and how it completely deflates them.  Twilight shows up later however, and figures out that if she reminds them of their true nature, the Elements of Harmony will turn them back to normal. It works, and all the ponies are returned to their true destinies.

The reason this is relevant is I fully understand now how those ponies must have felt. I have always been good at math and been sort of proud of that fact, even if I didn’t always feel like proving it to others. It’s always come rather easily (which incidentally is why I never really wanted to prove myself to my teachers before; I already knew I was awesome, so why do I need to prove it to anyone?). But that was before I basically got informed that I wasn’t nearly as smart as I thought I was.

It got worse. I had only six hours in my schedule, so dropping this class meant I would lose not only my student loans, but my housing as well. But the biggest thing in my mind was that this meant my life-long passion of engineering was just not possible, let alone practical.

I felt like my world and my future was evaporating before my eyes, like the ground was crumbling beneath my feet and my hands had no purchase. It was truly devastating, and I was even starting to reevaluate all my life choices, including the decision to pursue engineering.

That evening however I had a conversation with a dear friend of mine via Skype. It was rather long, and most of it was me pouring my heart out to the guy. No real solutions were arrived at, but it felt really good talking to him. I felt like he had my back no matter what. Some people would be content to tell me, “Well bro, life sucks, but we all gotta deal with it.” Yeah, thanks, Mac. I got that. But this guy listened and tried hard to make me feel better, and it was something I really needed. And when the conversation was drawing to a close, suddenly it occurred to me that the lyrics of the song Twilight and the rest of the cast sing were directly applicable to that conversation:

“A true, true friend helps a friend in need
A friend will be there to help them see.
A true, true friend helps a friend in need
To see the light that shines from a true, true friend.”

It might seem like rhetorical, circular logic on the surface. In fact, that’s what I took it as when I first saw the episode. Then I realized the real meaning behind the words. When you’re at your darkest and there seems like no hope, when you feel like your dreams are shattered and your future is in grave peril, only the truest of friends will help you to see the light and guide you toward it, and this light of hope comes right from their heart and shines like a beacon in the night.

Yeesh, when did I get so sappy? I think I need to watch Commando again and balance it out . . .

By the way, you want to know the real reason I did horribly in that class? The teacher’s idea of grading is that anything less than perfect work deserves no credit. Attempt the problem but don’t get much farther than setting it up? 0 points. Get most of the way through the problem but can’t finish it because of something you forgot how to do? 0 points. Get the problem done but miss it because you made a tiny error in your work? 0 points. Get the problem done and get the right answer, but it’s not done exactly the way he wanted it done? 0 points.

This is the most unreasonable method of grading I’ve ever seen! Where in life will you ever have to have a perfect understanding of math? Where are you going to work where you don’t have a) the internet, b) your old textbooks, or c) colleagues who you can ask assistance from. Argh!

Oh well, at least I can get an exception and take the class again, and hopefully I’ll get a *good* teacher this time.

Why I think Star Trek: The Motion Picture is the best Trek film

Wow, heavy subject for my first real post . . .

Anyway, I’ve held to the idea that Star Trek: The Motion Picture is the best Star Trek film for a long time. Yes, that means I think it’s better then The Wrath of Kahn.

Wait! Put down those pitchforks and douse those torches!

Let me at least attempt to explain myself, and if you don’t like my line of reasoning, then I’ll tie myself to the stake. I’ll even soak the logs in lighter fluid, okay?


A long time ago in a bedroom far, far away, I saw The Wrath of Kahn for the first time. It intrigued me to say the least. To understand why, I need to first explain that I’m a long-time Star Wars fan, and for some reason I decided as a youngster that Star Trek wasn’t worth my time. Why? I dunno. Maybe it’s because Trek was more cerebral than Star Wars, or maybe as  kid I decided no other film franchise deserved to have the word “Star” in its title. I was a weird kid, let me tell ya.

Well, I saw this amazing film, and it changed my entire thinking on Star Trek. Trek was . . . good? Over the years I’ve managed to see a good chunk of all the series and movies, and have come to the conclusion that it’s a very good sci-fi series. But the one film in the series that I care the most for is the original: Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

This may sound crazy. After all, it’s got very few explosions (if you count the Klingon vessels in the beginning and the asteroid), no fighting, no spaceships darting around like flies, or anything like that. Also, it seems to skip out on the human element in favor of a grander story that is almost 2001 in proportions. But this, to me, is the greatest strength of the film and it returns to what Star Trek set out to be in the beginning.

Back in 1965, Gene Roddenberry was going around Hollywood and pitching a new show to executives. It was called Star Trek, and would be about the adventures of the astronauts aboard the Spaceship Yorktown (later to be renamed USS Enterprise). When Paramount finally signed on, Roddenberry had already written a decent pilot for the series, which was about Captain Christopher Pike and his adventure on the planet Talos IV, and it was way ahead of its time: the crew beam down and find a bunch of scientists and discuss all the advances in technology since they began studying this world, and to make a long story short, suddenly everything goes to hell in a handbasket as the scientists turn out to be an illusion cast by the inhabitants of this world. Pike is captured and is taken to a cage, where he is made to experience many fantasies, but through wit and courage he is able to escape his captors and make sure nobody ever visits this world again.

This pilot, however, was a complete flop. Nobody at Paramount liked it, because it was too cerebral for them. However, they liked the premise of the show itself and decided to give them money for one more pilot, a move which was unheard of at the time.

But to me, this was a tragedy.

I dearly love hard science fiction: stories about fantastic spaceships going out into the great black void and encountering wonders that man has yet to imagine, new technologies and their implications, and the idea of some day contacting another advanced civilization. The show Star Trek did have elements of this, but it also had a lot of cheese and lightheartedness.

Don’t get me wrong; I love the original Star Trek for those reasons, and still consider it one of the most iconic and beloved television shows I’ve ever seen.

However, I think I would have liked to see a show which was written with a more hard sci-fi slant.

The Motion Picture is just such a show. It has great mystery surrounding V’ger, and tells the story from the perspective of a group of people who are brave enough to figure out what this creature is and what it wants, rather than attempting to destroy it simply because they can’t understand it.

TMP has a great feel that no other Trek movie or program has, and that’s the feel of a group of astronauts who are venturing into the void and seeing what’s out there. There is a feeling of exploration in many of the other Trek shows and films, but it’s always subdued and muted, and the fast pace and action seem to drown out the primal fear that the unknown generates in all of us. TMP gives us that in spades: first with the attack by the Klingons, then the journey to V’ger, the flight through the cloud, the fly-over across the giant space probe, and finally the journey through the heart of the alien ship. Few, if any, of the other films are capable of this.

It’s also not afraid to let its audience revel in its beauty. Spending six minutes staring at one of the most beautiful starships ever to grace the silver screen with her presence is something I always watch in its fullest, like an artistic painting full of detail and emotion. The long journey through the V’ger cloud and probe is equally breath-taking, and all the wondrous effects that are used to suggest the electrical effects inside the cloud as well as the probe itself are simply awe-inspiring.

Lastly, like 2001, it shows us where we were, and where we might eventually be headed. In the scene with Decker and Ilia as he’s showing her the past ships named Enterprise, it conveys the idea that there is a huge amount of history that has culminated in a civilization that has routine star travel and many worlds in its collective whole. Then when Decker merges with the machine, we are treated to a grand impressionistic display of how we might eventually evolve past the need for physical shells and experience the universe anew in novel and mysterious ways that no man can conceive of.

Is Star Trek: The Motion Picture a perfect film? Hardly. I can fault it for its pacing, which, though I praised it for earlier, I admit is dragging, though the Director’s Cut fixed a great deal of this. The acting was slightly sub-par, with some places that just felt odd.

But this is not a huge problem for me. The story is grand, the set pieces are grand, and the way it’s presented is akin to the greats of science fiction before Star Wars made everything about action and lightheartedness (not that this is a bad thing, mind you). And to me, this makes it one of the greatest pieces of science fiction ever made.

But what do you think? Think that The Motion Picture still sucks? Am I completely out of my mind? Let me know in the comments, but please keep it civil.

Start the fanfare

(The main theme to Sleeping Beauty plays)

No, no, no! Not that! Something exciting!

(Mission Impossible theme plays)

No! I mean . . . well, what do I mean? Hmm. How about the 20th Century Fox Fanfare?

(It’s your blog . . .)

Fine. 20th Century Fox it is.


Welcome to my little piece of the internet, where I’ll be spouting off about whatever strikes me as interesting, informative, or funny, with some serious and not-so-serious bits thrown in for good measure.

I prefer to think of myself as a young philosopher, who tends to spend perhaps a little to much time in front of the computer, but my main goal in life is to become a professional mechanical engineer. If I can survive school, that is.

The main purpose of this blog and site is to give me a place to vent my frustrations, talk about things which I find interesting or entertaining, and bloviate on things that affect me on a personal level. Hopefully there will be a little something for everybody.

Anyway, that being said, sit back, grab a box of popcorn, and I hope you enjoy what I have to offer.