Who Goes There?

The classic sci-fi/horror movie, The Thing, is one of my all-time favorite movies. I’ve been wanting a board game based on this movie for years, and the collectibles company, Mondo, recently released a game that is exactly what I have been looking for.  It’s called The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31. It’s the first board game that company has ever designed, and they did a phenomenal job.

The premise of game is as follows: a group of people are trying to escape a research base in Antarctica. The players must sweep the base and collect certain supplies before they can take to the helicopter and leave.

There is a big problem which makes a successful escape very difficult, however. The research team at the base has come into contact with an alien which was discovered in the ice after having been frozen for 100,000 years. This alien grows by absorbing other living things, and can split itself into multiple, independent creatures. The alien can also change its shape, transforming itself into unimaginably horrific forms. With no known original form, the alien is only referred to as the Thing.  So, in addition to finding the necessary supplies, the players must also kill every instance of the Thing hiding in the base before they can make their escape.

At the start of the game, each player selects a character from the movie and takes that character’s file card and game token. Each player’s game token starts in a central meeting room within the base. From there, game play is broken up into rounds. Each round, a different player becomes the “captain” who must take on a mission to another room in the base in an effort to find supplies and kill aliens. The captain must select a number of additional players to accompany him on the mission, his choices being affected by the requirements of that particular mission. At the end of a mission, all players return to the central meeting room.

Unfortunately for the players, there is one more complication: the shape-shifting alien can infect, absorb, and perfectly mimic any creature it absorbs…and it has imitated one of them! The players absolutely cannot allow the alien imitation to leave the base and reach the mainland or it’s ‘game over’ for all of humanity.

And here is what makes the game so special: while the players are all trying to destroy the monstrous incarnations of the alien lurking about the base and then make their escape, one of the players is secretly an imitation — a Thing — whose goal is to sabotage their efforts. No one but that player knows who the imitation is.

Who is human and who is an imitation is represented by a “blood sample” card which each player keeps secret. Everyone is dealt one of these cards at the beginning of the game, and one of the cards dealt is guaranteed to be an “Infected” card which denotes that the player is an imitation.

The humans know at least one of their number is an alien imitation, but they don’t know who. Their mission now is to not only successfully sweep the base clean of other alien monstrosities and leave via the helicopter: they must also escape *without* taking along any player who is an imitation. The ‘alien’ side wins if they manage to sabotage things to the point where the base is in shambles and escape is impossible, or if one of them successfully convinces the other players that he is a human and is allowed to join the escape via helicopter at the end.

As the game progresses there are opportunities for one other player (or, in larger games, two players) to become absorbed and imitated by the alien creature also. Who the new imitation is is also kept secret — even from the original imitation.

A brief “Assimilation Phase” occurs at two points in the game: once when the players have swept a third of the base and again when the players have swept two-thirds of the base. At this point a second deck of blood sample cards containing one or two “Infected” cards is distributed among all players. Every player looks at his current blood sample card and the new card he receives, keeps one, and returns the other. If either card is an “Infected” card, the player must keep that card.

The fact that one or two players might have it in their best interest to cause missions to fail makes the captain’s job in selecting a mission team each round much more challenging. The captain needs to select the right players for each mission, avoiding anyone whom he thinks might be an imitation who will attempt to spoil the mission. Furthermore, because team captaincy rotates among all players, it is guaranteed that an imitation will sometimes be in charge of a mission!

At the start of every round in the game, the captain must take a random “mission” card from a deck of such cards and show it to everyone. This card lays out the number of players required for the mission and the requirements for the mission to succeed. Mission requirements take the form of “supplies”, which are also represented by cards. Each player has his own hand of supply cards, and every player selected to go on a mission (including the captain) must provide one of their own supply cards into a pool of cards which represent the team’s collective efforts toward accomplishing the mission’s goal.

Each player must keep his hand of supply cards a secret from every other player. Any cards provided to the mission captain must be given face down. Once the team captain receives a supply card from each member selected for the team, he must then shuffle the pool of supply cards for that mission so that he doesn’t know which player gave what card. After this is done, the captain then reveals some or all of the supply cards (depending on the mission requirements) to see whether or not the mission succeeds.

This may sound pretty straight-forward, but there are some additional details which, while simple, serve to complicate the decisions everyone must make each round.

In addition to having a specific number of players, missions also have an additional requirement which the captain must attempt to fulfill when selecting team members. The characters in the game each belong to one of three “departments”: science, operations, or maintenance. Each mission will require that a certain number characters from one or more department must be included in the mission team. This can sometimes force a captain to choose to bring along a player who might not have the right supplies, or whom he thinks is an imitation who may attempt to sabotage the mission.

Supply cards have both an item type (e.g. flashlight, knife, copper wire) and a dice bonus ranging from +0 to +3. For example, one supply card is the Petri Dish with a dice bonus of +0. The supply card requirements for a mission’s success take on one of three forms:

  1. have a certain number or combination of types of items (e.g. a knife and a fire extinguisher)
  2. have a certain sum or combination of dice bonuses (e.g. two cards with a +2 dice bonus)
  3. have a certain dice roll result (e.g. have a dice result totalling some value or higher)

Because each supply card has two properties — a type of item and a dice bonus — and because a mission’s success depends on one or the other, it can sometimes complicate which supply card a player may choose to offer toward a mission.

There are also some supply cards which are not supplies but “sabotage” cards. These will usually cause a mission to fail unless some difficult condition is met — usually requiring that the captain or team members discard certain high value cards from their hand. While imitations might carefully slip one of these into a mission pool when the time is right, it is also possible for a human player to end up with a hand of nothing but sabotage cards (one of which he will be forced to play if he is chosen for a mission).

It may sometimes be the case that none of the players have the required supplies to guarantee the success of the current mission when the captain is selecting team members. This does not happen very regularly, but it happens enough to be a concern when a player decides which supply card to provide toward a particular mission goal. To help combat this, after looking at the pool of supply cards for a mission the team captain is allowed to swap out one supply card from the mission pool for a new card from the supply card deck.

If the captain elects to swap out one supply card, he must keep the new card secret from even himself, shuffling the mission pool again. This can add an element of danger (the captain could pull a sabotage card which will ensure the failure of the mission) or an additional layer of obfuscation to the game when the mission cards are revealed to all players (i.e. is the captain really telling the truth about which card he swapped out?).

Further complicating the selection of supply cards to play is the fact that certain cards — the flashlight and the fire extinguisher — can be used outside of missions. These particular cards can be used in order to provide access to rooms suffering a power outage or to put out fires which threaten to burn down the base.

Due to the secrecy involved in everyone’s supply cards, every round of play involves a lot of table talk. Players are still allowed to tell others what cards they are holding…but they are not required to tell the truth. Imitations may often lie about what supply cards they can offer, and humans may lie in an attempt to flush out an imitation. The only glimpses of truth are when some or all of the supply cards put toward a mission are revealed at the end of that mission.
When a mission succeeds, one of three things may happen:

  1. the team captain will receive some sort of special object (e.g. rope, dynamite, or a flamethrower)
  2. the entire team will be allowed to discard a supply card from their hand and draw a new one
  3. the team will discover a Thing and will have to fight it

When a Thing is discovered during a mission, each member of the team (including the captain) must provide another supply card for a new pool. The sum of the dice bonuses on these cards determine how many dice the captain can roll in order to fight and defeat the Thing. Defeating a Thing in battle requires rolling three-of-a-kind or four-of-a-kind within a certain number of rolls, the difficulty changing depending on how far along the players are in sweeping the base. The captain can lock dice between rolls, but even this is sometimes not enough.

When a mission fails (or when a team fails to defeat a Thing after successfully completing a mission), the game’s “Infection Tracker” is incremented. As the Infection Tracker progresses, rooms will randomly lose power or start on fire. Furthermore, as the situation deteriorates, the humans gradually lose the option of performing up to two “blood tests” at the end of the game when deciding who gets to escape on the helicopter.

In the “Escape Phase” which occurs at the end of the game if the humans manage to clear the base, a captain is elected among the players. This captain is the one who gets the final say on who gets to escape on the helicopter and who gets left behind. The captain also gets to perform up to two blood tests on other players (assuming the Infection Tracker has not progressed too far due to too many failed missions). A player who is blood-tested must reveal whether he is a human or an imitation by revealing his “blood sample” card.

Several special objects can be found during missions which provide useful effects, but they can only be used once or twice.

The rope allows a player to “tie up” someone for one turn, preventing them from taking part in that round’s mission. If the player ties up the captain, then the captaincy immediately moves to the next player.

The dynamite lets the player increase or decrease any die result by one. This may not sound like much, but it can really come in handy.

The flamethrower is the most powerful item, and is only found in the last third of the base. With the flamethrower the player can add three more rolls to the current mission or fight, apply a blood test to a single player (the tested player shows his blood sample card to the person with the flamethrower only), or outright kill another player. Using a flamethrower to torch someone suspected of being a Thing requires a vote among all players.

I’ve played four games so far: two 4-player games, one 6-player, and one 7-player.

There were four players the first time I played, and the outcome really sold everyone on the game. The humans made it about halfway through the base before it burned down around them, ending the game. What was great is that the three players who turned out to be human were the ones who were all accusing each other of being an imitation throughout most of the game, and the one player that saw the least suspicion ended up being the Thing.

The second 4-player game ended even quicker than the first one with the base being destroyed while the players were still going through the first third of it.

In both the 7- and 6-player games the humans made it to the Escape Phase. Unfortunately for them, an imitation managed to make it onto the helicopter both times resulting in a loss for the humans.

In that 6-player game only five of us made it to the end, however, because I killed one of the players with the flamethrower. I managed to convince enough of the other players that he was an imitation (and he was) in order to torch him. The kicker was that at that point I was also an imitation. My successful killing of one of the other imitation players convinced the other players that I was human…so much so that they elected me to be the captain in charge of the final escape, dooming all of humanity. It was a lot of fun being the only imitation left, being elected the final captain, and listening to all the other players arguing among themselves and trying to convince me to allow them on to the helicopter.

My only beefs with the game at this point are very minor.  There are some rare “edge cases” between rules that can occur and for which the correct resolution is not clear.  The instruction manual actually includes a list of most of these sorts of situations, but we found that there are still one or two other things that could stand to be officially clarified.

Some more optional rules to tweak the game balance between the humans and the imitations would have been nice to have.  Again, the game already does this to a degree by providing two Infection Trackers and having certain mission cards be excluded if there are too few players, but it would have been nice to have just a few more minor optional rules which players can use to keep things balanced if their gaming group is exceptionally good or bad and the whole bluffing and lying aspect of the game.

My last beef is that some of the components are not “color-blind friendly”.  I found it difficult to distinguish between the particular shades of bright yellow and light green used for the plastic player tokens.  This doesn’t really detract from the game in a significant way, however.

The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 does a fantastic job at capturing the theme of the movie and providing an atmosphere within which paranoia can run high. With every game so far there has been lively debate, accusations, denials, and a surprise or two in the end.  The components for the game are great, and the artwork is superb — everything is pleasing to the eye.  Anyone who is a fan of the movie and/or a fan of “hidden information” games like Werewolf and Secret Hitler should check it out.


Close Call With Hornet

I was almost t-boned on the way home from work today…at the same intersection where my previous card was hit!

This time, I was making a left turn and was clearing the intersection after the light turned yellow. Some clown in an SUV then decided to run the red light — this despite her being almost four seconds away from the intersection when the light turned yellow!

The rude gesture the driver made to me as she drove by (not visible in the photos) was icing on the cake.

Snowtrooper Progress

My snowtrooper costume is nearing completion. At this point I have most of the weathering done. I still need to weather the duster, pants, and belt packs and then touch up the armor pieces and webbing and whatnot.

Once I have all the weathering done and after doing a final check over everything, I will then submit photos for membership into the 501st Legion. After that I’ll rig up the electronics inside the suit (i.e. the voice changer and helmet fans).

I still might try to come up with a solution for the problem of not being able to hear well inside the helmet. I also have an idea for a cooling system that will help make the costume more bearable should I need to wear it indoors for an extended period of time, like at a convention or something.

The costume will be done this winter.

New Leather Jacket

cobra1sI recently purchased a bespoke leather jacket from a company in Pakistan called Mont5. I had been casually looking for a nice leather jacket for a year or so ever since losing so much weight and I finally found a great looking jacket on their site. I did a little investigating into the company and it seemed legit, so I figured I’d finally buy a nice leather jacket.

I noticed the company did custom laser engraving, so I inquired about getting a Cobra logo engraved onto one of the front pockets. The employee at Mont5 who got back to me confirmed that this was possible (for an additional charge) and was excited at the prospect of doing so. What followed were several months of frustration, but, in the end, I finally got the jacket I wanted: a tailored, top-grain leather jacket with a cobra logo etched into it.

As fantastic as the final product is, I have to admit that the entire process of getting it into my hands could have been a lot smoother. I have no choice but to lay the blame entirely at Mont5’s feet for delaying my acquisition of the jacket by three whole months (so much for wearing it over the summer). I really have to wonder what was going on in the minds of some of the people working there, given the very clear instructions I had repeatedly provided them.

Here is a timeline of how everything went down:

May 19, 2017

I email Mont5, inquiring as to the possibility of doing the custom engraving on the front pocket. I provide a photoshopped image of their jacket (taken from their website) with the desired logo on it.

May 20, 2017

Mont5 responds. The engraving is, indeed, doable (for an additional charge).

I respond saying the additional charge is reasonable. I also ask about a possible second engraving on the back, providing another photoshopped image of what I want.

May 24, 2017

Mont5 responds. The second engraving is doable (for an additional charge).

We email back and forth, hammering out the details. I provide Mont5 with a vector graphic of the Cobra logo.

May 30, 2017

Sizing and other details all finalized. The order for the jacket is officially placed and paid for.

Jun 19, 2017

I receive the jacket. DHL dings me about $75 in import charges (surprise, surprise — DHL are complete crooks).

Unfortunately, both logos are about 50% of the size they were supposed to be. This is very odd since I provide photoshopped images depicting exactly what I wanted. I contact Mont5 with my disappointment.

Jun 20, 2017

Mont5 admits error. The larger engraving that I wanted on the back is too large for the engraving machine, and the sizes for both engravings were not properly communicated to the manufacturing department. Mont5 offers to either refund my money if I send the jacket back, or refund half the cost if I want to keep the jacket.

I refused both options. I really like the jacket, and I am certain that what I asked for could be done. Communication back and forth begins. My contact at Mont5 agrees to look into the possibility of doing a larger engraving.

Jun 23, 2017

Mont5 requests the jacket be sent back while they work on making me a new one.

Jun 26, 2017

I send the jacket back. DHL charges me a ludicrous amount — over $100 — but I accept it as a sunk cost at this point.

Jul 3, 2017

I hear from Mont5. They refused delivery of the jacket because DHL wanted another $75 from them for import charges. According to Mont5, this is apparently illegal since the parcel is a returned commercial product. DHL doesn’t give a shit.

Jul 11, 2017

DHL notifies me that the package was rejected. Over the next few days I talk with DHL on multiple occasions, with each time the conversation going as if it were the first time I’ve contacted them. I’m not sure if DHL is just incompetent or is trying to wear me down to the point where I will accept to paying the import fees for Mont5 to receive the jacket.

I relay the hassles I experience with DHL to Mont5. They instruct me to not pay DHL anything and just consider the jacket a lost cause. DHL contacts me and wants to send the jacket back to me, with additional charges, of course. I tell DHL to return the package while secretly having no intention of ever accepting delivery since I’m not paying them another dime. I cut off all contact with DHL, blocking their number from my phone.

Jul 17, 2017

Mont5 informs me that there is no way they can print the second engraving on the back at the desired size. The initiate a full refund of the jacket.

I contact Mont5 and say that I’m okay with having a new jacket made with only the one engraving on the front pocket. I instruct that the front pocket engraving needed to be larger and re-positioned slightly.

Jul 18, 2017

Mont5 accepts the request to redo the jacket with only the one engraving which is small enough for their engraving machine to do.

Aug 1, 2017

Mont5 sends me images of the completed jacket before sending it to me. The logo is, again, the wrong size and position. There is also a minor issue with seams at the bottom of the jacket not aligning properly. I send back more photoshopped images showing exactly what I want.

Aug 4, 2017

Mont5 sends me new images of the engraving. The logo is positioned correctly now, but it is still not the correct size. I send Mont5 yet another photoshopped image of what I want, this time sending them an image of what I want overlayed on top of the photo of the etching they sent me so they can more easily see the difference in size (which is already so significant enough that the disparity should have been impossible to miss).

Aug 14, 2017

I email Mont5, asking for an update on the progress of the jacket.

Aug 15, 2017

The person at Mont5 I have been dealing with all this time responds with an apology and explains how he is in the middle of being moved to another department within the company.

Aug 25, 2017

I email Mont5, asking for an update on the progress of the jacket. Mont5 responds the same day, apologizing for the delay in the progress of the jacket.

The entire process is handed off to a second employee at Mont5, who sends me new images of the engraving. The engraving is, again, not resized anywhere close to what I want. I respond with another photoshopped image of exactly what I want.

Aug 29, 2017

Mont5 sends me new images. Now the etching is even smaller, and its position is no longer correct! I send them another image of exactly what I want. I am almost at the end of my rope here and am beginning to wonder if I’m just being trolled.

Aug 30, 2017

Mont5 sends me new images. FINALLY the engraving is at the correct size and location — almost exactly matching every single goddamned photoshopped image I sent them previously. Images of the completed jacket will be sent to me in a few days.

Sep 12, 2017

I email Mont5, asking for an update on the progress of the jacket.

Sep 13, 2017

Mont5 responds, telling me that images will be forthcoming within 24 hours.

Sep 14, 2017

I email Mont5, asking for an update on the progress of the jacket.

Sep 17, 2017

Final images of the completed jacket sent. Everything looks good. I request some more photos so I can see more of the jacket (i.e. the cuffs, the back, etc.).

Sep 18, 2017

More images of the completed jacket are sent. However, unlike all images previously emailed to me by Mont5, these images are on Google Drive instead of being attached to the email. Mont5 neglected to give me access to the folder on Google Drive, so I can’t see the images.

Sep 19, 2017

The additional images are recent as email attachments. Everything looks good and I give the go-ahead to send me the jacket.

Sep 20, 2017

Mont5 informs me that the jacket is on its way. I email Mont5 and inquire as to getting reimbursed for the cost of attempting to ship the first jacket back (Mont5’s website says several times that the cost to do returns will be paid by the company).

Later the same day I get an email from DHL about the package. This time the import fees are only $15. Great! I use the link DHL provided in their email to quickly pay it online.

Sep 21, 2017

Mont5 emails me the tracking information for the jacket.

Sep 25, 2017

DHL delivers the jacket to my house. I find this odd because I asked Mont5 to send the new jacket to me at work. I figure they may have gotten mixed up and used my home address provided by Paypal or something. I accept delivery.

Upon opening the package I discover that this is the first jacket that I originally tried to send back to Mont5. DHL tricked me into paying to receive the jacket back! DHL saw that the same company was sending me a second package so they emailed me asking for payment on the import charges — only the charges were for the package I originally sent to Mont5 which Mont5 then refused and which I then further refused to pay for to receive back from DHL!

DHL never emails me about the import charges on the second jacket that Mont5 has just sent back.

Sep 26, 2017

DHL delivers the new jacket to my work. I’m not there to pay for the import fees, so I have to go to their office to pick it up the next day.

Sep 27, 2017

I go and pick up the jacket. The import charges are only about $20 this time, which is more reasonable.

The jacket is perfect! I let Mont5 know I received the jacket and am very happy with it.

Sep 28, 2017

Mont5 responds saying they are glad I am happy with the jacket.

Unfortunately, they can’t refund the shipping charges I paid to send the first jacket back because they technically never actually received the jacket. Plus, they had to redo the jacket four or five times because of “logo changes” and are actually taking a loss on the whole thing.

WTF? I’m not responsible for Mont5 refusing delivery of the jacket I sent back, nor am I responsible for the inability of their employees to follow simple instructions. I mean, how many times did I have to send them an exact photo of what I wanted in order for them to finally get it right?

I let Mont5 know this is unacceptable, and they eventually accept responsibility and reimburse me for the shipping charges.

Despite all the hassle, I’m glad I got the jacket. I enjoy it so much that I’d go through all that nonsense again for it.


Update: I let a draft of this post sit for a while before putting it up.  Man, was I ever upset when I wrote this, lol.  I’ve gotten over that and am still really enjoying the jacket.  I’d definitely recommend Mont5 to anyone thinking of buying a leather jacket online — just be very, very careful about requesting anything customized.

Return to Minecraft

Over the past two-and-a-half years or so I have been keeping a persistent Minecraft world on my home computer. Every now and then I’ll start up the server and delve into my little Minecraft world of a couple of weeks or months. Every time I do I invite a couple of friends to continue their own creations. It’s been a while since I last played Minecraft, but I recently started up the server again and have been hard at work creating new structures.

Here is an overview of most of the “civilized world” in my server:
In the center-left is my main home: a large house made of marble mined from the Nether.  Some other points of note include:

  • The World’s Tallest Tower (center) – a cylindrical tower that reaches the maximum height allowed in the game.
  • The Great Southern Wall (center-right) – a giant wall which was constructed to keep the civilized lands safe from the desert to the south.  Just FYI, I build this wall before I even heard of Game of Thrones, so, no, I wasn’t copying it.
  • The Great Warehouse (right) – a sprawling warehouse filled with racks and racks of chest.  I was inspired to build this when the fourth Indiana Jones movie was announced.
  • The Obsidian Tower (upper-right) – a tower made of obsidian, built by one of my friends.  It is not quite complete.
  • The Missile Silo (center) – a large ICBM sits in the southern end of civilized lands, ready to inflict mutually assured destruction against any nuclear enemies.
  • The Black Pyramid (center-bottom) – a black pyramid constructed of netherbrick.  The interior is completely dark and acts as a sort of arena for killing monsters should the need for special materials only dropped by them arise.

There are many other individual structures too numerous to list, and there are extensive networks of underground tunnels and spaces which are not easily viewed.

Here are some more photos of just a few things built within the world.  There are many more impressive structures and vistas besides these:

The Obsidian Tower.
One of the earliest creations was a village containing a variety of smaller buildings.
One of the many bridges situated along The Great Road — an absurdly long road I’ve worked on which stretches out far to the East.
The Great Road features many beautiful views.
The view from the rear of my main home base. The Black Castle is perched atop a distant mountain, silently menacing the surrounding lands.
A cozy chalet along The Great Road.
A coastal desert fortress constructed by one of my friends.
One of my friends is currently constructing a giant statue made to look like the humanoid characters in the game.
An admittedly poor view of Little Egypt which lies immediately south-east of my main home base.
A view of the rear of my mansion. There are many animal pens and a good deal of farmland near my mansion which were built for resource gathering. The bell tower on the left was a copy of a similar tower I saw photos of online. In the distance you can see the Portal Temple, which was the site of the world’s first portal to the Nether.
A statue created as a tribute to all miners. This was constructed at the mouth of one of the many mines along The Great Road which were struck for the stone needed for its construction.
I mentioned earlier a “Great Road”. This is a project in the world where I have created a long, east-west running road across the Minecraft world. The last time I measured, it took about half an hour to walk from one end to the other.

This “Great Road” begins at the eastern coast of the area where everything started and runs westward. During this most recent return to Minecraft, a new megaproject was started in which The Great Road was to advance to the west, across the ocean. The Great Bridge to the West will be the largest structure in the world once it is complete.  It’s beginnings are visible in the lower-left corner of the overworld map near the start of this post.

You can get a feel for how long the bridge is from the following image. Here we see much of the known world, and The Great Bridge to the West is in its initial stages, reaching only 3/4s of its planned final length.

The Great Bridge to the West is not yet complete. Here are some progress shots:

Initial planning the east landing and overall bridge superstructure.

I decided I wanted the bridge to made up of repeating segments in order to break up the monotony of building a bridge that was identical along its entire length and to give it some aesthetic character. After a couple of refinements I settled on an acceptable segment design.

Here we see the construction of the eastern abutment and the prototype superstructure segment template.

Initial preliminary construction of three bridge superstructure segments depicting the three layers of each segment.

My friend, being a little overzealous, started creating bridge segments right away. What I wanted to do first was to just have the three progressively completed segments to act as a guide, and to first create a skeleton of the bridge spanning the entire length of the ocean before building the superstructure segments on top of it, layer by layer.

An overview of the bridge’s initial progress.

Construction of the bridge skeleton is temporarily halted when it hits a good-sized island. A small base of operations was set up on this island.

The skeleton reaches across the entire ocean. Without the segments filled in it is easier to count how many segments span the entire ocean. I planned to use this information to design additional support structures for the bridge (e.g. pillars, suspension towers, etc) but I’m not 100% what I will do (if anything).

The first layer of the superstructure is complete.

The skeleton of the bridge without the segments completed continues off into the night.

With the skeleton complete, the meat starts being added, one layer at a time across the entire span of the bridge.

Side view of the eastern end of the bridge. The building on the shore covers the entrance to the mine used to gather materials for the bridge and includes storage and smelting facilities.

A depot was built along the bridge at the point where the large island that interrupts it.

Beneath the depot are some buildings, farms, and a mine.

Prior to this particular megaproject (which my friends are helping me on) there was another megaproject in which a bridge across a sea far to the east was built. This bridge — known as The Great Bridge to the East — was, at the time, the largest structure in the world.

Here are some shots of its construction:

Initial two tower foundations are done up to the surface and the outlines of the bridge proper are being contructed:

Aerial shot of the bridge and tower foundations:

The tower foundations were build up right from the sea bottom:

The tower frames going up:

Tower outlines at night:

Filling in the towers:

Tower construction:

The towers dark and ready to be lit:

Lighting the towers:

View from the interior of one of the towers as it is in the process of lighting up:

Nearly completed bridge at nightfall:

View of the west bank approach:

The completed bridge as viewed from the east bank:

Near large constructions like this I usually create a small home base. Here’s the interior of the one near this project:

Another megaproject in the world is the East Gate.

Custom Soundboard

I recently purchased a small circuit board (the FN-BC10-PN) which can play up to ten custom sounds. Each sound is linked to an open circuit to which you can wire up a button. You can plug the thing into your computer as a USB device, upload the files, then disconnect the device and use it on its own as a little sound player.  You can wire up power to it directly or use a USB power source, and you can wire up a small speaker or plug in a set of headphones for output.  The thing even supports serial communication so that you can hard-wire it to a computer (think Arduino) and control it programmatically.

I’m keeping my plans for its use a secret at the moment (nothing nefarious, I assure you).  If my idea works out, I’ll definitely make a post about it.  Don’t expect anything too soon, though.


I came across a problem with the device, however, and I wanted to record the solution so that others who are experiencing the same issue might get their issue resolved.

The device worked fine at first, but it stopped playing sounds after plugging it into my computer and then removing it. I can’t recall if it stopped working after the first time I plugged it in, or if it took a couple of times. I used the Windows option to safely eject the device; maybe that caused the problem? Anyway, the basic problem is that the board stops working after you plug it into a computer — even if you don’t modify the contents of the board’s memory.

What normally happens when you use the device is that it flashes a tiny light on the board when it is playing a sound. After plugging the thing into Windows once and removing it, the device no longer played sounds, and the little light no longer flashed.

After emailing back and forth with someone from the website I bought the thing from, I was eventually provided with a solution which worked.

Normally you place the sound files in the root folder of the device’s memory: up to ten files named 001.mp3 to 010.mp3 (.wav files are also supported). The device comes with ten default mp3s in the root folder, so you don’t actually have to upload any files in order to test the board once you get it.

The solution to the problem I experienced was to create ten subfolders in the root directory numbered 01 through 10, and to then move the corresponding mp3 file into each directory (e.g. 001.mp3 into subfolder 01). That’s it.

If anyone out there is having problems with their FN-BC10 not working anymore after plugging it into a computer, this is how you solve the problem.

The guy I emailed said something about Windows putting a hidden file or something on the drive when you plug it in, and that this was the cause of the problem. I’m going to have to investigate what that’s all about.



X-wing: Cobra

Not content with ruling the entire world, Cobra Commander has set his sights on outer space!  Piloted by highly trained Star-Vipers, this new fighter — Codenamed Nemesis — extends Cobra Command’s grasp to the stars.

I painted a Kihraxz fighter from the X-wing Miniatures Game over the past couple of days.  I wanted to come up with a color scheme that would look nice, and it occurred to me to try the common colors used in a lot of old Cobra vehicles from the early 80s G.I. Joe toy line.  I think it turned out rather well.

The Cobra insignias on the side didn’t turn out as well as I’d like.  I created them using water-slide decal paper I purchased for my laser printer. The decal material is very thin and transparent, and the dark blue background of the ship overpowered the thin layer of toner that was printed onto it. To remedy this I tried to hand-paint parts of the Cobra symbol so that they would show through the decal. It worked quite well, but my estimates on the size of the logos was not quite spot on.

Original paint job:

“Cobra” paint job:        I wish my smartphone could take better quality photos. So much of the detail is lost in these images.

I like this color scheme and I may try it out on more ships.