Doing my small part

I’m at work on Wednesday a week ago, just settling in after my lunch break. For some background, I work remote to my bosses. They mostly work in Canberra and in Brisbane. I represent my organisation inside another group as the liaison between us both.

So the phone rings, “Are you busy the next few days? Can you be in Canberra tonight and stay for a few days?” Ha boss, that’s a leading question. Lucky I knew Mrs Mab was on leave and its still school holidays. “Boss, I would really like to be back by Monday as Mrs and I have plans for her birthday.” He tells me he will call me back. I call Mrs Mab.

About twenty minutes later he’s back “Canberra, report to work at 8am, we need some extra people due to bushfires support and with a big staff changeover as well.”

“I’m already out the door boss.”

And just like that I find myself (after rushing to the bike shop where the bike is having it’s 18,000 service and then home to pack a little) on the road to Canberra again.

Packed and ready to go. Plenty of spare capacity by adding the Kriega bag.
On the way down. While it looks cloudy, it’s clear, bright and warm. But the smoke is everywhere. The nearest fires are 10km or less to the right of the picture.

It wasn’t too hot, but it was there was enough smoke lingering in the air to make it look like a computer game, you know when there wasn’t the computing power to have long viewing distances in open environments and it goes all grey and fuzzy in the distance. And it got worse towards Canberra.

I spent about 4 days down there, working long days organising support to the bushfire activities around NSW, Victora and SA. It felt really good actually being more directly involved. I did keep an eye out on Friday/Saturday as these were bad days for the fires. The Highland Way was already closed, and there was a fire approaching the Hume between Marulan and Sutton Forrest, as well as another on my route from Marulan to Tarago. Kept an eye on these in case I would need to leave. At the time, the coast road had been shut for days, the Gt Western Hwy through the mountains was also under threat. It appeared that if things would go really bad I would have to drive Canberra – Dubbo – Newcastle – Sydney. Many more hours (say 10 instead of 3!).

After days of smoke, the first rain covered the bike in dirt. The next one cleaned it off though!

It didn’t eventuate. On Friday, the boss was “Right we now need you in Sydney, starting Tuesday. You can have a rest day Monday, then be in Sydney over towards Randwick Racecourse (I normally work near Penrith) until we tell you otherwise”.

So Sunday I head back. It had rained a little over my stay but it was dry, though cool, on Sunday. That was good as I hadn’t brought ANY wet weather (or even cool weather) gear with me. I had meant to, but left it behind by accident.

Crossroads at Tarago on the return. This day was cloudy, but the grey is actually smoke still.
Normally this is clear and bright.

Then this past week, and until told otherwise, I find myself commuting through the city. This is also a bit different and there is a lot of traffic. Filtering is a little harder on this larger, wider bike than previous bikes, but it is still achievable. The worst part is the tolls that add up pretty quick.

But again, being able to help out more directly with these terrible bushfires is kind of satisfying.

Would we have stayed?

New Years Eve turned out a little more stressful than expected. We hadn’t planned a trip into the city to watch the fireworks, rather a peaceful yummy dinner at home and staying to watch the TV coverage. You only miss out on the physical part of the fireworks – the thumps and thuds of the explosions.

About 6pm I was attracted to some sirens that sounded like they were getting close. We have a main road nearby and often emergency vehicles do use it and it can sound quite close. This sounded closer so I glanced out the window to see a fire truck come up the street, heading to the bush about 15 houses down.

With the current climate, it was with some dread that I looked down the road. About 40 mins ago, the wind had changed from a light NE breeze (that was really hot) to a strong southerly (but still, really a breeze) that had already dropped us from the 40ish to low 30s. There was a strong line of smoke from the bush to the south east of our house, perhaps a km away.

This is the view from my front door. The fire is just the other side of the trees in the far background, and burning fiercely, though we didn’t know that.

From our place it was hard to see exactly how big or where the fire was. And for about the next hour it stayed pretty much as seen above. In the meantime, several fire trucks came and went and many police cars. As well as many spectators. We also got a Fire Dept warning on our mobiles to seek shelter. It sounded pretty bad.

We made some plans to leave. I started to organise some belongings while Mrs Mab called a friend to see if they could put us up. I had no plans to fight any fire, we would leave. In this densely packed suburb, there is a lot to burn, houses go up really fast (and burn well with lots of terrible smoke) and there would be no real way out. Staying would be stupid if it came to that.

After about an hour the fire was marked down to Yellow alert, so we prepared dinner. By after dinner it had become Blue, the lowest threat. Still kept an eye on it, but the wind had pushed it away. It wasn’t until we saw some news coverage of the blaze, just over the hill, that we saw what we had narrowly avoided.

This was just over the hill out of sight.
It’s amazing that this massive smoke looked so small and of little concern from our view.

The next morning the mini Mabs and I headed down the cycle path to see what we could after the fire.

What we certainly didn’t expect was for the fire to still be going and have actually come closer to our house, now perhaps 500m.

What we found the next day. The firies are just out of shot on the left.

But instead of tree height flames, these were a much less threatening hip height or less. The firies seemed to be monitoring rather than actually fighting it. However there were several spots, including at the end of a cross street only perhaps 10-15 houses away. Again, these were well attended.

So as we go into New Years Day afternoon, the fires are still burning. We have some things gathered in case we need to leave, but mostly its a watch and wait. If the wind picks up and especially if it turns more westerly, I think we might just leave.

Update: (Saturday 4th Jan). The fires continued to abate and it seems the danger has passed. Though there are still fires burning in the forest nearby, these seem to be smouldering trees that aren’t of much concern. We will see what happens today (strong winds and very high temps predicted). Monday it’s supposed to actually rain.

So what happened this year – 2019

About Bikes

Really happy with my decision to change over.

Well the Ninja has been out and about. I’ve put almost 16,000km on her this year and sees me in to the 3rd service since I picked her up, only about this time last year. I really enjoy the bike, and have been slowly tinkering to clean her up and set her up for me (like the awesome top box). I have been to Canberra twice and Newcastle once, but apart from work or commutes, there has been little in the way of fun only rides. Still she suits me well, is much better for what I do than the Daytona.

The Daytona is missed, but would likely have seen a fraction of the kms this year. I hear that almost without being ridden the new owner has sold it to a person down in Melbourne. Hopefully they will use her more.

I also rode a VFR during the year and was totally disappointed. I guess I’m now a 100kW or more rider.

I found this a disappointing ride

I would certainly love a 2020 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 to replace this one, but I’m happy for now.

About Babes

Well I have one in High School now. A few hiccups at first, learning lessons about being responsible and planning your assignments but she seems to have settled in well, making good friends and doing well. The other is in Year 5 in 2020, which means High School too in 2022!

About Bytes

Well of course, there is the recently posted completion of BattleTech. Yay. I did enjoy that.

Lady Arano gets her throne back.

My degree is finished. I am waiting for the official results from the school, but to the best of my information, I’ve passed. I am now a fully qualified but not completely registered Primary School Teacher. Huh. That’s a bit different. (and the lack of study in no small way has contributed to the completion of Battletech!)

Just waiting for the official results

About Other Stuff

Dungeons and Dragons flashed back into my life. After a 30 year hiatus, suddenly I find myself Dungeon Master once a fortnight and ad hoc DM’ing for my daughter through an adventure. I am enjoying the distraction and my players seem to be enjoying my management. The accessibility and the ease of the current rules do help that.

And I think that’s a good summary of my year.

I am not sure where 2020 and especially 2021 will take me. I intend to slowly transition from my current employment into teaching through part time (at work) mixed with casual (at teaching) to ease into it. With the plan to switch completely in 2022. Let’s see what happens.

BattleTech – The Arano Restoration

Lady Arano rallies the troops.

The end of 2019 sees the completion of another computer game – Paradox’s take on BattleTech. Late the other night I had completed the third to last mission, to Liberate Tyrlon.

This mission saw my lance dropped into some mountains with a time limit to cut the power to the space defence grid. The added curl was that there was also off grid artillery which (I assume) would have a significant impact on any mech caught in the fire zones.

Using my usual assault and heavy mechs I was a bit concerned about about the time. It was generous, but the terrain had many choke points and there was ongoing harassment by the enemy. This would all add up to slowing me down.

I hit the first target quickly, then went up behind it to get to the next one. My lance was split at this point, with two mechs ahead, and two behind, cleaning up the defenders. I decided to push the leading pair (An Orion set up for LRMs and a BattleMaster, with a mix) into the furthest target and then the second pair would hit the closer one as soon as it could. This would be faster than trying to hit them consecutively.

The Orion, up ahead, triggered the landing of a reserve lance, 3 heavies and a light (an artillery spotter). At this point the two trailing mechs (a Highlander and a Cyclops) were almost right on top of the enemy reinforcements. I split my lance further, with the Orion taking the far target, the BattleMaster hitting the near one and the others holding the reinforcements. I figured two assaults could hold these clowns

The final power station came down with about 3 turns to spare. Mission successful.

Normally at this point I leave the story missions for a while and gear up. Instead I spent some money, picking up a Stalker and an Atlas. This would give me a full set of Assault. I also picked up a second Highlander. I ran a couple of missions, setting myself up with a cool climate lance and a hot climate lance and getting used to the new mechs.

So after a the famil over a couple of nights, I felt ready to hit the next story mission. This one is different as once complete you must launch straight into the next one, with only the resources available on the Argo and NO TIME to repair. (Hence the bulking up of my inventory). At this point I had an Atlas, 2 Highlanders, a Cyclops (as my leading lance) with a Stalker, a BattleMaster, an Orion as replacements (or if the climate was on the hot end) and some other Heavies. (I think a Cataphract and a couple of Grasshoppers). With a full Lance of elite MechWarriors plus several lower ranked substitutes I should be okay. I have rarely lost a ’Warrior.

The first of the pair is an assault on a comms station. Supporting a pair of APCs (who take over the fixed emplacements) and carrying my lead tech to upload some dodgy stuff into the comms array (in order to disable a Warship that will turn the battle from us). Supported by a couple of PPC carriers we attacked the base. Finding a Jenner, an Orion and a couple of other mediums, we quickly had control.

It did take a little while to deliver the tech as the Assault mechs are slow and the base was confusing to navigate (and I didn’t know which mech the Tech was riding). But she got in and got started.

Reinforcements arrived soon after, with a lance of heavy/assault dropping near the entrance. While my lance used focused and aimed shots to bring each Mech down quite quickly, they were ably assisted by the PPC carriers who had remained outside the base. This meant that to turn and attack my lance, each enemy mech had to turn his weaker rear armour to the caress of 3 PPC blasts from each carrier. It certainly helped.

With the clock ticking down for success, a second lance dropped in just as the first fell. These dropped almost on top of half my lance, but allowed us to focus fire them quite easily. A fighting movement rearward (we were certainly NOT withdrawing) allowed the mechs to open up to beyond their minimum effective range, increasing their damage, and the new lance followed all the rest.

In the story, the usurper gives up at this point, declares for our employer, Lady Arano, and it should be all over. However the usurper’s daughter, Victoria, issues one last challenge, fight or Lady Arano loses a respected and valued ally and advisor that Victoria holds as prisoner.

And hence our last mission. Lady Arano in her stock Atlas II (So updated tech like double heat sinks and ER lasers). I deploy my Atlas, a Highlander and a BattleMaster.

The fight is in an arena, with some forest cover, a few monoliths (to break line of sights) and a large pool in the centre (providing heat relief). I headed to the left flank and the cover.

The enemy approached, almost one at a time. I had destroyed one opponent (I forget what) when Victoria’s mech started to make its presence felt. A King Crab, with upgraded EVERYTHING, it was a weapon! As I killed the second from their lance, my personal mech, the Atlas, had its head destroyed in a single volley. Ouch. We were now 3 vs 2.

Time to switch tactics. I moved my mechs into the water, breaking line of sight with the Awesome that was also still fighting. It also improved my lance’s rate of fire. I left Lady Arano up the bank in cover to hold Victoria’s attention and switched focus to the King Crab, instead of the Awesome that I had planned.

The Highlander lost an arm, but the Crab was put down. The Awesome following soon after.

Lady Arano had her throne back. And I had an Atlas II and a fat wallet.

Lady Arano gets her throne back.

And I’d finished something from my backlog 🙂 Looking back, Tomb Raider, back in 2014 might be the last game I finished (or Portal in the same year).

Erm, 5 years ago. Even this seems to have taken me about 18 months. Still in the same time I’ve also completed another degree.

In all I have enjoyed the game. It does take ages to load every time you go from boot, to Argo to mission and back. But having played the tabletop so long ago, this felt like a great version of that. I’m not sure about post campaign as there just isn’t the impetus to keep playing at this point. We’ll see.

Smoke.

Red Sunrise (about 3 weeks ago)

This is by far the worst bushfire season I can recall. Now I know my “bushfire memory” only goes back to about 1998, but even with a few big ones in that time (like the Winmalee fire, the massive Canberra fire and one over near Holsworthy) I feel like this is worse. Because each fire is lasting a long time, there are so many at once and they started “early”.

Smoke has affected Sydney, especially Western Sydney (where I work and live) almost every day, for over 4 weeks now. Some days its not bad, but other days it’s like a thick, chocking fog. Even here, more than 40kms for the nearest fire, I’ve had ash a few cm long falling on my car and house. We’ve had fine white ash for days now.

One of the worst at the moment is the fire north of the city. It has burned through over 300,000 hectares (that’s bigger than greater Sydney) since it started over a month ago. It has merged with two other fires as well. All along several of my favourite riding routes people have been evacuated and roads closed. The Putty has been shut for almost three full weeks now. I don’t know how places like Grey Gums, the petrol at Colo Heights and other places are doing. I think that they are safe so far.

Here are the fires today (at about 2pm on Monday 9 December). The black areas are burnt or burning. The faint yellow line through the big northern black area is the Putty. Compare that fire to Sydney just below it.

I keep hoping they’ll open up and then I want to get a few fellow riders from work to go up and at least show some support. But the road stays shut.

Alongside the Putty, the road on the northern side of Wiseman’s Ferry is shut, all the way to Mangrove Mountain. The road from Broke, through Wollombi and to Bucketty is shut too.

Further away, there are fires near Canberra and Bateman’s Bay. I don’t know if any homes have been lost, but I suspect that especially in the Bay fire that some have, it’s just too close to those towns to have been able to save everything.

So the worst bushfires I can remember (and many others as well) are just going on and on. It’s only early December and the summer heat hasn’t started yet. I just hope the fireies can keep going!

Smoke and Sunset (about a week ago)
On the M4, Eastbound on Friday afternoon. I had stopped to wipe ash from my eyes. I’m about 40-50km from the fires and headed away from them!
What it usually look like compared to about 3 weeks ago. Today, this view is even MORE smokey and you cannot even vaguely see the buildings below the hill.

DnD – Updates galore!

Ah, it has been a while and I apologise. I’ve been very busy finishing my degree (only a few days before my very last assessment is due).

So The Phandelvers have continued, with the lead party recounts attached below.

As for the girls one, that has sadly sat on the side a little with my own time pressures and their school term starting back up again.

However, they are in the middle of some minor tasks around the campaign. They’ve visited the Hag, neither group thought to ask it a different question. The girls have also visited the traveling mage and provided feedback to the town. Lastly they found their way to Thundertree village and started looking about. They’re not too keen on engaging the spiders or the dragon (unlike another bunch I know!)

However both groups now know where Cragmaw Castle is, and the “not my girls group” now have someone to guide them to the mine, both groups are soon to head into the final chapter of this adventure. Exciting times….

DnD: The Next Campaign

So Miss 12 has talked about being interested in a more farming/business type adventure next. Something where she can build up something.

So I have been tossing ideas about in my head and have the start of something to run past you all…

She receives a letter from a lawyer in Waterdeep that she has inherited a shop from a distant relative. She arrives at the shop to find a small curio shop, in a quiet part of town.

A range of ideas have spawned from here. things like

  • customer comes in with something to sell -is it rare, magical, stolen, and does that cause trouble for the shopkeeper?
  • is someone chasing something that is in the shop? Perhaps there are some break ins or standover tactics?
  • is there something in the shop that’s cursed/magical and causing trouble in the shop?
  • does she come to the attention of the guilds or of one of the factions of Waterdeep?
  • a customer asks her to seek out a particular item?
  • is the shop haunted?
  • she could go out adventuring to supplement the income or to find things to protect/defend the shop?

Some of these could lead to adventures around the town or further afield. I realise that it will be a lot of role-play, but I think she will prefer that.

She could advance in her guild, or in renown in the city. Perhaps she starts to take over other business, building an empire!

I’ve picked up Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, mostly to get the flavour and information about Waterdeep, but I’ve realised I can even tie her into that adventure from the Fireball incident. I can use some of the other missions and the like as well, or just use the detail of the town.

I’ve also considered creating a couple of handouts, like a ledger from the shop, listing everything in it. Something like that will really tickle her fancy I think. Maybe some maps or drawings of curious items. Investigating one of these items might lead to an adventure itself (markings on a medallion, a map in a scroll case…)

Open to ideas and suggestions. I have some time as they’re only in Act Two of Phandelver, but I’d like to get a skeleton done soon.

DnD: The Phandelvers…..

So three game reports for you. First up, parts 4 & 5 of the lead game.

But not to be left out, the girls have pushed through their very different game…

Their party headed back to one of the earlier rooms, surprising a pair of bugbears that were tormenting a goblin. The goblin fainted when they burst in and was not in the fight at all.

And again the girls played it differently, knocking the last bugbear out. Interrogating both the bugbear and goblin when they woke up, the party has learnt a lot about the hideout, including that there are other secret doors, where Cragmaw Castle is (the lead party don’t have many clues on this yet), where Glassstaff is and what opposition is left in the Redbrands hideout.

Leaving the bugbear all tied up (and probably dieing from his wounds) they approached the nearby barracks and made short work of the Redbrands in there too. (DM Note: I think I might be softening the opponents up too much, maybe for both groups). Again they interrogated a dieing one, but learnt little new.

Slowly getting through the Manor.

Now they are headed for Glassstaff, but unlike the main party, they have a chance to surprise him by having the goblin show them the secret ways into his rooms.

The gnome, the dwarf and the teifling are stacked ready to enter the next secret door…

Not sure when the girls next round will be. The lead party will be just less than two weeks away (we play on a fortnightly schedule).

Almost There

So yesterday I handed in what should be my last assignment for my Masters. Still about 2 months of study left. I have a practical to complete and there is some paperwork and analysis of my practical that must also be submitted, but the assessments are done.

Well, that assumes that I pass.

So now I need to get back into sorting out my registration as well. I’d like to have that completed by the end of this year.

But after 2 years of study and about 4 years real time (because I spent almost 1 year on the bachelor degree, and then 6months forced break due to work). Hmm, changing to the Masters didn’t actually save me any time in the end AND it cost me $1000s more than the Bachelor.

But at least it sounds fancy to have a Masters!

Almost there….

DnD: The Other Phandelver continues

The girls got stuck into their game yesterday. A few dropped hints by the townsfolk and they (finally) headed into the Manor. They have a very different approach to the other group. The girls are sneaking by default, and carefully listen at every door they have come across. As you can see from the exploration below this has taken them through the area with a lot of back tracking. For example, at the sight of the skeletons propped up in their caskets the party immediately withdrew. Not sure if they smelled something fishy there.

However, they actually fight quite well. The three Redbrands that set upon them in one room were forced to fight one at a time as the party stayed in the narrow hallway, using ranged attacks over the gnome fighter holding the front line (actually the party is conveniently sized, with the fighter a gnome, the cleric a dwarf and the wizard up the back a tiefling). Without any ranged weapons the bandits were forced to wait until the one in front was dead before they could attack.

My new gaming mat gets its first use…
The session ends after defeating one group of Redbrands, the party moves back into the cellar to decide upon their next action.

They’ve uncovered a trap in advance, found a secret door, and carefully moved back away from any door that had any noise behind it.

The other group just went left and opened everything they came across….

While no way as convenient as uncovering parts of a map on a screen for people across the country, the gaming mat is working well. The Manor fits almost perfectly on this sized one, but I am not sure what will happen with larger maps. (Maybe I need some more mats…).

And sure sometimes my bandit appears as a plate armour wearing fighter or my nothic looks remarkably like a mummy, (and my gnome fighter looks remarkably like a dwarf) but the minis are working well.

Until next game.