Thursday, January 31, 2008

Furore, Choices, and Appeals

There was a spate of reports a few weeks back on the principal who advised her students to opt for ITE instead of attempting the 'O' Levels.

I have many questions and comments on so many levels that I find it hard to get my thoughts organized.

I often had this to say to students whenever they complain I'm demoralizing them with information about their results for a particular assessment. I just grin and say, "I would be delighted to be proven wrong, so please work hard." Most of the time, it doesn't happen. The principal was being honest, but the delivery could be a lot better. But note: crud dressed up and drenched in perfume is still crud. The delivery doesn't change the facts. The principal has to be very honest and say: this is what your seniors have gotten. Sure, there is a possibility that all of you will do well for the Os, but it's not a probable outcome. Some of you will get a pass, but a fair lot of you will fail, and many will fail badly.

It's just like saying that all of my body's molecules will move upwards at the same time. Strictly speaking, it's possible, but the chances of that happening are infinitesimally small, and hence not probable at all. Sure, there're lies, damn lies, and statistics, but used properly, statistics are just so devilishly useful...

Same thing for the 'N' level students going for the Os. There's a reason why they're in the N levels in the first place. And I would note that if the principal didn't tell them, the parents would complain when their oh-so-precious children get their (horrible) results and complain to the public: the principal didn't warn us! Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

In the very end, it's a free society: you make your choices, you follow them, and you don't complain when the results are not what you expect. You deal with it, and move on.

I should know, I've had my fair share of wrong(in hindsight) choices. The biggest one was probably not choosing Raffles Institution as my first choice secondary school after my PSLE when my score was just enough to get me in. I was scared of the financial burden on my family... only to realize I would have been subsidized. It turns out I qualified for the Gifted Programme, and would have gone to RI paying normal school fees if it had been my choice. Up till today, I'm still kicking myself over that decision. How would my life have turned out?

That said, even students who'd done well (qualified for JC) for their 'O' Levels have their own problems to grapple with. I remember every year the throngs of students desperate to get into SAJC, clutching their CCA records and certificates as though precious treasures that'll bring them to the promised land, walking into the General Office and sending the whole package into our files, where no teacher bothers to look at it when they have no discernible skill to offer the school. Leadership? Uniformed group? Clubs and societies? Pfffftttt... NOBODY looks at those files!

I'm quite pissed at teachers in the Secondary Schools, where they simply did not give students the full picture of the implications of CCA and their futures. The stark and brutal truth is that appealing into a JC works only if

a) your L1R5 is more than good enough to get in except that you chose the wrong JC as first choice. This happens to those who choose a top 5 JC, go there, then realize something is very, very wrong... everybody is quite kiasu, and you have to take 4 H2 subjects when you DON'T want to.

b) you have a skill or talent that the JC you're appealing into needs. Trust me, leadership ain't it. Not when you'll already be spending a lot of time catching up on your work to make up for your lack of processor speed, let alone have any time left over for the arduous council matters. Neither is rope tying, marching, nor the ability to polish boots till they shine. I have got nothing against uniformed groups (good preparation for NS for guys, and helpful to get to OCS, BTW), but as appeal vehicles... well, let's say they carry zero weight. That leaves sports and performing arts. For sports, it's pretty obvious. Either you have it, or you don't. For performing arts, if you don't play an instrument, that practically eliminates band and chinese orchestra, or any instrumental ensemble. Dance requires the requisite background, and heck, even the choir requires a good voice and the minimal ability to pitch correctly.

There have been quite a few times in the past three years where students come in for appeals through the choir, obviously desperate because I don't see any hint of musical ability in their appeal applications, come for auditions and recreate scenes from American Idol. Last Saturday wasn't too bad, only had one real assault on our ears.

The choice of CCAs also has consequences for those seeking a scholarship. Very drastic consequences, when grades are so inflated nowadays and everybody has straight As, leaving CCAs to separate the wheat from the chaff.

So here's my advice, for what it's worth.

In secondary school, join whatever you want. For boys, uniformed group is fine... but take the time for a second CCA in either the sports or performing arts if possible. For sports, you might not have the athletic aptitude. If so, pull out, play sports for recreation/fun, but go for a performing arts as a serious CCA.

When you get to JC, continue whatever CCA you had. If you somehow joined only an uniformed group in secondary school, quickly join any performing arts in JC that is willing to accept newbies(often the choir). Doing the above will ensure a very rich and varied CCA record that would look very good.
This is supposed to be gaming blog, so I should update more often. A big thing happening later this year: Paradigm Infinitum is organizing the very first gaming convention in Singapore! And obviously, as the local Btech rep, I'm involved. Planning has already started, and we're already allocated the 1st round of tasks for the local group. Hooray!

Meanwhile, managed to start teaching 3 of my colleagues. 1 is a returning player, and 2 are rookies. Had plenty of fun after school today, especially the Commando and Assassin that both blew up at the same time with ammunition explosions, and the poor Awesome that was pristine everywhere except its right leg...

Monday, January 21, 2008

Sunday 20/1/2008 Battletech After Action Review

Well, finally got to try out the Celestials for real. Kenneth was laughing hard when I mentioned I would be using them for the game.

He stopped laughing when I showed him the new configs I cooked up, at the time whimsically codenamed the 'Toaster' configs. They performed as I had expected, managing to hold a clan star of slightly less BV almost to a standstill, and if Jeff had been a tad more aggressive, would have won the game.

After the game, I was convinced that the 'Toaster' configs meshed well together. Now the problem was, finding a suitable name. It had to be latin, following the tradition established by the Invictus and Dominus configs, so I cracked my brains for a few hours before I realized it was right before me.

I first came across the word singulare in Jim Butcher's Codex Alera series. Singulare were bodyguards for commanders, and high ranking commanders have more than one. Finding a dictionary online that confirmed this definition wasn't easy, but I managed to find it here. An alternative definition also had it as singularly good, exceptional, etc. All connotations suitable for my new series of configs.

So, presenting the Singulare configs of the Celestial omnimechs!

Archangel C-ANG-O Singulare
Heat Sinks: 14 Double [28] 6 4.00
(Heat Sink Loc: 1 LA, 1 RA)
Actuators: L: Sh+UA R: Sh+UA 12 .00

Weapons and Equipment Loc Heat Ammo Crits Mass
1 Heavy Gauss Rifle RT 2 12 14 21.00
(Ammo Locations: 2 LT, 1 CT)
1 Light PPC* RA 5 2 3.00
1 Light PPC* LA 5 2 3.00
1 Snub-Nose PPC* HD 10 2 6.00
1 ER Medium Laser RA 5 1 1.00
1 Improved C³ CPU CT 0 2 2.50
The Singulare config of the Archangel makes it a dangerous mech to approach, and it has the staying power to close in and unleash its special brand of hell on enemies. For obvious reasons, it is the most deadly within 9 hexes. Astute players will also note that the HGR and LPPCs have their short range bracket up to 6 hexes. This is to make it abundantly clear to ECM units that closing within 6 hexes of the Archangel will not be conducive to their survival.

Seraph C-SRP-O Singulare
Heat Sinks: 13 Double [26] 9 3.00
(Heat Sink Loc: 2 RA, 1 LT)
Actuators: L: Sh+UA R: Sh+UA 12 .00

Weapons and Equipment Loc Heat Ammo Crits Mass
1 Gauss Rifle LA 1 16 9 17.00
(Ammo Locations: 2 HD)
2 MML 5(SRM)s* RT 6 20 7 7.00
(Ammo Locations: 1 LT)
1 MML 5(LRM)* LT 3 48 5 5.00
(Ammo Locations: 2 RT)
1 Heavy PPC* RA 15 4 10.00
1 Improved C³ CPU LT 0 2 2.50
CASE Equipment: LT RT 2 1.00
The Seraph Singulare is a slugger and close assault vehicle. The gauss rifle, HPPC, and 3 MML 5s are for long range firepower, and if anybody wants to close within 3 hexes, well... they are welcome to try with the MMLs in wait.

Deva C-DVA-O Singulare
Heat Sinks: 11 Double [22] 0 1.00
Actuators: L: Sh+UA R: Sh+UA 12 .00

Weapons and Equipment Loc Heat Ammo Crits Mass
1 Heavy PPC* RA 15 4 10.00
1 Plasma Rifle* HD 10 10 3 7.00
(Ammo Locations: 1 LT)
2 Light AC/5s LA 2 40 6 12.00
(Ammo Locations: 2 LT)
1 Improved C³ CPU RT 0 2 2.50
CASE Equipment: LT 1 .50
The Deva Singulare seems undergunned, but the LAC/5s are for anti vehicle and anti light mech work when armed with armor-piercing and precision ammunition respectively. The plasma rifle is another weapon to use against vehicles, and can also give unwary mechs a jolt when they suddenly find themselves overheating badly.

Grigori C-GRG-O Singulare
Heat Sinks: 11 Double [22] 6 1.00
(Heat Sink Loc: 1 LA, 1 RT)
Actuators: L: Sh+UA+LA+H R: Sh+UA+LA+H 16 .00

Weapons and Equipment Loc Heat Ammo Crits Mass
1 LRM 15 RA 5 24 6 10.00
(Ammo Locations: 1 LT, 2 RT)
1 LRM 15 LA 5 3 7.00
1 Light PPC* RT 5 2 3.00
1 Light PPC* LT 5 2 3.00
1 Light PPC* HD 5 2 3.00
1 Improved C³ CPU LT 0 2 2.50
CASE Equipment: LT RT 2 1.00
The Grigori Singulare is a dedicated fire support unit, and it can support attacks even when the LRM racks run out of ammunition, thanks to the LPPCs. Savvy players will use the LRMs sparingly while using the LPPCs for the bulk of their firepower.

Preta C-PRT-O Singulare
Heat Sinks: 12 Double [24] 6 2.00
(Heat Sink Loc: 1 LA, 1 RA)
Actuators: L: Sh+UA+LA+H R: Sh+UA 14 .00

Weapons and Equipment Loc Heat Ammo Crits Mass
1 Snub-Nose PPC* RA 10 2 6.00
2 ER Medium Lasers LA 10 2 2.00
1 Improved C³ CPU CT 0 2 2.50
1 Targeting Computer HD 2 2.00
6 Standard Jump Jets: 6 3.00
(Jump Jet Loc: 3 LT, 3 RT)
For the game on Sunday, I used the Preta Dominus, but after reviewing the makeup of the unit, I think a jumper that goes 6 hexes is good enough. The Preta Singulare is a harasser and skirmisher, not a real spotter, though it can readily rotate the role with the Malak Singulare. The Snubbie/TC combo is amazingly efficient for mobile light and medium mechs.

Malak C-MK-O Singulare
Heat Sinks: 10 Double [20] 6 .00
(Heat Sink Loc: 1 LA, 1 LT)
Actuators: L: Sh+UA+LA+H R: Sh+UA 14 .00

Weapons and Equipment Loc Heat Ammo Crits Mass
1 Snub-Nose PPC* RA 10 2 6.00
1 ER Medium Laser RT 5 1 1.00
1 ER Small Laser RT 2 1 .50
1 Improved C³ CPU LT 0 2 2.50
1 Targeting Computer HD 2 2.00
The Malak Singulare is another light mech hunter-killer. It lacks the jump jets of the Preta, and must be used with care. It is good for flanking attacks, but this is a tactic reserved for patient players who are willing to forgo the potential firepower of the Malak for several turns.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Sunday 13/1/2008 Battletech After Action Report

On Sunday, me, Kenneth, Jon, and Jeff got together at Settlers for a long overdue game of Btech. Estimating the time, I figured a three cornered fight with 3 mechs each was on the cards that day. I balanced using BV set to 3500, set to random.

Kenneth - Banshee 3Q, Archer 2S, Crockett 5003-0
Jon - Thug 10E, Black Knight 7, Catapult A1
Jeff - Awesome 8V, Zeus 6S, Thunderbolt 5S

A few things stood out immediately. Kenneth's force was arguably the most dangerous and balanced, with one pure infighter(the Banshee 3Q, which has, note this: 30 rounds for its AC/20!!!), one medium range(Archer), and one long range(Crockett).

Jon's force was underweight compared to the others, and perhaps a bit underwhelming considering the opposition.

Jeff's force was unusual in that every mech carried a large laser and a LRM 15.

The battle started with the Banshee picking out the Thug, and the exchange of fire as Jon and Jeff tried to bring down the Banshee was truly the stuff of legend. The Thug got a series of cockpit hits, and the pilot took 4 hits, and promptly fell asleep. The Banshee took a gyro hit, fell down, got up, and continued charging! At the same time, the Thug pilot woke up(on a target roll of 10, no less!), some alliances were quickly broken and formed, and by the time the dust settled, the Banshee was toast, but so was the Thug and the Awesome.

We ended the game soon after, but it was a great experience! We also learnt a few things: the Banshee 3Q is no joke, even with 6 tons(!!!) of AC/20 ammo in the left torso. The 3025 Crockett is one of the best assaults with L1 tech. The Catapult A1 needs good ground for max effectiveness, and the Thug is tough, but underarmed.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Celestials - Up to the hype?

Here's my review of the newest toys on the Battletech block - the Celestial series omnimechs. One unique feature of these omnimechs is that their stock configurations do not go by the vanilla sounding 'A', 'B', 'Charlie' etc designations, but rather ominous sounding 'Dominus' and 'Invictus', which are the two sets we've seen so far. 'Dominus' is latin for 'lord', while 'Invictus' is latin for 'unconquered'.

A quick search on the net yielded this excellent poem from 1875.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of Circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of Chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years

Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

-Invictus, William Earnest Henley

Would that more students have this sentiment...

Anyway, on to the review itself proper. I shall take a general look at the base chassis, instead of the specific configs, as they can be changed, anyway.

Some things to note about the Celestials in general. They ALL use double heat sinks, have small cockpit, and they ALL have C3i modules permanently installed... somewhere. Also, they are all named after angelic beings, heavenly hosts, or some such.

30 tons, goes 7/11/0, LFE powered. Other features are an XL gyro, light FF armor, and endo steel. It has a staggering(for a light mech) 9.5 tons of pod space.

Strengths - LFE makes it more survivable while freeing up more tonnage, ditto for the XL gyro. Weapons loadouts can be very vicious due to the large tonnage allocated.

Weakness - XL gyro and LFE makes it quite susceptible to criticals. Also, at 7/11 it's not very fast compared to contemporary light mechs that push their speed for all it's worth. Another problem is the limited amount of crit space remaining after all the new toys took them, which isn't helped by the space taken up by two additional double heat sinks. As a result, only the arms can mount bulkier weapons, and trying to squeeze in additional double heat sinks for energy-intensive configs would be a real pain.

Final Grade - B-
It's not really a scout mech, but more of a light mech hunter-killer.

45 tons, 6/9/0, LFE powered. Uses endo steel, with 10 fixed DHS. Has 21 tons of pod space!

Strengths - Disregarding the mech's appearance, this is what an upgraded Phoenix Hawk could be! Plenty of pod space, plenty of crit slots to put them into.

Weaknesses - For all of its pod space, it does not have enough slots in the torsos and arms to support heavy gauss rifles and AC/20 caliber weapons without splitting locations, and since the HGR can only be mounted in the torso, the Preta cannot mount it at all due to lack of space. This is a minor quibble, as it has more than enough pod and crit space for a wide variety of equipment.

Final Grade - A-
Excellent design with few weaknesses. Got a reduction in grade due to the small cockpit used. Of course, this is a common problem with all the Celestials.

60 tons, 4/6/0, LFE powered with XL gyro. Uses light FF armor, with 10 fixed DHS. Has lots of pod space - 28 tons!!

Strengths - Lots of pod tonnage, and lots of crit space available.

Weaknesses - For something that goes 4/6, you actually expect a bit more. Also, the use of the XL gyro makes it both more vulnerable to criticals, and more importantly, limits the use of the heavy gauss, restricting certain combat options. Other heavy weapons like AC/20s would have to split locations: not a good thing, but unavoidable. Armor is also not at the maximum, surprisingly.

Final Grade - B
It's as vanilla as a 60 ton mech can be. I would have preferred a 5/8 mover, that can fill in the speed gap between the Preta and the next mech, the...

70 tons, 4/6/0, LFE powered with Heavy Duty gyro. Uses endo steel, with 11 fixed DHS. 29.5 tons of pod space - scarcely better than the Grigori?

Strengths - The heavy duty gyro makes it laugh at gyro hits(at least the first one), which is one heck of an advantage given how many battles I've seen turn rapidly because a mech took snake eyes on the location roll, got critted, got the gyro damaged, and henceforth spent the rest of the game crawling on the ground. Has max armor, always a plus. The 11 DHS are also all in the engine, another big plus.

Weaknesses - Pod space is a bit on the low side for modern CBT play, but this is actually less of a hindrance than many would think. Can't really see any real weaknesses, other than the old problem of not enough crit slots for heavy weapons in the torsos, or the arms, for that matter.

Final Grade - B+
With no real weaknesses to speak of, the Deva can match up well with any Inner Sphere heavy.

85 tons, 3/5/0, LFE powered. Uses triple strength myomer, with 10 fixed DHS. Has a staggering 43 tons of pod space!!!

Strengths - This is assault mech territory, the land of snails with big guns, and the Seraph is no different. It has the pod tonnage with the crit tonnage to mount virtually any weapon, including the huge HGR(but not the HAG-40, but that's clantech anyway...). With a good configuration, it can pound Templars and Sunders into the dust. The use of the TSM is interesting, and offers it increased mobility at the cost of accuracy.

Weaknesses - The TSM which is a strength is also a liability - how to keep it activated? Also, a light engine on an already slow mech seems like a waste, as using a standard engine only deducts 3 more tons. In other words, the LFE is hardly worth it on the Seraph.

Final Grade - B+
The Seraph has potential, but I am really irked by the TSM and the LFE...

100 tons, 3/5/0, compact engine powered with a compact gyro. Uses endo steel, with 12 fixed DHS. Max armor. Has 36 tons of pod space?!?

Strengths - The Archangel is the quintessential zombie, and a showcase of the new technologies introduced in Tech Manual. You have to literally dismember it from limb to limb to destroy it. It also has loads of crit space for the heaviest weapons in both the arms and the torsos.

Weaknesses - For a 100 ton mech, its firepower is kinda pathetic. The Invictus config has a oh-so-scary 25 points of damage max! Most experienced players would ignore it to kill other targets that offer a more favorable armor/firepower ratio.

Final Grade - B+
Despite its flaws, the Archangel actually serves well in the role of the unkillable spotter or command mech that you absolutely must bring down to win. What a zombie...

Overall Grade for Celestial Series - B+
The Celestials were introduced as a way to bring in all the new toys from Tech Manual, and while they are not really optimised(shades of the nerfed 3050 clan omnis),
in the right hands they can still provide any player with a stiff challenge. There is also a synergistic effect of their various strengths and weaknesses. eg. using the Archangel as the unkillable spotter and the Malak and Preta as the scout hunter/killer, with the Griogori, Deva, and Seraph as the main battle line. Add in C3i, the fact they are piloted by the Manei Domini, and you get one heck of a brew. A Level II of these are, I think, a match for a clan star.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Quote of the Day

For those who follow elections of any stripe, I always have this piece of advice to heed:

Robbing Peter to pay Paul means Paul will vote for you every time.