The Problem With Authority Parenting (But Go Ahead Anyway; My Kids Will Need Staff When They Are Adults)

Plays horribly complicated strategy simulators – tell me they’re not worthwhile?

Rarely, the Internet makes me cross enough to blog. This is one of those times. 

Somebody posted a link to an article offering “parenting” advice. I won’t link here, because I don’t want to feed it. The advice in a nutshell was: “Ask once, then come down like a tonne of bricks”:

My mom just asked me to take the trash out. What are my risks versus my rewards of obeying?

Well, if I do it right away, my mom will smile and tell me thank you. She’ll probably let me go back to my show because I got up right away.

If I don’t do it right away, my mom will take away my TV privileges for the rest of the day, no questions asked. I won’t get a warning, I won’t get a reminder. Whatever I was doing when I refused to follow instructions will be the thing I lose all day.

I could throw a fit about that, but then she’ll take away a toy. Probably my Legos.

“Coming, Mom!”

Sounds great, eh?

I’m no hippy parent. I believe that the parents are ultimately in charge, that the default choice should be kids do as they’re told, and that they should damn well do their chores and stay in bed once you’ve put them there. 

Found her voice through youtube.

However, I’ll have no truck with what I call Authority Parenting in general, and this approach in particular. Here’s why.

As a parent, you are also a role model. What you do demonstrates or models appropriate behaviour.

If you go in for Authority Parenting, then you are teaching your kids that it’s OK for somebody in authority to be  bully,  that you shouldn’t stand up to parent figures. It’s how emotional doormats and abusive spouses are made, and where cannon fodder employees and toxic bosses come from. None of these people are happy in life, and few of them are very likeable. Many develop mental health problems. Some end up in jail.

But wait, it gets worse.

In this particular example, you are teaching your child not to invest in any activity because it will (a) be randomly interrupted, and (b) be used against them. The only rational response is to watch short trashy cartoons, to play shallow video games, and never to really settle down to anything.

The irony is that though the parent may think they are teaching the child discipline, they are in fact preventing them from learning mental discipline. The professional future belongs to those who can do Deep Work, meaning become absorbed by an activity for hours on end.

“Oh”, you cry, “but Activity X is worthless!” 

Well perhaps that’s your fault. Have you effectively punished doing worthwhile things? Or, so limited the budget that only trash is available to play or consume?

More likely, have you failed to engage with your child to understand its depth?

Some of my daughter’s favourite Youtube performers are like young Garrison Keillors, spinning vignettes from their lives that, in earlier times, would have seen print and literary acclaim. It’s how she’s found her own voice to talk about the things she loves. My son’s computer games are either horribly complicated strategy simulators that teach him about economics and project planning, or else fierce shoot-em-ups requiring 3D thinking, cooperation with strangers, and tactics on the fly.

So what am I saying you should do?

Nothing different… nothing different from what you’d do with an adult. In other words, your first approach should be to model adult behaviour:

Me: (Knocks on door, waits to be invited in) Hey, Morgenstern, can you pause your show?

Morgenstern (10): (Sighs. Pauses show)

Me: How long as your show got to run?

Morgenstern: Four minutes.

Me: OK when it’s done will you please gather up the cups from around the house and bring them to the kitchen?

Morgenstern: OK Dad.

And she does it. Seriously, this works.

Oh, had the show had 20 minutes to run, I would have said, “Can you stop at a convenient moment and…” If it had been a movie and I’d walked in at a dramatic moment, I’d have bowed out unless I knew she’d watched it before. And if the chore had been actually urgent, I would have gone, “Sorry to interrupt. But I need you to help me right now.”

What if they don’t do it? Well generally they do. But if they don’t, that’s when you firmly interrupt and have the task done Right Now. Those sorts of interruptions are usually annoying enough that they’ll do as they’re told next time.

On the other hand…

Go ahead ignore my advice. No reason.

Posted in Geek Parenting Tagged with:

Tip-offs: Draft small consignment trade system for Traveller…

I love the idea of trading between the stars, but mostly because of the drama it produces. Thus, for the kind of gaming I like, all the official versions of the Traveller trade system are too fiddly. True, it could be replaced by “The referee just makes stuff up.” However, I also like the way hard randomness generates narrative.

What if  the economics of small free traders were different from those applying to the big players?

Perhaps the commercials lines have got all the routine sources of income tied up in regular shipments, buying low selling high. What the free traders have is agility.

A typical Free Trader has a fixed monthly costs

  • Cr3,778 maintenance
  • Cr188,925 mortgage.

Meaning they need to bring in at least Cr200K monthly, not counting all the other expenditures.

So here’s what I have in mind:

1. Identify possible destination worlds

  • Ignore designated “Lo” and “Po”.

So, you look at the chart and decide how far you are prepared to go to make a sale!

2. Make the usual Streetwise and Broker rolls separately

  • DM = number of possible destination worlds. 
  • Effect = Number of Tip-Offs.
  • Streetwise roll generates Tip-offs involving roleplayable Missions of varied safety and legality.
  • Finding or earning a tip-off can involve also involve a roleplayed mission.

So the more worlds you consider, the more possibilities of finding a Tip-Off. It follows that hub worlds with many connections are the best places to look for opportunities. 

3. Generate Tip-Offs

Each Tip-off comprises…

  • Destination: Randomly pick from possible destination worlds.
  • Available consignments: 2D6 
  • Tonnage (per consignment): 2D6 tons.
  • Purchase Price (per consignment): D6 x Cr10,000. DMs, Broker.
  • Expected Markup: 2D6 x 10% (record this for now)
  • Expires: 2D6 weeks. (Yes, some won’t do you any good)
  • Details (including any mission): Referee makes these up.

DMs: Tip-offs involving a mission get +2 on one or more of the rolls.

4. Arrive

  • Broker check. Effect nudges the Mark-up up or down by 10% per point.
  • DM-2 if late.

4a. Fail to arrive and sell on a different world 

Broker check as per normal arrival, but with the following DMs:

  • -2 for selling on the wrong world!
  • -1 for each difference in Trade Code

So on average, a Tip-Off would be 7 consignments of 7 tonnes at Cr 30,000 per consignment, with a markup of 70%, if you can get it there in 7 weeks.

A Free Trader could take all 49 tons, with an outlay of Cr210,000 and an expected markup of Cr147,000.

If they can make three jumps every two months, plus take passengers, then that’s almost sustainable…

Posted in Blog Post, Roleplaying Tagged with:

How to do a 3D Star Map that’s Not Overwhelming

Image result for traveller sector map

Flat Star Chart (click for source)

(For my alternative to 3D mapping, scroll down.)

I’ve been revisiting Traveller RPG. One thing that’s not changed over the years is that the star charts are flat. Here’s an example (right). As a kid I hated this. I’d have said that it was because it just wasn’t a proper simulation! Space is 3D, right? I actually spent — wasted — time trying to make 3D star charts.

Then a game called Space Opera came along and that did have 3D charts. I thought this was the best thing since the BBC B Micro computer — 32K!

Unfortunately, the maps were way too hard to comprehend. Navigation was a chore… a trigonometric chore. They also didn’t really add that much to what play we got out of the game.

Image result for fgu space opera star chart

Space Opera is 3D (and hard to play)

It was simply too much overhead and too overwhelming. A truly 3D star chart needs a computer interface — not available to me back in the 1980s, and a bit of an intrusion into tabletop gaming, not least because it would be hard for a GM to add stuff on the fly without breaking flow to fiddle with the laptop.

This brings us back to flat star charts as “good enough”.

There’s a particularly compelling blog post (here) that makes the simple argument:

…when the PCs reach new worlds there will be things they don’t know, whether it be details of the environment, changes in local politics, and so on. And then, when they turn around, they’ll be making the same calculated risk (or broad gambles) they made when they made the half of the journeys. The Age of Sails is a common reference in Classic Traveller (and rightly so). In this tradition, the Player Characters travelling half way up a subsector are like sailors make their way from England down and around the Cape of South Africa

So flat star charts are an abstraction like Zones in Fate. It certainly works well enough — the Traveller universe is well-loved and well-trodden. I was a fool and should have gotten on with enjoying the actual roleplaying.

Even so, I still don’t like the Traveller 2D astrogation charts! My reasons are the same as when I was a teenager,  however — three decades later — I am better able to articulate them…

Read more ›

Posted in Blog Post, Roleplaying, Space Opera Tagged with: , ,

Morgenstern and the March of the Women


“…she gets abducted by aliens but she kills them all with a sword and then flies the spaceship home.”

11 pm Sunday night, and I find Morgenstern (9) sitting up in bed, tangled blond hair making her look like a sleepy wood elf. 

She grins at me. “I couldn’t sleep, so I used my Story Cubes.”

Wonderful things those cubes. Little dice with tropes on them. They can keep one or two imaginative children happy for hours, especially if you’ve taught them how to connect them using “but”.

As I tuck her up with her over-sized plush rabbit, I ask, “What story did you come up with?”

She yawns. “Oh, it was about a girl who gets abducted by aliens.”

“How does it go?”

“Well, Daddy, she gets abducted by aliens but she kills them all with a sword and then flies the spaceship home.”

“Great,” I say, unsurprised. After all, this is the girl who teaches her male friends to play Halo…

Ted: “Stop shooting me, Morgenstern!”

Morgenstern: “Well get out of my line of fire, Ted!”

Story Cubes

Little dice with tropes on them. 

In the morning she confides that she still couldn’t sleep so watched an episode of Sky At Night and it was a new one with Neil deGrasse Tyson guesting which we have to watch together.

And I’m reminded of when Morgenstern was four, her and her best friend running around the garden in their pretty princess dresses, barefoot and jumping in muddy puddles and climbing trees and still Being Princesses.

Her entire cohort are like this!

Nobody has told them they have to choose between being a girl and making their mark on the world.

The boys for the most part take this for granted. They’re used to households where the mums have jobs at least as important as the dads, and where the housework and nurturing get shared according to practicality, not gender.

Of course, the real parenting challenge is preparing all these little Bradamantes for when somebody does tell them that they can’t do something because they’re a girl.

“Just bashing them” stops being an appropriate solution as you get older…


Posted in Geek Parenting, Modern Culture


Just in case you were confused by artistic conventions, the covers of my SWORDS VERSUS TANKS series depict the Actual Story Content! They are NOT montages.

Here’s the first book: Armoured heroes clash across the centuries!

SVT 256

Sir Ranulph really does take on the WWI-style mega-tank!

Sir Ranulph Dacre (left), armed with his trusty runic sword Steelcutter (shown) really does face off against a WWI-style mega-tank (right), commanded by former bohemian Colonel Jasmine Klimt, who has spent youth fantasising about her historical hero. Complex love triangle ensues…

Next book: Vikings battle Zeppelins while forbidden desires spark!


The Vikings really do leap onto the back of the Zeppelin!

OK it is a montage, but not all of it. The fire in the background is the burning castle. The sorceress (red-haired woman in green dress (and third member of the love triangle)) Lady Maud is actually standing on the battlements controlling an air elemental. However, the Vikings led by Sir Ranulph (top right) really are leaping off the battlements onto the back of a Zeppelin. There’s also a fireside love scene involving an invisible Lady Maud and a somewhat confused Colonel Jasmine Klimt, who has a thing for Real Princess. (Sir Ranulph is confused.)

Third book: Pyramid of Blood:


The Vikings really to make a last stand on an Aztec-style pyramid!

There really is a Viking shield wall making  a last stand on top of an Aztec-style pyramid. No artistic license here! Oh and Colonel Jasmine Klimt finally beds her hero, only to then tangle with a Tolmec priestess in a bizarre act of sex magic.

Penultimate book: Warlords race for power while the final battle looms!


There really is a motorbike chase involving a Medieval swordsman and his Modern lover!

I hope you’re getting the idea! This one really does have a bike chase involving swords — gay biker rescues lover, bad guys pursue. A Zeppelin also rains bombs on them. Sir Ranulph kills some people.

Finally, the finale! Champions Battle for the Fate of the Future!


Flying dragon ship. Burning castle. Sky full of tracer bullets. Ragnarok-grade battle and Vikings with Tommy guns not depicted.

This is almost too bonkers to describe. But the scene is in. A flying dragon ship really does escape through a tracer-laced sky. There’s also a massive… MASSIVE battle between knights and tanks, and a warband of Vikings rampages around with Tommy guns. There might possibly also be some sex.

Swords Versus Tanks: Does what it says on the tin.

Click here to get the omnibus edition and experience this genre mayhem for yourself!

Posted in Steampunk, Swords Versus Tanks Tagged with:

How to Fix Your Novel (If It’s Too Short, Slow-Paced, or Tells Not Shows)

Teaching Creative OutliningSo you’ve completed your novel. It’s a story with a beginning, middle and satisfying end. You’ve polished the prose until it shines.

However, it’s too short, or too slow-paced, or it tells rather than shows.


Actually, don’t worry. This is quite normal.

The only mistake you’ve made is to waste time editing the text before fixing the story. Even so, you probably need to change less than you think.

Here’s how I go about it (these days I actually do this anyway when I get about 66% through a draft, but it works on a completed manuscript as well).

Read more ›

Posted in Blog Post, Writing Fiction Faster, Writing Tips Tagged with: , ,

Creatives! Grieve. Give support. Then get back to work. This shoe will be a long time falling.

114We’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. For those of us who remotely identify with the left, tracking its trajectory is agony.

Some of us need to take time out to process and grieve, and to support to our vulnerable friends. However, when the dust settles that shoe will still be falling.

This isn’t a sim. Real world turns take months and years to play out. That shoe will be a long time falling. We must not let it clog our brains and fritter away the precious unstructured time that lets us create.

We should remember that, though creating is a passion, it is also a job. We have every right to protect our work and confine our activism to our spare time. (And if we do our creative work in our spare time, we should treat it as a second job and also protect that.)

Now, more than ever, we cannot afford to be diverted from productivity.

Like everybody else, we must build professional momentum and financial reserves against looming hard times. No further justification is needed. No cause owns our output.

However, in  a small way, we can help people through what’s to come. Fighting the good fight is not pain free. The escapism we purvey is easily applied first aid for the soul. It can also be inspiring.

So, please get back to work as soon as you can!

Posted in Blog Post, Writing Life

Howard and Tolkien’s “Strider the Ranger Series”

One of the stranger quirks of literary history is the collaboration between the big morose Texan pulpster and the genteel Oxford don.

To blame is a mysterious Englishman who interrupted Howard’s planned suicide by suggesting he instead seek death by volunteering in the Spanish Civil War. This in turn led to Howard being wounded and sent to convalesce in England with an Oxford-based group of left wing sympathisers.

Though he was still guilt-wracked because of the death of his buddy, Hemmingway – as everybody knows, the two finally egged each other on into a heroic but fatal escapade within six months of the war’s end – he immediately hit it off with an academic he encountered while quaffing ale in a “quaint old English tavern”.

Tolkien, on his part, saw in the Texan “…the very manifestation of the men of Middle Earth.” Abandoning attempts to create what would have surely been a very cumbersome work in the Romantic tradition, Tolkien set about cheering up his new friend.

What started out as a weekend’s literary game on the banks of Lake Windermere, blossomed into a collaboration that only ended with Tolkien’s death in 1973.

Who has not thrilled at Strider’s adventures in the mysterious Eastern Lands (the classic example being “Strider the Oliphant Rider”)?

Or gawped at arguably the highpoint of the series where Strider carves his way into Mordor, uses an ancient artefact to force Sauron to manifest in corporeal form, then hacks off the head of the Dark Lord, and casts it into the pit of a volcano?

An interesting literary footnote is Tolkien’s little-read solo effort “Lord of the Hyborian Age”.  Howard, in mourning for his friend, revived this project and spent the years 1975 until 1990 knocking out well over five million words in the what became known as the Conan Saga. The child who grew up listening to the tales of old gunfighters, lived to see his vision translated to silver screen, TV, tabletop and ultimately – as a grand old man –  computer games.

Posted in Alternative History Tagged with: ,

Feeling Grown Up – a Hypothesis


“Great Great Granddad never shot a Frenchman”

There’s this idea that few of us feel truly grown up, that inside the typical 60 year old is a 16 year old going, “What the hell is happening to me?

Charlie wrote a wise article about this (comments are also worth reading). In a nutshell:

We can never measure up to the apparently godlike adults we observed when we were kids because: (1) they only looked godlike to a child, and (2) each generation is different. It follows we all finds ourselves wanting compared to the our elders! You don’t wear a suit and act serious. Dad didn’t work down the mines. Granddad wasn’t a farmer. Great Granddad never wore a redcoat in India. Great Great Granddad never shot a Frenchman. (And of course, the older generation can derive status by reminding us of this.)


That has to be true. However, I think the corollary is also important:

The previous generations are really no longer a valid source of validation because our lives are so different from theirs.

Once upon a time, your granddad could say, “I see your potato field is doing well,” and that meant something because he was a farmer or agricultural worker before you.

Now the best he can manage probably translates as, “I can see you’re teching the tech in some remunerative way because you don’t appear to be broke. What was your job title again?”

Once he could say, “I see your daughter is doing well in the [quaint rural pastime here] competition.” Now it’s, “So explain to me again what a Goth is?”

That would be fine if we could get meaningful validation from other hierarchies.

However, even at work, as soon as you occupy any sort of professional role, you probably know your particular job better than your boss does. They may compliment you on delivering on time and under budget, but they’ve got neither the time nor, probably, the knowledge to understand your elegant code well enough to praise it. (And you couldn’t do their job either, much as you might bitch about non-technical managers.)

So, one curse of modernity is that, outside a small number of professions — e.g. military and medical — and a handful of pastimes — e.g. martial arts  –, we don’t tend to have anybody older and wiser to look up to who is also informed enough about what we do to truly validate our efforts and make us feel like a grown up.

It follows that we must either be self validating, or go looking for it in the right places… but where?

Posted in Modern Culture

It wasn’t the casualty rate that made the Somme so bad


Blenheim and Towton were worse!

Obviously, the Battle of the Somme was bloody awful. Arguably, it was an appalling waste. But, in the grand scheme of things, how bad was it really?

It was certainly a horrific mega battle, running for 5 months, with British Empire casualties estimated at 419,654 killed and wounded (source).

It’s certainly a hell of a lot of dead and injured — something like twenty times the casualties of Waterloo. However, given 2,500,000 to 3,000,000 (source) men took part on “our” side, that gives us a casualty rate of 13% to 16%, which — tragically — isn’t actually all that bad.

Take a look at a random selection of battles:

Read more ›

Posted in History, Military, Uncategorized