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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Christmas Post

Author’s Note: Yes, I realize this post should have happened on the 23rd. The problem was sheer absent mindedness. I had queued up some posts to make sure that the blog was updated without interruption, not realizing that the queue overlapped Christmas. So instead of a post about Christmas, you got a post about Felicia Day.

And you’re complaining?


The hallway is dim in the early morning light. It’s just a little past seven in the morning, and the forecast called for rain. There’s a strange flickering in the living room. It’s colorful, but quiet and regular. Not at all like the glow of the usual morning cartoons.

She steps out of her room, a little bleary but smiling ear to ear. She doesn’t know it’s Christmas, she just knows that she’s awake and both Mommy and Daddy are in their pajamas, which means Daddy is staying home all day. This morning is a little unusual, because Mommy changed her in her room instead of the living room where the diapers are kept. But that’s okay, because it means she can go straight for the kitchen for breakfast, which she always tries to do but is always cut off by one parent or the other to change the diaper she’d been wearing all night.

Breakfast is pancakes, bananas and Reese’s peanut butter cup cereal. Her favorite. She eats each course in order, happy to finally be sitting at the table like a big girl instead of her high chair. As she eats, she looks across the table at her infant brother, who Daddy is feeding. He’s looking at Daddy, watching Daddy eat his own breakfast and wondering why everyone gets to eat brown gooey things but him.

He is, after all, almost three months old. He could totally handle cinnamon rolls.

After the last Reesey puff is deliberately crunched and swallowed, Daddy brushes her teeth and says something about going to the living room.

Who is this “Santa” and why should she care what he brought?

She holds Mommy’s hand as she walks down the hall she’s walked dozens of times before. Breakfast is over, that means it’s time for cartoons. The strange string of festive lights gives her pause, and she hesitates at the threshold. On the shelf sits a tiny tree, no more than a foot high, which was all that Mommy and Daddy had time to unpack and decorate. It wasn’t there when she went to bed.

The seven foot artificial tree sits sullenly in the basement, biding his time. Next year, he tells himself. Next year will be mine.

With some mild coaxing, she steps into the living room, and she sees it. Under the tree sit a menagerie of Fisher Price Little People animals, along with a purple SUV, a farm and a Noah’s Ark. If she remembers that she was given them when she was too young for them, and they were then packed away for a year, she doesn’t let on. Instead she sets upon them, smiling even broader than before, if that’s possible. She picks up each individual figure, regards it, and puts it into a line that has an order only she understands.

Then comes the box of puzzles. Another gift from last Christmas, and she’s thrilled to see them. She enlists Daddy’s help to slide the puzzles out, and she immediately takes out all the pieces, puts them in a pile on the floor, and then gets to putting them back into the puzzles.

Puzzles have ever been her favorite.

Then comes the truly new. Sliceable fruits and vegetables held together with Velcro ™. Mommy and Daddy palmed the little wooden knife that comes with the set, which is technically for an older child, but she doesn’t notice or care. She takes apart each item and lines the pieces up.

Last, comes the wrapped presents. Four large boxes, each part of a set, containing playsets of licensed PBS characters from the show It’s A Big Big World. There’s Snook’s treehouse, Madge’s library, Smooch and Winslow’s bedroom and Birdette’s nest. Mommy struggles with the packaging, muttering unpleasant things about the lineage of whoever thought a plastic treehouse needed eleven billion twist ties.

Seriously, it’s a child’s toy with maybe three moving parts, not a working model of a hadron supercollider.

She waits impatiently, but is tempered by the other goodies spread out under the miniature tree. Finally Mommy frees the molded Snook figure, and hands it to her. She’s thrilled.

While she’s playing with her bounty, Mommy and Daddy present a few gifts to her infant brother. He gets a Bumbo chair, which seems to amuse him and alarm him at the same time. It also enrages him if he’s left in it for too long, but such is the life of a three month old. He also is given an Ugly Doll (Jeero), and it’s the first thing he ever grabs and snuggles with his own hands. Well, he grabs it and smashes it into his face, which sort of looks like snuggling provided you spot him to make sure he hasn’t blocked off all the air to his face.

Mommy and Daddy then exchange gifts with each other. Daddy gives Mommy the new Professor Layton game for the DS. Mommy gives Daddy the latest Schlock Mercenary book.

It’s a light Christmas, but she doesn’t know that yet. All she knows is the living room is awash in fun stuff, and that Mommy and Daddy are both home to play with her. She couldn’t be happier.

After the presents are unwrapped and the paper bagged up and set aside, Mommy and Daddy put in some DVDs. They’re not the usual DVDs. The first one involves an orange cat that eats a lot. She likes him. The second features a kid with a big round head who looks a lot like Caillou, but isn’t as annoying or boring and has a fun dog. One has a kid in glasses who wants a rifle for Christmas. The rifle bears a striking resemblance to one that Grandpa brought with him to give to her when she was first born, but she doesn’t know that yet. Another one involves a tall man in yellow tights getting hit by cars and singing a lot. He’s funny. Later, she falls asleep on the couch while Mommy shows Daddy “It’s A Wonderful Life” for the first time ever.

Yes, really. Daddy is surprised to find that he likes it, even if he’s disappointed that Potter didn’t get his.

That night, after she toddles off to bed, Mommy and Daddy open the presents that they bought themselves with money they’d received earlier. Mommy gets a Pokemon Training Deck, which has enough cards to play a short game with half a deck, or to build a beginner’s deck. Mommy and Daddy try a game, in which they have some fun and manage to misinterpret enough of the rules that they’ll have to start from scratch next time they play.

Daddy gets Batman Arkham Asylum for the PS3. After they play Pokemon, Daddy fires up the PS3 and installs the downloaded content he’s had on his hard drive for months in anticipation of getting this game. It’s better than the demo.

The next day, Mommy leaves the house in the morning to do some grocery shopping and comes back with two additional theme decks for Pokemon, as well as a number of booster packs. In addition, she buys Katamari Forever and Eat Lead; The Return of Matt Hazard for the PS3 as well as Cooking Mama 3 for the DS, which Mommy didn’t even know was out. This finishes off the Christmas money they each got this year, and gives them both a queue of games that should last them for months given how little time there is for gaming with a toddler and an infant.

Mommy and Daddy are big geeks, but so far she doesn’t care. She’s just happy that everybody’s home.

Later that afternoon, she is asleep and Daddy gets a phone call from Grandma and Grandpa. They won’t be able to visit as they had planned, because Grandpa has a cold and the weather is going to make the three hour drive too difficult. Grandma and Grandpa tell Mommy and Daddy to go ahead and have a second Christmas Morning without them. While she sleeps, Mommy goes to the basement and gets the presents from Grandma and Grandpa.

When she wakes up, the room is full of colorful boxes again. She’s starting to get what this means. Grandma and Grandpa got her books. Her favorite thing in the world, except for puzzles, and maybe even above them. Two board books that appear to be made of MDF (Grandma and Grandpa are no fools), a lift-the-flap book, and a bundle of Sesame Street “magazines.” The next morning, on getting out of bed, she will immediately make for the living room couch and look at the magazines one at a time.

Mommy and Daddy got mostly clothes, which they seem to like quite a lot but she can’t imagine why. She’ll understand when she’s older and has to pay for her own clothes, but that’s a long ways off.

And that’s it for Christmas this year. She doesn’t even know the word yet, but next year she will.

I’m already looking forward to it.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

World of EverHammer

Let me preface this by stating that I have never played World of Warcraft, Everquest, Lord of the Rings Online, Warhammer Online or Maple Story.

I’ll pause while those of you who know what I’m talking about recover from having thrown up in your mouths at that last juxtaposition.

Back? Good. I tried FreeRealms for approximately two hours in total and didn’t see the appeal. My wife and I played around with Toontown Online for about as long as it took to realize that there wasn’t much to do if you weren’t willing to upgrade to a paid membership. I have even, I’m ashamed to admit, installed Second Life on my laptop before I remembered that Second Life was developed as a kind of honey trap for griefers and perverts to keep them from intruding on real games.

So my MMO experience is essentially nil. I know enough of the jargon to fake my way through a conversation with someone who has a WOW subscription. (“So, how about those instances, eh? Those goldfarmers sure stink.)

So I’m not what you could call the target market for Felicia Day’s web show The Guild.

If you haven’t heard of Felicia Day, you have no business reading a geek-centric blog. I bid you good day sir.

If you haven’t heard of The Guild, I couldn’t say I’d blame you. The only reason I heard about it was because “Julian” Rabbit “Murdoch” interviewed Felicia Day in the aftermath of the googlebomb that Joss Whedon threw at us with Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Weblog. They discussed this webshow that she’d been producing, which was how Whedon found her to fill the role of Penny in HMDSAW.

The Guild is a show about a group of highly dysfunctional people who are members of a guild in a Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game that bears a striking, if not actionable, resemblance to World of Warcraft. The group is a cross section of the kinds of people who get obsessed with MMOs: There’s your fussy, 40 year old loser, your snarky power leveler, your faux confident teenager, your sheltered late bloomer, your bad mother and your mousy redhead with self esteem issues. Apart, they’re a bunch of losers without friends. Together, they’re a bunch of losers without friends known as the Knights of Good.

The drama of the show stems from the fact that a catalyzing event thrust the nature of their relationships with each other into meatspace. Not one of them knows how to deal with people in the real world, though each of them fails to deal with people in their own way. Vork, for example, is a shutin while Tinkerballa is a user. Their interactions with each other are the reason you want to keep watching.

Felicia Day writes the show, and it’s clear that there’s a little bit of Codex in her. She’s clearly had dealings with all of the characters she’s created, though I’m sure (I hope?) the characters on the show are exaggerated for comic effect. (If Clara is based on a real person, someone should call child services immediately.)

As I said, I’m not the target market for the show. To me, Aggro is something farmers do and a mob is something that involves Marlon Brando and Italian American stereotypes. But the show has appeal to the wider geek market; and not just because Felicia Day has become kind of a nerd sex symbol (Sure, she’s attainable. Just not by you.) My wife, for example, knows less about MMORPGs than I do, and my lack of EXP with the genre is clearly evidenced by the fact that I’m the only person who still appends the RPG to the MMO when writing about them. She has become hooked on the show, and is eagerly awaiting the next free episode drop.

And there’s a bit of a rub. Having devoured the last two seasons and been consistently pleased with the writing, I’m not entirely sure I like where the season 3 storyline is going. This season’s Big Boss, the Axis of Anarchy, just makes me want to put my fist through a wall every time I see them. From the moment they cut in front of the KOG at Gamestop, I wanted to personally curb stomp every last one of them.

Maybe games do make you violent. Or maybe it’s just that I was bullied as a kid and have less than zero tolerance for bullies. I don’t just want them stopped; I want them obliterated and their lines striken from the face of the earth. (Let that be a warning to anyone harassing my son or daughter ten years from now.)

And that was my reaction to them after just the first episode. Their transgressions have only escalated in the ensuing episodes. My wife and I have seen up through Episode 7 (Coping and stuff), and with so few episodes left in the season I am concerned. To date, Felicia Day’s writing has shown none of the trappings of the Sci-Fi channel nihilism that insists on putting sympathetic characters through the nine circles of hell only to flush them down Lucifer’s toilet to live in a kind of sub-hell where all demon offal coagulates to form the tenth through eighteenth circles of hell . However, I fail to see how sufficient justice can be rendered to the Axis of Anarchy to satisfy me. To simply destroy their status as a guild would be inadequate. The Knights of Good would have to take everything they hold dear, kill them, take a dump on everything they held dear, and have the befouled items delivered via singing telegram to the grieving families during the funeral. Then the harm the Axis of Anarchy has rendered unto the Knights of Good and countless other fictional characters in the fictional history of the AoA might begin to be atoned for.

I don’t think the Knights of Good have it in them. My lone hope is Tinkerballa.

UPDATE

Okay, so we watched the rest of the season. I won't spoil the ending, but I suppose it worked out okay.

No, the KoG didn't kill the AoA, take a dump on their computers, then send their computers to the funeral via singing telegram, but I didn't really expect that anyway.

I eagerly await season four, and I'm putting season 1 and 2 on DVD in my Amazon cart to be saved for until I have spare money to buy frivolous things (owning a new house is expensive)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Greg’s 2000” TV

So as regular readers may have surmised from my last post, we’re moving. I learned many things about myself while moving all of our worldly belongings from the third floor of an apartment building with no elevator to the basement and garage of our new ranch-style home. Mostly they’re lessons like “I don’t like carrying heavy crap” and “I really don’t like carrying heavy crap down stairs” and variants of that.

But I’m not going to talk about that this post. What I am going to talk about is my bitchin’ boss new TV set.

During the course of the move, I had to disconnect and reconnect and disconnect again the cables connecting my DVD player to my old TV. My old TV is a 27” Sharp CRT. Nothing fancy, but it got the job done. I bought it in 2002 or thereabouts, and it has served me well. But when I disconnected the RCA cables from the back of the set, one of the connectors (the yellow one—you know, the video input) pulled out.

It still works, but I took that as a sign to make this the secondary TV, relegated to the basement and dedicated to the PS2 , Gamecube and other assorted obsolete consoles (YAY! Somewhere to hook my Jaguar up again!). With digital broadcast a federally mandated reality, it was time to upgrade the primary set. And boy howdy, did we upgrade.

The first thing you need to understand is that our living room is enormous. It’s a good ten paces from the place where the TV is to the nearest place where someone can sit to watch it. In a situation like that, it’s time to go big. Fortunately, big TVs are on sale these days because retailers are desperate to sell anything in a down economy. So I moseyed on down to Best Buy and picked up a 42” plasma screen. Yes, it’s HD: 720p. The reason I bought 720p is because 1080i is much more expensive and I have doubts about the capability of the human eye to really tell the difference, even at 42 inches.

Plus, I’ve spent the last few years playing PS3 games on a classic cathode ray tube television; and not even a flat-screen CRT. No matter which resolution I chose, the difference was going to blow my socks off, so why spend the extra money?

Since I mentioned the PS3, I might as well mention that I bought an HDMI cable to use with it. The lads at Best Buy recommend a cable that costs $60. I bought one that cost $30 and it’s gorgeous. So a word to the savvy media customer: When it comes to cables, copper is pretty much copper. Don’t waste your money on premium cables.

I also sprang for an antenna so my wife could take advantage of the new broadcast choices afforded by the digital era. We get about a dozen channels, most of them variants of PBS, which means we can watch the annual pledge drive on seven channels instead of just the one.

We’re still using our old, SD DVD player, and the picture looks fine to me. At last count, I have something like 420 movies and TV shows in my DVD collection, and if you think I’m scrapping that for blue-ray you’re crazier than my hair when I got up this morning.

I would like to take a moment to talk about TV stands, because finding a decent one was more trouble than it should have been. First off, who the heck decided that it was a good idea to make the shelf you’re putting a heavy, expensive piece of electronics on out of glass? How does the design meeting for something like that go?

Johnson: So, we want to design a stand that people can put TV sets on. They typically weigh 50 to 100 pounds, and cost a lot of money. What’s a good, sturdy material that can take a lot of weight?

Schwarz: I dunno, wood?

Johnson: Schwarz, get out. You’ve been warned about your flippancy. This company isn’t made of money. Do you think wood grows on trees?

Butterbin: How about glass?

Johnson: Butterbin, that’s the best suggestion I’ve heard all quarter. Glass is a fine, sturdy material that hardly ever breaks when large amounts of force are applied to it. Build the shelf out of glass. Just don’t forget to focus the support beams into as small an area as possible. I don’t know what PSI means, but more of it must be better. Okay gang, get to work. I’m going to lunch!

I imagine it went something like that.

The other thing I’d like to know is why the bases are all so short. This isn’t a universal condition, but at my house we have small children. As a result, we cordon off large, heavy, expensive things like televisions with baby gates like the Superyard. The problem is that the Superyard is 24 inches tall. Most TV stands on the market (that don’t cost more than the TV, at any rate) are 22 to 24 inches tall. That means that you’re likely to have the lower portion of your screen obscured by the baby gate. At least if you plan on sitting down while you’re watching TV, which I’m pretty sure nobody ever does.

Yes, we could mount the TV to the wall, but that requires finding a stud, and that would require finding a stud finder that actually works, which I don’t believe exists. Plus, if you decide to move the TV, it’s much easier to move a cabinet than to remount a wall bracket. And anyway, who wants to look up to see a TV screen? You know who mounts TVs up on a wall? Emergency rooms. Do you want your living room to feel like an emergency room? Me neither.

That minor aggravation is, however, well worth enduring for the ability to finally read the text in Fallout 3. I imagine it’s a completely different game when you can read the on-screen instructions.

It was a platformer, right?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Movin’ Out. IIIIIIIIIIIIIII’MMM Movin’ Out!

In a previous installment of this blog, I discussed the process of buying a house. Well, once you’ve bought the house, now you have to move into it. You have several options.

The obvious choice is to hire movers. They can even be contracted to pack your things for you so you don’t have to worry about figuring out how to load a tape gun. The downside is that you’re hiring large men you don’t know who probably make too little money for the amount of work they’re doing, so you’re irreplaceable antique curio shelf might arrive at your new home in more pieces than a bookshelf from Ikea, but without the handy allen wrench to put it back together.

If you’re hiring movers, you want a binding estimate, not an hourly rate. A binding estimate is when someone comes to your current place, looks at all of the stuff you want to move, and gives you a sheet of paper that has the words “shall not exceed” written on it somewhere. The number at the bottom of that sheet is the number you pay. Period. Hourly rate means the movers come to your house and charge you based on how long it takes to move everything.

If you’re a lunatic, you can move everything yourself. This requires a number of understanding friends or family members who can help you. If you don’t have local family, and are a social misfit, it means you’re going to be lifting an awful lot of boxes.

There are three ways to move everything yourself.

1) You can load up your car and make fourteen thousand trips back and forth. This works if you’re moving within the same town or neighborhood. Not so much if you’re moving across the state. Rule of thumb: If it takes more than 10 minutes to drive to your new place, you need a bigger truck.

2) You can rent a truck. This is by far the most common method of self moving. Each moving company is different (Budget, for example, tends to be operated by businesslike people, while Uhaul appears to be owned and operated by a grue) but the basic process for renting a truck is pretty much always the same: First, you reserve a truck in the size that you want. Second, you arrive at the lot and find out they don’t have any of that size, so you rent a different size.

We rented a truck from a rental company that rhymes with “Aragorn.” We asked for a 16 foot truck, and they gave us a 25 foot truck. I have never driven anything that large in my life, and I knocked over at least three buildings and several old growth trees in the process of learning to back that thing up. Which brings us to an important point about renting a truck:

Insurance. Is. Not. Optional.

People will tell you that your insurance covers damages and all that other stuff. These people are idiots. Yes, your insurance does cover you in the event of an accident. But then your premiums go up, and you have to spend half your day on a phone trying to convince your insurance company that you have coverage for whatever they’re denying you coverage for. If you buy the rental agency insurance, as long as you can walk away from the scene of the accident, it’s not your problem.

So take my advice: get full coverage not only for the truck you’re renting, but also for liability. It’s only a fraction of the cost of the rental, and it makes your life so much easier if you do have a problem.

3) The third way of moving yourself is to rent something called a POD. PODS are relatively new innovations. Basically, somebody comes to your house with what looks like a moving truck. Only instead of loading up your stuff into the truck and driving away, they leave the back of the truck in your driveway. You can load it at your leisure, have it picked up and delivered whenever you want (except Sundays, because what kind of freak tries to move on a weekend) and driving it isn’t your problem.

The downside of renting a POD is the fact that you can’t really trust anything fragile to it, because you’re not driving it and the crane that lifts the pod back onto the truck isn’t the most elegant device you’ve ever seen.

Finally, if you’re made of money, you can just throw out all your old stuff and start over from scratch at the new place. This has the benefit of being extremely low hassle, but eating spaghetti-Os with your fingers directly from the can while you’re waiting for the new microwave to be delivered gets old very quickly.

You can also do a combination of these methods. For example, because my wife and I are social misfits with no family nearby that can be expected to carry heavy things down four flights of stairs; we couldn’t do a pure self move. So we hired movers (with a binding estimate) to move anything that required two people to lift (EG: our couch). Then we rented a POD to carry non-fragile, non-essential things. Finally, we rented trucks for two weekends. The first, aforementioned 25 foot truck, took all of our essential, gotta-have-it-in-the-house-now stuff. The second was a 10 foot truck rented to take care of the leftovers that weren’t gotten by the 25 foot truck.

As of the writing of this post, we’re done. It took four weeks of intensive lifting and stair climbing (my backside will never be this firm again—seriously; you could bounce a quarter off me), but it’s done.

Now for the unpacking. I predict we’ll be done somewhere around Christmas.

In the year 2014.