Monday, December 06, 2010

I Haven't Abandoned The Commentary

Just realized that it's been a couple of months since I've written anything. I haven't given up on the blog, I just haven't had much time to do any writing. So, soon... very soon, I'll start writing again. Atlanta has plenty of things to spark the creative process. I just need to gather all my ideas into something coherent.

~ JC

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

First Week in the ATL

Just so no one thinks I've abandoned Carlisle's Chaotic Corner, I figured I'd bestow on you my adventures thus far since my move from Fayetteville, NC to Atlanta, GA. First of all, I headed out of NC on October 3, arriving in Atlanta around 2pm. Not a bad drive, just long and boring as I-20 West has nothing much to look at but trees for miles and miles.

Upon arriving at my buddy's house where I'll be living for the next several weeks as I procure employment and my own apartment, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Sunday is one of two gaming nights. Thus, that evening I found myself immersed in rolling a new character in the role playing game known as Tribe 8, and being introduced a great bunch of fellow gamers with which I've become fast friends. Now, I had never even heard of Tribe 8 prior to that night, but so far I really enjoy it (I'm sure I'll be blogging more in depth in next couple of weeks).

The remainder of the first week was taken up with unpacking and setting up my computer (Monday), finding a Wachovia to deposit my final paycheck from the job I left in NC (Tuesday) and getting my bearings. Tuesday's trip to the bank also lead to discovering an OfficeDepot which was hiring, so I picked up an application and had interviews on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday (they use a three interview process). Monday (October 11) I headed over to a place called Labcorp to do a pre-employment drug screening test, the results of which should be available by Wednesday (October 13). So, just like that, in less than two weeks, I've found a job down here – a process that was meeting with absolutely no headway back home (as in, not even so much as getting an interview from applications submitted). So far it looks like my decision to head into the dirty south was a wise one.

Since being down here I've also had the opportunity to play my first game of Warhammer 40k, start walking one to two miles a day to get my fat ass in shape, and generally just see a lot more opportunity for personal and career growth down here than where I was. All that's left is to find a good coffee shop near by, and I'll be set. The only downside is, I miss my fiancée terribly and wish she was here with me, but all in due time.

So, now that I've started getting a routine established, I'll get back to writing a weekly blog. As usual, it'll remain eclectic and chaotic in its very broad span of topics that never really seem to go together, but hey, I like writing and sometimes the process helps keep me sane.

Until next time,

~ JC

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Leap of Faith

We've all heard the phrase, “Shit or get off the pot.” It refers to either doing what you need to do, or moving on. Well, it's time for me to “shit or get off the pot.” A week from today I'm moving to Atlanta, GA. No, I don't have a job lined up (yet). Yes, I'll be leaving the job I have now (my last day is Thursday). It's a leap of faith; faith that I'll find a job in Atlanta fairly quickly, and a good paying job at that. I like my current job working for my uncle-in-law as a leather-worker making gun holsters and belts, but, I also commute 132 miles round trip everyday to do it. Considering where I live is mostly minimum wage retail jobs, I don't have any confidence in ever really getting ahead by staying where I'm at. You might say, where I live doesn't even really have a proverbial pot to shit in anyway. So, I'm banking on Atlanta's job market being more stable and the fact that it's a metropolitan area in which even crappy retail jobs pay better or at least close to the same as “professional” jobs would here in Fayetteville, NC. I also have to have faith that the recession hasn't really affected such a large area as Atlanta as it has other places. Fayetteville, being a military town (it's adjacent to Fort Bragg), typically isn't as affected by recessions, but it still means that most of the jobs around here are pretty low paying. And so I take a leap of faith, hop off the pot and try my luck in (hopefully) greener pastures.

~ JC

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Culling The Stacks

I am a bibliophile (that means I love books, before any of you pervs out there think otherwise). I don't just love to read books, but to collect them as well. In fact, though it's been ten years, I still have a good bit of my college text books. I hate to part with books, especially if I've actually read them. I also once worked for a bookstore. So, you can imagine that with my employee discount and the fact that bookstores have clearance tables and sales all the time, that I've managed to build up quite the stack of books to go along with all my college text books that I never parted with. Well, you'd be correct. In fact, I quit working at said bookstore about six years ago, and I still have books purchased from there that I've not read yet. The problem I now face is, I must cull my collection of books. As I said before, I hate to part with books, but it's become necessary for a number of reasons, not the least of which is space to keep them all.

Reason the first – I just plain have to many damn books. As of the moment of this writing, my collection stands at 277 books. That's not counting books that I've lost, given away or long since traded to local used bookstores over the last twenty or so years. Nor is it counting the various gaming manuals that I've obtained in PDF format rather than hard copy (although, I do plan to catalog those into my LibaryThing listing as well). Truth be told, I really have to reason to keep all those college text books anymore, and I've also manged to collect some series of novels that I've lost interest in and probably won't ever get around to reading. So, why not get rid of that stuff and make room for books that I will read? Makes sense, doesn't it?

Reason the second – most of my collection is all in boxes in a storage building. A couple of years ago, and argument between my uncle and I (which has since been forgiven and forgotten) caused me to move out of my Grandmother's house and move in with my fiancee and her family. The result was that I had even more limited space for my belongings than before. So, all of my books that I had already read or were reference materials (those damn text books again), were boxed up and put in the storage building in the back yard. Thank God I have the aforementioned LibraryThing account, else I'd never know what I have down in that building. So, there you go – I have a bunch of stuff I'm not reading or referencing and it's taking up space in my in-law-to-be's storage unit collecting dust and generally being in the way whenever we have to dig out the Christmas decorations or anything else from storage.

Reason the third (don't ask me why I've been tagging my blog sections as though I were Lemony Snicket) – I'm moving. Not just to another house or apartment, but completely out of the state of North Carolina. The job market here's gotten pretty crappy, so after years of goading by my best friend and his constant offers of a place to stay, I'm heading to Atlanta to try my luck in the job market down there. So, I really don't need to drag along a bunch of books. I also could use all the extra cash I can get to pad the bank account until I find a job down there. So, I'll be selling off as much of my book collection as I can (or am willing to part with), hopefully before I leave for Georgia at the end of September. Incidentally, I've listed the items I've already had my fiancee list for me on Ebay at the bottom of this blog, in case you're interested (wink, wink).

So, as I cull through the stacks, the hard part will be deciding what stays and what goes. I'm also hoping that I can manage to actually sell the ones I decide to get rid of on Ebay rather than taking them to a used bookstore. The used bookstores where I live typically don't pay cash, they give trade credit. Of course, trade credit does me no good because, first of all, I'm trying to get rid of books, not collect more, and secondly, trade credit at a used bookstore in Fayetteville, NC does me absolutely no good if I'm going to be moving to Atlanta, GA. Most, if not all, of the old theology books from college will go for sure. After that, quite a few of the books on Paganism and Wicca will likely go (most books on that topic manage to be redundant anyway). I've already posted all of the Magic: the Gathering series of books I'm willing to part with on Ebay (again, see the list below). I'm just really not looking forward to foraging around in that stuffy storage building, let alone the thought of removing books from a collection that has taken me the better part of a decade to gather. *Sigh*

~ JC

PS – I probably should also mention that I'm just not yet ready to jump on the ebook bandwagon. Yes, they're convenient. Yes, an ebook reader would allow me to carry several books with me at one time without the added weight. As much as a technology and gadget geek as I am, books are one of those things that I'd just rather have the real thing. An ebook reader can never replace the feel and smell of a real book. I actually have an ebook reader app on my Droid device and have downloaded several public domain classics for it. I've yet to read any of them because of the small size of the screen and the fact that I don't feel like I'm actually reading a book.


Ebay Sales (note, theses are all scheduled to end on Monday, September 13, but whatever doesn't sell, I will have my fiancee re-list)












Just a quick note here: I at one time was attempting to collect and read all of the Magic: the Gathering novels. As you can see, I collected quite a few. I've only managed to read the first two books of the Artifact Cycle, however, and now that I no longer play the game, I'm really not as interested in reading the novels as I once was. So, in my efforts to reduce the number of books I own, particularly ones that have become of no interest to me, these were the first (of probably many) to make it onto Ebay.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Role Play vs Roll Play

For several weeks (or has it been months?) now I've been watching a web series called “I Hit It With My Axe.” It follows the adventures of a group of friends playing a hybrid-home brew style of D&D (I think they blend a bit of 1st edition AD&D with some 2nd edition and 3rd edition elements). Oh, did I mention that this group of friends is made up mostly of porn stars and strippers? The whole concept began with a blog by their DM, Zak Smith (aka Zak Sabbath), called “Playing D&D With Porn Stars”. But I digress. What I love about watching this series is how the storyline of their D&D game keeps unfolding or going in different directions. Zak's pretty awesome at coming up with different personalities and voices for the various NPC characters. For the most part the girls do role play their characters, but like a lot of groups I've been involved with, the action gets more descriptive than actually acted out – e.g., “Umm, I tell the mayor about what we saw in the cave he asked us to check out” rather than “Mr. Mayor, we investigated the cave and, alas, found no signs of the goblins there, however we did manage to find evidence that they may have moved on to the east...” You get the idea. But again, lots of gaming groups get like that. Long session, it's going on 2 a.m., everyone's tired. Yeah, you get to a point where you just want to get to a good stopping point for that session and call it night. But even if you're just describing you actions, in some way you're still contributing to the narrative and the concept that a role playing game is about a group of people essentially group writing a story together and the social interaction than it is about winning or losing a game.

Now, here's the thing. It seems to me that some of the more modern RPGs have lost touch the concept of role playing. They've become more about moving miniatures around a grid and rolling dice (what I call Roll Playing). It started, frankly, with D&D 3.0/3.5. When I first started playing AD&D, miniatures were just a tool for helping show where everyone was standing, in case there were traps or when combat broke out. With the advent of the 3rd and 4th editions of Dungeons & Dragons, there are specific rules for using the miniatures that pretty much make it so you have to use them anytime combat happens, basically turning the game from role playing to just another board game. This is another part of why I love watching IHIWMA; although they use miniatures, there's no grid on their table. The mini's are just there for reference and visualization. My own group finally gave up on D&D and the “d20 System” and went back to using the Palladium system (Palladium Fantasy Role Playing Game and Rifts) because we were getting weary of having to use minis all the time. And the dice? Well, saying “I hit with my axe” and actually hitting it with your axe are two different things now aren't they? There has to be some way of determining if a character's announced and intended action is successful or not, and dice are really the only way to accomplish that (along with other mechanics that determine what those dice rolls really mean, but I'm not going to get into all of that here). However, the main focus of a role playing game should be role playing and storytelling. When it becomes to much about the dice rolls, then really it's just become another table top wargame with miniatures and models.

Don't get me wrong. At some point all RPG systems have weaknesses and flaws, most notably in their combat and skills systems. I just feel that the developers of D&D have lost the vision of true role playing, and turned the game into a set of mechanics to mimic online games like World of Warcraft. And truthfully, I can't blame them. They had to do something to compete with all the big computer RPGs (which aren't really RPGs frankly, because nobody actually ever role plays in those games). But, in my not so humble opinion, if you're going to say your playing a role playing game, then freakin' role play. Yes, you will have to roll dice at some point, but when the game becomes more about the dice and the position of your miniatures than the characters being portrayed by the players, it's really ceased to be a role playing game, and become just a roll playing game.

~ JC
NOTE: There are dozens of role playing games and systems out there. I realize I only referenced D&D and briefly mentioned two of Palladium Books' games, but let's be honest – D&D is the most recognizable name out there when it comes to RPGs. So please, no snide or smart-assed commentary on how other games work, interact, etc. (honest, and polite discussion and sharing of ideas, however is OK). And yes, I do realize there are some RPG systems that don't use dice at all. Frankly, I think that concept is a bit ridiculous – how else are you to resolve random encounters/actions be it combat or simply whether or not you succeed or fail at a particular action if not by dice rolls? Simple narrative stacks the deck to much in favor of everything being a success with no consequence of failure. But, that's possibly another topic for another blog sometime.

Basic Gamer Glossary (in case you were confused by my abbreviations up top)
  • DM – Dungeon Master: responsible for playing NPC characters, writing adventures the players act out their characters in, and also to be a referee/judge of the rules. The term Dungeon Master specifically refers to the referee in D&D. Other game systems simply refer to this person as the Game Master (GM) or Storyteller.
  • NPC – Non-Player Character : basically, any character not controlled/played by a player, but rather by the DM that the players' characters interact with.
  • D&D/AD&D – D&D has long since been the colloquialism used by players of Dungeons & Dragons in all its various forms and editions. In the earlier days of the game there was a basic version of the game simply called Dungeons & Dragons, and a more complex version called Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. When the 3rd edition was released, the “Advanced” part was dropped from the title. Sometimes you will see gamer blogs and chat boards distinguish older versions of the game as either AD&D 1e, or AD&D 2e from the 3rd and 4th editions, which may be referenced as D&D 3.0/3.5 (or D&D 3e) and D&D 4e.
  • RPG – Role Playing Game. Some online games, such as Everquest, World of Warcraft, D&D Online, etc. are known as a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game or MMORPG. While some of these games feature what are known as “Role Playing Servers” for those that wish to act out their characters, most of the time the concept of actually role playing in these types of games is totally lost and so, in my opinion, calling them a RPG is a bit of a misnomer.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

I've Forgotten the Milk To Become a Producteev Todoist

A few years ago, like so many others, I discovered an online to-do-list/task manager called 'Remember the Milk'. At the time, it was one of the best I had ever seen as it offered more features than Google Tasks. A short time later, I discovered another one called Todoist. Instantly, I found Todoist much more to my personal liking as it allowed sub-tasks and generally just had a more attractive user interface to me. I promptly deleted my RTM account and began using Todoist exclusively (despite the fact that it did not offer reminders without paying for the premium version). Fast forward a few years to my becoming an Android based mobile device user. At the time I got my Motorola Droid, there was no app for Todoist. However, there was a pretty decent free app called Astrid that had the ability to sync with Remember the Milk. So, I again became a RTM user. As the Astrid developers continue to make improvements on the app, the more I like. One of the more recent updates to Astrid included the ability to not only sync with RTM but another online task manager called Producteev. I had never heard of Producteev, so I decided to check it out. I instantly liked it more than either RTM or Todoist. Using Astrid's ability to sync with both RTM and Producteev, I was able to quickly import all of my tasks and from there tweak them to my liking in Producteev. The UI in Producteev is more attractive than in RTM, and it also has the ability to sync with Google Calendar, which I'm still deciding if I like or not as it seems to have some odd quirks and bugs. At this point, the only advantage that Todoist has over either of the other two is the ability to create sub-task, which, for me, is useful for breaking down my Reading List as some of the books I own are omnibus editions or collections of short stories (see screen shots below for examples). Where Producteev really wins is the fact that it is in constant development and that the developers have created a forum for user feedback that they actually take into account when fixing existing features or coming up with new ones. As some of the features they have planned come about, there's little doubt that Producteev will become my exclusive task list tool (examples include sub-tasks and its own Android App). Below are screen shots of Producteev and Todoist featuring my Reading List to demonstrate the sub-task ability that I love about Todoist and am looking forward to in Producteev. Alas, I deleted all of my tasks from RTM before thinking to get a screen shot, but suffice it to say, it looked pretty much like Producteev except not as colorful.



So, as you can see from these photos, Todoist offers me the ability to take a single task (such as reading The Space Wolf Omnibus, which contains three separate novels) and break it down into its separate components. Producteev does not, at least not yet, but it is a feature that is planned for development. Notice also, that two other books in the list are actually compilations of short stories, so again, the ability to break those down into separate stories so I can keep track of my progress is very helpful.1 Other than that, Todoist's lack of reminders or calendar integration gives the edge to Producteev.

Another great feature in Producteev is the ability to create and manage tasks directly from my email inbox. For example, I use paperless online billing for everything these days. Instead of receiving a bill in the mail, I receive an email alerting me that my bill is available for viewing online. In order to create an action item in my Producteev To Do list, all I have to do is forward that email to tasks@producteev.com and voila, the task is created in Producteev complete with the body of the email as an embedded note (the subject line of the email is what appears in the task list). I can also include things like 5*, ##Bills, etc to set the priority and tags in Producteev automatically as well as including the due date without necessarily having to log into Producteev to do so. So for now, I'll be using Producteev as my default task manager, with Todoist as a back up for breaking down larger tasks into smaller components. Remember the Milk will be, once again, forgotten.

Before I go, here's a quick comparison chart of some of the features of all three services. Please note that the features I'm listing here are probably not comprehensive and are ones that I personally am interested in, so don't be surprised if I've left something off.

Feature
Create Tasks Via Email Yes (RTM assigns a unique email address to each account) Yes (tasks@producteev.com) Not that I can tell
Prioritize Tasks 1-3 or None (1 being the highest) 1-5 Stars or None (5 is highest, 1 is lowest in this case) 1-4 (1 = highest 4 = same as setting none)
Reminders via Email Yes Yes available in paid version only
Custom Tags Yes Yes Yes
Android App Yes, but only usable if you pay for Pro version Not Yet, but is being developed No, but there are some 3rd party ones
Astrid sync Yes (free) Yes (free) No
Sub-Tasks No No, but is planned for the future Yes
Multiple To Do/Project Lists (To Do, Reading List, etc.) Yes Yes Yes
Task Sorting By due date, priority or task name By Deadline, Label, Last Changed, Manager2, or Priority Manual sorting using drag and drop3

And, that's about all I can think of. I'll probably think of a ton of things I would've liked to have compared or commented on ten minutes after I post this (which I almost always do) but this will have to do for now.

~ JC

1: I also like to set reading goals, such as completing Chapters 1-3 on a particular day then 4-6 the next day, etc.,etc., so that's another example of how sub-tasks can be very helpful. Also, if you were to be writing a major paper for school, sub-tasks could be a great way of setting up your outline and tracking your progress. In other words, sometimes breaking up larger task into smaller parts can help keep you on track and make it not feel so daunting.

2: Another awesome feature of Producteev is that in the paid versions you can have multiple users per account. It's designed to allow groups or teams to assign different tasks and coordinate tasks when working on a project together. The ability to sort by who the Manager of a tasks is could be very useful if you need to see who's working on what at a glance.

3: I actually kind of like this feature as it allows me to move tasks that I've yet to give a due date to into the order I'd like to complete them. It's actually been suggested on the Producteev forums that it be added to their service as well in addition to quick sorting by whatever field.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Android 2.2 Froyo – First Impressions

On August 14, I finally received my over-the-air update to Android 2.2 on my Motorola Droid. Putting aside that it's been a couple of months or more since it was announced, or that it was rumored to drop weeks ago. I won't even go on about how it arrived on my phone almost two weeks after Verizon's official announcement of its release. Let's just talk about the operating system itself. My first impressions of it are not horrible, but I am a bit disappointed overall. I mean, it's a good update, but it's not worth the hype and not worth the long wait we've had to get it. Yes, it's faster and snappier for the most part. I also love that there are now five home screens instead of just three (ironically, I got the update and more home screens after installing an app called “Power Strip” which acts a bit like the Quick Launch bar in Windows, thereby eliminating the need for extra home screens on which to place shortcuts). But there's one thing I'm really disappointed about; one thing that I was looking forward to seeing with Android 2.2 Froyo, and it's missing! FLASH! Where the hell is Flash? So many websites still use Adobe Flash for animations and videos that it has been the one thing on the Droid that has been sorely lacking in terms of being able to surf the web.

Since Android 2.2's release was announced I've been anticipating being able to view websites with Flash videos or even Hulu on my Droid. Alas, I still can't. I'm not a hardcore smartphone user. I don't care about WiFi tethering and such as that. I just want the device to do what I need/want it to do. For the most part it does, but the fact that I've waited all this time for Froyo to launch, and now I'm still waiting on Adobe to release the mobile flash player is quite irritating. I mean, if they've known for all this time that Android 2.2 would support Flash 10.1, then why the hell hasn't the development team at Adobe been on top of this? (See, I'm willing spread the blame here. Google put 2.2 out weeks ago. Verizon took to long to release it via Over-The-Air updates, and Adobe has had plenty of time to develop Flash for it, and has totally dropped the ball here, in my opinion).

As for Froyo itself, I do like it. I like the new user interface; the inclusion of permanent links to the phone and web functions at the bottom of the screen are helpful. As I mentioned, I like having five home screens to put shortcuts on. And, overall, the device seems to be faster. There is no doubt in my mind that going forward, I'll continue to be an Android smartphone user every time I'm eligible for my “new every two” upgrade from Verizon.

~ JC


Post Script - August 25, 2010 -- Yesterday I discovered that, thanks to the update to Froyo, I can actually answer a phone call using the multi-function button on my Bluetooth headset. Previously, I had to answer from the phone itself. So, Bluetooth functionality was obviously improved in Android 2.2.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

“Bank On Me Going Green(dot)

Banks suck. Few would argue that banks, and the corporate greed of high ranking banking officials is a large part of why our economy is so fucked right now. I'm not here to argue a political point. My beef with banks, and banking, is of a more personal nature. Namely, the policies under which personal deposits to checking accounts are governed. Bank deposit policies are bullshit (sorry if it seems I'm channeling Penn Jillette). In recent weeks I've had issues with deposits I've made not showing as available when checking my account online. Who the fuck, and at which bank, decided that the business day ends at 2PM? Furthermore, what's the point of having drop boxes to create the “convenience” of not having to stand in line, if the damn thing isn't checked regularly enough and therefore creates an inconvenience when it comes to a person's hard earned money being available to them? I'll explain.

I work for a small business. As such, I don't have access to services such as direct deposit. I have to physically take my paycheck to the bank, fill out the deposit slip and stand in line to have a teller process my deposit. For decades banks have decided that 2pm is actually the next business day. That is to say, if you make a deposit after 2pm on Monday, it's actually not deposited until Tuesday. What makes this a bullshit concept is, if it's a Friday afternoon, your deposit won't be credited until Monday because Saturday and Sunday aren't “business days”. Now, to top all that off, in the past couple of weeks I've made deposits late in the afternoon on a Thursday only to not have them show as available until after midnight on Friday (so basically, not until Saturday). This past Friday really took the cake though. It was around 4:15pm. I was hot, tired and just wanted to get home (a commute of about an hour or more depending on traffic, for me). So, when I saw how long the line was in the bank, I decided to use their “convenient” drop box since I was only depositing and not getting any cash back this time. I filled out the deposit slip and the envelope, endorsed the back of the check, put everything in the envelope and dropped it in the box and went on my merry way home for the weekend. Saturday morning, my balance still showed $26. I kept checking every so often, and still no sign of my deposit. Now, here's the kicker – the branch I went to is actually open half a day on Saturdays, so I gave them a call. I figured, since they were open on Saturday, someone would have taken anything in the drop box out and processed it. Evidently, that's not the case. Since I put it in the box so late on a Friday, and because it was a check drawn on a different bank instead of cash, that money won't be available until Tuesday! Tuesday?! Fucking really? You mean I have to survive the weekend, plus put gas in my car to get to work on Monday with only the $15 in my wallet, the $40 I have squirreled away in my change jar and the measly $26 I still have available in my checking account? WTF? Normally I'd only be annoyed, but this is a special weekend. I had planned on taking my beautiful, wonderful fiancee out to a nice dinner at one of our favorite restaurants since Thursday was her birthday, and Friday was the anniversary of our engagement.1 Now, not only can I not do that, but I can't even go get any of the hobby supplies I wanted to get so I can enjoy a weekend of painting Warhammer models.2 “Well, switch banks”, you may say. To what end? They all do stupid shit like this. No, I think I have a better plan.

With all this bullshit with banks I'm seriously considering becoming an almost straight cash person. Frankly, I've always hated carrying cash and preferred to use my check card, because 1) it's convenient, 2) it makes me more responsible about impulse and large purchases because I have to bear in mind how much is actually in the bank and 3) if I lose my card, it can be replaced; if I lose my cash, I'm just shit-out-of-luck and broke. Enter GreenDot. GreenDot is a prepaid credit card. Here's they way this thing works. I can go get a GreenDot credit card with either a Visa or MasterCard logo on it so it's accepted wherever either of those cards are accepted. If it's lost, I can have it replaced and I don't lose my balance. I can control how much is on it at any given time because it's prepaid, meaning the balance on the card is just like the balance in my checking account; whatever I put on it, is what is available for use. So, I could keep the majority of my cash, and just load up a GreenDot card with as much as I need to still be able to do online purchases and bill paying. I know for a fact (since I used to work at one) that I can go into any RadioShack and re-load it, and whatever I put on it is immediately available for use (no bullshit next business day before the funds are available crap). Now, I do understand that this plan isn't perfect. For starters, despite that fact that I'm really pissed at my bank right now, I do have to admit that I get free checking and I can use my debit card all I need/want to with no fees (save for, of course, overdraft fees if I spend more than my balance). With GreenDot there will be a start-up fee and there will be a reload fee when I load it with cash and probably a monthly maintenance fee depending on my balance or how much I've used it (however, there is no fee for direct depositing funds to a GreenDot card should I ever find a job that offers that). The plan isn't ideal, and honestly I may very well keep the bank account open with a nominal balance, depositing cash when/if needs be. I'm just tired of going through entire weekends with very limited funds available to me because of banks' dubious deposit procedures and policies. It's just nice knowing that I at least have the option of a prepaid credit/debit card without having to deal with a bank's bullshit while still being able to pay my bills or make purchases online.

~ JC

----------------------
1. Seven years... yes, I know that's a long time to be engaged, but it works for us, so :-P

2. I really wanted to get an inexpensive airbrush so I could batch paint the base coats on several at one time and quickly. Good thing I already have some prepped – not to mention I have tons of reading to catch up on. But still, it's really annoying when you make plans for your weekend and they get fucked up because of banking issues that you can't control. Also, for the record, my fiancee paid for dinner and I'll reimburse her once my deposit posts – it's just pretty shitty that she had to pay for her own birthday dinner that was supposed to be my gift to her.


Sunday, August 01, 2010

More Apps For That

(part 3 in an ever continuing saga of Apps for Android based mobile devices)

Back in November 2009 I upgraded my phone to a MotoDroid. Of course, I immediately started downloading and installing all the free apps that seemed fun or useful at the time. A month after that I wrote another blog about the device and updated my list of recommended apps. Here we are in August 2010 and once again I find the need to give an update on the apps I use. The list has changed a lot of the past eight months, and will undoubtedly continue to do so as new apps are developed and as I drop ones that I no longer use to make room in my mobile's memory for the newer more useful apps coming down the pike. With new and more powerful Android based phones coming out and my anticipation of Android 2.2 (aka “Froyo”) pushing out to my current Droid (which supposedly is happening this week), my continued use of this type of smartphone is pretty much guaranteed. I've even read that a German company is soon going to be releasing a tablet which will run an enhanced version of the Android OS to directly compete with Apple's iPad. So, here's my latest update and review of apps, all of which are available from the Android Market.

We'll begin with apps which are mentioned on m previous two lists that I've deleted and why:

  • Barcode Scanner – this app utilizes the device's camera as a bar-code scanner and links with Google Product Search to allow you to comparison shop while still in the store. I deleted it because, honestly, I just didn't use it. It's not that it didn't work, I simply just forgot I had it and since I wasn't using it, I deleted to make room in the phone's memory

  • Key Ring – this one was good in theory but not so much in practice. For those of you tired of having a bundle of little value and discount cards on your key ring you may like this. Simply scan the bar-codes from all those cards into this app and save them on your phone. The problem with it is, in the case of the MotoDroid anyway, is that the screen's reflective surface causes the bar-codes to be unreadable by pretty much every store's scanner I went to, so I gave up on it.

  • MySpace Mobile – as the name implies; who still uses MySpace though? I mean, I haven't logged into MySpace in close to a year anyway, so why have an app for it?

  • Twidroid – one of dozens of Twitter clients available in the Market. I dropped it because Twitter came out with its own official client that I personally like a little better.

  • SportsTab – a sports score app. I simply just didn't use it. The phone has full internet capability, so I just use that. Plus, I really only care about hockey, and there is a dedicated NHL app I use for that.
There are probably others that I've downloaded and deleted between then and now that I don't even remember. From the list above, I probably had more questions from people wondering how welly Key Ring worked than any of the others though. Anyway, here is a list of the apps I currently have installed.
  • Lookout – I can't believe I didn't get this sooner. A really nice rep at my local Verizon store suggested this one. It's a virus scan and data back up app. I mean, DUH!, phones can get viruses too; they are, after all, mini-computers right? Keep in mind that Android is in fact a mobile flavor of the Linux family of operating systems. If you have an Android device, having a virus scan app should be a no-brainer, and Lookout is free. It also will backup your contacts, call log and pictures to a remote server. You'll notice that, while all the others are in alphabetical order, I listed this one first because it's really that important!

  • AK Notepad – thanks to my Grandfather's influence, I've always found it useful to carry a pen and notepad in my pocket at all times. This app give me a notepad on my phone without having to worry about annoyance like pages getting torn, or my pen getting lost or running out of ink right when I need to write something down.

  • Assistant Free – if you use Pageonce and you have an Android device, you'll want this app.

  • Astrid – a very simple, but good, to-do list app. The best part is that it syncs with Remember the Milk without having to pay for RTM's premium service (which is required if you want to use the official RTM app).

  • Astro – I've mentioned this one before, but I'll list it again because it's one that I've continued to use extensively. Android does not have a built in file manager. In order to view and manipulate folders and files as you would on your desktop computer, you have to attach the device to your computer via a USB cable. Astro allows you to do see all your folders and files without having to connect to your PC. It also has tools for viewing how much memory on you micro-SD card is being used and by what, and has a built in app for backing up all your other apps so, should you ever have to replace your phone you don't have to go re-download them all from the Market, which can be quite time consuming if you have a ton of apps.

  • Bible – again, I've mentioned this one before. There are tons of Bible apps in the Android Market. The one I chose appears to have all of the various English translations as well as several foreign language translations and several Reading Plan options to help guide you through your Scripture readings.

  • ChompSMS – a client to replace the stock Text Messaging app that the phone comes with.

  • Compass – an electronic compass

  • Congress – this app will use the phone's built in GPS to find your location and then list all your congressional reps. You can see what bills they've sponsored, how they've voted on different bills and look up their official contact information. The app also lists recently passed bills and bills that are currently up for debate/vote in both houses.

  • ConvertPad – I got this one for fun, but if you find that you need to do a lot of conversions, such as Standard to Metric, this is a useful app

  • Dice Bag – if you're a gaming geek, you'll love this. It's a dice roller that covers everything from d4 to d20, including percentile dice. It even keeps a log of all your rolls for you.

  • Dictionary.com – a handy app for when you need a dictionary

  • Documents to Go – available in a free (reader only) version and a full version (that allows you to create and edit). Includes the ability to read, create and edit Word, Excell and PowerPoint documents and has a PDF reader (which is much supperior to Adobe's official Reader app in my opinion).

  • Dolphin Browser HD – a much better internet browser than the one built into the phone, in my opinion. This app utilized pinch zooming before the Android 2.1 update fixed that limitation in the stock browser. It also has tabbed browsing, which the stock browser still doesn't have.

  • Droid Light – utilizes the cameras LED flash bulb as a flashlight. I've actually had to use this a couple of times and it's quite handy to have.

  • Ebook Readers – I currently have four different ebook readers installed on my Droid – Aldiko (free, and has a pretty good library of public domain books as well as access to the O'Reilly library of tech manuals, which, alas, are not free), Kindle (the app is free, but the books aren't – gives me access to Amazon.com's selection of ebooks), Kobo (free app and a combination of both free and paid ebooks; I think this is Border's ebook reader, but I'm not sure), and Nook (Barnes and Noble's ebook library). So, why buy a ridiculously overpriced ebook reader when I can download a free app to my phone that gives me access to pretty much all of the major book sellers' libraries of ebooks? Personally, I'd rather read a real book, but I like the concept of ebooks enough to keep these apps around, especially if the above mentioned Android based tablet ever becomes something my budget allows me to buy. My old college friend, Sam, wrote an interesting little blog about this topic not to long ago.

  • Ebay- ok, I'll admit it; I've become a bit of an eBay junky lately and having this app allows me to keep an eye on all the stuff I'm watching or bidding on.

  • Fandango – an app for the popular movie site. I've not tried to actually buy my tickets through this yet (not sure if I can actually), but it's helpful for when I'm out and about and thinking of heading to a movie to check on show times.

  • Gdocs – view and edit anything I've uploaded to Google Documents

  • GolfLogix – ok, Golf GPS devices (such as SkyCaddy) are expensive as hell! This, and other apps like it, turn your Android device into a Golf GPS so you can get accurate yardages. Admitadly, I've not used it yet because it's been just to damn hot here in North Carolina for me to want to get out there and play. Plus, while I've downloaded the app, I've not paid to actually use the service yet (one of the very few non-free apps I've downloaded).

  • iheartradio – an app for listening to you favorite radio stations via streaming audio (assuming that they have made their broadcast available to this service).

  • Meridian – a UI for listening to your tunes. I like this one a little better than the stock music player as it also allows me to watch videos without having to switch apps. It's just a cleaner UI in my opinion. There are several such apps available, so go with what you like.

  • Newspapers – this app allows you to browse dozens of newspapers from around the world, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, etc.

  • NHL – an app for keeping up with National Hockey League news and scores.

  • OI Shopping List – allows me to create multiple lists which use check boxes next to each item as I complete them. Like AK Notepad, this is helping me become more green and waste less paper.

  • Pandora – if you've ever used the Pandora website to stream music on your computer, then you'll probably want their app as well. I use it for finding bands I've never heard of that are similar to bands that I already like.

  • Power Strip – this is my most recent acquisition. It's not a free app; I got it for 99cents and I think it was on sale at the time. I've always hated having icons all over my desktop, and even in Windows 7 I use the Quick Launch toolbar for my most used programs. Power Strip basically gives me similar functionality on my Droid by allowing me to have just one icon on my home screen which, whien tapped, pulls up a list of the apps I would normally have put on my home screen(s) and also gives me access to several widgets without having to leave those widgets running constantly and using up my battery if I don't need them at the time.

  • QuickTip Calculator – as the title implies, and quick calculator for figuring how much to tip. I don't use this very often, because I don't want to be “that guy” that has to do math to decide how much his server deserves for a tip, but it does come in handy at times if you're splitting the check amongst several people.

  • Stopwatch – what it sound like. A Stopwatch, with a Lap button.

  • Weather Channel – I actually use this app's widget quite often

  • Twitter – the official Android client app from Twitter. It is what it is. I've still yet to find a Twitter app that I really love. If only the developers at TweetDeck would get off their asses and come out with an Android app like they've been promising for months!

  • United States Constitution – in these very heated political times, I believe everyone should have a copy of the the most important document in United States history at their disposal. There are several to choose from in the Market; the one I chose also includes The Declaration of Independence, The Star-Spangled Banner, The Miranda Warning, The Pledge of Allegiance, and several other historical documents.

  • Voice Recorder – why buy an expensive digital voice recorder when you can download a free app that turns your phone into one? The one I have also has built in features to set your recording as a ringtone or send to others via either Bluetooth or Gmail.

  • Warhammer 40k/Combat Assistant – a dice roller app specifically for the game Warhammer 40,000. Includes a scatter dice roller. Available as a free version and a paid version with additional features.

  • Wikidroid – an app for looking up things on Wikipedia.org

  • Zedge – if you're into customizing your phone with different wallpaper and ringtones, then this is a must have app. All the wallpapers and ringtones via this app are free!
And that does it for now. As I mentioned, new apps come out all the time. Some of the above will undoubtedly be replaced when/if a better app is found, some will be deleted as their usefulness declines. I love having an Android device! Not just because I'm a gadget geek, but also because it's really made life easier having access to so many apps in the palm of hand and just a finger tap away.

~ JC

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The 20 Yard Commute

You may have noticed I didn't post a blog last Sunday. For those three or four of you who actually read this blog, I apologize for that, but I was out of town and really didn't want to use the computer I had access to to write my blog since it wasn't mine. My reason for being out of town is actually more or less what I want to write about today. I spent, along with my beloved fiancée, house and dog sitting for my aunt and her husband (who is also my employer) the entire week from July 5 through July 11. It's sad that that was the closest thing to a vacation that Roxanne and I will likely have this year, but we got paid for it and it was nice to be out of Fayetteville for an entire week. But I digress.

House sitting for my boss did allow me to experience, albeit for only four days, what it is like to work from home. Since the shop is in the backyard of the house, I only had to walk out of the side door of the house, through the gate into the backyard and voila! I was at work. I whopping twenty yards or so. Compared to my normal 65ish miles that takes around an hour from Fayetteville to Garner1, it was a nice change of pace. The only bad thing, and it really wasn't all that bad of a thing, is that I found myself still waking up when I normally would have when at home. Considering that I was also watching two pit bull-terriers, it was helpful to have that extra time, but I still ended up getting tired of watching the same news stories loop on 'Morning Express with Robin Meade' and would end up getting dressed and heading out the shop at 9:30 instead of 10:00. Like I said, not really a bad thing, just a slightly annoying thing I guess.

So, this is what that experience showed me. Working from home is pretty awesome, but it can also be distracting. You would think I would have worked more hours since I was just right there and was not as anxious about having to drive home on I-40 and I-95. Interesting thing is, it's much easier to end up taking an hour for lunch instead of only thirty minutes when all you have to do is walk from the shop to the kitchen in the house and sit with your fiancee. You also end up realizing, hey, the TV, computer, whatever-book-I'm-reading, et cetera is just right there in the house and not an hour away and I'd much rather watch TV, read a book or play on the computer than make belts or dye, finish and wax holsters. So, in that respect, working from home can be a bit of a distraction too. Having pets and working from home is also a distraction because you find yourself thinking more about if they need to go outside or if they're tearing up stuff inside more when you're right there where you can take care of it.

Sure, it saved on gas and I really didn't have to get up as early (I did manage to sleep in a whole thirty minutes extra a couple of mornings), but I'm not sure I could pull off working from home everyday. I think I'd be to likely to constantly think of things that needed to be done like laundry or painting all of those pesky Warhammer models to be very productive with my work if I did work from home; out of sight, out of mind so they say. At any rate, while I certainly would not mind having a job that allowed me to work from home (aka, telecommute), I cannot guarantee I'd be as productive doing so as I would in a shop or office away from all the hobbies and things at home that could distract me from working.2

~ JC

1. That would be Fayetteville, NC USA to Garner, NC USA in case anyone was wondering or confused. Sometimes I do actually get the random reader who doesn't know me grin.
2. Now that I think about it, the fact that I wasn't actually working from home, but someone else's home is probably why I still got my work done that week. I didn't have all my stuff with me to distract me as much. LOL

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Flu Bugs, Painting Models, eBay, Smoke Juice, and General Mayhem

This week's blog is a pretty mixed up pile of commentary. It fits well the overall title of the blog actually. I've spent this entire past work week (Monday – Friday) at home with a lovely case of the Flu. Of course, this went over like a big lead balloon at work I'm sure. Not that there was a ton of stuff going on at work this week, what with the Independence Day weekend coming up and no shows going out, but there is/was a very large dealer order to be filled and I wasn't there to help with it. I spent the bulk of the week taking TheraFlu or NyQuil and sleeping. In between naps, I tried to keep folks abreast of my illness via Facebook and Twitter.

Prior to the week of sickness, I had attempted to start painting again in the form of Warhammer models. Being as that I could feel the sickness coming on even as early as Friday (6/26) and my nose kept running, it made painting rather challenging. I mean, try painting a 28mm detailed miniature while having to stop every few seconds to grab a Kleenex. To the left is an unpainted model next to the one I painted (a task that took me several days to complete because I didn't feel well enough until late Wednesday (6/30) to finish some of the details, hence the reason only one out of a few dozen has been painted). As you can see, I suck at painting. To give myself some credit, it's the first time I've painted anything like that in over ten years, so I actually did pretty good. Now I just have to nut up the gumption to try things like washes and dry brushing to bring out the minute details in the model. I never was all that good at either of those techniques, probably because when I was a thirteen year old D&D geek, I didn't even know those techniques existed. I always liked to look at pictures of completed models and miniatures and always wondered how they got them to look so vibrant. Well, now I know, I just need to learn how to do it myself. So, the one model I've painted is technically incomplete from a certain point of view – but I had fun painting it and I've got plenty more models in the one Warhammer boxed set I own to keep practicing on (it's not like I can't strip it and repaint it later after I get good at it).

Speaking of Warhammer, I'm afraid to admit that it's causing me to become somewhat of an eBay junkie. I'm not going overboard buying and bidding, but I do have about a dozen or more things that I'm watching at any given time. I've logged into my eBay account more in the last two weeks than in the last two years I think. Previously I was looking to rebuild my collection of role playing game books. Now I'm searching for deals on Warhammer 40,000 models. It's a good thing too, because I have to admit, the prices on eBay are tons less expensive than actually going through Games Workshop itself. Case in point, the “Space Wolves Battleforce” retails for $90 on GW's website, but I've found it for as little as $64 (or less) on eBay! Of course, I have to keep an eye on how much folks are charging for shipping else I'm right back to paying as much as I would from GW.

In other online ordering news, I finally decided to order some Johnson Creek Smoke Juice to try to refill my spent e-cigarette cartridges myself. Being as how most of my empties are menthol, and I really didn't want to find out what it would be like to mix flavors, I ordered a half ounce bottle of their Arctic Menthol smoke juice. At only about $10 (plus shipping) for a half ounce bottle, it's actually way cheaper than ordering the actual cartridges from Red Dragon which would run around $12 for four cartridges. The trick now is to figure out just how much to drip into the cartridges. To much, and it'll leak (and I'm sure that would taste just nasty) and to little would be like I never put anything in them at all. Of course, everyone else's opinion is that I should just quit smoking altogether. Naturally, that would be ideal, but until I can work on overcoming the nicotine addiction completely, I'll keep using the e-cigarettes as a way to reduce my actual smoking. Incidentally, for those of you who smoke – who do you find to be more obnoxious, those who have never smoked, and therefore have no idea how hard it is to quit, or those who have managed to quit and act all superior because they were able to and you haven't yet? Just curious.

In the general mayhem department, well, the flu causes just that. Being sick always sucks, but when it causes you to miss work when you get paid by the hour, it really sucks. When sickness means not even being able to read or write or paint or whatever else you enjoy doing, then it just makes the days you are sick seem that much longer because all you can do to pass the day is either sleep, or watch TV in a cold-medicine haze. Eating isn't enjoyable because you can't taste anything, and you feel like if you see another can of chicken noodle soup you're going to scream (which, of course, would hurt like hell because of the sore throat).

The other thing being sick slows me down on is job searching. I like my job – there's something about taking a shoulder of bull-hide and turning it into a bunch of quality belts or seeing it become a batch of gun holsters that's pretty cool. But it's not a career. With my fiancee actively searching for work in her field, now that she has her Master's degree, I also sort of need to have a job that would allow me to easily transfer. I've hesitated about filling out applications with places, like BestBuy for example, because of a slight sense of loyalty to my current employer (who's also my uncle by marriage) and also because of things coming up like Jury Duty that could interfere with things. Not to mention, I'm not really sure I want to go back into working retail again, but hey, that's what I know and what I'm good at; plus someplace like BestBuy could lead to experience in actual computer technician work while working on a degree and/or certifications in the Information Technology (IT) field at the same time. Anyway, I need to sort that out soon... very soon.

~ JC

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Hammer of War

I really have to stop saying “never.” I said I'd never write a blog – yet here I am, as I am almost every Sunday morning writing a blog. I said I'd never play World of Warcraft – I ended up addicted to it for a year and a half. And, of course, I said I'd never have a MySpace, Facebook or Twitter account, and yet I have all three! So, here's my latest never that's about to be trumped – I'll never play Warhammer. Yeah, right.

Now, I have good reasons to say that I'll never play Warhammer, or it's Sci-Fi cousin Warhammer 40,000 (or 40k for short). First of all, it's expensive as hell! Have you ever priced any of this stuff? The starter kit is $90! $90!? Really? For a friggin' tabletop game, that you have to put the damn pieces together yourself!? Fuck that! Then there's that – the having to put them together yourself. I mean, Axis & Allies was a fairly expensive board game at around $50, but at least the pieces were already together – we opened the box, read the rules and started playing right away. But not Warhammer; oh hell no. You have have put the models together and paint them first. WTF? Several years ago a friend of mine actually gave me a starter set for Warhammer: The Game of Fantasy Battles. He had won it or something. It seemed intriguing at the time, but then I found a hobby shop that sold the extra pieces for it and noticed the price of the stuff. It's like one part model building/painting mixed with one part collectible card game/deck building. You keep building and expanding your army. You buy more models, put them together, paint them, then find other people who've done the same and have table top battles.(1) I like the concept to be honest. Strategy, luck of the dice – I even like the model building and painting thing. But why in the hell do these things cost so much? I'm sorry, but no one is ever going to convince me these things are fairly priced. $90 for a box of little plastic models I have to paint and put together myself is pretty ridiculous. And yet, yesterday I went out and got paints and brushes so I could start painting the models I was given years ago.(2) I'm watching eBay for deals on 40k models so I can start building an army of Space Wolves. I've obtained the rulebook and codex for the 40k army I want to build so I can learn how to play. Truth be told, I'm more interested in the modeling part of the process than I am the game at this point, mainly because the only people I know who could teach me to play live hundreds of miles away, and one of them is even in a different time zone. But that doesn't mean I can't enjoy the relaxing hobby of building and painting models like I used to when I was a kid. And if I'm going to start building models, I might as well let it tie in to my normal gaming-geek nature and let those be war gaming models, I suppose.

~ JC

(1) To explain, in brief, for those to lazy to click on all the links I've provided and go read up on it for yourself – the starter kits are plenty for you to be able to play the game. But most people get into the hobby as a whole, that being the collecting, building and painting of the models and thereby being able to improve and expand one's army. The game uses a point system to keep things fair, so some guy who only owns, say 410 points worth of models (which is about what the starter box for the Space Wolves I plan to play is) isn't going to get crushed by the guy who owns 2000 points worth of models (like my best friend's Blood Angels army that he's built over several months). The guy with the 2000 would have to reduce his force proportionately so the match is fair.

(2) I don't really plan to play either of the armies that came in the Warhammer Fantasy set I have. I'm just going to paint them so I can practice painting miniatures. I haven't painted miniatures in almost a decade and a half (back then minis were just something we used as a visual aid for D&D and not an essential part of role playing – but that's another rant for another time)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Keep Rollin', Rollin', Rollin'

Anyone who's read my blog regularly knows I'm a bit of a gamer. My roots go back to 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and I even dabbled a bit in Star Frontiers and Top Secret. More recently I've been playing Palladium Fantasy Role-Playing Game™ and Rifts® with plans to possibly start playing in the World of Darkness system. The one thing all of these games, and others like them, have in common is dice. Even though the main premise is to create a character and develop a persona for that character, there are situations that just can't be role-played. Combat is the most typical situation (roll to see if you hit your target, roll to see how much damage you did to the target, etc.), but there are others – e.g., you can't just tell the Game Master, “I kick down this door” and that's that; dice are rolled to determine if you were successful or if the door was just to solid for you to kick down. Anyone who has ever played, or seen played, a typical role playing game knows that the dice used are not (necessarily) the typical 6-sided cubes found on a Vegas craps table. Pictured below is my current collection of dice:


As you can see from the photo, the aforementioned cubes are present, but there are several others ranging from 4-sides to the famous D20 (20-sided die). During my off-again-on-again “career” in D&D et.,al. I've owned several sets of dice. Hell, I practically used to collect them* and at one time I even owned a couple of 30-sided dice, although I'm not quite sure why I bought those other than the novelty of them. The interesting thing is, the above set of dice never come out of the bag anymore. With my group being flung from North Carolina to Texas and even all the way up to Michigan and our getting together using online tools such as OpenRPG and Ventrilo, we use virtual dice these days. The dice buttons in OpenRPG that allow us to “roll” for combat attacks and damage serve their purpose I suppose, but sometimes it just doesn't quite feel the same, you know? I love that my buddies and I found a way to continue playing even though we live hundreds of miles apart from each other, but I still miss breaking out my dice bag every week. It also has me wondering about the accuracy of the virtual dice versus the real thing. Now, it's been fifteen years or more since I took that class on Finite Mathematics (and for that matter, I withdrew from it), so I'm not going to attempt to calculate probabilities of rolling a 20 on a D20, blah, blah, blah. But what I did do was roll my favorite real D20 (that would be the purple one in the picture above), the virtual D20 in OpenRPG and a virtual D20 in an app called Dice Bag on my MotoDroid ten times each just to see what kind of results I'd get:
  • Real D20: 11, 17, 5, 10, 2, 4, 10, 9, 1, 10
  • OpenRPG D20: 3, 15, 20, 11, 1, 7, 19, 2, 4, 17
  • Dice Bag App: 19, 19, 6, 16, 1, 11, 8, 14, 20, 4
Ok, so I really don't know what any of that means, but it was a fun experiment to do. Seems like the OpenRPG rolls seemed the most balanced ranging from low to high, while the Dice Bag rolls were a bit overpowered and the real D20 stayed pretty average. Interesting how all three gave me a 1 once while the real D20 was the only one not to come up with a natural-20. Either way, be it plastic, metal, or virtual, I'll keep rolling the dice.

Huzzah!
~ JC



*NOTE: I used to own a lot more dice sets than I currently do. During my fundamentalist-right-wing-Christian phase of life, I probably trashed or burned them. Sad, eh? That I'd allow a religious group to so influence me that I'd believe a game could do me spritiual and mental harm? But that's a whole separate issue (hmmm.... maybe another blog topic for the future? We shall see).

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Color Me Purple

I have never particularly felt the need to wax political in my blog. Today is a little different, mainly because I have reached a point where I am just sick and tired of all the political rigmarole currently in the news. The frank fact of the matter is, both political parties can suck it! For the record, yes, I am registered as a Republican – but I am seriously considering changing that to Independent. Notice I said Independent and not Democrat. As I implied with my “both political parties can suck it” comment, I have no use for either of the two. The political scene in the United States has become so partisan and divisive that it is a wonder that anything gets done. The two parties spend more time arguing with each other and trying to prove how evil the other is to pay any attention to what the citizens of this country want. Don't get me wrong, I am quite aware that the United States is not a pure democracy – it is a republic (i.e., the people don't vote on every issue; we elect other people to represent us who then vote on said issues ostensibly on our behalf). But that still does not change the fact that the people do get to vote for who represents them in said republic, and those representatives simply have come to a point where they are so concerned with their own agendas that they are failing to do their jobs, namely representing the people.

I will be the first to admit that I am really no expert on politics, but it just seems to me that most people I talk to are more likely to take each issue on its own merits while the pundits and politicians vote on party lines or automatically jump to the conservative or liberal side of every argument. They don't weigh each issue, they just go with whatever their political party's stance is like lemmings over a cliff. I don't subscribe to that point of view – I believe each issue needs to be weighed individually. Our so called leaders have demonstrated that they either don't have the ability to think for themselves, or they just don't give a shit what the opinion of their constituents is on the issue at hand. For example, the health care issue. Now, I'm not trying to debate this issue here, but it is very much a hot button issue so I'll use it as an example of how our government doesn't care about us as much as it claims to. The health care bill was largely unpopular (at least, the way it was written). Even people who voted as they did in the 2008 election because they wanted the health care that Obama promised largely disagreed with how it was being handled by Congress. Yet, it passed anyway! Approval ratings of those involved in passing it dropped virtually over night. Some states even threatened law suits against the federal government. As I said, I'm not here to debate health care, but it is a prime example of how the political machine has started to break down and fail, if for no other reason than that our leaders have decided we're all children to be seen and not heard. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico off of the Louisiana coast is another prime example of a government that does nothing. They had weeks to formulate a plan to keep that oil from reaching the coast, and several ideas were given. Alas, the government again sat their holding its dick, and now we have oil in the marshlands and making its way to every beach that touches the gulf.

So, without going into an overly long diatribe, here's my (very brief) take on both parties:
Democrats – claim to be for the poor and working class, but clearly don't get the fact that over regulation of big corporations stagnates the free market and eventually costs jobs because the companies that employ the poor and working class will eventually lay them off or fire them to keep their profit margin (not saying I believe in big corporations, just saying, those companies will fire the little guys before the executives give up their large salaries). The Democrats, in my not so humble opinion, really are leading us down a path toward Communism by their seeming desire to make the Federal Government have its hand in every cookie jar in the country and having a say in everything. They are flaming hypocrites who are themselves millionaires but like to criticize the rich. They come up with social agendas, not out of a sense of wanting to help those less fortunate, but because they feel guilty for having more or feel superior and think only they know what's best for those with less.
Republicans – their claim of wanting smaller government and less government control is total bullshit. Example, how can you say you want more civil liberties and less government control, but then deny civil liberties such as marriage between same-sex couples? Explain that? How can you claim separation of church and state when you perceive that a church's rights are being denied, but still insist that there be prayer in public schools? The Republican party has allowed itself to become entirely to inundated with fundamentalist Christians who want the US to become a theocracy. They've also adopted the attitude of opposing anything the Democrats put on the table just because it was proposed by a Democrat – an “us versus them” attitude that exacerbates an already torrid working relationship.
Yes, I realize that opinions are like assholes – everyone has one and it almost always smells like shit. These are my opinions. Don't like them? Great, that's your right. Now, ask yourself why you don't like my opinion – is it because you sincerely and thoughtfully disagree with my conclusion? Or is it because I prefer to combine Red and Blue to make Purple? As I said, I didn't write this to express my opinions on all the issues and topics ranted about in the news everyday. In general, I don't even really like talking about politics, especially recently, because all it does is lead to arguments. We have become so polarized over the last few years in this nation that it's a wonder our government still functions at all. And with the so called mid-term elections coming up, things are already getting heated even among candidates are in the same party! There are run off elections going on because so many people are vying for the same seat that no one can get a clear majority of votes. Hell, maybe I should have put my name in for consideration; I doubt I would have won, but hey, maybe it would have gotten me a book deal and a chance to be on TV. I mean, that's why these other assholes run for office right? At least, that's how it seems to me.

Until next time kids,
~ JC