Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. 
  In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 
  “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” 
  When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

~ Luke 2:1-20 NASB

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Believe What Thou Will

The topic of belief comes up from time to time, especially this time of year. With it being the Holiday Season (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Chanukah) the topic of belief is very much hard to avoid. What always gets me is how angry some people can get whenever the topic comes up. Now, don't get me wrong here. I'm not just talking about so-called “Fundamentalist Right Wing” Christians here. I've met plenty of Wiccans/Pagans who get their panties in all kinds of a wad whenever anyone tries to talk to them about any other religion but their own. I always find it sad when people get so bent out of shape over someone not believing the exact same as they do. Isn't belief and faith supposed to bring peace and joy to the soul?

I've experienced a lot in my 40 years of life, spiritually speaking. I've been a Pentecostal minister. I've gone into deep meditation and met my animal spirit guides when I practiced Wicca. I've stared into fire seeking visions. I've even been so drunk and full of depression and fear of the future that I've looked up at the North Star and told God he was an asshole before. And through all of it, I have had faith and belief that there is a higher power, even when I was at my lowest.

I once read a definition of religion that, to paraphrase, stated that religion was really just mankind's way of explaining things that they can observe or have experienced that they can't (yet) explain scientifically. Ok. I won't completely disagree with that. I mean, let's face it. Religion is man's creation, not God's. I know, I know. Many will disagree with me on that point, but I still hold to that point of view. I really don't think God invented religion. If He did, there would only be one religion. Man invented religion as a (limited) way of trying to understand God.

Which one is the right one though? Christians would have you believe theirs is. Muslims are quite adamant about theirs being the true path to God, so much so that the really fundamentalist branches of the religion even resort to terrorism to prove it. Wiccans would have you believe that their religion pre-dates Christianity, Islam or Judaism (which isn't really true, but I won't get into how Wicca is actually only a little over a half century old, even though some of their rituals are borrowed from or are resurgences of ancient practices).

What has always struck me as overly ironic about any religion is how it typically can't even entirely agree with itself. Within Christianity there's Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism. Then, with Protestantism there are dozens of denominations and even within those there are splinters and splits because of disagreements over theology. Islam too, as mentioned before, has extremists who are warlike, while other branches are much more peaceful. Judaism even has reformed, orthodox and conservative branches. And don't even get me started on how many various and sundry Neo-Pagan traditions there are.

Then, of course, I would be remiss if I didn't at least mention the Atheists and Agnostics. In some ways I pity them. I mean, I respect their right to not believe, as it were, but having experienced so much, spiritually, I really feel sorry for those who have not.

Ultimately, I don't think God (or the gods, if you prefer) really care what you believe, only that you believe. So, believe what thou will. I know I'm happy. I know I'm on the path I should be on, the one that works for me. We can't all, necessarily, follow the same road. If that were the case, the road wouldn't branch.

~ JC

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Phasing in a New Army

When I moved to Atlanta last October, one of the new hobbies I took up was the game Warhammer 40,000 (also known as 40k, for short). Being of Scottish ancestry, the army I selected to play was called the ‘Space Wolves’, a Space Marine chapter. Yes, I know, Space Wolves fluff and back story is based on Norse mythology, not Celt, but it’s the closest thing to Celt Mythos in the 40k Universe, so that’s what I went with.

Unfortunately, I soon found out that the Space Wolves were also amongst the most popular of Space Marine chapters to play. The upside to that, of course, was always being able to find models for that army at the local gaming store. The downside is, to damn many people were playing that army. The only thing I could really do to make my army stand out was go with a slightly different color scheme when painting them compared to most other players using the color scheme presented in the Space Wolves Codex.

After a few months of playing Space Wolves, I actually started getting a bit bored of them. After all, they’re really just another Space Marine chapter amongst dozens of Space Marine chapters. I wanted to play something different.

The one army I never saw anyone play at Giga-bytes Café was the Necrons. I became intrigued. So I looked through their codex and I very much liked what I saw. I also really liked the look of the models. An army of immortal living robots? Awesome! It would be like playing an entire army of Schwarzenegger-esque terminators. They even had a special rule called “We’ll Be Back”. How awesome was that?

So, I started buying up the little bit of Necrons models that Giga-bytes had in stock with plans to have the owner order more as I decided exactly how I wanted to build my list. Then something happened that made me excited and sad at the same time. I had to post-pone the building of my new army because the models had all become back ordered from Games Workshop. WTF!?

See, Warhammer 40k is currently on the 5th edition of its rule set, but the Necrons Codex was still from 4th edition as it had not been updated for 5th yet. The reason everything had become backordered and unavailable was because GW was finally updating the Necrons for 5th edition. This was exciting because it mean newer, updated special rules for this army and possibly new models as well. The part that made me sad was that my reason for wanting to play this army was potentially about to be nullified. See, I wanted to play Necrons because no one else at my hobby store did. The typical MO when an army gets updated is that a shit-ton of people all of a sudden starts buying up models for it. It’s like everyone has “ooo shiny!” moment and thinks they just have to have it because it’s the newest thing to hit the shelves.

After a months of waiting for the new codex to come out, the day finally arrived yesterday! GW finally released the new codex for Necrons and also introduced several very new, very sexy models for this army. And the timing on this was even better because my birthday is next week, so I ended up getting an early birthday present from my fiancée.

I am very thankful of the fact that, so far, the only person who actually reserved anything for the new release other than a copy of the new codex was me. And no one can accuse me of being a “band wagon” buyer of this new set of models because I had already started this army and planned on playing it before I even knew that GW was updating it for 5th edition.

So, I have some models to build and paint now that I’m actually looking forward to. And more importantly, I’m really anxious to get this army built so I can play it. I’d say the odds are pretty good that I’ll end up getting my Necrons army built up to a full 2000 point list well before I get my Space Wolf army completed.
With that said… I’ve got a codex to read and models that need building.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

No Cable, No Problem

I haven't had cable for over a year now. When I moved to Atlanta, I lived with my best friend for the first five months. He has DirectTV, but a very basic package. When I moved into the apartment this past March, my roommate and I really couldn't afford cable, plus the fact that neither of us is really home enough to justify getting cable. The truth is, I haven't really missed it. Sure, there are shows on cable, like “True Blood” or “Game of Thrones” that I enjoy, but there are other ways of getting to watch TV in this digital age. Don't get me wrong here. I'm not advocating illegal downloads. But the internet is a vast and wonderful place, even with all the trolls.

First of all, there's Hulu. Granted, it doesn't have everything, but it is possible to find a pretty good selection of shows to watch, including old classics. Now, this isn't cable, but it's still my favorite source of TV viewing pleasure – I love that CBS posts all of their shows on their website the day after they air. See, not only do I not have cable, but I don't even have an antenna with which to watch broadcast TV. One of my favorite shows is 'NCIS', so I love the fact that I can watch it on Wednesday night on the website. I've also become a fan of '2 Broke Girls' which I would never have even known existed if not for In fact, I've been watching it as I've been writing this blog. The other networks, ABC and NBC have also followed suit and have their shows available on their websites as well.

Now, if we could only get HBO, Showtime, Cinemax and Starz to follow this same model. Sure, they would charge for it, as where the networks just put play ads like they do anyway, but I'd be willing to bet that people would gladly pony up the dough to watch cable shows on demand via the internet. I know, I know, HBO already does this, but only if you already have a cable subscription through your provider. That idea seems a bit silly to me. Why should I pay for cable just to be able to watch the shows online instead? I'd love to see HBO offer an online only subscription model. I'd be much more likely to pay for that than actual cable at this point.

Anyway, I not only don't miss cable thanks to the other methods by which I can watch my favorite shows (both old and new), but because it has afforded me more time for other pursuits like reading more, or building and painting Warhammer 40k models. It's amazing, now that I think about it, just how much of my free time in the past was wasted just sitting in front of the “idiot box” not really doing anything.

~ JC

Sunday, October 23, 2011

I Just Felt Like Writing

Ever seen 'Forest Gump'? Of course you have... almost everyone has, and extended cable plays it every other weekend. Anyway, there's a segment in the film where Forest decides to go for a run and he runs and runs and runs, so much so that people think he's on some sort of quest, or protest or trying to make a statement of some kind. But all he ever says is, “I just felt like running.” Well, that's pretty much this blog for me. I just felt like writing. No agenda. No political statement. No real point. Just felt like writing, like I used to do every Sunday morning.

Funny thing about feeling like writing though is, thinking of something to write about. I mean, a blog should have a point right? A topic, a theme, a thesis... something. But, not today really. The only point is I wanted to write. The act of writing is rather cathartic for me, so I write, even when I have nothing to say.

The new job goes well. Still learning the ropes, a bit slower than I'd personally like to, but management seems to be cool with what I've accomplished so far. My fiancée is making plans to move down to Atlanta within the next few weeks and continues her job search in the area. The hunt for a house, or better apartment, is underway with a few decent leads. Bills are paid and I still have enough money in the bank to last me until the next pay day. In short, for the first time in a very long time, I'm feeling pretty confident about the future.

~ JC

Sunday, October 16, 2011

WiFi Woes and Victories

Over the last several weeks my roommate and I have experienced a lot of frustrations with th Wi-Fi in our apartment. Between the two of us, we have several devises capapable of connecting to Wi-Fi including my Android phone, his laptop, an HP printer that we share and lately the laptop I received from my new job. The issue was not that these devices couldn't find or connect to the wireless router, but that they wouldn't stay connected. It's quite irritatting to see the devices showing full signal strength right up until you try to actually do something that requires that connection just to see that signal disappear!

Being a tech guy, I tried fiddling around with settings on the devices and the router. My first inclination was that there was something wrong with the router (it was a few years old and so I thought maybe it was slowly dying). So I went out a bought a new router (if nothing else, it was an excuse to update to a newer, faster router than we had). That didn't work. It was suggested by one of the IT people at my office that perhaps we needed to try moving the router lower, but placing it on the floor; she suggested that because she had had a similar issue at her house and moving the router down like that worked for her. Again, that didn't work. We were now pretty convinced that it was just that our apartment was a wireless blackhole. I mean, even our cellphones lacked signal to make and receive phone calls. My roommate has AT&T and I have Verizon, so it was unlikely that it was a carrier issue since we both experience the same issues with lack of signal.

Finally, about a week ago I finally got tired of not being able to print anything or take my laptop anywhere in the apartment or even use some of the apps on my phone while at home, so I went into troubleshooting mode. I logged into the router's GUI through my browser and starting looking at settings to see if maybe there was something there that needed tweaking. That's when I decided to check D-Link's website for any current firmware updates. Low and behold, there was a more current version of the firmware, so I proceeded to make a back up of my router configuration and flash the router. After restoring the configuration and restarting the router, everything worked! The printer, my Android, my roommate's laptop and my laptop (sort of) all were connecting to the Wi-Fi and maintaining that connection.

Now, you may wonder why I put “sort of” in parentheses when I mentioned my laptop. Being that the laptop belongs to the company I work for, I can't completely flatten it and just install Ubuntu. I have to keep the Windows 7 partition that it came with intact. So, when I boot into Windows 7, the Wi-Fi works fine, but when I boot into Ubuntu Linux, the Wi-Fi was continuing to do as it has always done – up, down, up, down. Well, obviously, if this was the only device/system that wasn't keeping the connection with the Wi-Fi, it wasn't the router causing it, so now it was time to go into troubleshooting mode again.

Here's the thing, while I'm not a big fan of Windows, I do have to give Microsoft some credit here. Since Windows is geared toward being used by everyone, not just computer geeks and technical support people, it has a lot of automated programs and scripts built in to fix itself (most of the time). So, in the case of the Wi-Fi situation when using the Windows 7 partition of my laptop, it fixed itself just by me telling it to search for a solution. Linux isn't as forgiving, not even Ubuntu, which is probably the closest thing to a mainstream flavor of Linux there is. With Linux the user is going to have exercise the ability to think and research to find the answers, and even then, have to have the confidence to make changes and tweaks to the system without fear of royally fucking up their computer. So, I exercised my skills in “Google-Fu” and started looking for any updates to Wi-Fi drivers specific to Linux for my Wi-Fi card.

The first step in this project was to try to search for drivers for the laptop model (in my case, a Dell Latitude E6400). I didn't have much luck there, except to find out information about how Ubuntu's default drivers generally wouldn't work with certain chipsets due to licensing constrictions. Great, now all I had to do was figure out which chipset I had for my wireless card. This is where it gets fun. On Dell's website, there were no less than about six different wireless cards possibly used in my model of laptop. That didn't exactly narrow things down for my search.

So, here's how you find out specifics on what's under the hood, so to speak, on a Linux machine. Open a command line terminal (CTRL-ALT-T or click on Applications>Accessories>Terminal). At the prompt type the command, lspci. This will produce output that looks something like this:

:/$ lspci
00:00.0 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Mobile 4 Series Chipset Memory Controller Hub (rev 07)
00:01.0 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation Mobile 4 Series Chipset PCI Express Graphics Port (rev 07)
00:03.0 Communication controller: Intel Corporation Mobile 4 Series Chipset MEI Controller (rev 07)
00:03.2 IDE interface: Intel Corporation Mobile 4 Series Chipset PT IDER Controller (rev 07)
00:03.3 Serial controller: Intel Corporation Mobile 4 Series Chipset AMT SOL Redirection (rev 07)
00:19.0 Ethernet controller: Intel Corporation 82567LM Gigabit Network Connection (rev 03)
00:1a.0 USB Controller: Intel Corporation 82801I (ICH9 Family) USB UHCI Controller #4 (rev 03)
00:1a.1 USB Controller: Intel Corporation 82801I (ICH9 Family) USB UHCI Controller #5 (rev 03)
00:1a.2 USB Controller: Intel Corporation 82801I (ICH9 Family) USB UHCI Controller #6 (rev 03)
00:1a.7 USB Controller: Intel Corporation 82801I (ICH9 Family) USB2 EHCI Controller #2 (rev 03)
00:1b.0 Audio device: Intel Corporation 82801I (ICH9 Family) HD Audio Controller (rev 03)
00:1c.0 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 82801I (ICH9 Family) PCI Express Port 1 (rev 03)
00:1c.1 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 82801I (ICH9 Family) PCI Express Port 2 (rev 03)
00:1c.2 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 82801I (ICH9 Family) PCI Express Port 3 (rev 03)
00:1d.0 USB Controller: Intel Corporation 82801I (ICH9 Family) USB UHCI Controller #1 (rev 03)
00:1d.1 USB Controller: Intel Corporation 82801I (ICH9 Family) USB UHCI Controller #2 (rev 03)
00:1d.2 USB Controller: Intel Corporation 82801I (ICH9 Family) USB UHCI Controller #3 (rev 03)
00:1d.7 USB Controller: Intel Corporation 82801I (ICH9 Family) USB2 EHCI Controller #1 (rev 03)
00:1e.0 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 82801 Mobile PCI Bridge (rev 93)
00:1f.0 ISA bridge: Intel Corporation ICH9M-E LPC Interface Controller (rev 03)
00:1f.2 RAID bus controller: Intel Corporation Mobile 82801 SATA RAID Controller (rev 03)
00:1f.3 SMBus: Intel Corporation 82801I (ICH9 Family) SMBus Controller (rev 03)
01:00.0 VGA compatible controller: nVidia Corporation G98M [Quadro NVS 160M] (rev a1)
03:01.0 CardBus bridge: Ricoh Co Ltd RL5c476 II (rev ba)
03:01.1 FireWire (IEEE 1394): Ricoh Co Ltd R5C832 IEEE 1394 Controller (rev 04)
03:01.2 SD Host controller: Ricoh Co Ltd R5C822 SD/SDIO/MMC/MS/MSPro Host Adapter (rev 21)
0c:00.0 Network controller: Intel Corporation WiFi Link 5100

Notice the last line in the output that says 0c:00.0 Network controller: Intel Corporation WiFi Link 5100 . In my case, that'st the WiFi adapter that is installed. Naturally, your's will most likely be different. Again, this is where Google-Fu skills need to be employed as now we have a specific chipset for which to search online for Linux drivers. My search lead me to and to the tar file iwlwifi-5000-ucode- The next step here was to download that file, open it, and extract the file iwlwifi-5000-5.ucode and copy that into the /lib/firmware directory on my laptop, then reboot and test. I'm happy to say it worked. Wi-Fi is up and running on everything in the apartment now.

Hopefully writing this blog will help someone else and keep them from having to go through as long of period of searching, re-searching and figuring out exactly what the fuck is wrong. Granted, my examples are specific to my laptop, but the methodology will be the same for anyone. Good luck and happy hunting!

~ JC

Glossary of terms:

Wi-Fi – a mechanism for wirelessly connecting electronic devices (

GUI – a graphical user interface (GUI, sometimes pronounced gooey) is a type of user interface that allows users to interact with electronic devices with images rather than text commands - (

Linux – a computer operating system which is based on free and open source software. Although many different varieties of Linux exist, all are Unix-like and based on the Linux kernel, an operating system kernel first released October 5, 1991 by Linus Torvalds - (

Ubuntu – a computer operating system based on the Debian GNU/Linux distribution and distributed as free and open source software. It is named after the Southern African philosophy of Ubuntu ("humanity towards others") - (

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Perseverance Does Pay Off

On October 3, 2010, I packed as much of my stuff as I could fit into my 2004 Saturn Ion (just the essentials, mind you) and made the trek from Fayetteville, NC to Atlanta, GA. For several years, my best friend, Robert, had been after me to do it, and I always had some piss poor excuse not to. I guess I had finally just gotten to the point that knowing that Fayetteville had nothing to offer me, career wise, except for crappy retail jobs that even the apprehension of leaving my loved ones just wasn't enough to keep me from taking the gamble of heading to a large metro area and trying to stake a claim on having a career and a life.

My first week in Atlanta I found a job, albeit not one any better than I could have found in Fayetteville. For about six months I hammered away working a part time, minimum wage gig at an office supply store for a control freak of a boss while putting my resume on almost every job site I could find. By Thanksgiving I had had one interview with a place that offered the opportunity to have a “real job” but was told my tech skills weren't strong enough yet. By January 2011 I had made a tentative decision to go back to North Carolina if I didn't have anything better than the retail job I had by the end of March. I even told my boss as much – that either by then I'd be shown that I had a future at the office store, have found something better here in the ATL, or I was going home. At that point I had decided that if I was going to be stuck in a crappy, minimum wage, retail job, I might as well go home and do that and at least then I could be with my fiancée everyday and maybe even see my Gramma, Mom, Sister and Niece on a regular basis.

But it's amazing what friendship can do for you. I have been really blessed in that coming to Atlanta has scored a great group of friends even beyond Robert, who already lived here. So my gaming buddy, Jeff, made me an offer. He needed a new roommate, and I needed to move out of Robert's house (that's a long story that I won't get into here, but it had nothing to do with anything bad between Rob and I – he's still my best friend, and lives less than two miles away from me). Anyway, Jeff offered to get an apartment with me – one which he could afford by himself if needs be, and that he was going to rent regardless of me being his roommate or not. The deal was that I could help out with what I could when I could until I found that “real job” I had been hunting. In fact, I was waiting to hear back from a job I had interviewed for that would have meant I could afford half the bills. So, I decided to stay, and even signed a twelve month lease that began March 1, 2011.

So for a month I continued working at the office store, thinking that maybe I had made a mistake in staying. Then one I day I got a phone call that would set in motion flood of career opportunity. The call came from a staffing agency (aka, temp agency, “head hunter”, whatever you want to call them). It was a chance to work, “temp-to-hire”, for $13 per hour, and it was even in the technology field. Finally, after months of rejection, or just plain no replies, I was being offered a “real job”. I started that job on April 26, went through six weeks of training and, at the risk of being a bit arrogant, had become one of the top two or three members of the customer service specialists on my team. I not only had a job that paid a decent wage but at which I knew I was respected, trusted and likely being groomed for advancement at.

Then the damnedest thing happened. I got a message on Facebook from an acquaintance that I knew through Robert, named Keith. He told me his company was hiring for their Technical Support team. I hesitant at first, for a few reasons. First of all, the place I was already working had already started the proceedings of switching me from being a temporary contract employee to permanent employee. Secondly, I knew I had a future where I was working (I had been directly told by my manager that once permanent I was in the running to be promoted to Tier 2 support). And thirdly, I had interviewed with this other company before, back in 2005, before it had been acquired by a larger company and was told my Unix/Linux skills weren't up to par for them to take the gamble on hiring me. Oh yeah, and they had just laid off Robert back in January because his job was duplicated overseas. So, I was a little apprehensive about even trying. I've been running Linux on my personal computer for a few months now, but still, my skills in Unix/Linux are still pretty rudimentary, in my opinion. Robert said I should go for it, so I said “fuck it” and sent my resume to Keith. I got a phone call from an HR Recruiter and had a preliminary “interview” over the phone a few days later. I figured that's that, and went to work that afternoon. Low and behold, I was called by the recruiter again to set up a phone interview one Friday with the team managers/leads here in Atlanta (Alpharetta, actually, but it's still the Metro-Atlanta area).

I honestly thought I had blown that phone interview. I started off pretty strong, but then they started asking about things that I was only vaguely familiar with and really couldn't answer the questions specifically, Again I thought “well, that's that” and went back to work on my next scheduled day. Imagine my surprise when I got a call that following Monday telling me that they wanted to do an on-site interview! Cool. I'll go and let them meet me face-to-face, I thought. I'll show them what I do know and hope it's enough, but I had a feeling they'd, once again, tell me that they needed someone with more Unix knowledge and experience than I had and really didn't have the time and resources to train and teach me. So, on a Friday morning, I got up at 6am, showered, shaved and put on my favorite suit and drove from Decatur to Alpharetta (it was the Friday before Labor Day in fact, so I ended up being way early because I had overestimated how bad traffic would be that morning). I met with four different people, two at at time, for a little over an hour. We talked about basic Unix commands, networking, I was even asked to view a couple of log files to test my ability to read them. Personality wise, I got along great with everyone I spoke with, but again I thought, on the technology portion of the interview I had fumbled. So I drove back to Decatur, changed clothes and proceeded to go about my normal Friday errands and such (Friday being one of my regular days off from the current job). Two hours later, my phone rang – it was the HR Recruiter. Naturally I thought, “Well, if this was good news, they wouldn't be calling me only two hours later.” I was WRONG! She was calling to offer me the job! Holy Shit! I couldn't believe it! It was all I could do to contain myself lest I wreck my car, since I was pulling out of a McDonald's drive through at the time.

So here I am, almost a year after coming down here, preparing to start a job that pays substantially more than I was making tomorrow morning. Leaving the job I was at was bitter-sweat. I really liked and respected my manager. I really got along with my team, and pretty much everyone did their job and we all worked really well together and, as I said before, I knew I was in line for moving up the ladder there. But when you get an offer for a job that's in a field you've been hoping to break into as long as I have, and it pays more per year than you're already making, you don't say “no”.

It's been a crazy twelve months, but it's obviously paid off. I've fallen in love with this city and all the awesome things there are to see and do here. I've found a great core group of friends. And now I finally have landed in the career that I've been hoping for for years. The only thing left is to move my beloved down here with me, and that will happen soon.

So if you're feeling down or like life's dumping on you, just hang in there. It may not be tomorrow, or next week, or next month, or even next year, but good things really do happen to those who don't give up.

"Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him." - James 1:12 NASB

"Never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy." - Winston Churchill, (29 October 1941)

~ JC

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Art of Mastering the Game

I've been playing role playing games, in one form or another, for about 26+ years (I started playing Dungeons & Dragons ™ when I was 13; I'm now 39 – do the math). Which means, I've been playing these types of games for longer than some of the members of my current gaming group have even been alive (holy shit, I'm old!). There are a couple of things that make these games fun; for me anyway. There's the social interaction, for one, but mostly it's just fun to be able to vent frustrations by portraying a character that can do things that I can't – either because I don't have the skills, or because in the real world, I'd be in jail if I did many of things my characters have done in game. There's also the fact that by participating in a role playing game, I get the feeling that I'm one among a group of authors who are collaborating to “write” an open ended story. I've always wanted to write a novel, but anytime I get an idea and start writing, I realize that I'm just rehashing typical fantasy stories, or my idea is to much like some author's work, and I really don't want to get sued, so I stop writing. Playing an RPG helps to satiate my desire to write.

The balancing act of keeping the game fun and interesting falls squarely in the lap of the Game Master (aka, Dungeon Master, Storyteller, Weaver, referee, etc.). The GM, has the job of coming up with the setting and plot of this open ended story – sometimes using published works specifically written for the game, sometimes coming up with their own (or, in the case of games I have run as GM, a combination of both). The players, portraying various characters within the setting, collaborate with the GM to unfold a dynamic story.

The challenge any GM has is to not only come up with a story arc that is compelling and draws the players in, but to also keep a balance withing the mechanics of the game. Almost every RPG uses statistics and dice to help determine outcomes. It's all well and good for me to announce that my player performs a certain action, but, as in real life, success is not a foregone conclusion, so dice are rolled and compared to the character's abilities and skills versus how difficult the task is, or versus another character's ability to out maneuver or out smart the player's character. For example, a decide that my character wants to climb a wall and he has a climbing skill of, let's say +2. I roll a twenty sided die (d20), and add my +2 climbing skill to the die roll. The GM then has to decide just how difficult this particular wall is to climb; is it smooth, or does it have spots that jut out that could be used for hand and foot holds? He/she sets a target number that the character has to meet to succeed. So, for this example, we'll say that it's not a terribly high wall, and has places to grab, so the GM sets the target number at 10. I roll a 9 on the d20, adding my +2 for my climbing skill for a total of 11. My character succeeds in climbing the wall. The trick is, the GM has keep mechanics like this balanced – and by balanced I mean both fair and challenging. Sometimes, a task is very simple, sometimes it's challenging, and sometimes it's downright heroic or epic in scope. If the GM sets the target numbers to low, the games not challenging enough. If he sets them to high, then players get upset that there's no way to succeed (player characters, for the record, tend to be better than average in certain skills by design – that's kind of the point, the players are portraying characters intended to be heroes in the story). (1)

There are good GM's, there are great GM's, and unfortunately there are also bad GM's. Some people just can't tell a good story. Others have a GM vs the Players attitude. Some give the players to much, others don't give the players enough. As I said, it's a balancing act, and the truth is, not everyone who plays RPGs is capable of being a GM. And that's all I have to say about that.

~ JC

(1) this example happens to be from the d20 System – there are systems that utilize 10-sided dice or 6-sided dice. My example in no way is intended to, necessarily, advocate that the d20 system is any better or worse... blah, blah, blah... disclaimer, disclaimer, disclaimer. :-P

Friday, August 19, 2011

Turning My Tooth Blue Again with an Incredible Droid

Upgrading from Droid to Droid

Nearly two years ago I obtained my first Android based mobile phone, the Motorola Droid, from Verizon Wireless. Last week, I upgraded to a new device. After a lot of researching and comparison, I finally decided on the HTC Droid Incredible 2, also from Verizon Wireless. It is safe to say that I'm sold on the Android platform and highly doubt that any future devices will be anything but Android. After only a week of having the Incredible 2, I have to say that I love it! There's a noticeable difference in overall performance, and even a slightly better difference in signal strength between the Droid and the Incredible 2. Then again, I suppose going from a 550MHz processor with 256MB of RAM to a device with a 1Ghz processor with 768MB of RAM. So, let's just quickly compare the two with a handy dandy table, shall we?

Motorola Droid
HTC Droid Incredible 2
Operating System Android 2.0, upgraded to 2.2.2 Android 2.3.3 (pretty sure it came with 2.2, but it updated the very day I bought it)
Processor Arm Cortex A8 550 MHz Processor 1GHz Qualcomm MSM8655 Snapdragon
RAM Not listed on Android Central, but I believe it's 256MB 768MB
Dimensions 2.4 x 4.6 x.5 inches 4.7 inches x 2.5 inches x 0.48 inches
Weight 6 ounces 4.8 ounces
Screen Size 3.7-inch WVGA (854x480), 16:9 touchscreen 4-inch WVGA TFT display
Internal Storage Not listed on Android Central, but I think it's only 256MB 1GB
Removable Storage Supports up to a 32GB microSD, came with a 16GB microSD Supports up to a 32GB microSD, came with a 16GB microSD
Camera 5 Mega Pixel w/Flash 8 Mega Pixel w/Flash + 1.3 MP front facing for video conferencing

Additionally, both devices are Wi-Fi capable with the Droid supporting types b/g, while the Incredible 2 supports b/g/n. The larger screen on the HTC is a bonus as I have started experimenting with e-books, plus I'm myopic as hell (that means I'm near sighted and blind as a bat without my glasses).

My personal review of the Incredible 2 is simply that I am very happy with the upgrade. I loved my Moto Droid, but it was finally getting to the point of just being to slow and the memory was getting full. I still use the Droid; it now sits on my desk connected to the Wi-Fi and a set of portable speakers playing Slacker Radio. The decision to go with HTC vs staying with Motorola (I had considered the Droid X2, in fact) is primarily that HTC just gets great reviews on most of, if not all, of their devices. The fact that Apple has sued HTC for patent infringement further endears me to HTC because I really hate Apple, and if Apple feels that threatened by HTC that they have to seek lawsuits against them, then they must be doing something right.

My Tooth is Blue Again

A phone upgrade isn't complete without new accessories, right? Naturally, when I got the Incredible 2, I went with an accessory package from the Verizon store that included a case/clip combo, car charger and screen protectors. Being that I already owned a Bluetooth headset, I figured on continuing to use it, hoping that the connectivity issues it was having with the Droid would be overcome by the Incredible 2. Alas, I was mistaken, and came to find out that the BlueAnt Z9 has known software issues with Android based devices for which there isn't a likely solution since the Z9 isn't really supported any longer by BlueAnt. So, not only did I upgrade to a new phone, but I upgraded to a new Bluetooth headset as well.

Having a device that is practically a complete mobile solution for phone calls, email, internet and entertainment (including books, music and videos), I decided to go with a headset that would support stereo audio as well as standard mono sound. I found the perfect solution in the Samsung Modus 3500. At only $40, it's very impressive for its price range. I am used to paying up to $100 or more for a Bluetooth that has sound quality worth fooling with. The Modus sound really good, and others have reported that they can hear me quite clearly as well. The bonus part of the Modus is that, not only is it the typical ear bug that everyone is used to seeing for Bluetooth devices, but it also comes with a set of stereo ear buds that plug into the main headset's micro USB port to provide stereos quality sound while listening to music.

This is a great solution for me, as I tend to listen to music while sitting in my cubicle at work. With the Modus I can set my phone on my desk and listen to music without having to disturb my coworkers or getting tangled up in a long audio cable. Granted, the sound quality isn't quite as good as my Skull Candy earbuds, but it's damn close! And, the Modus came with an adapter for the micro USB to accommodate standard 3.5mm headphones/earbuds, so I can use my Skull Candy earbuds with it if I so choose. Good job, Samsung!

~ JC
Reference Blogs:
This is the DROID I've Been Looking For” ( – Sunday, November 9, 2009
Droid Part 2” ( – Sunday, December 20, 2009 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

All is Well

My friend, Jimmy was right, I think. He once commented, several years ago, that he knew that everything was going well for me because I hadn't updated my blog in awhile. He observed that I only tended to write when I had something that I needed to vent about. Over the years I've used this blog as my soapbox, my sounding board, my creative outlet. Even when I wasn't necessarily ranting about something but writing about hobbies and interests, the blog as still very cathartic. It has now been exactly one month to the day since I last wrote anything. Some of that is because I was working retail again and didn't have my usual Sunday morning solitude in which to write and drink my coffee. But mostly it has been because I just didn't have anything much to write about. Yep, Jimmy was right – unless I'm stressed, I can't really seem to come up with blog topics, at least not good ones, which is why this one is a bit disjointed and has no real topic. In short, I don't have anything to bitch about anymore since landing a real job making a decent wage (by decent, I mean one I can actually live on). I've got a great group of friends. I have several places to hang out at and play games, shoot pool, throw darts, etc. I really have nothing to complain about. I just hope that doesn't mean that I'm tapped for blog ideas, because frankly, I really love to write.

~ JC

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Legend of the Seeker No Sword of Truth

I've been a fan of Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series of novels for a decade or more. I've read them all, even the ones that weren't that interesting or seemed overly preachy with his Randian Objectivist views. Still, they were a great series of novels and I still highly recommend them to everyone. So, imagine my excitement when, a few years ago, it was announced that a syndicated television series based on those books was being produced. “Legend of the Seeker” premiered in November 2008 and ran for two seasons until May of 2010. I caught parts of episodes when it was first released and immediately hated it! I do realize that TV shows and movies never follow a novel precisely, but with “Legend of the Seeker” character's personalities, even main characters, seemed to be changed wholesale, the stories of all of the novels were mashed together, characters that never existed in the novels appeared, etc. etc. I really felt like the TV producers had totally fucked up a great book series and stuck a giant middle finger up at Goodkind's fans. I refused to watch it despite Terry's posting on his website (I think that's where I read it anyway) that fans should let the books be the books and the show be the show and not try to compare them. So, I tried to watch another episode; and failed. I just couldn't watch them destroy what had been my favorite series books for the last several years.

So, I recently discovered that the entire first season of “Legend of the Seeker” is available for viewing for free via Hulu (season two is available to Hulu Plus subscribers). So, I'm giving it another chance. I'm trying to watch it as just a television show based in a fantasy setting. It's difficult, because I loved the books so much and the TV show really fails at following anything resembling the story-lines of the novels. As a stand alone show goes, it's ok, assuming you liked Hercules and Xena (Sam Raimi produced both of those plus “Legend of the Seeker, by the way). I've actually watched the first five episodes of “Legend of the Seeker.” I think if I hadn't read the novels, I'd enjoy it more, but I still find myself picking apart all the things in the show that are blatantly wrong compared to the novels. Richard (the Seeker himself) for example, lacks the reasoning ability in the show that he has in the novels and way to impulsive most the time. Kahlan, the Mother Confessor in the novels, is just another Confessor in the books and not even the last of her kind. She's also more harsh and bit bossy in the TV show. First Wizard Zedd is just as powerful in the show, but lacks the whimsical, playfulness of the Zedd in the books. In the books, he's pretty much the last living wizard, while in the show he's just one of many powerful wizards of The First Order. Also, when the hell did Kahlan become über-awesome at fighting hand-to-hand with a pair of daggers? I don't remember that shit in the books. She was taught, much later in the novels, by Richard to use a sword, but in the TV series she's wicked awesome with knives from the very beginning. At least the fight scenes are well filmed and choreographed.

The casting for those three main characters is also a little bit off. Bridget Regan, asKahlan, is probably the best cast character; Regan is gorgeous, and actually plays the part of Kahlan quite well. I like Bruce Spence as Zedd decently enough, but Craig Horner just isn't a big enough guy to be Richard in my opinion. Richard was always described as rather tall and muscular (he's a woods-guide before being named Seeker, after all). Horner's got a pretty athletic build, but he's not that tall. In fact Spence is taller than Horner, and I always pictured Richard as being taller than Zedd, not the other way around.

Ok, ok. I realize that I'm picking nits here, and enough reviews exist online as it is now that I really don't feel the need to go into tons of details, especially since I'm only five episodes into giving it another chance to grab my attention. I’m' just saying, as a stand alone TV show “Legend of the Seeker” does ok, but as an adaptation of an epic series of fantasy novels, it sucks.

I'll likely finish watching the first season, and if I ever can afford to subscribe to Hulu Plus, I'll even watch the second season. But, The Sword of Truth this show is definitely not! I'm just getting tired of Hollywood's penchant for the last decade or more of not creating anything new or original. Seems like popular book series and classic 80's TV shows being re-imagined or turned into crappy syndicated series or movies is all that Hollywood's so-called writers can come up with anymore. It's why I really don't care that I don't have cable right now, and why I don't feel like spending the money to go to the movies anymore. As long as I have access to websites like Hulu (which has a lot of older, good TV shows) and good bookstore, I'm good.

~ JC