Surly Curmudgeon

   The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.
-- Robert A. Heinlein
  • Somewhere in the crusty outer layer of small towns surrounding the warm creamy center that is Oklahoma City.
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    Sunday, January 31, 2010

    Yellowstone, Day 1

    My mother-in-law Carolyn is fond of taking (and funding) family vacations, so when she offered us a most-expenses-paid trip to see Yellowstone in the winter, we naturally jumped at it.

    The first day was spent in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, mostly killing time until Mrs. Curmudgeon's sister (the stuntwoman) arrived, her flight having been delayed by nasty weather in Virginia, where she currently resides. While waiting, we went for a short drive and saw some Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, one of which was watching the road from his lordly perch way up a cliffside (most pictures can be clicked for embiggenation), though my camera zoom didn't quite do the trick:

    Luckily, some of his buddies were much closer (about 30 yards or so):

    After getting our fill of sheep watching, we decided to check out the local ski hill, where for a relatively modest fee one could go snow tubin' for a couple of hours. I grabbed a couple of shots from the tow rope, the first of Mrs. Curmudgeon and the second of Carolyn:

    Then I started fiddling with my camera's super shutter speed feature, in hopes of getting a few good shots out of the bunch. Here's Mrs. Curmudgeon:


    Her husband Rick:

    Yours truly:

    And Mrs. Curmudgeon and me doing a tandem ride:

    More coming soon!

    Posted by Tom, 1/31/2010 7:50:14 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, January 30, 2010

    Shots from the Ice Storm

    Here's a few shots of the ice on my trees... this was before a lot of these trees started losing limbs.

    We lost power for about a day, had to burn up a stack of firewood to keep warm that night, but it was pretty cozy on the guest bed we pulled in front of the fireplace in the gym. Not much else to report; power's back on, wood bin refilled, ready for the next one.

    Posted by Tom, 1/30/2010 8:40:31 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, January 24, 2010

    The Latest Absurdity

    After building the newest Casa de Perros, I knew the dogs would like it even more than the old one. After all, they'd gone from 64 square feet to 204, kept their air conditioning, and had a nice concrete floor now to boot. But something still seemed missing... As over the top as the whole project was, I felt I could still kick it up a notch.

    The answer came to me when friends Eric and Chris called to ask if they could borrow Richard the Deep Breather. Like many folks in their early twenties, their furniture was a series of hand-me-downs and garage sale items, and they'd just gotten the latest iteration from their parents. Their old threadbare couches needed to go to the dump.

    As I helped load the furniture onto my trailer, I thought, "this is it! This is what's missing from the doghouse! They clearly need furniture!"


    So we hauled the living room set, with its holes in the upholstery, off to "the ranch", and unloaded it right into La Casa de Perros. Then I called the dogs in and coaxed them up onto their new couches, so they'd know it was allowed (much cursing and yelling ensues if they do such things inside the house).

    After a couple of days, it was clear that the dogs would destroy this furniture rather quickly with muddy paws and other tracked-in debris, so I stopped at the local Atwood's and picked up a couple of heavy canvas tarps. The result:

    Canvas tarps don't make much of a slipcover that the folks on HGTV would approve, but Zoe doesn't seem to mind:

    For my next trick, I wonder what else they need... TV? Pool table? A wet bar?

    Posted by Tom, 1/24/2010 10:27:08 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, January 20, 2010

    Another take

    David Brooks of the New York Times has a decent commentary on the happenings in Taxachusetts:

    In times of crisis, Americans rally around their government, but most of the time they have treated it as a supporting actor in national life. Americans are an unusual people, with less deference to central authority and an unparalleled faith in themselves. They seem to want a government that is helpful but not imperious, strong but subordinate.

    Over the years, American voters have reacted against any party that threatens that basic sense of proportion. They have reacted against a liberalism that sought an enlarged and corrosive government and a conservatism that threatened to dismantle the government’s supportive role.

    He fawns over Obama a tad much for my liking, but in general I think his read of the situation is a good one. Of course, I'm not in favor of a government that is "helpful", "strong", or "energetic", but then I'm not, politically speaking, an average American. If I were, Ron Paul would be president right now.

    Posted by Tom, 1/20/2010 7:54:43 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Amazon makes a better deal

    As an aspiring author and Kindle devotee, I was pleased to see that Amazon has modified the terms of its Kindle distribution system:

    The new plan allows authors and publishers who meet certain criteria to receive 70% of the book's list price as royalty, net of delivery costs, which average about six cents a book. For an $8.99 book that meets the new plan's criteria, the author would receive $6.25 with the new option as opposed to $3.15 with the standard option, the company said.

    One of the big draws of the presumptive Apple tablet computer was the idea that they'd offer e-books over iTunes for it, with revenue-sharing arrangement similar to the one they do for music: 70% for the artist/label, 30% for Apple. One of the dirty secrets of Amazon is that Kindle sales, while great for consumers, were pillaging the publishing industry like Vikings on a rampage. Now it looks like authors and their publishers are going to get a square(r) deal, and from where I sit, market forces in the form of (presumptive) competition from Apple are the proximal cause. Ain't the free market grand?

    Posted by Tom, 1/20/2010 7:48:11 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Health Care Dead?

    Looks like the Republicans have pulled out a last-minute win in Massachusetts, presumably spelling doom for the health care "reform", as the Democrats generally refuse to try doing anything without a super-majority:

    Scott Brown's victory is a serious setback to President Barack Obama's key domestic agenda on reforming health care and passing a climate change bill.

    The result stunned Democrats and means Republicans now have enough Senate votes to impede the president's plans.

    According to fellow traveler Vortmax, via instant messenger:

    The dems have a bigger majority, even with 59 in the senate, than the repubs have had since 1923, but the republicans with a lesser majority, still managed to do whatever the **** they wanted for 8 years. The dems have done two things with 60 in the senate: Jack and ****

    That about sums it up. The Democrats really come across as consummate cowards. They don't want to fight unless the result is a foregone conclusion. There's no such thing in their world as "giving it the old college try", or rolling the dice and taking one's chances. They don't attack unless they're (over)confident of success. So now they'll kill the bill, or force a bit of political theater, and blame it on the Republicans' "dirty campaigning" or some other hogwash.

    That's not to say I'm supporting the Republicans, or that I'm opposed to reforming health care in this country. I just have a different idea about what constitutes "reform".

    Posted by Tom, 1/20/2010 7:37:27 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, January 19, 2010

    State of the Diet

    As expected, the holidays wreaked havoc on my already-gargantuan proportions. Christmas photo:

    And like so many other Americans, I started off the New Year by swearing I'd regain control of the diet. Of course, since I've been chipping away at my Jabba-the-Hutt-ness for a couple of years now, I'm starting to get the hang of it.

    One of my first diets was vegan, which did some really good things for me. I can actually recommend it to just about anyone who isn't doing serious weightlifting. I know there are vegan bodybuilders out there, but honestly I can't see how they do it. Powerlifting on a vegan diet made me feel like my body was eating itself. I momentarily experienced a small glimpse of what hyperphagia patients must feel like; I could eat a ginormous vegan meal, be unable to cram another bite in, and still feel like I was starving. The instant I started back on meat, I felt fine.

    I also tried the Weight Watchers thing, several times, and the P90X diet plan. They both do the same thing: trick you into counting calories by calling them "points" or representing them as little colored boxes. Unfortunately, something about the way I think makes me obsessively min/max these diets, finding ways to cheat while still being technically within the rules.

    I've never been truly opposed to counting calories, so long as I had technological assistance. The idea of doing it on a notepad with a pencil just makes me want to claw my eyeballs out. On several occasions I've considered writing something of my own to use, but I've got so many other projects going on that I just don't see how I could get everything done that I wanted to do.

    Fortunately, the software is out there, mostly in the form of various websites, but with some downloadable apps. The websites tend to use a subscription model (big surprise), and while the "universal access" is appealing, I really don't feel like I need another monthly bill at this juncture. I happened upon a few that I really liked, in that they graded the quality of your diet or made recommendations, but I'd rather just have a piece of software I can download and purchase and keep, thank you very much.

    I happened upon DietController, which seemed to fit the bill rather nicely. It's not exactly cheap for a downloadable app ($40), but it runs on both Windows and the Mac, has a fair database of foods and exercises, and seems to sport a fairly easy to use interface. They do not yet have an iPhone companion app, more's the pity, but everything else about it is pretty much what I want.

    The main features I was after were the ability to enter and easily recall custom food items (because no prefab database EVER has the things you need), and the ability to enter exercise calories burned. Features that I didn't consider, but which come with this app, are weight tracking (can't see how I forgot that one), and an absolutely glorious unit conversion feature for both foods and exercises. Let me explain.

    Say you enter a food where "1 serving" is 25 grams. You enter all the information for 25 grams, then enter into the conversion table "1 serving" = "25 grams". Now when you want to record the food, you don't have to remember grams, you can just say "1 serving", and the program will figure out the rest.

    It gets better.

    Say that for whatever reason, you have some of this food you've entered, and you're pretty sure you're eating more than one serving, but all you've got to work with is a primitive little kitchen scale. You weigh the food, and you've got 2 ounces. So you enter "2 oz" into the "amount" column, and the program automatically figures out how many grams this is and multiplies out the calories and nutrients for you. Pretty slick, right?

    Even better, by using the aforementioned conversion table, you can enter weight/volume conversions. So if your granola is 3 oz to the cup, and your nutrition info is in grams, you can enter that you ate half a cup of granola, and the program just figures out the rest. Now THAT is cool.

    On the exercise end of things, if you don't have one of those fancy heart-rate monitors, you can find exercises in their database or look on the internet for readings that others have taken. I did this for the P90X workouts. The problem is that calorie burns are a function of bodyweight, and the 120-pound personal trainer who reports her values for the P90X Plyometrics workouts is not going to have the same results I do at almost a hundred pounds heavier. Fortunately, when I enter an exercise into DietController, it asks for the reported calorie burn and the time spent, as well as the reporting person's weight. When I say that I've done the exercise for X number of minutes, the program looks at my last reported weight on the weigh-in chart, converts the time and weight, and spits out an adjusted calorie count for the exercise.

    Have I mentioned that I love this program?

    It does have a few shortcomings… drag and drop isn't fully implemented, and some of the data entry is a pain, but for the most part it's everything I've wanted to write for myself, so hey -- if it only costs me forty bucks and saves me a lot of headaches, I'll take it.

    In other diet news, I am still thoroughly enamored of Clif Builder's Bars. I eat these things just about every day, though I'm getting a little tired of the Peanut Butter and Chocolate Mint flavors. They've recently announced Lemon, and I've searched high and low in the Norman and Moore area, but can't seem to locate them. I finally broke down and ordered some online, tossing in an order for the Cookies & Cream flavor as well, since they're relatively rare but not impossible to locate. I'm not much of a fan of Chocolate or Vanilla Almond, so no need to stock up on those.

    I find that eating a Builder's bar right around 3:30 or 4:00 puts me in good shape to do my workout at 6:00. Too much earlier, and I crash halfway into the workout. Too much later, and I start to fight a case of the queasies.

    I've also moved on from Optimum Nutrition whey protein. I've discovered SEI Pharmaceutical's Max Protein, and holy cow is this stuff delicious. I've never wanted to just eat protein powder with a spoon, but Max Protein sure makes it tempting. My current shake recipe is a cup of soy milk (regular milk tends to upset my stomach), a frozen banana, a scoop of strawberry and a scoop of vanilla. Blended together, it makes one incredible tasting shake -- kind of a strawberry-banana sundae sort of taste. I'm not a fan of chocolate, but if their chocolate flavor is anywhere near as good as the strawberry and vanilla, chocolate lovers out there ought to give it a try.

    Despite all this, I'm struggling to get enough protein into the diet, and have started trying things like lean beef and turkey jerky, though I'm somewhat concerned with the high amounts of sodium. Jack Link's seems to make the best tasting product, and most of the time I don't remember to get any, but when I do I really enjoy it.

    As previously noted, restaurants are the bane of any dieter's existence, especially the sit-down family restaurant. Want to eat healthy and know what you're getting? Go to McDonald's or some other fast-food restaurant. All of the major fast-food chains have comprehensive nutrition info available on their websites and often within the stores themselves. Family restaurants, on the other hand...

    We recently went to BJ's Brewhouse for lunch, and I could not find a single item that wasn't deep fried, covered in butter, cheese, or oil, or just plain wrong. Whipping out the ol' iPhone, I found this lovely statement on their website:

    At this time, BJ’s Restaurants does not provide nutritional information for each menu item. We prepare each and every dish with the freshest and finest ingredients available. Every item is prepared daily to ensure the highest quality food.

    As my brother likes to say, that's about as handy as a soup sandwich.

    I eventually ordered their grilled chicken baked potato, minus cheese and alfredo sauce (and broccoli because -- well, that's another rant). Honestly, who puts alfredo sauce on a baked potato? When they brought it out to me, it had all that crap on it, so I sent it back. The second time was the charm, and at least I got something I could work with in the diet program.

    So there's a lesson: going out to eat at a family restaurant? Baked potato with grilled chicken or turkey, and everything else on the side. Then you can measure and portion and try to control how much crap you're eating.

    There's the state of things. It's all going pretty well, considering, and using the DietController software is becoming second nature now that I've done it a few weeks. The only problem on the horizon at this point is an upcoming vacation, where we'll undoubtedly be eating all sorts of stuff that's not good for us, and I won't have my computer handy to log it all. I guess I'll just try to survive with a notepad for a week, and hope that when I enter it all in afterwards that I don't destroy my progress thus far.

    PS: Oh yeah, I totally forgot... I made this sweet little spreadsheet for cooking at home, to figure out how many calories/fat/carbs/protein are in the stuff I like to cook. Check it out: RecipeCalc.ods (OpenOffice spreadsheet). The data entered is for a homemade pizza we had. The dough was a killer!

    Posted by Tom, 1/19/2010 6:59:06 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, January 11, 2010

    Gear Review: Logitech G13

    About a month or so ago, I purchased a Logitech G13 for playing World of WarCraft. My main reason for doing so was because I could never seem to get all of the spell hotkeys, movement keys, and Vent microphone toggle within easy enough reach that I could move, attack/taunt, and shout a warning on Vent all at the same time.

    My pinkie finger was always having to stretch too far to get everything, and being on the "edge", it tended to have the most to do. On the other edge, my thumb was basically useless other than hitting the spacebar. I couldn't make it target any other keys with any real comfort or accuracy. So I was mostly playing with my index, middle, and ring finger on my left hand, and trying to overload my mouse functions with SHIFT and ALT modifiers so I could do everything I needed to do.

    The layout of the G13 caught my eye:

    (Interactive photo here)

    I mapped my number keys 1-6 on G9-G14, with my second row of action buttons mapped to the corresponding keys in row G1-G7. Put my movement on the thumb stick. Vent toggle is on G15.

    It took about 3 days to get used to moving with the thumb stick, but other than that the results are AMAZING for all of my characters. I feel like I've tripled the number of spells I can easily access -- as in, access without having to think about them and without having to look at the keyboard to use.

    Before, I almost never used things like the Human racial because I just couldn't figure out how to get it shoehorned into my easily accessible keys. Switching from single target to AOE on my Mage required either moving my hand to another part of the keyboard or quick-swapping my hotbars. Decurse/Abolish Poison on my Druid almost always required me to review my Clique settings at the beginning of every raid.

    My Paladin now has full access to almost everything he regularly uses, with this item plus Clique and Grid. Druid is completely set up. Mage has one or two things I'm still trying to arrange, but he's still extremely functional.

    Bottom line: if you have trouble moving, fighting, and talking at the same time, or if you feel like you can't really access all your skills easily, this device is for you. It'll take a little while to get used to moving with the thumbstick, but once you're used to it you'll never ever want to go back to moving with a keyboard again. It works great on a Mac, which is what I use, and presumably just as well on the PC (since Logitech is primarily a PC peripherals company). I believe it will also serve me very well in any other games I decide to get into.

    Posted by Tom, 1/11/2010 7:16:48 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, January 8, 2010

    Of Mice and Men

    As a computer professional, I naturally spend a lot of my time working with the things. The peripherals I use become very important to me, and I tend to get very picky about what they are and what they do.

    For the longest time, the only mouse I've considered "acceptable" was the Microsoft Intellimouse Optical:

    I can't remember when I started using one, but it seems to me that it's been almost a decade. It's just the right size and shape, and the side buttons were easy for me to access, even if they aren't particularly "positive" in their action (ie, it's possible to press them but not "click", so you get some missed clicks).

    I still love the Intellimouse Optical, but more and more I'm really hating the cord. It's probably nothing to the casual computer user, but there's a sensation of dragging when I move a wired mouse, that bugs the crap out of me unless the cord is perfectly situated. And nothing bugs me more than when I stop a mouse movement, take my hand from the mouse to type something, and the cord's tension moves the mouse from where I left it. I've spent upwards of 20 minutes at a time trying to adjust mouse cords to be perfectly positioned.

    I've always shied away from wireless devices, because I despise the thought of replacing batteries all the time. Recently I've revisited the policy, as a result of adding a Mac Mini to our home theater system and needing a wireless keyboard in order to avoid stretching a cable across the living room all the time. The keyboard/mouse on the Mini is working well enough, and the spousal unit seems to like the Magic Mouse on her iMac, so I started looking for cheap wireless mice that I might like as well.

    Incidentally, I'll also mention here that despite my love of almost everything Apple makes, I hate their mice. The little trackball on top of their last mouse sucked, the one-button mouse sucked, the hockey puck mouse sucked, and the Magic Mouse -- well, it doesn't suck, but I don't think I'd want to use one all the time. It would (will) be a great one for toting in a laptop bag for a MacBook Pro due to its slim profile, but I just don't think I'd like working with it all the time.

    I happened upon the Microsoft Wireless Mobile Mouse 4000 (hereinafter WMM4k), which is available at 3 very different prices at the local Best Buy: $45ish for the black model, $38ish for the various colored models, and $35 for the "white" (silver) model. I have no idea why black costs $10 to add to a mouse, I just add it to the other things I hate about Best Buy.

    One might wonder why I haven't just gone with a BlueTooth model, and the answer is simple: Windows sucks with BlueTooth. I almost never have any problem getting my Macs to work with BT devices, but making Windows pair up and stay paired is an exercise in frustration. And since my work laptop is a Windows machine, and the one I really wanted a better mouse for, it's the one I was most concerned with being compatible.

    So far, so good: the WMM4k is a little on the small side for me, but it's fast enough to get me where I'm going and accurate enough to not cause me a lot of problems when I get there. The buttons have a nice positive click, and the little mini-receiver doesn't get in the way or make me worry about breaking it. The BlueTrack technology might seem like a lot of hype, but I'm here to confirm that it does seem to make the mouse easier to use on irregular surfaces -- I've had plenty of practice with it on the microfiber arm of my recliner. I've been using it constantly for about 2 weeks now, and I haven't felt the desire to use my old Intellimouse instead. I do wish it were just a tad bigger, and if I find an alternative the right size I'll probably swap it out immediately.

    That said, I'm still using an Intellimouse for playing World of WarCraft, though now I'm wanting a replacement for it as well. I definitely need something about the same size, so the WMM4k won't cut it. I'd also like something with a few extra buttons -- a "gaming mouse", as it were. Beyond that, I'm thinking it needs to be wireless, because I'm really digging the freedom. Microsoft's Sidewinder X8 has these things plus BlueTrack, and despite the fact that it is butt-ugly I think it might work, so now I just need to find someplace where I can lay hands on one...

    Posted by Tom, 1/8/2010 7:36:49 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, January 6, 2010

    Best Buy Sucks

    Today, I received this in my email:

    Yes, I did order an Apple Magic Mouse at Best Buy back in December. It was a Christmas gift for my wife. There's only one problem: I didn't get it from Best Buy.

    You see, I hadn't ordered anything from them for years, not since I'd pre-ordered a game only to show up and have them tell me on launch day that they were sold out.

    "Sold out?" I asked, not believing my ears. "I pre-ordered. That means you should have one reserved for me."

    No, they explained. When the truck comes in, all the stuff goes on the shelves. Then it's first-come, first-served. Your "pre-order" ticket is merely a coupon indicating that you've already paid for the item when and if you can get your hands on one at our store.

    Apparently having a momentary lapse of reason, or being too excited about the Magic Mouse to think of it, or simply believing that perhaps, just perhaps, the company had straightened out its act in the intervening years, I ordered the Magic Mouse when it turned out they were out of stock. I was told that 5 more were coming in on the truck the next night.

    On the appointed day, I came in and inquired about said mouse. Guess what they told me?

    "Sold out."


    I canceled the order and told them I was just going to order it straight from Apple. Which I did.

    Now they've apparently forgotten that as well, and would like me to review for them the mouse they didn't sell me.

    I realize that the sending address they use doesn't accept incoming emails, but it gave me a measure of satisfaction to hit "reply", type "GET BENT", and click "send".

    Posted by Tom, 1/6/2010 12:03:25 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, January 5, 2010

    World of WarCraft

    I can't believe I've been playing this game for 5 years now. In fact, I haven't really played much of anything else.

    Sure, I've got some games on the PS3 that I occasionally fool around with, and I finished Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction, as well as Uncharted: Drake's Fortune and the incredible Portal. But my go-to game has been World of WarCraft and probably will remain so for at least a couple more years. After all, there's another expansion coming out soon, one which promises to completely change the world (of WarCraft).

    I've also been in essentially the same guild since before Burning Crusade (the first expansion), though the majority of us did wind up splitting from the original guild and forming a new one after a certain person had a total meltdown over loot distribution.

    My very first character was a Warrior, made the very day the game launched, but he never made it past level 36. Then I switched realms and played a Priest for a while. That didn't go anywhere, so I played a Hunter when I joined the guild, and managed to get him leveled up to 60 so I could raid with the guild as it was trying to clear out the Molten Core.

    In the meantime, I was dual-boxing, trying to simultaneously level my wife's Druid and my new Paladin character, so that we could raid together. Shortly after I got us both to level 60, Burning Crusade came out and we leveled to 70 together. It wasn't long after that that she got disgruntled with the game and quit playing, so I transferred her Druid to my account.

    It was about then that I started trying to convince our raid leaders that I could tank on my Paladin, which was no small feat. The Paladin class was a weak tank at the time, and it took a great amount of patience and dedication to be any good at it. I was put on the bench or relegated to "off-tank" status... or often asked to heal instead, which at the time I considered an insult. But I stuck with it, and eventually won the grudging acceptance of our Warrior tanks. Sometime thereafter, Blizzard revamped the Paladin class and turned us into super-tanks, and I've never looked back.

    During the 6 months or so it took to convince the raid leaders that I could tank, I leveled a Mage. I wanted a Human, but the Human male models look really stupid for Mages, being all burly and muscular. So I went with a Draenei instead, ironically even bigger and more muscular, but for some reason I could forgive that. Now I had 3 main characters, raided Karazhan with all of them, and then the next expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, came out.

    Everybody raced to level 80, some faster than others, and our guild started trying to get raids done. First was an upgraded Naxxramas, which I don't think we'd ever done when it was first introduced back at level 60. Then we moved into Ulduar, which to my great dismay we've never finished. Then came Trial of the Crusader, which had some interesting boss fights but is honestly the most boring raid I've ever been in (and have recently begun boycotting). And now there is the newly, partially released Icecrown Citadel, which will be released in stages and in which we will presumably have our final showdown with the Lich King.

    I've had friends drop out of the game or say they're bored with it, but I honestly don't see how. I've been playing for 5 years, and have not even begun to do everything there is to do. I've played 3 characters to max level, maxed out my secondary professions (a task which often turns into self-generated quests on its own), and seen almost the entire world, but new content is constantly being added, and it's a fascinating place. Sometimes I think the design decisions Blizzard makes are kind of stupid or ridiculous (*cough* space goat *cough*), but for the most part I really dig this fantasy world they've created. It beats the crap out of Tolkien by a long shot (post hateful responses below).

    I suppose the thing that keeps me going the most is my friendships with people in-game... those in my guild. We're like a sports team, and doing raid dungeons is our sport. It doesn't work if folks try to grandstand, or grab all the glory for themselves. It only works with genuine teamwork, following the plan of action, with everyone doing their part to the utmost of their ability. There's room for individual excellence, but no room for hotshots. We have to merge into a single cohesive unit to be able to overcome the encounters, and it's a cool feeling when it works.

    One of our guild's greatest moments came in 10-man Icecrown Citadel, the first week it was out. The first boss had a bug in his programming, causing him to do his 25-man level of damage in a 10-man encounter. We wiped and wiped and wiped on him for 3 or 4 hours. Not knowing about the bug, we were just convinced we were doing something wrong. When everyone was worn down by the tedium of the process, we decided to give it one more go, and we killed him. It's mostly a testament to our healers, but everybody had a hand in it. When we later found out we'd beaten him before the bug fix, I think we all realized that our level of play had jumped substantially. We're starting to turn into a serious raiding guild without being "hardcore". It's been a long, slow process, but treating people more like family than like employees is really starting to pay off.

    It's possible that in another guild, one with a more hardcore attitude, I would also be getting disgruntled with this game. Perhaps like so many things, our enjoyment derives not wholly from the activity itself, but those we share it with. It certainly challenges the stereotype of the "gamer" as an antisocial misanthrope living like a troglodyte in his mother's basement. Any way you slice it, I think I'll probably be playing World of WarCraft as long as there are good times to be had and good people to share them with.

    Posted by Tom, 1/5/2010 7:06:21 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, January 4, 2010

    Quote of the Day

    "Honor is the gift a man gives himself."
    -- Rob Roy

    Posted by Tom, 1/4/2010 7:35:09 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...


    I've recently been involved in an internet discussion in which things turned ugly. One person was being called out for their misbehavior, and the majority of the participants "piled on", adding their anger and indignation to an already raging fire. After it became clear that things were getting out of hand, one guy (I'll call him Mr. X) suddenly felt ashamed of his actions and retroactively edited every single one of his posts, deleting what he had written. He then became an advocate of closing and deleting the thread altogether, posting a couple of times that it was "time for the thread to go away".

    Modern technology allows us the ability to modify or even erase history, but I'm not sure we should. I had some measure of respect for Mr. X prior to this; I disagreed with him most of the time, but he seemed like a decent enough guy. Now, I'm not so sure.

    It seems to me that posting something and then deleting it later is a form of dishonesty. It may be that there are things we wish we'd never said, or we wish we'd never done, but the fact remains that we said or did them. I came up with a personal policy a long time ago, that I would never go back and delete (or edit for the purpose of changing meaning) any of my posts on a public forum. If it comes to pass that I regret what I've said, I'll apologize for it, but I'll let the original post stand as a reminder -- to myself, mostly -- that I can be hot-headed and impetuous and don't always think things through.

    It's the same on this blog. I've posted some things that are downright embarrassing. I've been stupid, paranoid, crass, vicious, and not always the good person I'd like to be. I've severely upset various friends at various times, occasionally needing to apologize, publicly or privately, for what I've said. But it would be wrong to go back and delete those posts. They are part of who I am. They represent a particular time and place and emotion. The fix for things I regret is not to attempt to convince the world that they never happened, but to show the world that I'm growing past them.

    I've found that as a result of this policy, over time I've become more careful about what I post. I tend to think longer about the impact I might have, on those in the conversation and those just passing by.

    One of the central tenets of the Christian faith is that Jesus sees all of our faults and loves us anyway. It's my desire to have my relationships with others based on the same kind of love. I don't want to be constantly trying to hide who I am or what I've done just so people will like me. That's probably the main reason I'll never make it in politics. Obviously there is a place for discretion, but in the end I think there needs to be people in our lives who know what kind of person we've been and what kind of things we've done and said, and love us anyway. And I think it all starts with refusing to get into this game of hiding what we regret, either by superficially deleting internet posts that embarrass us, or by attempting to do the same in the real world.

    I'm not a good person because there's nothing in my 39 years to say that I'm bad. I'll be a better person tomorrow than I was yesterday because yesterday provides the context for my improvement today. If I erase yesterday, I have no need to improve because I have no starting point to work with, so it's better to leave yesterday where it is and admit that that is where I was. And I honestly think that people who can't grasp that probably aren't worth my time.

    Posted by Tom, 1/4/2010 7:31:29 AM (Permalink). 3 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, January 3, 2010

    Thought for the Day

    Know how much gun you're holding before you pull the trigger.

    Posted by Tom, 1/3/2010 4:19:56 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Child's Play

    Over in the sidebar you'll see a new graphic that links to another site. A little background:

    I've been a gamer all my life. I loved playing video games when I was a kid, loved playing RPG's with my friends (much to the occasional consternation of my parents), played them through college, and have been playing ever since (much to the occasional irritation of my spousal unit).

    Penny Arcade is a webcomic about gamers and gamer culture. I've read it sporadically over the past few years, but for some reason I've been drawn to it over the last month, and have been reading all of their comic strips from the beginning. It contains a lot of "in-jokes" and references that only gamers will get (and a fair amount of harsh language), but occasionally they write something that's more accessible to a wider audience.

    Anyway, one weekend back in 2003 a newspaper columnist wrote yet another in a seemingly endless stream of editorials complaining about video games and pontificating that all they're good for is turning children into murderers. Like me, the makers of Penny Arcade find such statements insulting and infuriating. Unlike me, they figured out a way to demonstrate that gamers are good people too, not just sociopaths-in-training. The result is Child's Play. From the site:

    If you are like me, every time you see an article like this one, where the author claims that video games are training our nations youth to kill you get angry. The media seems intent on perpetuating the myth that gamers are ticking time bombs just waiting to go off. I know for a fact that gamers are good people. I have had the opportunity on multiple occasions to meet hundreds of you at conventions all over the country. We are just regular people who happen to love video games. With that in mind we have put together a little something we like to call “Child’s Play”. Penny Arcade is working with the Seattle Children’s Hospital and to make this Christmas really special for a lot of very sick kids. With the help of the Children’s Hospital we have created an Amazon Wish List for the kids. It’s full of video games, movies and toys. Some of these kids are in pretty bad shape and just having a Game Boy would really raise their spirits.

    That toy drive, started on a whim around Thanksgiving of 2003, produced $120,000 worth of toys and games for the Seattle Children's Hospital in just 3 weeks. It also produced a public apology from the columnist whose editorial roused Gabe's ire. 6 years later, Child's Play has now expanded to hospitals all across the country and this last year they raised 1.5 million dollars, all from gamers and the people who love them.

    Even groovier is the fact that all one needs to do to donate is click one of the hospitals marked on their map, and it takes you to that hospital's wish list, showing everything they've asked for and what they've received. Purchasing the item gets it shipped to the hospital and you're on your way. How cool is that?

    Reading through the site, especially the letters from patients and parents, was possibly the most moving experience I've ever found on the internet. I highly recommend it.

    I'm no child anymore, but over the past few years I've had a few medical problems that scared me with the potential for being cooped up in a hospital for an unbearably boring span of time. I've wondered if hospitals have internet access in patient rooms, so I could at least play World of WarCraft for the duration of my stay. Luckily, I haven't had to find out, but I really feel what these guys are trying to do. I think this is my new favorite charity.

    Posted by Tom, 1/3/2010 8:47:02 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...