Thursday, April 29, 2010

Patience and Discipline

Blizzard sent me another free week of World of Warcraft. I love that game but I haven't played it in months because we have to budget our expenditures (both financial and chronological). I've uninstalled it from both computers: to play it, I'd lose an afternoon reinstalling the CDs for three games plus all online updates. And then I'd play it for seven days, which means I'd get nothing else useful done for seven days, and then when I was very into it the week would run out and I'd have to shut it down again.

It's an awesome game. Great movement, great score, great quest infrastructure (though I hate having to be social, in order to form a group to collaborate on a quest, since the collaborators inevitably flake out on me, the quest never gets done and I'm screwed. I don't play MMOs because I'm trying to be social, dammit; quite the opposite), but it's a timesink and a money pit. With the exception of a stack of CDs, everything I own in that game, all my achievements, is/are intellectual and virtual. I'm not dedicated enough to win the in-game competitions and events, I don't shell out real money for virtual armor, I don't twink out for 1337 gear, and I will not kiss sufficient ass to remain in good stead with a guild of social retards, just so I can explain to my wife that she and the cats must leave me alone for eight hours Sunday evening for an epic raid. Not that I've ever been on a raid, for all the above reasons.

So I don't know what game would be ideal for me. I was really into a dozen free MMOs from China, Japan, and South Korea (as I've iterated to my friends and acquaintances ad nauseum) and it's easy to get pretty far on your own but, again, they seem geared to reward you for getting along with other people. I'm not an ideal candidate for that: I can't say, "Oh hi, group, I will be here every night at 7pm CST for the next three months, you can count on that." I don't have a lot going on in my life, but I have enough to preclude that kind of commitment.

But I miss MMO gaming. I miss the escapism of a really good environment, exotic wardrobe, the concept of extremely foreign food, the illusion of infrastructure. I miss collecting things and showing them off on myself. The military was good for that, wearing patches on your sleeves and collar, medals and ribbons--and little metal bits that attach to them--on your chest. I miss riding some ridiculous supernatural mount and racing out of the desert-themed land and into the winter-themed coniferous forested land, or paying some flying beast to whisk me back to the thriving necropolis I called home.

At the end of the day, however, there's nothing to show for it but a depleted checking account and an expended calendar. That's the advantage of the free MMOs: they're not as great as WoW, but they're free so all you've lost is time, which is still a horrible thing to say.

In the face of that, though, I have to ask: what isn't a "waste of time?" What is both fun and a useful expense of time? I can't think of anything that satisfies both conditions, but I can imagine people insisting their non-profit humanitarian work is fun, and I'll argue, "No, it's not, but you've forcibly reconditioned your values to interpret as such." It's like, junk food is designed to be outrageously tasty (and deplorable for your health) and vegan food is blah (but great for you), but people recondition themselves to believe "yummy brussels sprouts!" or "gimme tempeh!" even though, as a pure and honest child-entity, they would have revolted at these taste sensations and instead whinged to go to McD's. So what's real: instinct or what you contrive to believe? If I spend the rest of my life developing an energy-efficient water filtration system for a third-world nation, will I not die in 40 years? Will my name not be forgotten in two generations?

And do I want my name remembered anyway? So many people do such horrible things to attain and retain fame for no other reason than to have it. Why? They don't ask themselves why: fame is the end unto itself, for them. But I need to know why. If I convince everyone in my neighborhood to consume fewer resources, set up go-bags for their entire families, and paint their roofs white and/or install solar panels, what will happen to me up to and after my own death that would not happen if I devoted my life to elevating global awareness and status of me as an MMO gamer? And which of these is more feasible? I'm not arguing which is the worthier cause, outside of myself, I'm asking which is more likely to happen. On the one hand, I could hone my gaming skills and contribute to online communities to market myself as a gamer. On the other hand, I could force people to reconcile with their own mortality, force them to live responsibly and with greater communal consideration, and force them to think about their own future and the future of the planet. Which do you think is more likely? Which do you think is closer to teaching a thousand cats to dance?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Oh, Funky Ice Cream

This was a good era: when Ben & Jerry's took it upon themselves to generate a series of alcohol-themed ice cream flavors. Of course they had no alcohol in them, it's not like you could down a pint of dairy product and come away with less of an ice cream headache and more of a heavy buzz. It was just a cute effort on their part to appeal to a different market.

Would these flavors count as "gourmet?" They certainly were far beyond the norm for ice cream flavors. When you think of Kemps, do you think of Sex on the Beach, Irish Carbomb, or Cement Mixer? Of course not: you think strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla. Whee. You might even think of mint bon-bon or cookies 'n' cream, depending on your market.

But I remember a day when another manufacturer--I can't recall who--had developed an amaretto ice cream, and it was my holy grail to pursue. Eventually I did find it (one advantage to living in Minneapolis is that it's a test market, and some cool and bizarre food items come down the pike occasionally) and it was fantastic, and so of course it had to go away, disappear from existence.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Not a Usual Practice

My wife wanted me to make sure I recorded this: I tried to make coffee this weekend but forgot to put the pot in its resting spot within the coffee maker. There's a safety on the upper chamber that holds the grounds, though: it will not let the coffee pour through its spout if the pot isn't there to press up and release it.

Instead, the coffee overflows the sides and distributes itself liberally across the counter, down the cupboards, and over the floor.

Rebecca said for a second she was mad, because of the mess it caused and because she really wanted her coffee, but she had the presence of mind to step back and laugh at the absurdity of the situation. After all, she noted, this wasn't anyone's usual practice, to forget the coffee pot. I further suggested that anyone for whom that was a regular practice would rightfully be banned from all coffee-making procedures, in all likelihood.
Posted by Picasa

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Dah-Dwee, Da-Da-Dat Dwee Dow

I hate ticks. Parasites have the upper hand in the animal world, and some are useful but many are annoying and a great many are horrifying.

I pulled two ticks off myself today and this was the second. One strip of packaging tape made short work of it, though, and a high-res scan is as kind a treatment as the next few minutes of its life will see. Check out this bastard, and understand that by the time you read this it will be nothing more than a cinder.

I really, really hate ticks. All ticks reading this now: you are a sucka MC in my sight, and I will treat you accordingly.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Even the Robots Say "How Do You Do?"

from Postcrossing Support (
date Tue, Apr 6, 2010 at 7:05 PM
subject Happy Birthday, from Postcrossing

Hi Christian!

We know today is a special day, it's your birthday!

Postcrossing would like to wish you a very Happy Birthday and many postcards throughout the coming year. :)

Have fun!

from Happy Birthday (
date Tue, Apr 6, 2010 at 10:19 PM
subject Happy Birthday from BirthdayAlarm!


Just a quick email to wish you a very happy birthday today from everyone here at

If you are interested in Astrology take a look at your personalised birthday report

Have a great birthday!

Xochi, Michael and Paul

from ChangYou (US) Forums (
date Wed, Apr 7, 2010 at 2:01 AM
subject Happy Birthday from ChangYou (US) Forums

Hello sxoidmal,

We at ChangYou (US) Forums would like to wish you a happy birthday today!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Why I Like Being a Human

Being a human is something many of us take for granted. We do it every day, it's happened to nearly everyone we know, and you don't need a license or any special training to make as many humans as you want--hell, frequently it happens entirely by accident! It's easy to let this aspect of existence slip beneath the radar.

But I live with two cats, and being around animals tends to underscore not just our differences (like where and when we'll poop) but also the capabilities that come with being a human. By contrast, I'm basically a superhero compared to my cats. Sure, they can jump really high, but look what I can do:

1) I can make myself a large or small meal at any moment. That meal can be a pile of meat, if I want.

2) I'm obliged to mention the benefits of opposable thumbs.

3) I can force my cats into cuddling against their will, and they have to take it. This is called "paying kitty rent."

4) I can open a door, go outside, wander around, find my way back home, and let myself inside again.

5) Once outside, I'm not normally accosted by other humans who think outside is their territory. That's only happened twice in my life, and there aren't any corners torn from my ears to show for it.

6) All those noises that people make? I can interpret them meaningfully and reciprocate, and this (frequently) enhances my existence.

7) Rather than shrink in terror from those large metal boxes that race up the streets, I can get inside one and bend it to my will.

8) Only one person is allowed to cuddle me against my will and I have to take it. All others are buying a one-way ticket to Bruisedkidneyshire.

9) If I'm bugging a cat, it can only trot away. If a cat's bugging me, I can lock it in any part of the house I choose.

10) I can eat new and unfamiliar food, enjoy it, and not necessarily respond with vomiting or terrible gas. (On the other hand, cats can deliver a payload of airborne pathogen with a perfect poker face and not one ounce of self-consciousness.)

New 10) Video games are increasingly awesome, while cat toys are a crap shoot.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Legend of the Punctuation Warrior

I've posted about this everywhere else--there's no way I can't post it here.

I got a new tattoo! This is the logo from SPOGG, the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar. I first saw it a year ago when circuitous Internet links gave me to be aware of National Grammar Day. Anyone who knows me might guess that I'd be charmed with this concept (or else furiously resentful of it--it really is a coin toss, with me, I'll admit that) and I really cottoned to the logo.

It's a set of typographer's symbols arranged to resemble a little man. Specifically, it looks like a little warrior taking up arms to defend against anticipated abuses of the written language. Again, this is a cause I can get behind, and I thought it would tie in neatly with my career choice.

Rebecca wanted to surprise me with an appointment at a tattoo parlor, because my 40th birthday's coming up and she believes such a significant occurrence merits commemorating with a tattoo. She got her Buffy the Vampire Slayer "B" tattoo on her 40th, last year. Instead of an appointment, we just walked right in to the Ink Lab this afternoon and found an artist with some spare time. Half an hour later, I was inked up.

Along with posting this on numerous blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and my sole BBS of choice, I e-mailed the photo of my tattoo, plus links to 365XN and Postalatry to the admin of the SPOGG Web site. Almost immediately, the founder of SPOGG, Martha Brockenbrough, wrote back with real delight at the gesture. She was quite complimentary, mentioned that this year will be her 40th as well, and asked if she could post my pictures on the SPOGG blog as well as add Postalatry as a link! And as a matter of fact, she is sending me a copy of her book, Things That Make Us [Sic], to boot. She also confirmed my mythology behind the logo to be quite apt.

Could I be more pleased with the situation? I can't conceive of how. This will be a decent birthday after all, quite a pleasant way to initiate my fifth decade on this planet.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Official Gmail Blog: Today’s vowel outage

Yup, here we go: Google could never resist throwing in with the April Fools theme either.

Logging into my e-mail, I was greeted with the usual splash page but with all the vowels missing. Cute.

Were they trying to be more efficient? Is this based on the tendency for people to recognize words without vowels, or words whose letters are scrambled except for the first and last letters?

The matter is addressed more fully in their blog post, Today's Vowel Outage.

Also on FarmVille (Facebook): today's featured crop to grow is nachos. They yield in two hours and garner 50 coins.

The April Fool's Legacy

Yup, it's the first of April, which means most of the threats your coworkers made about pulling some prank will not come to fruition. They'll back down, is what I'm saying, it was nothing more than woolgathering. Yet pranks will be out there, some subtle and some reliable. For instance, ThinkGeek always generates good joke merchandise. Only once has this backfired on them, when their Tauntaun sleeping bag proved so popular an item they were compelled to manufacture and sell it.

This is the e-mail alert I received from them today: along with a handheld digital tattoo printer and a "zero points of articulation" action figure of the obelisk from 2001: A Space Odyssey, these were some of the wicked-cool and somewhat questionable items ostensibly for sale. I don't understand the clock one at all, so that means it's a very deep movie or literature subreference for hardcore sci-fi fans. I love sci-fi, but I'm not that deep a geek to pick up on an oblique reference such as this, I'm afraid.

And observe this image on the left. This is in the third-party game by Zynga, called FarmVille, playable on its own site or more popularly through Facebook. You own a farm and can plow your own fields, plants seeds, harvest your crops, and through income and luck purchase buildings, animals, and accoutrement to dress up your property.

Just before midnight, however, I noticed something new in my inventory: a roll of toilet paper. I clicked on it and a message popped up, asking me whether I knew anyone who owned a barn. I figured my higher-level neighbors in the game might and, upon finding such a structure, clicked on the toilet paper, then the barn, and here is the scene that ensued.

Not to be outdone, Mafia Wars has transformed one of its in-game properties. When in the New York setting, you can collect income from various businesses you own, anything from a flophouse to a casino. The most recent addition was that of a chop shop where, using parts attained elsewhere in the game, you can design a variety of vehicles for offensive and defensive strategy.

Only today, the chop shop has transformed into a magical Unicorn Castle. To upgrade it, you can request such parts as Starstone or a Pretty Tower. Rather than churning out cars, it produces all sorts of unicorns:

I'm going to keep my eyes peeled the rest of the day for other April Fools surprises. They'll turn up in news sources (as per the zombie epidemic the BBC reported several years ago) and other unexpected venues. I'm looking forward to it.