Archive for Random Thoughts

Paintball

I had never played paintball.  So, when a deal popped up on Living Social a while back, a few friends and I (who had also not played paintball before) bought in.  It took a long while, but we finally went.

In a word… meh.

I suppose I can see the draw that some people have to it.  Being able to shoot other people isn’t something you get to do very often.  But overall, it was fairly lackluster.  First off, there were four of us and we mixed in with a larger group, and they put two of us on one team and two on the other.  Frankly, I’d have had more fun with my friends being on my team since I had no desire to shoot my friends.  Next, they lead a team to each end of a field which was dotted with forms of cover.  They counted to three and said “Go!”  People ran to cover and then started shooting.

The first round we played, my team won.  I didn’t shoot anybody.  In fact, I spent most of the time trading shots with another guy who eventually got shot by a teammate of mine.  We had spent nearly the whole time swinging out, shooting and then ducking behind cover.  Then, suddenly, we just sorta won.

The second round we played, my team lost.  I got shot… kinda.  I mean, my gun got shot.  I didn’t even see it happen, but a ref told me I had been hit and there was paint on my gun.  Umm… okay.  I watched from the sidelines as a repeat of the previous game happened.  People hiding, swinging out to shoot occasionally, and when one team was down enough players one dude ran out from the side and shot the last two players on the losing team.

The third round, I can’t tell you who won, because I don’t know.  The full seven minutes ran out and they called it off.  Not that it mattered.  I got shot in the first fifteen seconds.  By my own team.  I ran forward to a position (we were on a different field this time, larger, more cover, a spot of trees in the center, and more people too), I was crouched over, and then felt the painful sting of being shot, right in the gap between my shirt and my pants, right on the skin.  If I were so tattooed, I’d have been shot on the tramp stamp.  The girl who shot me (and I know it was a girl because the only people behind me were three girls who refused to leave the original, completely out of range, bunker) was no more than ten feet away.  That freakin’ hurt!  Team kills count, so I was out and I walked off the field and walked off the pain.

Round four, same larger field, other side.  We found good cover and began shooting our foes.  Minutes went by of a pitched battle, and I think I shot someone… I don’t know, because with like thirty people on each side and so many paintballs flying around it gets hard to tell if it was me or some other shooter.  All was going well, and then someone on the other team, who was sitting out of traditional range, switched to mortar fire.  He couldn’t hit us firing straight, so he started arcing his shots.  I’m going to pause here and tell you one of the rules of the field: if someone is hiding behind a low barrier, you are not allowed to come over the top and shoot them from above.  This rule exists for two reasons, 1) shooting down on someone’s head can really hurt them, and 2) them shooting upward at your chin (and by virtue of the equipment, the gap between your face and mask enabling them to possibly hit your mouth and nose) can really get you hurt.  So back to the mortar moron… if he’s arcing, that means that the paintballs are coming from above, you know, as if he was shooting down on us.

Boom! Headshot!

Right on the top of my head.

Yeah.  Some people suck.  That really hurt.

Anyway, despite how much I’ve written here, the day was basically a check mark.  Play paintball?  Check.  No reason to ever do it again.

Reforming Cable TV

In the wake of many subscription MMOs going to a Free to Play model, it got me to thinking.  Why can’t Cable TV do the same thing?

Instead of charging me $150 a month for 300 channels, most of which I’ll never watch, how about letting me have “free” cable, where I can watch PBS and other local stations in real time with commercials, and have everything, and I mean everything, available on demand as a pay per episode/pay per season service?  The infrastructure is there.  They already do sell programs on demand, they even ofter free on demand for many network and cable shows.  They already provide Internet service and have the bandwidth.  Just expand it.  Sure, some people might just watch the free stuff, just like some gamers only play the free parts of free to play games, but the people who pay and buy the extras will far outweigh them in the long run.

As an added bonus to this sort of design, TV execs can stop trying to guesstimate viewers and DVR watchers and whatnot and actually get hard purchaser numbers.  Even better, shows can stop competing against each other.  Many shows have tried to go up against juggernauts like American Idol or Dancing with the Stars or even some scripted shows, and even if they get a few million viewers, it isn’t enough to keep the show on the air.  Even when there are lower rated shows on the network, because sometimes it isn’t how good your show is but only how well it did versus someone else’s show.  What if, instead of seeing your show get a paltry 2 million viewers while 28 million tune in to some other network, you could see that within a two week period 18 million people watched your show, 16 million of whom, if forced, would choose another show but when given the freedom to watch whenever they want without being forced to choose will happily watch and enjoy your program?  Wouldn’t that be better?

And really, they don’t even need to go so far… I’d gladly watch the commercials during programs or special “sponsored by” spots before an episode if I could just watch all the shows I want when I want to watch them.  I’d settle for having everything, with commercials, available on demand, and having the cable company charge me for the channels I want to select from a la carte.  Rather than $150 a month for 300 channels, 282 of which I will never ever watch, ever; charge me $20 bucks a month and let me pick 20 or so channels I want to have.  Make it a dollar a channel, with discounts the more I select.

Anyway… those of the rambling thoughts that are rumbling around in my brain today.

I Came, I Saw, I Ran

This morning was the 3rd Annual Run Like Hell 5k at the Oakland Cemetary.

It isn’t fancy, so the times aren’t exact, but I crossed the like at exactly 53 minutes and 0 seconds, on the nose.  In fact, seeing the time tick toward 53 is what caused me to actually run across the finish instead of continuing to walk.

53 minutes is a decent time.  Not a good time.  Definitely not a great time.  It also happens to be roughly half my Peachtree Road Race, a 10k, time from July.  So, despite making little effort to train or exercise in the past few months, I haven’t backslid any.

I do want to bring down my time for next July, so today is the kicking off point of trying to get back into exercising.  No.  Forget the trying, I am back to exercising.

Anyway, I had a great time, and as you can see from the picture I ran dressed as Charlie Brown’s Evil Twin.  Really, that’s what makes the Run Like Hell a fun run: the costumes.  Batman, Supergirl, people with blue hair, painted faces, tutus and all manner of different things.  I look forward to next year.

Real Life Reward Systems

As a manager of a retail establishment, it really sucks to have people call out sick.  First off, chances are because of budget constraints you are running your schedule pretty tight anyway, possibly even being short handed at times because you just can’t plan for random explosions of store activity.  Sunday at 11 am might be one of your slowest times of the week, but this week every church group in a twenty mile radius has decided to come to your store, and the two staffers you’ve got are struggling to work the registers praying they’ll survive until more people show up at 1pm, when traffic usually picks up on Sundays.  Even worse, employees of retail are notorious for, you know, actually having a life outside of work, so when someone calls in sick it is almost impossible to find an employee to come in and work an extra shift (usually because the money isn’t really worth giving up a day off).

To combat this, and to create a trail of evidence for firing people, most retail outlets adopt systems of penalties.  Late for work?  Earn a point.  Clock in early?  Earn a point.  Miscount your drawer?  Earn a point.  Call out sick?  Earn a point.  And so on… and at some arbitrary level, say 10 points, you are fired.  Points, of course, expire over time, because the intention is to fire people who are chronic “bad” employees, not people who make a mistake now and then.  Unfortunately, the result is that the employees also realize there are mistakes to be made and accidents to be had, and they only have any real control over certain things.  Like being sick.  If calling out sick earns you a point, then you just go to work sick.

Head to Google and look up studies on people working while sick.  All the data shows that employers who let people stay home when sick results in overall less sick days taken by employees, and a generally happier environment.  If your employees are afraid to take a sick day, they come to work sick, get everyone else sick, and now everyone is miserable and sick and working.

Obviously, the answer is: let people stay home when they are sick, and don’t count off for it.  But it isn’t as simple as that.  The store needs to run, and earlier I mentioned how hard it is to find people to work an extra shift.  So why not offer people who fill in for a sick employee an opportunity to improve their status?  Say… you work the shift of a sick employee, a point is wiped off your record if you have one.  Now, when Bill calls in sick you can look at your list, see that Jane has 6 points, call her and offer to drop her to 5 points if she’ll come work Bill’s shift.  If the situation is dire, offer to drop her to 4 points.

Beyond sick day stuff, why don’t companies offer more rewards for being a good employee?  How about a catered meal or a little bonus ($20 – $50) at the end of the month if an employee has 0 points?  Would it be worth $20 per employee per month to eliminate tardiness and counting errors?

Anyway, this is just another place I’ve run into over the years where people thought up a penalty system to try to encourage better behavior but forgot to provide any rewards or control to the employees.

If you were stranded on a desert island, which one person would you bring with you?

The answer that will get me in the least trouble: my wife.

But choosing one person to be stranded with is hard. You need a person who compliments your own skill sets to allow for greater chances of survival and rescue. Your choice should be someone who is physically fit and reasonably intelligent in a variety of subjects. Or you could just choose someone who would make your final days as pleasant as possible, making the sex with until neither of you have the energy or will to go again.

I can tell you, however, one person I would NOT want to be stranded on a desert island with: Roy Hinkley. You may not recognize that name, but you’d know him if I called him by his more common moniker, The Professor. Yes, that Professor. The man who could make a radio from coconuts but couldn’t fix a hole in a boat. I mean, one thing the island had an abundance of was trees, you’d think he’d at least make a raft or a canoe or something. Given the amount of time they were on the island, he could have made a yacht!

Of course, I can’t bag on the Prof too much. Who’d really want to leave an island that counted Ginger Grant and Mary Ann Summers among its inhabitants? I certainly hope he was tapping that. Both of that. I know I would. In fact, I’d probably engineer a few “accidents” to eliminate my competition in that department to improve my odds. Yeah…

Crap. The wife is going to read this and I’m going to be in trouble. So, uh.. my wife. If I was stranded on a desert island, the one person I would bring with me would be my wife.

Ask me anything

Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse

Atlanta Zombie ApocalypseIn recent years I’ve been reluctant to go to haunted houses because, frankly, most of them suck. The majority of them have “no contact” policies, and they constantly remind you that you will not be touched. So you wander through a bunch of scenes inspired by horror films and every once in a while someone will jump out and try to scare you, predictably at certain corners. I’ve enjoyed the Netherworld Haunted House before for its design and artistry, but since it is so popular the trip through is usually like driving in rush hour traffic. Lots of stop and go movement, and sadly you get lots of people pulling out cell phones to text or use as a flashlight.

This year, however, I went to the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse.  It was great.

The first thing I liked about this place is that they broke the line up into groups of around eight to twelve people.  We waited in lanes for our group’s turn to go.  Once it was your group’s turn, you got pulled ahead and the situation was explained.  The military has been fighting the undead for days and are losing.  Survivors are being rounded up and escorted to a safe zone.  Your group will have two escorts, one in front and one bringing up the rear.  They don’t have enough guns to give you any, but they promise to protect you.  You get a quick run down of safety procedures and then you are off.

The path takes you through a couple buildings and an outdoor expanse (where you have to jog/run to keep up as it is dangerous out there) and back through a couple more buildings.  The design of this haunted house, with the military escorts, actually solves one my major issues with haunted houses: no contact.  Yes, the zombies still don’t touch you, but here it is plausibly explained by your military escorts and other random people shooting the zombies.  They still jump out at you, and they can still get a rise out of you, but then they are put down before they can actually get you.

In my opinion, the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse is worth the price of admission ($20).  Well, the haunted house part anyway… the zombie shoot where you get to shoot paint balls at zombies was kinda lame.  $10 for 20 paint balls to shoot at guys wearing protective head gear, eh… lame.  But go for the haunted house.  Since this in their first year, if they return, I can only see it getting better.

Driving Tips & Truths

I’ve been driving cars for over twenty years now, and what follows is a mixture of helpful tips and venting about stupidity.

  • Turn signals are not for the driver. It would almost be better if they somehow made it impossible to turn left or right, or change lanes, without using a turn signal.  The problem is that doing those things is possible without the turn signal so many drivers don’t use them.  But the turn signal isn’t for the driver, hence why they are on the outside of the car, where the driver could not possibly see them.  This is because turn signals are to tell other drivers what your intentions are and allows them the ability to react.  Brake lights work the same way, which is why it’s nice when people “cover” their brakes (touch the pedal lightly so that the lights kick on but the car isn’t actually braking yet) before they start braking.
  • No one knows what flashing your head lights means. One time, I was driving down the road and a person coming the other direction was flashing their head lights.  Over the next hill there was a police car waiting to catch speeders.  Obviously, flashing head lights means “cop ahead!”  So, another time I was driving and a person coming the other direction was flashing their lights.  I slowed down because there was going to be a cop… only there wasn’t.  Instead there was a large dead animal in the road.  Flashing head lights must mean “something ahead!”  This held true for years as people flashed lights for construction and accidents and other things, until I realized that in my own driving I’d only ever flashed my head lights at two other people and both times it was because the other drivers didn’t have their head lights on after dark, and I recalled someone doing that for me once too.  So, flashing head lights must mean “something!”  In the last twenty years, I’ve come to realize that flashing head lights can mean almost anything from a cop to trash in the road to head lights being off to acknowledging that the driver of the other car is attractive, and so now I pretty much ignore them.  Well, I do make sure my own head lights are on, because that’s the only meaning that matters.
  • No one can see you waving. Really, the only time anyone will ever see you wave is when they are looking for it.  If someone lets you in ahead of them in traffic, a courtesy wave to that someone is not only encouraged, it is greatly appreciated.  Always do it.  On the other hand, if you are coming up on a left turn and you see someone on that street you are about to turn on also wishing to make a left turn, especially if the road you are on is a busy one, there is a temptation to slow down and wave them out.  Only, 90% of the time, they can’t see you waving.  Want to know why?  A) they aren’t looking at you, they are watching traffic for gaps so they can make their left turn.  B) Window tinting and glare and about a dozen other things means when they do look at your car, they can’t see you except for perhaps a faint ghostly swishing of something that might be a wave, but they can’t tell.  By the time they can see you waving, you’ve stopped short, there are now ten cars backed up behind you and the gap in traffic they were actually paying attention to a couple cars back is now closed.  And odds are you may have to honk your horn to let them know you are waiting for them.  Being nice is one thing, letting people in to stop & go traffic is awesome, but if the traffic is flowing, the best thing you can do is to get where you are going as quick as you can.  Don’t stop traffic and break up the flow just to be nice to some random person.

Got any tips or truths you wish to share?

Another brick in the Wall…

Bad Wall Usage

Click to see the Cracked post about the 10 Commandments of Facebook

My birthday has come and gone.  One thing that was very different this year over previous years is that my wall on Facebook wasn’t filled with well wishes.  This was a little sad… and yet, entirely expected.  More than a few people have made mention about not being able to write on my wall there, so I decided that I’d blog about it.

At first, the wall seems like a good idea.  Given the origins of Facebook, the wall is pretty much the chalkboard/whiteboard/corkboard on your dorm door.  People can drop by and, if you aren’t there, leave you a note.  As with many things, this also fits with Facebook’s “everything is public” mentality that those of us who don’t feel that way fight and force them to keep their privacy settings useful.  (If Facebook and Zuckerberg had their way, nothing would be private.)  Most of the things that used to appear on my wall were fine.  Birthday well wishes, holiday cheer, the occasional photo or video.  But every once in a while, something I would prefer to be a private message would show up there.  Thankfully in my case it was never anything bad, but we’ll come back to this.

Another problem (in my opinion) with the wall is that they opened it up for applications.  At the beginning, games would spam your news feed.  “Jason has a new cow in Farmville!  Click here to get a free cow too!”  All in an attempt to get your friends to all play.  But now you also get “Jason has given you a roofing nail in Farmville!  Click here to collect it!” written on your wall.  Seeing as how I don’t like very many of those games, disabling the wall stopped a bunch of those without me having to block the applications.

Anyway… back to the inappropriate comments.  The main issue with the wall is that it is (mostly) public.  If you allow people to post on your wall, your visibility options are: Everyone, Friends of Friends, Friends Only, and Custom.  Now, under Custom it allows you to block certain people or only allow trusted people, but it is a pain to do and doesn’t really solve the issue.  (Choosing “Only Me” is effectively the same as turning off the Wall.)  The majority of people never look at their security settings (and Facebook is counting on that).  Instead, most people think the wall is like sending a personal message.  The result is that over the years I’ve seen a number of things posted on walls that should be in private messages, or at least restricted to Friends Only.  Phone numbers, addresses, social security numbers, test results (yes, those kinds of tests), family secrets, and so on.  Sometimes I think about when people have bluetooth headsets for their cell phones.  They seem to forget that now that they aren’t hunched over their phone and talking into it, they are now projecting and everyone within twenty feet can hear that they are frustrated about not getting laid in the last eight months, and that since they haven’t been laid they don’t know why they have itching and burning in their crotch.  The wall on Facebook is like that.

So, back when I was running through all my security settings a few months ago, I decided to just go ahead and turn the wall off.  Don’t need it.  If you have something to say to me you can either send me a private message, or you can post it in your news feed and dedicate it to me.  I’d recommend the private message.  Sure, I’m ruining the social network aspects, the viral nature, of Facebook.  I don’t care.

Today

It’s 10:10:10 on 10/10/10.

… and it’s also my birthday.  I am a thirty-six year survivor.

I apologize.  I just can’t help myself.

Okay, I’m done now.

The Sacrifice

Left 4 Dead: The SacrificeThis shouldn’t be news to anyone who is a fan of Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2, but yesterday the final chapter of The Sacrifice comic came out online.  Such a good story.  Go read it.  I’ll wait.

These sorts of things are why I love Valve Software.  Not only are their games well built and fun to play, but they understand story.  From Half-Life to Left 4 Dead to Portal to even Team Fortress 2, a game will little story of its own but surrounded by tons of great videos and other stuff.

Anyway, to get back on the Zombie Wednesdays bandwagon, yesterday also saw the release of The Sacrifice DLC for L4D and L4D2.  It’s great to fill in the gap of how our original survivors get down to New Orleans, and it’s also nice that they released it for the original game as well, just in case there are some purists out there still clinging to the L4D2 boycott and never bought the sequel.

Want to play?  On Live, I’m Jhaer.  Friend me, but also be sure to tell me who you are…