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The Night Before…

You know… usually this time of year I put up special Christmas logos and decorations on the site, but I’ve been so busy with work, family, and actually doing stuff for and of the season I just haven’t had time.

Its Christmas Eve, and I’m about to head over to my father’s house to spend a few hours with my family. Jodi and I will return home tonight, and spend some time together, then tomorrow she’ll work, I’ll clean house and run other errands, and then we’ll return to my father’s for Christmas Day.

Tonight, I hope that each and every person out there has someone… a husband, a wife, a friend, a lover, a father, a mother, a daughter or son… someone to share the night with… and to everyone, whether they have someone or not, Merry Christmas.

Christopher Reeve: Sept 25, 1952 – Oct 10, 2004

I just don’t know what to say. I had planned this morning to make some tirade about birthdays, seeing that yesterday was my 30th, but then I found out about this, and… I’m not entirely sure why, but sitting in my office at work, I broke down into tears.

Yesterday, as I went about my day, I kept seeing “Happy Birthday” all over the place. Store fronts, a pile of newspapers, and loads more… maybe that phrase is just really common and I normally don’t notice, but yesterday I did, and so did Jodi. She said that it made her think that it was a sign, that my mother was saying it, that she was with me. Also going through my head were thoughts of being 30, and all the things I haven’t yet done, and the general mess my life is, and I was thinking about needing to “grow up”, stop playing games and settle in to work. To put aside childish things, to put aside my childhood, and move on.

And now I find that Christopher Reeve, Superman, a symbol of fantasy, of heroism, of childhood dreams, died on my birthday at the same time I was considering putting aside those dreams. If I were a man who believed in signs… well, maybe I am a man who believes in signs, and that’s why I’m crying.

While I go try to collect myself, I leave you with the lyrics to two songs, neither of which really evoke what I’m feeling, but they come close, and neither of which will stop playing in my head for many days to come…

Superman (It’s not easy) by Five For Fighting:
I can’t stand to fly
I’m not that naive
I’m just out to find
The better part of me

I’m more than a bird…I’m more than a plane
More than some pretty face beside a train
It’s not easy to be me

Wish that I could cry
Fall upon my knees
Find a way to lie
About a home I’ll never see

It may sound absurd…but don’t be naive
Even Heroes have the right to bleed
I may be disturbed…but won’t you concede
Even Heroes have the right to dream
It’s not easy to be me

Up, up and away…away from me
It’s all right…You can all sleep sound tonight
I’m not crazy…or anything…

I can’t stand to fly
I’m not that naive
Men weren’t meant to ride
With clouds between their knees

I’m only a man in a silly red sheet
Digging for kryptonite on this one way street
Only a man in a funny red sheet
Looking for special things inside of me

It’s not easy to be me.

Superman’s Song by Crash Test Dummies:
Tarzan wasn’t a ladies’ man
He’d just come along and scoop ’em up under his arm
Like that, quick as a cat in the jungle
But Clark Kent, now there was a real gent
He would not be caught sittin’ around in no
Junglescape, dumb as an ape doing nothing

Superman never made any money
For saving the world from Solomon Grundy
And sometimes I despair the world will never see
Another man like him

Hey Bob, Supe had a straight job
Even though he could have smashed through any bank
In the United States, he had the strength, but he would not
Folks said his family were all dead
Their planet crumbled but Superman, he forced himself
To carry on, forget Krypton, and keep going

Superman never made any money
For saving the world from Solomon Grundy
And sometimes I despair the world will never see
Another man like him

Tarzan was king of the jungle and Lord over all the apes
But he could hardly string together four words: “I Tarzan, You Jane.”

Sometimes when Supe was stopping crimes
I’ll bet that he was tempted to just quit and turn his back
On man, join Tarzan in the forest
But he stayed in the city, and kept on changing clothes
In dirty old phonebooths till his work was through
And nothing to do but go on home

Superman never made any money
For saving the world from Solomon Grundy
And sometimes I despair the world will never see
Another man like him

It should be illegal…

So, a year ago, I bought a new computer. Rather than spend the effort building one, and the fact that I can’t really beat the prices of the pre-fab machines anymore unless I spend 3 months piecing it together, I went to Best Buy, saw a good price on a good system and bought it. They offered my a bunch of crap, to which I said no, just the system and the rebates, good-bye. Paid with my credit card, took it home, set it up, and mailed off my rebates. I was happy.

In January, I got my credit card statement, on it was a charge for $21.95 for Microsoft Online Services. Now, it being Christmas time and also floating a couple of charges for work on my card, I just nodded, said okay and filed the statement away.

I’m horrible about my credit cards. If I scan the charges and nothing leaps out at me like “Harold’s House of Fur Covered Fishing Poles” or something, I just nod and file it away after I write the check.

So, its June, and I’m looking at this month’s statement, and there is that Microsoft Online Services again. Only this time, I know I didn’t buy anything from them. I open up my budget program, ironically Microsoft Money, and sort the charges in my credit card statements. Sure enough, from January to June, 6 charges of $21.95.

I get on the net, find the phone number and call up MSN. They ask me my phone number, gave him all three, home and two cells… not on file. Name, gave him both mine and Jodi’s… not on file. Address… not on file. Seven email addresses… not on file. So I say, “Look, its billing my card, why I don’t I just give you the credit card number?” “Umm… sure,” he says, “that will work.”

I give him the number and… presto! Account found. Only, the name on it is “Best Buy Promotion”, the phone number is the number to the store, and the email address is listed as “notprovided@store.com”. But my credit card number and expiration date are correct, and they’ve billed me $131.70 for an account that I NEVER signed into.

I ask him, “How exactly do you justify billing me for an account I never activated?” He tells me that it was activated at the store on the date of purchase. “But, look at the account information, it looks fake. Don’t you guys audit these promotions?” No, he says. “What about account activity? It was activated, and then never used, not once.” There is this pause, a completely silent pause… I’ve worked in call centers, this is the silence of being put on mute while he asks someone else how he should respond.

“Sir, it is not our business to dictate to our users how they do or do not use our service. If they choose to activate it and hold the account as a backup for another provider, never logging in because their primary provider never fails, that is their choice. It is not our place to deactivate accounts in good standing for inactivity.”

I’m dumbfounded. But I ask for a refund. “Sure,” he says, “just let me, okay, its done, it should appear on your next statement as a credit, is there anything else I can do for your today?”

“No.”

“Have a great day and thank you for using MSN!”

And then he hung up before I could yell, “BUT I NEVER USED MSN!!”

Oh well…

So, to you out there, I say this… beware. MSN wants your money, and they love it best when you pay them to provide you with nothing. Watch your credit card statements closely, and when you purchase from Best Buy, even when you say no, they might just sign you up anyway.

The Thunder of Guns

I command you, if you have any interest in seeing Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, then do so in the theater. A good theater. Drive many miles if you must.

I will admit, when I first heard of this film I though to myself, "A movie about sailing and boats." But as I learned more of the story, an English ship sent out to sink, burn or capture a particular French ship finds that the French of in fact hunting them, it got more interesting. Still, even after seeing some previews and scenes and interviews with cast, the movie didn’t really call to me.

However, the movie is fantastic. And as the title of this little review suggests, the cannon battles between the two ships litterally rocked the theater. This is definately one of those films that just won’t be the same at home…

… at least until I can afford that home THX theater.

Missed it by that much.

So, yesterday was my birthday. (send cash) And I did the usual dinner with my family. (money orders) We went to Chili’s. (checks) And it was good.

Then home for cake. (gold bars) Oh, and the presents! (loose change) I got a haul of loot. (pound notes) I got some clothes, which I actually was asking for. (yen) And I scored a couple of good DVDs: Brotherhood of the Wolf, and Near Dark. (monopoly money)

Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed my day.

Because it is MY day.

Its MINE.

From Idea to Execution…

A couple of patches ago, Verant introduced for EverQuest a customizable User Interface. This new UI uses XML and a SIDL engine to basically allow someone to do anything they want with it.

Of course, the first people to slam out new designs were those people who play the game way too much. Every mod was aimed at less lag, more visible space. Slim, compact, no frills interfaces.

Jodi says to me, “I want to have a body to put my stuff on.” Or something close to that. My first reaction was to think it would be too big, bulky and cumbersome. It would take way too much space to put in a drawing of a person and to put all the items for the inventory on it.

After letting it sit in my head for a day, I started to try to come up with a layout for inventory boxes in the shape of a person, but without the actual person. The problem of course is that in the game you have boots, leggings, and a belt, then about 15 items from the waist up. Too much to get it to lay out well while keeping it compact.

Then, while sitting at work fighting sleep between calls on a sunday afternoon, my brain was electrified with inspiration.

The Vitruvian Man.

From there, my mind raced, placing parts from the Inventory all over and around the image. I made three or four mock-ups, then I headed home for the day.

Once home, I started fiddling with numbers. I sized the image that I wanted for the background, then began pixel placing the inventory.

A few hours of work placing pieces and fiddling with the contrast and gamma correction on the image, and I was finished.

So here are some screen shots of the final product in 2 resolutions: 1024×768 and 1280×1024. And if you read this page and want to download the mod itself, its here.

Enjoy.

From the Computer to the Table.

EverQuest is one of the most, if not THE most, popular online role-playing games to come alive. And now, if playing it on your PC wasn’t enough, you can, starting this year, play it at home.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, Sony Online Entertainment along with Atlanta’s own White Wolf Studios bring you EverQuest: the Pen and Paper Adventure!

Its been a long time since I broke out the old AD&D books and played a real pen and paper game. The last time I did, I ended a character in a satifactory way. His life, long become corrupt with power, was redeemed and his soul sacrificed for the greater good. That day I walked away from the table, burned the character sheet, and never looked back. And you know what? EQ as a paper RPG is NOT going to make me change that.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the game is going to suck. White Wolf has a good track record in my opinion. And the guys doing this are the same folk who brought you Ravenloft, arguable one of the best gaming modules for AD&D. But honestly, EverQuest is, in its simplest form, an AD&D knockoff for the virtual world. All the fantasy MUDs and MMORPGs are. So I don’t see much how EQ:RPG is going to take the world by storm.

But stranger things have happened…

Job Hunting.

Since early this year, the Information Technology market has been less than good. At the end of last year I quit a job and within a month picked up an open ended contract, basically stay hired as long as I wanted. After they moved me to third shift, 11pm to 7am, I decided I didn’t want to any more. So on April 30th I turned in my work I.D. and security swipe card, and set off looking for a “better” job.

I had 4 months of bill money saved up in the bank, 5 if I stretched it. I called some headhunters, recruiters and the like, and started sending out resumes.

Its now almost 6 months later, and I’m still unemployed.

I managed to keep my head above water because my fiancee has a job, and she makes just enough to not quite cover the bills. So we are still slowly sinking, but not having to bail water as often.

I’ll be the first to admit, when I started looking, I had a fixed set of rules for where I wanted to work. But that began to fade after the first month. Slowly, week by week, my standards for employment have crumbled to the point where I think the only thing on my “I’m not comfortable doing that job” list is fast food. And its not just personal choice that has whittled away at my resolve. In nearly 6 months, I have had 2 real interviews.

Two.

Anyone else who bothered to contact me in response to my resume (and that number is small when compared to how many I have sent out) said the same thing: You’re overqualified, you wouldn’t be happy here, we can’t hire you. Even one grocery store which will remain nameless told me that I was overqualified to work stock, and that they would rather hire some high school kid who’s going to quit the first time his job conflicts with his social life over me, someone who just wants to keep food on his table and a roof over his head.

The job market was getting better. Then some maniacal moron had the idea to slam a couple of planes into the World Trade Center. I had 3 interviews lined up that week. All gone now as each company “rethinks its position in this time of crisis.” I don’t mean to lessen the pain of the terrorist attack. I sat at home, being unemployed, and watched CNN all day from the first crash to the very end. And I cried, all day. But as the President said, we must carry on. Those of us not victims of the attacks, our lives did not end on September 11th. We must continue living, we must show that an attack on our buildings cannot destroy our lives and freedom.

And yet lots of companies stopped interviewing. They still post jobs and collect resumes, but if you call them, they aren’t following through. No interviews are being set up, no hiring being done. The process only pretends to continue, it doesn’t actually carry on.

So what am I to do? I need a job. Lots of people need jobs. I’m no fool. I realize that I’m in a pool of thousands looking for work. But I can’t worry about them, because if I do I’ll care, and I’ll starve. Well, not likely starve, but move back home with my parents for sure, and that’s almost worse.

Luckily for me, the Christmas season is upon us. Its a time of generosity, good cheer, and seasonal help in stores all over this great nation. I’ve got an interview today in fact. And if I’m chosen, I’ll get to survive until next year. And if I’m not… I hear you can make up to $12 an hour begging on the street if you do it right.

26 October 1999

Oy vey!
Sometimes you just can’t win. I’ve been fighting with my webspace provider. They said I had too much stuff, so I paid for more space, they still haven’t updated the server security files so I can’t use the extra space. I had to take a bunch of pictures off line just so I can do regular updates… but I digress.
Now on to the .plan… Halloween… Halloween and stupid parents.
In a town near where I live they town council, PTA, and others are getting together to vote… nothing important, just voting if Halloween should be celebrated, in other words Trick-or-Treating, on Saturday since the real Halloween is on Sunday.
What a bunch of stupid garbage to be wasting time voting on. What’s next?? Voting to hold the 4th of July on the 6th because the 4th is on a Wednesday?? Voting to move New Year’s Eve to December 29th because it’s a Friday, not a Sunday, and that way people can get drunk and party and not worry about missing work??
It’s a holiday. Holidays are on a certain day of the year for a reason, and they should stay there.
It hasn’t always been this way. When I was a child, it could be Sunday night, pitch black, raining, and cold, and my parents would still let us dress up and go out into the dark with our bags to fill with candy. Why can’t parents today be reasonable? Their parents let them go out, so why can’t their kids go out?
Let me dispell a myth or two about the world that causes alot of parents to be bad parents:
1. There are no more psychos, murderers, rapists, kidnappers, and the like then there were when you were growing up. It only looks that way because the story about that kid who gets picked up in a van and never comes home again in Podunk, Idaho used to stay in Podunk, Idaho, or only came to the rest of the world as an Urban Legend, only now, thanks to the wonders of Cable TV and stuff like the Internet, you get to see the local news casts and read local news when you don’t even live there. In fact, in all honesty, the world is probably a little bit safer these days (with the exception of areas that have gang problems) then when you were growing up. Its okay to let your kid ride off on a bike without training wheels and not wearing his helmet, kneepads, elbowpads, and bulletproof vest with some of the other neighborhood kids, because in all likelihood, he’s going to come home just fine. There is being protective of your kid, and then there is the point where YOU become the psycho.
2. You don’t HAVE to be a two income household. There are many families that get by on one income. Being a parent brings with it a certain amount of sacrifice. Not just what you would give to save your child, but what you will give to have your child. Get a station wagon and give up the Lexus, or just go so far as to own one car instead of two. Shop in bulk. Get Levi’s instead of those Versace orginal denim pants. Clip coupons. Eat out less. One of you see them off to school, and one of you be home when they come back (take turns or one of you do both). If you find that you really do NEED a second income, find something you can do from home. My mother sorted coupons for a company when they came back redeemed, somtimes she worked at the office, but when needed, she brought home a box of coupons and sorted them at home (and even used them for discipline, “You stop hitting your brother or you’ll have to help sort coupons!”). Have that one less working person means that you can actually spend time with your child. And if you do that, the chances that they get a shotgun and some pipe bombs and go blow up their school will go way way WAY down. Guaranteed.
In this country people have a tendancy to blame everything but themselves for their mistakes. If you don’t own your mistakes, they will own you. TV, movies, books, music… these things have never caused a kid to do anything violent or stupid, only 2 things have ever cause a kid to be stupid… a) he’s a kid and its how kids learn, make mistakes, take responsibility, and learn from them, or b) bad parenting. But bad parenting is something that is a personal demon. It belongs to one person, and no one likes to admit they were wrong (entire bookstore sections, and a dozen TV shows are based on people avoiding problems). People in a large group, especially the media and society as a whole, never want to point a finger at the parents and say, “You didn’t play with your kids, so they killed 20 people.” People in large groups are easily swayed. For some reason, a group of the smartest people on the planet will still listen and probably accept as true what the most stupid person among them has to say.
Parents… and Parents-to-be… wake up… wake up and raise your children. Good parents… bad parents… any parents are better than no parents at all.
…and Halloween is on October 31st. Deal with it.

8 October 1999

Moments of Personal Shame.
Everyone has them, even if you don’t know what they are.
It’s those moments where you are deeply embarrassed, and even though no one saw it and no one will know, you still somehow feel ashamed.
Let me give you a quick example. One day at work I was feeling uncomfortable, couldn’t figure out why. Just kept shifting in my chair, getting up and walking around, fidgeting. When I got home that evening, changing out of my work clothes I looked down and saw that I had put my boxer shorts on backwards. So I stood there looking down at the tag sticking up out of the front of my shorts, embarrassed.
That is a moment of personal shame.
Now to the meat, and another moment of personal shame.
Last night, a Thursday, I went out for the usual evening: to Rio Bravo for drinks and food before something else (if something else happens). And so I’m there, I have a couple of beers and a couple of shots. I’ll admit it, I got drunk. But an hour of not drinking and a glass or two of water and I felt fine.
So I’m in the car heading home, totally okay. Until the last drink I had, a shot – an Oatmeal Cookie to be exact, just must have hit some particularly sensitive spot of my gullet. I quickly pull off the highway and into an office park, but I don’t get the door open, and… yep, you guessed it, puked in the car. On the window and door.
Well, I open the door and most everything spills onto the ground, and a quick wipe down with a few tissues cleans up most of the mess. This is not the moment of personal shame.
I drive the rest of the way home, put my clothes in a plastic bag for washing tonight, get a shower, drink a couple glasses of water, take an aspirin and hit the sack.
This morning, I get up (late) and get ready for work. I head out to the car. Mine is the only car in the parking lot, everyone else is already gone to work. I open the car door, and look at the mess. But it really isn’t too bad. I head back in, get some paper towels, cup of water and the air freshener. A few minutes later and its all clean. Still smells a little, but that’ll go in a day or two. This is not the moment of personal shame.
I head to work. Stopping at the gas station for gas, I get a carwash, and about a dozen of those little green trees for the car. All signs of the incident appear to be gone, or going. I get to work and as I get out of the car I see, just under the edge of the seat, a small spot that I missed. This is it.
I cleaned everything up, and if I didn’t write this page, no one would have ever known about this. But seeing that small spot on the floor board, I felt it. Embarrassed. A Moment of Personal Shame.
So now I have given you two of my moments, and believe me, this is only the tip of the iceberg. But personal shame can be a good thing, you can learn alot. I always double check my underwear when I put it on, and I won’t be drinking Oatmeal Cookies anymore.
Have a good day. And don’t laugh at me too hard. 🙂