1313 and other random thoughts

This is my one-thousand three-hundred thirteenth post on this blog.  My name is Jason, also the name of the star of the Friday the 13th series of movies.  My wife was born on the 13th of March.  Back in the days when I managed a video store, my own personal account listed my address as “1313 Mockingbird Lane”, an address made famous by the Munsters.  My favorite holiday is Halloween, which is on the 31st, which is 13 in reverse.  And if you are into that sort of thing, you might know that we are currently living in the 13th b’ak’tun, which will draw to a close toward the end of 2012, which may or may not be a significant thing.  Thirteen has always been a good and lucky number for me.

I don’t believe in signs, though I see them everywhere.  The fact is, you can do it with any number.  If you decide that 27 is your lucky number, you’ll suddenly begin noticing all the 27s that appear in your life.  You’ll even being doing things that force 27s into your life.  I know a person whose lucky number is 14, and while 14s do randomly appear in her life she also makes a number of decisions based on 14s.  If offered two options, one that contains a 14 and one that does not, she’ll choose the 14 and see it as being a sign when she could easily have chosen the other.  Personally, I try not to make decisions based on 13s, and yet, here I am, rambling about 13s in post 1313 on my blog.

The Writer's Block
3" by 3" by 3" of literal inspiration

Borders is closing a bunch of book stores.  (Yeah, I’m done with 13s and moving along with no segue at all.)  Of all the brick and mortar stores around they’ve been my favorite because of their finer separation of categories, specifically in having a horror section as opposed to splitting up horror between mystery, sci-fi/fantasy and general fiction.  They also have a location that shares a building with a movie theater I frequent.  When we go to a movie, we always end up browsing before and sometimes after, and often end up buying a book or two (or five or ten).  The only good thing about the store closings are the discounts.  Lately, paperback books haven’t been seeing much of a discount on Amazon.  A $6.99 mass market paperback will be $6.99 on Amazon, so picking them up in a store can actually be better, especially if you have the store discount card and get 10% off everything.  With the store closings, most stuff is 25% off already, and they are still honoring the store discount card, so it makes picking up a few paperbacks a good deal.  And of course, a sale means more serious browsing, looking for books you might not normally buy at all but will if it’s 50% off.  I bought The Writer’s Block (pictured).  I promise to use it and post the results.  Despite my good fortune with the sale, the closing Borders locations will be missed, and since the only remaining Atlanta locations are the ones that are too far away for a casual visit, Borders may have lost me as a customer for good, and that is a shame.

A few weeks ago I went to a place called Hemingway’s down at the Marietta Square to see a band called 7 sharp 9.  With no expectations at all, I was fairly well blown away by their performance.  Being a band playing in a bar, they primarily stuck to playing great bar band music, rock favorites from various decades.  They played well and even threw in a few twists, the biggest surprise being a mash up of Prince’s Kiss and Sir Mix-a-lot’s Baby Got Back.  Even the smattering of original tunes they played (just one per set) were good enough that we picked up copies of all three of their albums.  They made a fan out of me in just one night.  It looks like they’ll be back at Hemingway’s in April and I plan to be there to see them again.  To the right is a very short video of them playing a cover of Blister in the Sun at a bar in Destin, FL.

I’ve been writing for Shakefire for a bit over a month now and I’m enjoying it.  Links to what I’ve written can be found each week in my A Week of Tweets posts on Sundays.  So far I’ve had the good fortune of enjoying everything I’ve reviewed for one reason or another, but I fear that is going to end this week as the next two CDs I’ve been listening to for review have been uninspiring and borderline awful.  I don’t like giving bad reviews but I like being dishonest less, so I’ll probably be lambasting a couple of artists and then maybe I can get back to stuff I enjoy.

And finally, is you have a few dollars you can spare, or even if you have a few dollars you think you can’t spare, consider tossing them toward the Red Cross for their efforts in Japan.  Every dollar helps, and with the earthquake, the tsunami, the nuclear power plant, the aftershocks, the volcano… they can use all the help they can get right now.

Browsing the Aisles

This month’s Gamer Banter: “How important is cover art to you?”

Back in the day, we’d go to the store as a family, and in the electronics section there would be the wall of Atari games.  The cover art was pretty much always like a million times better than the actual game graphics.  The art mattered, because that’s what got you to pick up the box and flip it over to see a couple of game shots.  Even into the Nintendo and early PC eras this continued.  The art of a King’s Quest box didn’t match the game, but it drew you in.

These days, I almost never go to the store to browse games.  I check websites, I browse Amazon.  I buy games there too, and the only time I ever see the game box is when I’m getting the disc out to put it in the 360 or installing the game on my hard drive… though Steam has pretty much ended the latter.

If I did, though, game box covers are like a movie poster.  It’s art, meant to catch your eye.  And much like movie posters the same layouts get used so often that I have become almost immune to them.  They fail to catch my eye.  And yet, now and then a movie poster comes along that I have to find and buy and I have to put on my wall.  But game boxes are so small.  Perhaps I might display a particularly good one if it was sold in a poster size, but so few are.

So to answer the question, the cover art is unimportant to me.  I barely even notice it.

This post was part of Gamer Banter, a monthly video game discussion coordinated by Terry at Game Couch. If you’re interested in being part of this, please email him for details.

Other takes:
Silvercublogger: Don’t Cover The Art, Unless…
The Average Gamer: Cover Art
SnipingMizzy: In the eye of the beholder
Extra Guy: On Books and Covers
Zath: How Important Is A Game’s Cover Art?
carocat.co.uk: Cover art? No, thanks!
Pioneer Project: The game box’s big moment
Man Fat: How Important Is A Game’s Cover Art?

Appearance Items

I don’t really want to write about the celestial steed that Blizzard added to its item shop last week, when so much has already been said about it.  Instead, I want to focus on one element of it: the speed.

Buying one of these mounts does not gain you any advantage.  The speed of this mount will be equal to the speed of the fastest mount you own.  So if you only have the slowest mount in the game, your celestial flying mount will be the slowest in the game.  It might be based on your riding skill too, but it clearly states that in order to have your celestial steed move at 310% speed you have to own another 310% speed mount.  I suspect the only real attribute this mount has beyond its looks is that it is a flying mount, and so if you have no other flying mount, this could be your first flying mount.  But the key here is that the mount itself has no speed, and instead takes its speed from another source.

People are okay with this because it means that you can’t buy an advantage from the store, just a toy that is no better in game that what you already own.

One thing Blizzard hasn’t added to their game yet that several other games have are appearance slots.  In some games if you want the stats of the Unobtainium Breastplate but prefer the look of the Ghostly Robes, you can slap the breastplate into your “real” armor slot and put the robes into the “appearance” slot.  That way, everyone sees the Ghostly Robes, but you have the protection of the Unobtainium Breastplate.  Now is the time for Blizzard to look at this.  I think they’d be fools not to go down this road.

They should first add in the ability to wear appearance only items, that second paper doll, and start putting in craft-able and drop-able and vendor purchasable appearance only items.  Then once it has been out there for a bit, start throwing the truly awesome looking stuff into the store.  How many people would shell out $5, $10, or some other amount for a Celestial Breastplate or Hellfire Helm or other armor pieces with awesome unique (until a million people buy them) looks and animations?  Especially if its like the pets where one purchase makes the item available to all the characters on the account?

The answer: lots.  So, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see it coming soon.  I don’t think Blizzard is ever going to sell “real” gear in their store, no buying top tier raid gear, but I can easily see them milking appearance items for all it’s worth.  They’ve already proven people will buy pets and now mounts, plus it would give them another avenue for exclusive giveaways for Blizz-con and other events.


Every once in a while I pick up random books that hook me with their jacket blurb from the bargain big at the book store.  Barnes & Noble’s discount section is especially good at it.  So that is how I came upon Tremor by Craig Dirgo.

What attracted me to the book was simply the mention of Nikola Tesla.  I’m a nut for science based science fiction.  (Its one of the many reasons I prefer Angels & Demons to The Da Vinci Code.)  So when I saw that the crux of the book was that someone had a machine built on Tesla designs that could cause earthquakes… I was in.

Sadly, this is the second book in a series, but fortunately does not rely heavily on the reader having actually read the first book.  The first book is about Einstein.  I’m going to have to track down a copy.

Anyway, it was a good book.  If you like Dan Brown or Clive Cussler or those types of books, you’ll probably like Craig Dirgo’s stuff too.  Its typical “male adventure” … smart and/or skilled guys tracking down bad guys and fooling around with inordinately hot women mostly in exotic locals.  I mean, the main character, John Taft, who is a spy, goes to sneak a peak at some of Tesla’s old papers at the Tesla museum in Belgrade, only to find that the curator just happens to be a really hot chick who he charms and sleeps with in a matter of hours so he can steal her keys and break in.  Its par for the course in books like these.

Overall, fun, but not something I’d find myself reading more than once.

Earth Day

Today is Earth Day.

So, being that that is what today is, I figured it was time for another edition of what I will from now on refer to as “Probably Not Saving The World!”

Previously on the blog, I’ve mentioned my efforts to reduce my junk mail. The first couple of steps I took helped, but it always seemed to be a momentary slackening of the flood, not a stoppage. Then I was pointed at GreenDimes. I signed up for their $20 premium package, and the junk mail has all but stopped. At this point, the only things I get that I consider junk are a few local items, which I can excuse because they are local advertisements of local businesses and not big chains. Its nice, and it makes me feel better about not wasting all that paper.  With the GreenDimes service, you can even get the names of previous tenants dropped from lists, which is great since at this point nearly a third of my junk was for people who don’t live at my house.

We still keep up on the recycling, but even more so, I recently suffered through caffeine withdrawal in order to stop drinking Cokes, and have pulled way back on the number of canned and bottled beverages I drink. With a decent filter, tap water is just as good, if not better, than anything you can buy at the store. Plus, the more things you buy at the store (like sodas and bottled water) are more things that need to be trucked around the country. While I haven’t gone totally for “buying local”, I am trying to cut back on all the things I buy where I can.

Next up, we are looking to have an energy audit done on the house. That’s where someone comes and inspects the house to find all the places where you can improve efficiency, mostly for heating and air conditioning, to cut back on usage. As it is, we are trying to let the house stay cooler in the winter and a little warmer in the summer if we can stand it.

I’m really hoping that within the next five years I can get solar panels put on the house. You can even get money from the government to help with that, and get a tax write off.

So anyway… Happy Earth Day! Even if you don’t believe in “Global Warming”, garbage is still garbage, and less garbage is good.

The Mist

One day, long ago, I picked a random book off my older brother’s shelf and started to read. The book happened to be Skeleton Crew, a collection of short stories and novellas by Stephen King. There were a number of cool stories in it, but the one that stuck the most was The Mist.

Later, when the family would go and purchase our first PC, a Leading Edge 8088 with 512K RAM and a 20MB hard drive (yeah, Megabyte, not Gigabyte), we would also pick up a handful of games. The Black Cauldron was one, and Stephen King’s The Mist was another. The game differed from the book a little, but that was okay, it needed to because as good as the book was, it wouldn’t make for much of a game. It was a text adventure, and that means I spent hours and hours trying to figure out the right combination of going North, East, South, West, every direction in between, picking things up and using them, in order to not get killed.

But I always wanted them to do a movie… and now they have. Frank Darabont, the man who did The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, took a crack at it, and I have to say, I’m very satisfied with the result.

This movie perfectly captures the mood of the book of people trapped in a country grocery store surrounded by a think mist. There are monsters in the mist, and inside the store isn’t going to be safe forever. The tense building of the religious cult as people take sides on what just might be the end of humanity is well portrayed.

Like the old text adventure, the movie strayed from the book, which in this case it didn’t have to do, but where it did it worked. Especially the end… the end of the book haunted me, and part of me hoped to see the same ending because I felt it was so good, but the movie has a new ending, but its haunting just the same.

Overall, two thumbs up from me. Worth the money to see in the theater.

My Wife is Afraid of Jell-O

No. Seriously. Perhaps afraid is not the right word, but it is the word she uses. Me, I love Jell-O. One of the few great things I have found in this life is Jell-O with fruit in it. When I go to the store and they are running a buy one get one special on the Del Monte fruit cups in Jell-O, I usually buy four or six 4-packs. Lime Jell-O with pineapples in it is my favorite.

My wife does not like Jell-O because of the slogan, which since she was TV deprived as a child, she did not know it was the slogan, she thought it was just something her mother said. “There’s always room for Jell-O!” To me, as a child of television, Bill Cosby saying those immortal words are ingrained in my brain and will likely be one of the phrases I repeat as the dementia of old age sets it. To her, it made Jell-O seem like some dark magical food that would fit in your stomach no matter how full you already were. So, when I eat Jell-O she usually looks at me disgusted and sometimes even edges away from me slowly as if the Jell-O is going to muscle its way out of the cup and try to force itself down her throat.

I suspect that one day I’ll find a sound clip of Cosby saying his phrase and put it on my phone as her personal ringtone so that every time she calls I will be reminded of what a loon she is. And she will hit me.

The Wizard Knight

I don’t want to be overly harsh here. But ultimately, I didn’t like The Knight and The Wizard, the two volume tale The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe. However, your tastes may vary, so if you see it in the book store, flip through the first few pages and see for yourself.

Now, why didn’t I like them?

The story was pretty good: a boy crosses into another world, one of giants and ogres and more, and becomes a man and a knight. Fairly typical, but with some interesting twists, like this world isn’t just one world, it’s seven worlds that layer over one another and the normal world, as far as normal goes in a fantasy setting, is smack in the middle, with three worlds above and three worlds below. Plenty of the characters were likable, and overall I enjoyed meeting them throughout the tale.

The one drawback, and to me it was huge but may not affect other readers as much, was that the entire story, across both books, was told as if the main character was writing down what happened in an enormous letter to his brother, back in our world (you know, the one we live in, without magic and dragons). As such, almost the entirety of the two books feels like someone is telling you a story, so as much as I wanted to get immersed in this world I was constantly kept at arms length by the writing style. It bugged me.

Along with this was also the author’s choice of weird formal language. The following is NOT an excerpt from either book, but is just an example of how many conversations go within the story:

“I have something that I must tell you, and I need you not to ask me questions while I do.”
“That is fine, but before you start I must know how you got here?”
“I came in a strange manner which will be clear when I tell you what I must tell you.”
“Then I will hinder you no longer. Tell me your story.”
“The story I am about to tell is strange and you may not believe me, but I ask you to trust that I am telling the truth of it.”
“I will take you at your word as I have no reason to doubt you.”
“I knew that you would as you are a trusting man. Here is my tale…”

About a third of every conversation between characters was verbal foreplay, telling each other that they want to tell each other things, interrupting each other to say things that didn’t need to be said at all. Now, this actually happens in real life. You are sitting with your friends at the local pub and you say, “Hey, I’ve got to tell you this story about work.” And they say, “Its not about the copy machine again is it?” And you say, “No, it isn’t, and if you let me tell the story you’d know that.” However, in real life this doesn’t happen all the time. In the book it happens all the time. It got to the point where I would literally see it coming and then skip two or three paragraphs to get to the point where the foreplay is done and the real conversation would begin.

Despite the style of the writing though, I did enjoy the world Gene crafted in his two volume tale. So, as I said before, if you see the book in the store, read a few pages, maybe a chapter or two, and if the writing style doesn’t bother you, pick up the books, it’ll be worth it. If the style bothers you, pick these up only if you are into world crafting and don’t mind it not being a smooth easy read.

My Playlist

I decided to start keeping a list of what I’ve got jammed in my MP3 player. So, over on the right you should see a link entitled “My Playlist”. Basically, I’ve got a ridiculous amount of CDs, many many hundreds, possibly over a thousand, which isn’t much for someone who works in the music industry or at a music store, but its quite a bit for someone who has never worked in either.

Anyway, there you have it.


Parents versus Parenting

Normally, I love kids. I even wouldn’t mind having a few someday. But there are also a great many times where I hate parents. If your kid wants new bike, and you say ‘no’ and he throws a fit, that’s understandable. If his fit includes running around throwing things in the store and kicking people and you do nothing, it’s no longer understandable.

Years ago, I worked at Kroger, a grocery store, and as a college student sometimes I worked day shifts (unlike the high school kids who all worked in the evenings and on weekends). During the day a grocery store gets a pretty large number of mothers with their children. Most kids are fairly well behaved, and when they do misbehave, most parents know how to punish the kid to make them, at the very least, sit in the cart or walk behind mom and pout.

Then one day I met the devil. Satan entered Kroger wearing a powder blue short sleeve shirt, a loose diaper and unmatched socks (one pink, one white). Mother grabbed a cart and began shopping. Satan took off. About five minutes later, the store is filled with a thunderous crash as Satan has pushed over an entire display of ketchup bottles. Satan starts screaming, everyone runs to make sure she’s okay. And Mother starts yelling at people about how dangerous it is to have broken glass around children, acting as though it wasn’t her child that broke the bottles. Clean up begins, Mother returns to shopping, and Satan disappears again. About five minutes later, yelling erupts from the cereal aisle. It appears that Satan has discovered that if you hold out one arm stiff straight out to the side and then run down the cereal shelf you can make all the boxes fall on the floor. Then Satan discovers that the same applies to the cookie aisle. When Satan turns her eyes toward the aisle with the wine bottles, the store manager steps in, sweeps Satan into her arms and seeks out Mother. Mother immediately starts screaming that the store manager let go of her child at once or she’ll press charges. Satan is set down and disappears again. Fifteen minutes later, it is discovered that Satan has been quite because she had to poop. After removing her diaper. On the floor of the magazine aisle. And is now content with rubbing her poop on the pretty people pictured on the covers of the magazines. I spot Mother, pull her aside, explain what is happening and say, “If you don’t spank your child, I will.” Needless to say, she was agast… stunned that I would dare make such accusations about her darling child who was so sweet and would never do anything to hurt anyone or anything. She’d simply had enough of our store’s lack of quality customer service, scooped up her child, and walked right out of the store swearing that she would never ever shop here again.

Later, I got called into the manager’s office. It seems the woman called back and claimed that I spanked her child. I explained that I didn’t, I’d only threatened to spank the child after discovering the poop incident. I got an official write up placed in my work file and told that it was against policy to threaten customers, and the only reason I wasn’t being fired was due to the fact that they were happy that I had insulted the woman and caused her to leave the store.

Two weeks later, Mother returned with Satan in tow. The store manager met her at the door and invoked the store’s right to refuse service. She was very upset, and I distinctly overheard her say that she didn’t know where to go shopping now that she was barred from all seven of her local grocery stores. She began to cry. Meanwhile, Satan was pushing empty shopping carts into the parking lot and two bag boys were desperately trying to stop them from hitting cars.

I often think back to that day when I see unruly children and the parents who have tuned them out, and I know, deep down where it really counts, that should I even become a parent I definately won’t be like them.

This rambling inspired by this article on CNN. Here’s to you Mr. Making Parents Take Responsibility For Their Children Guy. A real American hero.