Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Travels, and a Defense of Rest Areas as a Hotel Alternative

Today I'll be driving from my ancestral home of Louisiana on the way to National Harbor, Maryland, where MAGfest will take place.

Road trips, it turns out, are one of my weird strengths. I enjoy them, insofar as I enjoy any mostly-mindless task that allows me to listen to music and podcasts for hours at a time.

My first major road trip ever was just a little over five years ago, for my first ever Starmen.Net convention in Chicago. Technically it was Michigan City, Indiana, but it was driving distance to Chicago. That was where I first met several of the people I work with today, and that combination fear/excitement fueled the 15 hour drive.

I only remember two things from that trip: a fancy Burger King with table service and free Wi-Fi (a luxury in the olden days of 2008) and the endless, boring fields of whatever they grow in most of Illinois. I don't even remember sleeping. Did I sleep? I know that it was late afternoon when I arrived at the con house. I must have slept at a rest stop somewhere. It's an ongoing habit.

Speaking of which, I feel it's worth defending my tendency to sleep at rest stops. If you have a vehicle in which you can stretch out and sleep comfortably, there's really no reason to get a hotel. The van I'm in right now, for instance, is plenty wide enough for me to sleep in one of the back seats. If you need a shower, you can probably get one at a truck stop. (I'm guessing here. I've never used a truck stop shower.)

There are several reasons I would not sleep at a rest stop, however. Most of these are from lessons learned from experience. If I'm traveling with a companion, for instance, a hotel is probably worthwhile. Likewise, if there's no comfortable place to stretch out and sleep due to a small vehicle (my car) or a full van (filled with PAX stuff), a hotel is pretty much necessary.

Over time I've developed quite a few road trip habits, but I don't think I'll go into them all right now. I've got 365 blogs to write next year, starting tomorrow, so I'm sure I'll be desperate for material at some point, if not constantly.

Monday, December 30, 2013

I Want to Be a Producer~

I'm sitting in a Books-A-Million right now, mostly because I needed some free Wi-Fi while waiting for some things to print at a nearby Office Depot. BAM only has free Wi-Fi if you're a member of their club, which I'm not. However, the Lowe's hardware store across the street does have free Wi-Fi and, apparently, the most powerful signal in the world. Thanks, Lowe's!

Anyway, apparently Doctor Who has taken over this book store. I don't think Doctor Who even has many books (I'm sure it has at least one...), but that's not what they're selling. Nope, we've got posters, plush dolls, replica sonic screwdrivers, and a TARDIS cookie jar, among other things.

This sort of blatant monetization of other people's ideas makes me cringe and reflect upon what it means to be a content creator.

Obviously, being involved with Fangamer, I can't ignore my own part in this system. I have a series of defenses to make me feel better about what I do (we aren't as blatant, we do it with elegance/style/etc, we're raising the bar for what this stuff should be), but sometimes they just all seem like excuses, denying the facts of the matter: we're making a living because someone else made something popular.

Sometimes I wish that we could focus on something original, something inarguably ours, that would elevate us from being mere moons, reflecting the light of suns.

I believe that metaphor, equating content creators with the sun, is apt. So many things take their energy from the sun that it boggles the mind. It's practically an infinite source of energy, giving steadily with no signs of slowing down. It's the same with a strong original concept: a video game, a super hero, a fantasy setting. They compel people, inspire them, create jobs, and more.

I hope to be a sun some day.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Being Sick Sucks

I don't get sick often. Or, at least, I don't feel sick often. I suspect that perhaps I do get sick just as often as everyone else, but I just sort of shrug it off. I only get really sick about once every couple of years or so.

Unfortunately, this time I got sick while I was on vacation. I'm happy I managed to get in some time with family and friends before this happened, though, so it's not the biggest tragedy. However, it has affected this blog (delaying the Smaug post), and, more importantly, it's affecting my ability to enjoy the local food while I'm here. I'd say that's the biggest tragedy.

In any case, I'm on the mend. Yesterday I could only stay awake for 15-30 minutes at a time, and if I ever got out from under my covers my legs would shiver uncontrollably. Also, every time I'd fall asleep I'd have these weird, stressful dreams, forcing me to wake up every hour or two.

Today I'm still pretty achey, but I've been up for several hours now, and I'm not shivering any more. I slept fairly well last night. My tonsils are still inflamed, though, so eating is a chore.

That said, I think I think I'm on schedule to be able to start driving to MAGfest day after tomorrow. Hooray!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Desolation of Smaug: a Word on Fanfiction

As far as a review goes, my non-spoiler recommendation is this: did you watch The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey? Did you enjoy it? If you answered yes to both of those questions, then go see the Desolation of Smaug. You were going to do it anyway, but now at least you know I think it's worth going see the next one. I'm happy to put your mind at ease.

If you didn't see the previous movie, go see it first and come back. These movies kind of rely on each other, so I don't recommend skipping around.

If you saw it and didn't like it, you probably won't enjoy this one very much either. I mean, I personally enjoyed this one more than the previous one, but not enough that I think someone who didn't like the first one is going to suddenly be wowed by it.

Anyway, that's my spoiler-free review. It you're concerned about spoilers (either for this movie or the likely events of the next one), now is the time to turn back.


I've heard the Peter Jackson adaptation of The Hobbit described as fan fiction. I agree 100%, though I should be clear about two things:

1) Any adaptation in which the original author is not directly involved is, technically, fan fiction. For instance: The V for Vendetta film is fan fiction, since Alan Moore was never involved in the adaptation. Same for The Watchmen. Also, almost any given Disney movie. HBO's Game of Thrones series, on the other hand, I would not consider fan fiction since George R. R. Martin is quite involved in the production.

2) There is nothing inherently wrong with fan fiction.

These Peter Jackson Hobbit films are really good fan fiction. Or, at least, they are what I look for (and aspire to) in fan fiction. Rather than making huge changes to the core story, this adaptation looked deeper into its source material and expanded on the content, giving us more of what we want to know without compromising the characters.

In the Desolation of Smaug, we spend a lot of time with Legolas, whose involvement in the events of The Hobbit was implied in The Lord of the Rings, but never mentioned explicitly. We also have a new character, Tauriel, whose relationship with Legolas will likely pave the way for Legolas's friendship with Gimli later. And then you have a few characters whose involvement with the story has changed dramatically, such as Bard and Kili.

All of these changes seem important to me, not just as a way to pad out the trilogy and turn what was a short book into three massive movies, but mostly to increase the viewer's investment in these characters. I remember reading The Hobbit and only really being invested in Bilbo's journey and, perhaps, in Gandalf's appearances. The dwarves, except perhaps Thorin, were basically faceless allies. Bard was just some guy. The elves and Smaug were just obstacles: threats too big for little Bilbo to handle, so they were dealt with by other people.

My favorite change was definitely Smaug. Any dragon can be scary, as I try to relay in my D&D campaigns. However, intelligent villains are one of my favorite things to watch, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching Smaug toy with Bilbo, completely confident in the fact that he holds all of the cards and nobody, not Bilbo, the dwarves, nor the people of Lake-Town had any chance of stopping him.

One final note: I've never finished the Silmarillion, but it was interesting to recognize the Arkenstone as one of the legendary Silmarils. At least, I think that's what it was implying.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Traveling for Christmas

When I was a kid, I never had any reason to travel for Christmas. My grandparents, aunts, and uncles all live in the same area, most of them just a few minutes drive from my parents' house. In short, Christmas was an easy routine: open presents at home in the morning, visit one side of the family for lunch, and visit the other side of the family for dinner.

This is my second year traveling home for Christmas. Anyone who has moved away from home is likely familiar with this experience, but I suspect most people still live relatively close to where they grew up.

When you travel home, there's always too much to do.

I can never find time to do everything I want to do when I visit Louisiana. I need to visit my grandparents and other family. I need to visit my friends that I haven't seen in months to a year. I need to visit all those restaurants I used to visit all the time. I need to tell my stories of everything I've done since the last time I was home to everyone, and I need to hear everyone else's stories in turn.

And, because I'm a busy introvert, I need time alone to handle business stuff.

This year, as last year, I'm spending my holidays on a futon at my parents' house. I've got a little less than a week to spend quality time with everyone while not exhausting myself before I leave for MAGfest.

Yesterday I managed to spend a little time with everyone. Hopefully, over the next few days, I'll be able to expand on that time with each group. It'll never be enough but, then again, that's one of the best parts about living far from home: you value the time you're able to spend with the people there that much more.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'll take a walk down to Price's Supermarket and get one of their awesome roast beef po-boys.

An Ambitious Project

This year, 2013, I set for myself three resolutions: each month I would finish a video game I've never beaten before, read a book I've never read before, and write a new chapter for the story I've been writing off and on for the past few years.

The video game resolution was conquered easily, exceeding my quota, in fact. As of this moment, I've completed the following for the first time:
  1. Paper Mario Sticker Star (3DS)
  2. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (PC--"beating" the game, in this case, encompasses completing as many side quests as makes me comfortable, then completing the main quest)
  3. Black Mesa Source (PC)
  4. Cthulhu Saves the World (PC)
  5. FTL (PC--"beating" the game, in this case, means acquiring all ships and completing the game on Normal difficulty)
  6. Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS)
  7. Borderlands 2 (PC)
  8. XCOM: Enemy Unknown (PC)
  9. Mark of the Ninja (PC)
  10. On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 4 (PC)
  11. Grand Theft Auto 5 (XB360)
  12. Pokemon X (3DS--"beating the game, in this case, meaning I defeated the Elite Four)
  13. Mass Effect 3 (XB360)
  14. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)
I've also managed to complete my reading resolution with relative ease. I read the following books for the first time:
  1. The Once and Future King by T.H. White
  2. The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett
  3. Dune by Frank Herbert
  4. The Hammer of God by Arthur C. Clarke
  5. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
  6. The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin
  7. The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin
  8. Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin
  9. A Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett
  10. Alan by John "Hex" Carter
  11. Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett
  12. 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
As for the final resolution, I utterly failed. I wrote maybe two more chapters for my story.

Reflecting on my failure, it occurred to me that the hardest thing for me to get over is getting into a state in which I actually feel like writing. I always want to write, but sitting down and actually writing is a different story.

The most common piece of advice I hear for writers is this: write. A lot. Every day, if possible.

So, it occurred to me that perhaps the best way to make progress on my story is to get into the habit of writing regularly. To that end, one of my resolutions for 2014 will be to write and post a blog post every day. Every single day. If extreme circumstances prevent me from actually getting to a computer and typing up a post, instead I'll just write a post in my Techo and post it when I get the chance. One way or another, though, there should be 365 blog posts here by the end of the year.

The posts will be about anything: movie/video game reviews, random thoughts, social/political commentary, a record of my day, or, if this experiment works and I actually end up writing more of my story, I'll post my progress on that.

I'm calling this blog "Charlie's Almost-Daily Blog" in honor of Shigesato Itoi, whose "Almost" Daily News site hasn't missed a day in over fifteen years.

Here's hoping I can be that dedicated.