Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Dark Ages, Book 1: Chapter 1, Part 2

I watched Inside Llewin Davis tonight, and I think I should take some time to digest it before posting a review.

Instead, I hope you don't mind if I post the next portion of my story, continued from Chapter 1, Part 1.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

D&D Profile: Tyriron

I've got one odd group of D&D players, but I'm sure that's something any dungeon master can say.

Still, the other day I was looking over one of their character sheets to make certain everything was in order (most of the players are still getting used to the system, which makes sense considering that it took me a year to really grasp attacks of opportunity), when it occurred to me that it might be fun to write up a profile on each of these weirdos.

Since the character sheet I was looking over at the time was Reid's character, Tyriron, I figured I might as well start there.

Working Through Criticism

Sometimes you meet someone who just absolutely humbles you.

Often, that's not a good feeling.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Hike #1: Ventana Canyon Trail

As per my resolution, yesterday I went on my monthly hike: this time to Tucson's Ventana Canyon Trail.

I expect most of my hiking accounts will be for trails in and around Tucson, so I assume these will mostly only be interesting to people who live in Tucson or who plan on visiting Tucson for its hiking opportunities. Or maybe you just like reading hiking stories. If so, read on.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

D&D Session 30: Mark of the Ninja

I actually don't know what session number this was, but I'll just say it was 30 and begin counting from here.

The Hot Water Party is traveling in the Realm of Fire on behalf of a demigod (called a Valryn) who is busy trying to save his people from the hellish prison a different group of demigods (called the Ma'ari) put them in.

The Realm of Fire is not that hellish prison.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Going to Japan

A couple of days ago I booked a flight to Japan. Most of Fangamer is going, so it's sort of like a company trip, sort of not. We're going to be mostly guided around by Lindsay, my roommate who spends half the year there anyway.

Friday, January 24, 2014

I'm Too Busy to Write a Blog Today

Sometimes I just have so much going on in a single day that I don't know how I'll ever squeeze time out of the day to sit down and write a blog.

Today is one of those days, yet here I am.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Movie Review #3: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Last year one of the last books I read was Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey. I wanted to read the book before I watched the movie, even though I knew that the book was written alongside the movie and, in fact, was released after the movie. Still, I would consider myself a book guy more than a movie guy and, moreover, I had a quota to meet.

Well, last night I finally got to watch this classic movie. Naturally, I spent a good deal of time comparing the movie to the book, but it was mostly because I'm interested in how film and print handle the same story. I'm rarely of the opinion that the book is better than the movie, nor vice versa.

The Dark Ages, Book 1: Chapter 1, Part 1

(Continued from the Prologue)


The might of the army of Guardia marched through town at a steady pace, and all the smallfolk had turned out to see. Glenn sat on a rooftop, above the crowds. He saw the other boys in the street and envied them since some of them got to rush up and touch the knights’ mighty destriers as they passed. Their parents would pull them away quickly, but it would be worth punishment later to be that close, even for a moment.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Tradition of Spoilers

The Planet of the Apes is a great movie. One of the greatest movies ever made, probably. If you haven't seen the original, I highly recommend it.

There is just one problem with the movie, though, and it's been bugging me for some time.

Monday, January 20, 2014

A Day in My Life

What is it like in the daily life of a Fangamer employee?

Well, it's different for each one, but I definitely notice a pattern in my own routine.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Star Wars: The Old Republic

Occasionally I get a sudden urge to play an MMORPG. I've only ever really played two of them: The Lord of the Rings Online and Star Wars: The Old Republic. Well, now I'm back in a galaxy far, far away, and I'm keeping track of how I spend my time there.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Barenaked Ladies

It's approaching five years since Stephen Page left The Barenaked Ladies. I'm sure many people don't care, since BNL only means One Week to them, maybe If I Had $1,000,000 as well. BNL is way more than that to me, though.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Broken Age

The first part of Broken Age finally came out, which has inspired me to actually catch up on what's been happening with its development.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Movie Review #2: Dirty Pretty Things

My first movie night ever was a success! Absolutely nobody showed up, and I got to watch an entire movie by myself.

I would have also accepted having people over to watch the movie with me, but nobody had ever heard of this one except for Stephanie, the person who gave it to me for Christmas. So, I wasn't really surprised at the lack of attendance. I had no idea what I was in for, either.

Full review after the jump~

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Sun

The sun and I have a complicated relationship.

My bedroom, for instance, is one of those bedrooms that can almost completely block out sunlight if I want it to, which is useful since I often sleep until 10AM and sunlight decreases the effectiveness of sleep.

On the other hand, I don't burn easily, which makes me better suited to spending time with the sun than most. Unfortunately, my personality (that of a hermit) is at odds with my physiology in that regard, so I don't get nearly as much sun as I should, much less as much sun as I can handle.

I don't often feel a yearning for sunlight, so my compulsion this morning to simply bask in the sun's warm glow for an indeterminate amount of time was a rather unfamiliar feeling.

Since the beginning of the year I've been having trouble staying warm. My solution to this problem used to be hot baths, but in my current house the tub is capable of a lukewarm bath at best, while my personal shower, though warm enough, is a shower and not nearly as relaxing as a bath.

Clearly, mine is a life of hardships.

Still, this morning as I left my house, rather than going straight to my car I came out from under the carport and basked in the glow of the sun for a few minutes. The air was still cool, but the sun was warm and I felt that I should simply stand there all day.

My sense of duty overpowered my sense of pleasure, though, as it so often does, so I did not stand there all day. Still, looking out the window of the office I can still see the sunlight, ready and waiting for me to return. Maybe I'll go take a walk later.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Musings on This Button on My Desk

My desk is a magnet for random junk. Some of it is mine, since I'll admit I'm not the most orderly of folks. Other things accumulate here because I'm next to a vacant spot, where people naturally tend to dump things, which then flow over into my space.

Well, earlier today Jeff left a pin on my desk. He left it intentionally for me, mostly because of our ongoing roommates' dynamic. I can only assume that he found this pin on the ground somewhere and thought of me.

It's a round, pink button, 1.25" in diameter, which says, "JESUS WAS A JEWISH LIBERAL," which seems true enough. The pin is in poor condition, having been flattened and bent.

Jesus was a Jewish liberal. What an interesting thing to make a button about. The socio-policital leanings of Christians has often confused me. On the other hand, having heard many sermons, I can say that preachers are generally not "preaching to the choir" in the figurative sense. While many church-goers claim to be trying to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, they almost always seem to me to be more like Jesus's disciples: suspicious, self-righteous, and forever in need of further instruction.

It's incredibly fitting, if you think about it. I've always been fascinated by people's inability to learn the lessons being taught. It was very similar to my frustrations at school, with people who couldn't grasp the day's lesson.

Sometimes I forget that learning does not come naturally to everybody.

I apologize for this ramble.

Monday, January 13, 2014

It's Good to Be Home

Today I've finally returned to work. I haven't been to the office since before Christmas, and that's a shame since I like it here.

I'm not sure exactly when Arizona became "home" for me, but I imagine it wasn't very long after I moved here. In fact, it was probably almost immediate. I was very ready to leave Louisiana, even though I don't think I ever allowed myself to say so.

There was a lot to keep me there, certainly: my friends, my family, familiar places... but not a future. Or, at least, I didn't see a future there that would be very fulfilling. I'm an easily contented person, so no doubt I could have stayed there working retail forever. From my vantage point now, though, that would have been the saddest thing.

What's worse is that I had by that point several tastes of what my life could be, if only I could get away from there. I would regularly leave Louisiana for conventions, 4-5 times per year, and it was always hard to come home.

Compare that to this year: during MAGfest, coming home was the part I looked forward to most. How weird is that? I was at one of the country's Meccas of the gaming world and, really, all I wanted was the every day excitement of my daily life back home.

I'm sorry to my friends back in Louisiana whom I left behind. Some of you took my leaving harder than others but, well, that's not home for me anymore. If you won't be following me out of there any time soon, then I hope that you find fulfillment there as I never did.

As for me, it's good to be home.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Dark Ages, Book 1: Prologue

First, I should note that I've been working on a Chrono Trigger fanfiction for years, yet I've made very little progress. That's one of the reasons I've started this blog: to get into the habit of writing regularly. Given that, I'm planning to post bits and pieces of my book here now and then. First, I'll be editing my existing stuff and posting it here, which is what you've got here. Then, later (hopefully) I'll start posting completely new parts. That's the plan, anyway. Here's hoping!

Critiques are welcome.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Game Review - The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

A Link Between Worlds is basically (though not officially) the HD remake of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Understanding this won't really affect your enjoyment of the game, though, since I believe the game will be thoroughly enjoyable whether this is your first time in this version of Hyrule or a reintroduction to the realm. That said, as someone who played and enjoyed A Link to the Past, it's hard not to spend a lot of time comparing the two games.

For the most part, I'd say A Link Between Worlds (hereby abbreviated to LBW) improved heavily upon the foundation laid by A Link to the Past (hereby abbreviated to LttP). For instance, despite LttP's massive-feeling world, the progression was very linear. You needed to do everything in a very specific order, at least right up until you beat the first dungeon in the Dark World.

LBW, on the other hand, encourages exploration, especially once you have access to your arsenal. Even at the very beginning, before you have access to even a basic weapon, you can explore most of the map while it's populated with only basic, non-threatening enemies. You can often tackle problems in whatever order you like. The only "choke points" I noticed were at the introduction, getting the Master Sword, and the final dungeon. (I think the entire Hyrule part may have been more linear than it seemed, but the fact taht it felt so open is quite a feat.)

At least part of this is accomplished by a new character, Ravio, and his item rental system. Basically, rather early in the game you have immediate access to basically every tool you need (hookshot, bombs, ice rod, etc)... for a small fee. You can keep rented items until you die, meaning that if you never die then you basically get to keep them forever. All such items use up energy, which is measured with a purple bar. It's similar to LttP's magic bar except that it refills automatically over time. This eliminates the need for finding/buying bombs and arrows while also preventing their overuse. With all of these tools at your fingertips from the start, you basically have license to explore the entire realm top to bottom, discovering secrets, collecting collectibles, and generally getting used to using the tools.

One of the most notable updates is Link and how he interacts with the world.

In LttP, Link's only apparent connections are with his uncle (who dies), Zelda (who gets kidnapped shortly after he first meets her), the priest (who disappears, presumed dead), and Sahasrahla. The townsfolk of Kakariko Village are largely unconcerned with what's going on in the rest of the realm except for a few overzealous ladies who call the guards if they see Link, since he's officially a wanted man. Link takes on his task almost completely alone, with just a little help now and then from Sahasrahla. He risks his life and saves seven generic maidens who are apparently descended from some ancient sages, all out of what I can only assume is a simple sense of duty.

In LBW, on the other hand, Link has much more solid ties to the various NPCs in the game. He's an apprentice to the blacksmith, and a lazy one at that. The people in town are familiar with him. You get to meet each of the sages and form a connection with them before they get captured. Also, this game's "dark world" is more than just a grim mirror of Hyrule's landscape; it's an alternate dimension, a Hyrule with a slightly different past, complete with alternate-reality versions of many of the NPCs you met in Hyrule. This new investment in the people of Hyrule was definitely one of my favorite changes. (That, and the fact that the name of the alternate Hyrule is a pun that would make me proud.)

The game is pretty difficult to put down, partly due to the fact that basically no matter what you're doing, whether it's conquering dungeons or just exploring and finding secrets, you always feel like you're accomplishing something. That sort of rewarding gameplay can be addictive, as the game is quite aware: sometimes when you save the game you'll get a message suggesting that you've been playing a while and that perhaps it's time for a break. The message lingers on the screen for a second or two, and can't be skipped.

LBW is a far more accessible game than LttP, by which I mean it's easier and the dungeons are shorter. LttP could be very rough, and the dungeons were often long and grueling. In many ways I appreciated LBW's more bite-sized dungeons, yet there were a few dungeons that I finished and left me feeling dissatisfied, like there wasn't enough substance there. (A notable exception was any dungeon that featured the Wallmasters, which LBW handled superbly.)

Another thing I'm a bit iffy about is this new thing Zelda games are doing in which the villain is a strange, effeminate man, apparently meant to be off-putting and odd, like evil Tingles. Are Ghirahim and Yuga part of a trend? Hrm...

A few final observations:

First, I think it's kinda funny how merging into walls is a brand new power, yet almost every dungeon was designed with that power in mind. That sort of internal inconsistency bothers me sometimes, but who cares. Wall merging is a fun mechanic!

Also, I'm pretty sure that Gramps in Kakariko Village (the one who sets you up for Streetpassing) is the Link from LttP. My evidence: from what I understand LBW takes place about 100 years after LttP. According to the Rumor Guy, Gramps is over 100 years old or something, yet he still does things like one-handed hand stands and the like. Also, in the end credits, while showing scenes of how everyone's doing post-ending while playing the standard ending theme, when it cuts to Gramps the music suddenly changes, briefly, to the overworld theme. Thin evidence, I know, but I think it's quite cool regardless.


A Link Between Worlds is a very fun Zelda game, much more straightforward than any of the recent console ones. Not that Skyward Sword or any of the other ones were bad, but they were huge investments in time. A Link Between Worlds is a mobile game, through and through. Whether that's a good thing or not is hard to say, though for the most part I found the bite-sized (for a Zelda game) dungeons and such to be more convenient than disappointing.

A Link Between Worlds is currently one of my favorite 3DS games. I even played through it twice: once like normal, and then once again on Hero Mode for the challenge. It was fun both times, and I found several new things during my second time through, even though I thought I had been very thorough.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Movie Review #1: What's Eating Gilbert Grape

As per my resolutions for the year, I've begun my journey into watching 52 new movies (one for every week though, obviously, not one every week). My first movie was chosen on a whim while browsing Netflix while at home, still dealing with the illness that's been plaguing me since Texarkana. In the future, I expect I'll be watching a lot of these movies with company. My plan is to post the upcoming movie somewhere at the office along with the time and place and anyone who wants to join me is welcome. However, considering that I'm sick, it's probably okay that I watched this one alone.


What's Eating Gilbert Grape is a 1993 movie starring Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio. Johnny and Leo play Gilbert and Arnie Grape. Arnie is a mentally disabled child, about to turn 18 despite the fact that he wasn't expected to survive to the age of 10. Gilbert is his older brother, burdened by his duties to care for Arnie and earn enough money to take care of the household he shares with his morbidly obese mother and two sisters. Stuck in a middle of nowhere town, Gilbert wastes away under the pressure of his responsibility, having no time to think of himself, until one day a girl and her grandmother get stranded in the town during a cross-country trip. After hitting it off with the new girl, Gilbert struggles to balance his duty to his family and his personal desires.


Right off the bat we have two dangerous subjects that this movie not only touches upon but addresses directly: mental disability and obesity. There are a thousand ways you can approach these issues and come off as callous, offensive, or (at the very least) ignorant.

That said, I thought the movie handled these subjects very well. I believe it helped that the story is rooted in the real life experiences of the author, so he was able to draw on the reality of caring for the disabled. Likewise, the actress who played "Momma" was, in fact, an actual obese woman, playing the part after having not left her house for five years. Apparently she read through the script and was very critical, but in the end was satisfied that the role was not a joke but a sympathetic part.

Which, really, is the core of the entire film: sympathy. These people are all in a bad spot, surviving day to day but hardly living at all. By the end of the movie some of these problems are resolved, some end tragically, and still others never actually resolve. Quick spoiler, though, in case you're concerned about deaths: Arnie doesn't die. 

It was interesting to watch Leo play the mentally disabled Arnie Grape. It might have been different for anyone who actually has spent a lot of time with his sort of disability, but to me it seemed obvious that Leo came into the role prepared. Oddly, the most distracting thing was that he simply didn't look like Leonardo DiCaprio. He looked so young that I didn't even think he passed as an 18-year-old (Leo was at least that old at the time of filming).

Johnny Depp, on the other hand, looks exactly the same in this 1993 movie as he does now. The funny thing is that in the movie Gilbert's apparent two best friends are played by John C. Reilly and Crispin Glover, both of which look like they would be a little too old to be Gilbert's best friends, even though both Reilly and Glover are actually younger than Depp.


In the end, the movie made me tear up a few times, which is good if you're into that sort of thing (emotional releases are healthy, from what I understand). The acting was well done, especially from the leads. At nearly two hours long, the pacing could get a little ponderous at times. Still, I don't recall ever becoming bored.

I recommend it.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Ginger Ale

On my way to MAGfest last week I found something I don't think I've ever found in a gas station before: a bottle of Schwepps Ginger Ale.

This was a momentous occasion for me. For the past year and a half I've given up on Coca-Cola, mostly due to the caffeine (I would get bad withdrawal headaches if I forgot to drink it for a day), so I needed to take up a new soft drink, since moving completely to water was out of the question. I have limited tolerance for things like Sprite/7-Up and orange soda, and I've never really liked root beer. However, I discovered that I absolutely loved ginger ale.

Unfortunately, ginger ale is difficult to find while traveling. For whatever reason, gas station almost never carry it. And when they do, it's usually Canada Dry which, for a long time, was my bottom-of-the-barrel ginger ale. (Now that spot is reserved for Seagrams, for reasons other people can explain better than I.)

For a long time, it seemed like it would forever be too much to ask for gas stations to stock Schwepps, the last remaining quality ginger ale. And then I found what I was looking for not once but twice over the course of my trip.

I can only hope that this is just the beginning of a national trend. Wake up America! Ginger ale is awesome, and it's my personal mission to spearhead the drink's rise from third-rate drink to a household staple! Who's with me?

Women, Right Fellas?

I had always considered myself to be respectful of women. Even as a kid, although I didn't appreciate my misunderstanding of feminism (that women are superior to men), I was convinced that men and women should be equal, etc etc.

So imagine my surprise when, looking back at my life, I discovered that I didn't have as much respect for them as I thought I did.

It was never to the point of sincere "go back to the kitchen" levels, but suffice to say that I'm ashamed of my mindset of only a few years ago.

I think this is a common problem among men, too. One which comes back to a common cause: bitterness.

It doesn't take much for a man to start blaming women for their loneliness. A rejection here, a ad break-up there, and soon it's all their fault. Perhaps it's the same for women, too, but I can't speak to that.

In my case, there were at least a couple of girls I was interested in that rejected me. In my mind, they were being ridiculous. In fact, they were being honest, and in hindsight I should have simply respected their decisions. (Especially when you consider that, looking back, I completely agree with them that we would not have made good couples.) It's a lot like my current stance on disagreements regarding politics or religion: just because we disagree doesn't mean you're dumb. It's difficult to keep that in mind sometimes, but it's true: in love, religion, and politics, respect is key to understanding.

Luckily, my capacity for bitterness is not very wide, so my bitterness never grew to encompass all women. I couldn't even remain bitter about the women who rejected me for very long.

However, I still see lots of bitterness in some of my lonelier friends, and I hate to think about where that bitterness might lead them.

Unfortunately, I don't have a solution to their loneliness problem. It's frankly insulting to suggest that if you say and do the right things in the right order then women will suddenly take an interest in you. My best advice in that regard is simply to be yourself and accept that maybe that will lead to a relationship and maybe it won't, and to be content with whatever happens.

And look out for bitterness. Nothing good will come of it.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

One Awful Day

I hate to complain, I really do. However, today was kind of awful.

I made a tactical error in booking hotels ahead of time via Hotwire. Kind of. Hotwire is pretty cool and worth using, but as far as I can tell there's no reason not to book your room the day of your stay rather than a few days before.

That said, today was always going to be the most grueling leg of my journey back to Tucson. I needed to get from Texarkana to El Paso, which is a journey in excess of 800 miles. That's a 12 hour drive which, while exhausting, is certainly manageable.


However, last night I fell asleep in my Texarkana hotel room shivering a bit, with an achey throat. I woke up ill.

My symptoms were coughing, a burning throat, shivering (especially in the cold weather), back pain, and a general feeling of weakness in my muscles. It felt very similar to whatever I had after Christmas, and it may have been a resurgence. In any case, all I wanted to do was go right back to sleep, maybe find a doctor in town, and spend a day recovering.

Unfortunately, I had a hotel booked on the other side of Texas, and unless you pay extra for Hotwire's insurance you can not receive a refund. I either had to muddle through or waste Fangamer's money.

Of course, I opted to muddle through.

Two hours after leaving the hotel I had to stop at a gas station and rest. Unfortunately, the bathroom at the gas station had only three stalls and was quite busy. So, I sat on a bench outside of the bathroom for quite a while, counting the people coming and going under my breath. It took a while, but when I finally counted only two people in the bathroom I went in, did my business, and returned to the van for a nap.

That nap guaranteed that I wouldn't arrive at the El Paso until quite late, and when I woke up I was still feeling awful.

In the end, after several hours of driving I finally invested in some Ricola and Advil. I normally hate to take any sort of pain medication, but that Advil did the trick for a long time. From about 5PM to 9PM central time I made fairly good progress. Eventually, though, the aching returned and the coughing got worse, even with liberal use of the Ricola and Advil. I finally arrived at the hotel just a little while ago, at about 12:30 AM mountain time. All in all, the trip probably lasted about 15 hours.

On the bright side, that day is now over. I should be able to handle tomorrow's meager 4.5 hour trip with no problems, and then I'll be safe at home. The nightmare will be over.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Recommended Podcasts

Yesterday's blog post was made at the end of a long day driving through rain, which is the most exhausting way to drive. I'm surprised I managed to write anything even marginally coherent.

That said, while I mentioned that listening to podcasts as a good way to stay alert while driving, I completely failed to mention which ones I tend to listen to. So, here are my favorite podcasts to listen to while driving:

  • This American Life: Without a doubt the most consistently engaging podcast I listen to. It's the only podcast I listen to outside of my car. I've even taken to imitating much of the format for the Fangamer Podcast. It's at times educational, hilarious, frightening, and heart-rending, and it's all of those things because it's a show about people, and people are all of those things. Just today I heard the story of a reporter who watched a couple of policemen harass a black man riding a bike down the street with a white kid in New York at around midnight, another story about guys who go to great lengths to mess with Nigerian email scammers, and another story about a man who implemented a (so far successful) plan to help children in Harlem escape poverty by educating not only the children but the parents as well. The episodes are almost always so timeless that you can start listening with almost any episode, new or old. If you need a place to begin, though, Episode #361 "Fear of Sleep" is definitely a good one.
  • WTF with Marc Maron: This is Marc Maron's show, in which he brings on one person or another (usually a stand up comic, actor, or musician) and chats with them for an hour and a half. If you're not familiar with Marc, he's a stand up comedian. Watch his special on Netflix. At first I found the intro segments (which are recorded some time after the core interview) somewhat off-putting, since it usually involves Marc briefly mentioning his guest, plugging his sponsors, and complaining about/coming to terms with his life. However, as  get to know him more through the interviews and introductions, I find myself enjoying these parts as well or, at least, taking an interest in Marc's well-being. The interviews, on the other hand, are always engaging, even if I'm unfamiliar with the guest's work. If you're going to start listening, I'd recommend looking through the episodes for an interview with someone you recognize (and you will find someone you recognize) and giving the show a shot.
  • Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me: This "NPR new quiz" show is fairly consistently funny and somewhat educational, if you consider the news educational. More importantly, though, it's engaging in a way that most other podcasts aren't: it's participatory. Kind of. It's kind of exciting to know the answer to a question or to try and puzzle out which story is true in the Bluff the Listener game. (By the way, I recently listened to an episode in which Paula Poundstone was telling the truth in the Bluff the Listener game! Weird!) The show is incredibly dorky, and that's one of the reasons I like it. For best results, stick to recent episodes, since the show is completely tied to recent events.
  • Fresh Air: Another NPR program, though I'm much more choosy about which stories I download for this one. On iTunes you can expect multiple "episodes" each day, ranging from just a few minutes in length to nearly an hour long. It's too much to keep up with, so I only download long interviews that interest me.
  • Radio Lab: For entertaining education. I still haven't listened to many of these podcasts, though. They don't seem to update with any real regularity. The ones I've listened to have been intriguing, though.
  • News From Lake Wobegon: First, I just wish you could download the entirety of A Prairie Home Companion. I enjoy the hell out of that show, but I can almost never catch the whole thing. In fact, I don't think I've caught an entire show since I was a security guard several years ago. Anyway, in this ~15 minute podcast Garrison Keillor gives you his weekly update on what's been going on in "his hometown," Lake Wobegon, Minnesota. As it turns out, there's just something fascinating and charming about the lives of seemingly regular folk in a small, mid-western town.
That's basically all of the podcasts I listen to. This variety (mostly from public radio) has been more than enough to keep me occupied ever since my very first big road trip, back in 2008. Other podcasts have come and gone, and some of these in my current list are fairly new. However, I think these will be plenty for me for a while.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

How to Not Die On a Road Trip: Stimulation

The key to surviving a long road trip involves long hours of constant stimulation followed by a sizable rest. The driving itself is incredibly easy since there are considerably fewer obstacles on the Interstate than there are when driving around town. This guide instead focuses on more advanced skills for survival.

Let's begin with stimulation:

As your vehicle hurdles down the highway at 70 MPH you will find yourself, against all logic, becoming bored. Yes, although you will be traveling at speeds that would not impress but terrify owners of early automobiles, your hunk of modern automotive engineering renders that feat unimpressive.

So, you will need to find ways to entertain yourself, paradoxically distracting yourself from the road in order to better pay attention to the road. Here are some of my suggestions:
  • Audio stimulation: Almost everyone listens to the radio while driving. This is that, but yo might need to go into it with a bit of planning. You see, there's nothing like an 8 hour drive to remind you that there's only, like, 10 songs on the radio. My solution is to come prepared with a selection of podcasts and my own playlists of music I can sing to,  switching back and forth depending on my mood and tiredness levels. Singing keeps me alert better than podcasts, but eventually my voice gets tired, so I need to strike a balance or risk losing my voice.
  • Eating: This is one of the most dangerous balances to strike. You should, of course, never eat a meal while driving. However, even if you stop too eat a meal at a restaurant you still run the risk of the It is. A heavy meal will make you drowsy, which is not a good state to be in while driving. One alternative is to simply go hungry during a road trip until you're at or close to your destination or resting place. Another is to snack lightly throughout the day. One of the most effective ways to stay alert for a decent stretch is to drive hungry with the "goal" of finding someplace to eat. Focusing your mind on the secondary task of finding someplace to eat acts as a sort of game/survival instinct hybrid that can keep you on your toes for hours if done right. Being hungry hurts, though.
  • Using the bathroom: Simply put, pit stops serve a purpose other than simply emptying your bladder. Savor them. Take a look around the gas station or rest area and allow your eyes a rest from looking at the road. At a certain point, any stimulation becomes a god-send.
  • Change it up: The most important thing to remember when keeping yourself alert is change. Driving during the day is good for this in some places since sometimes beautiful scenery around you can keep you alert. Sometimes it's as simple as changing the radio station, even if you were kind of enjoying the one you were listening to. Any change requires the mind to process it, which is in the end the most important thing.
As far as rest goes, that's actually what I'm about to do right now. It's late, and I've been rambling about everything I've basically been doing all day. Perhaps I'll discuss resting tactics some other time.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Winds of Winter

Now that the number of distinct snow experiences I've had is approaching double digits (that is, the number of isolated incidents in which I've experienced snow is now more than five but still less than ten), I feel like I can speak with some authority on the subject.

In short, snow is pretty, and best admired from afar. Similar to tigers, pyrotechnics, and spider webs.

In person, snow is most similar to spider webs (to use the given examples), although that chill you feel when you're forced to touch it comes from something other than dread about what created it. In fact, you were probably already chilly before you even got near the snow. The snow itself is colder than the air that surrounds it, though. Don't underestimate it.

In fact, the temperature of snow is really at the heart of why I would consider it an undesirable substance, which is unfortunate since its temperature is what defines its nature. It's not allowed t warm up even for a moment, since that would cause it to melt. If snow melts and then freezes again it becomes just regular ice, which isn't nearly as impressive. I see ice all the time. In face, if you open your freezer right now, I'm betting there's a good chance you'll find ice in there. Go ahead, I'll wait.

See? Not very impressive. Not nearly as pretty as snow, either.

Snow also has a tendency to just be dangerous, it turns out. It can cover your car, for instance, which makes driving considerably more dangerous since snow is fairly opaque.

Actually I think that's about it as far as the dangers of snow. There are plenty of other dangers about the ice that snow can become, but I'm not going to blame snow for what happens when it's not snow anymore. That seems unfair somehow.

Also, there are dangers associated with the cold but, again, that's not directly tied to snow. It can be cold without snow and all those dangers would still be present.

So, that's what I've learned about snow: it's pretty, but painfully cold to touch, and maybe kinda dangerous if you don't knock it off of your windshield before you drive.

I hope that was educational.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Vacationing as an Introvert

I love MAGfest. It's rapidly become my favorite convention, just because it's still sitting at that perfect balance of being big enough to be profitable and small enough to be relatively low-stress.

So when I say I'm ready to go home, understand that it's got nothing to do with this wonderful event I'm attending.

I feel like I need a vacation from this vacation. Ever since I left Tucson back on December 23rd at 1:49PM I've been on the road, spending time with family, hanging out with friends, sick, taking care of errands to get ready for MAGfest, or actually working the booth at MAGfest. With the exception of being sick, all of those things are things I enjoy doing... for a while. I, however, am an introvert.

Introverts recharge by being alone and relaxing. They're capable of everything else, but they need that recharge time. As long as I'm on vacation, though, I'm not getting much rest. The only time I'm alone is when I'm on the road, which is exhausting in a completely different way.

I'm not at dangerous levels right now. My fuel reserves are pretty deep, and I'm catching up when I can. (Right now, for instance: in the hotel room, alone, typing up a blog post. Ahh, relaxation!) However, I can feel my tank hovering between half full and a quarter full.

I think I'll spend the rest of tonight in here. I'll enjoy MAGfest more tomorrow.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Explaining It to the Family

While I was sick at my parents' place last weekend, my mom thought it would be wonderful to bond over an episode of Big Bang Theory that was "just so funny!" my mom simply had to share it with me.

I didn't disillusion her. To be honest, I think Big Bang Theory's biggest sin is the sitcom format rather than its "misrepresentation of nerds." I appreciate the show's attempt to take a (perceived) marginalized group and make them relatable to the masses, and I think Big Bang Theory does that well enough.

Understanding is a slow process. We see it a lot in today's socio-political battles, especially anything relating to sexuality. We see it in race relations and the understanding of science and education. Open-mindedness is the exception, not the rule, so to be able to approach understanding from the side, as Big Bang Theory does, seems pretty brilliant to me. Brilliant, and much more effective than shouting, "This is the way it is! Why can't you understand that!"

I certainly don't know how to really explain my life to my family. In the two decades or so since I've started this journey my family and I have had this unspoken understanding (though we have spoken of it once or twice recently) that they and I had different interests and ambitions, and that we were content for that to be the case so long as we're each happy. However, to be honest, I've always understood their motivations. So, really the misunderstanding was always one-way.

So, with that in mind, when my mom wants to sit down and share an episode of Big Bang Theory with me, I do so, smile at the jokes, and if she asks if I ever do something like this or know someone who acts like that, I answer her honestly, and pleasantly. It's not terribly funny, and I don't laugh, despite the fact that I can feel my mom's eyes on me when something "funny" happens. The implications of that, though, always make me smile, which I think reassures her enough.

My mom is trying to understand me. There's nothing misguided about that.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


In my first blog post, I mentioned that I was starting this blog for the purpose of a New Year's resolution designed to improve my writing habits. The plan is to post something new every day, which ought to be quite a challenge for me, as someone who generally doesn't have much to say.

Well, that is just one of three resolutions I'm setting for myself. The other two will require less constant attention, I think. They're also designed to improve my life in some way, however:

First, I want to watch one movie I've never watched before every week.

It's kind of a given that, no matter how into movies you think you are, there is always a long list of movies that people are surprised you haven't seen yet. Well, now I've got to come up with 52 of them. I've started a list:

  • Dirty Pretty Things (which I received as a gift from Miss Stephanie for Christmas)
  • Brazil
  • 12 Monkeys
  • Ice Storm
  • Dazed and Confused
  • Fistful of Dollars
  • The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
  • There Will Be Blood
  • Labyrinth
  • Young Frankenstein
  • Raising Arizona
  • No Country for Old Men
  • Hamlet 2
Obviously, I have a lot more to go. If you have any recommendations, feel free to post them in the comments!

Anyway, my last resolution is to go on a hike every month. Tucson is surrounded by excellent hiking trails, and I've only been to a few of them. I don't mind revisiting some that I've been to before, though. The important thing is that I'm out there getting exercise.

I've never really been one for resolutions before last year, partially because they've always seemed like vague, optimistic promises to yourself rather than clear, actionable goals. I believe it was a Cracked article that introduced me to the alternative, and suddenly I was on board with the idea.

Not that there's anything specifically wrong with resolutions like "I'm going to lose weight this year" or "this year I'm going to save money." However, such resolutions need to be accompanied by a clear plan of action, or else you'll lose track and forget about it. "I'm going to lose weight this year" should be accompanied by a calorie counting plan and exercise regiment. "This year I'm going to save money" should be accompanied by a budget. Just be sure to make your resolutions reasonable and positive.