Sunday, December 26, 2010

Story a Week 4 - G. R. Inch

Hello everyone! I've got a special Christmas story for you this week. The Frank saga will continue on next week, but for now, I give you "G. R. Inch".
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"Geoffrey Russell Inch!" came a shrill voice.

'Oh jeez,' Jeff thought to himself. He looked around the mall food court. Seeing that no one was paying any attention, he turned to see his mother storming her way across the food court heading in his direction. He turned back to his lunch and rolled his eyes. 'She's so dramatic,' he thought.

Jeff took a bite out of his sandwich as he waited for his mother to get to his table. A moment later she was standing across the table from him. "Why don't you sit down, Mom?"

"I'm too angry to sit down!" she blurted out. Jeff noticed that some people looked over when she yelled and his mother must have too because she blushed and quickly sat. "Why didn't you tell me your wife kicked you out of your house?"

Jeff sighed. He wanted to say, 'Because I didn't want to.' Instead he said, "I didn't want to worry you."

"What happened?" his mother asked. Her tone was serious and showed that she wasn't going to give up that easily.

Sighing again, Jeff replied, "Oh, I don't know. We've been fighting a lot since Thanksgiving."

Jeff and his mother stared at each other for a long time before she asked, "And why is that?"

Jeff hesitated. When his mother motioned impatiently he rolled his eyes and said, "Oh, I don't know. She keeps saying that she doesn't like my attitude or something like that."

His mother stared fiercely at him and said, "I don't like your attitude."

"Oh, come on, Mom. My wife just kicked me out. I think that I'm entitled to a bad attitude now," Jeff growled. "Anyways, it was about my attitude towards Christmas, not anything else."

For the first time in the conversation his mother's gruff exterior changed, into a confused one. "You have an attitude towards Christmas?"

"Yes, I do. I'm almost thirty. Christmas used to be an awesome holiday that you got to spend with all of your family. Now it's a commercialized event devoid of any of the meaning that the holiday used to have," he paused for effect. "I work in a mall. I see the fools here at three in the morning the day after Thanksgiving throwing their money away on crap and it sickens me. I can't stand it anymore."

Jeff's mother stared at him blankly for a few moments. Finally, she said, "Your wife is right, your attitude sucks!"

As she got up, Jeff said, "Great. Have a good day, Mom."

She paused next to him as she was walking by and said quietly, "If you think that is all that Christmas is about, I feel sorry for you. You need to try to remember the real meaning of Christmas." Without another word, she kept on walking.

'The real meaning of Christmas...' Jeff thought, 'what the hell does that mean?'

Jeff picked up his lunch tray and headed back to work. After a few hours of work he left and headed back to the hotel he was staying in. "Merry Christmas," the clerk said to him as he passed by the front desk. Jeff ignored the teenager there and kept walking. When Jeff got to his room, he sat at the table, sighed heavily and booted up his computer. As he waited, he got up and went to the bathroom. When he returned he saw a Skype message from his wife. It said, "Your daughter wants to talk to you."

Jeff got a little smile on his face as he hit the "video call" button. A moment later he saw his daughter's smiling face on his computer. "Daddy!"

"Hi, Ashley! It's good to see you."

"I miss you Daddy. When are you coming home?" Ashley asked.

Jeff's heart sank. He hated disappointing his daughter. "I'm not sure honey. Mommy and I need to talk together to figure that out."

Ashley seemed to accept that. She said, "It's Christmas tomorrow, Daddy. I have a present I made for you. Do you want to see it?"

Jeff laughed and had to suppress tears from his eyes as he said, "No, honey. Let's save it for Christmas." As he finished that sentence something clicked in his mind. He said, "I need to talk to Mommy, can you get her?"
Ashley ran off the screen and a few moments later his wife's image replaced her. "What is it, Jeff?"

Jeff repressed a sigh and said, "I think I get it now, Amber."

Amber appeared irritated, sighed and asked, "Get what?"

"The meaning of Christmas," he paused for a moment to gather his thoughts. "You've been right. I have had a terrible attitude. I can't believe that I didn't see it before. While I do still think that Christmas is over-commercialized, it doesn't matter. All that matters is the majesty of the holiday and sharing that majesty with others. Especially our children."

Jeff waited patiently for Amber to respond. After a few moments, she said, "Alright, Jeff. You talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?"

Jeff was confused, so he asked, "What do you mean?"

Amber, a slight smile on her face, said, "You have a couple of hours to get a couple of more presents for your family before the stores close. After that, you can come home and we'll all spend Christmas together."
Jeff almost leapt out of his chair that moment. With a big smile on his face he said, "I'll see you in a few hours!"

Then, he did leap out of his chair and began throwing his belongings into the two suitcases that he had been living out of for the past week. He walked up to the front desk and told the kid there that he was checking out. As he was leaving he paused to say, "Merry Christmas!"

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Story a Week 3 - Frank Saga, Part 3

Here's the third installment of my story a week thing that I'm doing now. I've gotten a little bit of response on these and it sounds like people like what I'm doing here. Like I've mentioned before, writers like to hear what their audience thinks. Please keep the feedback coming!

Without further ado, here's the third part in the Frank saga. If you haven't read the first two, I would recommend it.

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Frank knocked on the door and waited for someone to open it for him. A few moments later the door opened to reveal Frank's mother standing on the other side. "Mom! I didn't know you were going to be here," Frank said, excitedly. As he entered the house he added, "Is Dad here too?"

Frank's mother smiled and nodded. She gave Frank a kiss on the cheek and said, "He's in the living room with your brother."

Frank followed his mom into the living room. The two men were standing together with their hands behind their backs. Suspicious, Frank asked, "What's going on?"

The three of them had big smiles on their faces as Mark, Frank's brother, led him to the chair. "Oh, nothing," Mark said.

After Frank was sitting, his father walked over and handed him an envelope. "What's this?" Frank asked.

The three of them looked at each other with smiles on their faces. "An early wedding present," his father answered.

Frank blushed and opened the envelope. Two airplane tickets fell out. "What the heck?"

Frank's mother said, "We know that you and Anne have always wanted to go to Europe. The three of us chipped in to get you tickets to Madrid."

Frank started to tear up when he heard, "Frank, time to wake up."

Frank opened his eyes and saw Hugo standing over his bed. "Why do you always wake me up when I'm having good dreams?"

Hugo replied, "Sorry, Frank. We've only got a couple days left before we have to do a demo of your capabilities to my bosses."

"Let's get to it then. I think I can beat the other army a lot faster this time."

Hugo shook his head. "That's not what we're doing today. We're going to try something new."

Suddenly, Frank and Hugo were standing in the security checkpoint of a large airport. Frank looked down to see himself dressed in the uniform of a TSA agent. Sighing, Frank asked, "What is this a metaphor for?"

Hugo explained, "So far you've fought battles against enemies that you have known the identities of beforehand. Now, we're going to go the other route. You don't know which of these passengers are going to be enemies. If you let too many through, then they'll sabotage the kernel and you'll lose. Oh, and you need to keep the traffic flowing. You have a quota of passengers to get through." Hugo faded out.

Frank turned to look at the situation. The other agents were going through the motions and letting most of the passengers through without much hassle. Occasionally, one would be stopped and searched seemingly at random. The line leading up to security was long and there was a constant stream of passengers queuing up. "Must be the holidays," Frank said to one of the other agents.

The agent looked at him blankly before saying, "Whatever you say, sir."

Smiling to himself, Frank looked at the status board above the checkpoint. They were letting in many more passengers than the quota required, so he started barking out orders. First, every passenger would have their ticket checked to make sure that they were supposed to even be here. That didn't slow things down much and Frank already saw a passenger turned away before reaching the checkpoint.

Frank noticed that every passenger was plainly dressed and they were each wearing one of several colored shirts. He stopped the nearest other agent and asked about the shirts. The agent rolled his eyes at Frank and said, "They represent the different communication protocols."

That didn't explain a lot to Frank, so he grabbed one of the travelers and pulled him off to the side. He was wearing a blue shirt. "What communication protocol are you?"

The man quickly answered, "UDP, sir."

Oddly, Frank knew what that meant. He let the man go. He looked around confused as to what he was supposed to do. He basically had no idea how to prevent bad traffic through security. Frank was wandering around security when he noticed a group of orange shirts just starting to go through security. He stopped one and asked, "What communication protocol are you?"

"FTP, sir," came the quick reply.

Frank knew what that meant and didn't think that made any sense. He picked up his radio and called into it, "Kernel, this is Frank."

"What is it, Frank?" came the reply.

"Have any of the processes running initiated an FTP transfer?"

"No," the Kernel replied.

Frank looked up quickly at the rest of the security check point. A couple of orange shirts had gotten through, but he could still stop this. "Quickly, round up all the orange shirts and turn back the rest."

Hugo appeared next to Frank and patted him on the shoulder. "Good enough, Frank. You did let through a lot of bad traffic. We saw you floundering out there, so we threw you a bone with the FTP transfer."

Franks shoulders drooped. Hugo added, "You did do well by rudimentarily screening each packet as it came in. That did prevent some bad traffic. Also, it was good to contact the kernel about the transfer. You wouldn't want to stop a legitimate transfer. Want to try again?"

Frank considered for a moment and replied, "Not quite yet. I'd like to do some research first."

Hugo smiled and said, "Excellent. I was hoping you'd say that."

Friday, December 10, 2010

Story a Week 2 - Frank Saga, Part 2

Hello dear reader! Welcome back! I'm posting this a day early since I'm stuck on a plane and don't have much else to do and tomorrow is going to be a busy day at home anyways.

This story is a sort of continuation on the last one. So, if you haven't read the first story, please do before you continue reading this post.

Also, if you have any feedback, please post a comment. I, like most writers, like to hear how we're doing. Now, on with the story!

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"Where are you off to, mister?" Anne asked as Frank put on his motorcycle jacket and picked up his helmet.

"I told you that I was going to my brother's house to watch the Twins' game," Frank replied.

Anne nodded and playfully said, "I know that, silly. I was just wondering why you were leaving without giving me a goodbye kiss."

Frank smiled and thought, 'I'm going to marry this woman in a couple of months.' Aloud, he said, "I wouldn't dream of doing that." He approached her and, dropping his helmet, grabbed her, leaned her back and kissed her.

After a moment or two, Frank righted his fiancée and the two of them separated. Anne faked fainting as both of them laughed.

"Frank, wake up," said a gruff voice.

Frank, startled, sat up. It appeared as though he was in his house and bed, but he knew better. He was still stuck inside of a supercomputer. He looked up at Hugo and said, "I was having a dream about the day I died."

Hugo sheepishly asked, "Not a bad one, I hope."

Frank sighed. He had gotten to know the scientist pretty well over the last week, but he wasn't prepared to share anything from his previous life with the man, yet. Frank stood up and stretched. "It doesn't matter. What are we doing today?"

Hugo said, "It amazes me how you've kept up a lot of the habits of being a human. You still sleep; you just stretched when you stood. Amazing."

Frank shrugged. "It just feels natural. I don't get tired, but I still feel the need to relax once in a while and sleeping is nice. I still have emotions, you know."

Hugo emphatically nodded. He said, "Of course, and I am pleased that you retained those. I had always theorized that this was possible."

Frank nodded and repeated, "So, what are we doing today?"

Hugo replied, "Oh, right. Sorry. I think that you're accustomed enough to your environment that we're going to take you out of your comfort zone. We're going to practice some computer defense."

Suddenly the two of them were standing inside the walls of a medieval castle. Frank was dressed in full armor with a sword in his hand. As he looked around, he said, "I know that everything in here is a metaphor for something going on in real life, but can you explain this to me?"

Hugo nodded. He pointed to the parapets and said, "Let's go up there." As they climbed a set of stairs, Hugo elaborated, "The castle is a metaphor for the computer. Its walls are a metaphor for the firewall."

They reached the top of the parapet and Frank could see half a dozen doors on the wall they were standing on. Worriedly, he said, "Why are there so many doors? Isn't that dangerous?"

Hugo smiled and nodded. "Yes, but as you can see, each one of those doors has traffic flowing in and out. Some of this is friendly traffic and some of it will be bad traffic. Since this is all very new to you, we will begin by making the unfriendly traffic quite obvious." As Hugo finished his sentence an army appeared at the top of the hill opposite the walls. "One more thing." Hugo turned and pointed to the tower in the center of the castle courtyard. The two of them could see a king pacing back and forth issuing orders to other people inside. "The king represents the kernel of the operating system that allows you to control the computer. If any of the bad guys take the king, you will lose control of the computer and they will likely delete you."

Frank let out a worried laugh. "No pressure," he sarcastically replied.

There was a mighty yell from the hill and the army began running towards the castle. "You better ready your defenses," Hugo said as he faded out.

Frank quickly glanced around and saw a group of soldiers standing around the courtyard. He yelled down, "You three, close the doors on this wall! You two, go round up the rest of the troops! The rest of you, man the walls! Protect the king!"

The men in the courtyard let out a battle cry and ran to do Frank's bidding. Frank turned around and the sword that was in his hand turned into a longbow. Shrugging to himself, he grabbed an arrow from the quiver leaning against the wall and let loose some arrows. As he was raining death upon his enemies, he noticed that several battering rams and many more soldiers were coming down the hill. Frantically, he turned back to the courtyard and noticed three catapults that hadn't been there before. Soldiers were running out of the barracks and up to the wall.

"Man the catapults! We have incoming battering rams!" Frank looked down at his bow and realized that he needed to lead, rather than try to fight himself. He glanced at the other walls in shock as he saw the doors were still wide open and enemies were starting to pour through. "The walls are breached! Close those doors and drive out the enemy!"

More soldiers poured from the barracks and went to the defense of the courtyard. Frank saw that they would never reach the doors to stop the flood of enemy troops pouring into the courtyard. Soon, the western side of the courtyard was controlled by the enemy. Frank kept yelling out orders, but nothing he said or did seemed to stop or slow the enemy down. He saw several enemy troops reach the tower and enter. Frank knew that the end was near. He watched in horror as the enemy troops entered the throne room and bound the king. The enemy troops looked out the window at Frank and began to laugh.

Frank closed his eyes, preparing to be deleted. A moment passed and he opened them again. He and Hugo were once again standing in his house. "Wh-what happened?" Frank asked.

"You were defeated. It was only a practice run put on by my team and me. We didn't want to overwhelm you too much on your first try."

"You didn't want to overwhelm me? The whole battle was overwhelming!"

Hugo laughed and replied, "Believe me that the battle you just saw is nothing like what the real thing will be like. We took it easy on you." He paused, and then continued, "I did notice, however, that you were starting to use your abilities to manipulate your environment. Even if it was subconsciously."

Frank paused to consider Hugo's words. "You mean like when the bow and catapults appeared?"

Hugo's smile grew. "Yes. Eventually, you will realize your potential. We'll try again tomorrow."

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Story a Week 1 - Frank Saga, Part 1

As promised, here's the first of many short stories to come. I think this one will have a follow up story or stories in the future. I haven't come up with a title for this one, yet. I'll update this post if I think of one. Please let me know what you think!

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"Thanks for coming, Frank. I'll see you next week. Drive safely!" Frank's brother, Mark waved to him as Frank walked through the yard to his motorcycle at the curb. Frank glanced at the sky with some apprehension. The weathermen said that it wasn't supposed to rain today, but he could tell that it was already raining over Apple Valley a few miles to the west. Steeling himself for the ride ahead, Frank said to himself, "I'll make it home before the rain gets here."

He sat down on his Honda motorcycle and started the engine. As he drove the few blocks to the onramp for the highway, he noticed it was getting darker out even though it was still early afternoon. After he merged with traffic and got in the middle lane, the clouds opened up. "Shit," Frank swore.

Since there wasn't a good place to stop to take shelter, Frank, like the two semi trucks on either side of him, slowed down. Frank saw the semi to his right start to drift into his lane. "Dammit!" he yelled to himself as he moved left within his lane. He was paying so much attention to the truck on his right that he didn't notice the truck on his left start to change lanes until it was too late.

The next thing Frank knew he was dry, dressed in a suit and tie, and sitting across a desk from a man he didn't know. Startled, Frank stood up and said, "What the hell?!?"

The man smiled and said, "Good, you're up."

Frank glared at the man and replied, "Up? What the hell are you talking about? The last thing I remember is that I was about to get squished between to semi trucks!"

The man's face grew somber and he nodded. He said, "Yes, I had heard about that." The man paused and sighed, then continued. "That happened over three months ago."

Frank was shocked and quickly sat down. He stammered out, "Th-three months ago? Was I in a coma or have amnesia or something?"

The man shook his head. "No, nothing like that. Maybe I should introduce myself."

Sarcastically, Frank said, "Yeah, nothing would please me more."

Ignoring Frank's tone, the man said, "I am Hugo Argnatius. I am the lead project manager of AI Solutions at Cray Supercomputers." Frank's confusion must have been evident on his face as Hugo continued his explanation. "My team and I have figured out a way to map human consciousness into computers."

Still confused, Frank asked, "And I volunteered to have my brain patterns mapped into a computer?"

Hugo shook his head. "No, not exactly." He paused and wouldn't meet Frank's gaze. Finally, he blurted out, "You died that day. We were able to save your brain and used it to map your patterns into one of our supercomputers."

Frank sat in stunned silence for many minutes. "I don't know who you think you are, but that's not funny."

Angrily, Frank stood up and turned away from Hugo. He looked at the wall, but didn't find a door to walk out of. Turning back around again he noticed that there weren't any doors. "What the hell? Where's the door? I want to get out of here!"

Shaking his head again, Hugo said, "There's a problem with that. This isn't a real room. I was trying to tell you...we're inside of a computer. There's nowhere to go."

Hesitantly, Frank sat back down. "If I'm really part of a computer, are your brain patterns mapped inside this computer, too?"

"No, I'm using a virtual reality device to communicate with you. I'm actually standing inside the device right now, next to your computer." After another long pause, Hugo continued. "I know that this will be hard for you, at first, but I think that you'll soon come to enjoy your new existence."

Frank shot out of his chair again and turned to the wall that had been behind him. Tears ran down his cheeks as his fists pounded against the wall. "Things were going so good for me. Why did this have to happen to me? What about my family? My job? For Christ's sake, how could you do this to me?"

Still sitting, Hugo said, "Calm down, Frank. Let me tell you about how you got here. This idea has been my life's work. I always thought it would be possible to move a human consciousness into a computer. After all, computers and humans are built remarkably alike. They both have short term and long term memory, information processing centers and input and output peripherals. I've been designing supercomputers for over thirty years. My theories on Artificial Intelligence and the human brain were read by the executives at Cray and we started the AI Solutions department seven years ago."

Hugo paused in thought for a while, and then continued, "It was rough going at first. Our budget was low and even though I knew that we wouldn't have a sellable product for some years, we were under constant pressure to release something within the first five years of the project. I split the department into two sections, my team and the AI development team. The AI team has since released several products that have been used mostly by the government in network defense and strategic testing. They have been our main source of funding for the project ever since.

"We've made constant progress over the past seven years and about six months ago, I requested a donated brain to run our first test. You wouldn't believe all the governmental rigmarole involved in getting permission to test on even deceased human body parts. The day before you died, we finally got permission to obtain a human brain from a deceased person. Yours happened to be the first acceptable one that we had access to."

Hugo let that sink in for a few moments before he said, "I'd like to personally thank you for being an organ donor and wearing your helmet."

Frank started hysterically laughing. "Fat lot of good it did me!" He continued to laugh hysterically as Hugo sat there looking uncomfortable.

After Frank had settled down again, Hugo said, "Yes, well, I'm going to leave soon. I want you to get used to your environment for a day before we begin your training."

Frank looked around and replied, "What environment? This is a single room with a single desk. There's nothing else here."

Hugo chuckled. "Right now it appears this way because I wanted to keep things simple for our first meeting. We're inside a computer. Eventually, your surroundings will be determined by you. We're going to supply you with your surroundings for the next week or so. What I really want you to do is to explore your abilities. You will be able to subtly change your surroundings at will over the next week, within the restrictions that we've placed on you. Until you've fully realized your potential, these abilities will appear as abstractions of what is really going on in the background."

Frank shrugged and said, "I don't understand a word you just said."

Hugo smiled and said, "You will."

Creative Commons License
Untitled by Erik Mason is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Friday, December 3, 2010

First External Plug!

Hello dear readers. I just discovered that I've been plugged on one of the blogs that I read regularly, Hipster Please! I'm very excited about it. You can read the post here! Z, you rock!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Story a Week

Dear loyal readers of my blog: I've decided to make a pre-New Year's Resolution. As you may or may not know, I am a big fan of Wil Wheaton. I read his blog and listen to his podcast. The reason I bring this up is that he's doing a "Do Something Creative Every Day Until the End of the Year" thing right now. It's inspired me to do something similar. While I don't have the extra time or creative energy to write every day right now, I do want to do something else. I would like to submit, for your perusal, a short story every Saturday until my birthday. By my calculations, that will mean that I will be writing nine short stories.

The reasons that I am doing this are two fold (who says that?). One, I mentioned about Wil Wheaton. And two, I didn't do one post in November. There are many reasons for that, all of them lame excuses. So, to make up for it. You can expect nine new, original short stories from me every Saturday until my birthday.

That means that you should check back on Saturday for the first one. I already have the idea for it and I've, internally, created a timeline and some dialog. I'm shooting for five hundred words, but I really, at this point, have no idea how long any of them will be.

In other news, work has been hella difficult for the past six weeks or so. That's one reason for my silence on this blog. It has been making me feel down about myself for a few weeks now. I've felt myself become more frustrated and my patience has been short. Lately, I have often found myself thinking, "What the hell are you doing with your life?" Don't get me wrong, I am very happy with my family and my general situation. I'm just not very pleased with how my job is going. Again, don't get me wrong, I'm very good at my job and most of the time I like my job. It's just that when things go wrong and things get really stressful for a long period of time, I just feel like this isn't the job for me. I often think that I may have chosen the wrong line of work.

Sigh. Deep down, I know that things will improve. In fact, they are already better than they were a few weeks ago. I've gotten a lot of help from the people added to my project, so I've been able to do my own work well enough now. Anyways, that's enough pity partying. Thanks for letting me get that out.

As I've done in the past, my current favorite song is: Brad Sucks - Bad Attraction

Saturday, October 30, 2010

w00tstock 2.6


So I went to a little show called w00tstock on Wednesday night in LA with a couple of coworkers. I originally learned about the group that does w00tstock just after they did a show in Minneapolis. Boy was I bummed that I had discovered them just after missing an opportunity to see them. Luckily, most of the show's participants live in CA, so I knew that I'd have an opportunity sooner or later, assuming that some shows would be during the week. Then, a couple of months ago, they announced a show in LA. I was so excited! I bought a ticket the same day they went on sale and practically counted the days until the show.

Before I get into the details of the show, let's do a little background on it. w00tstock, in case you didn't know, is a comedy/music show founded by Wil Wheaton, Adam Savage and the song duo Paul & Storm. It's kind of a nerdy variety show. They do a lot of music, standup and show funny videos. You can go to their website if you want more detailed information on the history and such. You could also use the google and the youtubes to find more information.

So, last night my coworkers and I left work, changed and headed to downtown LA. It took us about seventy-five minutes to drive the thirty some miles to the area that the show was located. One of my coworkers had done some research and found a decent restaurant within walking distance of the theater. It was called Norm's Restaurant and is on La Cienega Blvd. The food was excellent. I had a really good French Dip sandwich (probably the best I've ever had).

After dinner we walked to the theater and got our seat assignments from will call. The theater is called the Coronet theater. They have two show rooms, w00tstock was in the Largo room. Their website says that it seats around two hundred eighty people, so it was a very intimate show with a lot of crowd interaction, which was part of what made the show so great. I imagine that w00tstock could have probably drawn a thousand people or so, but that would have been too many, in my opinion.

My memories of the show are still blending in together into one big happy memory, which hinders my retelling, but alludes to what a great experience it was. I started the evening a little disappointed that one of my personal heroes, Wil Wheaton, was not going to be performing (he's filming Eureka in Vancouver), but I quickly got over it. I was also expecting to have parts of the show where I was bored or at the very least only mildly enjoying myself. It just wasn't true. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole show. Even the people I hadn't heard of before the show were very entertaining and the only time I ended up being bored or not entertained was during the intermission. I can tell you that I will be seeking out material made by the artists and such that performed from now on.

There were a lot of highlights. One of my favorite moments was Mike Phirman singing Chicken Monkey Duck. I'd seen the video online, but it was so much better live. Another highlight was the Pi song, by Hard & Phirm (Chris Hardwick and Mike Phirman). Chris Hardwick's monologue was good as was Adam Savage's. All of the music was very good. Some of the other artists (all good) were: Garfunkel & Oates, Molly Lewis, and Eric Schwartz. It was pretty awesome to see Dr. Demento live and hear some excerpts of songs that he's played in his forty years of broadcasting. Also, Weird Al showed up to pay tribute to Dr. Demento too! The crowd cheered for at least a couple of minutes when he came bounding onto the stage. A fun time was had by all.

If you ever considered going to w00tstock, don't hesistate! Even if you are not of the nerdy persuasion, you should go. It's a lot of fun and even though a lot of the references are nerdy in nature, the music is good and the comedy is good. I think that everyone would enjoy the event.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Moving???

So we've decided to start thinking about moving. Our destination will probably be Eagan at this point. There is a lot of draw to Eagan for us. One, my work is there (even if I'm not there that much); two, we have friends who live in Eagan; three, it's closer to everyone we visit a lot than Hastings is.

What we really need is more space. Our house is two bedrooms and one and a half baths. When we only had one child, this was fine and even now it's ok, but the kids are sharing a room and it's getting harder to manage their sleep schedules in the same room. Lately Kate has been waking up when Ben wakes up early. It's fine for Ben, he takes one to two naps a day as necessary, but Kate should really be sleeping longer in the mornings than Ben sleeps.

So, I'm hoping to find a house that is at least three bedrooms. Honestly, I would like to have a four bedroom so that we can have an office/guest room. A two car garage at a minimum, but a two and a half would be nice. Two bathrooms would be good too, but I think we could live with one and a half. I'm not going to put our target price range on here, but we can afford a bigger mortgage now since interest rates are lower and, frankly, I make more now than I did three years ago when we bought our house. Plus, if we buy a single family home, we will not be paying an association fee, that's just more money we can put towards a mortgage. A big yard (or at least any yard) is also very important. You don't realize how important until you've had to live without one with two small children for over three years.

Now, here are the problems we're facing. One, our house is worth about twenty thousand dollars less than we bought it for, if you take the optimistic look at our situation. Two, there have been anywhere between three and eight houses for sale in our neighborhood at a time over the last year. Many of them still haven't sold and some were taken off the market after not selling. Others went up for forclosure after not selling. So, the competition will be fierce to sell around here.

Our solution is pretty smart, I think. Janice's mom will be soon putting her house up for sale. Her neighborhood doesn't have as many houses for sale and her realtor is confident that she will be able to sell soon and at only a small loss. When she sells her house, we will find a house and put an offer down. We will then move out and Danita will move into our house and rent it until it sells. We figure that it will be easier to sell with a single woman living in the house than it would for a young family.

Hopefully, that puts our timeline for moving at the springtime. I'm very excited for this opportunity to get out of our house faster than we could have otherwise. I think that without Danita's (Janice's mom) help we would be stuck trying to sell our house for months (or longer) before we could get out of it. That includes months of constantly keeping our house spic and span just in case someone wants to look at the house. Ugh, I was not looking forward to doing that and I shudder at the thought. I would like to give a quick shout out to Danita, the best mother-in-law that a guy could ever ask for!

So, if anyone is looking for a nice townhouse in Hastings, please let us know! I know of two that are great that could be yours! All joking aside though, I know that in this age of the internet, word of mouth and networking are very important. If you do know someone who might be considering a move to or around Hastings, let us know, or let them know about us. I'll post Danita's listing as a comment as soon as it's up.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

About the Prologue

The post below this one is the prologue to the novel that I'm trying to write. Please read it and if you have some feedback, leave a comment! Constructive criticism is never ignored and always appreciated!

A little background: I've been contemplating writing a novel for a very long time. I've written dozens of short stories, but they never told the whole story as I saw it in my head because of the short format of a short story. A novel seemed like too monumental of a task for me, but the feeling that I have stories to tell just never stopped and so I just started writing one day earlier this year.

I'm about halfway done with the novel. It's mostly a science fiction book, but I'd like to think that it will appeal to more than just sci fi geeks like myself. It's not overly sciency (is that a word?) and it's not too far out of the realm of plausibility.

The reason that I'm sharing the prologue here is that I'm absolutely dying to share the story with the world, but I know that I have to wait until it's complete, so I decided that it couldn't hurt to share the prologue. It's one part of the story that I'm particularly proud of, and isn't likely to change from here to publication date (if that ever happens!). I hope that you like it!

Favorite song of the moment: Spamtec - Come Around

Prologue

'It's still pretty dark for this time of morning,' thought Alfonzo Rennes. 'Maybe God is giving us the benefit of darkness as cover for our activities during this crucial time.'
Alfonzo looked down from the sky to the valley floor. The view was as awe inspiring as the coming dawn would be. He saw thousands of people from ten of the nations in South America queuing up to board the world’s first generation ship.
“It’s amazing that the Americanos haven’t caught on to the game,” said a voice from behind him.
Alfonzo, somewhat startled, turned to watch Enrique Ruiz approach the top of the cliff where he was standing. Wagging his finger at the chief scientist of the Mariposa project, he said, “Don’t sneak up on me, I almost fell off of the cliff.”
Enrique laughed at the elected civilian leader of the expedition. He said, “Good thing that you didn’t, we might have had to delay the launch if you had, and it’s such a perfect day to do this.”
Both men turned to watch the activity going on below. Alfonzo finally broke the silence, saying, “Any activity from the Americanos? Or maybe los Rusos?”
Enrique shook his head. “I think that they are too busy spying on each other to watch the activities of some poor South American countries.”
Alfonzo laughed and replied, “God willing.” The United States had announced a similar project to the one going on below a year after the South Americans had started their generation ship. Russia soon after announced the same thing and threatened to destroy any other ship they discovered leaving Earth’s orbit. The South American coalition never announced their intentions and worked very hard to keep their activities a secret.
He looked at the sky again, as if searching for satellites aiming their cameras at the valley they were standing above. He looked at his longtime friend and said, “They do seem intent on destroying each other, don’t they?”
Solemnly, Enrique nodded. Russia was leading the world in anti-American propaganda and activity. The two superpowers weren’t at war, yet, but they did come close when America invaded Iran to prevent a hostile government from obtaining nuclear weapons two years ago. “And if they do, they will take the world with them. All the more reason for us to reach our goal here.”
Alfonzo nodded too, and said, “Yes, Russia seems intent on blocking American diplomatic efforts to oppose unfriendly governments.”
Russia was sending oil and food to any government that America had an embargo against. North Korea was on the verge of collapse when Russia broke the embargo in response to America’s invasion of Iran. Since then, every time America took a hard line against a nation, Russia was quick to intervene on their behalf. The United Nations had turned into an ineffectual organization pretty quickly since Russia and the United States couldn’t agree on anything.
An odd sound broke Alfonzo’s reverie. Enrique and Alfonzo looked at each other in horror as they recognized the sound of an airplane engine coming from the north. Alfonzo pulled the radio from his belt and spoke into it, “Santiago, talk to me.”
The voice of the radar man came back to Alfonzo and Enrique, saying, “Sir, we just got a contact on radar. It’s flying very low and is very small. I’m guessing that it’s an unmanned recon airplane.”
Mierda,” Alfonzo swore. Into the radio, he said, “Santiago, shoot it down.”
Sí, jefe,” was the immediate response.
Enrique asked, “Are you sure that is the best course of action?”
Alfonzo nodded and said, “Yes, they must have some suspicions already, whoever it is. The less they actually know, the better.”
The two men watched as a missile came out of the jungle to the north of the valley. A moment later there was an explosion a couple of miles further north.
Alfonzo said into the radio, “Santiago?”
“We got it, sir. I don’t think that it was in visual range.”
Alfonzo looked down into the valley, then at his friend and said, “We had better step up our preparations.” The two men turned and ran down the path they had come up.
A few minutes later, they entered the command center. Alfonzo asked, “Santiago, any other contacts?”
The man quickly scanned the instruments he was monitoring and replied, “No, sir.”
Alfonzo turned to another man with headphones on his head and said, “Domingo, anything on the radio?”
The man shook his head. He said, “Nope. We’ve been monitoring most of the military frequencies of Colombia and Venezuela, but if it was American or Russian, I don’t think that we would get anything.”
Venezuela was an open ally of Russia and Colombia was a reluctant, yet accommodating ally of the United States. Neither country was represented in this cooperative effort of the other South American countries because of those alliances.
Alfonzo went outside with Enrique in tow. He quietly said, “Go down to the ship and tell the leaders that we need to move up our schedule. Tell them to move the people faster.” He paused, trying to think of anything that he might have missed. He said, “It’s a good thing that all of the supplies are already on board.”
Enrique nodded and headed down to the boarding area. Alfonzo returned to the command center.
The next few hours were at the same time hectic and uneventful. The boarding process was going smoothly and faster than anticipated. There weren’t any more radar contacts or radio noise.
At about the time that the last hundred or so passengers were boarding, Alfonzo was starting to consider doing the same when Domingo suddenly perked up. Alfonzo hurried over to the radioman and asked, “What’s going on?”
He held up a finger and Alfonzo impatiently waited. A moment later, Domingo said, “Sir, we have activity on the Venezuelan border. Brazilian aircraft have intercepted a squadron of Venezuelan aircraft that crossed the border heading in our direction. Both sides have sent more aircraft into the fray and there are reports of Russian planes joining the Venezuelans, though this has not been confirmed.”
Alfonzo looked worriedly at the boarding area. There were at least one hundred people still to board. “I’m beginning the countdown,” he finally said. He walked up to a console in the front of the center and stuck a key in a recess and turned it. A display above the viewport came down and started a one hour countdown.
Santiago stood up and said, “Good luck, sir. We’ll keep you apprised of the situation on the border.”
Alfonzo waved to him on his way out the door to show he heard and ran down to the boarding area. He saw Enrique talking to an engineer and ran to him. “I’ve begun the countdown. We need to get these people on the ship now!”
Enrique’s eyes went wide and he replied, “You’ll have to tell me all about it later. Let’s get these people moving.”
After a lot of yelling and hurried activity, the passengers were all aboard and seated in around forty-five minutes. Alfonzo ran up flight after flight of stairs to the bridge of the ship. He took his seat next to Enrique, who must have just beaten him there. “So much for the ceremony,” he said. “How much time is left?”
“Just under ten minutes. The crew is making the final checks,” Enrique replied.
Just then the radio that Alfonzo was still wearing squawked. Alfonzo picked it up and said, “This is Alfonzo.”
It was Santiago’s voice on the other side that said, “Sir, we’ve got incoming. It’s a mix of Venezuelan and Russian aircraft. They are twelve minutes out. We’ve got aircraft coming from Bolivia and Peru, but they are almost twenty minutes out.”
Alfonzo looked a question at Enrique, who shrugged and said, “They might be able to get some missiles to hit us still, or maybe not. I just don’t know.”
Alfonzo said into the radio, “Thank you, Santiago. Prepare what defenses we have. We launch in about nine minutes.”
“Acknowledged, sir. Buena suerte,” Santiago said.
Now that everyone was aboard and the enemy was approaching, the countdown couldn’t go fast enough. After what seemed to be hours, but the timer insisted was eight minutes, the final minute of the countdown began. Alfonzo could feel the engines below the ship and attached to the sides begin their warm-up. The whole ship began to vibrate.
The man at the helm, Alfonzo couldn’t remember his name, said, “Sir, we have a visual on the approaching aircraft.”
Alfonzo grimaced and replied, “Put it on the viewscreen.”
The image that appeared was of half a dozen tiny dots just above the horizon. “Zoom it in,” Alfonzo said.
The man replied, “That is maximum zoom, sir.”
Alfonzo sighed in relief as he watched the countdown approach ten seconds. The airplanes didn’t seem any closer as the engines began pushing the ship skyward. Alfonzo’s weight was pushed into his chair as he watched several objects separate from the aircraft on the screen.
“Missiles,” Enrique groaned from his chair.
Alfonzo tried to nod, but couldn’t. Instead, he said, “They must be firing from extremely long range. Let’s hope that it doesn’t do them any good.”
After another eternity, the helmsman had to switch cameras to continue to watch the approach of the missiles and enemy aircraft. Right after he did so, Alfonzo saw that they had launched another salvo at the ascending spacecraft.
Alfonzo searched the screen for the first group of missiles, but couldn’t find them on the screen. Through the immense gravity pulling him down, he managed to ask, “Where are the first missiles?”
The helmsman replied, “I’m not reading them on radar. Before I changed the camera they were approaching our wake. I wonder if they burned up in there.”
Alfonzo asked, “Enrique, what do you think?”
He could sense his friends mental shrug as he replied, “That’s pretty likely. It’s also just as likely that we’re moving faster than the missiles already and they just ran out of fuel. They were fired from extremely long range.”
After another couple of moments that camera angle didn’t register the aircraft anymore. The helmsman punched some more keys on his console and the camera angle changed again. He continued to press some keys and the whole ship vibrated. The camera picked up the booster rockets falling back to Earth.
“I think that we’re in the clear from airplane based attack,” Enrique said.
Alfonzo asked, “What dangers remain?”
Enrique replied, “The Russians and Americans have satellites equipped with anti-ICBM missiles. They could probably shoot at us too. Or, they could try to launch an ICBM itself at us.”
Alfonzo gulped and said, “They wouldn’t be that crazy, would they?”
Enrique chuckled, “Their people just shot a couple of dozen missiles at us. They obviously weren’t joking about destroying any attempts to beat them to creating a ship like this.”
Alfonzo replied, “Okay, then. Can they catch us?”
Enrique managed a small shrug and said, “Their satellites are ahead of us, but they would have to be in position already. I don’t know if they would have had enough time to do that. Their ICBMs could also catch us for a while before we get out of range.”
Alfonzo sighed. The launch was successful, so far, even if it went in a few hours before it was planned to. Why did the Russians and their Venezuelan lapdogs have to discover their launch site today of all days? Why couldn’t they wait until the coalition governments publically announced it tonight?
Alfonzo was shaken from his reverie by his sudden weightlessness. He glanced about and Enrique laughed at him. “Daydreaming?” his friend asked him.
“I guess so,” Alfonzo said sheepishly. He looked at the helmsman for a moment trying to remember the man’s name. Ah, Diaz, that was it. “Diaz, what’s our status?”
The helmsman replied, “We’ve expended our launch fuel, sir. I’ve ejected the external fuel tank.” Diaz pressed some keys on his console and studied it for a moment, he said, “We’re on course to rendezvous with the moon in twenty-four hours.”
Alfonzo nodded to himself and said, “Any contacts on radar?”
The helmsman shook his head. Not far away, another man said, “Sir?”
Alfonzo looked over to him and said, “Yes, Muñoz, is there activity on the radio?”
Muñoz nodded and replied, “Yes, sir. We’ve got a message from launch command and some news stories that you might be interested in.”
Alfonzo was curious about the news stories, but he said, “Tell me the message from launch command.”
Muñoz, looking somewhat downtrodden, replied, “Much of the launch facility was destroyed by the aircraft. They took heavy casualties.” He paused, then brightened a little as he said, “The Peruvian aircraft destroyed all of the hostiles when they arrived.”
Alfonzo mournfully nodded and said, “Tell me about the news stories.”
Muñoz pointed to the screen and said, “May I?” After Alfonzo nodded to him he pressed some buttons on his console. On the screen appeared the images of the presidents of the ten coalition nations responsible for the ship that they were all sitting on. The president of Brazil stepped forward to the podium and spoke. He said, “Today marks a great day in human history. The first intersolar colonists have just left the Earth for a far away star on the first complete generation ship to leave this planet. While we celebrate this great accomplishment, it has been blighted by a brash and reckless attempt to destroy the ship as it left the Earth.”
The president paused, sternly looking at the camera, he continued, “Russia and Venezuela, in a cooperative effort, launched an airborne attack against the launch site and the ship itself as it was ascending to the stars. This attack was thwarted by the Brazilian, Peruvian and Bolivian air forces, but not without loss of life. Many of the people who worked hard to bring this monumental achievement to fruition were needlessly killed by an overbearing nation of bullies and their South American puppets.”
He paused again and glanced at the other leaders with him before continuing. “We condemn the actions of these two nations as acts of war, but we will not sink to their level. We ask that they pay reparations to the families of those who lost their lives today in order to avoid a war that nobody wants.”
The image returned to a view of the moon. Alfonzo took a moment to grieve for the friends that he lost today. He said, “Muñoz, is there anything else?”
The man nodded and said, “Yes, the Americans have issued a statement congratulating us on our accomplishment and also condemning the actions of the Venezuelans and Russians. Their statement says that they will stand with us until the issue is resolved. The Russians categorically deny any involvement and Venezuela is quiet about the matter.”
Just then, the door to the bridge opened and Alfonzo’s son and wife came through. Maria, his wife, looked haggard while Francisco was apparently having the time of his life. Maria said, “Your son just couldn’t wait to see you. When are you going to make this thing have gravity again?”
Alfonzo laughed and replied, “I had totally forgotten about that in all of the tension.”
Maria looked a question at him and he said, “I’ll tell you later. Enrique, let’s make some gravity.”
Enrique typed some commands into the console next to him. “Ready,” he said.
Alfonzo pressed a key on his command console and said, “Attention, all passengers. We will be turning the gravity on in thirty seconds. That should be enough time for you all to find something to hold on to.” He turned off the intercom and glanced at his watch. At the appropriate moment he signaled Enrique.
The scientist turned to his console and typed a few last commands. Everyone on the bridge felt the gravity slowly kick in as the outer hull of the ship began to rotate around the inner hull.
Alfonzo said, “Diaz, let’s take a look at Earth.”
The helmsman nodded and punched the keys on his console. The Earth appeared on the screen. It still occupied most of it.
Francisco looked up at the screen and said, “Daddy, will the Earth miss us?”
Alfonzo chuckled and tousled the boy’s hair. He said, “Yes, I’m sure it will. But, do not worry, mi hijo. Our descendants will one day come back here and the Earth will welcome them with open arms.”

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Flooring DIY Project

I get the desire to do home improvement projects from my parents. As my siblings and I grew up, we watched and participated in many home improvement projects at home and at our cabin. As such, I have the desire to do such projects at my own home. My wife and I bought a new home three years ago, so there hasn't been many opportunities to do much home improvement.

That doesn't mean that I haven't found ways to get some projects done. First, we painted our garage floor, walls and ceiling. Next, I built some large shelving in the garage to store boxes and large Rubbermaid containers on.

Since then, I haven't found an opportunity to do much more. I would like to build a set of shelves in the garage to store my tools and stuff in, but I haven't taken the time to design and build it since I have one of our college era bookshelves in the garage for those items.

My wife and I have been talking for a while about putting different flooring on our main level. Our carpets in the living room and dining room were showing signs of wear from three years of little children running around and making messes. Also, the occasional coffee or juice spills that our steam cleaner couldn't get rid of.

The linoleum in our kitchen and half bath were in very good shape still, but we figured that since we were replacing half of the flooring downstairs that we might as well do the rest. So, we developed a plan. We would replace the linoleum flooring with tile and the carpeting with wood laminate. We measured the floors and my wife went out and picked out the flooring we would use.

We invited my brother, father and mother out to help us out. The night before they came out we pulled up all of the linoleum. The linoleum itself came up fine and very easy. The adhesive beneath is another story altogether. I would recommend that anyone who is taking linoleum off of concrete to try pulling it up and if the adhesive doesn't come up, rent a floor sander. We didn't do that and have spent an inordinate amount of time scraping that crap up off the floor. We found that getting it wet helped it come off better and then found that adding cleaning solution to it made it even easier, though still quite a chore.

We decided when my family arrived that we would tackle the laminate first. We wanted to do that because if we didn't finish it all in one day, then we would at least have our living room and dining room done. It ended up to be a good idea. After eight or so hours of solid work, we finished the laminate. The carpet came up very easily as did the padding underneath.

Luckily for us, a friend of ours had a chop saw that we borrowed to cut the laminate with. I had planned on using a circular saw, but the chop saw ended up working pretty well. We had to cut, then flip and cut again, but my brother was getting very good at that and at the end of the day you couldn't even tell that it took two cuts per board.

We installed the laminate in floating style, which meant no glue or adhesive to put down. I would recommend that to anyone doing a laminate floor like ours. It was easy and we did about three hundred square feet in one day.

That left the kitchen and bathroom without any flooring at the end of the day. At this point, I was travelling every week, so I only had time to work on it during the weekends. Since I didn't want to spend a whole lot of time on it, we didn't dedicate a whole day to working on the tile. Instead, we did it in sections. We first laid the tile on the mortar in the bathroom. It was easy enough. Next, we laid some tile in the hallway that leads from the kitchen to the bathroom and stairs.

Then, we decided that we wanted our bathroom back, so we grouted it. We wiped it down a couple of times, then left for our friends' house. Big mistake. Our tiles aren't smooth, and we didn't clean them as thoroughly as we should have, which left grout in the divets and indents that the tile naturally had. In order to seal, we needed to get all of that grout out of those spaces. We ended up spending hours upon hours on our hands and knees scraping grout out of those spaces. What a pain in the butt (and knees, etc.)!

We haven't grouted anything else, yet, but we've laid tile in most of the hallway and about a third of the kitchen. The mortaring and laying tile is relatively easy. Spread mortar and put a tile down. Don't forget a spacer in between the tiles. It's that simple.

My plan is to finish laying all of the tile before we bother to grout any of it. We have been walking on the tiles that we've laid and there doesn't seem to be any negative effects, yet. When we end up spreading the grout, we will definitely make sure to spend the time to clean the tiles more thoroughly, and we also plan to be more careful with the grout so that we don't get so much on the faces of the tiles.

All in all, parts of this project have been easier (laminate), but the tile has definitely been a lot more difficult than my wife and I anticipated. Not that I would go back to the linoleum and carpet that we had before. Once we are finished, the floors are going to look amazing!

Favorite song of the moment: YTCracker - Use My Brain

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Geeky Awakening

I've been a geek (or nerd, if you prefer) my entire life. I never had an issue with this. I always accepted that this was who I was and it was who I wanted to be. It wasn't until relatively recently, however, that I "discovered" the broader spectrum of geek culture.

Sure, I played D&D, video games, read sci-fi (or syfy, if you prefer) and fantasy books, etc., but I wasn't directly connected to geek culture, I was just moving on a parallel path. My journey into exploring geek culture started just over a year ago. I was looking for reading material or blogs or something about raising kids (we had an almost two year old and our son was on the way) when I did a search for geek and dad or something like that. I then stumbled upon the Geek Dad blog. I was immediately hooked and began to read it every day. I had found my first connection to the greater geek community, but it didn't stop there...

Through that blog I found their podcast that included regular episodes featuring geeky music. I really enjoyed listening to the podcasts, but I didn't make an effort to find out more about the artists or music. This was partly because I didn't realize at the time how big the scene was or that the information was readily available through quick searches. Nerds and geeks rule the internets, of course our music is going to be easily accessible there.

I was just starting to delve deeper when my son was born. I remained in a far orbit of the geek community for a long time during the first few months of his life. I didn't venture further inside, nor did I drift out of it to my prior state.

After a few months, things settled in my house and I got more free time (aka sleep). Also, I began to travel for work again, so I had more time to surf the net and listen to podcasts. That's when I started listening to Radio Free Hipster. Z, the geeky personality behind the podcast, introduced me to a lot more music that is right up my alley. Also, through Z's blog "Hipster, Please" and a few other blogs and websites that I found, I am getting more into the greater geek culture.

I discovered (or was led to) geeky icons like Jonathan Coulton, Wil Wheaton, Adam Savage, MC Frontalot, and a lot more. Of course I knew of Wil Wheaton and Adam Savage before my geeky awakening, but I hadn’t read much about them and didn’t know about wootstock either.

A couple of months ago I picked up a RSS reader, FeedDemon, which has helped me keep up with all of the websites that I am now fond of visiting. I've also often considered joining Twitter since a lot of my geeky idols are on there, but I can't bring myself to pull the trigger on that one.

My new affinity to the greater geek culture has led me to a dilemma of sorts. I've always known about PAX and Comic-con and other geeky gatherings, but the more I read about them from the websites I am now visiting, the more I want to go to them. I haven't been able to work going to any of them into my schedule, but maybe once I'm not regularly traveling, I might be able to work do just that. The problem is that with my travel schedule, I don't get enough time with my family as it is, much less taking a weekend out of that time to do something frivolous, not matter how much fun it might be. Going to PAX this weekend would be awesome, but at this point I don't want to take time away from my family to do that.

I find that I may have reached the pinnacle of my connectedness to geek culture by not going to one of these gatherings, but at this point, I can't convince myself to spend the time and money to travel out to something. If only there was a big convention like that in Minneapolis coming up soon! I've also read about people like me putting together small geeky conventions, such as Nerdapalooza, but I don't have the resources or time to do that, much less the connections or anything to get something like that going.

So, that’s the story of my geeky awakening. I feel like I identify more with the greater geeky community, which is good, but I also feel like I might be missing out on a lot of fun by skipping the awesome sounding events occurring around the country.

And, like always, I will be sharing my favorite song of the moment: The Grammar Club – Balloon Flight. The reason that I do this is to possibly introduce you to a song or artist you may not have heard before. I encourage you all to do a quick google search or youtube search for these songs/artists. You might like what you hear.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Flying Etiquette

I do a lot of traveling for my job. As such, I’ve noticed a lot of behavior of other travelers that I have come to despise or find annoying. I’ve been contemplating writing this blog post for quite a while, but I am a generally easy going person and I don’t want to ruffle any feathers. My annoyances have finally gotten to the point where I feel that I either need to vent or let other people know what I find annoying in the hopes that they think, “Oh, yeah, I bet that is annoying to other people” in the hopes that they cease this behavior.

Most of the complaints below are just things that I think should be common courtesy in everyday life, but that many other travelers ignore when in the airport for some reason. I don’t particularly understand that. People who are normally pleasant to everyone seem to think that just because they’re in an airport that they suddenly have permission to be a dick. Like my idol, Wil Wheaton, says, “Don’t be a dick”.

Let’s start this off with some annoyances that derive from people waiting at the gate before they even get on the plane. Prepare for /rant.
  • Know where your liquids are packed. It’s been a rule long enough that you shouldn’t be surprised anymore when the TSA asks you to pull out your liquids in a Ziploc bag and put them on the x-ray conveyor belt. You slow everybody up because you didn’t think to keep all your liquids in a single place and have to practically repack while in the security line.
  • Same goes with your laptop. Two weeks ago I was behind a guy that had packed his laptop at the bottom of his rollerbag and had to take out most of the contents to get at it. Plan ahead, people.
  • Don’t argue with the TSA guys. Not only are they then going to choose you for a “random” screening, but you’re not going to change their minds. They don’t care if you have to walk through the metal detector barefoot or have to throw away a half full bottle of water. You need to follow the rules just like everyone else. Once again, you should have planned ahead better.
  • Don’t take up more than one seat when the gate area is getting full. On Sunday, the gate area was very full because there were three gates all boarding within twenty minutes of each other, so there were a lot of people milling about. I noticed one particular person who was laying across three seats. Seriously? I gave up my seat to an elderly gentleman and sat on the floor, but you get three seats for yourself? Wow, dude.
  • Don’t crowd the boarding area before it’s your turn to board. Nowadays, most of the airlines have a zone boarding scheme or go row by row. If you’re in Zone 4 or in the back of the plane, don’t stand around the boarding area. You’re just in everyone’s way and you’re slowing down the already slow paced boarding process. Also, don’t try to board in earlier zones. Sure, you might slip through, but chances are the gate person isn’t going to let you pass and will send you back to wait some more.
  • Don’t be rude to anyone working in the airport or on the airplane. These people are responsible for maintaining a safe and comfortable way for the rest of us to travel. Most of them have tough jobs that I personally wouldn’t want to do. Plus, if you’re rude to them, you’re just being a jerk. Knock it off.
  • When boarding the plane, don’t try to fit huge ass bags into the overhead area. Also, don’t put it in there sideways. You’re taking up room that another person might have been able to use. If it’s too big, check it. Or, better yet, pack your stuff in a smaller bag to begin with so that you can fit it in the overhead bin.
  • Related to that is: Don’t put two bags in the overhead area. I don’t care how much foot room you want. When you put two bags up there, you’re taking up space that someone else could have used. If you’re bringing enough stuff to fit into two small rollerbags, you should probably have just put it all in one larger one and checked it.
  • Stand up whenever someone is entering or exiting your row. Even in the exit row. I don’t want to stick my ass in your face anymore than you want it there. Quit being lazy and have some consideration for others.
  • Don’t tattle on someone on the phone or listening to headphones after they close the door. This isn’t Soviet Russia, no matter how controlling the flight attendants are. The flight attendants will tell that person off, and if they don’t it’s not your job to do so anyways. Plus, I personally feel that it’s 100% bull that I have to turn my iPod off during takeoff and landing. Is the meager radiation that my iPod puts out going to crash the airplane? No, the person next to me wouldn’t even be able to detect it with the right instrumentation, much less get through all the stuff between me and the cockpit.
  • Don’t watch raunchy or scary movies on a laptop or any player that others might see. Chances are there are children on your flight and they might see.
  • Same applies to websites that you might visit. Go to the public library for that stuff.
  • This one isn’t so much an annoyance as it should be common sense: don’t talk about your confidential business practices/information on an airplane. 1. You never know who is listening; 2. You probably shouldn’t be sharing that information with random strangers anyways when it’s supposed to be confidential. I doubt your boss/shareholders/etc. would like to hear that you were sharing that information.
  • Never recline your chair. Everybody hates that. I really wish that none of the chairs ever reclined. I originally wrote this as the person in front of me reclined their chair back as far as it will go. I could literally rest my head on their head without being that uncomfortable. Amendment: when you recline your chair back so far you can see up my nose, don’t turn around and complain that my knees are sticking into your back. Quit being a jerk. I’m six feet tall, my knees touched your chair before you leaned the damn thing back. It isn’t exactly comfortable for me either.
  • If you’re in the aisle seat, stand up when the plane gets to the gate. That way at least one of the other people in your row can stand too. I’m mildly claustrophobic and always pretty eager to get off the plane and I hate when the aisle person waits to the last moment to stand up.
  • Don’t wait for the last moment to get your stuff together when everyone is getting off the plane. You’re holding everyone up. See the point above this for more information.

I try to follow all of these suggestions whenever I’m traveling (which is twice a week at this point). You’d be amazed at the behavior that I’ve seen that I haven’t even posted here since I’ve only seen it once or twice, or extreme examples of any of the above points. /Endrant

On a lighter note, most people do follow a lot of these suggestions. It’s just the jerks who stand out to me, I think. If you have seen some behavior that appalls you, or you have some additions to my suggestions, please feel free to leave a comment.

And, now it’s time for my favorite song of the moment: Beefy – I’m No Superman

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Fitness Update

It’s been…wow…almost four weeks now since I posted about my fitness plan. I figured that it was about time for an update post.

It’s been going good, so far. I’ve gained a level and my wife is pretty close to doing so as well. What this means is that we get to choose some skills to rank up and then we’ll get more bonus points on those activities that apply to those skills.

The main point of this exercise, for me, was just that, exercise. I will admit that it hasn’t had that great of an impact on the amount of exercise that I get, however, I do want to say that I don’t feel like the system is a waste of my energy. I have noted a vast improvement in the other activities that I’ve targeted for improvement. For example, I am much more willing to clean the cat litter at home when I am there on the weekends. Also, I now have more inspiration to shave my face on the weekends, which was a big pet peeve of my wife’s.

So, the program is working pretty well for us. We’re about a tenth of the way to our goal, which may seem daunting, but you have to realize that it takes time for people to alter their habits. Especially for those of us, like me, who normally resist such change.

Stay tuned as I plan to put out a full blog entry on Sunday night during my flight back to LA. It will be a good one.

Favorite song of the moment: Emergency Pizza Party – Kiss Kaboom

Monday, July 19, 2010

Role Playing Your Way to Fitness

In my last post I talked about an idea that I had to motivate myself to improve my physical fitness. Since this was an opportunity to improve in other ways too, I set out to develop a simple roleplaying style system that would allow me to track my progress and improvement in several areas. I used my knowledge of D&D and since I’ve heavily modified the rules of the game in the past it was quite easy to design a spreadsheet that did everything that I wanted it too using the basic rules of the game. Since I wasn’t quite sure the extent of the activities that I would want to track, I made the spreadsheet in such a way that it was quite easy to add a new activity type to track.

Developing the spreadsheet only took a couple of hours. I started with a basic D&D character sheet on the first page. It has the basic character information: name, race, class level, xp, traits (i.e. Strength, Wisdom, etc.) and abilities. I thought of adding feats and merits and flaws, but I thought that keeping it simple was the way to go.

The next step was to define some of the rules of the system. Some of these rules come straight out of D&D. The six basic traits are the same as the D&D ones with the bonuses that come from them calculated the same as well. Abilities are a set of skills that will garner bonus XP for activities. Each one has a trait that goes with it (i.e. the Aerobic ability goes with the Constitution trait) that gives a bonus (or detriment if your trait is low enough). Rather than using abilities to determine whether or not an action was successful, they instead award bonus XP when you complete an activity. This way, you can increase the amount of XP you gain for certain activities as a way to motivate yourself to gain levels faster.

The next thing that I did was to start making a list of activities. Each activity has an ability that goes with it (i.e. Jogging goes with the Aerobic ability) and a rate at which it awards XP (i.e. Jogging gives 5 points per 10 minutes). Once I had a decent list of activities and a pretty complete list of abilities, I went on to define the races and classes. I knew that your chosen race would adjust your trait scores (similar to D&D), but I didn’t quite know what a class would do for you. In D&D, your class effects your combat ability, the amount of abilities you get and a number of irrelevant items. I wanted the system to be fair, so I didn’t want a rogue to get more abilities than a barbarian (like in traditional D&D) because then a rogue would get XP so much faster. I looked back at what Ken Denmead (see my last post) did in his system, and thought that I could use a similar idea. He gave each class two bonus skills tags (I won’t explain tags, I didn’t employ that idea), so I thought that I could give each class two bonus abilities instead. This would help differentiate each class and would help someone specialize their character in two abilities to gain more XP in those two areas.

Right about now I was feeling pretty good about the completeness of the system. I entered the day’s activities as a way of testing the system and after a few minor adjustments I called my work complete. I tracked the next couple of days until I got home from my business trip. I showed the system to my wife and she was on board. We discussed the goal (level 10) and the Major Prize ™ and settled on something we could both agree upon. We also made a couple of minor changes to the system and added a bunch of activities that she thought of that I hadn’t. The game was afoot!

We weighed in and started tracking our activities, I started over in order to be fair (I had amassed some XP in my testing days). It hasn’t been too long, but she is leading by about 10%. I’m not too worried about the deficit. I think that I can bridge the gap and the game has just begun anyways. I would like to mention that my mother-in-law and my wife have also begun a separate challenge between the two of them. They aren’t using the same D&D style system, but their system is points based as well. I’m not privy to all of the details of their challenge, but I know that their activity list is different and I’m sure that the point values are too.
I plan to post an update in perhaps a month to let you all know how the system is working out. If you are interested in having the spreadsheet, please leave a comment with your email (or contact me privately if you know me personally) and I’ll send it out to you.

I’ll post some screenshots in the space below, so keep reading if you’d like to see them.

Favorite song of the moment: Supercommuter – Itty Bitty Pigeons

None of these screenshots show the inner workings of the spreadsheet, if you want these details contact me and I will send you the sheet. It works pretty much on formulas and lookups without the use of macros.

This is the generic info for a character. The race and class boxes are drop downs for easy entry. The XP boxes will also automatically fill themselves out based on your activities and level.




These are the character's traits. All you have to do is enter the score you have and the bonuses will be automatically calculated. The zero at the bottom is the number of traits you have left to distribute among the six options. Instead of rolling, I chose to allow manual distribution starting with each score at a 10 (then modifying for race) and giving 18 points for distribution. Also, at every third level you get an additional point (i.e. the zero will change to a one automatically at level three).



This is the list of abilities for a character. You start with six abilities to apply in the ranks column and you will get six at each level. The number in the bottom row will update when a level is made showing how many ranks are left to assign.









This is a sample of entering activities in the sheet. The activity boxes are all drop downs allowing for easy data entry. The types then are automatically filled out based on the activity and the points will be automatically calculated when a volume is entered for the activity. The bonus is also automatic as is the total. One issue is that if you add ranks to a skill, the total will automatically adjust, hence the banked points column. You must hand enter this and it will update the XP on the character sheet.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Geeky Fitness

So, lately (who starts a blog like that?) I’ve been feeling less and less good about the shape of my body. Not just my physical shape, but also how fit I am. I get winded too easily and I don’t feel as energetic as I think I should. Sure, I could blame my sleep apnea on my constant tiredness, but I don’t feel like it is all to blame. You see, for my job, I sit in a chair eight to ten hours a day. That’s a lot of sitting. When I go home, I play with my kids and eat dinner, then help put them to bed. After that, I might sit on my butt again for another hour or two before bed. That’s when I’m home. Since I’ve been travelling regularly to California, when I get off work I go to the hotel and sit for the rest of the evening. If you add it all up, I’m sitting for over 14 hours a day while I’m not at home. Not acceptable.

I’ve decided to do something about it. Since I’m a problem solver at heart, I went about coming to a solution in a methodical manner.

First step, identify the problem. Easy enough, I’m not in shape and I want to be.
Second step, identify a goal. Also easy, get in shape. Okay then. Now comes the hard part.

Third step, identify a solution that will attain the goal. I know from my history that I don’t like going to the gym or exercising on my own. Even the Wii Fit has failed to keep my interest, though it worked longer than the other two items. You see, the problem is that I don’t feel motivated to do these things. Sure, I want to change, but change is hard and I’m quite lazy. Just the desire to change isn’t motivation enough to do so. I needed something new that would motivate me to accomplish my goals.

I also happened to be reading the book, “Geek Dad”. In it are many geeky projects and activities for parents just like me, geeky. Starting on page 79 is an idea on how to get your kids to do their chores, do better in school, etc. The idea is to create a character sheet for each child and they gain XP by completing pre-defined tasks and objectives. The outlines in the book are very good and are loosely based on D&D. For those of you who know me well, you know that I’ve extensively modified the D&D rules for my own use in the past and the idea that the author, Ken Denmead (editor of the blog by the same name as the book), describes to motivate your kids greatly intrigued me. I finally had a rough idea of what my solution would be.
I began brainstorming ways to use Ken’s idea and my own experience to devise a system that would motivate me to get healthy. I quickly decided to broaden my scope from just physical fitness to other areas that I wished to improve in (more details in a later post). I ran the idea by my wife and she was tentatively on board to make it a competition. I suggested that the first person to level 10 (since we’ll be characters that can level up) would win and get a Major Prize ™.

I began work on the system. I was so excited that I did the whole thing in one sitting this week. It only took me about two hours to get the spreadsheet up and running. It’s a simple version of the character sheets that I used to create in Excel for D&D. Stay tuned for more details on the spreadsheet in my next blog entry.
I’ve done one full day so far, so I’m not sure how fast I’ll make it to level 10. I’ll keep you all posted as to my progress.

Favorite song of the moment: MC Chris – MC Chris is Dead

I keep wanting to type MC Christ… :D

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Back in Business

Hello people on the intarwebs. I know that I haven’t posted since September (and in that post promised more posts to come), but who cares? It’s not like anyone reads this anyways… no, don’t hit the back button…I do want you to read my blog.

Anyways, I would like to state my intention to write at least ten entries before the year is out (that’s two a month for those keeping track). I have the next three or four entry ideas in my head and even have the first one written already (I’m not going to share it today, I’d like to re-read it first).

I think that I’ve set myself an attainable goal and with all of the travelling I’ve been doing lately, I think that I’ll actually have the time to put the jumble of words in my head into a somewhat cohesive string for your perusal.

That’s it for now, stay tuned for my upcoming post. It should be a good one.

Frink out.