Notes from a fantasy filled weekend.

It’s Monday already? Damn, was hoping I still had more time in my weekend. Which is saying a lot considering I took Friday off to go to my sister-in-law’s wedding.

Another of Anne’s sisters has taken the matrimony plunge and did it with style having a Fantasy themed wedding with dragons and castles aplenty. So rather than dressing up in formal clothes we ended up busting out the Renaissance Fair garb and going as a merchant and wench.  Courtney was in the wedding party as a bridesmaid and as such had a custom costume made for her ahead of time. The groomsmen rented knight costumes from a local costume shop and we even had at least one relative of the groom show up in full knight regalia (he was a SCA member). It made for an odd site with most of the guests in traditional formal clothes and the rest of us looking like extras from a bad dragon movie. I have to admit to being very impressed with the reverend who did the ceremony, though, as in addition to the traditional Christian style marriage he also performed a fairly decent – and very pagan – handfasting! Either he’s very progressive or fairly ignorant of the significance of a handfasting, either way it was a pretty cool addition to the ceremony.

Spent a good chunk of the rest of the weekend hopping in and out of World of Warcraft as the zombie invasion world event they’re running to herald in the upcoming release of the expansion has grown progressively more complex. By the time I went to bed on Sunday the amount of time between being infected to becoming a zombie had diminished from 10 minutes to one minute and many of the Argent Dawn healers that were curing folks had left the cities as the Lich King’s necropolis started appearing near the capitol cities once again (this happened once before with the opening of the Naxramas raid dungeon). New argent dawn NPCs have shown up in the cities handing out quests, some of which hint at a cure, and flying scourge fortresses are showing up in several high level areas such as Winterspring, Eastern Plaguelands, Tanaris, etc. that require players to go battle the invading scourge. The zombie problem has gotten so bad that small towns are completely overrun and even the capitol cities are in danger of being wiped out of NPCs. Needless to say this is making questing for the lower-level players a lot more difficult as even if they manage to make it into a town without being killed by the wandering zombies they may find they can’t turn in a quest because the quest giver is dead and hasn’t respawned yet. Needless to say some people are complaining it’s gotten out of hand, but it’ll improve over the coming days as the story progresses so their pain shouldn’t be too lengthy. [Minor Update: It appears the zombie plague will be ending around 12 noon PST today. It’s not the end of the world event, but the cure appears to have been found.]

All of that is going on at the same time as the Hallow’s End holiday event. So in addition to zombies all over the place players are contending with frequent visits from the Headless Horseman setting various buildings on fire in Goldshire and other newbie zones as well as trick or treating and making the trek to the Scarlet Monestary to put down the Horseman where he sleeps. Toss in all the changes to the game from the new 3.0.2 client and things like the new achievement system and it makes for a lot of chaos in the game at the moment and I’m having a blast with it myself.

As if all of that wasn’t enough we had good friends Bob and JethricOne out on Saturday night to watch a couple of fantasy themed DVDs: The Gamers and The Gamers: Dorkness Rising. Both are very low-budget comedies about a group of pen and paper role playing gamers playing through a campaign. We see not only the players playing, but also their characters as they act out what’s happening in the story. If you’ve ever played Dungeons and Dragons or any other RPG with a bunch of hardcore gamers then you’ll find a lot to laugh at in these movies. It’s geek humor at its low-brow best.

So it probably goes without saying that I’m way behind on what’s going on in the world this morning. On booting up Google Reader I noticed that my “Friend’s Shared Items” was up to almost 70 entries let alone the rest of my RSS feeds. There’s probably lots I’ve missed so if I post anything that’s a few days old, well, now you know why.

Weekends always put me out of touch.

Didn’t get on the computer much this weekend, and what little I did was spent playing the Wrath of the Lich King beta, so I’m once again two days behind on what’s going on in the world. Most of Sunday was spent at my parent’s place while the wife and kid and my sister went to a bridal shower for one of my sister-in-laws. I spent most of that time napping on the couch. I also played way too much Burnout Paradise on my PS3 this weekend after starting the game over again so I could earn the trophies that were just added with the most recent patch.

In regards to World of Warcraft one thing I’m really looking forward to with the release of the WotLK expansion is a new title you can earn via an achievement. It’s an homage to the infamous Leroy Jenkins party wipe video and it’s called, appropriately enough, Leeeeeeeeeeeeeroy! You gain it by killing 50 rookery whelps within 15 seconds and as a reward you gain the title “Jenkins” which shows up after your character’s name. In the case of my Dwarven Hunter it would make it appear as though his name is “Balfour Jenkins.” Given that my last name really is Jenkins then it should go without saying why this is the single most important achievement I can aspire to in the game.

Let’s see, is there anything else from the weekend worth talking about? Hmmmm. I may have helped SEB regular JethricOne convince his wife that they NEED to have a PS3 and a shiny new HDTV on Saturday. Just doing my part to stimulate the economy by getting other people to spend their money. Anything else? Nope. Guess that is it for now.

The lease has been signed. We have a new place to live.

The deal is done and I’m feeling pretty good about it. I’ve been a proud leasee for almost eight and a half hours now and I still don’t have a single thing in the apartment. Mainly because I was running all over the place borrowing stuff for the move. Also had to hit the DMV today to renew license plate tags seeing as my birthday is coming up on the 25th of this month and these days you’re supposed to have that done by the 1st of the month of renewal. Then Courtney and I drove up to my mother’s place where we borrowed her truck, a couple of dollys (one of which is meant for moving furniture), and some moving pads. Meanwhile Anne stayed at home and continued working on packing stuff.

My sister will be meeting up with us at 11AM tomorrow with her truck and a small trailer to help and our buddy Bob will be meeting us at the apartment to help unload around noon. All in all we should be able to get the major furniture down this weekend and then it’ll be boxes, boxes, and more boxes. Right now, though, it’s rest a bit after driving all day long.

The Big Move is almost here.

Posting may be light over the next few days as we’ll be busy moving into the new apartment. Tomorrow we’ll be picking up the keys early in the day and then doing some quick shopping for stuff we’re going to need after we move. After the shopping I’ll be headed up to my parents place to borrow their truck leaving my piddly Grand Prix behind in case they need to drive someplace over the weekend. Not looking forward to filling up the gas tank on that truck, but even with the mileage involved it’d still be cheaper than renting a U-Haul.

This weekend we’re concentrating on what little furniture we need to get into the new place starting with desks, chairs, and futon and finishing up with the beds most likely on Sunday. The goal is to be able to actually sleep in the new place Sunday evening. I will have to make a point of taking at least one computer and the small TV over on Saturday, though, because that’s when the AT&T folks will be showing up to install the U-Verse stuff we’ve signed up for as opposed to going with Comcast, a company I swore I’d do everything I could to avoid ever using again. Normally I wouldn’t schedule them to come out in the middle of the first day of heavy lifting we’re going to be doing, but the only other day they were available was the following Friday and I didn’t really want us to be offline for a whole week.

If we get enough stuff over to live with this weekend then we’ll save the rest of it for the following weekend when we hope to have some friends with vans available to help out, though I may end up being dropped off at work a couple of days so Anne and Courtney can use the car to go grab any boxes that are needed immediately. This weekend it looks like we’ll be flying mostly solo as there’s a number of birthdays being celebrated this weekend. The plan is simply not to kill ourselves getting this done as it’s not like we’re on a deadline to get all our crap out of the in-law’s house, but we’re hoping not to drag it out any more than a couple of weekends either. So wish us luck as we take the big step of getting back out on our own. It’s something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.

Weekend roundup and first big challenge at work.

This past weekend was a little on the busy side. We got up early to go looking at potential new places to live as we’re hoping to move out of the in-law’s place by the end of June after Courtney’s graduation and open house. Only made it to two places in Canton before a stop at an Office Max resulted in Courtney buying a new computer desk for use in the new abode forced us back home. Why? Because our only vehicle at the moment is a 2000 Pontiac Grand Prix and, with Courtney in the back seat, we had to try and fit the box of desk parts into the trunk and it didn’t fit entirely. I was reluctant to leave it sitting in parking lots hanging out of the trunk hoping no one would walk off with it.

What was interesting about our first stop is that it wasn’t an apartment building, but a mobile home park. It seems some parks have started renting out mobile homes over the past few years because folks are more likely to rent than to buy as these homes tend to be notoriously hard to resell. The rates seem to be slightly less than some apartments depending on the size of the home in question and you still have the option to purchase it later if you wish to do so. The tricky part about looking now is that they really don’t know what they’ll have available in a month’s time so we could only get ballpark ideas. The other place we stopped in was for town home apartments which include a usable basement. The rent on those was higher, but it’s hard to argue with the utility of having a basement to stick crap into. We’ve still got a few other places we want to look at, including some in Ypsilanti which would be closer to work and the community college Courtney and I are likely to be attending this fall so no final decisions as of yet.

The other thing we did on Saturday after dropping Courtney and her desk off at home was go to the local Honda dealer to consider a second car. I decided awhile ago that I think I’d like to get a Honda Civic as my next car and, after sitting in a couple of them, that lust has only grown. Still, after the debacle with the computer desk earlier, we also looked at the Honda Element which I also liked, but not as much as the Civic. New models are currently out of our price range at least until Anne can land a job so we also looked at some of the Honda certified pre-owned vehicles and, for good comparison measure, a brand new Honda Fit.

I have to say that the Honda Fit surprised the hell out of me. It’s a fucking dinky car, but for being so damned small it has a surprising amount of room in it. Headroom in particular was more abundant than I expected and, when you fold the rear seats down, the damn thing will haul quite a bit of crap around. The one we looked at was priced around $14,995, but even going with a no-frills base model we still weren’t sure we could swing the payments until we figured out what our monthly rent was likely to be. So we didn’t end up buying a car, used or otherwise, though once we get settled and have an idea of whether or not we can swing a down payment (we were basing our initial inquiries on not having one, which obviously drives the payments up) we’ll probably go back and get us a Fit to start with plans to buy a Civic later.

As for the new job, it’s been going pretty well despite a rather hectic week last week were I was on mornings for a good part of it, and today I was given a Special Project to work on. We have a number of machines set up as kiosks sitting around for the folks out on the floor to make use of during their breaks/lunch for browsing the web, entering their time cards, etc. that are largely run under Windows XP. Windows XP is much hated here and so I’ve been tasked with turning them all into Ubuntu based kiosks locked down to just a few apps and then turning that into an ISO image that can be slapped on a machine whenever it needs to be staged. Needless to say I’ll be reading up quite a bit on how to make a Linux kiosk setup in the next couple of weeks. If you folks have any recommendations for good resources on the web, let me know.

Lazy weekend recap.

I had a half-productive weekend with Saturday being the productive day and Sunday being the lay-around-enjoying-nothing-in-particular day. The weather Saturday was fabulous with highs in the 60’s and gentle breezes which made the trip up to my grandmother-in-law’s place that much more enjoyable. We finally made it back up with a new graphics card and monitor for her PC as her old graphics card wasn’t displaying the color red for some reason and her old monitor was, frankly, tiny. When you’re a 94 year-old computin’ granny you can use all the screen size you can manage. The whole job took about a half-hour, but we were there for almost two hours because she had taken the time to make us a lunch that was really fit to be a dinner. She and Uncle Mike presented me with a debit gift card to say thanks for all the PC work I’ve done for them lately (we were up a couple of weeks ago doing additional work on several other relatives’ PCs).

Then we spent the rest of Saturday visiting with our good friend Eric Paulsen. Some of you may remember Eric as a frequent contributor to SEB in the past including holding status as an Official Guest Bastard. He was laid off from work around about the same time I was the first time (over two years ago) and has, like us, had to move back in with relatives to survive. Unlike myself, however, Eric has had a harder time finding work and we lost touch with him for awhile. Turns out he’s living more or less on the way to my parent’s place, which is also not far from where Anne’s relatives live in Davison, so we called him up and hung out with him for the rest of the afternoon. We went out to dinner with Eric at the local Subways before we headed home for the night. All in all it was an enjoyable and productive day.

Sunday I got to take advantage of the debit gift card I received. The monitor I gave to Anne’s grandmother was the 17” model I carted around with me to LAN parties which meant I no longer had a gaming monitor as I’m not about to try to log the Dell 21” CRT I have on my desk over to my buddy’s basement for his LAN parties. I did that once and getting it up and down the basement steps, both there and at home, damn near gave me a hernia. With some of the recent deals on flat panels Anne said I could combine the gift card with a little money from our checking account and pick up a new flat panel monitor that will replace the 21” Dell on my desktop and still be light enough to tote around to LAN parties. The 21” CRT will go up to my parent’s place to replace the 21” monitor they already have that is starting to give up the ghost. The display is unusually fuzzy on their 21” and it shifts the screen occasionally for no apparent reason. So I’m getting one of Samsung’s newer models: The Samsung 2053BW 20” LCD. The viewable area is actually slightly larger than the 21” CRT I’m giving up and it has a resolution of 1680 x 1050 which should be very nice indeed.

And that’s about all I did all weekend. The rest of Sunday was spent either playing on the PC or watching Episode II and III of the Star Wars prequels on SpikeTV because I hadn’t seen them in awhile. What were you folks up to? Anything interesting?

Spent the whole weekend in my flannel PJs.

And am feeling much better for it. This means we didn’t make it up to my mother’s place on Saturday like we had planned to, but we’ll make it up next weekend in much better health as a result. I’m still a little congested today and my voice is an octave or two lower—which actually makes me sound somewhat impressive for a change—but I’m feeling a lot better this morning and I can breathe without too much trouble.

Watched a lot of TV, slept a fair amount, played a little WoW, and shot lots of terr’ists in CoD4. Oh, and drank lots of orange juice. Sometimes not doing much of anything is a very healthy thing to do.

Weekend notes for a cold December morning.

So over the weekend, prior to heading up to my mother’s house, Anne, Courtney and I headed out to the local Kroger’s to get flu shots. This is the first year we’ve gotten shots and I’m hoping they work because Courtney and I caught the flu just prior to heading up to my parents for Christmas Eve last year and it made for a truly miserable holiday. Plus my arm started an annoying dull throb a couple of hours after the shot that got worse yesterday so the pain had better be worth it. Today it only hurts if I press on it so things are improving. Our timing was pretty good as the price on the shots dropped from $25 each to $10 on the day we went so it ended up costing a lot less than we expected it to. Hopefully that’s not because they think the vaccine isn’t working.

I was supposed to take Courtney out to do her Christmas shopping Saturday afternoon, but that got interrupted when the call for groceries came from my parents. With the snowstorm on the way we figured it was best to make the trip on Saturday rather than trying to do it Sunday or sometime during the week. Good thing too because we didn’t go anywhere yesterday. So I’ll be taking Courtney out something during this week to get her shopping in. The canceled school for her today so she got to sleep in whereas I still had to get up and come into work. On the plus side, the roads were clear enough and the traffic light enough that the trip in this morning went pretty smoothly. I was actually 15 minutes early and got to sit out in the hall with the rest of the team because the person that has the keys to the room was running late due to the weather. We didn’t get in until almost an hour after we normally open up in the morning.

Other than shoveling the drive which I mentioned yesterday, I spent the rest of the day playing World of Warcraft as the Feast of Winter Veil is underway and Call of Duty 4 as I’m almost at the top ranking with all the extra weapons unlocked. Watched a little TV, played some Tomb Raider Legend which I got from a family friend for some PC work I did for them recently, and basically lazing about as befits as snowy day. I’m sure you guys were much more productive than I was.

I’m getting too old for anime conventions.

As has been stated on more than one occasion I’m a former anime/manga otaku who once ran a website devoted to the topic and spent countless hours traveling to cons and hanging out with people in the industry, but all of that had to fade into the background once I got married and my daughter, Courtney, came to live with me. Courtney since then has picked up the torch of anime otaku and has been running with it ever since, but she’s never had the experience of going to an anime convention before because most of them take place in other states. Turns out Michigan has had one called Youmacon for the past couple of years and it just took place for the third time this weekend. So, being the good father that I am, I offered to take Courtney and one of her friends to the con this weekend and that’s what I spent yesterday doing.

Now when I say I’m getting too old for anime conventions it’s not because I’m so out of date on current anime that I didn’t recognize any of the characters or titles that were on display at the show, though there were plenty of said titles there, nor is it because I think I’ve outgrown watching anime. No, I say I’m getting too old because we were there for some 8 or 9 hours wandering about to different panels and watching people parade around in their cosplay outfits and by the time we got home I hurt something fierce. Not only my back, which gets annoyed anytime I’m on my feet for any length of time, but my legs and my knees were bothering me. Surprisingly enough my feet were fine and usually that’s the first thing to start hurting, but we managed to sit down often enough that my feet were happy.

The con itself was pretty good even though—compared to a lot of cons I’ve been to in the past—this one was fairly small. The dealer room had maybe six companies in there hawking their wares and the selection of items was somewhat limited and overlapping. None of the importers (Viz Media, Tokyo Pop, ADV Films, AnimEigo, etc.) were present and there were no Japanese guests of honor to speak of, though they had plenty of guests from the American side of the industry including a number of English voice actors who were often also directors/producers/translators and so on. Still there were plenty of panels on a wide range of topics and the obligatory rooms dedicated to video and table top gaming.

I think it’s been just over a decade since the last convention I attended and while things have largely stayed the same over the years, some things have changed. For one thing the quality of the Anime Music Videos has gone up considerably giving testament to the availability of inexpensive high quality video editing software on home PCs and the rise of DVD burning. Back in the day the quality of the video tapes often suffered due to the high number of copies of each clip that had to be made in order to splice them together and syncing it all to music was often a hit or miss affair. The better the syncing the more likely the video quality would suffer. Some of the stuff we saw yesterday looked like it came right off of MTV as it was that good.

Another thing that changed is that it seems like there’s a lot more… hugging… going on these days. I’m not talking about the oh-look-it’s-our-friend-so-and-so-let’s-hug-them type hugging, but people walking around holding up signs offering “free hugs” or “glomp me” that gave the whole convention a pseudo-1960’s Free Love vibe to it. It is tempting to make the obvious joke about otaku being so starved for any kind of physical contact, but considering that I’m still an otaku myself it would probably be hypocritical of me to do so.

Along similar lines is the fact that there’s quite a bit more accommodation, at least at this con, for more adult material and one form that seems to be particularly popular (especially among women) is known as Yaoi and is defined as follows:

Yaoi is a publishing genre which originated in Japan and often encompasses manga, dōjinshi, anime, and fan art. It is homosexual love between male characters and is sexually explicit.

Yaoi, outside of Japan, is an umbrella term for all male/male erotic comics made for women from Japan; as well as male/male erotic comics made in the west. The actual name of the genre in Japan is called ‘BL’ or ‘Boy’s Love’. BL is an extension of shoujo and Lady’s categories, but is considered a separate category. Like ‘Yaoi’ is used in the United States, ‘BL’ is used in Japan to include: commercial and amateur works, works with no sex, works with sex, doujinshi about adolescents with little or no sex, works in all types of media – manga, anime, novels, games, and drama CDs with male/male content, and characters of all ages in male/male content. Terms such as yaoi, shounen-ai, tanbi, June, and original June, are all referred to in Japan, as ‘BL’. However, it does not include gay publications.

Though yaoi is sometimes used to refer to any male homosexual content in film and print media, particularly in works created by females, that is generally considered a misuse of the term. Professional Japanese artists, such as Kodaka Kazuma, are careful to distinguish their works as “yaoi,” rather than “gay,” when describing them to English-speaking audiences.

Only in Japan could they have a category of entertainment that deals with homosexual love between men that isn’t considered gay. The popularity of this sub-genre is surprising, or at least it is to someone who’s been out of the convention scene for as long as I have, and there were people of both genders walking around with “I ♥ Yaoi!” buttons and t-shirts on and at least one guy who combined his appreciation of yaoi with the tradition of “hug me” signs. Above and beyond just people openly admitting to enjoying one of the more esoteric forms of anime the convention itself had a number of late-night panels that were listed as being strictly for people 18 years or older and the con took steps to ensure this was enforced by putting a “Y” on the badge of any minor attendees. Considering that there’s always been at least some adult content at every convention I went to in the past, at least in regards to some of the titles/collectibles available in the dealer’s room, this seems like a natural and reasonable growth for the convention circuit. Of course I have no idea if any of the other cons are as accommodating, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were.

One of the great things about attending any anime con are the folks brave enough to engage in cosplay and, as you can see from the couple of photos already posted, they were out in full force at Youmacon. In fact there was a surprising amount of cosplayers for what is arguably a smaller convention and it contained the standard mix of very brave people wearing very spicy outfits to very brave people who probably should have thought twice on the character they decided to dress up as. Courtney was in charge of taking pictures and she’s still a bit of a novice at that so a few of the shots didn’t turn out too well and she also seems to have avoided some of the bravest of the brave. Still she managed to get some good shots of some of the best costumes at the con so I’ve posted a few of them in the extended entry.

But before we go there I’d like to mention one very special attendee of the con that I totally didn’t expect to see there: Jesus Christ himself, in the flesh, so to speak.

Who knew Jesus was an otaku?

As always, you can click any of the pictures for a bigger version.

SEB 30 Second Reviews: “Heroes.”

My daughter is a big fan of NBC’s hit show Heroes and she’s been bugging me to watch it pretty much since it first hit the airwaves. I missed the premiere and it was clear that it wasn’t the sort of show you can jump into the middle of easily so I refused to watch it while it was on. Then she used some of her birthday money to buy herself the first season on DVD and told me I now had no excuse not to watch it. So that’s what I did this weekend in a two day marathon of staying up way too late.

It was better than I expected, but still failed to make me into a fan. It’s the sort of show that I’d watch if I happened to be in the mood to watch TV and it happened to be on at the time, but I wouldn’t make a point to watch it and I’m not going to rush out and buy a Tivo so I can time shift it. Considering that it’s the sort of show you have to keep up with if you want to know what’s going on chances are I won’t be watching season 2 until the DVDs come out. My biggest problem with it was it wasn’t long before it started feeling like a soap opera about super heroes. Everyone was connected to everyone else in at least some minor way and many of the characters interact with each other at various points without realizing it, which is impressive considering they’re scattered all over the world. By mid to late season we learn that this character is actually the daughter of that character that was thought to have died in a fire when she was a baby and was saved by her uncle who shot J.R. until Bobby Ewing woke up and realized the whole thing had been a dream. OK, they didn’t pull the its-all-been-a-dream trick, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had.

The show also seemed to be unable to decide whether it wanted to go with a scientific sounding explanation or a spiritual one for the existence of these people’s powers. Things get off to a bad start in the very first scene in the very first episode when we have an Indian geneticist teaching a class full of students who trots out the “we only use 10% of our brain power” falsehood to explain the potential for people to have super powers. Then we learn that his father used the recently completed human genome project to figure out that powers as disparate as self-powered flight to time travel to the ability to recover from any injury are not only possible, but he’s managed to put together a list of people that might have these abilities. This is one of those situations where being scientifically literate causes a problem with enjoying a TV show. Putting aside for a moment the fact that the human genome project will probably take quite some time to deliver the really spectacular insights, the simple fact is that most of the super powers exhibited in the show violate everything we know about physics to begin with so how you could explain them through genetics alone is a big problem not to mention how this guy managed to put together a list of people, where they live, and what powers they might have based on their genes. Later on in the series there’s a lot of god-talk between characters that seemed like they wanted to try and explain the powers as being gifts from god or something, but my eyes glazed over about half-way through and I don’t remember most of what was said now. I just remember wondering if I was going to sprain my eyes from rolling them so many times in a row.

On the good side the effects were pretty good for a TV series with only a few of them being obviously CGI when you saw them. In fact, watching the making-of special on one of the discs I was surprised at how much they made use of CGI set extensions and effects to flesh out the world. Compared to a lot of attempts at super hero shows on network TV in the past, this one was of consistently higher quality. Most of the characters seemed reasonably complex enough and it was easy to like some of them, hate others, and be sympathetic for those who were in shades of grey. The acting was decent for the most part and outstanding in some cases. When the Nicky/Jessica character switched from one personality to another you could tell instantly just in the shift in tone the actress undertook. That’s a good trick if you can do it.

I have to admit that I was very disappointed in the final battle after all the buildup it received through the whole series. In terms of apocalyptic showdowns it was underwhelming with a fight that lasted only a couple of minutes, very little in the way of awesome powers of destruction being unleashed considering how powerful the two people involved in it were supposed to be, and the obligatory no-one-noticed-the-super-villain-crawled-into-the-sewer scene. I was impressed, however, with just how graphic some of the scenes in the series were. It was also fun to see Christopher Eccleston fresh from Doctor Who show up as well as Star Trek alum George Takei. Overall I thought it was OK, but, as I said earlier, nothing I’d make a point to watch. I could do without some of the soap opera elements it had, but I suspect that’s part of what made it so popular with the masses.