Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Airing of Grievances

A Festivus tradition!

1. Holiday shopping sucks. I know the holidays are a stressful time for a lot of people, and I can't be the only person for whom finding decent presents is the biggest part of the problem. It seems especially bad within my family, but even if my parents and sister all loved comic books, there's still a lot of difficult thought about gifts compressed into December. Must find something original and personal. Can't be too cheap, nor too extravagant. Now that I have a job that pays well I feel guilty getting my parents anything cheap, especially if I know they're getting me something big. However, they still have a lot more wealth and disposable income than me, so they say they don't mind getting me something that costs a couple hundreds of dollars as long as they "know it's what you'd want". And to top it off, whatever I buy now has to be small and sturdy enough to be put in my checked luggage in a couple days. (Yes, I probably worry about this too much.) I mentioned this to my roommates last night and they said they just don't do it. Failing that, I suppose the best way to prevent the problem is to keep it simple and low-key. Unfortunately, I can hardly suggest either of those to my parents on Christmas Eve.

2. I have a ton of work today. (Don't ask why I'm writing this, then...) No doubt my tendency to procrastinate doesn't help, but it's also partly because of an inadvertent four-day weekend (I took Friday as a personal day, and Monday the government was still snowed in). Another reason is that because I've technically changed jobs - same desk and responsibilities and co-workers, but I'm working for a different contractor now; no, I don't think it makes sense either - and have to fill out all those insurance forms and stuff. And I think another reason is a push in the office to finish stuff before people leave for the holidays. What with all that, I think I've had more to do today than I did all last week.

3. Speaking of insurance forms and stuff, the deadline is getting close. I meant to bring the forms to work today and finish them here, but I forgot. I called in and I technically have until Dec. 31 and of course I won't leave it until then - they're mostly complete anyway, the only reason I didn't fax them in last night was because I had some lingering questions for the HR woman - but it's annoying that I screwed up and was worrisome until I called.

4. Speaking of getting snowed in, most of the sidewalks in my neighborhood still aren't plowed or shoveled. This is really annoying. I wound up taking a different bus for part of my commute because the alternatives would be either walk in the street itself past unplowed sections, or flounder through a foot and a half of snow. Complaining about this is a bit hypocritical, since my roommates and I haven't shoveled the walk outside our house and couldn't even find a decent showshovel, but on the other hand we live on a tiny, one-way side street. It would be nice if the county could be bothered to shovel/plow/snowblow the sidewalk of what is probably the second-biggest street in Arlington, not counting highways. But apparently, no, people around here just aren't prepared for winter weather. And I can't spare myself from that either; I need to buy winter boots.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Lots of stuff going on in World of Warcraft. The bigger personal event is, I fiiinally earned the Insane in the Membrane achievement on Saturday. It took a little more than seven months, judging by the date on the achievement I got for the first step of it. I'm a little disappointed that no one has remarked on it out of the blue, other than congratulations when the announcement dinged up there. Bit of a letdown, I confess. But still, the title looks cool. Worth it? Sure. Several sub-achievements, and the rogue I made also hit level 80 (that's the lesser personal event over the weekend). And while I spent a lot of gold to complete it, I'll wind up making a lot of gold back once I finish selling off all the by-products and stuff.

Now what? There's no literal "end" to the game, and if there was it definitely wouldn't be Insane in the Membrane - recognition of having very high reputation with several highly esoteric factions - but I've spent so much time on this that it almost seems that way.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

I know it's weird how I'm getting back into posting a bit after a hiatus from October 2008 to June 2009, and/or weird how three of the last four posts were about purely geeky stuff. I'm no more into WoW and comic books than usual, I don't think, I just seem to have more to say about it than usual.

Other stuff that's going on: a relationship ended weekend before last. Obviously, that sucks and I'm a bit depressed about it, but I had only known her for six weeks so I just can't be all that broken up by it. It was a learning experience, it was fun while it lasted, que sera sera. This past Labor Day weekend I watched two summer blockbusters at a local second-run theater - great place - that I had missed when they were in normal theaters, and I went on a guided tour of Roosevelt Island - also a pretty cool place. A fun weekend, marred only by (a) rain, (b) bad political news and (c) the lack of anything more than just "fun."
I'm finding myself wondering whether it's ethical to raid old-world instances in World of Warcraft. Sounds dumb, but what if I go in there looking for something different from everyone else?

One stumbling block in an epic level 60 quest chain is a hard-to-get material called elementium. I've been stymied on it so far because it can only be found in one raid instance, and the one time I've been there since starting this, I wasn't the only person who needed the stuff. Well, I was reading some comments about it on Wowhead just now, and someone claimed that if you kill the early bosses and the technicians that drop the elementium but nothing after them, they will eventually respawn and you can kill them again and have another chance at elementium.

I'm not sure that's true, but even if it is, most people who want to do old raids want to clear the place. They want the Achievement from killing the last boss, or certain epic weapons or armor as status symbols, and those mostly come from the final bosses too. So when I read that suggestion, I immediately began wondering "how can I get people to quit after the third boss? Hmmm, the fourth boss is tough, maybe if I just don't chip in strategy advice and let a raid get wiped out they'd give up and I'd have the place to myself..."

Which, obviously, would be an assholish thing to do. And I'll at least try doing it the right way a few more times before trying anything weird; maybe I'll be the only person who needs elementium next time. It's just annoying. The same thing comes up in other instances, where the group is trying to clear the place but I just need reputation, which I get from any minibosses and trash mobs just as well as the Big Bad. How much aggravation like repair costs and downtime running around should I put up with if I already have what I was looking for (or part of it) but others don't?

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Driving is safer than flying, they say, even though it doesn't seem that way because plane crashes resulting in dozens or hundreds of deaths are big news but everyone ignores minor car accidents. I'm not sure if this is primarily attributable to the media or human nature or what, but this tendency makes one part of my job harder and more frustrating than it should be.

In 2004 and 2005, two particular passenger boats capsized, one in Baltimore Harbor and the other in a lake in New York State. (Bizarrely enough, now that I think of it, I might have been only five miles from that body of water at the time*.) Between the two accidents, 25 people died and more were injured. In both cases, the boats were operating way outside existing safety regulations.

Among other things, the accidents called attention to the fact that the current standards for passenger weight were set back in the 1960s, and since then people have, to put it delicately, got fat. I'm on the team assigned to write the regulation that will fix this, and the weight issue - set it at the current average as a constant, or peg it to every annual CDC report, or require regular reexamination - is one big sticking point. The first proposal, (before I was assigned to it, not that I would have had much input anyway; my role isn't making policy), judging by public comments, proposed big and frequent and expensive requirements for boat owners. And while safety is a concern, of course, no one has ever died from following the existing regulations or equally strong ones in other places. So maybe the average boat passenger is somehow lighter than the nationwide average person, or maybe the 1960s standards were set very, very broadly just to be on the safe side, or maybe the country has been really lucky. But in either case, our group is working and the regulated industry is worried about what we'll do, even though existing standards have done the job when they have been adequately enforced, it's just that no one can explain why.

Meanwhile, another group member mentioned in an offhand way that five people have died in the last year and a half in parasailing accidents. In one case, the rope broke and the parasailer fell 300 feet. In another case, an employee tried to slide down the line. And there are no regulations of these things. The boats in question are regulated as passenger vessels, but no government standards exist for safe use of parasails. There is some kind of an sub-industry organization that gives out a little seal of approval and stuff, but apparently they don't actually do anything about parasail safety.

But it's just one or two people at a time, so why worry?

* Although "might have been" is referring to one weekend in that general season. And the body of water is longer than it is wide, and even that weekend I would have been five miles away from the far end of that body of water. It's more likely that I was about 90 miles away by car from the accident site, but that doesn't sound nearly so coincidental...

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

So, Disney bought Marvel Comics. I might as well repost what I wrote at Matt Yglesias' blog when I first read about it: Ugh.

I was twitching when I read about it. I haven’t bought a comic in months and I don’t think of myself as a fanboy or Marvel zombie or whatever, but maybe I am after all. I enjoyed almost all the Marvel movies in the last 10 years (I never saw Electra, and Fantastic Four 2 sucked, but other than that I’d call them all watchable, including some that critics hated, and several were excellent), and I liked the X-Men: Evolution TV series, and I bought X-books and Spider-books for years, and I really, really, really don’t want to see them turned into the kind of thing you see on the Disney Channel.

If my white trash hellspawn namesake Miley ever plays Alison Blaire, I might just go postal.

More realistically, it might be no change at all. But still, I can't help worrying about that.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Torn about World of Warcraft.

When Wrath of the Lich King was released, I deleted my rogue. He was the first character I had created, and there was some fun stuff about him, but it just wasn't enough. For the way I play - a little pvp, but mostly pve, in a casual raiding progression guild - there was almost nothing he could do that my main character, a feral druid, couldn't do. Sure, my main was going to be changed to balance, but still, doing the same quests wearing similar gear without the option of all the other druid stuff like healing or tanking didn't appeal to me. Stab, stab, stab, stealth, eat, repeat 31,254 times. Then do some daily quests. I created a Death Knight with the same look, name and professions, and it was like my old character all over again, but with new and different methods of combat.

But I also found I really like achievements (a new feature added in the Wrath expansion) on my main. And for one important achievement, (Insane in the Membrane, if anyone is curious) a rogue is required. So I rerolled a new one. The new one wouldn't be a serious character, just designed and specced and geared for soloing and supporting my main for his achievement. Leveling him here and there in my free time has been fun. Along the way someone suggested asking Blizzard to restore my deleted character, but after thinking about it a bit, I shrugged that off.

Recently, I got him to level 54 and stalled. That's because level 54 is close to the level where my main could use his help with the achievement (but not quite there yet), but my main still has a lot more to do before he needs that help, so there's no point in getting him past that point yet. And, recently, the next expansion was announced. It's still a long way off, but one part of the announcement said that many of the old zones of the game would be revamped. New towns, new landmarks, new quests...

When I read about that, it hit me that I only own one character who leveled through vanilla WoW. "When I was your age, I had to walk through two feet of snow every day to get to school! And it was uphill. Both ways!" people say stuff like that because it's fun to say stuff like that - and I lost half my chances to say stuff like that when I deleted my old rogue. The new rogue has been taking a more streamlined approach to leveling, skipping everything he can, and more importantly there's already a lot of stuff that you can't do anymore. And when I deleted the old one, also, I didn't realize that achievements would become a big part of the game, and he had a lot of achievements from back in the day. So almost on a whim this past weekend, I put in a petition to get the deleted character restored, and I also restarted leveling a low-level character I haven't played in a while, a shaman. She was created after vanilla WoW, but still, it's leveling through the world before it changes, which is the point.

Earlier tonight, I logged on, and there was my old rogue, back again. Undeleting works, yay - except he's naked. That's right, when I deleted him, I figured I shouldn't waste all his stuff. So I sold everything I could and mailed the gold to my main. Heh, um, oops. So now I have to choose: level my recently undeleted rogue, penniless and clad in really crappy gear, or continue with the new rogue, or level the shaman, or what?

To summarize for people unfamiliar with the game and for my own internal editor: I have too many options, none of them are really enticing at the moment, and the promise of interesting stuff is still way in the future. Oh well. I suppose I'll pay attention to real life for a while. :)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Like I said last week, I tend to drink coffee in cycles, and I have since I was at the newspaper. (Or at least, I used to have that cycle.) First I have a little in the morning - from the cafeteria here, a 12 oz. cup; from the kitchen in Vermont, one coffee cup - for a few days, then a morning comes along when I have a lot to get done or when I was up late the night before and I have a little more - here, a 16 oz. cup; back at my old job, two cups. After I get acclimated to having a medium cup in the morning, another day comes along when I need extra and I have a large cup. Then, eventually, I have a soda or iced coffee in the afternoon.

And then, by Saturday afternoon or Sunday, I'll have a dull, constant headache. I think this is because I got used to a certain amount of caffeine and then I haven't had any yet for a day or two, because I rarely have any on the weekends. This makes me realize I need to cut back to one small cup in the mornings.
Um, maybe it's not time for a Kindle after all.
Unfortunately the publishers decide how many licenses, that is devices, a book can be on at any one time. While most of the time that will be five or six different devices there will be times when it’s only one device.

At the present time there is no way to know how many devices can be licensed prior to buying the book.

In other words, if his information was accurate, and the runaround I got this afternoon does make me continue to wonder, once you purchase a book you will have access to it going forward...

You just may have some hoops to go through along the way.

Realistically, getting a Kindle isn't a high priority for me, especially not now that I've got my computer working again after jumping through a few hoops myself. At first I was impressed by Dell technical support, because a technician delivered and installed a new hard drive Tuesday afternoon, which seems pretty prompt. By Thursday or Friday I was pissed off at them, because while the new hard drive was working the Internet connection wasn't, but it turned out that I wasn't filling in the network key in the right place or something. So overall, good job Dell. (I had one blood pressure spike this weekend when my computer crashed again while playing WoW and I realized that the problem wasn't the old hard drive, or at least the crashes were a separate problem from the hard drive, and it must be the video card after all. I turned down my video settings - hindsight being 20/20, I didn't need them all set to the max, even if it does make the game prettier - and no problems since then. I sure as hell wish I had tried that two weeks ago.)

So, to summarize: about a week of hassle, at least partly my own fault, but it didn't cost anything except for the new external hard drive, which is the kind of thing I should be using anyway.

A related concern that the Kindle thing reminds me of, though, is that I haven't got around to checking on my iTunes music library in the files recovered from my old hard drive. Some of the songs were bought from iTunes and some were copied from the CDs of friends and family who are now in other states, so all in all, it would be a lot to lose. And I doubt the files are unrecoverable, but I really hope iTunes isn't too assholeish about using files on too many different devices. I had one computer when I was in college, I got a new one in 2005 when I graduated and I got this current computer as a gift to myself after I got my first paycheck at my current job in late 2008. I also used to have an iPod and still do use an iPod mini. If any of those iTunes files are older than 2005, then that's five different licenses right there, not counting this new hard drive...

Monday, June 15, 2009

I'm not sure if my computer picked a good weekend to go on vacation* or not. One advantage is that June is a good time for it. Sunday was sunny and hot but not too hot and all around the best day imaginable to spend time running a few errands on foot. And I made headway on some bookkeeping and cleaning up and stuff. Not much, but some. It's not a big deal either way, I've long since stopped beating myself up over it, I don't live with my mother any more; but it's just nice to be a bit more organized.

The downside is, obviously, being so cut off. Apparently there was some kind of election irregularity in Iran? Everyone's thinks it was fixed? Friday I had just found a couple interesting personals ads, and then I lose my only viable** Internet access? And I can't play WoW. There's nothing time-sensitive going on right now, and it's not like I'm indispensable to my guild, but it's annoying.

All around, by Sunday I felt like I was in detox. I'm on the high side of my caffeine cycle (I'll explain later), and I'm trying to eat more healthily. So I'm reducing my intake of coffee and of unhealthy foods and going cold turkey on WoW.

Also, I need a Kindle or something (but shopping around for one is, of course, hard to do without a working computer at home!). I read fast. If I read enough to even put a dent in my free time, then I'd need either a lot more storage space or a Kindle or membership to a good library. Storage space is mostly used up in this house and libraries usually don't have newly released books and I can't reread library books I've returned the way I can pick up a familiar old novel off the shelf, so that leaves a Kindle or similar off-brand toy.

* By which I mean, it won't start. Can't load Windows. I had been having problems now and then with the thing shutting down on its own for the past couple weeks, and Saturday morning the thing was running so slowly it was basically not usable, and when I shut it down and tried to restart it, it wouldn't. By Sunday afternoon I had exhausted my technical expertise and began to suspect that the problem was the hard drive itself, and a tech support guy at Dell agreed with me. Hopefully their technician will come to replace it on Friday afternoon at the latest. Hopefully they will be able to recover the data on the current hard drive, some of which is irreplaceable. Argh. However, there's no need to say "hopefully" about one thing: I'm definitely going to be better about backing up the important stuff.

** I'm not cut off, of course. I'm typing this at work, and some Web sites that are blocked at work, like Hotmail and Facebook, I can just access on my cell phone. But my phone has a three-inch screen and feeble Internet connection, so it really sucks for anything like browsing.