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Latest Humorous T-shirt Slogan:
"You Wish!"
This one has to be taken in context to be appreciated. The girl wearing this belly shirt was maybe 5'0" tall, with a muffin top going on, despite the fact that she was clearly in her third trimester of pregnancy. In addition she was wearing a thong that came up past her low-rise jeans and pushed her muffin top down over the edge to really emphasize the roll. I'm not in perfect shape so I don't expect that others should be, but when you are wearing that shirt, along with the rest of the outfit, you open yourself to scrutiny (and perhaps random looks of horror).

It's fun to hate:
The Soccer Moms who insist that they drive gas-guzzling SUV's for the safety of their children despite the fact that they are 6 times more likely to be in a rollover accident than any other vehicle. It's like beating your child unconscious with the butt of your gun so that he will remain on the floor, thus making him less likely to be hit by a random bullet coming through the front window.

When Shadowtwin reigns supreme:
There will be mandatory, passive birth control required to participate in any form of government assistance. If you can't afford to raise your child on your own we are here to help you, but we must first make sure that your reproductive organs are adequately contained. If you don't like that policy all you have to do is support your kids your damn self!
Vote Shadowtwin!

Wildly inaccurate, yet shockingly precise, predictions based completely on happenstance and arbitrary universal fluctuations.
Your Horoscope:

Sagitarius: 11/22-12/21
A typographical error in your Church's newsletter will lead to you performing sex acts on dozens of anonymous strangers in your pursuit of "oral highground."

Capricorn: 12/22-1/19
The stars did recently tell your wife to "listen to her heart" regarding whether or not she should leave you. The stars did not intend for you to listen to her heart. But once you used that bonesaw on her sternum (not trusting the stethoscope which just responded with a cryptic thumping sound), we're pretty sure she made up her mind anyway.

Aquarius: 1/20-2/18
The stars would like to apologize for stating in their last prophecy, "Be wary of the stranger you meet at beach this weekend. The stars aren't sure why, but they don't trust him." Through a cosmic hiccup, that information was supposed to be released this month. The August prophecy should have read, "A dark and handsome stranger will approach you on the beach, profess his love for you, and sweep you away for a jetset marriage. After which you will lead a long, happy, prosperous, healthy life as the Queen of a small island nation." We apologize for any inconvenience this error may have caused.

Pisces: 2/19-3/20
Your new stopwatch will allow you to time how long you can hold your breath underwater down to the thousandth of a second. Unfortunately, poor planning will mean that you are not able to actually share the information with anyone.

Aries: 3/21-4/19
Your innovative new device for beauticians to use while giving pedicures can be wildly successful and make you quite wealthy IF you change the name. Trust us, no one is going to buy a "Ped-O-File".

Taurus: 4/20-5/20
Your Mother always told you to wear clean underwear just in case there was an accident and paramadics had to see them. But as you board that plane today, the stars want you to know that you needn't worry about it. The debris field will be more than 8 square miles, making it impossible to find most human remains. Not to mention that the ensuing fire burned so hot that it disintegrated not only all fabric, but most of the thin metals aboard as well.

Gemini: 5/21-6/21
You just had to get that genital piercing, didn't you? The stars tried to warn you not to, but you went ahead and did it anyway... Now all your worst fears will come to bear when, at a campground this weekend, you run afoul of this guy:

Cancer: 6/22-7/22
The less traveled by areas of the Grand Canyon's north rim offer some of the most breathtaking views of this natural wonder. You will soon find out they also include some of the worst footings and none of the handrails. They do, however, provide equally awe-inspiring, terminal velocity impacts.

Leo: 7/23-8/22
The stars heard your pleas, begging for someone who you could share your love with and embrace for the rest of your life. If you are still single, throw your arms around the closest person to you at 3:44pm GMT on Dcember 9th -That'll be the one. Trust us, you won't have time to be picky...

Virgo: 8/23-9/22
The stars have piled up most of your things on the front porch. You can stay at a friend's house, but you aren't coming back home until you admit what you did and apologize. The stars' Mother was right about you... (you must have really pissed them off; the stars were in tears while they told me this)

Libra: 9/23-10/22
The stars have been doing a little thinking and a lot of math. The population of planet earth is roughly 6,796,590,704. That means that roughly 566,382,558 people share each astrological sign. About 18,620,796 have the same birthday. Based on average life expectancy as many as 248,277 people were born on the same day, in the same year, for every zodiac sign. How can one statement possibly predict the future of all of them? Ehh, fuck it. "A full moon while Venus is rising is an omen of good things to come."

Scorpio: 10/23-11/21
They say you never know how you are going to react to a crisis. After a home invasion this weekend you will: You will scream, "Do whatever you want to my wife, but leave me alone!" You will then create a distraction by throwing your newborn at the assailant as you dive through the window to safety. Now you know.

Music lost to history:

Aerosmith - Dream On When I started doing these, I could never have imagined that I would be putting an Aerosmith song here. Since I was born in 1974, this song is well before my generation. It was recorded in 1972 and released in 1983 on Aerosmith's Self-Titled Album, but to read the information on it at Wikipedia most of us would become familiar with it from a re-release in 1976.

Like most of the music being released in the late 60's/early 70's that was pushing the rock-n-roll envelope, Dream On relies heavily on solid composition and and melody. Before the era of the modern effects processor, these bands had no distortion to hide behind (or very little), and synthesized instruments hadn't yet made their way into music. In that way the music always sounds more raw to us today because, quite simply, it was. While it seems laughable to think about today, music like this was so far removed from the bubble-gum pop of the 50's that it still wasn't accepted into the mainstream. As the baby-boomers became the target demographic, the rock-n-roll movement really started to pick up speed, with bands like Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith clearing the path for the much darker and heavier bands like Black Sabbath.

While I (and most of my generation) are probably far more familiar with the Aerosmith of the late 80's and early 90's, the reason this song makes it onto my MLtH page comes down to one thing: Age. Not necessarily the age of the song; In fact, as I sat down to do the research for this today, I had no idea when it was released, but would have guessed (closely) the mid 70's. Tyler was born March 26, 1948, meaning that this song was written when he was only 24 years old. I'm not sure why, but I have always thought this song was pretty amazing given his age at composition. I suppose it is human nature to wax poetic about the days of yore and the imminent passage of time, but the melody sets a mood that makes you feel it right along with him. As the song nears the end and his lyrics become more more frenzied, you can almost feel the pain (longing?) in his voice. Listen to it with headphones and no distraction sometime, you'll see what I mean.

I wrote a short bit some time ago about Kelly Sweet's cover of this song (see the video on Youtube). While I have since gotten over the initial hatred I felt towards the cover of the song, I still just can't like it. The words are there; she hits the notes; but I just can't hear it in her voice. As if there is somthing very personal about the song and Tyler's deliverance of the lyrics that just can't be duplicated. At least to me.

That said, I have heard Aerosmith doing the song with an orchestra, and it also seems to lack the passion of the original. So perhaps the thing that I like so much about it is the under-produced, raw sound of it, or it may be that I am still hearing it through the ears of that impressionable youth that heard if for the first time in a dusty old Van with my Uncle Art. Either way, it seems it is Lost to History.

Music Lost to History Archive

I Can't Believe it's Not Porn!
WhorePresents.comYep, it's not porn. It's not a site with gifts for sale either, which is probably a good thing since I can't imagine that any woman would be at all flattered to get a gift -no matter how nice- in a box that says "Whore" on it.

Daily Reading:
Magazine Man
Shane Nickerson
Wil Wheaton
Hoyazo's Poker Blog

My reading list changes from time to time, and there are many sites that I visit that are not on the list. They are listed in the order that I visit them, enjoy!

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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The luck of the donkey

Usually when I get to the showdown in hold 'em, if the other guy has triple or quadruple the stack that I do I will just give it up. It really isn't worth the time to try to fight my way back, especially since I am already in the money. I thought I did that today, but instead of calling me all in, the guy left me with $40 in chips -to his stack of $13,460. Why? I gots no idea.

I didn't even have enough chips to make the blind at that point, so I was all in on the next hand. And the hand after. And the hand after. I just had to take a screenshot of it, this is simply unbelievable luck:

I doubled up on five consecutive hands, then went on to win a total of eleven in a row. I took the lead away from him on the fourteenth hand, and was actually feeling a little bit bad for him.

Shortly after this, we agreed to go all in on a hand regardless of the cards. He happened to have better cards that time, so he won. But the chat that was going on while I was doubling up on every hand was simply priceless.

I will just file this under the "I doubt anyone would believe me if I didn't have a screenshot" section.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The things aging rocker say

I was taking in reruns of the vh1 special the history of hard rock, not to be confused with the history of heavy metal(which I also watched), or the history of rock & roll(which wasn't on this weekend), if you asked me why I was watching at it, I would stare at you blankly for a few minutes before finally admitting that I didn't know. Stupid shows and their stupid luring you in by counting backwards!

So as the countdown got down to the top five I was pretty sure who was going to be in it, just not sure how they were going to be ordered. It is vh1 after all, it was entirely possible that Led Zepplin could lose to the Backstreet Boys, thankfully that didn't happen.

When they started doing celebrity clips about Nirvana, I laughed really hard when they got to the clip from C. C. Deville (who has probably the worst conceived name in the history of really shitty hair bands). He said, "Nirvana was like a musical enema. For me anyway. I loved it."

Isn't that an odd fetish?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Fear the donkey!

I managed to win three poker tournaments yesterday. They were of three different monetary buy-in values, one was $1, one was $3 and one was $5. The prize awards were 10.50, 15.00, and 22.50 respectively. In these low dollar tournaments I am now able to finish in the money about half of the time, actually winning maybe 20% of those, so not like I am going to make a career out of it or anything.

Funny thing happened in one of the games though. There were 8 out of 9 players remaining when I got dealt a pair of aces. I checked to get into the pot but didn't bet at all, I didn't want to scare any of the other guys out of it. When the flop brought up another ace and two low cards (none of them suited) I knew that I had them beat, but I still only checked. I don't remember the exact cards that came, but I know the first card on the board was an ace and the last one was a king, there was no possibility of a flush or a straight based on the cards. When the king came up on the river, one guy went all in and two others quickly called. I raised all-in to get as many chips as possible on the table. Again, I don't remember exactly what all their cards were, but I busted two of them out and completely crippled the third.

As the next hand started, one of the guys said, in observer chat, "stupid donk didn't even bet with three aces." Although he didn't manage the spelling or punctuation. I didn't reply to it, but someone else at the table did, saying "yeah, you obviously played that hand way better than he did." The observer didn't say anything else.

So it is that I have chosen my poker icon. Now that I know that playing conservatively to try to get everyone else to throw their chips at me equates to being a donk, I shall embrace it. Fear the Donkey!


Fun with numerology

As I was reading through my Bathroom Reader today, I happened across a little thing about numerology. I had never thought of the possibility that the number of the house you live in could have a great impact on your life because, well, they are really just assigned arbitrary numbers in an ascending or descending fashion and have nothing whatsoever to do with you. Then there is the fact that most people live with families, thus meaning that the number would be the same for every one of them.

At any rate, you are supposed to add up all the numbers in the address and continue doing so until you get a single digit. For example 11455 adds up to 16, which then adds up to seven. I started to think of the houses that I have lived in over the years, or at least the ones that I can remember the numbers of, and I noticed a trend.

The number of the house I live in now is 325. The number of the house I grew up in was 865. The number of the garage I lived in briefly was 955. Adding each of the numbers up on each of them resulted in a 1. Maybe there really is something to this superstition? Here is what it says about addresses that add up to 1:

Because it's the first number, 1 is considered very powerful. It symbolizes independence, ambition, and new beginnings. A 1 address is said to be good for artists, the self-employed, and anyone else who has a home office and expects to do a lot of work there. It's also good for people with strong egos.

Oh my God! It's as if they know me! It is just vague enough to be applicable to anyone, yet uses such great words -independence, ambition- that, of course you are going to think apply to you.

Then I went to try to find a link to a page that had all of the numbers just in case you wanted to check out your own address. I google searched for "address numerology" and just hit the
first one I found. But, here is what it says about addresses that add up to the number 1:

A "1" property reflects assertion, exploration, newness, impulse, trying things out, a new start. Males (or your masculine side) will often dominate in this place. Verve, swagger, vivacity, quick reactions, quick passions are the norm. Ambitious people, especially career singles, often choose a "1" address -- and benefit from it, so long as they don't want to build a married life. This house often ages rapidly, needs repairs. But if you lack vim and vigor in your life, it's the place to be. Best to rent rather than buy, as 1's tend to lag in market appreciation. If you want to develop or subdivide a property, 1 is a good number because it vibrates well to cutting, dividing, building, carving a place out of the wilderness. You get a new start here!

It says "new start", but other than that it doesn't seem to have much in common with the other one. Isn't there some kind of standardized numerology code or something? It is as if they are just making shit up as they go. That seems so unprofessional.

This online version also says that you are supposed to count the name of the street as well as the direction associated with your street, which makes absolutely no sense. How in the fuck does "park" or "west" have anything to do with numbers? Well, it clearly does, using the following formula:

For letters, use this table:

A=1, B=2, C=3, D=4, E=5, F=6, G=7, H=8, I=9

J=1, K=2, L=3, M=4, N=5, O=6, P=7, Q=8, R=9

S=1, T=2, U=3, V=4, W=5, X=6, Y=7, Z=8

E.g., "Elm Street" = 5(e)+3(l)+4(m) = 12 = 1+2 = 3 (ignore "Street").

Okay, I'll try this again. Doing it this way ends in eight for all of the places I can remember. Let's see what the chart says about 8 addresses:

8 is symbolic of power, it is the only number that connects beginning to end making it the strongest of the numbers. People who live in 8 houses tend to be extremely strong of mind and body. The strength and power come at a cost though: people who live in 8 houses tend to place entirely too much stock in random occurrences and chance, thus negating the mental strength and power of the address.

Okay, I made that one up. But, how long did it take you to figure that out? Anyway, here is what it really says about 8 houses:

If you live in an 8, your life is serious. The 8 address brews deep change, usually through the agencies of sex, finance or health. An 8 address brings the hidden forces of nature to the surface. You'll delve into secrets here. Your interest will grow in investments and your net worth. You might become wealthy, or you could lose big-time, depending on your karma and astuteness. Pregnancy occurs. Extra-marital temptations arise. Young couples can build their empires here, but they should be deeply in love first, for this property indicates many long, slow, deep changes in how you relate to each other. Honesty is essential. Morals need careful cultivation in every area; you'll be lured toward "power plays." This property tends to appreciate well, even very well, but that's not assured. This is a perfect "business premise" for a psychiatrist, editor, diagnostician, researcher, gynecologist, investor, or handler of other people's money. (But they should live in a 4 or other place, to enjoy a rest from work.)

Wow, that is so me! Except for the pregnancy part, and the extra-marital temptations, and the "power plays". Actually, I think that is the least like me out of all the possible options. Thankfully, I only have to go to the third search result (the second one was pretty lame) to find a numerology assessment that figures out the number for you (very scientific this numerology stuff). The beauty is that I can keep changing the way I enter the address until I find the entry that I like the most. I mean should it really be 325 East 8th Street, 325E. 8th St., 325 East 8th St., 325 E. 8th Street, I could probably sit here and come up with a couple dozen different ways to enter it, but I only need 9.

So that is where I concluded my scientifically calculated, really for real this time, house number assessment. Keep in mind that the fact that I entered my address several times until I found the one I liked best does not negate the infallibility of the scientific process. (if you don't like the results you are getting just go ahead and enter the number 1, then 2, then 3, etc. Once you find the result you are looking for you can manipulate your address until it matches up.)

Sunday, May 28, 2006


I have been working on a new Arthur Witles story. In this one I have decided that it is time for Witles and Ampere to tackle a tough issue: God. Not God in the sense that you or I would think of it, but God in the sense that a written character would think of it. After all, the characters would not exist were it not for me writing about them. I am having a lot of fun writing this one.

The story was going to be about how Ampere met his wife, but as I began to write the story I went back and read over the dialogue that was supposedly spoken while our heroes were in peril and realized that I had them speaking as though they were at a cocktail party. I found that pretty humorous. Here is an excerpt:

It was a lazy afternoon. Well, not really a lazy afternoon per se, but
the type of afternoon that has the affect of making one feel lazy; warm, balmy
with only the slightest hint of the horrible gases that are slowly choking you to
death. At least that was the case for Arthur Witles, who, through no fault of his
own (to hear him tell the story) found himself locked in an airtight chamber
somewhere near the docks. While it is difficult to be sure exactly what the gas
that was slowly killing him was, it can be assumed that it wasn't the emission
from automobiles over the last several decades, unless someone had the foresight
to concentrate all of those emissions and put them in a huge metal canister, affix
it to the wall in the airtight chamber near the docks and open up the valve (and
what an ingenious crime that would be, killing someone with nothing more than the
chemicals that are already in your body).

Currently, Arthur Witles was assessing the predicament.

"Quite ingenious! I am astounded at the level of detail they have
achieved! Not only have they managed to trap us in this chamber, but they have
done it in such a way as to make it nearly impossible to escape!"

"So they have," I replied, gasping for another breath of the putrid air,
"I can't help but notice that you said escape was only NEARLY impossible. Does
that mean that you have a plan?"

"Of course I have a plan. It may seem the perfect imprisonment/execution
chamber, but in reality it has one fatal flaw..."

Knowing Witles as long as I have, I have become accustomed to him pausing
between telling you that he knows the answer and the actual conveying of said
answer. What I find truly remarkable though is that Witles actually manages to
audibly communicate the dots of ellipses. Most would just stop talking and then
start again, or possibly trail off; Witles actually says "period, period, period".


"Wit 'Uls!"


I know that you like to build the anticipation as much as
possible before you tell me the great secrets that you discover, but in this case
I must insist that you just get to it already! I am barely clinging to
consciousness and I fear that you are doing no better."

"Yet, you managed to speak such an intelligible sentence."

"I didn't say that right now, I went back and wrote it in later."

"Then how did I hear it?"

"I don't know. I guess that is one of the great mysteries of the

"It seems pretty fishy to me."

"Can we discuss this later, please!"

"Oh, very well then." Witles took on his most dignified posture, at least
as dignified as one can be while hog tied and chained to large metal pipe. "Our
captors have failed to note that the location of our prison is below tide level."

"What, exactly, does that have to do with anything?"

"Well. It certainly must have been their intention to poison us with the
gas that they are releasing into the room. There is absolutely no way that the
gas is going to kill us, this room will be completely underwater in less than an
hour! The idiots."

"Perhaps they intended for the gas to render us unconscious, but their
ultimate goal was for us to drown."

"Oh, I hadn't thought of that. Remarkable! They have this planned even
better than I previously thought."

"Yes, it truly is remarkable. Now can you tell me exactly what your plan
is? What are you going to do?"

"I am going to sit right here and wait."

"Wait for what?"

"Wait to see what happens."

"We are going to die, Witles, that is what is going to happen!"
"No, I don't think so."

"How can you be so sure?"

"Because you wrote about it."

"I haven't written about it yet!"

"Yes you have. You told me that you added in that line later. That says
to me that we have survived the situation and you have already written about it."

I wanted to argue with him, but he made a good point. Besides, I was
already passed out on the floor.

Had I been conscious, I would have seen Witles expertly slip out of the
the ropes that were entangling him, discard the chains with minimal effort, and
make his way over to me. Had I been conscious, I would have felt as Witles
reached inside my jacket and started feeling around. Had I been conscious, Witles
wouldn't have been.

Now Witles was reading through my notebook. Had I been conscious I would
have heard him mumbling as he read through various lines I had penned over the
last few days, until at last he shouted, "What good does this do me? These notes
stop just before you went unconscious!"

But I was unconscious, so I didn't hear or see any of that. I just
remember waking up on his couch some hours later.

Like all of the Arthur Witles stories, it is meant to be about as subtle as a nuclear (nukular?) warhead, and I think I have managed to pull that off.

I will post the story after I finish it. Finally the world will have definitive answers to questions about God.

Rejoice now! Bask in the warm glow that is megalomania! Next I will start a band and finally release Chinese Democracy, thus doing what neither God or Axl Rose was capable of. Then I will build a brand new skyscraper for my head to live in...

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Even more on Poker

I have been playing an occasional sit and go (SNG) games at Poker Stars over the last couple of months. What I have found especially odd is that when playing in real money games the level of play actually seems lower than in the play money games. I am not sure if there are actually people out there who have seen Texas Hold 'Em on T.V. and assume they know how to play, so they just jump right into the real money games or what, but the competition just seems lacking --and that isn't because I am some sort of an expert player.

I have now played in about ten of these tournaments, all at the $10 + $1 table, and have been playing pretty well. Unfortunately my best finish is second place, as evidenced by the image below:

Second place isn't so bad, especially considering the frequency with which I finish in that position. I have become quite proficient at being the best of the losers!

The problem that I really have when it comes to the heads up play is that I just want it to end. The tournament that I was in this morning had been going for nearly an hour and a half by the time we got to heads up play and I really had to piss. I tried to get all in on a pair of kings but the other guy folded. That is what happens in heads up (at least in my experience); you both wait until you have a good hand to start risking your chips, but when the other guy is risking his you know he has a good hand. I suppose it would eventually happen that both players have a decent hand, but I am not willing to sit around for an hour to see.

On a standard 10+1 tournament the prize awards are $45 for first, $27 for second and $18 for third. As long as I finish in second I have more than doubled my money and that is good enough for me, again noting the frequency with which I am able to do it. If I was losing ten tournaments to every one I finish in the money I would probably have a completely different opinion.

Now to the boring, technical rambling.

PokerStars keeps all kinds of stats logged for your viewing pleasure (well, probably not pleasure but they are available if you want to see them). I was looking through my statistics in the last ten tournaments that I played and noticing a trend. In the tournaments that I finished in second place I stayed in to see the flop less than 50% of the time, while in the ones I lost the number was always higher -capped by my only last place finish where I saw an amazing 87% of the flops, including every flop from either blind position. Thankfully that woefully bad play was in the first tournament I ever played and has not been repeated.

The most difficult part of adjusting to playing for real money was training myself to be able to fold from the blinds. For unknown reasons I was putting too much faith in my cards if I was in one of the blinds, most likely since I was already in the pot. It doesn't make any sense though; that off suit 3-9 isn't any better when you already have money on it, in fact it is probably worse. Yet I was somehow able to talk myself into believing that the flop could turn a 9,9,3, which it could, it is just extremely unlikely. The fact that one of the first hands I was ever dealt (in a real money game) was a 10-3 off suit, which I folded only to see 3,3,10 on the flop probably had a bit to do with my unrealistic expectations.

While I still have not read any books or articles on how to play the game I am getting much better at it. I know that I am still seeing entirely too many flops, but I don't know if I will ever be able to break that habit, especially when the blinds are at 10/20. I mean it is only 20 chips to see if I can catch a full house on the flop, might as well take the chance, right? (that is actually 100% wrong if I plan to finish in the money but I can't seem to make myself stick to it.)

The one thing that I am really lacking though is the ability to quickly assess the best possible hand. I thought I was pretty good at that, until the hand that eliminated me from a tournament last week. I had an A K of clubs, the flop brought up 3h, Ad, Kh, so the best possible hand at that point was a three of a kind Aces, I am pretty sure on that one. When the turn brought up the Ace of hearts that gave me a full house with Aces over Kings, the best possible hand. I bet big and got called by one guy, I assumed he had a pair of Kings or he would have folded. The river brought up a 3 of clubs, so there was no chance for a flush or a straight. I bet small and he called me all in, I took that action with 100% confidence. At this point I absolutely knew that he had a pair of kings and was betting on his full house Kings over Aces, which I was going to absolutely smash with my Aces, or, worst case scenario, he also had A K in which case we would split the pot. I was simply dumbfounded when his cards showed a pair of threes, thus giving him a four of a kind. I was so preoccupied with the aces and kings that the thought never occurred to me that the guy would still be in it on threes. The guy did get extremely lucky to get that three on the river for sure, but I didn't even recognize that there was a hand that could beat me.

That is what I need to get better at. I don't really mind losing, although I obviously would prefer to win. There have now been two occasions where I was dead sure that I had a hand won only to be beaten by a hand that I had never considered. Once I am able to at least recognize those possible hands in the limited time I have to act I will be a much better player. Maybe then I will start finishing in first instead of second.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Well I thought it was funny anyway

I go to the site a couple of times to look at their recent photos. A lot of them are really funny, but not funny in a way that I could post here (since when do I have standards?). I found this one to be particularly amusing, cause it just has to be true or the guy who had it done would never have thought it up:

The only problem with the boners website is that it can go from a cute little picture like that to something that is SO not safe for work with just a little click of the 'next' button. Keep that in mind if you ever check out the site.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Achieving Goals

I have been playing Guild Wars a lot since Factions was released. One of the things that the new expansion game offers is titles. There are many different titles that can be achieved; explorer titles, PvP titles, skill hunter titles, and many others. After reading about the titles, I saw one called survivor and thought that it would probably be the most difficult to achieve, therefore I decided that I simply had to do it.

All you have to do to earn the title of Survivor is make it to level 20 (the highest character level in the game) without ever dying. Having played hardcore characters back in the Diablo II days, I figured I would be able to do this without much of a problem, but(that needs to be a bigger but) BUT there are a few key differences between Guild Wars and Diablo II that I didn't take into consideration before I began to try.

In Diablo II if you wander outside to quest without any other human players in your party the game is set to players level 1, where if you walk out with a full group it is set to players level 8; In Guild Wars there is no such option, it is exactly as difficult with one player as it is with eight. You can take henchmen with you, but the computer controlled players, while helpful, are not capable of thought. Thus they do not have the ability to anticipate or prepare for a battle in any way before you actually get into it. The henchmen also like to try to resurrect people in mid battle, which would be good if they didn't have to actually stand right in the middle of the combat to do it. Despite their drawbacks, I knew that I was going to have to achieve the survivor title with the henchmen; that was the only way I could maintain absolute control.

Another difference between Diablo II and Guild Wars, and this is a huge one, is town portals. In Diablo II you could throw up a town portal before battle and if the battle got too intense you could step into the portal to be instantly zapped back to town. Guild Wars doesn't have anything like that. If you are in a battle you are in it until its completion, whether that means your victory or your death. It is possible to run away from battle, but with the henchmen in tow they will continue to battle while you try to run, always keeping the foes within range to hit you with spells and projectiles, making sure that you are losing health just a bit faster than you can heal. There are times when that I have successfully defeated a group, or ran completely out of range, only to die because I was not able to remove a hex or condition. This would be another obstacle I had to overcome.

In Diablo II you could fill your inventory up with full rejuvenation potions that would instantly restore all your life and health. In Guild Wars there are no potions of any kind; all healing and energy regeneration must be done by spells or signets, and nothing casts instantly. Every character class has a couple of spells that have cast times of a quarter of a second or so, but the only one that has the capability to cast a heal spell that quickly is the Monk, and even then the Monk only has one or two spells that cast that quickly, and you don't get them until much later in the game. The majority of the quick casting spells are for condition removal or interrupting the enemy, which are both quite useful but not as usefully as a rejuvenation potion would be.

Then there is the AI. Unlike Diablo II, Guild Wars actually has intelligence in their AI. The foes will pick one character in the group and spike him (everyone hits him/her with their most powerful skill all at the same time), and if you don't have some sort of protection spell on you when hit, you will die. Even at level 20 the most health any character can have is 590, and that would be with a rune of superior vigor (which is extremely expensive) and with a Hale (+30 health) staff of Fortitude (+30 health). 480 is the base max health, and most have about 450 instead so that they can use runes to increase their skills' effectiveness. Some of the monsters, although not many, can hit for 230 or so in a single hit, so without some sort of protection you are dead before you can even cast a heal.

All that being said, Guild Wars is set up so that you can learn your skills as you progress through the game. The first ten levels or so could be completed without dying even if you had never played the game and never used a healing spell. In fact the first fifteen levels are probably gimmes. But, and much like Diablo II, the levels require more experience to achieve the higher you get. I am not exactly sure on the level progression, but I think it takes more experience to get from level 14 to level 15 than it takes to get from level 1 to level 10. Level 20 is achieved at 140,600 experience and if you are killing monsters that are about the same level as you are you get about 20 experience per kill (though the majority of the experience comes in chunks of 1,000 or more from doing quests and missions).

Well, I did achieve my goal. I had a few brushes with death along the way, there was one time that I was down to 33 health and still degenerating before I was finally able to get the condition removed and start healing. That was pretty damn close. It was not nearly as difficult as I thought it was going to be, although it did require a hell of a lot of patience. I had to go at about one-quarter the pace that I would normally play to make sure that I could pull the smallest groups possible. I also upgraded my armor at every opportunity, while I would normally only do about two sets of armor for the entire game. But I made it, and that is all that matters; I achieved my goal.

Then I set my sites on the next goal: Level 2 survivor. Level 2 is achieved at something like 550,000 exp. Well, level 2 survivor didn't go nearly as well as level 1 survivor did.

I wandered out the door and got into exactly one battle before this happened. I was on the receiving end of a spike that included a mesmer boss (mass degen). I fell like a sack of hammers. I didn't even have time to just close the game it was so fast. So now I will just have to use my experience gained, 145,341, as my new goal when I try to make a survivor.

There is one way that the survivor character in Guild Wars is better than the Hardcore character in Diablo II though; I can still play the Guild Wars character, had this been in Diablo II I would have to start all over.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Thoughts on Factions

The game was released a couple of weeks ago, and of course I was on board and playing it the day it came out, well the day before it came out since it was pre-ordered. I have been holding off on making any comments about it because I wanted to take the time to play some parts of it through a couple of times. Now that I have done that, I will start with the random observations about the game.

First, the beginning of the game is entirely too easy. I can understand the need for a beginners section, as this is a standalone game there will be a lot of gamers playing it that have never played the original. The problem with the ease of the beginning is the difficulty of the rest of the game. It is entirely possible to plug along and do all the quests and missions on the little island (the beginner's zone) without ever dying, or even coming close to it. The second you step outside the city on the mainland it is possible to die without ever getting a spell or attack off.

My first time through I was trying to save cash by waiting to upgrade armor. I died so many times in the initial quests on the mainland that I was seriously considering just giving up on the game. It is not that I don't like a challenge, I just didn't understand my own skills, as well as those of the hired mercenaries, to be able to take on the monsters there. There is just a gap in monster levels between the island and the mainland. The last things you fight on the island are about level 12 while the first things you fight on the mainland are level 20. In a game where level 20 is max, 8 levels makes a hell of a difference.

There really should be either additional zones on the island that let you face some higher level monsters, or zones on the mainland that let you face lower level ones. There is simply no way to test out the effectiveness of your skills on higher level enemies until you are actually fighting in the city. Which wouldn't be so bad except for the greatly improved AI in the game. The first enemies you face when you reach the mainland will target a single party member hit him all at the same time, and since it is a computer controlling them by "same time" I mean within thousandths of a second of each other, making it impossible to heal before the inevitable death.

The second character that I took to the mainland didn't have nearly the problems that the first one did. This was mostly due to knowing what attacks the enemies were going to use, who they were going to attack first, and what character classes would work well together against the particular groups I was fighting. So it wasn't nearly as impossible as I thought, but it really does need a place where you can practice against monsters that are above level 12 and below level 20.

The other thing that really stands out about Factions is the availability of high-end weapons. The rare (relatively) "green" weapons seem to be a lot more common in Factions, not that it really matters since they really aren't that great in comparison to the other available weapons. The weapons that you can get from collectors now is, in many cases, vastly superior to the best of the "green" weapons. And those are the weapons that anyone can get with a minimum of effort.

The economy of the game, being directly related to available items, is changing dramatically because of the ease of acquiring such powerful items. A shield that used to sell for 50,000gold has exactly the same stats as one that you can get from a collector if you just pick up a few mossy webs during battles. Clearly no one is going to buy the one for 50,000gold any more. Which is great for the player, not so great for the bots.

Speaking of the bots. If you have ever done an ebay search for Guild Wars, just about all you see is money for sale. It seems that in order to slow the sale of Guild Wars stuff on eBay, they just made it easier to get all of it. Since it is no longer necessary to have a sword that costs 100k, what when you can get one with better stats off of a collector, you can really have a really well equipped character by the time you are level 20 with nothing but the gold that you are rewarded for completing quests. Of course there will always be people that don't want to do the work and are willing to pay someone to do it for them, so the bots will live on, at least their prevalence will die off a little bit.

cross-posted to Shrouded

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Signs, signs, everywhere there's signs...

There is this little church down the street from where I live, well the one I am thinking about is actually across town -not the one that is actually right next door. I drive by it every day, yet have failed to note exactly what religion it is affiliated with, not that it matters I suppose -at least not for my purposes this morning.

This little church has one of those lighted billboards that is right on the highway, what would pass for a highway in a town this small at any rate. The message that is up on the little board can vary from trying to be thought provoking "What if God is waiting on a sign from us?", to just plain humorous "Git 'R Done for Jesus" (that was on display while Country Thunder was in town.

Whoever it is that puts the little messages up on that board seems to be making an effort to keep from putting up anything that would turn away your average non-affiliated person; never any of the doom and gloom, the end is near, repent or burn in hell type stuff. I don't really think you can scare someone into religion anyway, at least not anyone capable of rational thought, but that is for a different post.

For the last week or so the sign has had a message on it that just pisses me off whenever I drive by. It says "Don't put a question mark where God put a period." I don't know why this one gets to me so much, well I guess I must have some idea why or I wouldn't be sitting here right now then, would I?

It really irritates me when anyone starts using phrases like "God said...", or "The Bible says...", especially so if they are trying to make a point using that as an argument. The reality is that if there is a God and he did say something it is certainly not what is written in the Bible.

While atheists believe that the Bible is nothing more than an old novel, even religious zealots have to admit that what is written in it was not written until well after the crucifixion of Jesus. It has been translated and revised so many times over the centuries that it is now impossible to say what it might have said at the time it was penned. God had nothing to do with it.

I am not sure exactly what question the billboard was referring to. Homosexuality? Birth control? Slavery? Female subservience? Evolution? It doesn't really matter. Whatever it was referring to it was encouraging people to live their lives based on the limited understanding of a culture that lived over a millennia ago. If you want to live that way -believe in the bible as a literal truth- that is your decision, but try to at least be honest enough to admit that it is not the word of God, but the word of someone who claims that he spoke to God. Then think of the wild-eyed guy on the corner screaming "repent, the end is nigh!", he also claims that he spoke to God, but he is just crazy, right?

So, here is my new theory; Religion = delusion + time

while writing that I was trying to find a link to an argument that I once read that said that God didn't actually take a rib from Adam to create Eve, but that it was instead a different anatomical components that was removed and it was mistranslated in the bible. While I was not able to find a link to that argument, I did find a link to a completely different argument. If you are a firm believer in evolution (like me) you really should read this article. I have been debating this subject based on faulty logic for a long time, make sure you don't make the same mistake.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

It's a good thing I'm not religious

I finally got around to watching the South Park episodes I taped during the season 10 rewind. Trey and Matt are still writing some top notch stuff.

One thing that really has me curious though is why Comedy Central refused to show the image of Mohammed. Don't get me wrong, I understand that it is supposedly forbidden to make a likeness of Mohammed in the Muslim religion, I know that this is why Comedy Central made the decision. The thing that really has me curious is why this was the one religion that they decided to respect.

In the very same episode, Comedy Central aired footage of Jesus Christ defecating on the president of the United States. Now I know that it is not specifically written in the bible that it is a sin to draw a likeness of Jesus dumping a steaming pile on the president, but I am relatively sure that it is sort of implied. Hell, Jesus has his own Jerry Springer-esque talk show on the series, which is just brilliant IMHO, but I am pretty sure that it is a straight mockery of Christianity.

Even Scientology, while just a kooky fringe cult, has been the subject of continual mockery on the show. One episode took it so far as to lead to the resignation of Isaac Hayes, who is unfortunately affiliated afflicted with the cult religion.

Poking fun at Christianity is one of the many cornerstones that has helped to build South Park into the phenomenon that it has become. In fact one of the first episodes was a battle between Jesus and Santa Claus (which was just a remake of the very first short Jesus vs. Frosty). Since then the show has lampooned religion at just about every opportunity. Be it having Kenny wage the war of good vs. evil because God wasn't powerful enough, worshipping an idol of the Virgin Mary bleeding out her ass, or highlighting the special relationship that Priests share with little boys, nothing seems to be taboo when it comes to Christianity.

If I were a religious person I would really be pissed off that Comedy Central thinks that it is fine to depict Christianity as a caricature on a repeated basis, yet refuse to so much as show an image of Mohammed. Comedy Central certainly pushes the envelope further than any other network (religious right wing networks not withstanding) in testing the limits of free speech, but they need to do it with some consistency; If Christianity is fair game, every other religion needs to be as well.

Granting special exclusions to any one group, religious or otherwise, is akin to letting them define freedom of speech. Last time I checked the United Stated was not a theocracy, I, for one, would like to make sure it remains that way.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006
So, you know that rambling post that I popped up here yesterday? It turns out that it was a good thing, I think.

During the course of the job interview today the guy asked me, quite specifically, what the most important qualities were for a supervisor. That was still fresh in my head from what I wrote yesterday, so unless I am completely wrong about the qualities, they should be impressed with how quickly I named the qualities along with very specific reasons why.

This is speculation, of course, so I will not go into any more detail. I will only say that this was the most comfortable I have ever been at a job interview. That I was familiar with all aspects of the business, and was able to answer questions specific to the industry. And I also don't look half bad in a dress shirt and tie. I may not look like a million bucks, but a buck-o-five for sure.

P.s. Because the place is a financial institution I was required to take a math test as well. I missed one of the questions, and it really irks me. The question was "If an item costs $69.95 and you give the customer a 20% discount, what will the customer's total be?" I answered it $55.95, the answer should have been $55.96. That is what I get for subtracting 10% twice instead of subtracting 20% once. At any rate, they didn't seem all that concerned since this was the only one that I missed. I sure hope that this minor rounding error doesn't weigh too heavily in their decision.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Slave to the Grind

Well, it has been three weeks now that I have been out of work, I guess that means it is about time I start really looking for a job. Sure I have turned in some applications and the such already, but I wasn't necessarily trying to get a job at any of those places. I mean really, I applied for several positions with a starting salary of over 40,000. I really doubt I was qualified for them, but what if they actually hired me? That's right, I would be sitting in butter (obscure t.v. show reference).

Starting yesterday I actually began applying for jobs that I really am qualified for. As a direct result of that I was called for two interviews within twenty-four hours of applying. I am going to go to one interview tomorrow at 10a.m. and the other one is scheduled for Thursday at noon. I don't really plan to go to the one on Thursday because 1)I fully expect to get the first job offered to me on the spot and 2) the other job is in Tucson.

The thing about looking for a job right now is that it has been so long since I have had to do it. I haven't been to an actual job interview in more than a decade (not counting the one I went to last week at 84 lumber), and I haven't actually made a resume since I was a sophomore in High School. I hope that what I lack in recent experience can be overcome by my sheer confidence.

Working where I did for so long gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of people in entry-level positions at their companies. One of the guys that I remember most is Larry. Larry was a route salesman for Budweiser[1] some twelve years ago. Heck of a nice guy, he went so far as to give me a gift on my twenty-first birthday -the only one other than my mother to do so- . Larry went on to become the supervisor of his division. Why did he get promoted instead of someone else? Two reasons: 1) He had an extremely good attitude. When it comes right down to it your attitude is the most valuable asset that you have. 2) He never hesitated to make a decision.

There really are two different types of people in the world. There are those who will make a decision based on the available facts, then there are those who will tell someone else the available facts and ask them to make the decision. I used to believe that everyone had the ability to make a decision, it took me years of interacting with people to find out that some people just can not do it. The only reason I can come up with to explain this is that they are afraid of making the wrong decision; If they do not make the decision they will get none of the blame. While this may seem like a great idea on the surface, it is certainly not the way to go to advance your career.

If you look at an industry like Fast Food, for instance, you will notice that every store has one general manager, several assistant managers, many shift managers, and a whole heck of a lot of peons. If you have ever had poor service at such an establishment, you will know that out of all those managers the only one that will make a decision is the General manager. The shift managers and assistant managers will back away from it like the plague. Do they really think that they are going to get reprimanded for giving you another cheeseburger since the first one had a rat head in it? Probably not, but they (evidently) don't want to risk it anyway. Thus they are actually nothing more than peons themselves. Given a shiny new title after scrubbing the same deep fryer for five years or so. (That is not speculation either. I can base that on my experience working in a chain Fast Food place in my teens. I may not have recognized it at the time, but it certainly is true).

When I first started working I was the same way. I would really hesitate to make a decision for fear that I would make the wrong decision. It wasn't until my last job that I started to change that, and the reason why was simple. After I had been working there for about six months the owners went on vacation for a week. This was long before the cell phone gained popularity, hell few people even had pagers. I was left to run the store on my own. And I did a HORRIBLE job of it. I tried my best to keep from having to make a decision. I put aside papers for when the owners returned so that they could be the ones to make a decision. As a result of that we ended up running out of a lot of DSD items because I wouldn't let them send anything without the owner's consent.

Twelve years later that had all changed.

I am now confident that I will make the right decision, and so I make the decision. It is sometimes the wrong decision, but it is a decision that has to be made. Someone once said, though I can't remember who, "often wrong but never unsure", and that is sort of how I am now. It is extremely important to be able to make a decision without hesitation. It is important because the people who work under you need to know that you are confident. Whether your decision turns out to be right or wrong is far beside the point. A leader simply must be able to look at the available facts and make a confident decision[2].

Of course none of this matters one bit when it comes to my interviewing for a job. I will have to work somewhere for a while before my supervisors see that I do have the ability to make decisions. What they will see in the interview is confidence. Not confidence in a smug way, but the confidence that can only come from years and years of real life experience. I may not have a BA in accounting or Business management, but I do have confidence. Confidence is something that you really can't learn by reading scenarios out of a textbook. You can read about situations with unruly customers all you want, speculate about what you would do on Easter Sunday when the freezer goes out and thousands of dollars or merchandise is at stake. Until you are actually in that position you simply can not know that you would have the confidence to make the right decision.

Do I really expect to walk out of that interview with the job tomorrow? Hell yes I do. And if I don't get the job I will go to my next interview with exactly the same attitude.

[1] Technically it is Golden Eagle Distributors, which is a subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch. Thing is I doubt that I know how to spell Anheuser-Busch, and Budweiser is more recognizable anyway.

[2] As I am writing this I can't help but think of George W. Bush. He too is not afraid to make a decision, and he too is confident about his decisions. BUT he is not looking at the available facts before doing so. Has to be a package deal. Being confident about a decision that does not consider the facts at hand is more foolish than not making the decision at all.


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