Sunday, December 26, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

iPad annoyances and Samsung's giant Droid-- I mean, Galaxy Tab

The iPad and I have a complicated relationship.

One minute I'm enjoying the utility; reading PDFs, sketching, watching Netflix, doing quick internet searches, or just playing a game. The next minute I'm gripped by futility; crashing after hours of work on a sketch, crashing on picture heavy sites, crashing on picture light sites, crashing on sites in general, crashing with an alternate browser on a random site, crashing when I watch a youtube video in the browser, crashing when I adjust the volume after starting a youtube video, crashing when I zoom in or out of a youtube video in the browser, failing to display any interactivity with youtube, crashing when I youtube in general, locking up on updates, forcing me to stare at a progress bar like a simpleton because it can't multitask, refreshing the large page I'm spawning windows off of every single time I leave it and return to it seconds later, refusing to let me search a site for words (REALLY?! Would "Find" have complicated things too much, Steve?!), refusing to present any content beyond simple java, making me hit "More" twelve times to find the app I want to download only to make me hit "More" twelve more time to get back to where I left off in the list. I could go on, but I'm just angry now.

There is a new update to the iOS, but it still came from Apple, so I don't expect anything more than another layer of polish on this turd of an OS, with a few bells and whistles duct taped it. Any update from Apple would only treat the symptoms, not the disease. Because Apple IS the disease.

While the iPad has been alternatively useful and infuriating, my Android phone has done nothing but improve. This lead to some enthusiasm about Samsung's new Galaxy Tab.

I thought the Tab would make a great mid point between my phone and the iPad. Smaller, handier, more functionality, all on a bigger screen. That is, until I actually played with one.

First impressions were great, the size seemed more versatile, more convenient, and handier, but the screen left something intangible to be desired. After a bit more time with it, I realized that the display was nice, but what was on it hinted at the truth I would find out later. That the Android OS was far from optimized for larger screens. Everything felt clunky. Even at 1Ghz (the speed at which I overclock my Droid), everything seemed slower. Once I started browsing, and looked at media, it kind of brought me back in. The browsing and media had certainly been optimized by Samsung, while the other apps struggled with the larger screen. The more I used it, the more I felt like I was just holding a bigger, clunkier Droid phone with no keyboard. (One thing I must give the iPad is that its keyboard is actually usable with a bit of practice. If only its autocomplete wasn't so terrible it's a source of amusement). Once I had the idea of a giant Droid phone in my head, there was nothing I could do to get it out. The fact that my phone can do so much on a screen I'm quite comfortable watching had made the prospect of a few measly inches a tease.

I don't want a bigger phone, I want a full size tablet. I want an iPad, but I want it to actually do all the shit the iPad can't or won't. I want to browse sites on a full screen, watch flash content on a full screen, read books, view pictures, draw, browse, and multitask on a screen with more real estate!

Sadly, the Samsung Galaxy Tab is the best option for an Android tablet at the moment. Other contenders being deficient in a few large or many small ways. (No Android market support being a troubling norm thankfully broken by the Tab.) That is not to say the Samsung Tab isn't deficient in 600 large ways, but it's the best implementation of the Android OS yet. The fact that it has come so far since the first Android tablets in such a short time is quite reassuring for the future of these devices and the OS itself. The fact that Samsung has already hinted at larger Tabs coming soon makes me wonder if it was just testing the waters with a 7 inch tablet so as not to go head to head with the iPad just yet. Given the feel of the Tab's OS, it seems they've made the right decision. Test and perfect on the 7 incher, then slap Apple across the face with something they can call an iPad killer with a straight face.

Of course, just because I don't need a Samsung Galaxy Tab, doesn't mean you don't. If I didn't have a Droid hacked, overclocked, and unlocked with an iPad waiting for when I want a more comfortably sized screen, I would be sorely tempted to try out apps, video conference, watch flash content, or just read ebooks and browse the net on this handy tablet while testing the waters in the Android pool.

The fact that OS integration is a little dodgy in tablet form is only a minor hurdle given the fact that Android has shown itself surprisingly unafraid of issuing large OS updates that add support and new functionality. It's a whole new world out there now that we've got an OS that is not irrevocably fused to the hardware on which it was originally installed. Plus, if you're the adventurous type like me, just wait until the this thing gets rooted, and individuals start writing custom Android versions for it. The hackability was the major reason I went with the original Droid instead of the soon-to-be-released Droid 2. I think this hardware has some serious potential. It just needs some software that's not afraid to use it.

The one law you can't repeal.

This whole Wikileaks situation is ripe for a visit from the law of unintended consequences.

From Soft Green Glow

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

In soviet California, police arrest victim!

In New Mexico there was an attempted robbery that was thwarted by an 11 year old girl who feared for her life, and retrieved a training rifle that she had just learned to use.

Fortunately, no one was hurt, especially since she was out manned and out gunned, but the mere presence of the gun prevented the crime.

Had these events occurred 500 miles west, in California, the mother would have been arrested, and charged with child endangerment for failing to lock up her gun.

Children who are trained, and aware of the consequences and dangers of shooting, should have access to firearms once they're old enough to be home alone.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Conclusions I've drawn from my short lesson in unemployment

1. I can't NOT work.
It drove me insane. I was barely unemployed three months, and I was bouncing off the walls. I was all flavors of depressed, filled with doubt, questioned my faith, and generally a basket case. I couldn't do this for two years. Literally. Had I gone a bit longer, there's no doubt in my mind that I would have had to take a part time job while I continued my job search. And honestly? Subway was the first place that came to mind.

2. Free time when you're unemployed and free time when you're employed are NOT THE SAME THING.
DO NOT THINK OF IT AS A VACATION! I thought I'd enjoy the downtime while I searched for a job. Instead, it was pretty evenly split between despairing, temporarily numbing my mind with video games, silently freaking out, discovering new ways to be secretly depressed, or pacing back and forth in the apartment.

3. My heart goes out to the Boomers looking for jobs right now.
Since writing that post, it has become increasingly obvious that the Booomers are getting dropped from positions, and put in the unfavorable position of competing against fresh, young college grads with mountains of debt who will jump at any job you throw at them that doesn't involve a paper hat. True, many Boomers in the tech industry failed to keep up their knowledge, or make themselves indispensable, or realize that there was an army of young'uns gunning for their job, but I still feel for them. I happen to know one was their second favorite for the job I was offered. Being familiar with the type, I knew that if he was my strongest competition, I was very likely to get the job. Which made me both sad and happy.

4. Keep things in perspective.
As hard as things got, I always felt better when I prayed for John and his wife. No matter how bad things get, you've still got to count your blessings.

5. Something ain't kosher in the unemployment line.
One of the things I noticed while on the hunt was the volume of jobs available, and the lack of applicants. Note I didn't say qualified applicants. If I didn't have enough qualifications for a job, I'd be pounding on doors, promising the world for minimum wage if they'd only give me a chance. Because that's exactly what I did to get my foot in the door of this field. But whenever I interviewed by phone, I found I was one of around 20 applicants. Either they mentioned they didn't have many interviews, or I was interview X out of Y, or they just mentioned that I was one of a few. Of course, that is not to say 1000 didn't submit their resume, and get a "thank you, but" e-mail. But I happen to think the positions for which I was applying were not that specialized, save a couple. Something just didn't add up. I've been told thousands apply to any job that becomes available, but I'm beginning to think they're only interested in applying. Smells like sandbagging.

6. The Ca EDD helps you *wink wink* *nudge nudge* stay unemployed.
The Employment Development Department randomly selected me for a review, so I went in to a local office for an interview. Not understanding most of the form, I left it blank so I could ask questions about filling it in rather than sign my name to something I didn't understand. When I got there, an EDD employee explained to me that Sacramento handles their own tracking of how unemployment is working, and how well EDD is doing its job of keeping leeches out of the system. (Obviously, the EDD employee worded it differently, but that's what I took from it after playing dumb and asking more questions about the process). I happened to be randomly selected by Sacramento for a review. Upon seeing my mostly empty and unsigned form, the EDD employee impressed upon me that I needed to fill out the form to a minimum level to prevent a follow up interview. She made it very clear that she was there to help me fill out the form. At this point I wondered what would happen if I hadn't looked for work at all.

Then, due to a bad childhood, the plight of the inner city, the lack of gay marriage, high fructose corn syrup, my oppressed Mexican heritage, and the Bush administration, I temporarily forgot all the places I had applied to, and accidentally told her I was waiting for a call back from a place that I was really sure was going to hire me, and hadn't looked for any work for weeks. (Had all those forces not been acting upon me, someone might think I was intentionally lying, and not the victim of a vast right wing conspiracy!) She told me this was wrong, and that I needed to fill out the form to continue receiving benefits. When I reiterated that I hadn't looked for work, she reiterated that she was there to help me, and asked me to think really hard to remember what job I must have applied for. She even offered to let me leave and come back once I remembered where I had applied. When I just happened to remember one of the places I had applied to, she took the lead, and told me what to write in each box to make sure I didn't get a follow up interview. Over the next few minutes, I slowly recalled the places I had applied to (places I really did apply to, but as far as she was concerned, was making up on the spot), and she helped me fill in the paperwork to the minimum level to prevent a follow up interview.

At no point did she advise me to lie, but at every opportunity she told me how to lie on the form, and reassured me that if I filled it in to a minimum level, I wouldn't have to worry about anyone checking on it. When I put the actual number of jobs I had applied to, she even implied I should go a little lower, but I reassured her it was OK (because I still didn't want to lie on an official form).

No wonder there are so many unemployed in California.

What has two thumbs and a job?

THIS guy...

Special thanks to the old coworker who told me about this place. It's actually a large company, so I'm looking forward to not having to deal with a lot of small company BS. Obviously, this also means things will be a bit more structured than a small company, which is fine. I didn't really take advantage of the small company's loose management style, though others did. I'll just be happy to get regular raises, and medical that doesn't cost an arm leg.

The job promises to be the one thing that I missed the most from my last one, challenging. It seems I'm suited for more advanced work than the entry position I'll be going into, but it's the job everyone has to start at to get the base of knowledge needed to move up. Did I mention there's upward mobility? That's the second thing I missed from the last job.

Now, on to the matter of Anon...

A while ago I wrote a post arguing that the people that have exhausted their 99 weeks of unemployment benefits can make my subway sandwich or move. This was something to which Anonymous took offense;
i truly hope somday you lose yor job and see what its like to be in the 99ers shoes,you sit here and make dumb ass comments ,jackass

To which I replied...
You can hope that I'll lose my job, but that won't put me in the 99ers' shoes. Because losing my job doesn't make me sit on my ass for 99 weeks, and then bitch about it when my free money runs out.

But for sitting there and making dumb ass comments, I'm pretty sure you're one of the 99ers, and I'm pretty sure I'M PAYING YOU to make your dumb ass comments on my blog.

Whether that makes you dumb, or me dumb is up for debate.

Meanwhile, the goddamn Subway still has the help wanted sign up. So please Anon, get up tomorrow morning, look yourself in the mirror real hard, and then MAKE MY FUCKING SANDWICH.

Since then, I've had the rare opportunity of having life put my money where my mouth is, and I've come to a few conclusions. They are here.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Why I can do anything

It was about 10 years ago that I made it into the LA Sheriff's group to be accepted into the Marine Corp's Devil Pup program. I hoped to get motivation, a good extracurricular, and a bit of introduction into the military out of it.

The Devil Pups program is basically a physical challenge and team building "camp" that takes place in Camp Pendleton. The paperwork for applying was very explicit about one thing; this is NOT a camp for troubled youths. Of course, that paperwork came from the LA Sheriffs in charge of selecting the group they sent to the camp, not the camp itself. One of the first things the drill sergeant did was ask who was here because of something bad they did. I would later learn that third platoon seemed to get the lion's share of fuck ups, although it should have seemed obvious at the time. We were terrible. (Wow. after all these years, it still sticks. I just wrote "we were terrible" but personally, I was fine. Most of the platoon was terrible, but we were in it together, hence, we ALL were terrible. Interesting.) We couldn't follow the simplest instructions, and it only took a few of us to fuck it up for the rest. Hell, since we had so many fuck ups, fire watch was filled till the end of the camp, so I didn't have to worry about that punishment.

The camp was hard. Really hard. Little or no sleep, constant running, marching practice, all the expected stuff. Luckily, the food was good. That is, if we had any time to eat. Part of being the fuck up platoon was entering mess last, which became the norm after a first few days hashed out the pecking order among platoons. Third platoon, my platoon, was the shit platoon. But hey, that was because we were shit.

The two points that stick out in my mind, the most important ones, were the 35 foot drop into the pool, and getting my challenge coin.

The drop was really an exercise in fear. Falling's the easy part, and the first step is hard, but a little easier knowing everyone is watching you, but the line at the top is what got most guys. The camp couldn't force anyone to jump, so they had a (comparatively) low dive that some of the platoon went off of, and most of us (including myself) were pretty skittish until one of the bigger fuck ups jumped. The sergeant wasn't going to let the D students live it down if one of the F students jumped. (We were graded based on how well we followed orders, but since we were the fuck up platoon, we were graded from C, D, or F. I was a D student based on my plan to just get through it without standing out too much. Not sure if it was the right move now, but since we were the fuck up platoon, the C students got more than their fair share of punishment since they were line leaders. I became a line leader twice on accident, and suffered for my line both times.) So after one of the big F students went up, a small group of us D students had to go up there. I had made a few friends among the D's, and we were psyching each other up privately, while the rest of the platoon was cheering us on publicly. I went up fourth, but wound up second in the line at the top. I neared the edge, and looked down. I froze.

They say not to look down, but you can't not look down. A passing glance tells you that what you're doing is very wrong, and that you should stop. But I was stuck staring down into the blue mass, so far away, knowing that hitting it with enough speed would be like hitting concrete. The fear inches up from your neck, encompasses around your brain, and squeezes your mind. The instructor at the top saw me hesitate, and said to step to the edge. I stepped. He said, "Look at that pole out there in the distance," I looked. "Now don't think: take a step." I stepped.

I stayed focused on the pole the entire time. That wasn't a problem. The problem was the time it took to get down. Obviously it didn't take more than a second, but in my mind? Well, I had time to make conversation with myself.

Holy crap! I did it! Ok, doing good, just stay focused on the pole, don't look down or you'll tilt backwards and back-flop. I've jumped off the high dive in high school, this is kind of like that. You're not going to die, you'll be fine, just stay in form. Ok. still falling. Alright, I should be hitting the water now. Any second now. Ok, where's the water? I'm going to take a quick look. NO DON'T LOOK, NOW YOU'LL GET BLACK EYES! Shit! Ok! But where's the water?! This is taking too long! I'm too high up! I THINK I'M TILTING! CORRECT YOURSELF! CORRECT! No! Don't correct! You can't flail now! It's too late! You're going to hit the water any--

That was my lesson in fear. I knew I was going to survive, I knew what I had to do, and gravity was going to do most of the work for me. but I was still scared to do it. From then on, fear became a warning instead of a roadblock. I must not fear, fear is the mind-killer...

The challenge coin was a bit harder. It was presented at the top of a mountain that you hiked half way up, camped on, and hiked the rest of the way up the next day. I didn't think it would be a problem since we ran so often, but running is very different from hiking with packs. The hiking drained us a lot more than any of us thought, and we were relieved to set up camp. We ran on little food, and little sleep, having stayed up the night before remaking our racks because of somesuch fuckupery. The punishments became the norm so often we were better runners than the other platoons. Shame it didn't help with following orders.

The next morning I was sore, and slept terribly on the thin bedroll. I had been too worn out to bother moving the rocks that somehow escaped my initial ground clearing. Plus we weren't allowed to get up except to use the bathroom, and the other platoon's DIs were on fire watch, so clearing them clandestinely would either take up too much energy, or get me caught and see me run some more. We unceremoniously resumed the hike. Hours later the top was in sight, and I got a second wind. With the rest of the trail in sight, I knew I could power through it. We marched on as I felt my body fading, but my mind saw the goal, and kept it moving forward. On the last switchback, we had the end in sight, the final turn up to the plateau, and the top of the mountain. Except when we rounded that last corner, it wasn't the end.

What stretched before us was about 150 yards of 45 degree mountain. You couldn't hike it, you had to crawl it. The first part of the platoon had already started up, and I could see them struggling. I stood in place, thinking about how much energy it would take to get up there, and knew I didn't have enough. The Sergeant saw me stop, and screamed me onto the hill, his motivation getting me about a quarter of the way. Once I was on the hill, it was easier for me to just keep going, but higher up, the mountain was covered with some kind of hay/dirt mixture that our feet sank into when we stepped into it, and our hands pulled clumps out of when we grabbed for hand holds. Thinking back on it now, I'm not sure if it was trucked onto this last slope to make it easier or harder. But it didn't matter, because it was like walking in snow. As I groped for balance and my feet slipped out from under me, I looked up, and that's when it happened.

That's when I gave up.

I remember it very clearly, even today. The smell of that hay/dirt, the itching of my arms, the burning in my lungs, the dust in my eyes, and the immutable fact of the universe that I wasn't going to make it.

I was on my hands and knees, looking up at the side of that steep mountain, and my muscles stopped working. It couldn't have been more than two seconds that I was there, on my hands and knees, lost to the world; but as with the dive, I had plenty of time to think.

I was done. I was lost. I didn't make it. I washed out. I was so close, but there was no doubt in my mind that I would never make it up that mountain. It's so hard to put that feeling into words. It wasn't even hopelessness, because there was never any hope, never any chance, there had never even existed the idea that I could make it. As sure as the sun would rise in the east, as sure as the vastness of the universe, I could not make it. There wasn't even impossibility, there wasn't anything. There was nothing.

Except for one thing...

Disappointment. I was disappointed that I wouldn't make it. I was disappointed that I was letting my platoon down. I was disappointed that I had come so far, for absolutely nothing. I was disappointed that I would return home a failure.

Worst of all was the conclusive knowledge, the undeniable truth, the insurmountable certainty that there was nothing I could do about it. I believed it as I had never believed anything before.

Then someone grabbed my arm and started pulling. Then someone else grabbed my other arm and started pulling. They weren't going to be able to drag me up the hill. They didn't have enough energy to pull me and themselves up this hill. Didn't they know this was impossible?

From my left: "C'mon [last name], we won't let you quit."
From my right: "Move it [last name], we start as one, we finish as one."

I looked at them both, and realized I didn't know their names. They probably didn't know mine either, but we had it taped to front and back of our covers. I didn't know them personally, but we were third platoon.

Then my leg pushed.

Then my other leg pushed.

Then I started moving up.

My nameless helpers pulled me a few feet before I reached for the mess of earth below me, and started climbing myself.

Eyes transfixed on the top, I climbed as fast as I could, passing others by. My arms and legs moved like normal. It wasn't like a runner's high where they move mechanically, they were doing what I was telling them to do. They were doing what they had refused to do. My brain was doing what it told me was impossible.

I made it to the top.

I had done the impossible.

This was my lesson in limits. All of my limits before that day were mentally imposed. From then on, my body wasn't finished until continuing to do so became dangerous. I wasn't done hiking or running until my toes started to drag because my legs were incapable of being lifted to a safe height to continue my activity. I wasn't done gasping for air until the the black began encroaching on my vision. I wasn't done working out until my arms halted mid-lift, and wobbled instead of pushing a single inch more. No task was impossible with enough thought, planning, and preparation.

Obviously, it's not productive to push yourself to the breaking point for every challenge you encounter. But to doing so every once in a while will show you where your true limits are, not where you think they are.

Only when you break through that mental block will you be free to achieve your true potential.

Friday, December 17, 2010

It is pitch black

You are likely to be eaten by a grue.

Current obsession: Cold Steel Trail Hawk

Just look at those clean lines. Brilliant form and function. And for around $20, it's hard not to buy one just to try it out.

First, I was hung up on hawk vs hatchet, but once I defined the differences, it was a lot easier. A hatchet is better at splitting, heavier, and well suited to hang out in camp. While a hawk should be lighter, and handier so you carry it more on the trail, and have an easier job bridging the gap between hatchet and your camp carry fixed blade. I made the decision to pick two tools best suited for two jobs, as opposed to one that was OK at both. If you'd prefer the single tool solution, you might consider the rifleman's hawk, which is one of their heavier hawks.

Once I defined my objective in bringing a hawk as portability, the other hawks cold steel offers didn't hold much appeal. There is also a significant modding community for these light, inexpensive tools, which makes them even more appealing, even if you only drop $20 for a piece you can put some elbow grease into, and hang on your wall.

The only reason I don't have one with me right now is because I have the cold steel kukri machete and the cold steel special forces shovel, which I still think needs a saw side. After I defined the objective for the hawk, it became clear the others were not perfectly suited for the position. Also, I was unem-fucking-ployed, and as much as I love getting a bug up my butt about some lovely piece of edged metal and buying it on the spot, we gotta eat.

I wasn't always a fan of cold steel products, but they've really stepped up their designs while maintaining a price point that makes complaining about them harder than buying them. I will stick with their simple designs (usually anything that relies on a roughly cut hunk of metal), but I haven't touched any of their folders or anything from their "premium" line. I might be able to talk about them more seriously when they stop prominently featuring fat dudes in suits throwing spears at car hoods, or demonstrating how anything that's made of metal will go through sheet metal with enough force. Seriously guys, dial back the sensationalism. (he said, as he bought more cold steel products)

Also, this is awesome;

I gotta get out to the desert.

Oh yeah, the edge will likely need touching up, and a hex screw keeping the head on the handle is bullshit. Reprofile the edge, and take the screw out. A hawk handle is larger on one end to keep the head on. (apply directly to the forehead)

Eira's Quest part 2, Big Room Bollocks

When we last left our hero, she was below the Big Room, half-dead, blind, and lycanthropic! You could say she was having trouble seeing what a hairy situation she was in! (ba-dum tschh!)

Back downstairs, I confirm I'm still wearing the ring of warning and wait silently, afraid a clot of hill giants will round the corner and throw boulders at me at any moment. Luckily, the blindness wears off, and I'm able to wait until healed, and return upstairs with a new plan.

As soon as I emerge, I read a scroll of teleport, hoping I don't get dropped near that group of chickatrices. Luckily, I get sent to the other side of the map. Whew. Good thing I didn't have to take out that group of chickatrices. I take one step, and... The pyrolisk casts its fiery gaze upon you! Shit! Where the fuck did that come from?! I attempt a retreat, hoping the conflict will run it into some other monster, but it just keeps on staring at me. After a few turns, and a few near misses due to my displacement, I manage to take out the pyrolisk. But I'm low on health, most of my scrolls have burned up and potions have boiled and exploded (goddamnit), I'm on fire, and oh yeah, I'm stuck far from the staircase in the big room with no more teleports. Just when things couldn't get any worse, You change into werewolf form! AHHH FUCK! I FORGOT I WAS LYCANTHROPIC! I was going to wait until I was lower on health to pray! The transition tears through my precious cloak of displacement and my armor. Now I'm a weak werewolf, against a wall, low on health, and no armor. Oh! summon help! I wait a few turns to get my energy up, and summon help. I'm instantly surrounded by wolves who came to help, but they too, attack me viciously. Shit! Really low on health now! Way to leave conflict on! I quickly remove the ring of conflict, which first stops my pack of wolves from attacking me as I'm near death, and second makes every monster left in the room make a bee-line for me. I noticed I'm overburdened, and quickly drop any nonessentials so I can make a hasty escape. Lets see if I can figure a way out of this...

My wolf pack takes a few monsters down before dying surprisingly easily, but at least I can put my ring of conflict back on. I'm still low on health, and looking to make my way back to the staircase as a plains centaur and a winter wolf close in on me. While I'm waiting for them to close in on me so I can make some moves around them both, the centaur starts firing its crossbow, and the winter wolf starts shooting its ice beam at me! Fuck this shit! I retreat from my position, hoping I'm fast enough to make it around these monsters, and notice that as I leave my spot, there is a pile of stuff I didn't expect. Shit! I dropped my weapons too! I can't wield anything in this form, can I? Shitshitshit. I gotta go back. Already three spaces away, I return to the line of fire to grab whatever I needed to survive until I changed back to my human form.

Dodging crossbow bolts and ice beams, I make it back to my pile of stuff. Ok, what's here? I need my sword and daggers, *crossbow bolt* and this gray stone, I guess, it probably doesn't weigh much *ice beam* and definitely this wand of lightning, hey wait! I pick up the wand of lightning in my werewolf mouth, and level it at the centaur and winter wolf, making short work of them. Whew! Ok, still need to get out of here, but conflict seems to be less effective than it used to be. It's long past time to get out of here.

Quickly dodging through fighting monsters and missiles, I'm still nowhere near the staircase, and the pack of chickatrices are alternating between turning nearby monsters into statues and making several troublesome moves toward me, when I (luckily?) discover a level teleport trap! Hopefully I'll go up a level so I can go up to level two or something, and get another cloak of displacement. I'm momentarily blinded by a flash of light, and... Went down a level. Oh well, it's still better than where I was, trapped in the big room. I'm somewhat close to the stairs, and this room seems pretty protected. I quickly pray to my god to cure my lycanthropy, and he graciously cures me, but I wasn't low enough on health to heal me. Wow. That was almost terminally stupid. Forgetting I had lycanthropy, and that changing form would destroy all my sweet armor? Geez.

I wait around a bit to heal up, and check my inventory. I've got that cursed cloak that I think is good. It's a "piece of cloth," so I'm pretty sure it's invisibility, but no other armor to speak of... Oh yeah! Those green dragon scales! I put on the loose dragon scales, which helps my armor class a lot less than expected, and put on the cursed piece of cloth, which turns out to be a cloak of protection, but I didn't notice any AC improvement. This is far from ideal, but it's better than nothing. I'll worry about removing this cursed cloak later. I futz with my inventory a bit and heal up enough to venture back to the up stairs. The up and down stairs on the Big Room level are pretty close together, but I can't remember how many were in that area when I was there last. Or more importantly, where those chickatrices were! I still don't have any lizards, and a simple touch from one of those would end my quest!

I continue making my way back to the familiarity of the up staircase area, when I find a neutral altar! Sweet! Now I can sacrifice to my god, get a prayer back in case of some other stupid move, and possibly get Mjolnir! I hang out for a bit and sacrifice a few small monsters that come by. Fuck this, I'm zapping my wand of create monster. I greedily zap the wand and a damn plains centaur appears! Ok, maybe I should have waited until I healed up a bit! I eye my inventory for a way out, and realize that what worked before should work now, and zap it with my wand of lightning, killing it instantly. OK! Lets not try that again! I drag the centaur onto the altar, and sacrifice it for a little luck, but I need more monsters. Understandably gun shy, I leave the wand of create monster alone, and opt to wait around, healing, and trying to coax monsters into the altar room. One room over a hill giant breaks down the door. Shit! I don't need this right now! Please don't throw a boulder at me! It'll block my way back to the altar room! I quickly vacate the corridor for fear a bolder might block it, and luckily, this hill giant didn't seem to have a boulder. It very clearly passes on several opportunities to throw one at me, and closes in to melee me, which is definitely what I prefer. That's it, a little closer... Then it throws a boulder at me. AH FUCK! *WHEW* Dodged it! No longer afraid of boulders, I close in on it, and take it out. The next corridor has a lot of items in it for some reason, I check the pile and see the grave of a dead wizard, and all his kit. Well, most of it is probably cursed, but beggars can't be choosers!

I grab everything that looks useful and check the cursed status on the altar. Most of it is cursed, but some isn't. Quite a few cursed rings, and a pair of cursed leather gloves. I briefly consider the danger of those chickatrices, and decide to put them on. Woot! They lowered my AC by 3! There is an uncursed amulet, but I'll try it out later. My amulet of reflection is too important to me right now. Ok, time to try on some of these rings... Oh wait... I can't take off my cursed gloves to change rings... Genius. Wait, I'll just sacrifice some more and pray, and maybe I'll get lucky. How about this cursed potion? Potions are heavy, and even cursed, they don't usually have game ending consequences. I quaff cursed potion, and discover it's a potion of gain level! But cursed potions of gain level literally make you gain a level. I float up and through to the ceiling, and back into the Big Room! Genius... Well, at least I still have my ring of conflict on, and I found some scrolls of teleport. Here we go!

Back on in the Big Room, I see that I'm actually in a pretty good spot. Pretty much on the opposite side of where I was before, so I'm far from where the monsters were, and they will have to fight their way through each other to get back to me. This might actually work out better than expected! I take a step, and land in a polymorph trap! SSSSHHHIIII--wait! The scales are merging with my body? I'm turning into a green dragon! The transformation destroyed my cursed cloak of protection, and pushes my cursed gloves off of my hands! So... win? Hey! I can breathe poison and lay dragon eggs! Sweet! Never mind, not enough energy since I just transformed, but now I wonder how fast I am... Hey, I seem pretty fast! I dance around the chickatrices, making them run into other monsters, and contribute further to my Big Room statue garden. After the Big Room is pretty clear, I retreat downstairs to relax for a bit, and try out my new form.

[to be continued]

Monday, December 13, 2010

Tired of America? 15 reasons you should seriously consider leaving!

Confounded by Tea Baggers fighting for the right to work themselves into an early grave?

Can't comprehend why people fight against free government services?

Astounded by America's low standard of living compared to other nations?

Baffled by the disagreement over the government providing basic human rights like health care, food, and shelter?

Exasperated by the violence and hate of this nation?

Tired of The Corporatocracy systematically destroying the American middle class?

Outraged by the American peoples' persistent stupidity at the polls?

Disgusted with the unabashed consumerism of this country?

Plagued by religious zealotry?

Hopeless over The Wealthy Bankers' control over you and the government?

Crushed by the poverty, debt, and hardship the chase for the almighty dollar has gotten you into?

Had your fill of The Working Class?

Well, maybe it's time for a change then! Obviously, we all would prefer to stay and fight for change, but that might not always be the best choice. Would you rather fight for your life, or live your life? What about your children? If you're tired of all these things and more, here are 15 reasons why you should seriously consider moving to another country.

1. Americans are sheep.
The Tea Party is funded and driven by Rupert Murdoch and Fox news. It sprang from nowhere by sheer will of media. Now they rise up against basic human services such as health care. These people will forever be pawns of the media, and they will vote because they were told to be angry. You need to be in a more enlightened country with more enlightened people who care about humans instead of corporations.

2. The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.
This is the system today. The rich are the ones who run the government with bribes and backroom deals. Do you really think they're going to let you change it? There's an old saying which goes, "If voting could change anything, they'd make it illegal."

3. Obama was the last hope for real change, and the corporatists and made sure he failed. Can anyone really stand against them?
He was the true Hope for Change. But they stopped him at every turn. Even from within his own party. He was the best shot this country had, and they practically lynched him for trying to be that agent of change. Obama was a once-in-a-lifetime guy, who would possibly stand up for the same things after they saw how he was destroyed by the people who are really in charge of this country?

4. America's foundation is in capitalism and greed.
There is no question that America was built on hundreds of years of greed. It is predisposed to be capitalist and corporatist. Why try to change a country whose foundation is the opposite of the change you want, when there are other countries that only need a few manageable changes to become as close to a utopia as humans can achieve?

5. If America really does make the switch to a more socialistic form of government, how effective will it really be compared to European nations?
The political infrastructure is not built for a new economic system. This kind of change requires a lot of time to pull out all the kinks and stops. There is no way America will be a more effective socialist nation than other countries that have had centuries time to get it right.

6. The Constitution guarantees there will always be guns and violence in America.
The second amendment is the second amendment in the constitution, and repealing it was made to be intentionally difficult. In fact, given the current level of divisiveness, it's unlikely we'll get enough consensus to make any amendments in our lifetime. There will always be guns and violence in America. Why fight one of the most powerful documents in this country, when other more enlightened countries have already banned guns?

7. If the military industrial complex really is in control of this nation, what can you really do about it?
Certainly, they are hiding their true power to keep the masses believing they are in control of a democracy, but if they are ever revealed, what can a small percentage of the nation armed with small arms do against tanks, jets, and bombs? There can be no victory against them.

8. The Evangelical Christian Right will always have a stranglehold over this country.
Lets face it, Pat Robertson says jump, and the voting masses say, "How high?" Recent events have proven their power has not diminished, and will likely continue to grow. They're not going anywhere. How can you honestly hope to fight so many of them?

9. If your wildest hopes and dreams for this country really do come true, there will still be over 40% of the population fighting it at every turn.
Why choose the path of most resistance? These people won't change their minds, and they'll use everything available to oppose you at every opportunity. Why fight them? When you could just go to a country that is already where you want it to be?

10. Don't stay just to spite your opponents.
"Because leaving is exactly what they want me to do, so they can take over!" is not a valid reason to stay. Are you really going to keep playing against a stacked deck just because you don't want to give them the satisfaction? This isn't a game. This is your life. You should be living it in a country where they believe what you believe. Not hitting your head against a brick wall because it looks like you may have made some superficial progress. Besides, keeping you engaged in futile arguments is an effective method of keeping you from leaving. Especially when coupled with someone telling you that you actually have a chance of winning.

11. There is no such thing as "American Exceptionalism."
The idea is jingoistic tripe. What's exceptional about people starving in the streets and children not being able to get health care coverage for diseases they are born with? This country is no more special than any other, and claiming so is nothing short of delusional.

12. America was founded by puritans, and will always be run by puritans and religious zealots.
The history of America is clear, and it continues to shape it hundreds of years later. It will never change.

13. Even with the most perfect set of circumstances, the change you're trying to make in this country will not happen in your lifetime.
Why not make the change now, move to a more worldly country, and enjoy it, and let your kids enjoy it? Why choose to fight for change all your life in a country that resists it, only to have your kids fight for it all their lives, so your grandkids must fight to refine the changes in a country that only barely resembles your dreams? Is this really what you want?

14. Get out while you still can.
When people start realizing that the American Dream is dead, and they are nothing but loan interest slaves, do you think the people who are really in power are going to let them leave? Who will work to fund their billions in profits? America will be locked down under the pretense of something terror related, and no one will be allowed to leave.

15. If you truly can't see enough good in America, why torture yourself by staying?
Family can move, and those reluctant now will have the benefit of someone already living in the country of your choice when things get really bad. Minds will quickly change when they see what's coming.

Disclaimer: I'm a capitalist, and don't believe any of these 15 reasons, but I've argued with countless people who do.

I've told them that if they really believe all these things they should leave. They usually take this to mean that I want to eliminate them as competition, and take over the country with my ideology, but that's not my goal.

If you believe any of these things, and are truly honest with yourself about them, you should seriously consider leaving the country so you can live more happily.

Many of the people I've argued with I consider friends, and I want my friends to be happy. I don't care about winning, and neither should someone who believes any of these 15 things. What we should all care about is being happy. Sadly, many of the people I've argued with will never be happy in this country. Why struggle and be miserable when you can just move someplace where things are more to your liking?

I think this country, though far from where I believe it should be, is near enough to where I want it to be for me to stay and fight. I stay because I believe it's possible to win. If I believed the same things as many of the friends and acquaintances I've argued with, I would leave, and the above reasons are why.

Please don't take this as a push toward the door, but as an honest representation of what I would do, and why, if I believed as you did. Don't let your ego get in the way of your happiness, or the happiness of your children.

It's hard to start fresh, but it's worth it to live the life you really think you should live.

Start with little steps. Get a passport if you don't already have one. Take some vacation time. Visit some potential countries. See how you like them.

Please don't just dismiss this as misdirection from someone who disagrees with you. I've been honest with you, so please be honest with yourself. Wouldn't you be happier in Europe or South America?

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Eira the Valkyrie, and the new stratagem

After a series of promising, but ultimately dead characters, I started reading some ascension posts (posts about winning), and saw that these players were playing kind of fast and loose with their characters. It was risky to dive to sokoban for reflection or all the way to the castle for the wand of wishing, but both of those things exponentially increase your chances of surviving to mid-game. So was it more dangerous to go straight down to sokoban as soon as possible for reflection, or was it more dangerous to meander about, trying to stay alive long enough for the Random Nethack God to figure out a complex set of circumstances that ends in my death? I'd been playing each character like I wanted to keep it alive, but they're all very notably dead. Could being more risky be technically less risky? Only one way to find out. I switch back to the class I have the most experience with, and roll new Valk.

Eira the neutral human Valkyrie enters the Mazes of Menace...

I started out pretty well, found a shop with two cloaks of displacement for only 66 zorkmids. I couldn't buy one fast enough. I then, rather uneventfully, rushed down to sokoban, and solved it with little trouble. The amulet of reflection was mine, and at level 5 I was protected from a good portion of the insta-deaths Nethack can issue. Maybe there's something to this new strategy... Should I make a run for the castle? Why the fuck not?

I continue down, and find a few rings I can't check for cursed status with a pet because they've all died due to somesuch Nethackery, so I just hold on to them in the hopes of finding an altar. A kitten attacks, and I toss it some tripe for a cheap cursed item ID, and abandon it. Don't look at me like that. You knew what this was. I test out the uncursed rings, and find they are conflict and warning! Quite a find. Warning will show me where nearby monsters are, and how nasty they are. Very useful. Conflict will cause all the monsters on the level to fight each other. Extremely useful in certain situations. Later I happen across an uncommon find; a grey stone. It could be a few things, only one is bad, so I test it to make sure it's not a loadstone, and pick it up. Hey, could be a luckstone... Yeah, and a djinni could fly out of my ass and grant me three wishes! It's probably flint. Maybe even a touchstone. I'll check it later, but there's no harm in bringing it along. Despite the unlikeliness, I carry it in my immediate inventory as if it were a luckstone. Just wishful thinking, I suppose.

Further down I enter a new level, and begin searching for the downstairs when I suddenly stop. I furrow my brow and stare. Why the fuck is my ring of warning telling me there is a 5th level dangerous monster around the corner??? The ring of warning uses numbers to show how dangerous the monsters nearby are. If you can't see them, but are near enough, they show up on your map as the number. 5 is the highest I've ever seen warning go, and now I was seeing it extremely early in the game. This can't be right. Its gotta be a chameleon. Just be cool, back away from whatever it is until it changes into something easier to kill... I take two cautious steps toward the upstairs, and think I might have just dodged a bullet. I take another step, and it teleports into the room with me! It's a fucking Arch Lich! It casts a spell, and I'm surrounded on all sides by serious monsters! Among them an ettin zombie, two hill giants, and a goddamn green dragon!

okokok, don't freak out. Check your inventory for something to get out of this. I've got two scrolls of teleport, one cursed, one not. The cursed one will change what level I'm on, and the uncursed one will just move me around on this level. I'd rather deal with the chameleon now, so lets try the uncursed one first, and keep the cursed one in reserve. I read the uncursed scroll of teleport, and wind up two rooms away. I quickly put on my ring of conflict, and make a run for a corridor so I can deal with the monsters one at a time when they show up.

I hear noises from elsewhere, hopefully that ring of conflict is doing something. As I stand in the corridor, two "2"s show up in the room in front of me, but out of my visual range. I poke my head into the room, and see a cockatrice and a scorpion. I didn't know a scorpion was a 2... I back into the corridor and ready the few daggers I have for that cockatrice, when the 2 changes into a 1. I poke my head out, and see a small kobold where the cockatrice once was. It's the chameleon! Kill it while it's still weak! I rush over and kill it, then make my way the scorpion. On the way I see a 2 and a 3 making their way over to this room, so I dispatch the scorpion quickly, and fall back into the corridor. The corridor is at a bit of an angle, so I might be able to see what it is before it has a straight shot at me, so I back into the next room, which turns out to be a leprechaun hall! They're still asleep, so they won't bother us, but if things get hairy I can wake them all up, and with the ring of conflict, they should make for a good distraction. But this room is still a dead end. I hide around the corner, double check my inventory, and wait for the 2 and 3 to make their way to me.

The 2 enters the corridor, and I poke my head around the corner, and see that it's an ettin mummy. I should be able to take him... them?.. It. I position myself so I can hit it as soon as it sees me, and wait for the 2 to round the corner. As soon as its heads appear, I attack. It was tougher than I thought, but I killed it. The 3 suddenly makes a bee-line for me, I'm still at 2/3 health, so I need to know what it is. I wait until the 3 is in the corridor in a position where I can look safely, and peek around the corner. Green Dragon! Ok, it's kind of early for me to try to take one on. I know I have poison resistance... Fuck it. I've got a potion of full healing and a wand of digging in case it gets to be too much. No guts no Glory. I wait for the Green Dragon to get in range, and bash it with my long sword. It takes quite a beating, and gets my hitpoints down to the teens, but I drink the full heal potion, and finish it off in a few more turns. Sweet! Now I have green dragon scales that I might be able to turn into dragon scale mail!

I continue clearing out the rest of the level, and pick up a large cat as a pet. I open the door on the last room in the map, and it's full of chickatrices! I check my inventory and confirm I have a lizard corpse, but no gloves... I try to close to the door, but a chickatrice hops into the doorway! I have no reason to fuck around with these things, so I'm out. I back out of the corridor, slam the door behind it, and lock it. I'll deal with those guys later. Or never. At least my large cat was far enough away to keep from getting locked in with them...

On the way to the stairs down, I run into a gargoyle. I hate gargoyles. I check my inventory and zap it with a wand of lightning, killing it on the first hit. It drops a potion, which I quaff greedily. It was a potion of self knowledge!

You are piously aligned.
You are cold resistant.
You are warned.
You are displaced.
You are stealthy.
You are fast.
You have reflection.
You are lucky.
You have extra luck.
Bad luck does not time out for you.
Good luck does not time out for you.
You can safely pray.

That's odd... Why all the luck? Oh well, I won't complain.

The next level down is the Big Room, and I've got a ring of conflict! I slip it on and put some distance between me and my large cat. The monsters start fighting amongst themselves, most notably a pack of chickatrices, but the overall flow of monsters is still closing in on me, so I carefully made my way to the down stairs so I'd have an easy escape if it got hairy.

The chickatrices have been making tons of statues out of monsters, but they weren't making it close enough to keep me clear. Or do I want them to stay away? I fight as much as I can, and flee downstairs once surrounded, knowing that some monsters would follow me down.

Sure enough a zombie and a tengu follow me down, it'll be good not to have them around me when I go back up. As I fight them off, a hill giant appears in the doorway, but is far enough away that I'll have these guys out of the way before he gets to me. Suddenly the hill giant zaps a wand of lightning while I'm at half health! Shit! If this doesn't kill me, he's still far enough away to zap me multiple times before I can get to him, and my daggers are all upstairs! Should I escape upstairs? The bolt of lightning streaks toward me, bounces off my amulet of reflection, blinding me, and returns to the hill giant, killing him. Ok, that was close. Or did it just seem close? Whatever. Hill giants usually travel in packs, and the monsters that had surrounded me upstairs didn't seem too tough if I recall correctly, I think I'll hang out upstairs until the blindness wears off.

Back upstairs, I blindly fight off some minor monsters, but one bites me and I feel feverish. Crap! A werewolf! Ok, my god will cure my lycanthropy, but I don't want to use up the godly heal if I'm not near death, because I'm still low on health. I keep fighting, but the monsters seem too resilient. Fuck this, I'm leaving. I escape downstairs.

Eira's quest continues here...