Thursday, March 27, 2008

I'm Baaaaaaaaaack!

Sorry I haven't been more bloggy. I blame jet lag and the devaluation of the American dollar. But I'll make up for lost time, with a couple of epic posts about my travels and travails abroad. Plus, pictures of naked statues and stuff.

Ciao, hepcats!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Roman Holiday: The Journey Begins!

How about a little traveling music? Something with zip! With pep! With schmoop! What's schmoop? Hell, I don't know! I've been up all night packing! Get off my back!

Let's do the Vatican Rag...

First you get down on your knees,
Fiddle with your rosaries,
Bow your head with great respect,
And genuflect, genuflect, genuflect!

Do whatever steps you want, if
You have cleared them with the Pontiff.
Everybody say his own Kyrie eleison,
Doin' the Vatican Rag.

Get in line in that processional,
Step into that small confessional,
There, the guy who's got religion'll
Tell you if your sin's original.

If it is, try playin' it safer,
Drink the wine and chew the wafer,
Two, four, six, eight,
Time to transubstantiate!

So get down upon your knees,
Fiddle with your rosaries,
Bow your head with great respect,
And genuflect, genuflect, genuflect!

Make a cross on your abdomen,
When in Rome do like a Roman,
Ave Maria! Gee it's good to see ya!
Gettin' ecstatic an'
Sorta dramatic an'
Doin' the Vatican Rag!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Links, Man!

Enjoy these weird-ass videos from Picnicface. They'll make you laugh. They'll make you think. But mostly, they'll get inside your head and KICK ITS ASS!!!

The most extreme sports drink ever! Give me Powerthirst or go to hell!

Powerthirst 2
Too energetic for normal sports! It's like flying a jet plane... made of biceps!

NFL Crunch Time
A football game for the XBOX 360 that's so realistic, it includes prison.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

When In Rome...

Can't talk now. I'm going to Rome! You know, where that Pope guy lives?

To celebrate her retirement, my mom announced she was taking the family on a trip to Italy. So last December, I went and got my passport, and I cleared the time off with my boss, and I figured, "Hey, I've got three months. Plenty of time."

And then, it sort of snuck up on me. So now we're leaving on Thursday afternoon, and I'm scrambling to make sure I actually have enough clothes to last a week, because who knows if they have washing machines or even running water there?

I know Rome is a major metropolitan city with all the amenities of modern life, but every time I think about Italy, I imagine peasant women crushing grapes while men with big, bushy mustaches shoot each other in vendettas. I know it's an unfair stereotype, but everybody over there probably thinks we all wear big cowboy hats and bandannas while riding our horses to the trading post to buy chaw and fatback. Which is completely absurd, because I don't even own a bandanna!

I'm going to take my laptop with me, so I should be able to post some while I'm there. Assuming there's a connection to Nobel Prize winner Al Gore's Internet at the hotel. And assuming they have, you know, electricity...

I just know I'm going to be one of those Ugly Americans. I don't speak Italian, or Latin, or whatever they speak in Rome. I know nothing about their local customs. Does Caesar outrank the Pope? If you see a gladiator walking down the street, do you salute? Are all the phones labeled with Is, Vs, and Xs?

Sorry if this post seems a bit mean-spirited. But ever since I found out that the Romans were the ones who killed my Lord, I've been a bit angry. Not vendetta-angry, you understand. Not furious enough to, say, leave a horse's head in anyone's bed. But a mite peeved.

Ah, but I tease the ancient empire that was brought down by it's own decadence even as it crumbled beneath the might of the invading barbarians. I'm actually looking forward to this trip! My nephew Christopher is going with us, and he's been learning the language by listening to CDs. So if I need to find a library or ask how much for the blue sweater, then he'll be my go-to guy. Otherwise, I'll have to resort to the tried and true method of speaking English loudly and slowly until everyone around me learns it by brute force.

I'm ready to drink in the heady brew of another culture, and I've already learned some interesting things. For example, did you know that my age and my shirt size are the same in Rome? XL! Isn't that fascinating?

Ciao, hepcats!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Back on Nobel Prize Winner Al Gore's Internet!!!

By the way, that last post was done from HOME!!!!! My new modem arrived from Verizon last night, and I am now once again back on the grid!

The Texas Two-Step

Well, it's been two days and they're *still* counting the caucus votes in Texas. At the moment, they're approximately 40% through the results, with Obama leading Clinton by 56% to 44%.

As for the primaries, Clinton defeated Obama with 51% of the vote. Now if you've ever actually studied math, you probably regard that as a "close race" or a "narrow margin." However, you may recall from 2004 that the Republicans declared 51% to be a "historical sweeping landslide of Biblical proportions that indicates a mandate set not only by the people but by the Lord God Himself." So I guess Clinton should feel pretty proud right about now.

If you're from a state with a less-retarded voting system, you may be asking yourself, "What's all this primary/caucus stuff?" Well, if so, then you're shit out of luck because I've lived in Texas my whole life and I *still* don't understand how the candidate selection process works here for Democrats.

The Republicans have their primary elections. All of their faithful supporters show up and cast their votes for the Republican who hates gay people and foreigners the most. They tally the votes (at 1 for each white voter, and 3/5 for everyone else) and then they send their delegates to the Republican National Convention to nominate their man.

But the Democrats here have a system known as the "Texas Two-Step" that's more convoluted than the plot of Lost. You see, first you go to the primary and cast your vote for the candidate of your choice. The results of the primary are represented by 126 delegates. Once you've voted in the primary, you are eligible to attend the caucus and vote yet again. Only this time, you're voting for the delegates rather than the candidates. I think. The results of the caucus are represented by 67 delegates; 25 have already been selected by the party, while the remaining 42 are elected at the caucus.

And, just in case your head hasn't exploded yet, there are 35 superdelegates! These roguish, devil-may-care delegates play by their own damn rules! They laugh at your silly little primary results, and they spit on your caucuses! They vote however the hell they feel like voting, and if you don't like it, you can run home and cry to mommy, you colossal pussy!

So that's it in a nutshell. There's also some calculus involved, plus everyone knows that the Hair Competition is worth 35% of the final score. In the end, the results will probably be determined by those wild card superdelegates.

One interesting thing about the primaries was the record turnout of Democrat voters. They actually outnumbered the Republican voters by 2/1, which is pretty remarkable in the reddest of red states. (The last time Texas cast its electoral votes for a Democrat was 1976, for Jimmy Carter. Of course, that was back before Democrat, liberal, and evil all became synonyms in the conservative dictionary.)

Of course, conspiracy theories abound. Some folks claim that the Republicans are attempting to sabotage Obama by sending folks to vote for Clinton, which strikes me as kind of funny. I know Rush Limbaugh has been inciting his listeners to vote for Hillary, because he thinks that'll make things easier for the Republicans in November. (Rush apparently assumes that American voters are more sexist than racist.)

But it could end up being a moot point. While doing the morning talk show circuit the other day, Hillary mentioned the possibility of a Clinton/Obama ticket. Of course, they'd have to settle the matter of who gets to be on top with a quick round of roshombo or a game of quarters.

What's interesting is that, ordinarily, talk of a join ticket is seen as a concession. However, Clinton timed it just right and may end up appealing to folks who see a vote for her as a vote for her and Obama. Plus, it opens up the opportunity of Clinton serving her one or two terms, then stepping aside to let Obama do the same.

Personally, I still have my problems with Hillary Clinton, none of which are actually related to the issues. I hate the way her campaign just seems to go negative by reflex (her team is already blaming the caucus results on Obama's team, claiming they cheated and kept certain voters from attending). And her heartfelt, sincere moments feel so contrived and manipulative.

But she's pro-environment, pro-choice, anti-war, anti-torture, and has plans for economic stimulation that go beyond constant tax cuts to the wealthiest .00001%. I may not like her as a person, but I can at least support her on the issues. I'm still pulling for Obama, but I don't think Clinton in office would necessarily be a *bad* thing.

Of course, it's hard to say for certain. After all, that bar has been set pretty low over the past eight years...

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The 1d6 People You Meet in Heaven

Gary Gygax, 1938-2008

Ernest Gary Gygax--writer, game designer, and 23rd level nerd--passed away this morning. He'd been suffering from health problems for the past few years, including an abdominal aneurysm.

For the benefit of those readers who got laid in high school, I should probably explain that Gary Gygax was the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons (along with Dave Arneson). And if you don't know what Dungeons & Dragons is, then you have no business mucking around on Nobel Prize winner Al Gore's Internet.

As soon as the news broke, the geek grapevine was abuzz. One of my coworkers was telling me about it just as one of the managers sent out an email. And then, Stephanie called me to let me know and to make sure I was okay. I told her I was going to take a personal day to spend some quality time with my dice and lead figurines.

I never actually met the man, but I was an unabashed fan of his work. My first attempt at a novel, The Long and Rather Pointless Adventures of Verbal Reynard, Cutpurse Extraordinaire, was an affectionate parody of Mr. Gygax's World of Greyhawk and my love letter to all things Dungeons & Dragons.

I first started playing Dungeons & Dragons back in 1981, when I was in the 8th grade. Unfortunately, it was around this time that the Baptist Church lost its mind and became convinced that D&D was a gateway to Satan worship and black magic. My mom and stepdad were concerned because my friends and I had become somewhat obsessed with the game. We spent all our money on rule books, game modules, and funny dice. And when I wasn't playing the game with them, I was shut up in my room, mapping out elaborate dungeons and thinking of horrific and brutal ways to kill their characters.

It was around this time that Sean and I decided to make our epic Dungeons & Dragons movie, which worried my parents even more. Seeing us all geared out in our makeshift armor and wielding our wooden swords, they no doubt imagined we would eventually make our way down to the sewers and hack each other to death in some kind of diabolical blood ritual.

(To be fair, their entire perception of the game was pretty much formed by films like Mazes and Monsters or retarded publications like Jack Chick's Dark Dungeons. Dungeons and Dragons became a scapegoat for misbehaving teenagers, sandwiched somewhere in between backwards messages in rock music and Grand Theft Auto.)

For my parents, the final straw came in 1984. We had a visiting preacher at church who devoted his entire sermon to the evils of Dungeons & Dragons and how it made the Baby Jesus cry. So on Monday, while I was at work, my mom and stepdad went through my closet and they found my copy of Deities and Demigods (one of the D&D rulebooks). This was all the proof they needed that I was involved in some kind of pagan cult. When I got home from work, they had a little intervention and they informed me that my days of playing Dungeons & Dragons were over.

I protested that it was only a game, that nobody I knew had any trouble distinguishing between reality and fantasy. I argued that Dungeons & Dragons was a creative outlet, that I was in effect writing stories. I pointed out that I was making good grades, that I had a job, and I was in band and yearbook staff. I was not only going to church every week, but I was in the orchestra there. Plus, our circle of geeks had recently expanded to include some real live girls!

Moved by my pleas, my parents agreed to a compromise. I could continue to play D&D, but I wasn't allowed to use any of the other gods in my game. My players had to worship God and Jesus. I agreed to their terms, and even went so far as to draw up some stats for God and Jesus. You know, in case the players ran into them in the game... and wanted to fight them. I don't remember any of the specifics, but I do recall that killing God would yield some primo experience points...

My interest in the game waned somewhat when I graduated and went to college. I had some geeky friends and we'd get together for the occasional game, but the days of marathon gaming sessions had passed. When I was at Brinker, I hooked up with a gang of nerds there for a couple of nostalgic sessions. I had a lot of fun, but I got a little embarrassed when they came in my office and started discussing the game in front of my other friends. One guy, Joey, asked me why I was embarrassed, and I told him, "Dungeons & Dragons is like masturbation... I enjoy doing it, but I don't really want to talk about it in front of a bunch of people."

Most recently, I discovered that Stephanie was no stranger to the dice. I dusted off my old books and ran her, Sean, and a couple of other friends through an old school 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons adventure. (It was the Desert of Desolation series, in case you're interested.) It was a blast! It turns out that Dungeons & Dragons is even more fun when you're sleeping with one of the players! But I digress...

So that's how Gary Gygax shaped my teen years and made me the successful nerd that I am today. I look back on the time I spent with my friends during that period, and I remember it all quite fondly. The funny thing is, I don't remember many of the details about the games themselves. I just remember the all night sessions, with six to ten of us gathered around somebody's kitchen table with our dice, rulebooks, and character sheets, stuffed full of Mr. Jim's pizza and hopped up on Mountain Dew, cracking our dumb jokes and discussing, in all earnestness, what would happen if you put a Sphere of Annihilation inside a Bag of Holding.

Rest in peace, Mr. Gygax.

Monday, March 03, 2008

&$^@#!?*% Verizon!!!! (a Trois)

While I was nerding it up at ConDFW, my internet connection died on me. I had no idea until I got home from the conference and started up my PC, only to find myself being mocked by Windows Vista's "limited connectivity" icon. Usually when this happens, I just power off my modem and power down my PC, then bring them both back up and hey, problem solved!

(As you may recall from the last time I had this problem, my modem is slightly older than John McCain, and was apparently constructed prior to the invention of on/off switches. So in order to "cycle power," I have to reach around behind it and pull out the power cord. My modem sucks, and I hope it dies alone and unloved.)

Anyway, despite my best efforts, I just wasn't getting any connectivity love. So once again, I broke down and did something that never seems to bode well. I called Verizon Customer Service.

Now apparently Verizon has decided that the whole DSL thing is beneath them, so they've quit supporting it themselves and farmed it out to some very nice folks for whom English is, to be kind, most likely a second language.

So, with much trepidation, I dialed Verizon Customer Service and reached the soulless automaton who would be my guide. Her soothing, robot voice informed me that I was at the Main Menu, and I could return here at any time by saying "main menu." And so, comforted by the thought that safety was never more than two words away, I plunged into the swirling, nightmarish abyss of Verizon's nested menus.

I informed the godless fembot that I was calling with regards to Verizon High Speed Internet, that my phone number was indeed correct, and that I was having connectivity issues. After much clicking and whirring as she attempted to process this human emotion called love, the she-droid informed me that she was going to perform some tests on the line and it might take a few minutes.

This is the part that always kills me, because while waiting for the results, another helpful recorded message always sees fit to inform me that "the solutions for many common connectivity issues may be found online at the Verizon website." Thank you, Verizoputer 5000. I'm sure if anybody ever bothered to point out the fallacy in that logic to the robots manning the phones, they would short out and their heads would explode.

The fembot finally came back on the line to let me know that she had found a problem in the network and she was transferring me to an agent who could assist me further. I have to say, this filled me with hope. If she'd already managed to figure out the problem, hopefully I'd be up and running in no time. Right? RIGHT?

Wrong. I was finally connected with a very nice human being in a drastically different time zone who had me go through the usual rigmarole of shutting things off and turning them back on again. Because they never believe you when you tell them you've already done it 5,000,000,000,000,000,000 times. I told her that the magic voice on the phone had already found the problem, but unfortunately the robots and the Indian contractors don't seem to be speaking with one another these days. After exhausting her bag of tricks, my agent informed me that she was going to escalate the issue to her supervisor, or something like that. She said they would be in touch and let me know when the issue was resolved.

Well, I got the call on Friday that the problem was solved and my connection to Nobel Prize winner Al Gore's Internet should be up and running. I went to check, but no connection. I unplugged the modem, powered down the PC, and brought them both back up. Still no connection.

On Saturday, I sat down to place another call to Verizon Customer Support. I found myself at the familiar Main Menu, and once again worked my way through the myriad options. When I finally informed the cold, mechanical fembot that I was having connectivity issues, she gave me the following choices:
I see that we recently closed a ticket for you on this issue. You may need to restart your modem and your computer. To repeat this information, say "repeat." To return to the Main Menu, say "main menu."
I tried again and again, but I couldn't seem to get past this barrier of computer logic. No option to reopen a ticket, no option to speak to an agent, nothing. Annoyed, I returned to the Main Menu and this time when she asked me what my issue was, I said, "Other." Fortunately, my unpredictable human brain proved too wily for her circuitous logic, and I was able to pierce the clever defenses of the Verizon Customer Service Automated Menu System. I felt like such a hacker.

I was eventually connected to another exotic customer service agent who apologized profusely for the inconvenience and reopened my ticket. We went through the reboot thing again, and I'm sure you can imagine my surprise and astonishment when that didn't work. So she said that she would escalate my call to her supervisor, and they would be in touch with me.

I heard back just two hours later from somebody here in the continental U.S. He said they were going to upgrade my connection for free, and I'd be receiving a new and improved modem (and cables) in the mail in the next few days. He also gave me his number and said I could call it if I ran into any problems getting the new stuff up and running.

So I'm feeling cautiously optimistic. Hopefully I'll be back online before my social security benefits kick in. In the meantime, I'm making due with my internet connection at work, and the occasional low-quality wireless signal that I can grab with my laptop.

Can you hear me now?