Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Diablo is the Devil... Seriously

Just like I said I would yesterday, I'll relate to you today why I hate the video game Diablo (and Diablo II more so). I'm sure many of you have played one of these two games, if not both, and often. Along with Counterstrike and Starcraft, Diablo II seems to be one of the most played games online that I can think of (outside of pay-to-play online games a la Everquest).

I tried out Diablo back in the day when it first came out and found it somewhat interesting, but it was also somewhat repetitive. All you did was click, click, click, click, and click some more. The entire game was walking your character through different dungeons and clicking on the bad guys so you would attack them. That's pretty much all the deeper the game is.

I later also tried out Diablo II when my brothers picked it up, but I gave up on it after a couple of days. It was just the same thing. Clicking endlessly on enemies. What kept (and still keeps) my brothers going, however, are the new items you get the further into the game you get and the higher the level your character is. The more you play, the better your character gets and the better items he gets.

This mindset is only reinforced online where everyone plays for hours a day on the Diablo level treadmill to get new items or to get items to trade other people for. It sounds kind of interesting now, doesn't it. There's almost a little economy going on that might make playing the game a little more interesting. Maybe, except all you do when you get new items is play through the same levels you've already played a hundred times over killing the same enemies with different weapons. Why?

What is this magical draw that doing the same damn thing over and over again has over Diablo players? Do the players not realize that they're simply doing the same thing (clicking endlessly on enemies) over and over and over again. There's only slight permutations each time through with different items. The fact doesn't change that there's essentially NOTHING NEW when you play through again.

Sure, you can get even more improved items to make it easier to click like a trained monkey the next time you play through the campaign, but what is the actual end goal of doing this? There isn't one. It's a perpetual self-feeding circle. You get better items to kill things in order to level up. You level up in order to get better items. This circle repeats ad infinitum and the players seem to be too freakin' stupid to realize that they're not doing anything but waste their time while playing this game through the 277th time.

What I don't understand is how the boredom factor doesn't come into play. Why don't my brothers ever get bored with the game? There is never any new "content" in the game (I don't consider some new items content). You never have new missions. You never have new enemies. You never have new environments. You only get new items to do the same things over again, just a little easier.

I'm starting to think that some people, however, get psychologically addicted to this "new item" mentality that Diablo and games of its ilk are perpetuating. I know some people (you know who you are) who will consistently turn away human contact to continue their quest for their 20th Roderic stone (or whatever the hell some item you need in Diablo is called). Is it really that important that you continue playing Diablo (which you could easily save and pick back up at a later time) while someone is visiting you or asking you to do something with them?

The final point of ludicrousness associated with this game is how people will pay money (yeah, the green stuff we earn from working at our jobs) to purchase virtual items from other players. You could eventually get that item on your own by playing the game long enough (which no one should ever do if they want to have a life), but instead you fork over money for a bunch of 1's and 0's that add nothing to the game except a stat modifier or higher attack damage.

Ugghhhh, I just can't go on any more about how stupid this game is and how dumb the people who get caught up in it's vicious leveling circle are. Everyone who plays it should seriously take a look at how it affects their relationships with other people and why you are actually playing the game. If you're playing "to get the next awesome item" or to "level up again", then you are an idiot and are being suckered. Go do something else besides sit in front of your computer clicking over and over again doing the same thing you've done hundreds of times before!

Monday, August 30, 2004

There's Still Something Missing

I had a whole ton of stuff planned out to write today (and I might still get to some of it), but all I can think about right now is a cute little poem that Kristin wrote about college and put up as her AIM away message. I would love to share it all with you now:

An Ode to Homework
Kristin Welch

Homework, homework everyday
Homework, homework in every way
Oh, how it I loathe to do
I would almost rather have the flu
Books here, books there
Strewn about my room
If I get a problem wrong
It'll surely lead to doom
So take a breath, look around
And in my mind have set
That all my new found education
Will one day put me out of debt

I love it! After reading it, however, I am again reminded of how much I really do miss the college life. I thought that I'd eventually get settled into the work world and maybe even learn to like it, but I still pine after the good ol' college days as much as when I first graduated.

I've adjusted to the work world, and I'll even say that I've gotten to the point where I don't mind it, but there's just something missing. I've tried to pinpoint exactly what that something is, but I always come up with a different answer every time I pose the question to myself.

After being up at St. Ben's to see Kristin this weekend, and posing the question of "what is it that I truly miss" to myself, my latest answer would seem to be the people. Even though I spent most of the time with Kristin and her roommates, just seeing and talking to a few of the people that less than a year ago I was going to school with made me want to be back in that atmosphere.

Rochester, as nice of a town as it is, and Kingland, as great of a company as it is, just doesn't compare. There are few people around here that I know who are my age or share my interests. Sure, talking and goofing around with the guys at the office is cool and it gives me a quasi-replacement feeling to fill in the spaces that have been vacated by not being around all of my college compatriots, but I don't have relationships with my coworkers on the level that I did with the people I knew/know from college.

After my classes would be over I would always have something to do for the evening, and if I somehow didn't I would find something to do with the people around me. If it wasn't ultimate frisbee practice or volleyball or basketball or going on a mall run or just chilling in front of the tv playing video games, it was doing something education related like going to a reading group, seeing a play, or doing homework with some classmates.

Now, in this working world I'm so entrenched in, I drive 40 minutes into work in the morning, work my eight hours, drive 40 minutes home and proceed to try to think of stuff to do. True, I've had lots of crap to get done at home (fix computers, sell all my old stuff I don't need on ebay, finally go through and unpack some stuff from college), but there are days where I'm sitting on my bed wondering what I should do--play a video game by myself, go for a run by myself, read a book by myself, watch tv by myself, or just sit there and wonder why everything I'm doing is by myself.

It's getting even worse now that my little brother has a girlfriend. It used to be that when I'd come home we could watch the Simpsons together, play a video game, or go have a bon fire & blow things up with fireworks. Now he's always at her house or playing Diablo (I hate that game with a passion, but that's a story for another post, maybe tomorrow). I really don't even have the option of doing something with him if he's not around.

I'd like to hang out with people that I know in Roch after work, but usually they want to do things later in the day when I'm already home and I am NOT going to drive into Rochester twice in one day. Doing it once a day is bad enough. I'm just struggling here trying to cope with my non-existent social life. At the moment, Monday-Friday afternoon I have no social life and from Friday evening through Sunday evening I have a nice, healthy social life up in St. Cloud. I love the latter, but it's a pain in the ass dealing with the former.

On a more upbeat note, Kristin and I were both thoroughly impressed by both Hero and Dodgeball. I didn't expect Dodgeball to be all that great, considering I loathe Ben Stiller, but it managed to be extremely funny. Part of the reason it was so good was that Stiller's character was so over-the-top that I couldn't help but laugh at the parody of the uber sports jock he was portraying. Vince Vaughn was also very good as the leader of the underdog group of guys who continually get hit with balls, wrenches, and cars among other things.

Hero was a phenomenal movie owing its influences in equal parts to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Usual Suspects, and MacBeth. The martial arts were very much in the vein of CTHD, but the set-pieces used to film each battle were amazing in how unique they were, as well as how grandiose they appeared. The story, although not as intelligent as I had hoped, was still better than most of the turds that Hollywood has cranked out lately. If this doesn't finally get Jet Li noticed by the majority of American movie-goers, I think he might be relegated to making movies that will forever hover in Steven Segal and Jean-Claude Van Damme territory.

If you get the chance, go to see both of these movies. They are two of the few good movies to actually have come out in theaters this summer.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Screamo's Unexplored Depths

I was thinking that I'd go for a hat trick and talk about stupid people for three days in a row, but instead I wanted to write about something I've been contemplating for a couple of days in the back of my mind--the screamo music genre. Some of you may be thinking, "Huh?" or "WTF?". For those of you thinking that, I will attempt to help you out by giving you a few examples of what the screamo genre encompasses. Screamo got its name for the incorporation of screaming within the emo genre.

Some trademarks of the emo genre are mid-tempo pacing, melodic & crooning vocals, and an "emotional" tone to the lyrics. At the beginning of the genre, back when grunge and metal were all the rage, most of the bands in those genres didn't write lyrics that were easily connected to. Most of the songs were about partying, posturing, and pissing people off. With the advent of the 90's, however, many younger people were looking for something "more" in their music. With this brought the explosion of the emo genre.

Newer bands shifted their focus to a more appealing tone for their music, yet maintaining the popular rock sound. In addition to forming a more widely digestible sound, the lyrics of this new genre deviated from the rock & punk lyrics of the bands around them. The lyrics were usually sad or melancholy, focusing on the bad things that happened in life. Since high school and college can be hell for some people (more than likely most everyone) it was easy for people to connect to the content of the lyrics being written by emo bands.

After a while, however, I think most kids got around to realizing that being sad all the time, and constantly talking about how sad and crappy they were, just sucked. They got pissed about how sad their lives had become. With this came the revitalization of "heavy" music, but with this revitalization came all the stereotypes of metal from years past. Nu-metal was nothing but crap about being pissed off and nothing deeper.

Now we have reached today. The current rock climate is defined by the screamo sound. Kids, no longer content to simply be either exclusively sad or exclusively pissed, wanted to feel something more complex in their music. Why settle for one emotional extreme when you could have both? With this thought came the advent of screamo.

In screamo songs you have both the emotional lyrics and content of emo as well as the aggressive outlet of pissed off metal. Instead of battling against each other, like it may seem would be the case, these two emotions fed off one another.

In a perfectly crafted screamo song, a listener will be confronted with the misery that is everyday life, but instead of simply being content with it, as the people in the emo genre are, they rally against the absurdities of life. They rally with a vengeance. This vengeful explosion of emotion now has a reason for existing--the harrowing reality of our miserable lives. In metal and nu-metal there was no defining reason for why they were pissed, they just were. There was no underlying meaning to why bands were pissed so there wasn't much to grab on to.

With screamo's mixing of the recognition that our lives are less than perfect and the assertive, hard-hitting notion that we shouldn't be satisfied by what we see leads to a genre that is defining the current batch of rock listeners. Many are calling this genre as clichéd as both nu-metal and emo, but I feel it is much more than both. It is a step above other genres that simply feed on one singular emotion. The reciprocal interplay between melody & aggression, complacence & action, and screaming & singing are what makes this genre a style of music that has a more universal appeal than either that helped to influence it.

I am not trying to say that screamo is the epitome of music, but what I am trying to say is that screamo has more to offer, emotionally, than the other brands of rock that are currently being shuffled around on the radio, MTV, and music internet sites. When a song can bring me to tears, all the while making me want to rage against the forces that brought on those tears, I know that there is something deeper behind it. It is this something deeper that drives my appreciation and love of music. Once this emotional deepness is lost, my love of music won't be too far behind.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Mutant Goldfish People

Sometimes the sheer stupidity of people amazes me. Really, how can some people be so dumb and still manage to survive in the world today? I was confronted with someone today who must obviously be stupid, maybe not extremely stupid, but stupid enough nonetheless.

I had to run to Best Buy over lunch today to pick up a graphics card for my computer since the graphics card that is currently in my computer is going in someone else's... long story, doesn't apply to anything now. Anyhow, I needed a graphics card so I picked up a GeForce 5500 OC 256MB DDR. This will be replacing the Radeon 9600 SE that I had.

As I brought it up to the check out counter, I set it down and waited to be helped. A couple of minutes later, I was checked out by a woman who was probably about 40 years old. Someone this old still working a check out counter should have been my first clue as to the intelligence level of this particular individual, but I was having an off day and assumed she was a capable person. I checked out without any troubles and as I was signing my name on their little touchpad to finish my credit card payment for the card she asked if I wanted a bag to put the card in. I said "No, I don't need one."

She looked at my credit card and license, checking my signature, and then handed them back to me. As I was putting them in my wallet, she grabbed the receipt and put it with the video card in a bag and handed it to me wishing me a good day......

.....notice what's wrong with that situation? What did she do wrong? If you can't figure it out then I question your intelligence. What part of "No, I don't need a bag" did she not understand? There was probably less than a 30 seconds time lapse between the time I said I didn't need a bag and the time she put my card in a bag. I'm starting to wonder if she is really a goldfish in a human body...... but unfortunately goldfish have longer attention spans than what is traditionally thought (they actually do possess some long term memory).

The last couple of days, including today, have been pretty dreary. It's been overcast, hazy, humid, and rainy. All of these only help to contribute to a bad mood. I've been working on writing help text for a new product at work while learning how reports in a new product work so that I can write the help text for those as well. As I sit here reading and writing, because of the crappy weather, I really have no happy outlet to look to. On other days when I feel bored, down, or just grouchy I can simply stand up, take a look out the window, see the nice weather and I'll be reinvigorated to work so that I can accelerate getting home to enjoy the outside. Right now, I don't want to go outside because it's unappealing.

It's odd that since I don't want to go outside and aren't really looking forward to going out that I would want to do even less work now. Logically, I tell myself that I should be working extra hard now when it sucks out so that when a nice day comes along I don't have to sit here in the office working--I could just leave. Unfortunately, logic and how my body feels often don't agree with one another.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Steele County Fair - Thumbs Down

Yesterday was Sunday, which is a day that our family likes to use to try to do something together, or at least spend some time together. This usually occurs around lunch time, right after church. Sometimes we'll do things together, like go to a movie or go out to eat or do some yard work together or, as we did yesterday, plan on going to the demolition derby at the Steele County Fair. I said "plan" for a reason, and that reason is we never actually got to go.

No, we didn't all of the sudden get lazy and not go to the fair. We did that. No, we didn't decide it was too expensive to go in (even though it really is a rip off at $12 per adult). We would have shelled out the $50 for us all to go. We were, in fact, foiled by whoever was in charge of making the fair schedule flyers.

Every year there is a demolition derby at the fair, that's a given, but when it is can change from year to year. Wanting to know when this year's derby was, my mom looked at one of the fair's flyers that they sent out in the mail or had out at local businesses for people to grab. It said 6:00 pm on Sunday. Cool. That would give us plenty of time in the afternoon to relax and watch the Olympics before watching some car crunching action.

Little did we know that whoever was in charge of scheduling decided to completely ignore the flyers that had already been put out and change the time of the derby to 4:00 pm. They updated their online schedule, but anyone who didn't check the online postings and put trust in the flyers that were sent out were going to miss the derby.

Huh, that seemed like an awesome move, didn't it? Why not change the schedule because you want to and only update the website. Do the people in charge of the fair know what type of people go to their rinky-dink conglomerations of crap? Most of them probably don't use the internet. Even if they did, would someone normally think to double check the official flyer's schedule just in case the promoters decided to pull a big freakin' joke on the majority of their target audience? Honestly, the fair organizers must be some of the dumbest people on this planet and how they ever got their jobs is beyond me.

Needless to say, we didn't get to go to the derby. Instead we just walked around for a bit and checked out what was at the fair, which was pretty much nothing. It wasn't unexpected as I am not a fair person at all. What did amaze me as we were walking around, though, was the people and their lack of respect for others, for animals, and for themselves.

First, I saw so many people at the fair who simply didn't have respect for the fairgrounds or what was contained therein. People just toss their trash on the ground instead of walking a few feet to a garbage can and putting it in there. Are people just too lazy to lift their arm up to a 90 degree angle and drop their soda cup into the garbage instead of simply releasing their grip on it and letting it fall to the ground? Really, they're walking around the fair so why can't they deviate from their course just a little bit and make their way towards a garbage to dump their trash?

Everyone that just leaves their trash lying on the ground should have a big-ass dump truck full of nasty, smelly garbage dumped on their lawn. This wouldn't directly solve the problem in a lot of cases as it seems the most disrespectful people there, in regards to littering, are teens. Maybe dumping a bunch of crap on their parents' lawn, they will learn to teach their kids some respect.

While the parents are lecturing their kids on not being dumbasses, they could also attempt to teach them how to dress. I can't believe how many horribly dressed people were at the fair. Now I'm not talking horribly dressed as in having bad taste. No, I mean that people dressed with no respect for how they looked. Considering that most of the teenage girls that go to the fair are at least a little overweight, with some being quite so, being scantily clad is not a good thing.

What has become one of my biggest pet peeves over the last few years is the way that teen girls have been dressing. They seem to think the less cloth used in their clothing is better, as well as having what cloth is there be as tight as humanly possible.

The biggest offender in my book of clothes that should not be worn by people who are overweight are the low-cut, tight-as-hell jeans or capris that girls like to wear. When a girl pours herself into these pants, does she not see the ugly "spare tire" roll that she has all the way around the top of the belt line of her pants? Obviously not because she chooses to wear a midriff exposing t-shirt or tank top. It grosses me out to no end seeing that jiggly fat roll bouncing around as these girls walk. Either put on some pants that fit or else wear a shirt that goes down far enough to cover your midriff! Respect yourselves!

Lastly, I saw one scene that really, really pissed me off. There was a Cabela's fish tank on display with a bunch of large fish in it. I'm no fish expert, but these all looked like fish you'd catch to eat when out fishing. The top of the tank was open but about 10 feet off of the ground, no doubt in order that people wouldn't stick their hands or other things in the water. Well, that didn't stop one person I saw as I was walking by from putting something not wanted into the tank.

Now this wasn't some kid that did this, it was a full grown adult male.. There were kids there, however--his kids! The dad proceeds to toss a dime or something else in there to see what the fish would do. That's just stupid. When the dime gets in the water one of the larger fish tries to eat it, probably thinking its food. It chews on the dime for a while and looks like it can't get it out of its mouth, but it finally does. Seeing that the fish will attempt to eat coins, this moronic father tosses another coin in. Why are people like this allowed to continue breathing? I am in constant amazement that some people don't just fall over dead because of the sheer amount of stupidity weighting them down.

I guess I must be one of the few sane people left on this planet. There aren't many of us left and I am fearful of what the world will be like in 20 years when all of the F'ed up youth of today are grown up and responsible for making society flow. Maybe people my age were just as bad when they were young, but I must never have been around people so disrespectful, and for that I am thankful.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Something Kristin Turned Me On To

Over the last year or so Kristin has taken quite an interest in Buddhism. Because of her fascination with this religion/lifestyle/philosophy, I have also had a little bit of curiosity about the topic. Since I had plenty of time on vacation to do reading, I borrowed on of Kristin's intro books on the topic and set out to actually learn something (I know, learning stuff and vacations usually don't go together, but I am somewhat of a dork).

Before reading anything on the topic, basically all I knew about Buddhism is that it was started by some big fat guy, there are lots of statues of him around, Buddhists don't have a god, and they meditate a lot. That was it. I knew basically nothing about the four truths, the path to Enlightenment, or the different divisions of Buddhism. Now, after getting a general overview of what Buddhism is, do I suddenly want to convert? Well, no. Do I want to continue learning about it? Maybe.

As interesting as Buddhism is, I think it makes a nice addition to traditional religion, but I don't see it as a very interesting religion in and of itself. I know that some will say Buddhism isn't a religion per se, and they're kind of correct, but if you're a true Buddhist, then the path to Enlightenment is basically a replacement for a belief in any type of deity.

I really like some of the things that Buddhism teaches and stands for, such as being non-violent, having respect for all beings, and striving to better humanity as a whole, but I have a hard time seeing how someone can base their life around this. Actually, I don't have that hard of a time seeing how someone would base their life around this lifestyle, I guess I just have a hard time seeing myself as living out this lifestyle completely.

One of the most interesting details, one of the four truths, is that everything is constantly in change--nothing is permanent. This seems obvious, but so many people, myself included, fail to realize this statement. If I come to work and someone is no longer working for us, I feel like something's wrong. As Kristin left for college, I felt like I was losing something. When I finished college I moved home because I feared finding my own place--it would involve change.

A Buddhist embraces these changes knowing that one of the truths of existence is that everything is in flux. This noble truth is something that I would really like to integrate into my life. Removing a fear of change and embracing the flux of everyday life would help to ease my mind in so many different situations that would usually stress me out.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Service Pack 2 Will Own You

I don't know how many of you use Windows XP, but I do. It's been the best of the Windows operating systems, in my opinion. I make this judgment solely on the basis that XP doesn't crash nearly as much as any of the other Windows OS's I've used in the past. Anyone remember Windows 98 before the SE edition? Damn, I couldn't keep my computer up longer than a day, and that was only if I decided to turn it on and leave it on without doing anything. Now we are on the verge of having another Windows 98 experience with the Service Pack 2 update for Windows XP. It seems like this update is going to break a load of programs that people use, so many so that Microsoft has even dedicated a page to documenting all of the programs they know will have problems. This list (found here) only documents the programs they know of. There could be even more they don't know about!

Looking over the list I found that on the computers we have in our house running XP, the following programs we use will be broken by the SP2 update:

* Photoshop Elements 2
* Nero Burning ROM 5.5.6
* Unreal II
* Serious Sam: The Second Encounter
* DivXPlayer 2.5.3
* Freedom Force
* Installshield (how the hell do you break Installshield????)
* Excel 2003
* Outlook 2003
* Word XP
* RealPlayer (free version) 10
* Style XP 2
* Eclipse 3

That's a total of 13 programs that we use in our household that will have something broken when SP2 is installed. There are a couple of things that really interest me about this list (and the entire list on MS's site). The first is Installshield.

As far as I know, almost every program (non-MS) that I buy or download uses Installshield for installation. This would seem to be a pretty important program for MS to NOT BREAK. The repercussions could be huge depending upon how broken this version of Installshield will be and how many programs use it as an install method. I use tons of freeware and it would really suck if I was no longer able to install them again because of this service pack.

I'm also a little miffed that, if Installshield is really broken, companies (corporate and open source) are going to have to patch their releases and/or modify their code to be compatible with this horribly cumbersome patch. I don't know, I just have a hard time thinking about many open source and freeware products having to retool their releases so that they continue to work with the majority of their user base. Hell, a lot of freeware I use is no longer supported so who will fix the problems if any arise?

Another "huh?" moment was had by myself as I saw how many MS products are broken by this patch. Word, Access, Excel, three different versions of Outlook, and many other MS products will all be affected. I know that the OS portion of the company and the Office portion are completely separate (so they say), but you'd think they'd at least try to work with each other to make sure the products that have been produced by one wing would be compatible with the upcoming patch from another wing. That would seem to make logical sense, but not to MS.

Lastly, and this could be a big one for where I work, is Eclipse 3. All of our Java development at work is done using Eclipse and all of the new laptops/workstations that we've ordered in the last couple years have XP on them. I can't imagine what will happen if we do a company wide installation of XP SP2 and then Eclipse totally breaks. We wouldn't be able to do anything. Either we'd have to undo the service pack, move to an older version of Eclipse, wait for a patch, or use a different development platform. Thankfully I still have Win2K on both of my work machines so none of this service pack crap will affect either one.

Not only will service pack 2 be a pain in the ass when it comes out, but I might not even have a working computer by the time it does. I've been trying to put back together my PC after blowing its motherboard and processor early in the summer. I ordered a new board and processor, but now when I turn it on, it only registers that I have 1024 KB of memory. This happens when I have my 256 MB DDR stick in as well as my 512 stick. They're both name brand, non-cheapo memory sticks (one being brand new and never used) so I'm not thinking it's incompatibility. I also know it's not incompatibility because when I make the motherboard do a memory check upon booting, it registers all my memory, yet when I reset the computer or restart it, it defaults to only finding 1024 KB.

I can't figure out what the hell the problem is and it's driving me insane. What has me even more worried is that I'm using the exact same model motherboard and processor to build a computer for a friend so I'm hoping that I can figure this crap out so I can have her computer built by the time she starts college. If anyone has any thoughts, please help.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

It was Pretty Darn Cold

I will forever remember this year's trip to South Dakota as the vacation filled with bikers and artic lows. The only week everyone in the family could get off happened to also be the week of the Sturgis Rally. We didn't think it would affect us all that much since we were staying in Rapid City, a town a decent distance from Sturgis, but the repercussions of having billions of bikers in western SD did reach out to where we were staying... and even beyond!

It seemed like everywhere we went all you could hear was the loud thumping of two cylinder Harley engines and all you could see was bikes, bikers, and lots of leather. Even the campground we stay at every year, Hart Ranch outside of Rapid City, was filled with bikers. All of my neighboring tents were occupied by bikers. It kind of sucked to get woken up in the morning by the roaring of having a Harley started 15 feet away from your tent, but it wasn't too bad later on in the week after many of them left.

When we stopped in Keystone, a little tourist town near Mt. Rushmore, the roads were lined with bikes and every sidewalk, crosswalk, shop, and eatery were filled with leather-clad, middle-aged, usually overweight bikers. Wading through them wasn't very much fun, but I did enjoy people watching for a while since there's a lot of weird biker folk out there.

Beyond the bikers, the big story was the cold. Rapid City set a few record lows while I was there. Two nights were in the mid thirties while the rest were usually in the upper 30's, lower 40's. Yeah, it was pretty cold out in the tent, but I'm happy my sleeping bag was a warm one. It also helped that I was wearing pants, a sweatshirt, and socks when I went to bed.

I only woke up one night because of the cold, and it wasn't because my body was cold, but because my face was frozen. Once I had buried my head inside my sleeping bag with the rest of my body I was fine.

Besides the nights being cold, all of the days (other than the last two) were also pretty cold. It was usually in the upper 60's and lower 70's with a very cool breeze. This meant that most of the days were spent wearing sweatshirts instead of t-shirts, which is odd when I think about it. Last year when we came out it reached over 110 degrees and we felt like we were in a blast furnace most of the days whereas this year we couldn't put enough clothes on to stay warm.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

The Time for My Return has Arrived

Did you all miss me? I think Jared did. I'm back from vacation. I got back yesterday from my family's annual trek to South Dakota. Pictures and stories will be forthcoming over the next few days, but since I'm trying to catch up on work and whatnot, it may be somewhat slow in coming.

This is actually the one thing I really hate about vacations--it always takes you so damn long to catch back up with everything you left when vacation starts. Unfortunately, the world continues to spin and function while I'm off vacationing, so I'm stuck catching up. And to think, I always assumed the world revolved around me... ok, so I still feel that way. Live with it.

It's amazing how much stuff builds up while you're gone for only a week's time. I had tons of emails come in, but very little actual snail mail arrive, which is weird. I simply left the construction of my computer and of a friend's computer in limbo when I took off. I have to pick the up again. From vacation I've accumulated tons of laundry to go with the couple of loads I didn't do before I left. I have a road race this Saturday in Rochester to get ready for and I haven't really trained very much while on vacation. I need to get back into the swing of updating this site. I've got work from work to get going on. I have to adjust to Kristin being back up in St. Cloud again. It'll take me a week or two to get reoriented to my everyday lifestyle. It's this period of time after a vacation that I loathe.

So, I'm back and I feel like I should have so much to say, but the only thing I keep thinking about today is my musical abilities, or lack thereof. In traveling to SD and back from there I listened to a good chunk of music. I also listen to music on my 40 minute commute to and from work and for most of the time I'm at work so needless to say, music is a pretty important part of my day.

What I wish I had most, in terms of musical abilities, was a great singing voice, or even a decent tenor singing voice I suppose. As it is, I have a very low baritone voice that lacks in range. I also have problems with staying in tune at times, which annoys the hell out of me (and others that might here me sing as well).

Anyone that knows me, though, knows that I listen primarily to metal, screamo, and punk. From that, most people would think that it's odd for me to want a melodic voice, but part of the reason I love these genres of music is that alongside the screaching screams and gravel-filled yells are also some beautiful moments of melody. Some of my favorite bands of the moment such as Alexisonfire, Dead Poetic, Underoath, and From Autumn to Ashes, all employ wonderful melodic moments to set up the more aggressive portions of their songs. It's these moments that really pull at me and make me wish that I had some type of singing voice that could reproduce vocals such as theirs.

I think part of my longing for such a voice has fueled my rabid music accumulation, which, I would like to note, now consists mostly of promo copies of cds that I get for reviewing from decoy music, the online music mag I write for. I rarely buy a cd anymore because I hate the RIAA and it's just too expensive to buy a lot of cds. Anyhow, it seems I'm always clamoring at my editor's feet asking for more cds to listen to and review. No matter how many I have to listen to, I always want a couple more new ones. I used to think it was simply consumerism getting the best of me, but as my longing for musical abilities grows and grows, so does my longing for new music, as well as an appreciation for what I do get to listen to.

Since I'm talking about music, here's a list of the top 10 bands that I can't get enough of at the moment:

* Alexisonfire
* Strata
* Nonpoint
* From Autumn to Ashes
* Atomship
* Kittie
* The.Switch
* Dead Poetic
* He Is Legend
* Time in Malta

I'm sure that most of you who read this site don't really know many of these bands, but if you like heavy rock, metal, or screamo then all of these would be good bands to check out. I can't count how many times I've listened to each of these bands in the last couple of weeks, but each time is just as good as the last.

Friday, August 06, 2004

The Changing of the Season

Over the next week or so updating may be sparse to non-existent. I'll be on vacation, so that's the reason, in case you care. I'll try to post a few updates to let you know how I'm doing, but if I'm having too much fun or I get too lazy, then don't expect crap from me until I get back.

Today is also the last day of work for Kristin at Hiawatha Homes. It seems like it wasn't that long ago that she was just starting and we were getting her all settled in. Now, tonight, we'll pack all of her things back up to move her back to St. Cloud. I'll be taking her back tomorrow so tonight will be a long, and probably somewhat sad, night of packing.

I hate to sound clichéd, but there really isn't any other way to express how I feel except to say that time truly does move along too fast, especially in the summer time. There's a feeling of finality attached to moving Kristin back and I just can't shake it. I tell myself I'll be going to visit her during the semester and that there are plenty of days of summer left and that I have vacation coming up, but no matter what I try to tell myself, I still feel like something is dying.

It's not just this summer that I feel this way either. I've always had this underlying feeling of dread and sadness when summer would come to an end. I'm guessing it started back in middle school when I dreaded going back to school. Since I wasn't that popular and was often made fun of, going back to school was something akin to a death sentence for me. During the summer I could avoid all the people I hated while still getting to do things with the few friends I had. My homework was replaced with farm chores, which I enjoyed much, much more than schoolwork.

My summer would fly past as I enjoyed every single day doing whatever my heart desired when I had spare time. I didn't have any real responsibilities or a care in the world for what was going on outside of my little world. With school, though, I would then have responsibilities again and my world would have to encompass other students, teachers, sports, and just getting by in a hostile environment. Who would choose school over the carefree lifestyle of summer break? I sure wouldn't.

As I moved further along, when I was in high school I started to have more responsibilities during the summer and I also became somewhat popular so I liked being in school. Summer break would mean that I didn't get to see people as much as I did during school so you'd think that I would instead start to dread summer break. Oddly, though, I didn't. I was still filled with that sense of depression as summers would come to a close.

While in college I thought I understood why I felt this way. Every time I had to move back to college I knew that another year had passed. I was no longer in the same position as the year before. Instead of simply being happy that I was back in an environment that I loved, I would feel disheartened knowing that I was one more year closer to it all being over.

Right before my senior year of college, as summer came to a close, I was especially filled with sadness. I knew it was my last year of college and I knew that once the year started it would be over before my mind would even register it starting. I was right. I often sit here at my desk, or lie in my bed, or stare off into the sky thinking about how much I miss college and how I know that it probably was one of the most enjoyable times of my life.

So here I am once again, confronted with summer's close. With no worries about going to school again, I'd hoped that I wouldn't feel as sad as years before, but deep down I knew that once again my heart would be heavy with the changing of the season.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

321 Studios Close Their Doors

There's definitely a few things that need talking about today. The first is that 321 Studios has shut their doors. This is really too bad because I love their software and they have been out there fighting the good fight for fair use. The product that brought them fame was DVDXCOPY. This piece of software allowed a user to copy a dvd to a dvd-r or dvd-rw. I owned a copy of this piece of software.

I also have a netflix account which I enjoy. Some days, however, I just won't be in the mood to watch the movies I have checked out from netflix and instead want to watch something in my queue. When this happens, I usually just copy the movie I have onto a dvd-rw, send it back, and wait for the next movie to come. I'll later watch the movie I have on the dvd-rw and then write over it the next time I'm in a situation such as this where my tastes don't match what I have on hand to watch.

I use DVDXCOPY to copy my the netflix dvd's to my temporary dvd-rw's. I'm not exactly sure if what I'm doing is 100% legal, but it doesn't seem like something terrible. I'm still only watching the movies once and I'm writing over them once I've watched them, so it's not like I'm keeping some permanent copy of them, but I'm sure the MPAA would disagree. Who knows, though, as the MPAA has been more reasonable than, say, the RIAA, which is basically the most evil group on the planet outside of some cult of baby killers in Montana.

I've also used DVDXCOPY for other backing up purposes that seem to be within the boundaries of fair use. I guess I'm just sick of groups with lots of money taking away our rights because they can. They can afford the lawyers to take down companies they don't like, or companies that are doing something that they don't necessarily want done with their product. It's crap like this that has moved me away from actually purchasing dvd's to only renting them.

The bright side of this, for the moment, is that there is still at least DVD Shrink to use for backing up dvd's. It's just too bad that a company that took a strong stand for fair use has become a casualty of the media industry's quest for ever growing profits and regulations.

On a more interesting topic, I wish that packages sent via fedex and UPS had passports associated with them. Wouldn't it be cool to have stamps from each of the stops that your package makes? I think it would, especially with the way that most of my packages are sent to me.

When I ordered my new motherboard and processor, I chose to have them shipped via fedex. When I checked its status to see where it was (it'll be delivered today), I was somewhat amazed at how they chose to ship it. It originated in California, got shipped to another station in Cali (probably where an airport is), and then arrived in St. Paul, MN. Now you'd think that since I live in MN, only about an hour and a half from downtown St. Paul, they'd ship it to me from there. No, that's not what they did. Instead they drove it down to Mason City, Iowa. Right now it is out for delivery from Mason City. In their stupidity they shipped the package from a city somewhat close to me to another state from which it would be delivered to me. No wonder they charge so much for shipping.

This has also happened with UPS. My monthly comic orders arrive via UPS. They always start in Indiana, make a stop in Illinois, end up at St. Paul, then head down to Albert Lea, MN, and then get delivered to my door. One time, however, it was decided that at the St. Paul stop my package should be rerouted through Billings, Montana on it's way to Albert Lea. WTF? I guess they must have wanted to do some sight-seeing on the way to my house.

These are only two of the odd screw-ups I've noticed. There's been a few others as well. That's why I would love to have stickers or stamps or whatever from every stop a package makes on it. I could have a competition and see which of my packages has to go through the most stops to get to me, or see which one goes the furthest off of the most direct course to my place. It would be fun! So if you're reading UPS or Fedex, let's start making packages have passports!

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

A Whole Lot of Nuts

This morning I was lucky enough to work on our bin some more. Now that we had the roof and top ring put together it was time to put the rest of the rings on. Yesterday my dad and uncles put together 5 rings and today we had to get the last 5 on. In the four and a half hours I put in this morning we put up 3 so there was only 2 left to do this afternoon.

You wouldn't think that it would take very long to put some big metal sheets together in a circle and bolt them together, but it does. Not so much because it's hard work, but instead because of the sheer amount of tedium that goes into putting in the millions of bolts into the rings. Let's do some math and see how many bolts actually go into this bin.

There are 11 rings, each having 12 sections. Bolting each section to the next in the top three rings, it takes 23 bolts at each seam. On every other section, it takes 46 bolts per seam. To bolt each ring together, it takes 25 bolts per sheet. Let's total up just how many bolts are in the rings.

Top three rings: 12 x 3 x (25 + 23) = 1,728
Bottom eight rings: 12 x 8 x (46 + 23) = 6,624
Subtract out 2/3's of the top rings top bolts
(you only use every third hole): 1,728 - (1/3 * (12 * 25)) = 1,629
Total for all eleven rings: 8,253

That's over 8,000 sets of nuts & bolts that have to be put into the ring seams by hand and then tightened via rattle wrench. Now this isn't even including all of the roof bolts! Since I worked on only 3 rings this morning, I only had to deal with around 2,000 nuts (I was responsible for putting most of the nuts on the bolts). That's what I call tedious. As tedious as it was, though, the help was needed. We had six guys working and each was doing something. We were all either putting in nuts & bolts, tightening them, moving metal sheets, caulking, or moving jacks.

It's quite fun, actually, to go through the process of putting up another bin. It's very gratifying to be part of the creation of one gigantic piece of circular sheet metal! I highly suggest you all run out to your local farm now and request to help construct something!

Monday, August 02, 2004

Monday and Some Movies

This weekend Kristin and myself went to see The Village. It seems like everyone beside us disliked this movie. I don't really understand why, though.

I don't really want to ruin the movie for anyone so I'll try to discuss it spoiler free. Anyhow, one of the biggest complaints is that the twist in this movie is not nearly as neat or interesting as M. Night Shyamalan's other films. First, I must note that I thought the Sixth Sense sucked, Unbreakable was good, and Signs was only watchable. With The VIllage, I think M. Night has created his best film yet.

First, there is not just one big twist in this film--there are two. The first happens a little over halfway through the film and I did not see it coming at all (and anyone that claims they could is obviously lying). Let's just say this twist involves something happening to Joaquin Phoenix that you would not expect.

The second twist, which seems to piss most people off, is extremely interesting if you ask me. It makes the movie believable, much more so than any of his other films, and made me feel a connection with the movie and the motives of the elders in the village. As opposed to using dead people, aliens, and superheroes for his "twist", M. Night instead grounds this story into not using something phenomenal to explain his surprise twist.

For anyone who didn't like this movie, I don't know why you didn't. Was it boring? I didn't think so. It had much more character interaction and less introspection than in any of his previous films. Was the twist not good enough? I thought they were both interesting and made sense. Was the acting bad? Not at all. Weaver, Hurt, Phoenix, Brody, and Howard were all phenomenal. I just don't get it. This was a good movie, but I think that the cool thing to do right now is knock M. Night Shyamalan, so that's what most critics are doing, and the majority of moviegoers, being the sheep they are, simply parrot the critics panning this movie. I say, however, that it was a wonderful movie that I highly recommend.

Another movie I recently saw that I enjoyed immensely was House of Sand and Fog. This was a masterpiece of a tragedy. I empathized with all of the characters and there was no real villain or hero. Each character was a mix of good and evil. They wanted to help others. They wanted to help themselves. They wanted to do the right thing. They wanted to benefit themselves. There was no right decision that any of the characters could make, and because of this each character's world slowly unravels. Watching their lives unravel over the course of 2 hours was enough to bring tears to my eyes. The world is not always a pretty place. This movie shows that, and it does it well.

Another movie I saw early last week was Runaway Jury. This movie was a perfect example of a great cast making a completely unbelievable movie fun to watch. Gene Hackman was great as the villain and Cusack, as much as I detest him in most movies, was pretty good. I'm pretty sure that this was the first John Grisham movie that I've actually enjoyed. For the most part I find all of his movies pretty boring.

With that, I'll bring Monday Movie Talk to a close. See you next time I watch some movies worth talking about!