Sunday, 23 September 2007
Okay, I give up
I have still not gotten used to the Angelfire blog's "improvements" to their entry interface, so I am going to move my blog to my LiveJournal after all: http://deathquaker.livejournal.com
(The very fact that I have to go through rigamarole just to enter the html code to make that link illustrates why I am abandoning Angelfire's blog builder. Before I could just type away, and now I have to alternate between typing and clicking crap. Very inefficient. Oh, and god forbid I accidentally mistype any html code if I do use the HTML editor here... they "fix" it for you, screwing it up worse than if they had just left your mistake alone. ARGH!)
So this is officially the last entry in this version of the blog. I'll leave it up here for archival purposes. My actual Website stays on this server (really, DQ? You have a Website? Why yes I do: www.deathquaker.org) as long as Angelfire leaves its frankly lovely page editor alone and does not "improve" it the way it did the Blog Builder. I've been with'em for 10 years and would be sad to leave now. Hard to beat a nice chunk of server space and bandwidth for 5 bucks a month. On the upside, at least my blog won't be occupying anymore of said server space, which'll be nice if I ever get a scanner and start uploading my drawings.
My livejournal is not currently screened or anything, and I have at this time no intention of friends-locking any posts. So if you do not have an LJ account, you should have no troubles reading it or posting comments (note the only annoying thing about LJ is that if you don't have an account, you have to post "anonymously," so please remember to sign your comments). If this does however inconvenience you, please let me know, and if I am able to accommodate you, I will do my best.
Wednesday, 19 September 2007
Showing off, geek hilarity, etc.
Forgot to mention it, but I took a random photograph of Homewood Friends Meeting which on a whim I submitted to Friends General Conference for their photo display of meeting houses.... it's officially on permanent exhibit as of... right now (4:30 pm, September 19) at the FGC offices at the Quaker Center in Philadelphia. If you ever find yourself in Philadelphia, you can go look at it. (Obviously I'm missing the open house, but it's scheduled for... oh, the worst hours of Philadelphia rush hour, so no way was I going to try to get up there...)
But enough about me. On the subject of enormously geeky things, I found the most HIGH-larious Doctor Who parody: "The Five Doctors" as it should have been done.
Part One: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZ8bZgWEoaY
Part Two: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qe3e5kmtduc
In other geek news, I got the latest Sims 2 expansion pack, "Bon Voyage." It is incredibly awesome... possibly the most impressive Sims EP I've seen yet. Whereas the old version of the game's "Vacation" underwhelmed me, this new one adds a whole element of gameplay... your Sim basically travels places and in addition to relaxing and buying souvenirs, they can learn cultural customs of the people of the exotic places they visit.... it's a little more interesting than ye olde "Read a book and watch a skill bar fill" -- it's a lot more engaging for you the player to see your Sim educated... plus there's just fun stuff to do and the new item designs are gorgeous. I especially like the Far East stuff... they finally have some old fashioned Japanese looking stuff to go with the shoji-screen wall paper they provided with the game eons ago.
Thursday, 13 September 2007
Peace and Politics
Topic: Politics and such
On Tuesday, Baltimore's Women in Black (a peace activist group) had their annual "Peace Path." Everyone was invited to stand on Charles Street with banners and signs calling for troop withdrawal. They've done this every year for the past couple years on 9/11. The idea is to pray for peace on the anniversary of such a tragic event. The vigil is carried out quietly and respectfully.
I stood out briefly with them last year, and again this year after work (it takes place during evening rush hour, so lots of people in cars can see you). I've also occasionally taken part in some other vigils held by the meeting house on the same particular strip of Charles Street I stood on Tuesday.
But we've never had quite such an overwhelming positive response before, I don't think. Nearly every car seemed to pass us by with waving passengers, supportive honks, and smiles. Bus drivers saluted us. Pedestrians gave us big waves and thumbs up.
Baltimore is theoretically pretty liberal... but when you think about it, at this time of day, most of the cars passing by are commuters heading back home to the county, where political views tend to run more moderate to somewhat conservative. If it's those folks who are more willing to show their support to end the war and withdraw troops, that's a sign of change right there. Opposition is turning to apathy, apathy is turning to hoots of support for peace.
If only we could gather enough people who care to get the President to sit up and notice. It's a democracy. He works for us. Let's make him do what we pay him to do. (Maybe we are. The bill everyone's looking at is certainly a step in the right direction.)
But in other news.... apathy still definitely reigns supreme within the city limits. All the people who seem to care drive home elsewhere.
What am I talking about? We had our local city primary on Tuesday as well.
28% of voters turned out. Twenty-eight-freakin'-percent.
Look, I love this city. I voluntarily moved here, when there're lots of other places I could've gone. But no one is blind enough to not know that Baltimore has serious problems. Crime is rampant. The schools are a freaking wasteland. People should want to change this. But with nearly no voter turnout, the same damn people who've been sitting with their heads up their rear ends have just been reelected. (And understand here, this is the democratic primary. It's not even voting along party lines that's the problem here (that's just what happens during the general election.))
I don't care if the other 70% of voters might've voted in the same people who got elected. We have two tangible duties in this democracy of ours: pay taxes and vote. Voting is not hard. Takes a few seconds.
The idea that the majority of people in Baltimore seem happy with the status quo just bothers me beyond what I can express. And I realize that's probably not why people haven't gotten to vote. Maybe there needs to be a new effort towards voter education. I wonder how one would go about pushing for that. Maybe I'll go find out.
Saturday, 8 September 2007
Brunch woes, Public Transit, and other things
Although it's been a habit of mine for many a weekend over the last couple years, I don't think I'll be going to Donna's for brunch anymore.
First, they've increased their prices from "moderately high, but within reason for a smock yuppie food place" to "a tad ridiculous for some eggs and vegetables, plus terrible service." Mind you, this is like maybe, only a dollar increase, but for some reason $9.95 for a smock egg dish seems much more unreasonable than $8.95 (especially when you're also paying around ~$4.00 for an espresso drink). I can go across the street to Karma's for equally delicious food that usually runs at an average of 5-7.95. (The only reasons I went to Karma's less often is 1. Donna's has an Italian-influenced eggs benedict that's gorgeous (but not worth $10.00), and 2. Karma's isn't open on Sundays.) And if I want to spend $9.95 on eggs, I may as well add another buck and go to The Golden West where I can get a plate of gorgeous, can't-find-anywhere-else Huevos Montulenos that will feed me, plus a small army.
Second, yes, you will note the "terrible service" remark. The service has varied at Donna's, but usually people are at least somewhat courteous, if slow. My waiter was constantly late and inattentive. He never refilled my water or asked me if I wanted anything else. When I was ready for the check, I looked up to see him chatting with the cute girls at the coffee bar... for a good 15 minutes, before I finally was able to catch his eye. (I was also completely unable to catch anyone else's attention in the meantime.) When he brought me the check, I again had to wait forever. He was again at the coffee bar -- now mind you, there were two other baristas at the coffee bar, plus a cash register attendant doing absolutely nothing up there except talking and laughing to each other -- and I had no hope of signaling him. I finally gave up and brought my check to the cash register myself. I mentioned quietly to the register attendant that I'd been waiting for him for nearly 20 minutes, and her only reply was a nonchalant, "Yeah, he does that to everybody." Not, "Very sorry to hear that," or "I'll let the manager know." I also had to calculate my change for her. When I have to do arithmetic for someone else, that's not a good sign (though I can calculate things in terms of currency better than simply doing standard adding and subtracting).
I left him about an 11% tip (I wouldn't have left one at all, except the one thing he did right was bring me my food as soon as it came up. The waiters at Donna's are sometimes bad about letting food sit out for ages before they bring it to the customer). I normally tip about 20% if not more -- I like to support the college students in the area, most of whom work in these places, but not if they're twits.
It's a shame because the food is still quite good. In fact, the benedict was the best iteration I've had of that dish of late. But with the price and the service, it's just not worth it. At least it was a good last meal there.
But at least having a 90 minute, by-myself meal at Donna's enabled me to give the Urbanite a good read. This month's issue had very good coverage of Baltimore's problems with public transit and discusses solutions being looked into. It was interesting to note that 44,000 people ride the Metro, and 23,000 ride the Light Rail. Now, the Light Rail has a wider range of people and is advertised more agressively; there are two lines and more stops; it's supposed to especially serve both working commuters and tourists who want to go into downtown for a game or visiting the Inner Harbor. But its security is so awful it's dubbed the "Fright Rail" and its travel times notoriously slow. The Metro has two problems: it has one line that serves a very specific group of commuters, and therefore no one has heard of it. Many a Baltimorean has been heard saying, "Really? We have a subway?" Yet even so... it has nearly twice the ridership of the much more accessible Light Rail. Has anyone else noticed this but me?
BTW, check out the Urbanite if you haven't. It's free and found in many areas, and for a free magazine (heck, for a subscription magazine) its production values are very high, and the writing quality above standard. Of course there are a lot of ads, but the layout makes that as unobtrustive as possible. I've thought about submitting my resume to them, maybe for some freelance work. I should at least submit something to their monthly creative non-fiction feature... I just need to come up with a good idea.
And thanks to the Urbanite, I found out Baltimore Comic-con is today (I swear, it's the most poorly advertised comic convention ever. I know about comic conventions going on in Chicago more than I do ones at home). It might be a little late, but maybe I'll go check it out if the admission isn't too ridiculous.
Thursday, 6 September 2007
Saving the world again....
I just had a flash of a memory from a dream I had last night, which was somewhat odd/amusing.
The dream took place in a sort of post apocalyptic world. (This is a recurrent theme. If I could remember such dreams in more detail I'd probably be able to write some cool stories.) Most people live inside vast steel complexes, very run-down and old-industrial looking. They are ruled by a very oppressive military state. (Common in these post-apocalyptic dreams of mine).
The dream at first was quite serious and sometimes frightening. I am among a group of rebels who are trying to break the people free from the rulers, and I have been chosen to sneak out of the complex to go into the wilderness and seek out.... an item? Something. That will apparently help stop the bad guys. There's a lot of sneaking around and trying to evade the ever-watchful gaze of the military.
There's a sequence of gathering supplies for my expedition. Some of this starts to gets nonsensical. Amid useful items, I am given strange things to take with me like a toddler's pair of pajamas (complete with footies).
As the plan progresses, a fellow rebel is assigned to join me in my quest. My friend Shoggoth.
And this is where the whole dark and scary theme completely breaks down and just gets silly (Shoggoth shows up and what do you expect?). Items and plans suddenly start being discussed in gaming terms.
As we leave the compound to the dark but beckoning highlands beyond, our friend Dasquish yells to us, "Don't worry! By the time you reach the top of the next hill, you should be at least level 16!"
Tuesday, 4 September 2007
Let's go to Hampden, hon!
I just learned that Sept 15 is Hampdenfest
, a celebration of creativity and buying stuff in Hampden, on the Avenue, of course. As far as I can tell, it's a lot like Honfest (also in Hampden in June), with fewer drag queens and more musicians.
My friend Sarah and her band the Stalking Horses will be performing there at 11 AM. I'm planning on being there if at all possible, for that as well as taking in the sights and getting some yummy food. Anyone who wants to meet me there should give me a call or email.
Monday, 3 September 2007
Thoughts on Morrowind
I think I had mentioned earlier that I'd bought Morrowind, the third installment of the Elder Scrolls series, not too long ago. Now, Morrowind's about 5 years old at this point -- ancient in computer years -- and its sequel Oblivion's already been out and expanded (which I have not played). I have heard from die-hard Elder Scrolls fans that Morrowind is better than Oblivion anyway.
Keeping in mind the game is 5 years old, the game is very ambitious. It boasts a vast world and a lot of control over your own actions, and in general succeeds on this, especially the "vast world" part. But... again, yes, keeping in mind this game is not brand new... I have trouble seeing what the hubbub was about in lauding it as one of the greatest RPGs of all time and all that.
Not to look down on the creators too much. The game is huge. It takes place on a whole continent which pretty much you can travel all over by foot and investigate every nook and cranny. The game has a story to it, but makes no efforts to railroad you into any kind of story -- it's the very antithesis of the RPG type game especially seen from Japan for consoles, where the game is more or less a slightly tiresome activity you engage in between animated cutscenes. If you want a story in Morrowind, you have to make it happen. And if you don't... you'll find plenty to do and not even notice the uberplot at all. You can help ladies find their roguish lovers and join assassins' guilds and go on holy pilgrimages, all of which have their own intrigue and depth. And the character improvement system is really based on actual growth -- you engage successfully in one activity a lot, and that skill goes up. Makes sense.
The problem though, is that all that's great about the game is also what is enormously frustrating about it. It's too ambitous and too huge at times.... you end up doing a lot of wandering around, and the ability to explore everywhere is as much a curse as it is a blessing. Sure, you might find the secret entrance to the ancient assassins' guild headquarters. But you may as likely find yourself wandering down long twisty passages or a grey landscape fighting with rats and giant insecty things and never getting anything for your literal hours of trouble but maybe a chunk of meat and a glass bottle.
Generally Morrowind seems to be the sum of the concept of "Great idea, poor realization." Being able to go everywhere and interact with every object seems cool, until you realize ultimately, every citizen's house is going to be filled with the same random NPC who utters the same information as every other random NPC, and will have the same collection of useless knives, forks, and plates. You know what I realized from Morrowind? I realized I don't need to know the contents of every single house in a city, nor be able to take them. It's not particularly fun nor interesting. When I realize that there was probably some poor area designer who sat down and put in the same plates, bowls, and cutlery into every single abode, I feel very very sorry for him.... and very frustrated that time and dedication hadn't been put into something else, like scripting more unique dialogue for important characters, or tweaking the character leveling system to be less "munchkin-encouraging."
Yes, the "organic" character leveling system needs work. The basic concept -- pick some core skills, practice with them, and improve -- works well and makes sense. The problem is.... when you gain a number of skillpoints from practice, you "level up." Leveling up allows you to raise your basic abilities (strength, agility, etc.) which in turn will allow better skill use later. Where it gets stupidly complicated is that the more skills you raise, the better ability score raise you get. This encourages you to NOT level up until you've raised your skill scores a lot. Except that you only level up on resting... which is also the most efficient way to heal yourself and regain your magical energy ... so I find myself running around with no mana and half damaged because I don't want crappy ability score raises. It's especially annoying because there seem to be few mana-restoring potions in the game. Oy.
And potions. Oy again. You can make your own..... if you have the patience to gather the eight trillion potion ingredients that exist in the world and want to carry them around with you (oh yes, and there are encumbrance rules in play. Joy.) until you find the right combination you need to make the potion.... and you will never have the right ingredients for the potion you actually want, usually, unless you are ridiculously obsessive about collecting ingredients and have nothing else in your pack.
They decided to make shopkeepers "realistic" too.... in that they have a limited and usually frustratingly small amount of gold, meaning it's difficult to sell your loot in any one place. And I wouldn't care about this... except you need massive amounts of goals to purchase skill training to help you raise your skills faster so you can actually finally rest to get your mana back. There is one -- ONE -- shopkeeper in the whole game who has a neverending high max of gold to sell stuff to, and he isn't always easy to get to depending on where you are. Joy.
The game also generally has a "cold" feel to it... it may be "immersive" in the sense of its explorable world, but the many NPCs are all completely colorless... there is no scripted dialogue for you to speak -- you just pick "keywords" and the NPC responds with information on the subject. 90% of the NPCs have the *exact same* information on a given keyword, and after you pick up a number of keywords, it becomes a chore trying to pick out the one useful or unique subject someone might supply something new one. And since mostly everyone says the same thing, it's difficult to get a sense of any individual personalities. There is some effort put into for some characters, but it's diminished by the fact that even these characters have a few of the "stock" answers for certain keywords, written in an entirely different "voice" than the conversation options clearly written just for them. Also, while you do have full choice to take or not take on certain tasks and can be somewhat creative in your resolutions, there are some specific quests which are bizarrely "railroaded", often infact in part through poor or no sensible dialogue options.
Finally, the graphics are technically brilliant in the sense that it's a full 3D world that allows for excellent movement -- flying even (no restrictive walkmeshes *glares at NWN2*) and with fairly decent animations for its time. But the color palette is absolutely and completely drab... everything seems to be the same shade of grey... and there is very little variation done in character or architecture design (with a few notable exceptions). And when a game is selling itself on its "fully explorable" world, that world should actually look like an interesting place to explore.
But maybe what's the most frustrating thing about Morrowind is..... that it's totally addictive, regardless of all its flaws. It's certainly nowhere near the top of my list as "the greatest RPGs" but it still offers compelling gameplay and backstory; it still offers areas the explorer in me needs to discover. So I'll have to begrudgingly forgive *some* of Morrowind's sources of frustration... but while I'll definitely try to play through it some more, I doubt I'll be trying Oblivion unless someone points out to me where they've notably improved in these areas.
So, I started coming down with a cold on Thursday night. It's a hay-fevery thing.... one of those irritating colds where it's not terribly debilitating, but leaves one's head feeling like it weighs 50 pounds. Went to dad's to celebrate gram's 94th birthday (very careful not to spread the germs).
Friday was nice with a little pizza party, but Saturday when the "big" dinner was planned, gram's blood pressure was deemed too high to allow her to leave the nursing home, as they wanted to monitor it.
Got fed up with my dad as he's been particularly bitchy lately, but realize (now that I am less sick and sleepy) he's probably way more stressed out about Gram's health than he will let on. He has to take care of everyone else, so he doesn't vent. And HE has high blood pressure too... go figure. I live in a family of people who will take care of everyone else but themselves.
I came home on Saturday afternoon and flopped on the couch and didn't move until late Sunday morning, more or less. Tried to make myself sit still and drink fluids and take vitamin C... I'm a bad sick person. If I'm not absolutely conked out with death, I feel antsy and want to run around, despite head-fluff and inability to breathe, but then I get much sicker the next day. I have plans for today, so I made myself rest as much as I could yesterday. I did consent to hanging out with D&E for dinner. I was feeling hungry and wanted a good meal, and knew if I stayed home I'd eat plain noodles or something, and was feeling well enough to go out a bit. And definitely felt better to have a laugh with friends, too.
And the plan worked as while I am still a bit stuffy, I feel a lot better this morning, so I think I can go hangout with some buds for jammin' and Labor Day barbecue without a reversion of head cold ickyness.
Wednesday, 29 August 2007
Black Canary #4 in a Nutshell (**SPOILERS**)
A "Thumbnail" Version of Black Canary #4
Dinah: You awful awful man!
Assassin: Yes! That nine-year-old girl was the only chance at competent leadership we'll ever get! How could you?
Dinah: GRATUITOUS CANARY CRY!
Merlyn: I'm theoretically the bad guy in this story, but I don't really do much except kill some random extras in this one.
Assassin: We are having a conversation, even though we should be deaf, with our ears bleeding.
Dinah: Well, this book is called "Black Canary" so I suppose I should kick some ass about now.
Dinah: Hul - er, DINAH SMASH!
Merlyn: Bwa ha ha! Piano wired'ed!
Dinah: Even though I theoretically can't breathe, I can still make noise with my vocal cords. Are my powers awesome or what?
Dinah: And now for some more whupass. Grr! Kill!
Ollie: No! You'll be just like Wonder Woman and everyone will hate you!
Dinah: I hate all men forever! Maybe I should switch to busty redheads....
Ollie: Here, I brought you some clunky plot exposition.
Sin: (in letter) Dear Sister: Mr. Ollie's plan was not as stupid as you thought. It was still stupid, and could have gone wrong in a million ways where I still could have ended up dead, but it just wasn't stupid as you thought. Good thing none of those assassins thought to look over the other side of the boat or out the window, huh? Now, on the other hand, how me being saved by a wire on my arm didn't cause my wrist to shatter into complete uselessness, I have no idea. Guess I really am badass, huh? And now I will live with some badass but very nice monks, so the comic book writers will never have to deal with the awkwardness of you having the responsibility of raising a child and being a superhero.
Dinah: Yay! The kid baggage is gone! I mean, Ollie, you're still an idiotic bastard, but at least you're not a selfish bastard! Let's get married!
Friday, 17 August 2007
Excel is in fact incapable of standing still
Now Playing: "Standing Still" by Jewel
I don't care if you've never seen Excel Saga.
You still MUST watch this music video:
(In other news, I still HATE Angelfire's new freaking blog entry creator. I may end up abandoning them to livejournal after all... at least they let me edit in HTML without hassle!)
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