Friday, September 23, 2011


So I played a multi-player video game for the first time ever this week.  Gears of War 3.  It was awesome.

I have played an MMO (Warcraft) before, and I’m looking forward to Star Wars the Old Republic, but I had never played the multi-player for a regular video game. 

However, my friend Brev convinced me that I should buy Gears of War 3 for this purpose.  We played on Tuesday night, and I am hooked.  Hooked!

My pre-conceptions of Multi-player games were:  You want to play something combat heavy, like Halo or Call of Duty.  You go online via xbox live arcade or what have you.  If you are lucky, your friends are online as well and want to play the same thing as you – but that is a rare occurrence.  Most of the time, you end up playing with strangers.  Most of them pwn you.  And if you are not performing to their exacting specifications, you get called bad names and are made to feel inferior in every way.  And there are things like tea-bagging and other gestures of scorn.

(I was happy to see that these notions were not accurate - at least, not in my particular circumstance.  I suspect that a lot of the Player vs Player world of Multi-player is like this, but I haven’t ventured into that arena.)

What I actually experienced:  A group of friends coordinated schedules and agreed to log in around the same time.  Once online, we formed a party and discussed which type of multi-player game we wanted to go for that night.  In Gears of War, you can play through the regular campaign individually, with AI’s for your teammates, or with individual players controlling teammates.  There is a PvP mode, where you fight against other players online.  There is a Beast mode, where you play one of the alien enemies that you encounter in the setting, and you attack humans.  Then there is Horde mode, where you pick a map in the world, build a base on it, then have to survive as many waves of enemies as possible – with a “boss” enemy every 10 waves.    This is what we ended up doing the first night.

I’d never played any of the Gears games, and I made sure I logged in a little early so that I could at least play through a couple of levels of the campaign to figure out basic button mechanics.  Then the others logged in, and we got started.

We all had headsets, and that is what made the experience for me.  I knew two of the other guys playing, and was familiar with the other two but not really close.  But listening to their antics over the headsets was hilarious.  One of the guys I don’t know very well yelled “Oh my god!  Oh my god!  Oh my god!  Brev!” so often, I could have sworn I was listening to an intimate moment rather than him running from fictional monsters.  I used quite a few four-letter words myself. 

Nobody got angry with me for not knowing what I was doing half the time.  I got killed – a LOT – but they didn’t gripe about always having to save me.  Mostly, we just all wanted to have a good time.  And we were!  I died at least once because I was laughing so hard at what was being said I couldn’t pay attention to the game.  We had so much fun that I was a little sad when midnight arrived and we all agreed it was time to call it a night.

What struck me most in retrospect was that it was a Tuesday night.  A Tuesday night.  I would never get to have fun with my friends on a Tuesday night in normal circumstances.  I live miles away from them, and everybody has to go to work in the morning.  But this was a way to play a game together, laugh and kill fictional monsters in the middle of the week!  I get it now!

Real life conspired to make the rest of the week a schedule challenge, and last night (Thursday), I logged in just to see if I could play some more of the campaign by myself so that I could figure out more about how to play.  As soon as I logged in, I was invited to party with a couple of the other guys, who were just starting to run through some of the campaign cooperatively.  We did that until midnight again!  I feel almost spoiled at how much fun I’ve had, and it made spending $60 on the game a completely valid expenditure.

More, please.  Kthxbye.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Okay, people, if you ever want to make me cry, just tell me a story about animals getting hurt.

In college, during freshman orientation, my orientation group went to House of Pies (it's a Houston restaurant - sort of a mom-and-pop IHOP, open 24 hours) in the wee hours of the night.  Someone I barely knew but later turned out to be a really good guy friend told a story about a kid at his high school being mean to cats with firecrackers.  Everyone laughed but me.  I started crying.  Then said guy friend felt bad and I had to comfort him.  "It's okay - it's not like you were trying to make me cry - you didn't know" etc.

This weekend during a fun brunch with some friends, I found out one of my friends had witnessed a stray cat being viciously killed in her backyard by some neighborhood dogs.  It was 3am, and there was nothing she could do about it.  Rationally, I understand that.  But I am still really sad about it.  (Spay or neuter your pets, people.  Stray animals have horrible lives.)

My former roommate has given up both of her cats to animal shelters since she moved in with her boyfriend (now fiance).  I understand that people's lives change, and sometimes that means they are no longer able to care for pets.  Do I have to be happy about it?  No.  I have two cats of my own, and I have waged an emotional battle with myself for the past 3 weeks over the cat that I know is still up for adoption.  Emotional side:  he's a good cat, and doesn't deserve to die if someone doesn't adopt him.   Rational side:  You already have two cats, and one of them does not adapt to change well at all.  Plus, neither of them was happy when cat-up-for-adoption lived here.  Let it go.   (I'm really trying to let it go, but it still breaks my heart.  He's a good cat.)

One of my college roommates left her dog out in the heat this summer without water, and it died.  It was her fault.  I don't think I will ever forgive her for it.  Does this mean she is a horrible person?  No.  She made a horrible mistake, and her pet paid for it with its life.  Am I still friends with her?  Yes.  But I don't know how I'd react if she got another dog.

I cried off and on for a week after the flooding in Houston due to Tropical Storm Allison; I lived there in 2001, so I got to experience it first hand.  The basements in the medical center flooded, which is where all the research animals were kept.  Over 100,000 animals drowned, in their cages, with nothing they could do about it.  100,000.  It still makes me cry.
So yes, I love animals.  More than the average person.  I view my commitments to my pets very seriously.  I work very hard not to judge others about it.  I don't always succeed, but I do try.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and as long as their pets are well cared for, that is the important thing.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Dumb Phones

I love my smart phone.  I really do.  But I think smart phones are making us dumb.

In my office, the iphone reigns supreme.  I think this is largely due to my company designing iphone apps from time to time, but I could be wrong. 

I resisted getting one for a long time.  I still feel to a degree that a smart phone is just one more electronic leash.  But I caved not quite a year ago, and the additional functionality (games, weather, email) have sunk their teeth into me.  I’m a convert.  Smart phones are great.

But I still think they are horrible at the same time.

At work, people are literally glued to their smart phones.  People will attend meetings.  Meetings where the purpose is to talk face-to-face with other people.  This rarely happens.  Instead, people talk forehead-to-forehead, since their heads are tilted down so they can look at their smart phones while they talk.  Why bother at that point?  We could all just be on a conference call and never have to leave our desks, except to get food, drink, visit the restroom and commute.

At social occasions, people get distracted by their phones.  Facebook and twitter beckon.  Are our digital friends more important in absentia than our friends standing mere feet away?  I guess we’d have to look up from our phones to know that.

I’m not casting stones.  I’ve been guilty of these things from time to time.  But really, aren’t our smart phones supposed to improve our communications?  Instead, it seems like we get less valuable information in higher quantities and more frequently. 

If over half of communication is non-verbal, I’m beginning to think that humanity is hosed.  Or maybe we’re just evolving.  Not sure if it’s into the humans from Wall-E (chair-bound and screen-dependent) or Ghost in the Shell (brain connected to the web).  Guess time will tell.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fall TV

Okay, it's September.  So what does that mean?  New television shows!

I don't watch a lot of network television.  I like the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson (covered that!).  I also like Nikita, mostly because I was a huge fan of La Femme Nikita on USA about 10 years ago.  Other than that, I primarily watch shows on cable, like Doctor Who, Top Shot, Eureka and Project Runway.

Yet this fall, I am pleasantly surprised by the offerings on network television.  Usually, I count myself fortunate if one or two shows look intriguing.  This year, I've got a handful!  Ringer, with Sarah Michelle Geller.  The New Girl, with Zooey Deschanel.  Not one but two shows based on fairy tales, Grimm and Once Upon a Time.  Plus a couple of other shows that I want to "try" but basically doubt that I'll end up liking enough to commit to them.

I'm sort of bewildered by this.  Trust me to be weirded out rather than excited.  Does this mean my tastes have degraded and become more middle of the road?  Does this mean that tv executives are giving unusual shows a chance (doubt it).  Or does it mean that off-beat shows will be made for one season, I'll love them and no one else will, and they'll get cancelled.  Ding ding ding!  We have a winner.

Well, I wish quirky shows good luck in any case.  May a couple of you make it all the way to season two. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Texas State Fair

Texans generally like to fry things.  (Do other states have Fried Pickle Slices?  Maybe other Southern states do, but I don’t recall seeing them anywhere.)

We have a state fair – held in Dallas - that is famous for fried food.  In fact, Oprah came to the Texas State Fair, and I presume it was only to eat the food.

This year, Fried Bubble Gum is the strangest offering I’ve heard about.  Apparently that is a deep-fried marshmallow that tastes like bubble gum.  There are other unusual fried concoctions as well. 
For my part, I have never been to the Texas State Fair.  Really.  Honest.  This is very strange, since the fair is such a big deal in DFW that all school districts have a day off for it.  No, I’m not kidding.

It looks interesting, so I’m sure that I’ll go at some point.  I imagine it to be walking around, drinking beer or margaritas, and eating fried food.  I am guessing there are rides.   There’s probably livestock.  But no one ever talks about those things.  Just food.

I’m pretty sure the corn dog was invented at the Texas State Fair, and those are pretty awesome.  I guess fried bubble gum could be the new corn dog, but I doubt it.  I’m a big fan of fried green beans, but I don’t know if that came from the Texas State Fair or not.

So… can you tell it’s dinner time? 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Wuss Card

We’ve covered how much I love to read, yes?  So I think it’s time I confessed something girly.  I cry a LOT when I’m reading.

Generally, I immerse myself in whatever fictional universe I find myself in, which is part of why I hate scary movies.  I also have real feelings for fictional characters (cringing with embarrassment here, but it’s the truth).  So I am upset when bad things happen.

In stories, I cry when people I care about die, assuming the writing and/or characters of sufficient quality that I care that they are dying.  (Spoiler alert.)  Every time I read Harry Potter, I cry when Sirius Black dies.  I feel his death more than Dumbledore’s.  I cry in Lord of the Rings when Theoden dies.  I cried finishing Sandman.  

However, I also cry at things besides death.  I feel sadness keenly.  I hate it when people are humiliated.  I am discomforted by avoidable ignorance, aka “if only I’d known….”  That makes me crazy!

This is not limited to books.  Every episode of Doctor Who that involves River Song makes me cry at some point (remember her?).  I cry during the episode Ellie on The West Wing because of the relationship between the president and his daughter.  I cry at anything that involves an animal being hurt.

I cry, people.  I cry. 

I know.  I’m such a wuss.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Pumpkin Pancakes FTW!

How does a geek cope with non-geek friends?

I am a geek.  I know and admit this about myself.  It’s just a part of life.

I have non-geek friends.  “Normals.”  There’s nothing wrong with that.  I like them for who they are, and hopefully they like me for the same reason.

However, there are funny barriers to communication.

For example, in an email last week about meeting up for brunch, I said “Pumpkin Pancakes FTW!”   And then I had to make sure I explained what “FTW” means.   (FTW = ‘for the win’ in case any non-geeks read this blog.)  And it’s good that I did, for 2 of the 3 recipients thought I was saying something about Fort Worth. 

If you are a geek, that was hilarious.  You’re welcome.  If you’re not, you just read that and thought, “huh, I thought it was about Fort Worth too”  - and possibly “I still don’t understand; what does for the win mean?  And what does it have to do with pancakes.”  To you, I apologize. 

See?  Communication barriers.

Because I like my non-geek friends, I try to introduce them to new words and concepts sporadically so that they do not feel hopelessly analog in a digital world.  Things like Rick-Rolling and memes.  Things like bullet time.  Things like FTW.

Sometimes it works.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  But it usually makes all of us laugh. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day

Ah, the end of summer.  How I love it.

Until I was an adult, the end of summer made me very sad.  During elementary school, the school year wouldn't start until after Labor Day, and it ended in mid-June.  So Labor Day marked the end of summer.  It still does for me on a fundamental level, even though technically summer continues until the autumnal equinox.

After my family moved to Oklahoma, the school year changed around.  We moved in the spring, and I basically had an month less of school that year, because in Oklahoma (and most of the south, it seems) school ended in May and started in August.  Not sure why that is the case, since August is so ridiculously hot, but I wasn't complaining at the time.  Then, Labor Day weekend became a welcome 3 day weekend and break.  But summer ending in mid-August was still sad.

Now, I love the end of summer.  I think the major difference is that I pay my own electric bill, and almost 70 days of 100+ degree weather makes that a pretty penny.  Also, my sister is a school librarian (okay, fine,  "media specialist").  The end of summer means she has to start working and stop tormenting me with her 10 weeks in a row off and behave like a grown-up.  (I am sure I'd feel differently if I had the summer off, too.)  I am always excited to flip the calendar to September, and see that three-day weekend staring me in the face.

Also, Fall is my favorite season.  I love October the most; it's my favorite month of the year.  The temperatures are pleasant, the leaves change color.  There are birthdays and Halloween, the most fun holiday because it involves costumes!  Every Labor Day, I think ... October is around the corner! 

So, Happy Labor Day everybody!  On to October!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Working from Home

Working from home is interesting.

In my current job, I work from home occasionally.  Usually if there is something that has to be done around the house (like waiting for a repairman), or if it's really convenient (today, since it's a half day & this way I can work in my pajamas).

I worked from home in my first post-college job in Houston for a couple of years.  I went to the office one day a week, and the rest of the time I worked from home.  It didn't go so well.  My roommate was in law school, and she had strange hours.  She would come home and watch tv in the room I was trying to work in.  Not conducive to being productive.  Also not helpful on conference calls. 

The funniest thing about working from home though is what the cats do.  In Houston, there were two cats in the apartment - mine and my roommate's.  They would rotate spots around my desk throughout the day and take naps or demand attention:  on top of the nearby stereo, on top of my monitor, on my lap, on my desk, on the printer.  We all sort of had a routine / dance.

Pretty much like this.

Now, though, I don't work from home often enough for my cats to understand what is going on.  This morning, as I started the laptop and sat down on my couch, they came over to lay down near me and demand attention.  In their heads, if I'm on the couch, I should be petting them unless they want to sleep, in which case I should leave them alone.

Pet me.

As I ignored them, they became more assertive, and attempted to use Cat Logic, which is entirely illogical.