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A Glimpse of Nature’s Beauty

May 31, 2012 Leave a comment

Four squirrels walk into a bar…. just kidding.  But seriously folks, isn’t nature Grand?!

I saw the most amazing thing the other day.  I couldn’t have planned it.  I looked outside the window to witness not one, but two squirrels.  They were across the street at a neighbor’s roof, racing up and down and along the lawn. They’re playing and such and running about as squirrels do.  But then the coolest thing happens.

I’m thinking to myself, how can this get any better.  Wouldn’t it be cool if they came closer?!  And wouldn’t you know it, they did!  Soon, two squirrels became three, and three became four, virtually out of nowhere!  Never before have I seen so many squirrels in one place at one time.  And all the while I’m thinking they’ve gotta be playing with each other.  I suppose on a deeper level it might be some sort of turf war between the straight hairs and the spotted.

They’re racing about, playing, as I said, and for that one moment of time, life felt so right.  This is one of those “stop and smell the roses” moments.

You might be asking, “Where’s the video?! Where’s the pictures? We want to see!”  Regretfully, there are none.  Whenever I try and get pictures or video, I either am a bit too clumsy in my haste and accidentally tap the window, which startles them, sending them scurrying, or I slowly try and open the window or door quietly and that startles them.  Whenever trying to capture such moments, I’m often having to take the pictures or video through both a window and a window screen, which isn’t near as ideal as being nearby without anything obstructing the view.  Suffice it to say, I should’ve given it a try anyway.

Moral to the story:  Nature rocks.  Big time.  And that it never hurts to genuinely try something, really try.  Not just fake try, but truly try.  Make an effort to accomplish something you’ve always wanted.  Who knows? You may surprise yourself at what you’re capable of accomplishing.

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Why Diablo III may become the next Game of the Year

May 31, 2012 Leave a comment

Aw man.  For all the gamers out there, you can relate.  If you’re not a gamer, feel free leave me a comment with any questions you may have, and I’ll be happy to answer them.

I’ve been playing Blizzard’s World of Warcraft (or WoW for short)  for going on six years or so.  Though I’ll continue to “love it long time”, it has grown stale.  Here are but a few reasons why.  You can learn more about my recent throughts on WoW in my other Blog Posting on why WoW is losing steam.

1.  The inundation “trolls” (people messaging simply to incite arguments)

2.  “spammers” (bots or even some humans who attempt to trick you into visiting a “phishing” site under the guise you’ll be able to get a leg up on the competition by having the option of buying with real money virtual Gold, Gear, Equipment, Weapons, Mounts and Supplies.

3.  I’m having a hard time finding friends who can come online to play with me while I’m online.  Getting harder to connect with them.

4.  The challenge of finding fun people to play with (who don’t have an attitude if you’re not insanely perfect)

5.  Difficulty in finding and joining Raids.  Raids are dungeons you go into with groups of 10 or 20 people at a time, as opposed to dungeons where you’re limited to 5 people at a time.  Many people who do raids are not sympathetic to those who are new to raiding.

6.  The latest expansion pack, Mists of Panderia, isn’t near as exciting or fun as I predicted.

7.  The Refer-A-Friend Program released by Blizzard.  Generally I’m a big fan of such promotions, but when they involve giving those new players (aka “newbies”) the chance to literally jump 50-70 levels in mere minutes, it loses the magic of playing through from Level 1, and experiencing the “world of hard knocks”.  The new people who get and/or use such a jumpstart don’t grasp the appreciation for what it’s like to start from Level 1.

While a member of World of Warcraft, I signed up for what’s called a WoW Annual pass.  Essentially you commit to staying on as a member for a whole year.  In exchange you get early access to the Mists of Panderia Beta before it’s released in Retail, you get a “free” flying mount (much like a Pegasus) for all the characters (aka “Toons”) on your account (You can have up to 50 toons, up to 10 toons per realm/server).  Finally you get Blizzard’s new game, Diablo III for free (digital download only, approximately 13 GB).

I’ve been looking forward to Diablo III for years, and as it turns out, it was worth the wait.

Granted, they needed to really jazz it up to impress players and pull them back into the Diablo franchise, I have to say that overall it’s pretty cool.

I’ll start by getting all the things I DON’T like about it, out of the way now:

1.  Spammers are already hitting Diablo III.  Clever bums!

2.  It auto-logs you into General Chat.  I usually start each game leaving that chat room because I often either play solo or I play with a couple friends.

3.  The chat window is too, freaking small, to make it even worth reading!  I wear prescription lenses…I want the awesome graphics but I don’t want to have to strain my eyes trying to read the text throughout the game.  One of the common problems in Intermediate to Hardcore Gaming is the tradeoff between being able to read what’s going on and read equipment descriptions vs. having beautiful graphics.

4.  About half the cut-scenes are kind of a yellow-browned-tinged pencil drawing look, which seems kind of like they got chinsy and cheaped-out instead of using more or all CGI-level animation.  It was kind of cool and artistic in the beginning, but the more I see it, the more I think they took the easy way out.

5.  See #3.  Once fonts get too tiny and hard to read, it’s

Now onward and upward to the awesome things about this game!

1.  Like Diablo II, the idea is you pass it in Normal Difficulty Mode, then repeat in Nightmare Mode (which will be increasingly harder), then I think Hell Mode (even harder) and I think the max is like Insane Mode or something like that, where if you die, your death is permanent.  I’ve never gotten that far, but I’m assuming if you die once, then you have to start another character/toon from scratch to attempt the highest level.  If you manage to complete the highest difficulty you have passed the game.

2.  Create up to 10 characters on your server.  There are 5 character classes to choose from:  Barbarian, Demon Hunter, Wizard, Monk, and Witch Doctor.  You wouldn’t think they’d all be awesome,…but they are!  They all have their cool factor and quirks that make them unique.  Choose between Male or Female.   For example, you can have 5 female toons (one of each class) and 5 male toons (one of each class)

3.  It’s easy to learn the controls.  If you’ve played Diablo I and Diablo II, the controls will be very familiar.  They’re not overly difficult and give you a enough controls to feel fresh.

4.  If you’ve never played Diablo before, the story told while the game is installing will catch you up and bring you current to the storyline.

5.  Gameplay is fluid.  Except for the occasional lag-type glitches.  Am not sure, but may be related to at&t DSL connection (1/10th the advertised/billed download speed).

6.  Graphics are spectacular and give it an overall creepy, ominous feeling.  A lot of interaction with the environment.

7.  Great for those who are fans of blood, gore and flailing body parts.  Caution to parents of young children.  Parents, you might want to play it a while yourself, and then determine at what age you wish to expose your kids to the awesomeness that is Diablo III.

8.  Seems like everything is voiceover work.  Which I LOVE!  In this day and age I think most if not all games should be Voiced-Over.  If you miss something you can always repeat it and see it in written form, as well.

And thus far, from what I’ve seen out there in the gaming world, at least when it comes to PC/Mac-based games, I think Blizzard’s Diablo III stands a great chance of becoming Game of the Year 2012 (aka GOTY)!!!

Progress, Bad Taste, or just my Bad Luck

May 31, 2012 Leave a comment

Notice how as time goes by, mens’ shoes, particularly tennis shoes and court shoes look more and more ridiculous.

Nearly gone are the days when you could get a good quality, decent pair of shoes that aren’t all “wacked out”, looking like someone taking drugs designed your shoes.  I have been a fan of Converse shoes (Nike lost me long ago, and New Balance tends to be overpriced like Nike).  Converse used to have such a good, basic, reliable shoe.

Notice how tough it is these days to find shoes with breathing holes? It’s as though shoemakers want your feet to suffocate and get all sweaty and smelly.  Granted, one could argue this is a goal to help 3rd parties get business.  Gold Bond, Arm & Hammer, Baking Soda and Athlete’s Foot Products might have deals with shoe companies these days.  I know some shoes are now designed with a mesh style material.  Thing is, I hate that look and design.

Plus, shoemakers are increasingly slapping plastic crap all over their shoes.  I’ve got news for ya, plastic isn’t very flexible.  That’s why shoes generally have rubber soles!  Further, they slap all kinds of bizarre, and dare I say ugly, colors and designs.  I know there’s probably someone out there who actually finds such a thing attractive…it simply means they’re losing business with me.  That’s their choice.  If they want to appeal to their colorblind customers who like cheap-looking garbage that only lasts a year, so be it.

Finally, I despise the way soles are designed these days, where it wears through so fast when you’re walking, running and jogging.  Yes, part of it is due to the fact city sidewalks aren’t taken care of and increased construction work results in uneven surfaces and lots of gravel and rock surfaces.  But once it wears down to a certain point you’re already finding holes in the heels of your shoes.  My guess is the air pockets are meant as some sort of cushion when your feet make contact with the ground, but I figure there must be some way to make it a solid block of material that gives adequate cushion and support yet also is slow to wear.  With today’s shoes, once you wear the heel down enough to reveal holes, the shoes are virtually useless, especially on rainy days.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Why Newspapers and Television are making themselves obsolete.

May 31, 2012 Leave a comment

For a long time, Newspapers and Television were king of the Media jungle.  That’s not so much the case these days.

Why is that? The internet, that’s what.  It’s no surprise that old-school forms of medium have had their heyday and are now finding themselves struggling to keep up.

Newspapers for a couple of coins gave you the headlines, the latest of what was going on in your immediate world.  You could take it everywhere you wanted, and when you were done with it, you’d simply dispose of it in the trash or recycle it (by leaving it sit so others could read it, or disposing of it in the Recycle Bin).  It’s biodegradable after all.

Television started out black and white and progressed into color, changing with the times, offering more and more.  The introduction of TV news cast a hard blow to the newspaper industry, yet newspapers persevered.  TV became the visual medium of choice and paper ads grew up into visual and audio ads.  Buy this, buy that!  TV also became a form of entertainment, something more than just news.  Sure, the newspapers had the “Funny Pages”, but a look at history reveals over the years the “Funny Pages” has shrunk from several pages long to but a mere page.  In this economy one would think people would seek out more fun and entertainment, not less.  I suppose newspapers were driving back to their roots, hoping news alone would carry them through the tough times.

So we’ve got TV, which is providing news, entertainment, a new way to advertise, and a willing audience/public accustomed to sitting around like a lump on a log absorbing the data.  A very passive form of medium, where you’re no longer actively turning pages of a newspaper, but instead using a clicker.  Two hand movements have been reduced to one hand movements.  But like newspapers, content is being pushed to you.  It’s like, “Here you go.  This is what you need to know.  Boom! Ta da!  Aren’t we grand?”

Enter the Internet.  This technology has grown exponentially and has quickly displaced TV and Newspapers, turning them into “Legacy Products”.  Legacy products are to the computer industry products that have served their lifespan and are on the decline and are quickly becoming outdated and irrelevant.  Now we’ve got WiFi and mobile devices, and two-handed activity has gone to one handed which has gone now to two thumbed.  Content is coming to you, it’s being pushed to you, but now you can push back.  You can upload your content.  Through services like YouTube you can share videos.  Through Instagram you can share photos.  It’s more interactive, more engaging.  Ads, too, have adapted, from static ads to banner ads to multimedia audio and video ads.  The internet is the future and TV and Newspapers are finally accepting that reality.  It’s about freakin’ time.

Now many news outlets have an online presence.  TV programming has too!  Go to Hulu.com or PBS.org for free TV programming.

On a side note, regrettably CableTV into the PC has had very little support, especially from the CableTV companies.   For one, CableTV refuses to cater to customers’/viewers’ desires to bypass ads.  What they don’t realize is some customers actually like watching ads/commercials.  But a great many of us do not.  Give us a skip option and let us be on our way to watching the rest of our program.  Anybody who wants to check out the ads is more than open to.  Though I generally hate commercials there are some which I actually enjoy watching, particularly those put out by Apple (big fan!), eSurance (the original animated spokeswoman), Geico (the Gecko), and eTrade (the baby!  Gotta love the baby!).

Due to their lack of supporting technology, they themselves are losing support from their viewership.  Because the Cable Companies are refusing twelve ways from Sunday to offer á là carte TV programming, they’re driving customers away.  I myself am seriously considering terminating my CableTV entirely, in favor of watching any of my many movies from my DVD collection.  If I do so, and tire of the DVDs in my collection, I can always order something like NetFlix or do RedBox (which I presently do since the deaths of Blockbuster Video and Hollywood Video).

That brings us back to Technology.  With technology we can read and watch our news just about any way they please.  If they wish to force us to watch ads first, before playing the content, that’s fine…just know advertisers and content-providers that if we’re not interested in commercials we exercise the right to move onto some other programming, some other content, even some other channel/company/station/provider entirely.  Because Newspapers and CableTV are dragging their heels so bad, it’s left them looking like the last ones to the party, coming over to technology begrudgingly.   Through technology, leading companies are constantly working on ways to bring in that which we once enjoyed with newspapers and television:  the “look and feel” of a book, the act of turning a page.  Just about anything short of having smell-o-vision where you can smell what the pages of a book are like, or the smell of the food on Food Network.

In a few years I anticipate most newspapers (save for specialized or local neighborhood papers) to be out of business entirely.  And CableTV will have less than half their current membership.  As I mentioned previously, one of CableTV’s problems is trying to force you into one package or another.  They have supposedly over 900 channels yet there literally is very little of value worth watching.  I generally enjoy SyFy (the lame-spelled and immature version of SciFi), but they put on garbage like Ghost Hunters, and Natural Disaster movies, and Horror Movies.  I watch Food Network but there’s only so many shows about cooking you can watch at any given time.  PBS isn’t too bad, and The Learning Channel is kind of cool, but here you’re only looking at 10-15 channels when all is said and done.  Who on earth still watches so-called “premium channels” these days?!  Who out there actually watches and subscribes to HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, et al?! I sure don’t.  They don’t have any compelling content to make it worth watching.  TV is so desperate that they re-run old series’ like Fantasy Island and Little House on the Prairie, series’ that were popular in their time, and TV Networks are finding the older classics are doing better and getting better viewership than today’s programming!  The other issue CableTV companies are causing is that they refuse to work with their customers and take a take-it-or-take-it approach.  They load up your TV package with channels that don’t work (full of white noise or colored vertical bars) or foreign language channels.  I’m sorry but why must you subject me to 15 channels in Spanish when I don’t even know that language? If you want to run Mexican programming, why don’t you force them to dub them in English?! And there’s what, only one, maybe two, asian channels? And either they’re subtitled in Chinese or Vietnamese or Japanese or they’re in an asian language without subtitles!? What is WRONG with you TV execs anyway?! Get a clue!

CableTV has tried all sorts of tricks to tie their content into High Definition TV (aka HDTV) on-screen menus, but they haven’t been readily adopted by TV viewers.  And the beauty of HDTV is you don’t HAVE to have CableTV.  TV is but one OPTION for today’s viewer.  Any HDTV can be used for viewing DVDs, VHS Tapes, BluRay Movies, DVDs from other “zones” around the world, viewing photos and home movies, and game consoles and for outputting any content from your iPod or iPad or Home Desktop Computer.

And lest you assume that Technology alone is the enemy or culprit of such changes, it’s also the Environmentalists who are on the bandwagon to eliminate paper (i.e. killing trees) and plastic (i.e. killing plastic trees) from the world.  Hence we may one day see the end of the glossy paper of magazines.  And in time we may see the demise of magazines as a form of entertainment.  I personally believe magazines will at least outlive newspapers, only because the world’s culture is still pretty big into celebrity and people look to magazines and the internet for the latest news on their favorite celebs.

Facebook’s REAL Customers

May 31, 2012 Leave a comment

I’m often asked why Facebook is so gosh dern buggy.  And yes, friends, people still use the phrase “Gosh Dern”.  I then ask them, have you ever noticed Facebook seems to have no such Technical Support, and they have barely any semblance of Customer Service? That essentially they slap together something, force it upon you and expect you to like it? Well, that is because that’s the way it works.  You have this “forum” with which you can reconnect with those you know, meet people with similar interests, and in exchange, Facebook attaches a collar around our necks and feeds us Ads.

“I’m no pet!”, you declare.  “I’m free from advertising!”, you say.  Spend a month using Facebook actively, and then see how you feel about it.  After about a month, I’ll bet you’ll be on Facebook about two to four times a day, minimum.  I estimate it takes approximately a month to get hooked and use Facebook regularly.  No formal studies…merely observation, adoption, seeing the market numbers and Facebook’s own claims of how many “users” it supposedly has these days.

It’s great fun, to be sure.  It’s a neat way to connect with people you thought you’d never see again.  But in the end Facebook views you as sponges for Advertisements.

You are indeed a consumer, but you are not Facebook’s customer.  Facebook’s customer is the Advertiser.  Notice how every form of banner Ad on Facebook revolves around advertising? Nothing about how to improve your Facebook experience, nothing on how to make using Facebook more efficient and relevant to your daily life.  Notice further how if you try and close an ad, their first reaction is not to let you go about your merry way, but rather, they then ask you for feedback.  “Why didn’t you like this ad? Was it Offensive? Was it Uninteresting?”  They’re PROBING your mind, they’re data mining you, trying to see what makes you tick, what you like and don’t like, what makes you click on an Ad.  Is it the graphic that is displayed? Is an ad more effective as a static image vs. an animated image? If it were a looped video would it capture your attention?

Advertising is king with Facebook.  Or so Facebook hopes.  Facebook caters to the Advertiser, and advertises to the Advertiser.  The more money Facebook can look as being beneficial or useful to the advertiser, the better.  Much like GoogleAds.   Advertise, advertise, advertise.  If you have a vast network of willing sponges just wanting to soak in all the information they advertise, that is a money making opportunity for Facebook.

Sometimes blatant, sometimes sneaky, they expose more and more of who you are to advertisers, taking every chance they can to break down your privacy settings/options, and “open you up” to the world.  It’s debatable whether less privacy is truly beneficial in the long run.  I’m of the camp that believes if you don’t maintain some semblance or level of privacy you risk putting yourself and others in danger.  You see computer companies and networks experiencing security breaches all the time.  Makes you wonder if Facebook is just trying to get us all to get used to losing our security, our privacy so if Facebook gets hacked, and all your semi-private information becomes private it won’t come as big a shock to you?

Last report (wish I could find the darn thing) I saw indicates only a very small fraction, perhaps 10% of all Ads actually results in a customer clicking on the Ad.  Most Ads are ignored or left un-clicked, or if it’s clicked on, it doesn’t lead to the consumer purchasing the product advertised.  This will likely change over time, as Facebook tweaks their advertising model.  Of course, Facebook doesn’t want its customers, the Advertisers to pay any attention to such statistics.  After all, they want, rather they need, their business!  That’s what Facebook relies on to stay in business:  Advertising combined with likely a “percentage cut” of the profits that Facebook games that sell virtual products for real money).  This allows Facebook to continue this “free to use” business model for the Consumer (us).

I personally enjoy using Facebook, despite Facebook’s view that we’re all simply Advertisment Sponges.  Use it at your own peril, and understand you are giving up certain levels of privacy when using ANY type of Social Networking.

Well played, Mr. Zuckerberg, well played.

Diggers Diner Customer Service

May 31, 2012 Leave a comment

Yes, Friends, I am dedicating an entire blog posting in honor of excellent Customer Service.

Props to Todd, who was my server at Digger’s Diner in Hayward, CA.

I opted to eat outside so he brought the silverware, napkins and menu outside to my table.  He was kind and courteous throughout my meal, refilled my ice water, and answered any and all questions I had about their Food Challenge (see my other blog posting about the Food Challenge).

I value and reward excellent customer service and excellent customer service is what he provided.

I tip my hat off to ya Todd!  You do your employer proud!

Shall I take on this next Food Challenge?!

May 31, 2012 Leave a comment

About two years ago, I did a food challenge, whereby I had to eat a 1-lb hamburger (bun and all).  It was at Bub’s Burgers in Indiana.  I ate it with a Strawberry Shake and requested Elk instead of Beef.  Elk is leaner than beef and I’d never had Elk before.  I also did request tomatoes and lettuce because I was concerned it might be too much and too dry.  I managed to finish the entire burger (thankfully there wasn’t a time limit) and I polished it off in approximately 45 minutes.  I even ate a few fries on my companion’s plate.  For my reward, I got a polaroid photo of myself placed on their Wall of Fame!   A shame they didn’t also give you a tshirt.  It was a grand accomplishment and one I’m still proud of.

I’ve watched, on TV, a lot of Man Vs. Food.  Which gets a guy to thinking, “Hey, I could do that challenge!”  And one of the best ones I’ve seen is one at a burger joint either in the Midwest or East Coast where you can actually win a Guitar!  A real one!  So that’s one of the challenges I want to do.

As of late, I’ve been eyeballing this challenge at a local place called Diggers’ Diner.  Let’s see if I can remember all that’s in it.

One double-patty hamburger on Texas Toast (imagine grilled versions of french toast, 3 of them)

One Side Order (I’d likely order a 6pc Jalapeño Poppers)

One Large/Full size order of fries (I like the Sweet Potato Fries, but think perhaps standard Russet Potatoes might be less filling/starchy)

One small bowl of fruit

One large Milkshake

One 6pc order of Deep Fried Oreo cookies

There may or may not be a seventh item.

You must finish everything in 30 Minutes!  If you do, you get your photo on the Wall of Fame, a Tshirt, and your meal you just ate is paid for.

If you fail, then you get your photo on the Wall of Shame, and you shell out the money to cover the expenses (approximately $30!)

In an informal test, I timed myself eating a Mushroom, Bacon Swiss Burger with a Large/Full order of Sweet Potato Fries and 1.25-1.5 glasses of water.  Took me 15 minutes, 49 seconds.  I’m thinking I stand a chance, but it will be tight, no matter what.  The fruit and shake I’m not too worried about, but the Deep Fried Oreos and the Texas Toast in the burger, combined w/the Full order of fries might do me in.  I think switching the fries to standard instead of my favorite, Sweet Potato Fries, might possibly cut down on the starch/carb content, but I can’t be sure.  And instead of water I’ll probably just have the shake.  During my test, I had two containers of dressing (Ranch, and Blue Cheese) for dipping my fries into.  I think I’ll have to skip the dressings entirely; as I was doing a test run all I could think while looking at my dips is “fat”, “filling”.  Perhaps I was psyching myself out.  Jalapeño Poppers should go down rather fast and I’d likely save the Deep Fried Oreos and fruit till towards the end in the hopes the fruit will cut the deep fried flavor and richness of the oreos.

As of today, I’m still on the fence on whether to do it.  Major Pro is bragging rights of being among the 3-4 people who’ve succeeded (compared with the 8-10 who’ve failed), but what weighs down most on my mind is just HOW FULL I will be once it’s over (may need a wheelbarrow ready to roll me out) PLUS and more importantly being out $30 !!!

Have any of you done food challenges? How have you fared? Do you have any Pro Tips for this guy?