What would you do if you couldn’t fail?

“2. What risk would you take if you knew you could not fail?”

I’d try to learn to fly. No, I don’t mean earning a pilot’s license, I mean jumping off the ground and flying. If I was somehow assured that I could not possibly fail then I’d leap off a cliff and begin soaring.

Oh, you mean real world stuff? Well, see, that’s where there’s a problem: in the real world failure is ALWAYS a possibility. So while this question is a nice little mental exercise it doesn’t do much to help with actual reality. I know it’s supposed to help you figure out what you would actually like to do with your life, but I already know what I want to do with my life: I want to travel, read books, and play video games. I want to eat pub food and chat with friends in pubs. I want to go swimming in my own private pool.

I already know how to do these things and I have already minimized my failure rate. The problem with doing them is that none of them will pay me a living wage, or worse would actually cost me money, so I’d eventually starve.

What risk would I take if I knew I could not fail? I’d buy a lottery ticket. Maybe enter a pro poker circuit. Not because I’d be any good at playing poker (I utterly suck at playing poker… can’t keep a poker face to save my life) but the guaranteed win would have me rolling in money.

What other risks would I take if I knew I could not fail? I’d invest all my money in the stock market. I’d perform brain surgery. I’d play a perfect cover of Purple Haze on a violin. I’d write out the cure for cancer in terms any layman could understand. I’d write a entire book on solving every world problem from poverty to disease to figuring out how to keep entropy from destroying everything.

If there was a guarantee of success then you might as well have a ring of unlimited wishes.

In the real world things are never that simple.

What would you try out if you had a trust fund that meant you wouldn’t have to worry about rent, food, or clothing for the rest of your life? I’d travel. Endlessly. Ride my motorbike all over the world. I’d return to school and take classes I was mildly curious about. I would spend weeks and weeks holed up in my apartment reading books and watching movies and playing video games. I would go out for coffee every single day.

None of this helps me come up with what I want and/or need to do to improve my life. It just lets me know what I’d do if I didn’t have any responsibilities.

Next question?

“3. What is your greatest strength? Have any of your recent actions demonstrated this strength?”

Two questions in one. That’s cheating, isn’t it? I want to talk to whomever wrote this quiz. You don’t get to ask two questions and label them as one. It just isn’t fair.

My greatest strength? Ugh, I hate trying to come up with that. Anything I answer with is going to sound like ego stroking.

I guess it depends on the situation. Figuring out the central cause of a problem used to be a big strength of mine. I could use it to debug some of the most confounding code bugs. Until I hit Java, then the error reporting system turned from a linear stream of events to a massive, incoherent blob of nested errors that had little or nothing to do with the actual problem. God I hate java with a passion.

I’m sorry, where was I?

Oh, right. Greatest strength. Or strengths.

I can say “problem identification”. I can’t say “problem solving” because I don’t often have the answer. But I can’ often point at a small point in a series of events and say “There. That’s where it started to go wrong.”

Empathy and understanding is a strength I’ve always tried to develop, but it’s one of those things where the more you know the more you realize just how little you know. It’s an ever widening spiral and I honestly don’t think it has a limit.

Communication is a strength I’m often complemented on, and one I’m often confused by other people’s struggles. Why is it so difficult to communicate? It shouldn’t be, and yet I’ve seen people argue with each other for hours before suddenly realizing they’re both trying to make the same point. I’ve seen people map out a process in exacting detail, point by point, and then turn around and do completely random things while confident that they’re doing as they’re supposed to. I’ve seen people take genuine compliments as mortal insults, and visa versa. I’ve seen people debate endlessly over the shades and depth of a colour only to have the artist walk up and declare “It’s BLACK”.

But then, I also spend endless spare minutes rewriting individual sentences in my head until I feel I have the best, clearest expression of intent… for conversations that ended years ago. If there’s one thing I work at the most in my idle hours it’s figuring out how to communicate.

So… have I used my Problem Identification, Empathy, and Communication skills recently? Yes. At work, and home, I’m always thinking, feeling, and communicating. Even when I’m alone. Especially when I’m alone, I guess. Because what else is there to do?

Mistakes

“1. We learn from our mistakes, yet we’re always so afraid to make one. Where is this true for you?”

Gawd, where ISN’T this true for me? Making mistakes is my one time biggest fear, especially out in the real world. There are far fewer places where I’m NOT afraid to make mistakes, so we’ll start with that list:

Computer games: because there’s a save point and if you’ve made the wrong the choice then the most you’ve lost is time. If this becomes an issue you can always just quit the game entirely and try something else. Wouldn’t it be nice if real life worked this way?

Writing: because there’s the edit and re-edit and the post edit and the scrap-it-all-and-delete-it palette of options. That being said I still find it hard to avoid self editing while I write, and this is something I always have to work against.

Public Speaking: Weird, right? So many people are absolutely terrified of public speaking, and I’m not. Why? I couldn’t possibly tell you, at least not with any certainty, but I’ll tell you anyway. Possibly because I just like having an audience and am always willing to share an interesting story. Oddly enough I can easily accept the assumption that a crowd will be forgiving of any mistakes I might make while speaking publicly, yet I don’t have the same confidence with a handful people at work. Speaking with friends? No problem. Speaking with people I’m required to spend the entire day with who don’t really know me all that well? Big problem. Speaking to a few thousand people I may never, ever see again who don’t know me at all? Zero problem.
Things I either know I’m really bad at or don’t care anything about: For example, I can’t bat worth a damn so I don’t care if I consistently miss the ball. I’m not a bowler, or basketball player, or really any kind of athlete at all. I once won an award at a golf tournament for losing the most balls into the water. I’m guaranteed to fail, badly, and don’t care, so I don’t worry about making mistakes. The moment it starts to matter, however, is the moment that mistakes have a consequence and therefore become suddenly very important.

People often push me to try my voice at karaoke. I have a terrible singing voice, and I know it, so I know I’ll sound awful. So why don’t I just let go and enjoy karaoke? Because I love good singing, and all but worship those with beautiful singing voices who can use them with skill. My own bad singing makes me cringe if I know someone else can hear it. Others who sing badly also make me cringe, doubly so if they actually think they can sing.

So… that’s a quick run down of things I’m NOT afraid to make mistakes at. If you can think of any other activity that doesn’t fit into these categories then you can be fairly certain I have a huge fear of making mistakes in them.

Why?

I’m tempted to claim it’s because I seek approval, but it’s actually the other way around: I fear derision. Not being a very public person in real life, and growing up without siblings or a father, I never really developed a very thick skin. I’m easily wounded by opinion, and am quick to anger when mocked. I’ve grown better at managing this as I’ve aged (no, honest, I have… I used to be much, MUCH worse) but I don’t know that I will ever escape it.

mistakes

The worst part of this fear is the conscious and logical awareness that people are almost never actually judging me at all. Everybody makes mistakes and it’s a perfectly normal part of learning. I know this. I understand this. But my spirit refuses to believe that logic pertains to me. Worse, my inner demons are pretty solidly convinced that I make way more mistakes than anyone else. I can rationally argue this down and logically accept the supposition that I probably don’t make any more mistakes than any other person, but my heart just won’t buy it.

Worse, this leads to the fervent belief that failure is as inevitable as entropy. Even if I’m a natural talent and perfect at something the nagging demon in the back of my skull keeps grabbing the statement “I haven’t made ANY mistakes” and stapling the word YET in dripping, bloody letters to the end of it.

I quite often think the only reason I have the courage to ride my motorbike at all is because of all of the mistakes I made in class. I’ve already done them and survived, so I have slightly less fear about making them again. Of course I try to not think too long on how different dropping a 50cc training bike is from dropping a 1500cc cruiser…

What’s your morning like?

Nobody has ever asked me this question, but I’ll answer it anyway. After all, I need something to write about.

My typical morning starts with me deciding how long I can remain in bed and not stress myself out. I know I have my alarm set to a time that will allow me plenty of room for preparing my morning. If I feel particularly calm I can push the snooze five or six times and still leave for work on time, everytime. If, however, I’m feeling anxious or stressed, I’ll get up after one snooze hit, or maybe immediately. If I’m stressed I’ll make mistakes and I know it’ll take me longer to get my shit together. Plus I’ll need the extra time to brace myself.

Brace myself against what, you ask? Monotony. Tedium. Responsibility. Effort. All those lovely things we face every single day as an adult.

Do what you love as your job and your job won’t feel like work. That’s fabulous if what you love to do is something you can make a living at. But very few people can make a living as a video game player, a movie watcher, or even as a writer. Oh, yes, there are some people who do make a living at those things. Professional gamers exist, believe it or not. There are, of course, many movie critics, and some of them even get paid for their work. And, as always, there are millions of writers. The one thing all of these particular interests have in common? Unless you’re at the very top you’re never going to make enough money to live off of.

In other words, while it’s all wonderful and fine to do what you love for work, unless what you do is inherently profitable you’re going to have to do the same thing the rest of us do: get a day job to support what you actually like doing.

So, the Real World mantra is actually: get a day job you can endure and pursue your interests when you can.

Of course the Big Problem with that is that most day jobs take enough out of you that additional pursuits are pretty much a pipe dream. Right now I get home with just enough energy to put together a bowl of cereal and set myself up on the couch for the rest of the evening hoping my feet will stop hurting enough to let me endure the next day.

So mornings are a challenge. Motivation has to be constructed, a little like a jenga tower, one piece at a time until I finally have enough to swing my legs over the edge and haul my ass up.

These days I have a few extra morning duties to prepare for. First thing I do upon sitting up is grab my compression stockings, gloves, and slip-on tube. The tube helps me drag the tight compression rubber over and around my heel. Without it I’d be fighting against the fifty pounds of compression just to get the damned thing on. I can do it, but trust me it’s not easy.

I get the compression stocking onto my right leg first thing. If I don’t my leg begins to swell within minutes and the scar tissue begins to ache with the pain of being stretched. Scar tissue doesn’t stretch well. I hate the ache in my leg enough to wrestle with a compression stocking before even going to the bathroom. If the leg swells enough it can take hours for it to compress back down, aching all the while. So… yeah, compression stocking first.

I have new appreciation for people with third degree burns. Their scar tissue doesn’t stretch at all and they can experience excrutiating pain just from breathing. Read the book “Gargoyle” for a vivid and disturbing look at that particular torture. The character in the book spends much of his physiotherapy time planning an elaborate suicide guaranteed to kill him fifteen times over. After a chapter or two you begin to hope he succeeds.

With the compression stocking on my right leg (the left one is much less vital as the leg hardly swells at all and doesn’t hurt even if it does) I go into the kitchen to start the kettle. As it brings the water to a boil I take care of the usual bodily demands, along with shaving. I have to shave with an electric razor while my neck is dry or I’m guaranteed to get ingrown hairs that itch like crazy. So, shave before shower.

Once the water has boiled I set up the tea pot with three (count them, three) tea bags of Tetley Extra Bold. So far it’s the only affordable tea I’ve found that comes close to the British tea I loved so much on my trip there nearly twenty years ago. I fill the pot to the brim with boiling hot water, place the top back onto the teapot, and cover the whole thing with a small towel.

From there I head to the shower. I make sure the water is the right temperature before taking the compression stocking off. I do my best to minimize the amount of time I have the thing off my leg and I still love my showers. Having my leg bandaged up such that I couldn’t take a shower for more than six weeks has made me appreciate them even more. So, down the last second, I strip the stocking off, lay it out on the counter where it won’t get wet (if it gets wet I can’t wear it until it’s dry again) and into the shower for a quick but thorough wash. On the days I switch to the other set of compression stockings I’ll wear the stocking into the shower itself. It’s going to get hand washed anyway and I have a dry one waiting. On those mornings I get to take a long, luxuriant shower.

From the shower I dry myself off and head straight for the bedroom with my right leg stocking. I take some time to sit on the edge of my bed and examine my feet. I take very careful care of my feet these days as any cracks or blisters can lead to another infection. I grind down calouses, trim the nails short, and moisturize every night. The irony is that if I’d done thise from the begining I might not have had my subsequent infections. Take care of your feet. It’s amazing the amount of trouble neglecting them can cause.

I then use my gloves and slide to put both compression stockings on my legs. Fifty pounds of compression on the right leg, thirty on the left. Again, this takes some particular attention. If I get the stockings on incorrectly they can wind up restricting blood flow, constricting toes, or simply chafing at the wrong point and causing blisters. It’s difficult to adjust them once they’re on so I do my best to get it right the first time.

From there the morning gets simpler. Finish dressing. Get food.

If it’s a good week I’ve prepared my lunches in advance, giving me a good extra ten minutes each morning. I pack my lunch into my backpack, get my breakfast ready with a massive glass of orange juice (can’t start the day right without it) and possibly a cup of coffee. Not always, but any morning I wake up tired I figure I need it.

With all that done I finally pour my tea. I fill one very sturdy and seal-able thermal cup and one rather dented thermos I bought at Ikea more years ago than I can remember. Best ten bucks I ever spent.

The tea has been steeping for at least an hour, with three tea bags. It’s as close to British tea I’ve been able to get without making it bitter. I still need to find a better brand that will produce the right flavor without as many tea bags or as much steeping. Tetley does the job for now though.

At this point I sit down to breakfast and my morning officially begins. I either read a book or surf the web. Delete a bunch of e-mails, catch up on those few friends struggling with sleep, and get in a chapter or two of reading. I like to have at least half an hour for breakfast. It gives me a reason to get up. I try to avoid looking at the time too often as that can start to stress me out. I’ve become pretty good at guessing the time anyway so by the time I go looking for it I usually find I have five minutes left.

Then it’s a matter of brushing the teeth, dressing for the weather, and getting my music ready for the walk. My music is my last reward for getting up on time. I can lose myself in music for my twenty five minute walk before having to actually face work.

From the moment I arrive at work it’s a twisted variation on the Buddhist statement of “We are dying from the moment we are born”. My version is “I am leaving from the moment I arrive”. While I do my best to not watch the clock my daily goal is to leave. I know freedom will arrive at the same time every day, and I can’t change that. The only thing I can change is my perception of the time between arriving and leaving. Luckily for my employers I have found that the best way to make time pass quickly is to keep busy. Nothing makes the clock grind slower than having nothing to do.

Stumble home, put up aching feet, rub pained ankles, distract myself with entertainment of some sort, then sleep.

Sleep is the best and most reliable escape. There are few things better than sleep. I look forward to falling asleep more now that I have my CPAP machine to help. I even get dreams on occasion.

Then… morning, and rebuilding that jenga tower of motivation to keep moving.

Just filling in space

I’m at a loss for words as to what to write right now. I can mention the movies I’ve seen recently, even talk about the books I’m reading, but is that what people want to read? Probably not. That’s not what I want to read. What I want to read are some self help articles that will simply and articulately lay out instructions for me to have a good and meaningful life. The few I stumble across on the internet are either so simplistic as to be able to be rendered down to a haiku:

Do no harm to others
Find out what you want to do
Go do that. And Cats.

Or they’re so insanely complex that you need a degree in sociology just to understand the instructions. (Of course I mean sociology. Sociologically based instructions / tests are the only ones you’re going to find shared online for free. Truly intelligent psychiatric tests cost. By the minute.)

Much better if I were to make my own list of instructions on how to have a good and fulfilling life. The only problem with doing that is people will then throw your own words back in your face when you’re having a bad day, and when you’re having a bad day the last thing you need is your own ray of sunshine blown back up your ass.

So if you’re going to provide some life lessons on your blog make sure they’re life lessons that you can listen to on a really bad day and not want to instantly punch the person parroting them back to you. (Oh look, I guess that’s lesson zero)

Lesson 1: Look, sometimes you just need that brownie, okay? Or that small plate of fish fingers. Or that plate of cactus cut fries. Yes, they’re full of fat and carbs. Yes, they’re going to cost you on your diet or just wind up on your thighs, but some shitty days just need that little sugar injected, fat fried lump of tongue joy. If you’re going to suffer a shitty day it might as well fucking taste good.

PS> There was some scientist who proved you can lose weight eating nothing but twinkies. He didn’t get many, and he only lost ten pounds, but he did it. Salads are good. Lean meat is good. But ultimately it comes down to calories in versus calories expended. Including twinkies. Just realize that that one twinkie is going to mean you’re going to have to give up that chicken breast and garden salad for today. Oh darn.

Lesson 2: Sometimes it just feels good to haul off and punch the fucker. Yes, his argument was full of holes you could have driven a bus through. Yes, everybody was already shaking their heads at how stupid he sounded. But some people simply need that neurological readjustment, and that can only be achieved by clocking someone’s reset button hard enough to force them into a hard reboot. Just make sure you either have a good alibi or witnesses who’ll stand by you and swear he swung first. Oh, and make sure your lawyer is better than his.

(No, of course I’m not ACTUALLY promoting violence. Violence never solved anything. Except, y’know, wars and stuff.)

Lesson 3: Finding out what you want to do with your life is going to involve you trying a whole lot of things. Nobody ever figured out what they wanted to do simply by thinking about it. Oh sure, there have been plenty of people who have thought “I’d love to be a dentist!” and have pursued that interest from day one. But not one of them actually found out whether they really wanted to be a dentist until they spent at least one day with their hands wrist deep in someone’s filthy, diseased mouth. If you’re in that mouth so deep you can feel colon and find yourself thinking “Man, I LOVE this!”, congratulations you really did want to be a dentist. Until then you’re just hoping it all works out.

Try stuff. Poke at things. Find out what makes them tick. Sniff it, step in it, and see how it feels.

This one is going to be thrown back in my face some day. I just know it.

Lesson 4: Half the time you’re feeling hungry for that snickers bar/butter tart/brownie/bag of chips what you’re actually feeling is either dehydration or boredom. This one needs to be thrown in my face a few times, and I know it. I just walked here past a Kentucky Fried Chicken place and actually had to talk myself out of going in. I don’t mean a mental struggle where the angel and demon fight it out in your imagination, but rather talking to myself OUT LOUD while people walked past me. Sometimes you have to back your arguments up with a little public humiliation to get them to sink in. Telling yourself, out loud, that “you’re not ACTUALLY hungry! You just finished dinner a little while ago, and you KNOW you’re going to feel ill after you finish that greasy mess”, while people stare at you or cross the street to get away from you, is sometimes the only way you can stop yourself from giving in to the wrong impulses.

That being said, I walked past there on my way to the coffee shop with the deliberate intent of having one single butter tart. And I’ve achieved that. See lesson one above.

Lesson 5: Listen to what your doctor has to say. If it makes sense to you, follow his instructions. If what he says isn’t making any sense to you then ASK QUESTIONS. Look, the doctor is human. He could be wrong. If he seems to be ignoring some symptoms that you think are important then DON’T LET HIM. Of all the people in the world who know things about your body NOBODY knows it better than you do. If something just AIN’T RIGHT then YOU have every right to let that be known to those who are paid to help you. If one won’t listen, talk to another, and another, and another. Don’t just accept what they say at face value and keep all those doubts to yourself. No, speak up, and ASK. Make sure you understand what they’re telling you and then ask “Okay, and after that?”

That being said…

When a doctor has provided you with a reasonable prognosis and has come up with a system of treatment… COMMIT to it. Make sure you do everything to the letter. If it doesn’t work, LET THEM KNOW. If it does work? LET THEM KNOW! Keep talking and pay attention.

And all that being said… I seriously have to wonder at what point you have to just hold up your hand and say “Just a minute. I’m taking 18 different medications every day. Is each and every single one of these truly necessary, or is there some overall lifestyle change I could be making to get rid of a few of these?”

This is all from my own personal experience and is heavily biased by that. Take what you like from it. I’m just throwing words down to fill in space at this point. I promise when I have something more meaningful to say I’ll let you know.

Mmmm… buttertart.

A page a day, day fifty-six: CCEE day two

One of these days I’m going to have to learn to listen to those little precognitive voices in my head. The problem is they’re almost impossible to distiguish from the random, nonsensical thoughts that normally roam through my head.

I’ve been bringing as much extra stuff with me to the expo as made sense for me to bring. Things like sharpie pens and tape have been very handy. Some of this things I’ve brought have been kind of silly or random. Like my book of paper monsters. My reasoning was that there were plenty of kids last year and I remembered a few of them being a bit bored as they waited for their parents so I figured the paper monsters might be a cool distraction for them.

At worst, if I had some boring moments myself, they’d be a cool distraction for me.

As I was gathering up my stuff for the expo this morning I had two ideas that I quickly dismissed as, well… silly. Possibly illogical. I dismissed them out of hand and now I really wish I hadn’t.

The first thought was I should grab a roll of paper towel, maybe just the half roll I have left on the rod. Then I shook my head and dismissed the thought as… excessive. Then I had an even stranger thought of taking the roll of double sided sticky tape. I have no idea where that idea came from and actually laughed out loud at the foolishness of it.

As it turns out, I could have used the paper towel. An attendee had a collection of signed posters stored in a plastic sleeve lying on the floor. Someone had a thermal mug of coffee on the floor beside it. I’m sure you can reason out what happened next. Luckily for the attendee his plastic sleeve did it’s job and none of the posters got even damp, but I had to use my handkerchief to mop up the coffee. Luckily for me I did have anough forthought to bring a couple of spare handkerchiefs.

And the double sided sticky tape… wierd.

Our VIP lounge had no water and the Operations team couldn’t spare anyone to go fetch it for us, so I went out myself. I was told the water was stacked at dock 17 and nobody else on my team knew where that was. I knew where dock 6 was as that was where the exhibitors were let in so I started there. As it turns out dock 17 was actually the furthest distance from the exhibitors. In fact, it is in the same building as the VIP room so I wound up doing a complete loop of the expo.

On my way back to return the cart to dock 17 I ran into the son of a friend doing security work. As we stood chatting a bit some guy in a suit came up and asked me if I knew where he could get some double sided sticky tape. Apparently they needed some for Carrie Fisher’s autograph booth.

I was stunned. Of all the random things to have a precognitive thought about… double sided sticky tape. Wierd.

I directed him to operations services, but man it would have been nice to have been the one to help out with Carrie Fisher’s booth.

As we stood and talked a little longer the boy happened to mention that we were standing just a few feet away from Stan Lee himself. I looked over his shoulder and sure enough there was Stan Lee, just getting ready for one of his autograph sessions.

As boy put it “I’m just going to stand here at my post and bask in the glow of awesome radiating from him.” I agreed, and we both stood there and basked for a while, hoping some of the legendary awesomeness would soak in.

A page a day, day fifty-five: CCEE day one

Spent the first day at the Calgary Expo today. It was somewhat tiring for me, but exhausting for others. For my part I spent almost the entire day in the VIP room registering people as they arrived and handing out what few goodies we had to give. Others were spending the day walking and standing just about everywhere.

Which is a little scary considering how many miles I covered today with the most sitting position available.

The bosses ponied up for a Fit Bit for each of us staff members who were interested. They did it as gesture of good will and because so many of us have been commenting on how we’re struggling with our weight lately. Quick description: it’s a step counter that not only counts how many steps you’ve made in a day but also how many stairs you’ve climbed and how well you sleep. I haven’t tried the sleep test yet because I already know my sleep is terrible. Plus I’ve really only worn it for one day, that being today.

So, today… I arrived at the convention, checked in at the volunteer center, got some mis-direction about where to pick up my radio, got my radio, went to the VIP room, and pretty much stayed there until lunch. At lunch time I walked back to the volunteer room, grabbed my free sandwich and salad for lunch ( for which I am every so grateful. Last year was all pizza, and even Coco Brooks pizza is a bit too much three days in a row ) and walked back to the VIP room. I made some very short forays into the surrounding area to put up some signs and check in on some volunteers, but for the most part I just camped out in the VIP room for the rest of the day answering people’s questions and registering late arrivals.

So, with all that sitting I still managed to clock in just over 9,000 steps, which apparently translates into 4.2 miles.

So… if you’re going to attend the CCEE for ANY reason, I have one solid piece of advice for you: Wear comfortable shoes. If you don’t then you WILL regret it. Second most important piece of advice would be: bring a sizable water bottle with you. Hydrate. All the standing and walking is going to dry you out faster that you would believe and a bottle of water from concessions is $3.00. We are providing our VIP attendees water, but we are only giving them one bottle per day per person. Why? Because the organizers can’t afford to provide more. They are having to pay the Stampede group for the water and they are forced to pay whatever the Stampede feels like charging. Hint: it’s a fuck of a lot of money.

My third piece of advice would be to bring your camera with you. There’s just so much to see and take pictures of you’ll seriously regret it if you don’t.

Tomorrow is going to be the “Main Day” for most people and I expect it will be hellishly busy. I already stocked myself up pretty good for today but I think I’m going to grab another water bottle or two. You honestly can’t have too much.

And I think I’m going to try to actually get out and see some of it tomorrow. I didn’t actually look at much more than what was going on in the outer concourse.

The depressing and slightly self-pity based reason is I just don’t have any money and can’t afford … anything. I’ve already seen dozens of shirts I’d love to buy and I know if I even stop at a single comic vendor I’m going to be overwhelmed.

But I’m doing the work so I might as well take what little advantage I can. The panels are free and there’s a good chance I could take an hour, maybe even two, to take one in. I’ll have to check the program guide.

So far all the reviews have been very favorable. We’ve had our own hurdles and snafu’s, but the organizers have solved so very many more. I’ve had numerous people make comments about how quickly lines move and how well organized they are. I haven’t been directly involved in any of that but I trust their observations. Especially when so many of them have been expecting horrendous waits.

Okay, I just have to share this one tidbit about my web site. I use WordPress with the Akismet plugin set up to filter out spam comments. Even with that in place I have my comments locked down so that they require my approval before they’re ever seen. I hardly ever have to do anything, though, because Akismet is incredibly efficient at grabbing spam. Plus almost nobody ever actually comments on my posts so 99.99999% of the comments being posted are just spam.

Once in a while, when I log in to check on things, I’ll quickly scan the list of spam comments to see if any of them are actual comments being mistaken for spam. Today I spotted one that ALMOST looked real. It was a simple line of “Hey, moderator, why do so many of these comments look like spam?”

Very meta for a spam bot. The comment was linked to the one constant spam source hitting my site, some other web site selling knockoff designer shoes. This one was no different, except for the slightly tongue-in-cheek comment about all the other posts looking like spam. Luckily for me Akismet caught it anyway. Flush, gone.

A page a day, day fifty-four: Skyrim Trifecta

The Expo starts tomorrow and I’ll be busy all weekend. Then again, I’ll be taking care of the VIP attendees room so I know I’ll also have a lot of moments with nothing to do. So I’ll be taking my netbook with me and getting some writing done.

I’ve started playing Skyrim again. Having finished Bioshock and burning out on Fallout 3 New Vegas I finally put Skyrim in again. I received a new Xbox for Christmas so I don’t have my old saved games anymore. But that’s okay, because now I really know what I’m doing in the game and I’m making amazing headway.

There are a handful of skills worth focusing on right from the start: Smithing, Enchanting, Alchemy, and Speech. Actually, Alchemy is just helpful, the other three are essential.

You need Smithing to make new armor and new weapons. The higher your skill, the better your weapons and armor. But that’s the end goal, not the method. The method involves combining the three over and over again. Kind of like grinding and crafting in Warcraft.

Smithing allows you to make armor out of metals, eventually, but at first you’re making armor out of leather, which you can get from hunting animals. So there’s an abundant supply of materials. The beauty of this is that you never stop gaining experience from making armor out of leather, even when your best armor is being made out of Dwarven metal. So you can always gain more experience in Smithing by making any kind of armor at all.

In addition to armor and weapons, however, you can also use Smithing to make Jewelry. Gold and silver combined with all the gems you keep finding in chests allows you to make rings and necklaces. Which is fine for re-sale value, but also fantastic for Enchanting.

Anything you can Smith you can Enchant. Any amount of enchantment on an object automatically increases it’s value. Any kind of enchanting you do also gradually increases your Enchanting skill.

Combine the two and you create a ton of things to sell with high value. So much, in fact, that I quite often have to travel from town to town just to find merchants with enough money left over to afford what I have to sell them.

Which improves the skill of Speech. Every exchange you make with a merchant improves your Speech skill, and a higher Speech skill improves your interactions with other NPC characters granting you additional experience, alternative options, or giving you a more favorable outcome on a quest.

There’s just two more things you need to make this never ending cycle perfect: Soul Trap and Transform.

Soul Trap is a spell you cast in battle to catch the soul of a defeated opponent. It’s tough to do on your own because you are, by definition, in a middle of a fight, and the spell doesn’t cast very quickly. It also expires after a limited amount of time so once you cast it you have to make sure you kill your opponent quickly. It’s awkward and difficult to manage with any degree of regularity. But, there’s a way to make it infinitely easier: Enchanting.

You learn how to Enchant items by finding items are already enchanted and destroying them. By destroying the enchanted item you learn that item’s particular enchantment and can there after apply that enchantment to other items as often as you want. But there’s still another catch: in order to enchant an item you need a Soul Gem, and that Soul gem must be charged with a Soul. You can buy these Soul Gems from merchants, but they’re incredibly expensive to buy if they’re already charged. They’re about 10% of the price if you buy them empty and charge them yourself. Which you do with the above mentioned Soul Trap spell.

So your holy grail in the game is to find a weapon, any weapon, enchanted with the Soul Trap spell. Once you have that, you can Disenchant it and learn the Enchantment yourself. From that point on you always make sure you have a weapon with Soul Trap enchanted into it. That way in every single battle you have the chance to charge up any Soul Gem you might be carrying. Then you buy every empty Soul Gem any merchant will be willing to sell.

Soul Gems come in five different sizes, from Petty up to Grand, with prices to match. When a Soul Trap spell captures a soul it will automatically store that soul in the smallest Soul Gem available. But if the soul is only of the “Petty” size and the only empty Soul Gem you have is a “Grand” size, the spell with unthinkingly charge up the Grand Soul Gem with a Petty soul… which effectively turns it into a mere Petty Soul Gem. Which is a waste of money. You can still use it, but it isn’t going to work very well.

So when you’re using a Soul Trap weapon you do your utmost to keep as many Petty and Common Soul Gems in your backpack as possible. That way you won’t waste the big gems on capturing smaller souls. Luckily these smaller Soul Gems are incredibly cheap. You do need to travel a fair bit, though, as the merchants will quickly run out of soul gems to sell you and the stock doesn’t refresh very quickly.

Sound ghoulish? Well, I didn’t design the rules, I’m just using them to their maximum effect.

So… charge up a hunting bow with Soul Trap. Go hunting for elk, deer, bear, rabbit, goat, dog, wolf, and saber tooth cat. Even hunt some of the woolly mammoths if you feel you’re strong enough to fight off the giants herding them. (Hint: if you’re at all new at this, you are NOT ready to fight a giant. Or a mammoth, for that matter.)

The bow kills the animal, the spell traps it’s soul, and you get hide out of which you can make leather armor. Use the Soul Gem to Enchant the armor and… voila. Cash machine. A cash machine that steadily improves your Smithing skill which rapidly provides you with better armor and weapons.

Trust me, this works wonders.

There’s one final trick to take this whole cycle into overdrive: the Transmute spell.

Your character learns spells from tomes you either buy from other wizards and merchants or find lying around. Transmute you can only find in two or three spots. I know of one particular spot in a mine held by numerous bandits. The mine not only provide you with the Transmute spell, but also provides you with dozens of chunks of Iron Ore. In the game you actually mine your own ore to turn into metal ingots which you then fashion into your weapons, armor… and jewelry.

Jewelry is only made out of silver or gold, which are naturally incredibly hard to find, but with the Transmute spell… you get to turn iron ore into silver ore, and you then turn that silver ore into gold.

So… buy up and mine all the cheap iron ore you can find, turn it into gold, increase your Smith skill over and over again by turning that gold into jewelry… enchant the jewelry, thus improving it’s value and increasing your Enchanting skill… selling the Enchanted Jewelry not only make a ton of money, but also to vastly improve your Speech skill.

Repeat. Become a God. Win Game.

A page a day, day fifty-three: Let’s talk about gaming… Squirrel!

I’m at a loss as to what to write today and inspiration has fled me so I’m afraid you’re going to get another post about games.

I tried to attend a table top game group tonight but very few people showed up. It was awkward. Two guys were playing some wizardly battle game that was a fairly blatant rip of Magic but “not a collectible game” they claimed. Whatever, they still had folders of cards in protective sleeves, they were still marshaling mana and attacking monster to monster. The rules, from what I overheard, were vastly over-complicated. They had rule books like an RPG, they had a playing field, and they had a tackle box of sorted tokens. The board, as nears as I could tell, added nothing to the game beyond a colorful background. They did move cards around to face off against each other, so there was an element of miniature play, but the board did not have any delineating marks or anything to specify differing areas or distance. They might as well have had the cards out on a plain table. I confess I may have been missing something, but the game just looked like a game of M:tG with excessive complexity designed to sell playing pieces.

Not that M:tG isn’t a cash grab anyway, but at least the game is still fun to play.

I had a brief chat with the owners about the upcoming expo. The store owners were packing up their wares to sell in the dealers’ room. They’ll probably do really well.

As I was getting up to leave one of the duo made some comment that I found incredibly puzzling. He felt it was unfair of the media guests to charge money for their photos and signatures. While I do confess to thinking that the prices they charge are insane, I don’t agree with his philosophy that they shouldn’t be allowed to charge at all. He felt that him paying his entry fee should be enough, and that he should just be allowed to walk up and ask for an autograph.

Well… in an ideal world, perhaps, but when you get the level of popularity that some of these performers have attained the logistics of setting up free autographs would be a nightmare for everyone involved. Hell, they’re charging hundreds of dollars for photos and autographs and the organizers still face a nightmare of crowd control.

All that aside, the ultimate point is this: These people have something of value and they’re selling it at prices people are willing to buy.

That’s it.

If their photo opportunities and signatures weren’t considered of value by those paying for them, they wouldn’t be able to sell them. It’s really that simple. If Shatner came up and demanded $50,000 per photo, he’d be sitting in an empty hall by himself. Alternatively, if he were giving it all away, he’d either be working 72 hours straight or there would be a riot as we tried turning people away after his standard two hours.

And, ultimately, nobody is entitled to anybody’s time. You’re paying to attend the convention because it costs the organizers to host it. They’re not getting the space for free, and given what the Stampede is charging for things (their fee for internet access for three days would get me high speed internet for over a year at home) they need every penny they get.

That ticket does not entitle you to anything more than the right to attend. Period.

The stars are their own business, and their product is their time and their fame. They’re allowed to set whatever price the market will bear. There is no reason anybody should EXPECT to gain time with them for free. The only way that works is if they feel your time is at least as valuable to them as theirs is to you, and that’s just not going to happen.

Now, that being said, most of these actors do their best to be as gracious and open as they can. After all, the value of their fame depends on people actually liking them in the first place. If people get turned off then suddenly that hundred bucks they placed down for their chunk of time feels like a rip off. The stars know this, and until they get bitter and jaded they do their best to maintain their popularity.

Some of them… well, okay, they’re actors, so they all thrive on attention, but some of them absolutely adore their fans and are geeking out about the whole experience as the audience is. Those are the best ones to sit and listen to, because they’re often just as excited as anyone to be there and will happily engage the audience of as long as they’re allowed.

Wow, okay, look at that… started with one line and totally dove into a tangent. Cool.

A page a day, day fifty-two: Fantasy Funeral

So I was surfing through the news this morning and came across a report about how the hate filled and ignorance encrusted Westboro Baptist Church had planned to picket the funeral of the man killed by the Boston Marathon bombing, but how hundreds of teamsters organized a counter protest to block them… and the WBC just didn’t show up.

I’m kind of hoping the WBC is running out of funding. I mean there isn’t generally very many of them and it’s not like they actually produce anything gainful, so they’re entirely dependent on the donations of others of like mind, and I suspect that group is slowly diminishing.

However…

It got me to daydreaming, like I do, and also reminded me of a great post I saw on either facebook or pinterest ages ago. It simply said “Life you life in a way that will make the WBC picket your funeral.” At the time I thought it was a great new way to spin the old cliches of “live your life to the fullest” and “seize the day”. Now the inner cynic in me is thinking all you need to do to live your life that way is to die in some nationally covered disaster and they’ll simply show up to blame your death on The Gay.

But I still like the attitude of that post, and if I were reasonably certain that the Westboro Baptist church was going to picket my funeral, I’d leave some very specific instructions on how I want my funeral to be organized. This idea isn’t necessarily original as it also ties in with some wonderful photos I’ve seen on the internet of gay and lesbian couples making out in front of Anti-Gay protesters.

First, IF my funeral were going to be so grand as to elicit media attention, and if that media attention were to inspire the WBC or some other hate group to protest at it, I would send out explicit invitations for every GLBT group to attend my funeral in counter protest. I would do my best to make it absolutely clear that they would all be welcome.

Then, as part of the instructions for my funeral and wake, I would arrange for a DJ, or multiple DJs, and however many dance instructors I could find. I would have my friends and family set up lots of open space for people to dance in, and I would have them encourage all attendees to dance.

I’m not talking about night club dancing, but old fashioned ballroom dancing, full of poise and grace. I would want men waltzing with men, women waltzing with women, just couples of any and all gender specifications. I would love to think of them gracefully dancing by all the evil and bile spilling WBC protesters to show them an explicit example of peace and love, the very opposite of how they’ve chosen to live their lives.

It would be expressed to the crowd that my wishes would be for everyone to dance, and for no-one to be excluded. I think it would be a fantastic opportunity for some WBC member to suddenly realize they’re on the wrong side of the abyss on this idea and for someone from the LGBT crowd to ask them to dance.

I would also want my friends to express to the crowd that I want my ideals celebrated with openly demonstrated affection. I would want everyone and anyone to participate in whatever Public Displays of Affection they felt comfortable doing, to within the limits of the law. I don’t want people arrested, I want people’s perceptions of love to be challenged. While the WBC holds up their signs of hate and death I want people to stand in huge groups before them actively demonstrating love and life.

My only regret would be being unavailable to participate.

A page a day, day fifty-one: Two pages a day

I made the mistake of a nap after work, and then the decision to watch “Going Postal” while cooking and eating dinner. It didn’t occur to me that both episodes in their entirety are over three hours. By the time I finished the night was gone.

I did have thoughts of taking the bike out for a ride while the sun was still up and the weather relatively warm. But that’s well in the past. Hesitation is always my worst enemy.

But tomorrow I will ride for sure.

I did enjoy the show, though. They composed a faithful rendition of the book. A lot was taken out, of course. Books do not translate well into film unless the film turns out to be eight or twelve hours long.

I missed some of the parts they took out. I was fond of the golems in particular and would love to see them do more movies about them. I don’t remember the one golem’s name in the book, but he was the oldest of them. He was thousands of years old and held a message intended for the king of a lost empire. He kept that message faithfully with him at all times with the full intention of delivering it. The paradox didn’t phase him a bit. His perspective of time was based on immortality. Empires rise and fall like the tide. To his mind the Empire waiting for the message in his hand might still rise one day and he could finally deliver it.

The destruction of that golem in the book was far more tragic than any other death. At least that’s how it felt when I read it.

Terry Pratchett has a real mastery of developing character and building sympathy. There hasn’t been a single book of his that hasn’t managed to move me in some way. He can play emotions like a harp, plucking strings with deft movements, producing beautiful chords.

Cliche, I know, but appropriate.

The night’s watch full of misfits and rejects, all joined together under one badge. Made equals through common position and responsibility, accepting of each other because they’re all familiar with being rejects. Each one with their special talent. Fantastic.

The witches of Discworld, women wise and strong, who all do what needs to be done because no-one else will. All the more powerful with their magic because they know why, and when, to NOT use it. Incredible.

The Unseen University, full of foolish wizards who somehow make the impossible possible, and who’s most powerful and influential member can’t cast a single spell because one of the five spells of creation has cast in with him. Crazy.

Cohen the barbarian and his barbarian horde. Men who’ve lived their entire lives fighting and are now well into their nineties. But they’ve lived so long, and fought so long, that they are invincible. They’ve seen every move, know every trick, and can kill you without even trying. You last seem them stealing the horses of the Valkyries so they can ride them off to new worlds because they’ve already conquered everything worth conquering. Awesome.

I’ve always loved authors who can make a plausible story out of the contradictory and impossible. Who can give you a plausible reason for the underdog to win that doesn’t involve some godly intervention. Who can make the impossible not only reasonable, but unavoidable.

And I’ve always loved an author who can turn a good phrase.

That being said there are a few of Terry Pratchett’s books, but not many, that have clearly been simple explorations of absurdity and satire. While not bad in their own way they have felt somewhat less for their lack of wisdom.

Books like Eric and the Last Continent were more like tours of interesting places than actual stories. Of course the places were Very Interesting and there were some hysterical moments, but for the most part they didn’t leave me feeling anything meaningful.

The latest book I’ve read by him, though, has convinced me that we need witches in our world. “I Shall Wear Midnight” is the last of the Tiffany Aching series (so far?) and it was a fantastic balance of the absurd and of the meaningful.

And, sadly, this is about he worst journal entry I’ve written since I started doing a page a day. But at least I got it done, and far more than the minimum 600 words. Chalk up another day.