Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Feast Of Winter Veil

I hesitate to admit this, but one of my Christmas traditions that I've been keeping over the past three years involves World Of Warcraft. One of the in-game events,  the Feast of Winter Veil, coincides with the Christmas season. It involves a Santa Claus-like dwarf named Greatfather Winter who gives out presents for all the good little denizens of Azeroth.

Each year, the folks at Blizzard cook up some cool gifts for the WOW characters. Usually, they involve some sort of pet. The big gift this year is a BB gun. It's an official Red Rider carbine action 200 shot range model air rifle. After 200 shots, the thing is gone. You can use some of the shots at enemy kings and earn a special achievement. Seems like a long way to go to make a pop culture joke. I'm not impressed with the gun, and I'm pretty sure it's not a genuine Red Rider. I mean, the thing doesn't even have a compass in the stock.

One Of My Characters Posing With Greatfather Winter in Ironforge

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Loot

When it comes to Christmas presents, I subscribe to the axiom that it is better to give than it is to receive. My outlook on this matter has little to do with any grand notions about spreading good cheer or making people happy. Getting presents just makes me incredibly uncomfortable. I didn't always feel this way. As a child, up until the age of about 12, I used to be the first up on Christmas morning and was notorious for tearing into my beautifully wrapped presents with a fervor akin to a hungry tiger ripping into an injured zebra. I'm leery of discussing my discomfort with people, because they overwhelmingly respond by telling me I'm nuts and that getting presents is one of the best parts of Christmas. Am I to become a social pariah because I'm weirded out by the idea of getting presents?

An old friend recently took me aside and put it simply to me: "People love you. They have good reason to love you. Some of them express it by giving you presents, so get over yourself and let them express it however they want to". I could have gone to therapy for six months over this and still not had the idea expressed so well or so succinctly.

Once again, this year, Santa Claus failed to deliver on my more outlandish requests. I'll deal with his sorry elfin ass post-New Year's. I did, however, get a lot of thoughtful, interesting, nice gifts from people. By far, the best gift came from my daughter. She bought it from the Santa shop at school. It's a combination lock.

"It's blue", she said. "You like blue".

Yes. Yes I do.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas. Count Your Blessings Today

In December of 2005, my life was falling apart. My marriage had crumbled to dust and my ex had already started to move on. I was stuck living in a town where I had no family, few friends and nobody I could trust. The ex and I managed to pull it together enough to give our kiddo a very nice Christmas, but after the frantic morning of present opening, I found myself sitting with my daughter in a now empty house just zoning out as "It's A Wonderful Life" flickered across the tv screen. No family around to wear out their welcome, no friends around to guzzle down my last beer, and no dinner to come back to haunt me in the wee hours of the morning. If felt wrong. So, I decided to do something about it.

I scooped my daughter up, put her in the car, and drove to one of the local churches. They were having a Christmas dinner in the basement. I hardly knew anybody there, and the people I did know were all too aware of my circumstances and kept shooting me "Aww, poor guy" looks. I felt like I was eating at a homeless shelter. Even though I had my daughter with me and there were people all around me, I couldn't remember a time when I had felt more alone. And that's when I took out a pen and some scrap paper and decided to count my blessings.

I won't list them all, but among the things I am lucky to have is a wonderful daughter, a small but close immediate family, a good job, a warm house, and a comfy bed. I reminded myself that I never had to worry about where my next meal would be coming from, nor did I have to worry about where I would be spending the night and whether or not I would be able to stay warm and dry. Many people in this world spend Christmas wishing that they had these things.

With that, I scraped off my place, picked my daughter up, thanked everyone around me and wished them well, and then headed back home. We didn't need the traditional Christmas dinner. We'd be making our own Christmas traditions from then on.

I still have the list. I had it laminated a few days after I made it. I take it out every so often to remind myself that, no matter how bad it is, it could be a lot worse.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Does It Matter?

I had a lot of running around to do today. With my own car being in pieces at a local automotive repair facility, I borrowed a friend's and cruised across the county and back in a frantic effort to get some last minute gift shopping done before 10:00 am. I had only one item that I needed to pick up at Wal-Mart. As I reconnoitered the available express check out lanes, I saw that they were all at least four people deep. One of the regular lanes was only two people deep, so I hopped in line. The lady directly in front of me had a cart load full of groceries.

"Ah, chestnuts!", I said under my breath, but just loud enough for the lady in front of me to hear. I was intending to prevail upon her sense of Christmas spirit in the hopes that she'd allow me to cut in line ahead of her.

I was successful. The lady, noticing that I had only one item cheerfully allowed me to pass. I thanked her, paid for my purchase, and again turned to the lady and said "Thanks again, and Happy Holidays".

Her face turned sour. "You mean, Merry Christmas", she said as if she were my sophomore English teacher correcting me.

Great. Another salvo in the "War On Christmas" was shot across my bow.

I smiled at this woman as she turned away from me. "Look, lady", I intoned. "When I say 'Happy Holidays', I'm wishing you the best for the week between and including Christmas and New Years. So, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy New Year, Happy Kwanzaa and you're welcome".

The poor cashiers probably are no doubt on pins and needles this time of year because of stuff like this. Say "Merry Christmas" and you risk offending a non-Christian. Neglect to say it, and you might just tick off an overly sensitive Christian.

I was raised Catholic, but I have come to think of Christmas, not so much as a religious holiday, but as a very old, traditional festival that has Christian and pagan origins. As a child, I had no clue that Christmas was related to the birth of Jesus. Legend has it that I asked our Pastor if he knew that Jesus' birthday was on the same day that Santa Claus came.

Here in America, we have a rich tradition of celebrating Christmas as a nation. It's a time for national unity; a time to reflect on previous years and look forward to the next one; a time for taking a break from life and showing your friends and family that you care. And if you want to celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth on that day, that's okay too.

So, for you non-Christians who take offense at people wishing you a Merry Christmas: Realize that, no matter what your beliefs, whoever said it to you honestly hopes that you have a good day on December 25, however you're intending to spend it. And to you Christians who insist on putting Christ back in Christmas at every opportunity, I will remind you that Christmas didn't become popular in this country until the 1800s. This nation was first settled by Puritans who loathed the notion of celebrating Christmas. To them, Christmas offered far too much revelry and was dangerously packed with pagan idolatry. They looked to The Bible to justify this. See Jeremiah 10:3-4: “For the customs of the peoples are false: a tree from the forest is cut down, and worked with an ax by the hands of an artisan. People deck it with silver and gold they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move.” So, really, Christ wasn't in Christmas in the first place.

So, in the spirit of Christmas itself, whether you see it as a religious or secular holiday, I ask you, can't we all just get along?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Santa Claus Doesn't Exist......Or Does He?

I remember the day when I found out that there was no Santa Claus. It was a cold December afternoon in the late 70's and I was five years old. I had been searching around the house for the family dog. She was known to nest in my mother's closet, so I decided to check in there. As I pushed through the forest of polyester dresses and shrubbery made of shoe racks, I found the dog hiding out. Behind her was something much more interesting and made the excursion more worth while. It was the Millennium Falcon playset. It was on my list of things that I wanted for Christmas. I immediately knew what this meant. Santa Claus didn't exist and Mom and Dad were the folks who brought the presents. I had already suspected as much; the uncovering of the Millennium Falcon proved it.

The pieces soon fell into place. Mom and Dad were very elaborate in their deception. They would go up into the attic crawl space on Christmas Eve while we kids were dozing off and stomp around in order to make us believe that reindeer were walking on the roof. I left out letters to Santa Claus on Christmas Eve (with writing assistance provided by my sister) which were promptly answered by Christmas Day. I never noticed that Santa's handwriting matched my father's.

Mom concocted an entirely plausible explanation for the Millennium Falcon being in her closet, but, by the time she arrived home to spin the discovery, she was too late. After a few minutes of debate, she could see that my mind had been made up and owned up to the truth. It was the first "real" conversation we ever had. Discovering my parents' deception in the whole Santa Clause affair didn't adversely affect me. Nor did the knowledge that mom and dad were aided and abetted by my older siblings. I didn't feel betrayed or lied to or feel like my childhood had been crushed.

Having a child of my own, I often wrestle with the whole Santa Claus issue. I don't like lying to her. However, who am I to buck generations of tradition? Santa Claus is the ultimate snipe hunt. Besides, there's something very cool about the idea of a kind old man who likes go give out presents. My mother still hands me an envelope every year that has "From: Santa Claus" written on it. When she started doing this a number of years back, I was convinced that she was starting to lose it and so I put the local nursing home on speed dial. She isn't going nuts or sipping too much egg nog or smoking mistletoe, though. In her own way, she's trying to tell me that Santa Claus does exist. He exists in the very spirit of gift giving and in the innocent wonder we see in our children's eyes when we encourage them to believe in Santa Claus. So, when Mom hands me a present supposedly from Santa Claus every year, I feel like a kid again for a few seconds, which I suppose is the point. And that's a greater gift than the present itself.

Remember: Just because something is imaginary doesn't mean it isn't real.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Gingerbread House

Normally, when the Christmas season starts falling upon us, I'll whip up a batch of Grandma Mac's bathtub egg nog until that holly jolly feeling is washed away with a good drunken buzz. This year, however, in addition to the egg nog, I was induced into purchasing a gingerbread house kit. The recipe for gingerbread house icing seems to be a bit off, as the overall results were not at all impressive. I did, however, put together a little Christmas themed video centered around the atrocity I had built. It's simply called "The Gingerbread House". You'll find it below, presented to you in festive widescreen.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

You Call This Customer Service?

It was just another day at work. Time was winding down and the weekend was quickly approaching. My mind was on the departmental Christmas party that would be happening tomorrow afternoon. Before I could party as heartily as I wanted, I had some actual work to get done. One of my long term projects involves setting up a new ticketing system from scratch for our call center. In order to do this, I needed to talk with the software vendor to get the minimum specifications for the software so I knew what kind of servers to order for the project. This should be a no brainer, right? Wrong!

The tech support line kicked me right over to the marketing department where I was met with a thick foreign accent belonging to a woman named "Sara". I explained the situation to her and she attempted to transfer me back to the tech support department. I told her that they had just sent me to her and that I was shocked that such basic information wasn't readily available to either department. After failing to placate me with promises of a call back from a software representative, she transferred me to her supervisor, another thick accented person named "Christopher". I explained the situation again.

"The software works on any platform", he said.

"Any platform?", I responded, somewhat dumbfounded. "So, you're telling me that this software will work on an old 386 from the 1980's?"

"Yes, that is so", he said.

"Okay", I continued, hardly believing what I was hearing. "Let me ask you this. Will your software work on my Commodore 64?"

"I believe it will", he said.

"I see", I said, amazed at how versatile this software seemed to be. "So, your software will work even if I have 2 kilobytes of RAM?"

"Yes", he said. He then launched into another attempt to get me off the phone. He promised to have someone call me back with the specific information I needed. Again, I was incredulous that such basic information, information essential to the use of the software they are selling wasn't readily available to their customer interface staff.

I became resigned to the fact that I wouldn't get my question answered today and that I'd have to wait for a call back. Before getting off the phone, I had to ask something. "Where are at right now?"

"You were routed to our call center", the voice on the other end said.

"No, what I mean is, if I wanted to call you directly, what city would I be calling?"

"You would have to call our base of operations in San Diego and be routed."

"But where are you sitting? What city are you physically in?"

"I'm in San Diego", he said. I smelled the distinct odor of scripted corporate bullshit.

"Oh yeah?", I asked, "How is the weather in San Diego today?"

"I don't want to talk about the weather", he said.

I just about blew a fuse right then and there. "Come on, buddy! Hell, just look it up on the internet or something or just tell me it's clear skies and 65 degrees! You've lied about everything else! What's one more?"

My co-workers overheard the whole thing and I think that, due to my nature of playing practical jokes, they initially thought I was faking the entire phone call. The sad thing is, it would have been a pretty funny joke if it wasn't so sadly serious.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

An Open Letter To Santa Claus

Dear Santa,

If you compare me to the celebrities and the politicians, I've been pretty good this year. Relatively speaking.

Yes, I was the one who tipped off the tabloids to Tiger Woods' little extra-curricular activities. I figured a mega-scandal like this would push him out of the limelight for a while. I thought I was doing everyone a public service! How was I supposed to know his wife would go all Chris Brown on him?

Also, I admit it, I was the one who put the exploding cantelope chunklets in the fruit salad at the mathematics convention earlier this year. Dr. Grace's hands are fine now. Nobody needs all ten fingers these days anyway.

I guess that the less that is said about the "Fluffy" incident, the better. Let me just say, though, that as God is my witness, I thought Pomeranians could fly.

Being "naughty" is a matter of degrees, isn't it? With all the dubious goings on happening in the world today, surely I rank well below the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong-il and Sarah Palin on your naughty list. That being the case, let's make with the Christmas list, shall we? I've tried to be more reasonable this year.

What do you get the nerd who has almost everything? Here's a brief rundown:

  • A bottle of Sam Adams Utopias Beer. It normally runs about $100 a bottle. I know that's a lot, but, hey, if you can build a toy factory at the North Pole that pumps out gifts that seem to be exact copies of popular toys, then surely you can build a brewery and have those elves brew me up a bottle or two.
  • The Phantom USB Keystroker. This opens up tons of possibilities for pranking.
  • USB Doomsday Device: Last year, you failed to bring me a castle just like Dr. Doom's like I had asked for (again). I'm a reasonable guy. This should be easier to fulfill This isn't even a real doomsday device......or is it?
  • The 2010 Demotivational Calendar. As if I hadn't been demotivated enough in 2009.
  • The Cubes! I must have them all! These have such great movie making potential. Appeal to my creativity while you contribute to my delinquency. I'll even give you an "Associate Producer" credit on all the videos I make with these things.
There you have it, Santa. Another year, another Christmas list. I'll leave you the requisite cookies and milk, and you make with the present giving. AND DON'T YOU CHEAP OUT ON ME AGAIN!

Merry Freaking Christmas.


    Thursday, December 10, 2009

    Caught A Tiger By The Tail.

    Tiger Woods and his multiple affairs has been very good for the news business. “God Bless Tiger Woods”, said Yahoo! chief executive Carol Bartz. “This week we got a huge uplift: Front Page, News, Sports, Gossip. He just filtered through the whole place. It is better than Michael Jackson dying; it is kind of hard to put an ad next to a funeral”. Mental Note: In the world of online news, divorce is preferable to death. Gotcha.

    I honestly don't see what the big deal is. Certainly, this is the most interesting story to come out of the sport of golf since it was invented. But, that's not saying much. Woods' rampant infidelity flies in the face of his carefully cultivated squeaky clean family man image. He's not the first golfer to be caught with his putter in the sand trap, but he's certainly the most famous, and seems to be well on his way towards being recognized as the Wilt Chamberlain of golf.

    Even Woods' recent announcement that he'll be taking an indefinite break from golf isn't really news. Of course he's going to take a break. Things are going to need to cool down so that won't have to endure the creative color commentary that will ensue from this social debacle. I can almost hear it now (assuming here that I fell asleep on the couch and somehow the TV got tuned to golf. Hey, it could happen!): "Woods swings back and.....A SHOT! My God, he drove that ball like it was Rachel Uchite after hours at Tao".

    He'll be back for Augusta, he'll start winning again, and this will all be old news. The sooner this happens, the sooner I can go back to ignoring him.

    Monday, December 7, 2009

    Super Mario Bros. Wii

    That the Super Mario Bros. franchise is hugely popular cannot be denied. I'm still trying to figure out why the public has such a massive hard on for it. Maybe, deep down, we all wish we could be an Italian with a speech impediment. Whatever the secret formula is for its success, Super Mario Bros. Wii continues that tradition and shows that the franchise is still going strong.

    Gameplay is standard here. After two decades, the basic aspects have not changed very much. This isn't rocket science, and it isn't supposed to be. Once again, you move your character across the screen and push ever forward to the flag pole, all the while avoiding various traps, bonking monsters and collecting coins. For the first time, multi-player action is an option so you can have three of your friends join in assuming you have enough of remotes. And friends.

    The only real gripe I have with the game concerns the multiplayer mode. First off, you can't pick your own character. I guess it doesn't really matter because each character has the exact same abilities, but I get tired of watching Mario's smug face all the time. Second, there's no Internet playability. In order to play with other characters, you have to actually have friends over physically. No more team playing in your boxer shorts. Unless your friends don't mind you playing in your boxer shorts.

    All in all, though, with terrifyingly difficult levels, great replay value and an overall fun theme, Super Mario Bros. Wii is a great game and is well worth the price.

    Sunday, December 6, 2009

    Jason Gets A New Entertainment Center

    Christmas time is here again, folks, It's the time of year when thoughts hearken to peace on Earth, good will towards men and heavily discounted electronics. I recieved a call from Jason last night and he excitedly told me about his brand new 46 inch LCD television. Now, he finally had an excuse to fire up that Blu-Ray DVD player he got last Christmas. Of course, what home entertainment bundle is complete without a pressboard entertainment center to show it all off? Being the good friend that I am, I tagged along with Jason to the local retail shop to help him get one. Not wanting to wait a half hour for a retail drone to help us, we lifted the box and placed it directly onto the shopping cart. I was surprised the cart didn't collapse under the weight. I shot a short video from my cell phone.

    The irony of the situation is that, once we got the entertainment center back to Jason's place and got the TV set up, it turned out that the Blu-Ray player was fried. Bah. Humbug.

    Wednesday, December 2, 2009

    Okay, I'm Playing World Of Warcraft Again

    My loyal readers (both of you) know full well about my love/hate relationship with World Of Warcraft. I'm sorry to report that I have recently fell off the wagon with the game and am back to playing. I'm not putting in more than two hours a night, and, aside from having recurring dreams about the zombie apocalypse, I have suffered no ill side effects. Recently, however, I've had to wonder why I bother, as it appears that a Taiwanese man has reportedly completed all 986 of the game's achievements. No doubt, when he did this, a portal of white light appeared and sucked him into the game itself, where he now reigns as King Of World Of Warcraft.

    It's guys like him who make me think that WoW is nothing more than a mindless treadmill to nowhere. Which is okay for me in the Winter, because decreased daylight seems to shutdown my brain so much that I actually NEED some sort of mental treadmill to stay sharp. There's nothing like spamming my attack rotation over and over again during a raid to keep my mind alert. And there are occasions, like when I spent 3 hours last Saturday morning working on the Bloodsail Admiral achievement, where I think that I am little more than a tool for Blizzard.

    All in all, WoW is a strange game. It would seem that the only winning move is not to play.