The Busy Season

The holiday season is fully upon me and wow, it's shaping up to be an insane one. The older I get, the less I enjoy this holiday madness. LOL!

Last week we had the husband's company Xmas party and the ballet (Nutcracker, of course). I'm too tired and cranky to go in at length, so I'll some the week up thusly …

The party was fun. We bowled. We haven't bowled in a decade or more. We bowled a LOT. My left leg is only now starting to speak to me again.

The ballet was awesome! We've seen the Nutcracker many times, but this year it seemed better than ever. Truly enjoyed it anew. Would have enjoyed it even more had there not been so much walking and so many stairs. Ow, my poor left leg.

In the midst of all this, it was decided the Family Xmas Gathering would be held at my mom's house for the first time in twenty years. Guess whose head all that responsibity will fall on? If you guessed ME, give yourself a gold star!

But I sort of took today off and rested, my leg is feeling better, and my mental state is stable, so I'm feeling confident I can get through Xmas. Not that it ends there! It's looking very much like Lin and I will be redoing the living room the first week of the year. I'm looking forward to it and not looking forward to it at the same time. You know what I mean? It'll be great … when it's over and I can sit down and watch TV comfortably in a beautiful room!

In closing, let me just share a few recent photos. Nothing fancy or artsy. Just some snapshots of my currently crazy existence.

Hope you are all enjoying the holiday season!

Today Sucked

My day, in as few words as possible:

I upgraded my phone to iOS 8. I'm only semi-happy about that.

A cat puked on some important papers.

Another cat figured out how to get onto one of my few cat-free shelves.

I was reminded I have a party to go to tomorrow.

The kitchen sink clogged.

I was reminded I have a ballet to go to Saturday.

The weather has been crappy and is getting crappier.

I had the family Xmas gathering tossed in my lap.

I have three weeks to find a different insurance plan.

My phone has rung all day long.

My allergies are kicking my ass.

I hate Time Warner.

All of the above have made me extremely cranky.

Freaking Brrrr!

I slept through my alarm this morning. More like I hit the snooze over and over again until it gave up trying. No biggie. I busted my butt yesterday on four hours of sleep (and no naps at all), so getting some extra sleep was a good thing. I was pretty tired.

But when my “You really should get up now, you lazy bum” secondary alarm went off, I was all snuggly warm in bed and all the cats were laying on me. There's nothing at all unusual about all the cats being on the bed when I'm snoozing, but it is unusual for all three of them to be lounging on top of me. They don't really like each other well enough to be in such close proximity unless there's a very good reason. It felt nice and cozy though, so I hit the snooze a couple of times just to continue enjoying it.

Finally, I sat up, cats and covers pushed aside, and that was when I noticed the room was cold enough to store meat in. What the hell? It's cold outside, but not so cold yet that the furnace doesn't do a reasonable job of keeping it somewhat comfy inside the house! I put on the closest clothing and my warmest slippers and went to check the thermostat. Hello, it was set the way it always is for a winter night, but it wasn't on and the thermostat said it was under 50°F in the hall.

Now the hall lacks vents, so it's always the coldest and hottest room depending on the season. This is actually great, because it means the heat and AC always come on before the rest of the house has gotten too cold or too hot, since the thermostat is in the hall. But it was pretty obvious to me that the furnace hadn't been on in a while. A long while. I stood there and had a panic attack for a minute, because the furnace has been iffy for a couple years.

I tapped the thermostat. It's one of the ancient ones with a spring, magnet, and mercury switch in it. Maybe it got stuck? Nope. No response. I then slid the setting switch all the way down, noting it clicked at 45°, then slid it back to it's usual winter setting, noting it click again on its way back up. Then I stood there holding my breath waiting for the heat jets to spring to life. It seemed to take forever, but YES, THE FURNACE WAS PRODUCING FIRE! Then there was the equally long wait for the blower to kick in, and thankfully it also decided to work. The furnace was once again alive! Phew!

I don't know why the thermostat decided at some point last night that it didn't need to inform the furnace it was getting frosty in the house. Oh, I imagine it's because that thermostat is about as old as I am, but it hasn't been quite that cranky before. I guess replacing the thermostat just got moved up on the priority list of things we need to fix around here. Like into the top spot.

The cats and I are now huddled in front of the emergency space heater in the living room surrounded by a nice bubble of warmth. It's not a big bubble though, because it's not just the air inside that is cold. Everything in the house feels like it was sitting on the porch all night. Brrrrr. It's going to take hours to get this place warm again!

I'm going to spend some of that time looking at thermostats on the Home Depot website, because that needs to be fixed pronto. Like maybe it can't even wait for the weekend. I may have to learn to do it myself. I never want to wake up in a 45°F house again! And considering one of the ways the thermostat is usually cranky is in misreading the interior temperature, it's possible it was even older than that in here. No matter exactly how cold it was, it was too damn cold for humans and cats while inside a house!

Thanksgiving

Totally forgot I took some photos on Thanksgiving. Not many, and I was rushed on all of them because old people don't see a phone as a camera that can make art so I kept getting bitched at for “poking at your phone all the time”. A couple turned out ok, so I guess I'll post them.

Still Defiant

I'm still playing Defiance. Not only am I still enjoying it, but now I'd say I actually love it. Not as much as Skyrim or Dragon Age, but yeah, it's on the Games I Love list. Still can't play it for longer than an hour or two at a time though, because it does stress me out and frustrate me. Often. LOL!

Currently, I'm at EGO level 869, which is about 15-20% of the level cap. Still fairly puny. The game is decent at balancing multiplayer conflict zones, but even with the level boost I get when the big boys show up, I'm still at a decided disadvantage. After all, my weapons, shields, and skill perks are still low level. But at least I don't die every two minutes anymore. I just have to be quick on my feet and muster up a little bravery in the bigger battles. And … dying isn't all that bad anyway. Mostly it's just annoying.

A few exciting things did happen in game this week!

I finally have my very own Dodge Charger, so now I don't have to drive one of the crappy ATVs around anymore. Ok, the ATVs aren't crappy, but they are slow and fragile. The car isn't great at cross country driving, but at least it doesn't explode the first time it hits something larger than a human, and roadside enemies can't shoot it out from under me as I drive by. Huzzah! I'd have been happier if it wasn't orange, but beggars can't be choosers. It's a car, and that's what matters.

Also, I have gone from not placing on the leaderboard during major arkfalls to placing in the top ten regularly (quite often in the top five). This happened overnight. I made some changes to my weapons and gained a couple new skills I started using, and BAM … I started doing much better. I'm super excited about this, because I was still too new at the game during the Halloween event to place at all and so I didn't get any really awesome rewards from all those arkfalls I did. I will do much better during the upcoming Thanksgiving event, and I can't wait to see what kinds of awesome weapons I acquire.

Now about the game itself. Well, there are bugs and glitches and some of them are really, REALLY bothersome. But they aren't bothersome all the time, and usually by the time I am being bothered by enemies being invisible (and not meant to be) or other glitchiness happening, I've already been playing long enough that just turning off the game and doing something else for a while is a good idea anyway. I have to quit and restart a number of games on the PS3 for many of the same reasons, so it's not really a problem necessarily inherent in Defiance. The lag and whatnot though are exacerbated due to it being an MMO. This is my first ever MMO, so I don't know if it's common across the spectrum of the genre or if Defiance is just worse. The development team seems to be on the ball though, so yay for that.

The chat system though is a piece of shit. There's really no polite way to put it either. It really is just a steaming pile of crap. I could overlook the text chat system being the opposite of user friendly if the voice chat system worked at all, but wow, it's even worse. I could overlook a lot of bugs and other glitchiness in the game if they would just redo the entire chat system. It's flat out awful, and in a social type game, the chat has got to work at least somewhat. Please, Trion … do something to fix chat!

One last thing I want to mention is that I have been reading forums and other message board type things where users of Defiance congregate to get some tips on weapon modding and skill perk choices. I've learned a lot this way, and the number one thing I have learned is that it continues to be true that whenever there is more than one human involved in an endeavor there will be drama. Oh, will there be drama. Anyone who says women are the cause of all drama has never spent any time on a message board populated by middle aged men.

Let me give you an example…

I haven't tried player-vs-player events yet, because I'd don't think I'll like it or be good at it, but I have been reading about it for two reasons: I might want to try it in the future, and tactics used in PVP are also good for player-vs-environment (PVE) play, especially if one finds oneself doing something all by oneself and thus having to play very defensively. Anyway, I searched on Google for a very specific set of words, and the first result looked promising. I click the link and find myself in drama hell.

The whole forum thread was people calling each other cheaters and users of cheap tactics who lack the “skills” to properly play the game. By the time I finished reading the whole poo flinging flame war, all that was clear to me was that the people they insisted were cheating were merely using combinations of weapons and skill perks that everyone can and mostly do have in their own arsenal of choices. They just aren't using them. No cheating involved. Not even a glitch or loophole. Someone figured out a tactic that works, and other people don't like it.

Now when I read that using a one shot weapon with the skill perk that extends your current EGO power on reload while using the cloak skill can let you maintain invisibility for 90% of a PVP event, my first thought was not “Awful cheating cheaters! Foul cheap tactic users! You should be banned!” Nope. That wasn't my first thought at all. My first thought was “Dammit! I just sold all my one shot weapons!!!” This was followed by me thinking I need to make sure to get that skill perk and get a new sawed off shotgun with a one bullet magazine. That's not cheating. That's cleverly using the tools provided. And there are ways to negate the advantage it provides, but the complainers don't want to use them, because apparently using BMGs and Infectors is also a “cheap tactic” and “requires no skill”. It all sounds like a bunch of sour grapes to me.

Do you want to play and win the game that exists in reality? Or do you want to play the perfect vision you have of the game that exists only in your head? The programming is what it is, and the weapon and skill options are what they are. If you want to play a game where the actual physical skill of being able to use a game controller perfectly at all times is what wins and there are no weapons, shields, or skill tree perks that assist in gameplay (and winning) by providing clever ways to be sneaky, you need to find some other game to play, because Defiance is not that game. It's a run and gun kind of game that you can use precise shooting skills in if you want to do so … and in which knowing how to be sneaky can be a benefit.

And stop acting like three year old kids. Jeezle pete, grow the hell up. It's a GAME.

In closing, here's what my character looks like these days.

I had a couple bucks burning a hole in my PSN account, so I spent them on a new outfit. I went into the store and sorted the outfits by top selling and scrolled to the bottom of the list. There I found this delightful chartreuse tank top, hip hugger blue jeans, and combat boot set that I had already had my eye on. How could I resist? It's like it came from my own closet! The fact no one else seems to want to wear it was just a bonus situation. I hate looking like everyone else.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go sort through my inventory and start making room for all the awesome loot I'll be getting when the Thanksgiving event starts this coming week. I've been holding on to too many guns, and it's not like I won't get more. Like every day. So many guns. LOL!

Dear Winter

I know you have a schedule you are forced to abide by and that there isn't much you can do to not arrive at least somewhat on time, but … couldn't you have worked up to the sub-freezing temperatures from frozen-over hell? Did you have to pull that out of your bag for your first big trip to Texas this year? If you open with your big number, you'll have nothing new and exciting for the encore!

Had you built up to this madness slowly, over time, as you usually do, it's possible I might not have minded your arrival so much. I might have been been able to overlook or even maybe enjoy it. I don't really hate you, I just hate some of the things you do. But this …

What the hell, Winter?! Can't you see how wrong this is?! Now I not only thoroughly hate you, I am terrified about what you'll be doing for the next couple of months! Don't you ever think about anyone but yourself?

Please change your methods immediately. If you do, we can pretend this week didn't happen and go on being uneasy friends. Otherwise, we're done forever.

Your Frozen Friend in Texas,

Orb

Thank You, South Park

Recently, my DVR went insane and started downloading every episode of South Park as it aired. Since there was a South Park marathon of some sort going on, it was basically just sitting there recording South Park for hours and hours, which caused some things I hadn't yet watched to be erased from my DVR's hard drive. When I finally wondered what the hell was recording during the late afternoon, the damage had been done, as it had been recording ALL NIGHT LONG and ALL DAY. Thankfully, I caught it before it deleted The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which I've really been looking forward to watching. But still, things were lost, and I was aggravated.

I assure you, neither myself nor my husband did or would ever set the thing to record any South Park episodes. We have never watched South Park. Oh sure, sometimes when there's nothing else on or we are waiting for something we want to watch to start, it might end up on the TV, but no … it's not the sort of show we would ever record. Not one episode, and certainly not many, many episodes. I have no idea what gave the DVR the idea we wanted a full hard drive of South Park. After I made it stop relentlessly recording South Park, I turned on the Playstation and went about my usual late afternoon TV activities of checking Netflix for new things to watch and playing Defiance.

When I was done playing my game, I switched back to the TV, and because the cable box had ended up on the Comedy Channel while I was sorting out what the hell was happening, I was greeted by South Park. I left it on while I did the dishes and washed my hair, because there wasn't anything on and it's funny in small doses. But this episode caught my attention. I actually sat down on the couch and rewound it to watch it from the beginning. It was titled “Freemium Isn't Free” and the subject at hand was the Skinner Box addiction-feeding nature of “free-to-play” or “freemium” mobile games.

“No, see If something's addictive because it's FUN, that's one thing, but this is just blatant Skinner Box manipulation.” –Satan

I've been playing one of these games for two years. It's called Game of War. I knew going in there wasn't much of a game there and that at some point, it would begin using every tactic possible to extract as much cash from me as it could. When I started, I only intended to play until it got boring (and these games do get boring at some point if you aren't paying to speed things up or otherwise make the game more fun), but then I made friends in the game. This made the game quite a bit less boring and more fun, and eventually, I did spend some cash. Not much. About as much as I'd have spent buying a game for the Playstation. Over the course of the two years I've been playing, it works out to about one coffee or fancy pastry a month. Not an unreasonable sum, and I don't regret spending the money. But, I knew eventually the game would really put the screws to me to get much more money out of my wallet.

That began to happen about a month ago. I finally got my stronghold upgraded to the highest level, and now, in order to train the highest level troops, I have to build all these other buildings to level 21, and get a whole lot of research to level 10, and then I have to research said troops, and then finally train them. Each of these things that need to be done now takes many weeks and in some cases many months to complete (and untold amounts of nonexistent wood, ore, food, stone, and silver) unless … I'm willing to toss some cash at it to speed it along. Meanwhile, there are people who have and continue to spend thousands upon thousands of dollars on said game who do their very best to make my game as miserable as possible (and take my wood, ore, etc.). Also, in order to keep my stuff safe from these asses, I have to either buy shields (with in game currency that costs cash money) or set “rallies” every 8 or so hours. It's more than a bit tedious.

Now I have done the math. There is a general sum of money that would be required to make all these things happen in a timely manner in order for my empire to be powerful enough to actually be able to go to war and have any kind of fun with the game (which hasn't been fun at all for quite some time). It's enough money to buy all new furniture for my house. It's almost enough for a new roof. Its enough money to buy a used car. It's quite a lot of money. It's far more money than I would ever spend on a game or any other intangible thing (other than maybe a vacation of a lifetime).

I have also done the math for how long it would take me to do it all without spending any more cash on it (which isn't entirely possible really), and it could take another two years to build and research all the things, and then … I'd finally be building those awesome Tier Four troops. While I am busy trying to get all that done, they'll probably come out with all new Tier Five troops, and yet again I will not be powerful enough to compete against the asses making my gameplay annoying and requiring me to spend yet more time and/or more money trying to be strong enough to actually play the game. Meanwhile, the game will be pestering and nagging and pointing out how if I'd just buy some gold, everything would instantly be awesome. I too could be powerful and mighty and defeat my foes!

Yeah, well … I'm not doing it. I'm not going to spend the money, and I'm not going to spend two more years logging in every 8 or so hours “playing” this non-game Skinner Box in the hopes that at the end of that two years I might get to be powerful enough to actually PLAY the game part of the game. You know, the warring part. The thing I haven't been able to do for a full year now, because of all the other people who have gladly paid thousands of dollars to be the biggest “whales” in the kingdom. I can't even begin to compete against them. It's not possible to compete against a bottomless credit card.

So accidentally catching that episode of South Park was timely. I was already not happy playing Game of War, and I already knew it wasn't so much a game as it was a way to part people with their cash, but I couldn't quite find the words to sort it in my head. South Park hit all the points. All the things that have made me angry with Game of War all along. It's an excellent episode, and I not only highly recommend you watch it, but if you have teenagers in your life (and younger kids too, if South Park is a thing you'd let them watch), you should have them watch it too. I'm not at all a fan of South Park, but every so often they knock one out of the ballpark and point a critical finger at some aspect of our culture that really needs to be pointed at critically. This is one of those times.

And if you don't believe me? Well read this excellent commentary on both the show and the whole “freemium” game thing. But really, you should just watch the damn episode. I swear, it's worth it, especially if you or someone you know plays any of these so-called games. Even if you never give them a dime of real money, just playing them supports them, because without the free players, most of these games wouldn't last long. They need a constant flow of free people playing to make it fun for the spendy, spendy whales.

As for me and Game of War, I'll be ending my tenure in the kingdom of Xana will be coming to an end soon. I haven't decided how I will end it yet. Will I pass my accounts on to someone else? Do I just never log in again? Do I announce that I am leaving the game? Do I just go quietly away and leave people wondering? The only reason leaving is hard is because there are people involved. People I will miss chatting with regularly. That's another way these games suck you in and keep you clicking buttons, and I'm just going to have to figure out how best to say goodbye to the game and the people.

I'm done being a rat in a box.

I guess I should thank my crazy DVR for causing me all that grief by recording a bazillion episodes of South Park. If it hadn't done that, I might have been months working up the nerve to walk away from Game of War. Now I see even more clearly than a did before what a pointless waste of time and energy it is. I'll probably be extracting myself within a week or two. Maybe sooner. Game over.