Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

A Cup of Kindness Yet…   Leave a comment

I’ve not actually checked, but I’m sure this title is being used by lots of people writing blog posts today.  You probably recognize it from the chorus of Auld Lang Syne, though I actually wanted to run with a lesser known line from the second verse.  Sadly, “Surely you’ll buy your pint cup, and surely I’ll buy mine” is kind of long for a title.  Plus I don’t buy pints, but I doubt anyone’d fact check that.

The fact remains, we’re sitting at the end of the 2016th calendar year in the Gregorian system.  The system’s not even that old in the grand scheme of things, clocking in at roughly 434 years (to make the math nice and fun they went ahead with the switch in October instead of just waiting three months for January.)  There have been a lot of opinions about 2016 as a year to the point that a few people have even started personifying it, typically as a sort of bumbling thing but every once in a while as a kind of malevolent one.  It’s a subconscious thing, but for the last few months pretty much anything unpleasant that’s happened has been blamed on the year.

And I have to admit that general events in the United States haven’t been great.  My understanding is that events in the rest of the world have also been less than awesome, even if the non-Brexit specifics aren’t coming to my mind right now.  From zookeepers who had to make a horrible decision about the life of a boy and a gorilla, to a ridiculous amount of beloved famous people passing away, to an election that was just mean no matter what your political leanings are, to callous disregard for the lives of black people in the face of armed police officers… and lest we forget, the city of Flint, Michigan still doesn’t have clean water.  This is just what I remember off the top of my head, and this is just the United States.

To make it worse, 2015 was a tough act to follow.  We celebrated the date that Marty McFly went to the Future, often at the exact time that he got there.  MST3K fans raised enough funds to create a new, twelfth season of the show.  Star Wars’ fabled seventh installment came out, and while the fans who’ve been keeping the franchise alive had strongly mixed feelings about it and what it meant for the expanded universe, the film was also applauded for taking steps toward less of a cast of white guys.

Possibly most surprising about that film was that its director actually agreed with criticisms that it too slavishly followed the plot of the original film and said he’d lessen so much imitation moving forward!  Legitimate response to a fair critique of a movie that most people admit was okay? Sweet.

So… 2016 already had a lot working against it, it doesn’t compare well to 2015 especially if you’re a fan of nerdy things.  But 2016 wasn’t all bad, either.  There are some gems here.  Ghostbusters 2016 was, despite fears that it would “ruin our childhood forever”, a really nice movie (with a villain that was, hilariously enough, seemingly composed of all the worst parts of the Internet’s complainers.)  It’s sad that Gravity Falls and Wander Over Yonder concluded, but they had amazing final episodes.  Police around the country are taking stands and saying that things have gone too far and they’re working for reform in their own departments to, hopefully, save lives.  People seem to be done talking about Deflate Gate.  Everywhere I look, I see signs of positive change.

Like, I’m not trying to sugar coat anything here.  2016 was a lousy year.  But a lot of the problems with it seem to be indicative of change, and I think there’s a lot of good change.  There’s bad change to, definitely, but the good change is really good.  I feel like the really bad stuff, not counting celebrity deaths, are suggestive of growing pains.  We have some entrenched systems in place and a lot of people don’t want those systems to change because change is scary, so it’s expected that we’ll see resistance in the form of both a lack of initiative and a presence of active opposition.  This resistance isn’t really stopping the change, though, it’s just… well, it’s just resisting it.

So when we remember auld lang syne tonight… that is, times long past, or even just “old times”… let’s remember the good parts of 2016.  The bad parts of it need to go away forever, yeah, but let’s celebrate the wins we got.  And, of course, let’s take the time to remember those no longer with us.  I’ve got lots of plans for 2017, and most of them wouldn’t be possible without the way that 2016 went, so… here’s to the good old times, and good riddance to the bad ones.  Seeya in 2017, everyone!

Tales of Japeries Past   Leave a comment

Colonel Sassacre

I love a good prank or practical joke, though it’s a little easy to be too mean spirited with them. Everything I think of is either too hard to pull off or too mantagonistic, so I’m afraid that on this, April Fool’s Day, I must confess to not be a great pranksmith worthy of legend.

Unless I’m bluffing.

Having said that, my family’s sort of got a history of it. My grandfather on my dad’s side has a subtle knack for pulling off a quick and harmless trick; by using a second remote and standing behind me, he once lowered the volume of a TV whenever I lowered it so that I couldn’t hear it, and then raised the volume of the TV whenever I raised it to the point of it blaring like crazy.  In a way, it’s the perfect trick.  He also once pulled off a hilarious stunt involving a report card, a basement, and some simple switcheroos.  I won’t regale you with that tale because I forget some of the finer points (I believe it was his friend’s report card, but don’t trust my own memory on this part).  However, my father has inherited a lot of my grandfather’s talent for this kind of chicanery, and once pulled a fast one that I believe to have been essentially the same trick but on a grander scale.  I also forget a few details of this one, but I’ll see if I can get the facts straight.  (Dad, if you see this and I get many details wrong, let me know so that I can fix it.)  Anyway, let’s go back in time to a position that my dad once held…

Hanging Rock

My dad was once a councilor at a camp, Hanging Rock Christian Assembly I believe, and he was in the cafeteria late at night with a lot of other people, and some of them were talking about how they needed to pull some sort of prank. My dad walked over and said “Well, you know, I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but the flag pole isn’t really cemented into place. Anyone could just walk over and lift it out.” Then he tapped one of them on the shoulder and left, allegedly for bed.
He steered the person toward some bushes by the flagpole. Sure enough, after not much longer the lights went out in the cafeteria, and a lot of giggling, snickering councilors walked out, approached the flagpole, and lifted it out of the hole in the ground. They carried it to another place, not far away, and hid it alongside one of the buildings before they all returned to their dorms. Then my dad and his selected accomplice went to their hiding place, picked up the flag pole, and hid it elsewhere.

The next morning, the camp’s… I dunno, camps don’t have deans, the… head person… was understandably angry about the lack of flag for the morning flag raising. My dad, in a quiet moment, said that he overheard some people at the cafeteria discussing moving the flagpole last night, so the camp leader person went to them and demanded to have the flag returned. They laughed, said sure, and went to get it.

A bit later, they had to return and sheepishly confess that they’d lost the flag pole.

My dad didn’t let it go on much longer before he “found” the flag pole. Ultimately, it was a great prank, and no real harm done.

Incidentally, I also posted this to the MST3K Review Message Board, though in a slightly different form.  Don’t know what the difference in replies here would be to there, but do you have any tales of practical hijinkery you’d like to share?

The Return From China   Leave a comment

It’s been a couple weeks now, but I’m more or less settled back into being back from China.  I also have gotten back to a “normal” sleep schedule, which I’ve not had in many months (normal for me being an incredible drowsiness that hits me between 1:30 AM and 2:30 AM which convinces me to go to bed.)  Going to China was an incredible experience, though not for a lot of the reasons I expected.  I didn’t get to do many touristy things (or as my sister put it, I didn’t get to do many “China things”), but I did get to see a sort of “normal” day in China.

I went to China because some of my sister’s coworkers thought that it’d be fun for me to show up in China over Christmas as a kind of present to her, and I thought it sounded like a lot of fun.  We didn’t get to have the ridiculous surprise we wanted (me just sort of “being there” at the breakfast table on Christmas morning without any real explanation) but we the upshot is that I was able to help out a bit as their small English-school transferred everyone from one building to another’s housing.

Getting to China was exhausting because I didn’t know all that went into getting a Visa.  I’d been told that a lot of these things are hard to acquire if you don’t go through an agency to handle the paperwork for you, but I found it to be more or less straightforward.  All the waiting to see if I’d been approved, though, took its toll.  After getting a passport and visa for the first time in my life, though, I felt stronger for it.  And then came the plane trip.

Douglas Adams wrote in The Long, Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul that no language on Earth had ever produced the phrase “as pretty as an airport”, and I had that expression in my mind a lot while I went through the process of getting into O’Hare in Chicago and out of Pudong in Shanghai.  In their defense, these airports actually weren’t that bad, It’s just that this is a business centered entirely around getting people to far away places really quickly.  There’s some natural tension to be had.  After carefully packing my one bag and one carry-on bag the night before, I reached O’Hare and learned that the ratios of the bags were unusually proportioned and that I’d be better off switching them.  So I did.

This led to an amusing search of my bag by a TSA official, since a number of items in my new carry on were containers for liquids or gels that were in quantities of greater than three ounces.  She quickly determined that they were all innocent enough, though, and let me off with a friendly reminder about the policy.

The actual plane ride over was severely overbooked, probably related to the fact that this was a few days before Christmas.  I was by an aisle, though, and as such had the ability to stand and walk whenever I felt like it.  It was just a bit too cramped for me to easily use my laptop, so I settled on watching the films aboard the flight.

Eventually the 14 hour plane ride ended, and I met up with Sara and her coworker Joe.  After a bus trip and a quick meal, I was treated to a three hour ride on what I think was a bullet train.  (The image above is actually from my last day in China, not my first, but it works well enough.  Also, I’ll hotlink from Sara’s blog.  You should go read it there, I linked it above.)

Sara’s company teaches English as a second language, and mixes that with American traditions and cultural lessons, so the week I was there I got to witness a number of American Christmas Parties being held.  I wasn’t a teacher, but I was invited to sort of be around during the classes.  True to form, Sara and I instantly created a character for me to play in the event of anyone questioning my presence at the Christmas party lessons.  We decided I was basically a hobo who kept coming up with really shady excuses for being around and stealing food (or possibly I was the personification of the holiday season, but really bad at phrasing things.  “I’m the, uh… Spirit of Christmas.  Don’t talk to me or I’ll leave.”)  For the last couple days of these parties, I helped by watching the baking of cookies, which was a nice, laid back way to help out.

While I didn’t get many chances to do much sightseeing, I did enjoy seeing what these other Americans considered to be normal days in China.  Plus they took me out to eat at a few memorable places, like the Chinese take on Pizza Hut (they serve pumpkin-shrimp soup there), and a delightful location called Hot Pot.  I caught myself wanting some of the lotus roots from Hot Pot today, actually.

On Christmas Eve, Sara and I held a little family tradition involving the nativity set (complete with rhino), some Bible readings, and carol singing.  It’s a little thing our family does.  We invited some of Sara’s coworkers, and since they came Sara hit on the idea of also incorporating a House Church tradition involving communion.  “Wherever two or more gather”, after all.

I was sad to leave China and my sister, but the trip did have to end eventually.  I’d like to go back some day, but for now it’s a fun collection of memories.

John Reveals His Mysterious Future   Leave a comment

So, to everyone who glances at this web log that wordpress lets me use, you’ve either noticed that I’ve not said much the past couple of weeks or, more likely, you’re now saying “Huh, I guess there hasn’t been an update in a while.  Well… how about that?”  Ultimately, it probably hasn’t impacted your plans much unless you’re a huge fan of Magical Mondays or the Korra Chronicles.  I don’t *think* there are any people who wait for those with baited breath, but if there are such people and you’re among them, I apologize.  (However, do note that there are many, many other people who post reviews and summaries of The Legend Of Korra out there, and that they’re generally better at it than I am.  I’m just a charlatan getting by and the same cheap tricks.)

Korra 402-5

Any suggestion that the last sentence was crafted just so that I could use that image again is probably valid.  Anyway, why HAVE I been so preoccupied lately?  Let me tell you, dear reader.  November was a month of MADNESS and such madness will I now explain.

  1. NaNoWriMo: I mentioned this in one or two previous posts, but I participated in National Novel Writing Month.  However, my dedication to getting it all finished meant that sacrifices had to be made time-wise.  Every thousand words I wrote summarizing a Legend of Korra episode or talking about some facet of magic that you could use in a roleplaying game was probably more like two thousand words of actual writing time, since those posts involve me scouring the Internet for images, taking screen grabs, theorizing about plot twists, and homebrewing magical rules.  (Just look at last week’s Magical Mondays for an example of how much those things get cut down if I don’t spend time on it.)  My blog wasn’t the only thing to suffer, either, as I did crazy things like not going to the gym.  Now that November is over, however, I have more writing time available (and more time to go to the gym, as well, as much as my mind is telling me that it doesn’t want to… it’s a liar, I know how good my brain feels after going to the gym, it just needs to be reminded.)  And the good news?  The month was not wasted; I wrote a novel, largely for practice, and while the book isn’t finished (I hit 50k words, but the story’s just not done, dangit) I like what I got out of it.  I doubt it’ll ever get sold, but it’ll definitely help to influence my future projects.
  2. Twelve Nights At Freddy’s: So, I just got a job as a graveyard shift security guard.  I made a point of playing Five Nights At Freddy’s on my first night there.  It’s actually not a bad place; comfortable, decent lighting, inoffensive pop music playing on distant speakers, and lots of free time apart from the fifteen to twenty minutes I spend every hour walking through it.  It gave me a lot of time to write things, and not only did I use it to catch up with, and ultimately finish, NaNoWriMo, I also started my next project there (a spec script, using Scrivener.  That program is a blast, incidentally.)  So, why is this a problem for updating here?  Two things: access and opportunity.  Access is a problem in that the location I’m securing (or at least watching) doesn’t have an open WiFi network.  Without a password, I can’t access it (and I’ve not asked for such a thing.)  Opportunity is my other problem; While I only work there three nights a week, those nights effectively occupy four days’ worth of space.  I wasn’t prepared for that little time rupture, and didn’t take the necessary precautions to, say, catch up with Legend of Korra, Gotham or The Flash.  I only watch those online, after all, and since I now have almost no late night WiFi access, it’s not been possible to do much of the “legwork” involved in preparing my regular features.  The good news?  This job is only temporary.  Eight weeks at most.  While the pay is good, I’m relieved to know that it’s not a permanent thing (especially since it’s keeping me from seeing a lot of my friends on Mondays and Tuesdays.)  Now, as if these two reasons weren’t enough, there’s still one more thing that’s been eating up time (on a linearly increasing scale these last three months, honestly.)  I’ve been calling it The December Surprise since it was meant to be a secret, but the secret’s been revealed to those that it was being kept from now, so I can tell you that I’ve been preparing to become…
  3. The Mysterious Stranger From The Occident: So, I’m going to China.  Some of you may know that my sister’s been living in China for six months now, and will likely remain there for at least six more months unless she wants to stay longer.  She’s teaching English as a second language there, and some of her coworkers thought that it would be fun to surprise my sister by covering most of the expenses for me to get to China around Christmas time.  And, hey, I’m totally down with that.  Unfortunately, there’s been a lot of craziness around those plans, and they only just became definite within the last week, so now I’m scrambling to get it all handled.  Next up is getting my Visa (and I need to get it, like, now, either by having it expedited or by personally travelling to Chicago to go to the Chinese Consulate.  And a lot of these plans have taken the forefront of everything I’ve been handling.

So, there you have it.  That’s not only a list of reasons for why I’ve not been updating, but it’s a good look at the general state of my life right now.  (Honestly, on a more professional web log I’d probably be talking about things like this all the time instead of my gaming homebrew ideas.)  Ultimately, I’m excited and happy and eager to see how this all plays out… and by the middle of January, all of these things will just be memories.  But for now?  Busy, busy, busy…

Having said that, I’m going to see about doing some abbreviated Korra Chronicles as I catch up to speed.  Magical Mondays will, as it always has been, continue to be done at the last minute with significantly less preparation than it should have, if it happens at all.  (Seriously, though, I’ve been having some fun ideas for it lately.)  So, enjoy your holiday season, everyone, and I’ll be seeing you before ya know it.

Three Tips To Talk Like A Tirate… er, Pirate   Leave a comment

Peter Pan Pirates Life

So, it’s International Talk Like A Pirate Day, and you want to go to all the big pirate parties that’re being held in town.  You don’t want to be a pirate poseur, of course, but you’ve never quite been able to get the pirate talk down.  Well, I’ve got three tips for you that should make you fit in.  Don’t hide behind the over-the-top tricorner hat or the hastily bought merchandise from the clearance corner of the local cosplay-mart.  Just follow these, and you should be good to go.

1) Speak With Your Throat

Even if you can’t figure out the subtle distinction between “Avast and “Ahoy”, the right growl in your throat can make up for it.  You don’t need to say a single “pirate word” if you can give your voice the right metaphorical swagger.  Use the same part of the back of the throat that you might use if you were imitating a frog.  Don’t just say “ribbit”, actually feel it.  Once you get “ribbit” down, you should be able to push the words out more forcefully.  Pirates don’t really talk, they sort of have this perpetually shouted growl that coincides nicely with the words that happen to come out of them at the same time.  If you can get the pirate growl, you’ll be a real timber-shiverer, and not someone who’s cheerfully muttering Arr every three or four sentences.

2) Pick Your Pirate

Have a pirate in mind, and stick with it.  There’s a sort of “default pirate” that everyone uses, but that isn’t your only option.  The gruff swashbuckler is often the go-to, while many other pirate models exist.  The gruff swashbuckler is the most fun and arguably easiest to pull off, but if you can convincingly imitate one of the classier strains of pirate then go for it.  The drawback is that classy pirates aren’t as recognizable.  Captain Hook is hard to pull off without a Captain Hook outfit.  The same thing goes for Jack Sparrow or Guybrush Threepwood.  Captain Barbosa, on the other hand, manages to have the classy demeanor while still being unquestionably a pirate.  Once you have a pirate in mind, find an easy phrase of theirs and figure out how they say it.  (For instance, if you go with Barbosa, just imagine the various ways that he says “Jack” in Curse of the Black Pearl.)

3) Use Your Apostrophes

The apostrophe is one of the greatest tools for people who want to talk like pirates.  Let’s see that sentence again: “Th’ apostrophe is one o’ th’ greatest tools f’r people who want t’ talk like pirates.”  See?  If you’re growling while saying that sentence with the apostrophes in place, my only recommendation is to replace the word “is” with “be” and you’re golden.  One more time: “Th’ apostrophe be one o’ th’ greatest tools f’r people who want t’ talk like pirates.”  That last change, however, is just for extra credit.  A casual observer wouldn’t care.  Now, it’s important to note that some people wouldn’t use an apostrophe in the word “to”, and would say “ta” instead of “t'”.  I think that this is fine in general, but you want to make the word short.  It’s a filler word, and pirates speak with a strange combination of laziness and crispness.  I don’t recommend relaxing it to “ta” until you have a handle on what you’re doing.

And there ya be.  There truly be more t’ talkin’ like a pirate, there truly be.  Replacin’ “is” with “be”, swappin’ words like “Hey” with “Avast”, and the nuanced care required for proper usage o’ th’ word “matey” be advanced techniques.  Yer welcome to try, but if ye just follow me three tips ye should be fine.  Until next year’s Talk Like A Pirate Day, me hearties, speak well!