Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Memorializing the Weekend

It was a good weekend. It rained quite a bit, but after last year's drought I will take all the rain I can get. It probably also helped that all of my planned activities were taking place under cover. On Saturday I hooked up with the small council for some gaming, and then on Sunday I met up with my friend George to see the movie Hot Fuzz, which was the funniest thing I have seen in a long time. Very much recommended, but also very much not a date movie. This film is like 300, in that it does very well on a list of top movies for men, but women will probably be scratching their heads.

Then on Monday I met up with my younger brother at my parents' place in Arnold. We played Memoior '44 and ate grilled chicken and mushrooms and turkey sausage. It was all quite good.

In other news, my older brother and his wife, Amy, have moved down to Florida, so I no longer have someone close by to get my mail for me when I am out of town on business. Good thing I am not traveling these days, eh?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

New Anime Soundtrack Reviews

After a very long time, which is partly the fault of my editor but mostly my own, I have a couple more soundtrack reviews up at Anime Dream. You may find them here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Geico of Cable

For a number of months now, I have been unhappy with my cable bill. The service is fine, but I have been paying over $75 a month for a bunch of channels that I never watched. I had thought about moving to Dish Network satellite, which would get me pretty much the same channels for around $60 per month. I had been waiting until after the hockey season was done to make the switch, as Dish wasn't going to be able to get me Versus without paying a lot more money.

However, I decided to call today, since my bill came and it reminded me how much I don't like paying $75 for TV every month. So I called and asked the nice lady on the phone what I could cut out of my package to get under $60 a month. We looked at dropping the Family tier, we looked at going from Expanded basic to just Basic basic, and pretty much I was going to have to drop the channels I actually watched in order to get my bill low enough. I was bumming about this, when the lady offered to cut $21 off my bill every month as part of some "promotional" package since I had been a customer for 2 1/2 years with a good payment history.

So, a 15-minute call saved me a couple hundred dollars on my cable bill. In fact, since my target was $60, I added a sports tier that will get me Fox Soccer Channel (along with some spanish language sports channel that will likely get me even more soccer) for $5 a month. That still got me below $60, so my little phone call got me more of what I want for less money. I wonder what else I could save money on with a 15 minute phone call?

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Auction Ends

Well, my recent comic book auction was not much of a success. Usually, every time I get a bunch of books together and sell them one or two series will really catch on for some reason and get bid up higher than I expected. That didn't happen this time, though the Supergirl books looked for a while like they might make that run.

The one thing that did make that run wasn't even a comic book. Back last year, I had picked up a used copy of the old Thieves' World RPG setting boxed set on eBay for around $20, and I was surprised when it came to find that it actually contained 2 copies of everything, except for the character guide, which had 3 copies. So, I turned around and sold off the extra books and maps. For over $20. So, it's like I got my own set for only the price of shipping! Sweet!

So, in the end, I guess I did have one good item, and I made enough that I can buy the Memoir '44 Terrain Pack and Desert/Winter map Pack and have a few cents left over, so I can't really complain. Well, I can still complain, I just don't have a good reason to do so. As my family can attest, that has never stopped me from complaining before!


Cartomancy by Michael A. Stackpole, 2006, Bantam Spectra

The second volume in Stackpole's latest trilogy is even more convuleted than the first volume was. There are literally six different plot threads weaving throughout the book, and while at the end of the book a couple of them come together, the whole "plots within plots" flow of the story really makes the book feel like the middle of a larger story. About a third of the way through the book you just know that there is no way things are going to get wrapped up properly, and the attempt really isn't even made. So, your enjoyment of this book will completely revolve around how much you enjoy the setting and the setup from the first book.

All of the plots from the initial book are still here, and they are generally going strong. Keles Anturasi ends up moving away from the rest of the group into his own plot thread, and Moraven Tolo heads off on his own (nicely circling back to the woman he encountered at the begging of the first book). The only real twists revolve around some kind of reincarnation idea, where various people discover that they are actually gods, or that they contain the spirits of long dead heroes. Honestly, I found that this plot twist lessened the impact of the story for me. I had come to really like some of the characters, and to find out that they aren't really who I had been led to believe seemed kind of cheap to me.

Still, the storytelling is good, and even though the book is quite long, it didn't feel like I had to slog through it. If anything, Stackpole is getting better at creating characters as he goes along, which seems almost impossible, since that has been the hallmark of his stories for years. I must admit that the world itself could stand some more explaining (what are these 5 princes that keep getting talked about, and why should I care about them?). Still, it is characters, not settings, that make a story, and to that end this story has everything you could want.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Commands & Colors

Back around Christmas time, my brother, Mark, got me the board game Memoir '44 as a present. The game lets you replay a number of battles from the European theater of WWII, and I found that the level of detail, while not something that will appeal to a die-hard, made for a fun, quick game. I also like how you give orders based on order cards, which are randomly drawn. First of all, the cards add a bit of a random element, as you can only give orders each turn to a limited number of your units on the board. Second, and more importantly to me, the use of cards makes it easy to play the game solitaire, as I can randomize orders for the other side. Yes, sometimes the other side ends up making sub-optimal decisions that way, but this is made up for by the fact that I roll atrocious attack dice for my own side, (usually the Americans and British) while rolling really well for the other side.

This same rules series has also been used in a number of other games, including Avalon Hill's Battle Cry and Days of Wonder's Battle Lore. All of these games have been designed by Richard Borg, and they all use what is called the Commands & Colors system. After I realized this, I noted that I had a game in my basement that I had gotten over a year ago, called Commands & Colors: Ancients. I broke it out, and sure enough, it was also a Richard Borg game. Thus, it took me maybe 5 minutes to get used to the rules, and I now have a nice, Ancients wargame (Alexander the Great vs. the Assyrians, Rome Vs. Carthage, etc.) that plays quickly and didn't drive me crazy with the complexity of how a peltast is different from auxiliary javelin unit. And since it uses the same card-driven system, it is easy to play solitaire, just as with Memoir.

So, yeah, not playing any video games these days. Too many board games to play! Now I just need to save lots of money so I can buy all of the Battle Lore stuff.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Comic Book Auction

I have decided to auction off some of my comic book stuff that I don't want anymore. If you're interested in taking something off my hands, check out what I am selling here.

Loves Me, Loves Me Not

Loves Me, Loves Me Not by Laura A. Smit, 2005, Baker Academic

The subtitle of this book is The Ethics of Unrequited Love,, which I thought was an interesting topic for a book. First, because nobody really talks about the topic within the Christian community, and second because that is pretty much the only kind of love I have had the privilege to know. I was therefore expecting a long discussion about how unrequited love arises, how to respond to it, and so forth. While these discussions do take place, there is a second aspect to the book that is somewhat radical.

Specifically, the author takes on the modern Protestant church for its "idolatry of the family," as evidenced by the fact that unmarried people are considered freaks at worst within the church, and harmless but odd at best. The author posits that New Testament teachings show that the unmarried life, which can be fully focused on God, rather than focused at least partially on a spouse, is the new standard for Christians. Jesus was unmarried. Paul was unmarried. Paul even wrote that he felt that being unmarried was a preferable state to being married, though he had nothing against marriage, per se. The author also notes that Jesus told the Pharisess that in heaven there will be no marriage. Therefore, the author posits that the modern church is in a time between the Old Testament times, when everyone was married for societal benefits, and the New Jerusalem times, when nobody will be married. Therefore, some of God's Children in this age will be called to marriage, but some will be called to be NOT married. Mainstream (and even fringe) Protestant and Evangelical churches don't take this approach, often seeing unmarried people as objects of pity or concern, rather than as independent adults of equal value in Christ's Kingdom.

Another aspect of this theory is that an unmarried Christian should consider their singleness to be their default state of existence, and if an opportunity for a romantic relationship arises, the relationship bears the burden of proof, and its pursuit needs to be justified. This is opposed to the general attitude of modern American culture, which posits that being in a relationship is the default condition, and if you choose to stay out of a romantic relationships you need to defend that position as being abnormal. I am with the author all the way on this aspect of her theory, as I have always felt this to be the proper way to approach life.

This is a very deep book, and will likely require a re-reading down the road to make sure that I am properly understanding it. I did find all of it useful, though, and I would recommend it to pretty much anyone in the modern Christian church, whether married or not, as this book is starting a debate that really needs to happen.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Events and Meetings

I have been busier than normal, lately. Specifically, I have had stuff going on in the evening almost every day this week, which his unusual for me. I don't think I had anything going on Monday night, but Tuesday night I had the annual homeowner's association meeting for my subdivision. I have never been in town to attend it before, so I figured I would head out and see what actually goes on at those meetings. Overall it wasn't a valuable use of my time, as it mainly consisted of old ladies complaining about how fast people drive or asking what restaurants are going in to the new development a few blocks away, but I did get to see one piece of actual action taken, as a decision was made to drop the speed limit on our street from 25 MPH to 20 MPH. This was also the first time I have ever darkened the door of my local library, where the meeting was held. You would think, being a book freak, that I would go to the library all the time, but I would rather buy them than rent them.

Yesterday evening I met with some guy who wants to set me up as an Independent Business Owner with this company called Quixtar. Think Amway with a website instead of a catalog, and selling food products and cosmetics instead of cleaning supplies, and you pretty much have the concept. I can sign up all my friends and make tons of money! We can all be independently wealthy in 2 to 5 years! I was hearing a lot of hyperbole, but I did sign up at the website as a customer, in case they have some products that are a good value at a good price. I figure, if they have good stuff, then I can buy some items and help out my friend who originally referred me. I don't think I'll be buying in to the company, though.

Tonight I will be gone pretty much all evening at the end-of-the-year party for the local Institute of Internal Auditors. Nobody throws a party like auditors, let me tell you. Last year we had an executive from the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team speak, and they gave away lots of Cardinals freebies. I won the old Busch Stadium retrospective book, which was really cool. I don't know what they will be giving away this year, but it should be some pretty good stuff. This year our speaker is the IIA president for the entire global organization, so it should be good to hear from him what his opinions are about auditing around the world, what the hot trends are, etc.

In other news, my car is acting funky. Specifically, the fan controller isn't activating right away like it should when I first turn on my car. It waits a seemingly random period of time before working. My father thinks it might be the relay for the fan controller, so this morning before driving to work I located the fuse box and jiggled the relay and the fuses, but it didn't take care of the problem. Hopefully it will hold together until the weekend, when I can spend some real time on it.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Long Weekend

I spent the end of last week in Washington, D.C. attending the LeadNow conference. I tried to write about it on Friday night, but for some reason Blogger kept deleting my text. Overall, it was a good event, and I learned a lot. I was there with the young adult pastor from my church to learn about doing ministry to Generation X and Y, and overall the conference didn't really cover that. It more covered focusing on missions and outreach into our community, which was a good thing, in my opinion.

While there, I took time to meet with a number of my old friends on Thursday night. A good time was had by all, though it definitely made for a late night and an early morning the next day. I am also proud to say that both of my flights were on time and experienced no problems, which is somewhat of a rarity for flights these days.

I also should point out that of the hundreds of participants at the conference, I was one of 10 winners of a complete pack (book, DVDs, leader's book, and 10 participant's books) of the study series Chasing Daylight. It is by Edwin McManus, who I have never heard of before, but it was free, so I will be checking out the book, at least. Not sure what I will do with an entire study kit, other than putting it in my basement.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Go East, Young Man

Early this evening I am getting on a plane for the first time in close to 3 months. I am flying out to the DC area to attend the Lead Now Conference at MacLean Bible Church with a pastor from my church. It is a short trip, about 3 days in total, but it will give me an opportunity to visit some friends and to bring myself up to speed on the latest thinking in young adult ministry. And, hey, even if it turns out to be a total waste of my time, I am using miles to score a (mostly) free ticket, so it isn't like I'm throwing tons of money down a hole. And it gets me away from work for a while, which will be nice, as well.

Another sign I am getting old

Luckily, the sign this time does not involve any part of my body breaking down due to over-use. I was reading the April issue of Fast Company last night, when I came across an article about the problems with updating the case file system at the FBI. I used to work for the U.S. GAO, so I have some insider knowledge about the unique struggles related to large-scale government computer systems, so I can really understand these articles. It has also been, as of yesterday, exactly 3 1/2 years since I did that work, so I appreciate the opportunity to bring myself a little bit up to date on things.

What struck me, though, was when my old boss, Randy Hite, was quoted in the article. This was the first time I have ever come across a magazine article that involved a discussion with the man who signed off on my performance evaluations. It was one of those "hey, I know that guy!" moments. I have read articles (and seen TV interviews) involving people that I knew from GAO, but never before my immediate boss. This is how I know that I have officially "been around awhile." I have yet to determine if this is a good thing or a bad thing.