Friday, September 28, 2007

It's human nature for Star Wars' Jedi to turn to the dark side

If you didn't already know, I'm a big fan of Star Wars and Star Trek, and find myself thinking about

All my life I've idealized the Vulcan (Star Trek) and Jedi (Star Wars) way of thinking, logic before emotion, etc., but you know, that's only (no offense to fans) viable within the somewhat narrow plot structures of the story. You try that in real life and see where it gets you.

Be that as it may, Obi-Wan Kenobi (in both OT and PT) seems to have the Jedi Code down pat. He doesn't show any emotion, he's just this cool, calm and collected dude who does what needs to be done. He shows a little bit of passion once in a while (like when he fights Grievous) but it's kept in check.

Then you have Anakin Skywalker. He's always been emotional, from TPM, through AOTC, and into ROTS. So Anakin turned to the Dark Side, despite his Jedi training, and yet through these movies we see over a dozen Jedi (on the council, fighting alongside Mace Windu in AOTC, Order 66 scenes in ROTS, etc.), these guys of various races for whom the training was also successful.

So we are led to believe that Anakin is the odd man out here, the "one" that turned to the Dark Side. But looking at it, I think Anakin was the most human of them all. (Maybe humans make bad Jedi, hence why most of them on the council are not human?) He was angry at the slave traders for what they did to his mother. He was angry at the Sand People for killing his mother. He fell in love with a beautiful girl who took a special interest in him.

And, while the Jedi Order forbids him to love, a Sith offers to protect his unborn child(ren) from a perceived threat (albeit probably created by said Sith and somehow sent to Anakin's dreams), he changes sides. Not to mention that he feels underutilized by the Jedi Council. Within the SW universe we see that as a bad thing, but in real life, if you work for one company and they're not paying you what you feel you deserve, they're not utilizing the specific skills that you bring to the table, and their competitor offers you a position that satisfies both pay and skill, moving is the wise choice.

Back to my first paragraph, about trying to be like the Jedi in real life. No, I've never dressed up, I don't own a lightsaber replica, and no, I haven't tried to live my life as a Jedi (or Vulcan). The way of life does appeal to me, however. Thinking about it, beyond the confines of the story, a Jedi must be a real coldhearted son of a bitch, right? While I agree with why the Jedi (and Vulcans) suppress emotion, one must not forget that the most powerful emotion isn't hate, it is love. I mean, you can kill for hate, and you can kill for love, but can you kill yourself for hate? Not as readily as you would (e.g. take a bullet for someone) for true love.

And I don't just mean love of a spouse, a partner. I think it's the Jews, the Hebrew language has six or seven words that translate, in English, to love. Love for a deity, love for your spouse/partner, love for your offspring, love for your parents, love for your siblings, love for your friends, love for the self. Without researching it, I think those are the seven types. Then there's patriotism (in SW: love for the Jedi Order, and/or for the Republic), a kind of love as well, more a passion for something. I know the Jedi know loyalty, but how passionate are they, without using emotion?

Human nature is such that, if you forbid something, the mind, or people in general, want it more. Alcohol and a certain herb classified as a drug were/are many times more popular in their respective prohibitions. You tell a kid not to touch something, they're going to do it anyway, to see what happens, and to see what you're going to do about it. Put that into the SW universe, and you take a kid (doesn't matter which one, but Anakin for example) who is Force sensitive, and offer to train them, repress their emotions, it's going to come out sooner or later when human nature takes over. Maybe whatever race Yoda is (Wikipedia gives it as Whil, but more official sources have his race unnamed and say he ISN'T a Whil...) either don't feel emotions, or like Star Trek's Vulcans, they've phased them out over a few centuries, but humans in SW are enough like humans on Earth; that's why Star Wars appeals to us. We can see ourselves in Luke or Han or Anakin, they're like us. And thus prey to the same human nature.

I thus conclude that, by nature, Jedi are prone to turn to the Dark Side by fault of human nature.

I posted this over on GameFAQs with a couple minor changes, for example one word had to be starred out due to a bad-word policy, and the last paragraph had to be put in the first reply, along with notes as to why it was split (a technical limitation in the GameFAQs forum system that limits post input to 4,096 characters). And also, as a final note, if you aren't as familiar with the Star Wars universe or more of a casual fan, you can click some of these links above to be taken to the Wikipedia page on that subject.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"The Best of Music That Doesn't Suck"

So I'm on the phone with my mother for my birthday, and she tells me she's sending something for Jen, but won't tell me what it is. Big mystery. This was last week, and having forgotten about it, I'm up at the shop (that my brother in law works at) getting my brakes changed, and Jen's coming, to get her oil changed. She has the package - inside is a tape.

"The Best of Music That Doesn't Suck by Nathan Law, c. 11/1996". So you may be asking yourself, who is this "Nathan Law" fella? Well, he's me. I got mad at my father over some stupid shit, and my mom remembers I wanted to change my name. I vaguely remember that, but the real reason for the "Nathan Law" persona was a pseudonym, a pen name, under which to write. I really had no good reason to use a pen name, but my favorite author at the time, Dean Koontz, had about a dozen of them, so I was thinking I'd need one. And it does sound cool.

As for "Music That Doesn't Suck", it was a series of mix tapes I was making, of the best stuff on the radio and my mom's tape collection. I started these when I got my first dual-cassette recorder, and continued on after I got a CD/tape player, eventually went to copying from both CD and tapes. I made at least 22 of them, maybe a couple more but I'm not sure. There were a couple spinoffs, too, such as this, and a couple "Metal That Doesn't Suck" and maybe one or two others.

So I wrote down the songs as they played on the tape, and I have most of these songs. The others, I will get. I'm assembling the mix on my computer, using digital sources - obviously sounding a thousand times better. So here's a rundown of the tracklist and some comments on the songs.

1. Metallica - Outlaw Torn
I do not remember this song, the last song from their album Load, ever being a favorite of mine. It's a good song, sure, but I can't see where my head was putting this song first. Plus it's long - almost 10 minutes - and I've never been a big fan of putting long songs at the beginning. That's one major beef I have with Green Day's "American Idiot" album.

2. Van Halen - Not Enough
Now I do remember loving Van Hagar's "Not Enough". It's got some beautiful lyrics, just a real good song. Probably my favorite on their "Balance" album.

3. Smashing Pumpkins - 1979
I still love 1979. It's cool because it's my birth year, and it's just a good song.

4. Culture Club - Karma Chameleon
Yep, I loved this song when I was a kid. I knew something was off about Boy George but couldn't really put my finger on it, but it didn't bother me, with the music. This is the only song I really cared for by them, and every now and then I still like to hear it.

5. Petra - Last Days
There's a long story behind me and Petra, I'll post about it sometime. Let's just say this song holds a special place in my heart as being about those who leave Christianity.

6. Ozzy Osbourne - S.I.N.
When I heard this, I had no idea what it was. Oh, there's no mistaking the Ozzman's voice. But I remember when I was a huge Ozzy fan - I had all his CDs - and I could not remember this one. I had to Google the lyrics. Now I remember. This was from the "No More Tears" album, and for a while it was my favorite song by his. I completely forgot about it!

7. Jimi Hendrix - Purple Haze
When I was a kid, I asked my mother if Jimi Hendrix was gay. She asked why I thought that. I said, well in Purple Haze he says "scuse me while I kiss this guy"! Yeah... turns out he really says "scuse me while I kiss the sky", but you can see where I thought this. I never was a big fan of Jimi, but he's impressive in his own way, and this has always been my favorite of his songs.

8. Ministry - New World Order
Ah, I remember when I liked Ministry. Dark, dark times. For the kind of metal they played, they were actually pretty good, but I can't see myself really enjoying it nowadays. (On another note, I'm surprised I didn't pick "Scarecrow" from their same album, it's always been my favorite.) And that ends Side A - remember, it's from a tape.
9. Van Halen - Dreams
I was mortified when I heard they used this song in the Power Rangers movie. I still am. Van Hagar's most inspirational rock song, almost makes you wanna go out and do something, to kick some serious ass in the way only a Van Hagar 90s ballad could.

10. Ludwig von Beethoven - Fur Elise
I used to be a much bigger fan of Beethoven than I am now, but I've always appreciated his music, mostly the 5th and 9th symphonies, but this shortest of his symphonies is about the length of a normal song, as opposed to a whole album. Short, sweet, and perfect for a modern mix tape.

11. Smashing Pumpkins - Bullet/Butterfly Wings
Oh, I remember having this idiot friend who thought the 80s hair band Ratt did this song. Why? Because of the line "Despite all my rage I'm still just a RAT in a cage". *Facepalm* I don't think Ratt ever claimed to be actual rodents... stupid, stupid, stupid. I didn't know who Smashing Pumpkins were at the time, and he was a big Ratt fan, so I fell for it. Idiot... Yeah, J.G. if you ever read this, you were an idiot... but drop me an email sometime.

12. Metallica - Hero of the Day
Now I do remember this being a favorite from Load. Once I began to accept that Metallica had gone from heavy metal to moody rock (back then, grunge/alternative), I really started digging this song. This song really represents the maturity that Metallica had grown into. It's too bad Reload wasn't up to par with Load, and they went off the deep end with St. Anger, because even though they took a step in another direction for Load, they did alright for themselves.

13. Ozzy Osbourne - No More Tears
Probably my favorite Ozzy song - I still dig it, but I haven't listened to the No More Tears album in so long. I'll be remedying that in the next couple weeks, however.

14. Jimi Hendrix - Third Stone from the Sun
How in the blue hell did I pick this out? Some things will forever be a mystery. The name doesn't mean anything to me. It's an instrumental, mostly, with some spoken verses. Googling one line told me what it was. I have this as well, but I don't remember ever liking it, as a favorite.

15. Anthrax - Be All, End All
Another one I had to Google the lyrics to to find out what it was. I vaguely remember liking this song, though overall I was never a big Anthrax fan beyond "I'm the Man".

Overall it's not a bad mix, but it's a long way from good, and it shows me just how far I've come with mixes. First of all, using so many artists twice on the same volume is bad. It shows you couldn't find enough good artists/bands to include, or your music is very limited, and that's what this mix represents. It has a few songs where a better song from the same artist/band, perhaps even album, could have been chosen. It's got a long song kicking it off. However it does take me back some, kind of helps me remember those days. Which is an amazing coincidence that an old friend from those days contacted me last night. Speaking of which, I've just received another email from him, so I'm off to check that.

Friday, September 21, 2007

I don't *feel* a year older...

So today I turn 28... so it's been 28 years since the doctor smacked my ass and handed me to my mother in some room on some floor of Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital in Santa Rosa, CA, over 3,200 miles away.

I was celebrating yesterday. I mean, September 20 is the only day my brother-in-law, John, is 2 years older than me. And he'll reach the big 3-0 366 days before I will. I like to remind him of this fact.

It's been a great couple days. Yesterday I was to see the doctor (another doctor, not the one I mentioned above) about the wart; last week she was so sure she'd use the liquid nitrogen to take it off. The anticipation was kicking my ass. I knew it was going to make me better, but I fear needles and knives, at least when they're to be used on me. And I figured after freezing the wart, the doctor was going to take a scalpel (sanitized, of course) and dig away at it, leaving a bloody gaping hole in my foot, stuffing it with gauze, and telling me I'd be off my feet the next few weeks.

So Jen told me she'd take half the day off and be there with me. What's more, she'd take me out, anywhere I choose. Oh, that was easy. I've been craving good burgers, so we went to Fuddrucker's. That place is amazing. It's a damn shame Santa Rosa doesn't have one. If you have a chance, check one out. They rock. I got my 2/3 cheeseburger, with three cheeses, add bacon, put the toppings on myself, made fry sauce (a Pacific Northwest thing, basically 2 parts mayo to 1 part ketchup) for my fries, and got a strawberry shake. That's the kind of meal that, as a memory, makes me smile in remembrance and cry that it's passed.

OK, so we leave Fudd's, we go to Sheetz for some coffee. Not only is there a big crowd in there (popular place), they're out of coffee. I was about to say Eff it when I realized, hey, Kangaroo is just across the street and I've never tried their coffee. So we scoot over across the street, I go in there with my cup. They have less selection, but they have what I want, and they're not out. I put a packet of the French Vanilla creamer in my cup, you know the kind, same container as your typical Half-n-Half, and I see a kind I've never seen before. Shot of caffeine, limit 2 per day, must be 18 or older. Oh hell yeah. Two of those went in. Woulda been 3-5, but I'd never had them before, didn't wanna tempt fate. Next time, at least 4 are going in. And the refill was 63¢, 22¢ cheaper than at Sheetz! I thanked the lady, told her Sheetz was out - she wasn't surprised at all. Well, see if I get coffee from Sheetz ever again.

I call John, somewhere in all this mess, wish him a happy birthday, ask him what he's doing. Getting drunk, having some friends over. OK, I'm there. Jen and I stop at a Food Lion, pick up a 6 pack of Bud Ice, and on her way to work, she drops me off there. None of his friends show, so it's just me, him, my sister-in-law, and their two boys (7 and 4). Not what you'd call a party, but we had fun. Two beers and I was wasted. Having a low tolerance for alcohol is great, but damn, that's almost pathetic. Not that I endorse drinking, you know, but I had a ride, and it was a special occasion. I've made an effort not to drink regularly, just for my health, but a birthday only comes once a year. And mine happens to be the next day. But I haven't got a ride tonight, so I'm not drinking tonight. Or I might have one if I'm gonna be there a few hours. Smackdown's on tonight, so I'll show up. Beats hanging out here alone.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, which as you know if you read these posts, I do a lot. So this morning, I read on MySpace that Jen says we can do anything today before she has to go to work. I tell her I want biscuits and gravy, sausage and blueberry pancakes for my birthday dinner, and I remind her that there's really only once place to go for that. Cracker Barrel, where else? Good - no, great - Southern cooking. It's sad they don't have these in Santa Rosa, either. I think they make a point not to have locations in California, as a kind of statement. I understand, but it's such a loss to Californians. (I guess if you don't know what you're missing, like me with my peanut allergy...)

Breakfast at Cracker Barrel was great, as I can expect from the place, and now about 4 hours after we got out of there, I'm still good. I'll be good and hungry in 7 hours when Jen gets home. This morning, after I woke her up, I found a present to me, from her. She got me a Foreman's Grill, aka a George Foreman's Lean Mean Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine! A slanted grill with a fat-catching tray and grooved grilling surfaces, it squeezes fat out of meat while grilling it. I've never heard a bad thing about them. I'm not so good on the big grill (barbecuing) so hopefully I can master this, since I'm more of an indoor chef anyway. But Jen can't have red meat, at least I don't think she can, not with her Alli diet (on which she's lost 12 pounds by the way, mucho congrats) limiting her to 15g of fat. She has an extra chicken breast in there... better take that out. OK, Jen's chicken titty and my ground beef are thawing out on the oven surface - gotta remember to put those in the fridge when I leave to watch wrestling tonight.

Jen also got me cake mix and frosting. Strawberry frosting on strawberry cake, my favorite. Harris Teeter just got this mint-brownie mix I've been itchin' to try, but we couldn't find anywhere around here that had it, and didn't want to go all the way to HT for brownie mix (even though we've been close enough, at least to the new one). So I guess it's cool, we're going with a sure thing. Maybe we'll do the mint brownie mix for Halloween or something.

Back to the wart. Like I said, I went to the doctor yesterday. She didn't cut it, but she said it was showing great improvement. To my utter disbelief, she told me to stop using the salicylic acid pads and just keep it covered. To my further disbelief, the relief has continued, and I can walk on it much better now. Sometimes I walk normally, sometimes with a slight limp.

So I call my boss, who wanted to hear from me after the appointment. He tells me my position is booked through Monday night - in other words, I'm not needed until, possibly Tuesday night. But he's got a man covering after Monday night who just wants one day. So I guess I'll come back Wednesday. I would have said as much to my boss, but he really wanted to give me the recovery time, and thus not give him an answer until Monday. So I plan to call Monday and tell him I'm coming back Wednesday night. I got new shoes, too - went there after the Barrel - so I should be OK. He wants me standing up more, which contradicts doctor's orders, but I think I can hang. For a while, at least.

OK, so I just threw a lot of information at you. Jumped around a lot. So let me recap real quick:

Tuesday morning we get up, we go to Fuddrucker's and eat, we get coffee. Jen takes me to my appointment, where basically nothing happens. We go to Food Lion and get a 6 pack of beer and dog food (didn't mention that before). We go home, hang out until Jen's gotta go to work. Jen drops me off at Kristen and John's with my 6 pack. I drink 2 beers over there, watch My Name is Earl, TNA Wrestling, and play some Nintendo DS - mostly Bomberman (NES), I think. I pass out before midnight. Yay for me. Friday morning, I get the Foreman Grill from Jen, we go to Cracker Barrel, we get me a new pair of shoes for work. Jen goes to work, leaving me here with the computer and animals.

I guess that about sums it up. The plan tonight is to go over there again, hang out, have a beer, watch Smackdown, and then come home and cook dinner for Jen. Oh yeah, gotta go to Food Lion first for some hamburger buns. You can't have a good burger without a good bun. And cheese, gotta have cheese, but we may have that... ...

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Nintendo DS: More powerful than you realized, with this chip:

You might have heard of the wonders of the modchip. A chip that is usually sautered onto a game console's mainboard, in order to add functionality - typically, to play imports. Sony's Playstation systems are only designed to play games made for and released in the same region where it was purchased - North America, Europe, Japan, etc. Oh, a North American Playstation 3 can handle a Japanese Playstation 3 game, that's not a problem. It's just that Sony wants to control prices and demand. It's exactly the same with DVDs, and the Xbox. Nintendo always had a simpler solution. Make the Famicom and Nintendo cartridges different shapes. You simply can't shove one in the other, it won't fit, the contacts won't reach. The modchip has always offered fringe benefits as well as playing imports. The first Playstation did not have a DVD drive and thus could not be made to play DVDs, but with a modchip, it could play Video CDs, a format not released in North America, but popular worldwide, and easily convertible from DVD with little loss in quality. (As far as quality goes, DVD > VCD > VHS.) The Playstation 2, modded, could play movies from other countries, and had less problems with burned CDs and DVDs. The Xbox could host a Linux operating environment or all kinds of applications, including all the emulators, a media center, and an application to copy DVDs and Xbox games to the hard drive. Lastly the modchips let you play downloaded or copied games, as the protection which prevents you from playing foreign games also makes sure the disc is authentic.

But I'm something of an idealist. While I don't have a direct problem with people playing downloaded or copied games, I'd like to think that the purpose of a modchip is not to get one over on the Man, not to get things without paying for them, but merely to expand the power of your hardware.

For the longest time, I had no idea there was a modchip available for the Nintendo DS. I had no idea that there was a modchip you didn't have to sauter in or otherwise alter your hardware. The DS' modchip isn't a modchip, per se. It's what's termed a Flashcart. It's a cartridge sharing the exact same form factor of a commerical game, so it plugs in the same way. But it has a slot in the back for a memory card. Put music on the card, the DS becomes an Mp3 player. Put text on the card, it becomes an eBook reader. Put videos on the card, it becomes a portable media player. Put all those and some homebrew (homemade) applications up there, and you basically have a super PDA.

Oddly enough, I did not learn about the Flashcart from the Internet communities I post on. People are generally tight-lipped about this thing online, then much more so than now. Anyways, I'm at work and this guy comes in, takes out a Nintendo DS, and selects what appears to be a song from a long list. I stop him and ask him how he got music to play on his DS, that I thought PSP was the only handheld that could do that stuff. He happily stops, shuts it off, and introduces me to the M3 Simply, shows me how it works, starts it back up and shows off a couple features, then goes about his business. I didn't even have a DS at that point, but had wanted one for a while.

So I go asking about it on GameFAQs - I mean, where else are you going to talk about games online? I come back the next day, and the topic's deleted, gone - and I have a moderation notice. It cites the TOS, citing illegal activities. I challenge the moderation, of course. I say I wasn't asking for anything illegal, just more information on an accessory. The moderation is upheld, the lead mod leaves a note saying they don't even allow discussion of flashcart technology. They do now, though, so I guess when it was newer they were trying to figure out their stance on it.

Finally, come to a point where we have a couple extra bucks, and I ask Jen - sure enough, I get my DS. Onyx Black, of course, was the only correct choice for color (versus white or pink). Picked out a few games, too. The newest Castlevania, the New Super Mario Bros, a stupid puzzle game, and Spider-Man 2. I found a place that would sell the R4 through for $40, but money got tight and Jen basically told me to save my change (to turn in at Coinstar for an gift code, no coin counting fee). So I saved my coins. Shamelessly cheated, too. Changed a buck or two for quarters here and there, help the "R4 Fund" grow faster. When I got around $35, Jen just let me do that. So I change the coins for the code, go back to Amazon - seems there's a shortage with the R4s (still is, matter of fact) so the price is now $55. Well, our code was good only at Amazon, so that's who we bought it through. Couple weeks later it arrives. Can't complain though, being as it was shipped from Hong Kong! Let's see what we got...

As always, click to make these bigger. We got the box it came in, we got a clamshell case to keep it in, in the rare event something else is in the DS, we got the actual R4 on the right, Castlevania on the left (facedown), the memory card reader above the R4, and the memory card to its right. The R4 does not come with a memory card, but you can find bundles that include them. The R4 exclusively uses microSD memory (which is also known as Transflash - they're the same thing) and the one I have, I bought for my phone. However, any multimedia function my phone can do, my DS can do better, with the help of the R4, but we'll get to that. The card reader lets me mount the memory card as a drive in Windows, so I can copy files right to and from it. Now, let's put this together, shall we?

The memory card goes in the R4, contacts up (face down), which is real back asswards if you ask me, but hey, that's how it works. It won't fit right side up. And then you slide the R4 into the DS, exactly the same way as you would any DS game. (No, my serial isn't rubbed off in the right picture, I did that to the picture to remove personally identifiable information from the image - it's just something I do. Same thing with license plates, things like that.) OK, let's turn it on. Normally when you turn a DS on, it displays a health warning, which you bypass by touching the touch screen (that's the bottom one - if you didn't know by now, a Nintendo DS has two screens, one above the other), and then it has its own menu. With an R4 in there, it's a little different:

Please be advised this uber-sexy theme 1) looks MUCH better in person, and 2) doesn't come with the R4. There are sites that have more that you can get. I have about 5 custom themes. We have three buttons on the touch screen. Games, Multimedia, and Slot-2. Games lets us run, well games, yeah, but really any program. While programs on your PC use EXE, programs on a DS use NDS as the extension. Commercial (read: illegal to own) ROMs use NDS, but so do homebrew applications, so NDS files are not bad. Multimedia opens a program called Moonshell which can view images, read text files, play music, and watch videos. I know I should have some pics on my DS, but I don't. Coming soon. And Slot-2 boots a Slot-2 Flashcart. Or, I guess, a Game Boy Advance game plugged in down there. The DS can (natively, without the R4) run those too, just not the old Game Boy or GB Color games. Let's go to Multimedia first.

Here the DS is displaying a text file. This is just a joke file, a bunch of crazy facts about animals. Stuff like this is nice to have on the go, real conversation starters, I guess. Well, they make me smile. Up and down move up and down one line. Left and right move up and down one page. The left trigger button (see the picture of the R4 in the DS to get a look at the triggers) I think loads a bookmark and the right one saves - that or it's the other way around. Not necessary really, because if you quit out, it remembers where you were, even if you turn the DS off or open other text files. Great if you want to read a book on the DS, maybe some long instructions, a long letter you were emailed, something like that. If you're relgious, you can put your faith's holy texts up there for quick access.

Now the DS is no iPod, even with an R4, but hey, it gets the job done. Basic start, stop, volume changing, skip ahead or back, and fast play features. I don't think it really has playlists, but you can put music in subdirectories, so that's kind of a playlist. Here we're playing some Nightwish, one of my favorite bands. If you zoom in, you can see some other music that I deem worthy to carry around despite limited space. Yes, most of it is Nightwish. Check them out, you might see some of what I do in them...

If you haven't seen the little girl who can kick the monster's ass, you're missing out on the funniest YouTube has to offer. Everyone I show this video to loves this little brat, and she always makes me smile. "He would come out of the movie... he would come out and kick my ass... And I can kick HIS ass!" I also have a video clip from the movie "Chasing Amy" where a black guy goes on about Star Wars being racist. It's pure gold.

One of the more popular features of the R4 is that it lets the DS owner play games from other systems. Nintendo works great, such as this title here, "Marble Madness". A classic, my father owned it on the Amiga computer. Never could get past the 6th or 7th level, wonder how many it actually has? One thing I've never seen another NES emulator do (save for the one on my brother's Xbox, it did it too) is you can rewind your game. You make a mistake, you hold the left trigger to rewind to a safe point and play on from there! Reportedly Game Boy and GB Color games emulate nicely, and arcade games. It has problems with Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, but some games can be played.

Take a quick step back, we'll check out the homebrew application DS Organize. Basically a PDA program, you can keep appointments in the calendar, maintain a contact list (just not call them, it's not a phone), do stuff like that. It has a basic paint program, but I can't get much use out of it. What I really dig is the text editor. On-screen keyboard on the touch screen, the output above. Great for blogging on the go - I've even done one so far a couple days back.

What I didn't and won't cover about the R4 is its ability to play commercial games. Such technology exists to copy commercial games, and if you know where to look, you can download them fairly easily. Playing them is just as easy as putting them on the card and loading them up under Games. But that's not something I can talk about. It's awful conveneient to assume freedom of speech is bulletproof, but it isn't. Talking about how to do this anonymously is one thing, but to put one's name on it - one must stick to the legal uses of the technology.

As you can imagine, this is a pretty controversial little device. Of course it draws fire from game publishers, worried that people who could afford to buy their games will instead download them and run them on the R4 or the M3 or devices like them. It's nothing to worry about though, as the percentage of DS users who use a flashcart is very low - easily below 5%. And those who have a flashcart and do something illegal with it - not too many. Maybe most of the flashcart users, but not all, not nearly all. There are a lot of people who use the R4 and the DS for multimedia, for reading books on the go, and homebrew applications. They're not a majority, but they're out there. If I had to guess, I would say 2% or less of DS owners pirate games, and even then, I think that figure includes those who pirate all their games and those who pirate only a few games, and still buy games. So Nintendo and other gaming publishers are still making money, make no mistake. They are getting paid for their efforts, many times over - and if a game fails, flashcarts can hardly be to blame - like with music, it's the popular games that get pirated the most. I'm sure the most downloaded game is a Mario game, or at least one of the top 10 sellers. Even obscure games are bought far more often than they are downloaded (unless they're homebrew, but those are free anyway).

It also draws some fire from PSP (Portable Playstation) owners. When they were both new, PSP owners really didn't take the DS too seriously. It was just another Game Boy, and the PSP was the elite handheld. It was the first (and so far only, as far as I know) handheld to use optical discs, and as such it has amazing graphics. It also has a built in memory card reader, and the latest PSP, the Slim, can be hooked up to a TV. The PSP is really a cool thing to have - if you like Sony's gaming. I don't really care for it myself. Then there's Custom Firmware - you can swap out the firmware in the PSP to be able to play downloaded games and run custom applications. Despite not having the touch screen, it's supposed to be pretty good. But then the DS comes along with the R4, and all of a sudden us Nintendorks can do basically the same thing (though not as good looking) as a PSP, but for much less. Naturally they're furious. I'm not sure what, but the DS with the R4 must have something besides a lower price that just rubs them the wrong way. Tell a PSP owner you have a DS, they laugh. Tell them you also have an R4, they cry - or they get mad about it. Well, not all of them... Most DS and PSP owners get along, it's just a few who make it their own little war.

So is this thing legal or not? That's the million dollar question for some, but it's fairly easy. The R4 is not illegal. It's not illegal unless you run copyrighted media on it that you do not have the rights to. Technically, if you have 5 games, you can aquire the ROMs to those games and put them on your R4. Nintendo doesn't approve, the gaming companies don't approve, but they don't write the laws. They have to abide by them same as anybody. They can challenge them, but so far Fair Use means you can port stuff around. It's the same with music. You have a CD, you can put that music on an Mp3 player, your computer, you can make a copy to play in the car (since car CD players wear out discs fast). You have a movie, you can put it on your DS - the only problem now is, it's illegal to bypass copy protection. That's the DMCA - Digital Millenium Copyright Act. The Big Brother of the Internet that nobody who works for a living cares much for. The entertainment companies' one big victory over the little guy. DVDs being copy protected, you technically can't bypass that. But you get yourself a copy somehow, technically it's fair use. So the two contradict one another, but not really. Once you have the copy, you're in the clear. If you get caught bypassing the copy protection, you're in violation of the DMCA.

A lot of people have something to say about this and similar cases. Nintendo of course doesn't want you sticking anything in their console they didn't get a kickback from. Nintendo makes no money from R4 sales, so they're gonna tell you you can't do it. However they have no legal right to enforce that, and as it stands, if you send your DS in for repairs but take the R4 out, they can't tell it was in there. The DS doesn't keep a log, as it were. Game publishers tell you that you don't need a copy, but just see if they will replace yours if it becomes damaged. (Hint: They won't.) That's what fair use was created for. They can preach, but they can't enforce. To this date nobody has been convicted of copyright violation in relation to using a flashcart in a Nintendo DS (or custom firmware in a PSP). Naturally, if you have ROMs on your flashcart and you go to sell it, you need to remove them (and all copyrighted works) or you have distributed copyrighted works, a big no-no they can get you for. A guy got busted selling modded Xboxes with dozens of games on them. That is something else entirely.

All that said, if you do get an R4 or M3, don't be an idiot. Don't go in EB Games or Gamestop or whatever it's called and say "Hey look what my DS can do, I have a dozen games on it!" Don't worry about playing music on it in public, but if you have commercial games on it, be careful who you show them to. I don't think too many people are going to report you (why bother? nothing in it for them) but still. On the other hand, don't be afraid to show off the cool things it can do. Play a video on it for someone. Play some music. Read a joke. Get someone's phone number and write it down in your DS. Take notes with it. Because that's what it's really about, making the most of your portable device.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Plantar wart update #3, Things looking up!

After that bloody incident last night... Oh, where did I leave off? Oh, I see. 4am, Jen went to bed. I was planning on going to bed at 6, then 7... Long story short, I haven't been to bed yet. I'm a little tired, but I'll manage. Moving right along...

Around 10:30am, I had installed and played a couple games of the old Unreal Tournament, I had done most of what I wanted to do, and I went to the bathroom. I realized that the sock I'd put on my left foot was bloody again. Oh no... I take it off, the sock is ruined. No two ways about that. So I carefully remove the sock, and change the pad/salicylic acid disc, soaked in bloody gunk, which had not been on quite 12 hours. I replace it with a fresh one after wiping it all off with the top of the ruined sock, but this time wrap it in gauze. When I first got the thing on my right leg I thought was a spider bite, I was wrapping it in Food Lion brand generic gauze, and that wasn't working well - but I bought a bunch on sale. So I wrapped my foot in that.

I must have done a superb job of wrapping my foot, or (I'm hoping) the worst of the wart was over. I could almost walk on my left foot! Hadn't even recently had a pain pill, either. I mean I was still walking on the edge of my foot, but it was more comfortable. I go back in bed with the intention of getting a little catnap, but Jen's up, and we talk a little, and decide to start her - now our - errands early.

While Jen is getting ready, I put my foot to the test. I venture outside to see the puppies. My foot feels fine enough, so I make it to the gate. Sammy's barking at me, but I calm her down, open the gate, and get in there and see the puppies. They're so cute! I took a couple pictures - I'll see in a minute how they came out. They're mostly black, but a couple have beige-brown markings, and one has white markings, but those are mostly black. Most are all black, though. Four males, four females. Jen checked earlier. I checked a few, but didn't know what to really look for. I saw boy parts on three and one I wasn't sure of, so that one may have been a girl puppy.

I noticed one was outside the fence. I tried to call for Jen, but she couldn't hear me. I put the wart to the test again, and was able to go out and around. By this time Sammy took her freedom as an excuse to go running. I don't blame her, we don't have a fence so we keep her on a chain. (We have actually heard from a few people that keeping a dog on a chain is cruel. Since we can't get a fence, and we want the best for Sammy, we're going to find her a better home after the puppies are given away or sold.) Anyway, I retrieved the puppy and brought it back to its brothers and sisters.

OK, picture time.

Now, you should know by now. Click to make them bigger. First, from the left, we have Jen outside the pen Sammy and the puppies are in now, at least until the puppies are big enough to be adopted. The middle picture is four of them - one is actually underneath. After this picture was taken, they were all moved to the box. And the one on the right is unrelated to this post, mostly - our cat, Smores. (Photo credits: I took the one with Jen in it, but Jen took the other two.)

OK, so where was I? Oh yeah, I'd rounded up the rogue puppy. Jen caught Sammy up the driveway and lured her back with food. We caged up the dogs and took off. First place we went was the dump. They're doing some major construction on Highway 33 just east of Chocowinity, so while we went through that mess, when we came back I showed Jen an alternate route to Highway 17. (Chocowinity is basically the intersection of those two highways.) That's odd, her having been here over 10 years and me only out here 2, but hey, I like to explore.

Next, of course we're hungry. I confess to Jen my cheeseburger craving. She knows just where to take me. Hardees. (If you're on the West coast, Carls Jr. - they're basically the same thing.) I get my 2/3lb. Monster Thickburger (Six Dollar burger on the west coast) but I don't eat it. We go to Walmart, and I get inside alright. Jen's about to order when she gets a call from her sister, who is nearby and offers to treat her. So we wait - not long at all - for my sister in law. I actually wait until the ladies have their sandwiches before digging into cheeseburger heaven. I felt a little weird eating a big cheeseburger in a Subway, but what the hell.

I knew I wasn't getting around on foot, so I got into the wide-load wheelchair (I want one, minus the cart attachment) and go back into Subway, where the ladies are finishing. Jen's sister asks me why I don't get the electric one. I tell her because I have better control, and the electric ones only have 10-15 minutes of battery - and I like being pushed around like royalty. (That's actually partially true.) She tells me if she were my woman, she'd push me into something. So I tell her that's one reason I'm glad Jen's my woman. :-) We roll together for a bit, split up, find each other again (she's considering tinting her car windows), and then split up again for the day. We make our purchases, she makes hers, we leave.

We go to their mom's to deliver some yarn we bought. My mother in law (real nice lady, nowhere near the stereotypical mother in law) is knitting us an afghan (do they just call them blankets since 9/11?) for our new couch. And in our wedding colors - green and blue! We get a look at the work in progress. She has three, perhaps four feet done so far, and I think she's going for 6 feet. It's beautiful. I'm not one to judge quilts, blankets, and afghans, but I know when it's done I will be proud to have it in my home.

Then we get home, Jen pretty much has to get ready for work right when we get home. She takes my car, which she should have done yesterday, too. I'm not going anywhere I don't have to, and if I do have to, I can take Chuggy - that's her car. It's quarter after 5pm, and I'm gonna watch a movie, perhaps do the dishes if my feet feel up to it, maybe watch another movie, maybe take a nap. I've been up for 18 hours now, 18 hours and change. I should by all rights be tired. So, that's all for now. Keep wishing me luck, praying, whatever, but I think/hope the worst is over.

Plantar wart Update #2 (Monday)

Well, in the previous blog (The one done on the DS) I forgot to mention, for what it's worth, that we got home around 10:30. This is the continuation of that story, as it were. Why it gets a separate post, I dunno, just thought I'd break it up. I didn't want much around what I'd written on the DS, just thought that should mostly stand alone. Anyway, we got home, we pretty much just put on a movie and went to bed, but in actuality we stayed up surfing the net and playing DS games. The movie was Joe Dirt, where David Spade plays the mullet-sporting loser looking for the parents who abandoned him when he was a kid. Like Forrest Gump for rockers. Hell, even Kid Rock's in it, and the soundtrack is similar to that of Dazed & Confused - a lot of good classic and 80s rock. Just a good movie, I'd seen bits & pieces of it, never seen it all the way through before.

So we get to bed around 4:30am - Jen says closer to 5 but I don't think it was that late. I get up around 1 to use the bathroom, try to get her to wake up, to, umm... Yeah, cuddle... but she's just real tired, so I go back to sleep. I get up again at 3:24pm (funny when you remember the exact time). So of course she's gone to work. So I get out of bed, hobble on out to the computer, mess around on the Net for about an hour. Now you have to realize, every little trip for me is kinda painful. From the computer to the bathroom, the bathroom to the bedroom, the bedroom to the computer... From the computer to the couch isn't so bad because they're not far and I can slide the computer chair (it's on wheels) to the couch and hoist myself across, and vice versa. Now, I'm really bad with measurements and all, but I estimate perhaps 20 feet from bed to the bathroom, and another 30 from bathroom to computer, so 45-50 from bedroom to computer. Each step hurts. So you do the math.

So when I had to go to the bathroom, of course I cut the computer monitor off, take care of business... All of a sudden the bed's looking appealing. I'm still planning on going over to Jen's sister's place to watch Monday Night RAW at this point, which starts at 9pm. I take care of business, I head to the bedroom... Just gonna lie down for a bit. It must be about 4:30-5pm now. This is when I start thinking I might not make it to watch Monday Night RAW. I fall back asleep, and drift in and out of consciousness for the next 4-5 hours.

So I wake up at 11pm, RAW is over, so that's that. I go out to the living room to get my phone, head back to the bathroom to use it, and see Jen's called twice, left two voicemail messages, and an eerie text message that says something like she's worried and wants me to write back. OK, she doesn't know I slept all day. The voicemail messages basically say that plus that she's calling her sister to see if I went over there, maybe forgot my phone. Now in the bathroom I notice something I don't want to see: drops of blood from the door to the toilet. Sure enough, the pad I've got on my foot is leaking, not quite blood, but something like that. The doctor at the ER basically said that the salicylic acid in the pads is killing the wart and that that's normal, more or less. So OK, I get some of it cleaned up, changed the pad (ooh what a mess), and put a sock around the new one to help hold it on.

Then it's back to bed. Jen gets home, and the sweetie makes me some healthy chicken/pasta/veggie skillet meal she's got in the freezer. Those skillet meals are so damn good, even the healthy one was tasty. (Not as good as the Southwestern Chicken kind, but it's probably got too many grams of fat for Jen's Alli diet.)

4am, and Jen goes to bed, leaving the Internet to me for a bit. It's funny, I've been in bed for the better part of the last 24 hours, and I still feel a little tired. I could go back to sleep. And now it is Tuesday. My doctor's appointment is Thursday, not long now, and I can get this damn thing zapped off with Liquid Nitrogen. (Heh - the doctor tried to tell me what liquid nitrogen was like I hadn't seen Terminator 2. I think since 1991 was, every 80s kid knows what liquid nitrogen does.) And I've heard it two ways: One, they freeze the wart and send you on your merry way, and a blister forms beneath the dead, frozen wart, causing it to fall off (then you gotta deal with a blister, which more often than not is a BLOOD blister), and then it's cool. Two, they freeze the wart, then cut/pry/peel it out, and put a bandage over it. The former sounds more likely. Either way, once they freeze it, it shouldn't be bleeding/oozing anymore.

Now, I'm sorry if you got grossed out reading any of this, whoever you may be... but I have tried to tone it down some, and I have been trying to take the edge off some of it...

A day in the life of... (The one written on the DS)

On Sunday (the 16th) we went out for lunch, and while doing so I was experimenting around with DS Organize, a PDA-like suite of tools for the Nintendo DS handheld system, which of course requires something called a "flashcart" to run homebrewed games and tools from. DS Organize includes a text editor, so I wrote out what we both had, the total - I was just playing around. Then we went to the laundromat, and I took it out again, started a new file, and just started writing...
This was written on a Nintendo DS as I sat in the parking lot at the laundromat. Jen is inside washing our clothes. I volunteered to come in, for all the good it would do, this plantar wart on my foot effectively making me a cripple.

I got out of the car, no easy task let me tell you. The glare of the evening sun was in my eyes. Can't write in such conditions. So I put my window up, take Jen's keys out, and open the door. Getting out has been harder but still this was a pain. Open the door, shuffle out and against the side of the side of the car, lean on the door to right myself, then bravely shut the door, isolating myself from support. I hobble into the laundromat. Jen's on the other side, she doesn't see me she's so busy. Bears and Chiefs football on the TV above me. Two little Mexican girls come by to play with a toy but quickly leave, possibly not wanting to disturb a busy adult. Maybe 10 minnutes later, Jen comes over to use a washer on this side. I call to her twice but she doesn't hear me, even from only 10 feet. She sees me only when she glances over. She finishes loading washers and now we both wait.

I restart the DS and change gears a bit, going from the homebrew and media card the R4, to what the DS was made for: gaming. Mario Kart DS, a favorite of mine. If you play it... My guy is Yoshi, in the egg kart. As I play, Jen goes off to put clothes in the dryer. People come and go, and I'm half watching Jen's purse, half focused on composing this message. A Dodge ad comes on and Jen tells me we have to get the song. New Lifehouse song, she tells me. I really like it, too.

I change seats to be closer to a faux wood bench for the kiddies. It feels so good to put my foot up. I still can't see Jen, she must be on the other side. A young black girl comes to the bench and shoots me a glance that says I'm using the bench wrong. I put my foot down and her smile tells me I did the right thing. She departs, foot goes right on back up again. Sweet relief, mine again. Jen returns, her face tired and a little frustrated. A machine would not take her dollar, and no she doesn't need one of mine.

Jen comes back a little later. The clothes are drying, so we go to Food Lion next door to fill up our six 1-gallon jugs. I get up, slowly but surely. Thanks, but no I don't need any help hobbling out to the car. My sweetie, ever my guardian angel, opens my door for me. Odd gender role reversal there, but I appreciate everything she does for me. This great woman of mine then fills up the jugs at one of those water vending machines. Now, as I catch up on the writing, she's enjoying a little break at the yellow pond, if you catch my drift.

So Jen comes out, cleans out the back seat, and loads up the water. She'd left it on the roof of the car. No wonder people were staring. Oh well, let them, two tears in a bucket.

Now we find ourselves at Sheetz getting gas. Jen hums a tune as she does the windows. $33.80 for about 12.6 gallons of gas, guess we needed it. I ask Jen to get me a 20 ounce French Vanilla faux cappucino. She says, "Sure, honey." Just another thing to do for me, she may never know just how much I appreciate her help, her patience.

We got our coffee - Jen got fat-free French vanilla over ice - and we're back at the laundromat. The sun long set, I come inside again. It's cooler here, and I can put my foot up. The football game is over; there is a political discussion on the tube now. A toddler runs back and forth, eyeing me and my DS, as her mommy speaks on the phone in Spanish. About then Jen comes with the dry clothes aand a tired as hell expression on her face. Again I hobble into the car.

One last stop. We need pet food, so we go to Walmart. Jen wanted to go to the one in Washington but reconsidered. We get there, and Jen lrts me out at the grocery side to go park. We see a wheelchair but it's only the regular small size. So I drive it to the pharmacy side and find two king size ones. I'm just heading back when Jen meets up with me.

She's not the only one. A cashier recognizes me, thinks I just went through his line. Must have been mistaken identity. So we go get the pet food.
And that's all I wrote. These events were written 10 minutes or so after they happened, owing both to me not writing as I'm doing, and how long it takes to type on a DS. The bottom screen is a touch screen, and the writing program draws a keyboard on the touch screen. It's fairly easy to type the characters using the included stylus, just slow as one is effectively hunting and pecking. One of those longer paragraphs might have taken 10-15 minutes. I see a couple typos, real minor, I'm not going to correct them, for the authenticity and all.

Now, to "finish" the story, all that really happened is we went around the store, picked up some more things, I called one of my favorite cousins and told her about the puppies and a little about what's been going on with my foot.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

It's been two years?

Two years ago today, Friday the 16th of September 2005, I arrived in the state of North Carolina, after two prior visits, but this time in my own car with everything I owned then in the back, this time to stay. It doesn't quite seem like two years, but I guess a lot has happened.

First of all, the trip. Five days, California to North Carolina, mostly along Interstate 40. I was riding with Bob, a friend of my mom's from work, an old hippie who had been from one end of the country to the other several times, on trains, in cars, in buses, even on his thumb. I don't think I could have asked for a better travel companion. We left Santa Rosa, CA - my hometown of most of 25 years - around noon on Monday of that week, the 12th I guess it would have been. We traveled south on Highway 101 to San Rafael, took the Richmond Bridge to 540, which we took to I-5, that big main road that runs down the middle of the state. We took that road down to Bakersfield, CA (hometown of the band KoRn, if you care) and took a little detour to Barstow, CA, to catch I-40 there. (Google said to drive into Los Angeles and catch it there. I knew better. Even if the streets of LA would have been empty, I think I still would have saved us time.) We stopped in Kingman, AZ, fulfilling my vow of not stopping until we were out of the Golden State.

We stopped Tuesday night in Santa Rosa, NM - had to, you know, for the gimmick and all. Wednesday night we stayed at my aunt Patty's place in Texas, near Dallas. We had to take a little detour to get down that way, and drove through a heck of a storm. Two tornados, more rain than I'd seen before or since - good thing Bob was driving, for the experience. Thursday, well, the plan was to stop in Memphis, TN, but for some reason we didn't. Against Bob's better advice we pressed on, spending our night crossing the great state of Tennessee, and arriving in North Carolina around noon. We finally got out here at around 10pm.

We got lost only three times. First in Nashville, TN, because construction had obscured a sign we needed. Second, Raleigh, NC, because of the damned beltline system - the way the highway is, it's impossible to get anywhere if you don't know how it works. Third, Greenville, NC, because I was too shortsighted to get a map showing us how to get from there to my new home. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I thought because I had been in the passenger seat for a couple trips to Greenville a year ago for one trip and four months ago for the other, that I would miraculously find my way from anywhere in Greenville, to home. Thing is, we came out by the hospital, and I wasn't even familiar with that part of town. If nothing else, I should have had her sister's number, her mother's number, someone there (here, now) that I could call to get in. I couldn't even tell you how we found our way. What we should have done is found the Cracker Barrel in Greenville and hung out there until they closed, then nearby until Jen got off work, and called her. But we found it 2 hours before she got off, and had most of my stuff unloaded by the time she got home.

Ah, the memories. When I came out here, I was fairly limited in what I could do. Out-of-state registration and insurance is no good, for more than 30 days. The only identification I had was a California drivers license, which didn't mean squat in NC. (Well, it meant I could drive, of course, but it wasn't quite as official.) And I'd lost my Social Security card years ago. First thing we did was go to Jen's insurance company and get me and my car added to her policy. We set it up so I could drive her car and she could drive mine. Then I had to get a new Social Security card, which took a couple weeks itself. Then, my NC drivers license, for which I only had to pass a verbal exam, identifying road signs. Piece of cake. Then registering my car with NC, and getting my NC license plate. By mid-October 2005, my identification and car were all NC registered and licensed.

I've actually had three jobs since I got out here. First was at this place we call Mega Farce. It's really Mega Force, but I don't take them very seriously, despite what may be their best efforts. They're a temp agency, they place people at jobs who need temporary help. The ladies in the office were nice enough. They placed me at the factory Jen works at. Cool deal, except I had to work 12 hour shifts, 3 days a week, 5am to 5pm, and NC doesn't have daily overtime. You can only get overtime if you clear 40 hours in a week, unlike in CA where you can score overtime for working more than 8 hours in a day. I worked my ass off for three or four weeks. I did my job the best I could, and when there wasn't any work, I went looking for work. I cleaned racks. I mopped. I swept. I did my best to keep busy and make a good impression. Then one day they tell me I'm not needed anymore, and send me home maybe 2 hours after I'd gotten there. Couple weeks later, I got another temp assignment with a rent-to-own company. It was only a 3 day gig, but I had a lot of fun, had some good adventures. I assembled only two things, but I moved stuff around, I cleaned the showroom once, but most of my day involved delivering stuff for people, and picking up stuff people were done with or could no longer pay for. I almost dropped an expensive big-screen TV on one such trip. Learned a little about the geography of the local area, too.

Then I called up my old job. Same people I worked for in California. They're out here, too, just not nearby. I ended up talking to the office in Wilmington (which is the very end of Interstate 40 on this side, actually) but as luck would have it, got to fill out paperwork at the Raleigh office, which is a little closer. Three mornings I had to be in the state capital 2 hours away at 8am. The first day I was there all day. The second day I was there an hour and a half. No joke. Third day was a half day, so until about noon or so. Why they couldn't just transfer me from CA is beyond me. I guess it'd been too long, but that's slack to not keep records longer than a couple months. (They said the cutoff time to make it a transfer is 30 days.) And that's what I've been doing ever since.

You're right. I didn't post who I work for. I am intentionally vague about certain details.

The coast to coast trip wasn't my only driving experience. For our holiday vacation in 2005 and 2006 I drove to Connecticut and back, going through Virginia, Maryland/DC (didn't stop and see the White House or anything though), Delaware (no sales tax), New Jersey, and New York (about 22 miles of NYC). For our honeymoon, we drove to Tennessee and back. Parts I hadn't seen on the way out, too. Our first anniversary took us to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina - so now I've been to both Carolinas.

Speaking of a honeymoon and an anniversary, I participated in a wedding - as the groom. It was such a great experience, but I hope I never do it again. Jen's such a good woman, were anything to happen to her, I can't see another woman filling her shoes. For such a shorty, she has some awful big shoes to fill.

Another experience, bizarre sicknesses. Sort of. I don't know if it's because I moved, but I've found myself ailed by a couple things I'd never heard of before but were very familiar to medical personnel out here. First in 2006, I thought I had a giant bruise on my right leg. Turned out to be a skin condition called Cellultis. We're still paying for the treatment - about $1100. Ouch! And that's to get it looked at and the pills to get it taken care of. Then I got what I assumed to be a spider bite, but turned out to be an "ulceration" caused by poor circulation. I'm still getting that taken care of. Now I have something called a plantar wart on my left foot, and I can't even walk now. At least not until it heals.

Can't forget food. My mom's a good cook, but she didn't let me do much in the kitchen. I pretty much watched her, sometimes. All I ever made for myself was macaroni & cheese, and the occasional sandwich. Jen has taken my passion for cooking and let it run wild - when we're both off, I'm the one who cooks. She introduced me to my favorite food - chicken and sausage Jambalaya - and I'm still tweaking the recipe (although I'm quite happy with where it's at now). The next iteration of it will be sausage and shrimp Jambalaya for Jen, her mom, and her mom's boyfriend. I've also developed my own pasta recipe, although I'm not quite happy with it. The taste is fine, but I always make too much. I need to cut back. There are other minor kinks I need to work out. As far as eating, Jen likes Chinese food more than my mom (who liked it, too) so I get a lot of that. Not Jen, but a buddy from work, introduced me to General Tso's chicken, and I'm hooked. And my mom always hated seafood, despite my dad's best intentions. I was raised to believe that seafood was bad for some reason. Well, Jen's a big fan of that, too, so she's exposed me to some good stuff. I still don't like shrimp, but I do like crab legs, lobster, salmon if it's made right, and talapia. I'm no fan of any seafood dish, but I'll eat it.

So what are our plans for the next two years? Well, I'd like to get Jen pregnant. We've been working on that for a while. I want to be a father now more than ever. "Baby fever" is an understatement. Other than that, 2008 will be a year of saving, as I do want to be a homeowner, if not by 30 (I think chances of that are low), then by 35. In any case, our kids won't grow up in this dump. ;)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Plantar Wart update, #1

I say #1 because I fear there will be more developments in the case of my plantar wart, and not all of them good. So where was I...? Ah yes, Friday morning. Jen was supposed to wake me up at 6:30 or thereabouts after a short nap, but when she got up to leave, she said I was sleeping so soundly she just couldn't disturb me. I was a little disappointed she'd left me out, but also partially relieved she allowed me extra sleep I quite honestly needed anyway. I got ahold of her closer to 9am, I think, and she and her mom were just coming back from Greenville. Jen said she'd pick me up on the way, so I had a little bit of time to get ready.

So I go to put on my shoes, and putting on the left shoe, despite my best care, hurt like getting kicked in the nuts. But I did it anyway. They picked me up, and we went to Walmart. I got in a wide-load wheelchair (horray for big guys) and half the time Jen pushed me, half the time I pushed myself, but my previous experience with wheelchairs is another topic for another day. We had a great time; it was a highlight of the day being off my feet and mostly not worrying about them. (But now I kick myself for not getting certain things there I probably spent more on Walgreens this morning, but I'm getting ahead of myself.)

One of the things we were at Walmart for was a computer gamepad so Jen's mom and mom's boyfriend could play the Super Nintendo games on the computer without being stuck with awkward keyboard controls. I set her mom's boyfriend up right in Super Mario Allstars; he only plays Mario 1 and Mario 3, and now he has infinite lives in both. He claims he used to be a pro at both back in the day. I don't doubt him, that's me as well. Mario 1 was the first game I really got into, perhaps the first game I beat, and Mario 3 was the first game I bought with my own money (saved up allowance for months).

Then we got to talking about Jambalaya and Cajun foods. To make a long story short (since I really am getting offtopic), one of these days (like, when the wart is gone) we're going to go over there and make them some sausage and shrimp Jambalaya, a combination I haven't made before. I'm not a big fan of shrimp, but I'm only one of four who isn't, so if I pick the shrimp out of my plate and put it back, that's more for the rest of them. Likely I'll dish up first so they have more shrimp per scoop.

Back to the wart. Freakin' thing's been kicking my ass all day. Jen's mom got our nephews some M&Ms, and I promised I'd take them over, as I was planning on watching SmackDown! with my brother-in-law anyway.

Then we stopped at the pharmacy, and I got me an idea. They had the do-it-yourself freeze-off wart kits. I asked the pharmacist about it, and he was 110% sure it would work to just take care of it at home. So here I got a choice. Either suffer for a week on these salicylic acid pads that aren't doing squat, or do myself what the doc wants to do in a week. Decisions decisions. So I call up my stepmother, and after a good 20 minute conversation she's all behind me doing it myself.

But... there's always a but, isn't there? I open the container, and I'm reading the instructions. Seems this kit is only for small warts, not bigger ones like I got. So do I hold the applicator on the wart longer? Do I press hard? Do I apply three treatments all around it to get it all? So many questions, and all of them basically saying that the wart I have is too big to be treated by the home kit. But I don't think it's $20 wasted. Warts are contagious, and if Jen starts to get one, she can nip it in the bud right away.

Inevitably, Jen had to go to work. I putzed around on the Internet for a couple hours, and then popped in a DVD we'd picked up a month or three back but just never got around to watching yet: Lucky Number Slevin. Barring a longer review (it's coming! --Clerks II reference), let me just say that it was hot. Absolutely amazing. Morgan Freeman and Sir Ben Kingsley do great jobs (only partially because of such a witty script, the former at least shines in anything) and are well supported by Bruce Willis and Josh Hartnett. 9.5/10. Well, I guess that was a review, wasn't it? So what are you waiting for? Rent it if you like, but this is one worth owning.

By the time the movie ended, it was about 7:30. SmackDown starts at 8, so I pretty much high-tailed it over to my brother-in-law's place. I didn't last the whole show, around 9:30 I started getting tired, and left early, came back home and took a nap before Jen got home. I also got up with my boss, and found out I'm cleared on days off until the end of next week. I hate to miss hours, but I gotta do what I gotta do to get this taken care of, y'know?

Update #1 comes to a conclusion early Saturday morning, after Jen got off work. I tell her I want to go to Pitt County Memorial Hospital to have them freeze off the wart early. We weigh the options, and decide at 6:30am to go ahead and do it. We're out of the hospital by 9am - they're quick early in the morning. Of all the competent doctors (and PCMH has many), we get this House wannabe who made me feel like a tool for coming to the emergency room with something as insignificant as a wart, but the way he put it was alright. I mean, he was right, and Jen was trying her hardest not to laugh. At me, at the situation. So they prescribe me Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, et al for you non-technical folks), much stronger than you can buy over the counter. 800mg, the real deal. So I hobble back to the pharmacy to pick up the meds. Yeah, I know Walgreens has drive-through, but I wanted to get the "right" saly...whatever pads for my feet. I shoulda just trusted Jen to get the right ones.

So I get home, around 11am, I think. And in the past 26 hours, I've gotten maybe 3 hours of sleep. But none to worry, the bed is where I'm going now.

Friday, September 14, 2007

What I thought was a blister...

...Actually turned out to be a plantar wart.

Around this time last year, what I thought was a giant bruise on my leg turned out to be a much worse skin condition called Cellulitis, and now I get this wart I thought was a blister. "What I thought was a _____ turned out to be a _____ instead" is starting to become a repeating theme in my life, and I'm not liking it at all.

Let's see. I worked Sunday night, and I was fine. Monday night, however, I developed a minor limp. I thought I was forming a blister on the bottom of my left foot. It's common in my line of work, being on my feet so much. So I favored my right leg (despite doctor's advice to the contrary, ironically enough) and dealt with it, figuring the occasional pressure would cause it to pop on its own.

Tuesday night, when I worked, I was seated the whole time, and with purpose. I could walk, mostly, but it hurt to walk correctly and mostly I was just dragging my left foot, or leaning on the side of it to keep pressure off the wart I still thought was a blister. Wednesday morning, I'm looking at it, and it was too thick to be a blister. Could a blister callous over like that? I figured it was possible. I tried to lance it, to no avail, with a sterilized sewing needle. Jen tried to lance it later, or maybe Wednesday night, with another sterilized needle. Around that time, Jen started noticing a black discolorization in the center of the anomaly.

Thursday afternoon I had an appointment with the doctor for my other leg, the one that I thought was a spider bite but turned out to be an ulceration caused by poor circulation. So I brought up my left foot, and the doctor quickly identified it as a plantar wart. She's pretty good; admittedly a couple times I wasn't sure, but mostly I'm faithful she's on top of things. It's just it's hard for me to trust doctors, you know, they seem to know so much and it's almost scary. So anyway, she prescribes me some salicylic acid pads, the ones you can buy over the counter for treating callouses. So I go into Walgreens and pick some up. No problem, less than $5 out the door. Easy enough to put on, and I feel a little tingling, but I guess that means they're working. Apparently they last for 48 hours, which is all I need as there are four.

Next week, apparently I get what I've always heard described as the liquid nitrogen treatment. I've never heard it called anything. Then on Wikipedia looking up the plantar wart, I see what it's called. Cryosurgery. Go ahead, say it out loud. Isn't that one of the coolest words you've heard? Sounds like something outta Star Trek, right? OK, the bad news it's described as painful on the plantar wart page, but on the Cryosurgery page it says it's a preferred method because of its minimal pain. But then it goes on to say that "Patients undergoing cryosurgery usually experience minor-to-moderate localized pain". I ain't so good with pain. I mean, I can take it, but the anticipation of it kicks my ass. And thinking about it. But I was a dumbass and made the appointment for AFTER Jen has to go to work, so she won't be by my side for it. I think I can deal, though it would be nice to be helped into the car. It's not on my driving foot, but I'm not so sure I should drive after having surgery on my foot, should I? Well, we'll figure it out.

I've talked to a couple people about "cryosurgery" and they all just blow it off saying "oh that's no big deal at all". I've never heard it equated with a root canal, and I actually went through a root canal without a single complaint. I've had the local anesthetic injected into my gums; again, no complaint.

Well, let's see. It's almost a quarter after 4 in the morning. Yes, I keep some odd hours - oh, that reminds me. I called my boss before going into work, and he said he'd try to see what he could do, but was sure I'd have to go in. I was tired, having been up 22 hours at that point and desperately needing sleep. So I get up via alarm at 8:30PM and try to call him - nothing. Dude isn't answering his phone. I call again, 10 minutes later. Again, nothing. Quarter of nine, I call again - again nothing. I leave him a message, telling him I will not be going in. I text-message the actual manager on duty, he tells me to call the day manager - they're cool with it. So I don't believe I took the night off with full blessing of my employer, but let's face facts. I got a freakin' wart on my foot. The more pressure I put on it, the harder it's gonna be to get it out. My appointment is in a week. Six days now that it's technically Friday now. About 156 hours. I might have to take the week off. He won't like it, but what can I do? I can't go to work like this. I can barely stand. I can sit on my ass just fine, but what good does that do my employer? So I need to call these people in the (later) morning and talk some sense into them. Let them know the score and what's what. I've done a lot of overtime in the past 4 and a half years I've worked for them, done a lot of favors. I've pulled a few favors of my own, but I need this.

Well now, it is quarter after 4, and my wife's taking her mom around, running a few errands in a few hours, and I intend to go with. I'll probably drive. I caught 4-5 hours earlier, but I am a bit sleepy. When you get to be my age, you can get by with a couple hours, as long as you average a decent amount each day. And for me a decent amount is six hours, though I do appreciate 8-11 hour sleep - but I can get by on 3-4 hours. Unfortunately my employer knows this about me and often thinks I can get by on less. They're probably right. Soldiers, cops, firemen, detectives, doctors, other such people get by on less, maybe I can too. But my obligations are few and sleep is an opportunity, so after a stop in the bathroom that does involve my DS, if you catch my meaning, I'll be off to dreamland (or should I say nightmareland, but my fucked up dreams are a topic for another post).

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Six years ago today...

So it's been six years since terrorism hit home in America, huh? The obligatory topic of the day, and I too have a story to tell. I didn't know anybody in any of the planes or buildings, but it still did change part of my life, in a kind of geeky way.

September 11, 2001, around... late morning, early afternoon - remember, I was on the west coast then, so the time was different. I remember waking up, I must have been the only one home (living with Mom then) because the phone was ringing and nobody would answer it. I thought about cutting the ringer off, but I figure I was up anyway, so I toss my robe on and shuffle out into the dining room to take the call.

It's my brother's then-fiance, who tells me that America just got attacked, some buildings in New York got blown up. I told her we were alright (she was calling everyone) and promised her I'd check the news. So I go to turn on the TV, and sure enough, every channel (and I do mean all of them, I think even the TV Guide channel had something about it) was talking about this attack on the Pentagon. What the hell, I'm thinking. Didn't she say New York? But not a one of them said anything about New York, for five minutes all the talk was about the Pentagon.

So I turn off the TV, go back into my room, and cut on the computer, go to Yahoo! News. Sure enough, wide coverage. I was able to find everything I needed all in one place. I remember pulling up an article and one article covered it all in maybe 5 paragraphs. Nothing repeated, just the facts. I couldn't really believe it. So I fire up this filesharing program I was running then - maybe Kazaa, maybe Morpheus - and key in "world trade center". Tons of video. I started clicking on them, and watching them as they rolled in.

So I guess you could say from that day I kinda lost faith in televised news. And more developments - after a word from our sponsor! Bull. Now I get most of my news, when I read the news, online. The Trade Center was hit before the Pentagon, so why weren't the TV news channels saying anything about the WTC?

And then it came out that Bush had some sort of guilty association with the whole thing, and the Republicans tried to suppress that movie, Fahrenheit 911, that implied Bush was part of it - even going so far as to threaten the lives of theater owners and managers who were going to show it. They really didn't want the people knowing some of that stuff. But that was all later, of course.

Stuff was suspicious, though. Like it took them 3 weeks to find out this Bin Laden guy did it, and they gave Afghanistan another 4 weeks to turn him over, giving him almost 2 months to get his stuff together and go into hiding. Then all of a sudden with no explanation it's no longer about Bin Laden and justice for 9/11, but finishing what Daddy started with Saddam Hussein. Hussein was no saint and I'm glad he's been taken care of, and I'm glad his sons were killed (they were some bad dudes, to say the least), but all this talk about democracy and weapons of mass destruction has done a wonderful job of clouding the issue that they still don't know where Bin Laden is.

I always suspected he was here in America somewhere. Guy's a billionaire and his family's in oil. Bush is a billionaire - guess what, oil as well. Our country trained this guy and his men (the Taliban) how to fight in the 80s, when we were still afraid Russia might nuke us. Russia was coming down to Afghanistan, and of course with Russia as the major enemy, Bin Laden was a friend to America, wanting to stand up to the Commies. Then there's this 2.1 billion dollars he's been paying Bush or the Bush family since the early 90s, which stopped a few months before the big attack. That was one point from the Fahrenheit 911 movie the Republicans really didn't try to hide - their hands were pretty red there and they got caught.

Now I don't really believe Bush was involved. It was mighty suspicious he wasn't in the White House that morning (Flight 93 was always suspected as being for the White House), maybe his old golfing buddy clued him in, maybe it was more discreet than that, but Dubya knew to be out of town. But I'd like to think that's as far as his involvment went. If you've ever seen him speak on TV, the guy's not all that bright. Or his speech writer isn't.

But then he got himself elected again in 2004, and it made me wonder, with all the 9/11 "We will never forget" fad stuff people bought up, just how long did it take for people to forget? Obviously not too long. Well, currently a President can only serve 2 terms, but there are other people who might be involved. I'm not saying every Republican politician is involved; I'm sure a lot of them are as good as any politician (and that's meant in the nicest way possible). Nor am I saying the Democrats are perfect or aren't in on it or something, either. No working man's been elected President in years, if ever. All these cats got money, loads of it. There's no way a man who works and pays bills can ever understand these guys, or us them.

So what should we do? I think there's a lesson to be learned from this. I think if 9/11 taught us anything, it's to keep our eyes open, to be better educated, at least about some basic stuff. And I don't mean pandering to every conspiracy theory, I mean like who's running this show up in DC. I think we owe it to ourselves to know a little bit about the candidates as they vie for your vote next year. We've pretty much wiped out a sovereign Islamic country to make way for our supposedly better Christian way of life, so maybe the people can show that we're not all so narrow, maybe we can elect a woman or a black man as President. Or at least somebody who's more human. We've had 8 years of a warmongering leadership, I think it's time for wounds to heal.

(Despite the obvious nods to Barack and Hilary, I'm not behind any candidates as of yet. Nor do I support the many conspiracy theories out there - no sooner than I expect some of the BS Fox News has spewed up to counter them.)

Monday, September 10, 2007

Why I like Kevin Smith's movies, what they mean to me (1)

I don't recall when I first heard of Kevin Smith. I do, however, remember when Clerks. came out. (The title has a period at the end, that isn't a typo.) I remember the tagline "Just because they serve you doesn't mean they like you" intriguing me, but I never rented it, to my loss. When I got high-speed Internet, the first movie I downloaded was Mallrats. Again, to my loss, I never found the time to watch it, but I downloaded it because someone said it was good. Then that hard drive crashed. I didn't know what Mallrats was or that it was connected to Clerks.. I just knew it was about a couple guys who spend most of the movie in the mall. Then, a few years later, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back came out. I saw a trailer and it looked funny, but I've never been a big fan of comedy, so I passed it up. Then I met the lady who would one day be my wife, and found out she's one of Kevin Smith's biggest fans. So I went back and watched the movies. I can't even remember what order I watched them in, though I think "Strike Back" was first because it was new.

Clerks. was Smith's first movie, came out in 1994. Shot in black-and-white, made on a $28,000 budget that Smith and a friend or two came up with out of their own pockets, at night at a convenience store Smith worked at during the day - the very same Quick Stop. Two ordinary guys, Dante, the passive one who works for the Quick Stop; Randal, his more sarcastic, arrogant friend who works at RST Video, next door. If you've never worked retail, you will probably miss the entire point of this film. If I were Emperor of the Universe, I would decree that to shop in a retail store, you would have to work for at least 2 years in retail - else you'd be limited to shopping online. Too many people make too many assumptions about the people who work in stores, whether it's an over- or underestimation. Clerks. is nothing more and nothing less than a day in the lives of two such individuals and their love lives, their Star Wars fandom, and their witty banter.

Mallrats came out the following year, and updated Smith's buddy comedy formula with color picture and a larger setting - the local mall. As I understand it, Mallrats actually takes place before Clerks. (this being important to a select few only) but uses none of the same characters. T.S. and Brody are two guys in their early 20s who never quite grew up. Brody still collects comic books and plays Sega, and while T.S. does neither, his reactions to his girlfriend shows he still has a way to go before being a man, and I think it's an important point that guys aren't fully grown at 18, despite what some of us may think. (I'm not even sure I'm fully grown at 27. I think the line between dude and man will be drawn when our first kid is born. If that doesn't do it, holding her in my arms, feeding her, and getting up in the middle of the night to change diapers, nothing will.) I would suggest girls aren't so mature then, either, but Mallrats takes it the other way, showing a 15-year-old girl who is more mature than any of the main male characters (as are the other women - especially Joey Adams). Mallrats was also the first of Smith's movies with any star power, though not at the time. Jason Lee (Brody) and Ben Affleck (Fashionable Male manager) would both go on to do a whole lot bigger movies. And Marvel (Spiderman, X-Men, et al) creator Stan Lee's cameo, as well. This is Smith's film with the least amount of scope, the least accomplished at the end, but that's not entirely bad - it's also one of the most approachable, and watching it doesn't really necessitate (or require) watching the others.

Chasing Amy was next, and in 1997 Kevin Smith got serious. This is one of two movies he's done that is more serious than funny, but in this case, only just barely. This is a buddy comedy as well - Mallrats alumni Ben Affleck and Jason Lee - with Mallrats costar Joey Adams as a lesbian the former falls in love with, despite warnings followed by grief from the latter. The Star Wars references are back in full "force" as well, as in a scene near the beginning, a black guy tells an all-white audience why Star Wars is how "the white man keeps the brother man down, even in a galaxy far, far away", with Affleck and Lee giving him a hard time throughout. If you thought that was great, the rest of the movie only gets better, with colorful and witty dialogue, mostly between Affleck and Adams. In addition to being serious, this is probably the most adult-oriented of all the movies, with extremely frank dialog about sex, most of it of the kinky variety (and I'm not just being hard on the lesbian stuff, that's just the tip of the iceberg). It's refreshing for mature adults, but I'd be worried about younger teenagers watching it. But then, I guess it's no worse than some of the newer teen comedies like American Pie and Scary Movie, but it's just done a lot better. I've always been a big advocate of civil rights, which usually means standing up for demographic groups targeted by the Christians for their members to harass - women, blacks, Muslims, homosexuals - and while Chasing Amy isn't really about lesbianism per se, it does challenge some conservative/popular viewpoints that need to be challenged, even in this day and age as so many people are still in the dark about these things. If you watch this and keep an open mind, you might learn something if you haven't already.

Dogma came out in 1999, last one of the last century. This one really put Smith in some hot water, though it didn't turn out to be as big a deal as DaVinci Code, Passion of the Christ, or anything like that, although it is basically based on the same conspiracy theory in DVC - that Jesus, in fact, fathered a child. But enough spoilers; Dogma follows a woman who must stop Ben Affleck and Matt Damon (as fallen angels) from entering a church in New Jersey and reversing God's will and thus unmaking the universe. Damon is not the only newcomer to Smithworld, as recurring stars George Carlin and Chris Rock start here, as well. This is also the first one to feature Jay and Silent Bob as more regular characters. Where I said before that Mallrats had the most narrow scope, Dogma has the widest - the fate of all existence hangs in the balance, and Smith almost makes you believe it as much as, if not more so, than the countless disaster movies that come out. Even as an Agnostic/Atheist/Undecided person who doesn't follow the Christian path, Dogma presents some interesting philisophical issues, for a comedy that follows a couple stoners. Nothing new, but interesting nonetheless. For the religious stuff, Dogma may be my least favorite of Kevin Smith's movies, but nonetheless it's still fun to watch once in a while.

I could review all seven of Smith's movies, but I'll stop after 4. Coming soon, my reviews of his next three movies and maybe some other miscellaneous stuff he's done. If Kevin himself should happen to read this, beyond what I've said already, I'd just like to say THANK YOU FOR EVERYTHING, KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK; for the rest of you, if you haven't seen these movies, what are you waiting for?

My alarm clocks are better than yours.

Well, to exploit a common Internet fad, that is - to take an opinion, inflate it with some arrogance, and state it as fact, the original sentiment being "My alarm clocks are awesome". But yes, the post is about alarm clocks, so the cheesiness is not reduced by much. Our cat somehow unplugged the one in the living room, and plugging it back in reminded me of how awesome it is.

What's the worst thing about an alarm clock? Besides waking you up when you need to be up; you know, it's supposed to do that. Setting it, of course. Both of my alarm clocks needed to be set once, when I first got them. And one, when I moved to NC, to change the time zone.

I got my first alarm clock for Christmas, I think from my youngest brother. I wasn't impressed with it at first - the brand, Emerson, is known for low quality. But I set it - which was a real pain because it doesn't have hour/minute buttons, just Up and Down. And almost no acceleration, so if you need to change the time by 12 hours, it can take almost 5 minutes - no joke. So I did not start out liking this clock. Then my brother pulls the plug, after I had just set the time and date. "What'd you do that for?" I asked, not too happy. He plugs it back in - and get this - it counts to the current time, then the current date, then the year. Even after a 2 hour power outage it kept the time.

The real test came when I moved from CA to NC. It was unplugged for a week as I drove across the United States. And it wasn't the first thing to get unpacked, either - you know my computer was the first thing out, up, and running. But when I plugged it in - sure enough, it jumped to the right time and date - minus three hours, as it was displaying California time. A quick adjustment using the Time Zone feature fixed that in a hurry. So technically, exploiting that, I guess it does have hour advance, since it doesn't display the time zone anywhere, so no need for it to be exact.

Here it is - as always, click the image to see it larger.

Now for the clock in the bedroom. What I wanted was a clock that could display 24 hour time, known to most Americans as "military time" and thus looked down upon, but I think it's a better system. I won't get into that here, though. So I looked online, and the results were not promising. Only the crappiest travel clocks supported it, and they cost upwards of $40, and then with shipping fees. So we went to Walmart, and I got my next alarm clock.

This clock is cooler in its own ways, only it doesn't set itself. Setting it is as easy as you can expect with any alarm clock, only you don't need to hold a TIME button, just slide a slider to Set Time, and hit Hour and Minute until it's right. This clock also shows the date, day of the week, and the temperature. It has no radio, but what it does have - that little swivelling gizmo on the left - is a projector. It's one of those neato clocks that beams the time onto your wall or ceiling - ceiling in my case. I tried to photograph the projection, but it wouldn't come out right. The only really bad thing is the face doesn't illuminate. However, this is a full-on travel clock - it does have batteries in it, and continues to work unplugged (nice if the power goes out). It can be set to "sleep" where it won't display anything at all to save power, but will display the time on the face and turn its projector on for like 5 seconds if you hit a button, I think the big one on top. And the alarm works at waking me up - not all do.

All in all I can't complain. I think we did alright with our alarm clocks. There are some other nifty ones out there, but I like ours.