Monday, June 27, 2016

Afternoon Ride on a Dirt Bike

One day Houston decided that he wanted to go calling upon Amada.  She was one of the girls who rode our bus to school but lived several miles away from our neighborhood.  Even farther away than Allie’s house.  Houston was grounded from driving his truck at the time and since he was the only one of us who had driver’s license it looked like he was stuck paying basketball with us guys.
Houston, not being one that is easily deterred asked Adam if he could borrow his dirt bike to ride over to Amanda’s house.  Of course Adam said no, but he offered to drive him over there if Amanda would put in a good word with her friends.  Once again I was not involved with this short adventure but heard all about it and saw the results once they got back to the neighborhood.

A couple of hours later when they pulled up into the circle where they rest of us were playing basketball they were both cut, scraped, and bruised everywhere.  As the recounting of the story went the 12 mile drive down there went fine.  They stayed on a few less traveled roads and got to Amanda’s house and as she promised her folks were gone to town for the afternoon.

The trouble began as Amanda and Houston where messing around in her room and her parent’s car pulled into the drive way.  Adam ran to the window to warn Houston and said he saw much more of either of them than he had ever wanted to see.  Houston started pulling on his cloths and started for the door, but Amanda pushed him back to the window and said he had to climb out or her dad would see him!  Do with his socks and boxer shorts on he promptly and gracefully fell out the window into the bushes where Adam was standing.

The two of them rushed as quickly across the side yard to where they had left the dirt bike, Houston scrambling to get dressed and move quickly while Adam barked at him to hurry in a hushed tone.  They walked down the road pushing the bike trying to use the trees and bushes to shield the view of them from Amanda’s house.

They were almost back to the main road and crossing the set of railroad tracks that paralleled the road home when Houston thought he her a car coming from direction of Amanda’s house.  The two of them decided to ride the bike down the tracks and avoid any potential encounters with Amanda’s father.  Both Houston and Adam agreed that the tracks were way too difficult to ride on quickly and was shacking them fairly severely.

As anyone who has ridden a dirt bike knows, they can be very loud especially if you have “reworked” the muffler like Adam had done.  They were jarringly riding down the tracks when Houston thought he heard something and started to look around… that was when he saw the train engine about 100 feed behind them and closing.  He yelled a warning into Adam’s ear.

Adam turned to see the train engine.  He quickly tried to jump the bike off the tracks and found that he could get it leave the area between the tracks!  Houston said he tried 4-5 times to jump the tracks before he decided to abandon the bike and Adam and jumped clear, right into a patch of blackberries!  Adam final was able to get the bike off the tracks when Houston’s weight was gone from the bike, but he also wrecked into a creek shortly after getting clear of the tracks and train which was now passing them.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

An Evening with Mark

Mark is the step dad of my friend Sam.  It has been many years since that statement was true.  I believe that Mark and Sam's mother are separated now days.  That part isn't important to the story I want to tell today.

I was not present for this story, just wanted to make that clear before I get into the events that transpired.  Once again we go back to when I was a teenager running around with Houston and Sam.  It was a Friday night during the summer between my freshman and junior years of high school and Houston and Sam wanted to go hang out and a few drinks.  I can't remember why I turned them down that night but I know I was tired and decided to head home around 9:00pm and get some sleep.

The next morning, I was up early and took off out of the house to head over to Sam's to see if he was up and then we could round up Houston and see what kind of trouble we could get into...little did I know the trouble was all over by this point and I had missed everything.

I ran up to Sam's window, which was about eye height when I stood in his mothers flower garden in front of the house.  Sam would usually keep his window cracked so he could smoke in the house and blow the smoke out the window.  I first noticed his window was cracked any and was reaching to knock on the window when Sam's mother, who I had not noticed, said from the from the front porch swing "Sam is grounded.  He won't be coming outside for a long time."  I nearly jumped out of my skin she startled me so bad.

"Uh, ok..." was my very eloquent response as I stepped out of the flower beds.

"Tell him I am going to head over to see Houston, please."  was my next attempt at small talk.

"Oh, I don't think he will be going anywhere for awhile either."  was her reply.

I quickly thanked her for the information and took off to Houston's house to find out what the heck happened last night.

I had a little more luck with Houston't parents who at least let me in to talk with him so I could find out what happened.  Houston recounted the previous evenings events.  After I took off for the night he and Sam went back to Sam's house to get a couple of things before returning to Houston house.  The plan was to play video games and sneak out to Allie's house around 2:00am,but when they got to Sam's his stepdad Mark was laying int he middle of the front living room listening to his old records and well into his way through a 5th of whiskey.

Mark asked Sam and Houston to have a couple of drinks with him and check out his old rock albums.  This went on until the 5th was empty.  At which point Mark declared it was time for a alcohol run!  Of course my friends were eager to tag along and free booze so they all piled into the family mini-van and took off to town.

It has been many years since I heard this story but I think Mark bought them some Vodka, Crown Royal, and a pack of Jolly Ranchers.  Then bought himself another 5th of whiskey and they all started drinking on the way back home.  As you can expect a very inebriated driver on a Friday night quickly lead to blue flashing lights, right across from the country club in town and still 25 minutes from our neighborhood.

Mark quickly failed a sobriety test and was escorted to the back of the police car.  The officer then returned to the car and ask Sam and Houston if either of them had a drivers license.  Sam told the officer he has is permit but Houston had his license.  The police officer in his infinite wisdom let two teenage boys who had been drinking leave in the family mini-van.  Sam and Houston had a heated conversation about how effective Jolly Ranchers were at covering up the smell of alcohol and if the head light were on or not in the mini-van.

When they got back to Sam's house they parked the van, which they had spilled the bottle of Crown Royal in the back seat in the drive way and took off to Houston's house to finish up drinking.

The next morning the phone rang at Houston's house, it was Sam's mom who wanted to know where Ralph was and why her van smelled of liquor!  Sam left to go home and explain that Mark had was at the police station and the events that lead up to his arrest.

After Houston finished up the story, I was asked to leave.  I was really bored with out my partners in crime and as I learned "any time soon" means about 2 weeks of time to be grounded.   In hindsight, I am happy I missed out on this adventure!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A New General Manager

During my tenure at the call center I saw several different managers and general manager come through.  Most of general managers were not very impressive but a couple did stand out.  We found out that a new general manager had been hired and would be starting in a about a week.  The only information that was shared with us the supervisors was that he was part of a new program where the company was hiring retired military officers directly into management as they left the military.

For this blog we will call him Mr. Michael.

My first encounter with him was on a Saturday morning.  At the time we were open for a skeleton shift on Saturdays and Mr. Michael wanted to come in and meet the poor souls working on the weekend.  I didn't know what I expected  but Mr. Michael turned out to be a great guy.  He was personable and attentive to his personnel's needs and wants.  I found myself liking him immediately.

On the wall of the production floor we had a painted mural that depicted the four pillars of our companies beliefs:

I.) Increase Profits
II.) Client Satisfaction
III.) Customer Satisfaction
IV.) Employee Satisfaction

It was common knowledge that only the first pillar mattered to the upper management.  So one of the first things Mr. Michael did was take down the mural.  He also started doing leadership classes with all the managers, project managers, and supervisor each week.  These went along way with helping us learn how to better at our work,each other and, our employees.

Here are a few examples of how "Out there" our new General Manager really was:

My immediate supervisor came out of his office one day with an exasperated look on his face, with Mr. Michael following closely behind him.  My boss said the he had been trying to get back to his desk for an hour so that he could get some work done, but things kept coming up.  Mr. Michael chimed in and said "I know!  I have been waiting under your desk to surprise you for 45 minutes!"


*Harry Potter Spoiler Alert*

Ok, you have been warned!

When Harry Potter and Half-Blood Prince came out my wife and fought over who got to read the book first.  As you may have guessed, my wife won that fight and started reading the book.  Two days after the book was release I went into our morning meeting at work and Mr. Michael stormed into the meeting and slammed his copy of Harry Potter down on the table and said "I can't believe the B***h killed Dumbledore!"  All of us who cared immediately were thrown in to a state of shock!  He looked around at us all and honestly was very confused why we were all upset with him.  To this day I still can't imagine why he he did that!


Finally, for Halloween Mr. Michael dressed up as a large furry monster.  His costume covered his whole body including a hood/monster face.  So when he was fully dressed you couldn't tell it was him.  I heard this next part from the recruiting staff, Mr. Micheal went up to the Recruiting waiting room before it opened at 8am and laid down in the floor.  He stayed completely still laying in the floor for over an hour while potential recruits came in and started filling out paperwork.  Apparently they just thought he was some kind of Halloween decoration.  At least until he had a room full of potential new hires and he  suddenly jumped up and roared at the top of his lungs.  As the story goes, the potential new hires all screamed and ran from the room.  Some went out the front door, never to return and a few ran into the building to get away from what ever just happened in the waiting room.


All in all, Mr. Micheal was fantastic GM and we all hated to see him go but he moved onto a bigger and better job!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Overwatch Review

This past weekend I pick up a copy of Blizzard's new game Overwatch.  In all fairness and full disclosure I spent a lot of time sucked into play World of Warcraft several years back.  I love the feel of Blizzard games but hate how they become huge time sinks, as my family and work responsibilities have grown my time for video games has been reduced.

Before playing Overwatch, I had only heard a few things about the game second hand from few friends of mine.  The usual mix of opinions, couple of Blizzard fans where any game they produce can do no wrong, and the flip side Blizzard haters.  I have played a lot of 1st person shooters over the years as well and to be honest I was excited about the idea of a Blizzard shooter.

After the game installed on my Xbox One, my first impression is wow, this is a pretty game.  As I have seen with the newer console games you have to install the game even when you purchase a game disc.  This took about 35 minutes to accomplish but you didn't have to wait for complete installation to start checking out the game.  The tutorials and practice level became available fairly quickly at ~10 minutes into the installation.

As the rest of the game became available I found more characters available to play and try out their abilities.  As a new player the characters are fun to experiment with and see what they can do.  It has a very much League of Legends feel to the game with characters and abilities.  I have heard that League of Legends is very much a spiritual successor to Warcraft III.

League of Legends

The match making was quick (all games <30 seconds to find).  I quickly found a couple of character that I enjoyed playing and kept circling back around to them during the matches.  Also one of the aspects that I really enjoyed was the voting at the end of the match for the MVP of that match.  In a move that was very refreshing, the award went to primarily the support and healing classes and not just the person with the most player kills.

The last item I would like to touch on is that as I played the game, I found it was an easy to play and fun to play start.  Though as I kept playing some of the characters I could see how a meta game was evolving from the character abilities, such as being able to drop a wall of ice and control the flow of the movement on the game map.  A group of experienced players can be almost unbeatable with the right collection of players and abilities.  All in all I found it a fun game and would recommend it to others for the same reasons as I have listed above and below.  Keep in mind it is an online only game is cost ~$60.00 right now.  I am curious to see if it has real staying power and keeps a good amount of active players as the game ages.

Pros (Things I like)

  • Beautiful appearance - As expected from a Blizzard game the fit and polish is fantastic
  • Different skills, abilities, and roles for the characters.  A little something for everyone.
  • It plays like the 2007 Shadowrun shooter for Xbox 360 and I loved that game!
  • Quick game play.  The matches didn't take very long and I was able to log on and knock a couple out before dinner was ready at the house.
  • Loot Boxes - All the neat skins, voices, and sprays as rewards.
  • Easy fun surface game is a deeper meta game as you come to master the individual character abilities and game modes.

Cons (Things I don't like)

  • No option to select the game mode type you want to play.  I want to play Attack only, I can't select that as an option.
  • I wish there was a single player offline campaign mode.  This is just a wish list item as the world seem to be very deep and thought out but you only see the surface via the multiplayer.
  • Installation to console took about 35 minutes, even when you but a game disc.
  • Kill cam and re-spawn period seemed to take forever.
  • Loot Boxes - I don't like the fact that you can buy these for out of the game currency.  I know they are all just cosmetic items and don't really affect game play but I have grown to dislike this system of extras you can purchase.  Anyone remember the Star Pegasus you could purchase in WoW? 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Woodworking - End Grain Cutting Board

I don't have as much time as I would like to get out in the shop and do woodworking projects.  Since time has been an issue for a bit, I have stayed with simple "weekend" projects.  One of those was to create some end grain cutting boards.  The idea behind an end grain cutting board is that as you cut on the board, the knife edge will separate the grain of the wood but since you are not cutting against the grain but into the end grain the wood can minimize or repair the bulk of the damage done by the knife edge.  This idea has been used for a long time on butcher block tables.

One of the important aspects of making a cutting board is consider what kind of wood you should use for the project.  First and foremost avoid any woods that may induce any allergens into what ever you plan on cutting such as wenge, walnut, and some other exotic woods.  Traditional choices are hard maple and other dense woods.  That brings us to the second step in selecting your wood, make sure it is a dense wood and not very porous since you don't want to trap little pieces of what you are cutting into the board.

As I said in the pepper-mill project blog, I don't intend this to be a how to blog post but just a collection of my impressions and experiences.

For my first batch of cutting board, I went with hard maple and purple heart.  If you are not familiar with purple heart it is an exotic wood from Central and South America.  It has a very distinctive purple color but will darken over time as it is exposed to day light and may eventually come to look like a dark walnut in color.

I started off by cutting my maple and purple heart into strips 1 and 1/4" thick.  Then I glued those strips together to make an alternating pattern of wood.  After the glue had set, I once again cut those glued board in a cross cut pattern.

The gluing process took a weekend of in and of itself.   I also learned that you really can't have to many wood clamps.  The more you can mange to put on the project the better you can distribute the pressure and make sure the glue will set up evenly.  Also make sure you clean any squeeze out of glue during this process.  Any cleaned up glue will save you a lot time sanding later.

Once you board are cut, glued, cut again and finally glued the last time.  You are ready to sand, and I mean sand them for a long time.  The end grain doesn't clean up as quickly as it would if you just went with the wood grain itself.  I spend about 3-4 hour apiece on the first two board trying to get the glue stains out and smooth all the end-grain parts for the wood.  I would wet the wood and make the grian stand up and then let it dry and sand some more.  then repeat this process several times to make sure I had all the high points worked out.  The last item is to make sure you oil the boards with a food safe oil and you will periodically have to reapply the oil as time goes on.

Below I have a couple of pictures of the finished boards!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Commission: "Morbid Angel"

My first RPG was TSR’s Marvel Superhero Role-playing Game.  One of my longest running RPG campaigns involves a character names Morbid Angel.  My friend Scott has played this character for 20 years and as you can imagine it has a lot history.  Now for those of you are familiar with the Marvel TSR character generator process, it involves dice rolls to randomly determine your powers, skill, and talents.  There have been three sets of powers that players have rolled over the years and each one of the three powers earns a groan of negativity.  First off is Water-breathing, second Coloration, and finally Telereformation!

Ok, telereformation is a form of teleportation where the player disintegrates his current body and then teleports to his destination location and "reforms" a new body out of the materials present.  This means the character doesn't have a real flesh and bone body but one made of concrete, stone, brick, dirt, or what ever else is around.

Scott took this power and made it his, he developed some cool power stunts; such as teleport dodge, serial immortality, and body alteration.  So for the past 20 years he took a power that no one liked and he made it into something to be envied and has a character that I love to GM.  I decided to attempt to contact some old high school buddies that had an artistic inclination to see if I could hire one of them or if they could recommend some one to hire that could draw this character.  Long story short, those old connections didn't pan out, but I have been following an online web comic for years over at:

 O Abnormal has periodically done something he calls a Comissionalthon, where he does commissioned artwork as opposed to his regular web comic series.  I often forget how small the internet has made the world.  O made a post on his website saying that he was interested in taking on more commissioned work outside of his regular Commissionalthon.  So I thought what the heck, let me send him an email and see if he would be interested in drawing Morbid Angel.  O responded that he would be interested and could I send him a detailed description of the character and any artwork or pictures that might give him an idea of how to draw the character.

The drawing and feed back process took a couple of months due to his back log but wow was the wait worth it!  I have posted below some of the progress pics so that you can see how the drawing developed:

First Draft Proofs

In the images above our hero Morbid Angel has just Telereformed into the wall of the building and currently rebuilding his new body out of stone, glass, windowframe, and masonary so that he can fight the robot.  The final Image is located over on O Abnormal's website.  I want you to see a good resolution image, at least something better supported than what I could post here on my blog. 

In summary, I would recommend using O Abnormal for any commission RPG, Fantasy, Video game, or any character you can imagine!  His pricing was very reasonable and I love his style and how the character turned out.  If you like his work, consider visiting his Patreon page and becoming a patron of of O's work.

Once again, 

Thanks for visiting!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Risk Legacy Review

I am a huge fan of Risk by Hasbro.  I remember learning to play with my stepdads brother and some of their friends when I was kid.  Of course back then I lost, very quickly, but over the years my understanding of how to play the game has improved.  For example gaining territory in the early game vs card management for reinforcements in the late game will make or break your chances to win the game.

As has become more and more common for me as an adult, I wasn't even aware that Risk Legacy existed until it had be released for mare than a year.  I was talking to some of neighbors in the office next door to my work when they mention playing the game in the evenings.  My curiosity was piqued!  They told me the game had specific factions, the board could evolve/change, and players could destroy parts of the game!  These are all radical ideas for a game that has been around since 1959.  At lunch that day I went to our local hobby/game store to pick up a copy.

Two days later I had search two game store, two different Target locations, Walmart, Kmart, local specialized hobby shop, and Amazon..everywhere was sold out, even Amazon!  As my last resort I called a friend 300 miles away in another state and asked him to go check out his local game store.  He called me back that afternoon and they had a copy of the game on the shelf and he had picked it up and it was in the mail headed my direction.  I will keep this review spoiler free of what happens as you play the game.  I will only post a few items that you will encounter when you open the game and some of the mechanics that you encounter that are different than Standard Risk.

It was amazing opening the game for the first time and seeing the warning label on the box "NOTE:  What's done can never be undone." and then when we removed the board from the box there was a place on the back of the board to sign and take responsibility for what transpires during the game.
The game consists of a plastic insert that hold the different armies that are available to play, each has its own specific color molded models for single army units and the multiple army unit, attack and defense dice, faction cards, and assorted playing cards that are used during the game.  The rule book is unique in that it has spaces left black that are intended to be filled in as the game progresses.  For example you play the first game very similar to how classic Risk is played but depending on how the game progresses you can open new packets that contain rule changes and other "flavor" items.

The first thing each player must do is select a faction to play.  The factions are black cars with a little bit of art work and room for rule additions just like the rule book and board.  You are then instructed to select between to faction abilities and add the one you choose to the faction card.  Then DESTROY the one you don't select!  I was horror struck, you don't tear up parts of a board game.  It was heart wrenching to tear up that first card.

As I said earlier, game play for the first game was very much like classic Risk.  Once the game was complete though we were introduced to one of the new facets.  The winner of the game was able to select a victory reward and the surviving players were also able to choose a minor award.  Each of these awards carried over into all the games from that point on.

The game is intended to be played for a campaign of 15 games.  the winner of each of the 15 games gets to sign the board and select one of the available victory rewards that will shape the games to come.

Pros (Things I like)

  • Destroying the game pieces as dictated by the game rules!
  • Faction card and abilities are much better than The Generic Green Army
  • Writing on the game board, it makes it all feel permanent (yes, I know that is the whole point)
  • Feel more like an ongoing story than just a stand alone board game

Cons (Things I didn't like)

  • Destroying the game pieces as dictated by the game rules!
  • Having to wait until certain conditions were met to open up some of the sealed packets
  • Availability, though this has improved we have purchased two more copies of the game and have had a difficult time finding each copy
  • Since we won multiply copies, I would love to see different color boxes such as what has been done with Pandemic Legacy boxes

As I said earlier we love the game and have since bought a total of three copies.  Our first one is on game 12 and we only play it when one group of friends are together.  The second copy is one that can be played by anyone that may be over visiting and its on game 10.  The third copy is packed away and being kept for our son when he gets older.  Our plan in wrap it as a present and put a check list of item he has to complete prior to opening, such as play a certain number of classic risk games with Mom and Dad and few other items along those line.

As you can probably tell by my review, if you love Risk then I highly recommend picking up and playing Risk Legacy.