Random musings, part V…

They’ll be friends, eventually.

One of our three cats, Bennett, is definitely the bully of the group. He really loves to play, but his idea of roughhousing angers and terrifies both Sasha and Sophie, so it’s not uncommon for us to hear the two girls running around with him in pursuit, or simply hear them complain when he’s in their presence.

As Bennett is so rambunctious, when Lucas was born I commented to Jennifer on more than one occasion, “He’s just met his best friend. He just doesn’t know it yet.”

Over a year later, they’re well on the way. Whenever Lucas is playing in the living room, Bennett goes out of his way to try and get Lucas’s attention, rubbing against him and the like. When Lucas sees Bennett, he automatically goes over to him to interact with him.

The only problem right now (and the reason I use the word “interact”) is that as Lucas is so young and Bennett has no experience with kids, they’re not entirely sure how to properly interact with each other. Lucas doesn’t know how to be gentle with Bennett, so sometimes tails are pulled. Bennett, for his part, loses patience quickly. It’s a shame, really, because I can tell they WANT to be friends but they simply don’t know how yet.

It’s one of those things we’ll have to give them time and guidance on. I still believe they’ll be close friends one day. :-)

Release the creamy kraken!

Recently Blue Bell released a new flavor called Cookie Two-Step. We’ve agreed that it’s become our new favorite. Last night, Jennifer shared her theory regarding its existence.

“They created it years ago. However, they left it on the shelf because they could make more money selling the two flavors: Oreos and cookie dough. However, since they had those health and safety problems and have an image problem now, they had no choice but to release the awesome.”

It definitely makes sense to me. :-)

Toy gamepads should be a thing.

On the rare occasion that Lucas actually manages to make it into my office, usually the first thing he makes a beeline for are the DualShock 4 controllers for my Playstation 4. He absolutely loves carrying them around and playing with them. Normally I wouldn’t mind, but most of the time “playing with them” involves putting them in his mouth, so that’s a no-go.

My first instinct was to go onto Amazon and purchase a toy gamepad for toddlers. After all, one would think that would be something the toy companies would sell, right? My son can’t be the only one who likes them.

As it turns out, they don’t actually exist.

In the end, I decided on a compromise. Rather than give him an old controller with the cable cut (and thus expose him to the wires) or an actual controller I might be using (like a 360 gamepad or DualShock 4 controller), I pulled my old Wavebird out of a drawer and gave it to him. After all, I rarely use my GameCube these days, and when I do the wired gamepads work just fine for me. For his part, Lucas loves playing with it and it’s become a mainstay in the living room toy collection and almost always comes with us in his diaper bag when we go out.

I just think the toddler toy manufacturers are missing a potential lucrative toy line. :-)

Transitioning from player to (dungeon) master…

Recently I got to experience Dungeons and Dragons from the other side, so to speak.

A few friends and I have a group that meets every month or two to play D&D. We started in earnest once 5th edition came out, and our friend George acted as dungeon master,  putting us through the introductory adventure Lost Mine of Phandelver. It was pretty fun, especially since I’ve learned that my best character class is a cleric (namely, the party healer).

As we played, though, I started thinking about maybe running an adventure myself. I was pretty hesitant at first, considering the last time I ran an adventure myself was for the old World of Darkness system, and it was twenty years ago. (Christ, has it been that long?) That adventure turned out to be an out-and-out disaster, as I hadn’t planned it very well and wasn’t willing to let the players make their own decisions. After that negative experience, I wasn’t sure I could do it again. There was also the small issue of not having enough time to create a campaign of my own.

What made me firmly decide to go ahead and give it a try was that Wizards of the Coast announced that they were releasing a new updated version of the classic Ravenloft module called Curse of Strahd. Before I had gotten into D&D in earnest, the Ravenloft campaign setting had interested me the most, and it was also the setting I was most familiar with. So, I went ahead and purchased the three core rule books (Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master’s Guide) and the Curse of Strahd campaign rulebook. After studying all four as best I could, I felt I was about as ready as I could be.

We started the campaign two weeks ago. I don’t think I was as ready as I could have been.

My biggest issue was that I hadn’t studied the campaign rulebook as well as I thought I had, so there were a few times where I had to request do-overs because I had missed something. Thankfully, everyone was patient with me while I went through those learning curves.

To my credit, I was better about giving my players free rein where needed. I also tried to act out the characters as best I could. As my group is less about “role playing” and more about “hack, slash, get loot”, I had to remind them that Curse of Strahd is a fairly story-intensive campaign and that I would be taking character role playing somewhat seriously (which they all agreed to).

One of my main challenges was that our group’s schedule is rather hectic. While we started at around 2 or so, two of our group didn’t arrive until after 5. In addition, another member had to leave unexpectedly at 4. As a result, I had players who were playing multiple characters and had to adapt to the changing player group. As I don’t handle those kind of changes that well, I felt I kept things under control.

I also realized too late that I didn’t have anything to map out encounters, locations, and combat. To my relief, George lent me his dry-erase grid mat and cardboard tokens. I’ll probably hit Montag’s (the local Pearland game store) for something of my own before the next session.

More than anything else, though, I think Jennifer put it best when she observed that I was probably happier as a player figuring out the challenges than as the person actually running the game. It was pretty difficult for me to keep the player side of me quiet sometimes, and let the players figure out where they needed to go as opposed to me simply telling them. On the other hand, it was nice seeing the players figure out where to go and what to do without me explicitly needing to tell them.

All in all, though, I think it worked out well. Like I said, I need to beef up on the particulars before the game days and I need a mapping system of my own as opposed to borrowing George’s. Still, while I would rather be a player, I think I’ve learned and matured enough to be a capable DM. I’ve even considered running online campaigns for those friends of mine who don’t live in the Houston area.

We’ll see if they survive the Curse of Strahd campaign, but for now, I’m happy that I was up to the challenge of running it.

The current state of our media entertainment…

As I noted six months ago, we decided to save some money by getting rid of our cable TV service.

It was a bit of a difficult decision at the time, considering how much we used the TV for background noise and how often we used our Comcast-provided DVR. However, at this point, we don’t regret getting rid of it.

One of the biggest changes we’ve made since to our setup since we got rid of the cable service was to get a Roku Streaming Stick for the living room home theater. We were very impressed with how well the Roku 1 worked on our bedroom TV; on the other hand, the installed apps on our Samsung home theater receiver were terrible. Getting the Streaming Stick solved that problem, and now the streaming services work just as well in the living room as they do in the bedroom.

Of course, apps like Hulu replaced the Comcast DVR. On the other hand, we tended to use channels like Food Network, HGTV, and Travel Channel as background noise, especially on weekends. While the broadcast networks had some similar channels, we really missed having those networks. That was solved the other day, when we learned about Sling TV, which provided all the channels we were missing for $20/month. As we rarely (if ever) DVRed those channels, it was a good deal considering how much we had been paying for cable TV service before. We’re on day three of our seven day trial, and we’ve already decided to continue the service.

If there’s been one problem, it’s been the fact that our home theater receiver has a major design flaw that caused both the volume down and eject buttons on the front panel to malfunction badly. After Geek Squad basically declared it unrepairable, I managed to take it apart and figure out a) what the problem was, and b) how to fix the issue. The receiver is working fine now with no issues. I may do a blog post later detailing what I did.

All in all, we’re pretty happy right now with our TV service. When it comes to movies, though, it’s not been as good.

To be honest, there hasn’t been all that much we’ve wanted to go out and see. It doesn’t help, either, that we have to make arrangements for Lucas if we want to go to see a movie in a theater. The last two movies we’ve seen in theaters have been Deadpool and Captain America: Civil War, and unfortunately, we didn’t like either one. While I wanted to see Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, I knew Jennifer didn’t want to see it, so I’m waiting for it to become available to rent via Amazon Instant Video. Star Trek Beyond should be out soon, but I’m not sure yet whether we’ll see that at a theater or whether we’ll wait for it to hit home video.

Of course, considering we have a decent TV and sound system, about the only kind of theater it’s worth going out to see a movie at is a dinner-and-a-movie place, and for us that’s Studio Movie Grill, considering they have locations near our house and near Jennifer’s parents’ house. The food is decent, the ticket prices are reasonable (compared to places like AMC and Cinemark), and they have low tolerance for people acting up during movies.

In the end, we’re pretty happy with how things have ended up, six months down the road. With the addition of Sling TV, the one thing that caused us to miss cable TV has been taken care of. We don’t get to see as many movies as we used to, but we’re adapting there as best we can. I think we’re doing well, and we definitely made the right decision as far as cable TV goes.

Adjusting to being a gamer geek dad…

(Yes, it’s been several months since I last posted. I can’t guarantee it won’t be several more before I do so again. ;-) )
It’s nearly 8:30 PM on a Wednesday night. It’s quiet in the house, as Lucas has had his last bottle of the day and has crashed out in Jennifer’s arms. Fairly soon, I’ll be putting him in bed.

The newest version of DOOM was released last weekend, and my copy arrived on Monday. One would think that it would be a perfect time for me to get some gaming in while he’s sleeping, especially as I almost always play with a headset.

Nope, not going to happen.

It’s definitely been a major adjustment. Now that Lucas is asleep, it’s time for me to prep his stuff for tomorrow, and then go to bed. I’m honestly too tired to do anything else, especially as my normal wake-up time on a weekday is 5:30 AM.

I think Jennifer put it best yesterday: I have to adjust to being a gamer geek dad, as opposed to being just a gamer geek. I can still play, of course, but I have to do so in accordance to Lucas’s needs and schedule. It’s taken a while to sink in, because I would hear about new games that I want to play, and I get disappointed that I don’t get to play them right off the bat.

My best plan so far is to adapt how I am handling my computing time now to the new gaming schedule. On weeknights, my gaming will most likely be limited to what I can play on my iPad and iPhone. This isn’t a bad thing, as there are plenty of quick casual games I can play on my iDevices. Talisman: The Horus Heresy was just released, for example, and anyone who knows me knows I love to play Talisman. In addition, The Pinball Arcade is always good for some quick fun, as two of my three favorite tables (Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Judge Dredd) are already out for the platform, and the third favorite (Doctor Who) will be out by the end of the year. I’m even considering reinstalling Mortal Kombat X, and not letting myself get too angry at the character Challenge Towers (or avoiding them entirely).

On weekends, once Lucas is asleep or otherwise occupied by Jennifer, I can spend time playing games on my PlayStation 4. As I mentioned earlier, DOOM was released last weekend, so that should take up some of my time. In addition, Blizzard’s new shooter, Overwatch, will be out next week. I’m not usually for multiplayer games (even if I love playing Destiny) but Overwatch impressed the hell out of me.

In any event, it’s taking some getting used to. I may not game like I used to, but I think that with this new schedule, I can strike a happy balance where I can be a dad and still get in my gaming time. :-)

Paying respect to the video gaming roots…

I have some new “art” on my home office wall. :-)

As one might imagine, in the weeks leading up to Lucas’s arrival in the world, Jennifer and I were making space in our house. His nursery was originally our spare bedroom, and we had been using its closet as a storage location. Needless to say, we needed to consolidate our storage, especially as the closet would now be needed for his stuff. Some of the containers from the nursery closet needed to be moved into my office closet.

In order to make space, I decided it was time to get rid of some of my classic video game library. In particular, I chose to get rid of almost all of my old Atari 2600 and ColecoVision cartridges, as I no longer had working hardware to play those games. I kept the NES and SNES cartridges, as not only do I have (presumably) working consoles for them, there are modern consoles available that are able to play those cartridges via emulation. In the end, I took a few bags full of cartridges to Game Over Videogames off the Southwest Freeway, and sold them for a nice bit of store credit.

Of the collection, I ended up keeping two Atari 2600 cartridges. One was my copy of Space Invaders, as it was the very first home video game I had ever owned. The other was Defender, and it was saved because it had somehow managed to escape its bag while I was taking the lot to be sold. :-)

Of course, I didn’t exactly know what I was going to do with the cartridges once I had saved them. It was Jennifer who came up with the idea of putting them in shadowboxes, so that I could display them on the wall of my office. We found decent shadowboxes at Michael’s, and she eventually came up with a good method of mounting the cartridges into them. Once that was done, they ended up sitting on my desk for lack of a place on my wall to hang them. :-)

A few days ago, I ended up moving a print off my office wall to replace a print that had been moved out of our bedroom, which left space on my wall for the shadowboxes. I mounted them last night; I think they ended up looking pretty good.

The displayed Atari 2600 cartridges.
The displayed Atari 2600 cartridges.

Granted, one can’t tell that the Space Invaders cartridge is actually Space Invaders. The cartridge is a Sears Tele-Games rebrand, which my parents had bought for me along with a Sears Tele-Games rebranded Atari 2600 for my seventh birthday. As much as I wish they had the original game artwork like the original Atari cartridges did, they instead looked kind of generic. I briefly considered buying an actual Atari cartridge and displaying that instead, but I decided that I wanted to reflect what I actually started with.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with how things turned out. The cartridges were almost never certainly going to be played again, but now instead of taking up space in a closet, they’re on display where they can be appreciated. It’s nice that they’re getting a new lease on life, and are useful once again. :-)

After four years, I’m moving on.

I admit to some nervousness.

After nearly four and a half years at KEMTRON Technologies (now Elgin Separation Solutions), I’ve moved on to new employment. I start work today as a long term contractor for a Fortune 50 company.

This new job is going to be quite a change for me. This will be, by far, the largest company I’ve ever worked for. Up until now, I’ve been either an IT department of one, or part of small group. I’ll be one cog in a big department now. Also, where my focus at KEMTRON/Elgin was on a Windows environment, my OS focus here will be Linux.

The real nice thing about this job, though, is that I will no longer be on-call after hours. Getting calls from security and monitoring vendors during my time off gets really old after a while, though I accepted them as part of my job responsibilities. For the first time in many years, my free time will belong entirely to me and my family.

I’m really looking forward to this opportunity, as in the end it was something I could not pass up. While I was sad to leave KEMTRON/Elgin, I know this was the right move for me.

Let’s see how it goes. :-)

Player Three has entered the game.

I’ve pretty much let my site rot for the past couple of months. There is, however, a good reason for that.

I’m now a father.

Introducing Lucas!
Introducing Lucas!

My son Lucas was born on April 15th. As of this blog post he’s nearly eight weeks old, and I have to say life is a lot different with him.

The thing is, though, I was expecting fatherhood to be far more frustrating and draining. It helps that Lucas is so laid back; he almost never cries unless there’s something actually wrong, like if he’s hungry, has a dirty diaper, etc. In fact, our nickname for him is “Zen Baby”. I’ve also adapted to the new chores extremely well. For example, changing his diaper (something I was particularly worried about) is pretty easy, to the point where my father once commented about how quick and efficient I am at it. I’m also the go-to when it comes to burping him. I’m not sure why, but Jennifer and her parents seem to think that I get burps out of him faster than they do.

Jennifer has been a trouper throughout the whole thing, staying up with him and getting up during the night whenever he needs feeding. I usually take the early morning/breakfast and evening shifts, which allows her to take a break. I rather enjoy spending the time with Lucas, especially now that I’ve figured out what his different cries mean. I’ve even been able to take him for a while and anticipate his needs so that he doesn’t even need to cry.

About the only “bad”, so to speak, has been how it’s affected our leisure time. Whereas before Jennifer and I had a great deal of freedom and could do whatever we wanted within reason in our spare time, we now have to take him into account. To give a particular example: one would imagine I’d have been playing Mortal Kombat X non-stop since the game came out. Instead, if anything, I’ve played the mobile version more. It’s easier to play on the tablet when I’m keeping an eye on the wee one. However, compared to how much fun we’ve been having with him, we’re pretty okay with that change. We have been able to get out on occasion, thanks to the fact that Jennifer’s parents relish the chance to babysit. :-)

This is the beginning of a new journey for me, and while I was scared before, I’m really looking forward to showing Lucas the world. I’m also looking forward to showing him my interests (Doctor Who, Star Trek, Star Wars, Transformers), and watching him discover his own. It’s a change in my life, and one I’m looking forward to as the years progress.

Preparing for mobile Kombat…

I admit to some surprise.

A couple of months ago, NetherRealm Studios released a new mobile fighting game called WWE Immortals, which is a “card-based” fighting game similar to the mobile version of Injustice: Gods Among Us. With the release of WWE Immortals coming so close to the release of Mortal Kombat X for consoles and PC, I took that to mean that we wouldn’t be seeing a mobile version of the newest MK.

It turns out I was wrong. Yesterday, NRS announced that they were releasing a mobile version of Mortal Kombat X.

On one hand, I’m really looking forward to this game. I haven’t owned a dedicated portable gaming console since the Game Boy Advance, so the most “recent” (as opposed to a port of an older game) Mortal Kombat I’ve had in a portable format was Mortal Kombat: Tournament Edition, which was a companion release to Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance for GBA. It’ll be nice to be able to play MK on my phone and my tablet, which have essentially become my portable gaming devices in the interim. Mortal Kombat X will apparently have the same kind of gameplay as Injustice, which I found to be fun to play. The gameplay style works well on touchscreens; I had EA’s port of Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 for iPhone, and found that even with the simplified controls it was annoying to play.

On the other hand, Mortal Kombat X is also similar to Injustice in that it’s free-to-play. While I enjoyed playing Injustice on my tablet, I realized relatively quickly that in order to make any large amount of headway in the game, I would have to play either an insane amount of time or buy a lot of credits from the online store. I’d much rather pay a fixed price and have everything available from the get-go. Of course, that’s not going to happen, as free-to-play is much more profitable than a fixed price is. I also worry that the game may not run properly on the iPhone 5c I use; I’ve already encountered one recent game that won’t run on it (Vainglory).

In any event, I’ll still definitely pick it up when it becomes available. Even if it doesn’t run on my phone, it’ll run on my tablet. The free-to-play portion will annoy me, but if the game is fun enough I can deal with that. Either way, it’ll be nice to have a recent MK game that’s portable and plays well. :-)

I have attended my first PAX.

The inaugural PAX South was this past weekend.

Jennifer and I had talked in the past about going to a PAX, though nothing ever came of it. This time, though, it made sense for us to go as San Antonio was only a couple of hundred miles away. We decided to attend Saturday only, as we weren’t sure we were going to like the show and we didn’t have enough accrued time off at our jobs to justify going the entire weekend.

I should point out before I go any further that Jennifer earned herself 40 million wife points that day. Originally our plan was that she would only be at the show for about a couple of hours in the morning, and then go out shopping at San Marcos for baby stuff. Instead, she stayed the entire day with me, helping to keep me grounded and encouraging me to go see things I probably would not have normally. It’s especially impressive when you consider she’s seven months pregnant. I was really thankful she stayed as long as she did.

So, how was the show, you might ask? In short, it was better than I expected, if a little different.
Read more “I have attended my first PAX.”

D’Arque Bishop: The Next Generation

Jennifer and I are proud (nay, ecstatic) to make an announcement. We’re going to become parents. :-)


Our son will be making his debut come April. Both mother and son are in good health.

While we’re excited and looking forward to the life of being parents, it’s also understandable we’re a little terrified. Still, I’m looking forward to introducing my son to the things I like, like video games, Star Trek, Doctor Who, and others.

We’re both thankful for the love and support of our family and friends, and can’t wait for them to meet the new arrival. Until then, we’re just going to prepare as best we can. :-)