It’s amazing what you can get away with getting rid of these days.
Recently, Jennifer and I discussed discarding services at the house. After some discussion, we decided it was time to get rid of two home “mainstays” that we realized we no longer needed anymore: our land line phone, and our cable TV service.
Getting rid of the land line was a no-brainer. Essentially, we only used the number as a spam trap, and the only people who would call us on that number (other than solicitors) were Jennifer’s parents. It also helped that our cordless phone system had support for two cell phones via Bluetooth, so we could make and answer calls while our cell phones were in their normal charging locations. Since canceling the land line, we almost literally have not noticed a single difference outside of our phones not ringing that often anymore. :-)
Getting rid of our cable TV service, on the other hand, required a little research beforehand. We had to make sure that we could access all of our shows through other methods. Fortunately, most of the shows we watch are available on Hulu. Other than those, the main shows Jennifer and I watch that would not be available on Hulu right away are Doctor Who, Star Wars Rebels, The Big Bang Theory, Elementary, and those shows on the Food Network. We decided that we could wait a season on The Big Bang Theory and Elementary, and catch them when the archives hit Hulu or Netflix. Doctor Who and Star Wars Rebels are both available to purchase on Amazon Instant. Food Network shows appear to be completely unavailable, but for me at least, I can go without them.
In the end, we replaced cable TV service with over-the-air, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Instant. Fortunately, our home theater receiver in the living room already supports all three apps. The only hardware I ended up purchasing was an HD antenna for the living room to receive over-the-air broadcasts, and a Roku 1 for the bedroom TV in order to watch the streaming services. It’s only been a couple of days, but I honestly can’t say we’re missing the cable TV at all. In fact, the thing I miss most is the clock that was on the front of the DVR. :-)
All in all, we’re happy with our decision. There was no point in paying for a land line that we didn’t need at all, and Hulu and Amazon Instant are much cheaper than cable TV service. That might change later down the road, but for now, I think we made the right choice. :-)
This past weekend, we had a first with Lucas: we took him on his first vacation. :-)
Jennifer and I decided VERY early on that we wanted to get him used to travel, so that when it came time for us to go on very long trips, he would be ready for it. We wanted to do something easy for the first vacation, though. Normally in the summer, we do a two or three day trip to Corpus Christi with Jennifer’s parents and have some quality beach time. However, we felt it would be easier if we went somewhere close in case Lucas wasn’t ready for it or had problems. Moreover, as a contractor, I don’t get paid if I don’t work, so I can’t afford to take extra days off.
In the end, we all decided to stay at Moody Gardens in Galveston overnight.
We actually started the weekend at our favorite hole in the wall place in Galveston, Shrimp ‘N Stuff, for lunch. As always, the food was excellent, and Lucas was as good as always. In fact, he was VERY social, smiling and flirting with whoever he happened to make eye contact with. Afterwards, we went straight to the Moody Gardens hotel, where we managed to check in early and get rooms next to one another (we had booked separately). Once we had gotten into our rooms, we unpacked, changed, and made our way down to the pool.
Speaking of unpacking, I’m going to digress for a minute. Several months back, Jennifer and I went to an event at Baby’s 1st Furniture called “Gearapalooza”, where we got to see demos of baby gear from several different manufacturers. While we had wanted to win a stroller or car seat as a door prize, we ended up winning a Nuna SENA mini travel crib and play yard. In retrospect, we’re VERY happy we got it, because it worked perfectly for Lucas while we were in Galveston. He slept very soundly in it, and it was extremely easy to set up and pack up. It’s a keeper for future trips.
The pool at the Moody Gardens hotel was great. It wasn’t crowded, the water was cold and clean, and best of all it had a swim-up bar. Even better, the hotel could have skimped on the drink quality, but they were well made; my frozen margaritas in particular were very refreshing. We spent the afternoon relaxing in the sun and taking turns dipping in the pool while Lucas slept. After a while, we left to go back to our rooms to rest in the air conditioning and decide what to do next. We briefly considered visiting the rainforest pyramid (the aquarium one was closed for renovations), but chose not to as Lucas isn’t old enough to truly appreciate the pyramids. Instead, we decided that seeing as the pool was such a success, we would go back there. This time, it was even nicer as the sun was setting and so it wasn’t as oppressively hot. After a couple of hours at the pool, we went inside to the casual restaurant (with a quick stop to change into regular clothes) to have a nice dinner.
The next morning, we had breakfast at the casual restaurant, and then decided to make our way to Moody Gardens’s “Palm Beach” area, which was the resort’s official waterpark. That part was the only real disappointment of the trip, because the waterpark is small, doesn’t have that much to do (especially with a baby), and it was crowded as all hell. It also seemed to be a fraction of the size of Schlitterbahn, which was literally right across the street. I personally tried to get on the lazy river, and found that I couldn’t comfortably fit in one of the inner tubes. After a half-hour or so there, we gave up. Frankly, we were glad the room cost covered the price of admission, or else we would have felt ripped off as well as disappointed.
We returned to the hotel’s pool, and spent a couple of hours there having drinks and lunch from the swim-up bar. To us, the hotel pool was far superior to the waterpark, if only because of the fact that it was much less crowded (because only hotel guests could get in). Now we know for future trips…
This time, we decided we wanted to bring Lucas into the pool for his very first pool experience. Admittedly, we didn’t know how he would react to it, but he rather enjoyed it. He didn’t fuss or complain, and even seemed to like the cold water. Of course, it helped that the sun was behind the hotel so it wasn’t as bright and hot as it could have been. After he had been in the water with us for a while, we went ahead and took him back to our table (strategically positioned to have plenty of shade) so he could rest and have his lunch. :-)
Once we were finished with the pool, Jennifer and I decided to take Lucas back home, so that we could get him back into his usual routine. The drive home was uneventful, with Lucas sleeping most of the way.
All in all, it was a great little vacation, with the only bumps being those that would have happened whether or not Lucas was there. We’re now confident he can handle a proper trip, and we’re already looking forward to our next one. :-)
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.
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.
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.
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. :-)
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.
I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been trying to decide which way to go this gaming generation, when it comes to the platform. I had been looking at Playstation 4, Xbox One, and even some variation of PC. In the end, I finally made a choice.
For my birthday, Jennifer got me a Playstation 4.
While I have an Xbox 360, I’ve never been a purely Xbox person. It was my console choice of the last generation simply because it had more games that I wanted to play, like Gears of War. The generation before that, I started with a Nintendo GameCube (because of Metroid Prime), then ended up purchasing a Playstation 2 when Mortal Kombat: Deception wasn’t announced for GameCube. This generation, I didn’t see anything that was exclusive for Xbox One that grabbed my interest, while at least one game for Playstation 4 (Mo Man’s Sky) caught my eye. In the end, I went with the system that interested me most.
I admit, I had considered going PC-only this time around. The issue I mainly had was the cost, as all of the research I did towards upgrading my desktop PC for recent games showed that I would likely end up spending more than I would if I were buying a new console. Not only that, the machine would not last as long as a console would; my desktop PC’s memory, CPU, and motherboard were last upgraded in 2010, while I had my Xbox 360 since 2006 or so. Also, if I wanted to play on my TV, I would need to either put together a small Steam Machine to connect to the TV so I could stream my gameplay or connect the PC directly to the TV via an extra-long HDMI cable.
In the end, I decided it was easier to just go console-only for gaming. I’m not even going to bother making my current PC gaming-worthy anymore; if anything happens to it, I’ll likely just replace it with my laptop and be done with it.
As for games, I only had one game I really wanted to get: Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor. However, when we went to purchase the console, we were offered the limited edition console with Destiny included. I had heard of Destiny, of course, but hadn’t had much interest in it. However, as it was a Bungie game and I had enjoyed their Halo games, I decided to go ahead and give it a shot.
As it turned out, I’m actually enjoying Destiny more than Shadow of Mordor. In fact, it’s the first MMO I’ve gotten into since EverQuest, even if I haven’t being doing any raiding or much multiplayer. It’s fun for some casual gameplay, especially when I just want to blow off some steam in a FPS. That’s not to say Shadow of Mordor isn’t fun, too; it plays very much like a Batman: Arkham game set in Middle-Earth. If anything, the only thing I don’t like about Shadow of Mordor so far is the fact that there are several orc chieftains who’ve kicked my ass enough times that trying to fight them usually ends up with me getting killed AGAIN pretty quickly… and they love to show up when I’m busy doing missions to cause me grief. :-)
Since getting those two, my friend Josh also got me a game called Transistor. It’s a nice little action RPG that takes place in a bit of a cyberpunk world. It’s not the sort of game I would have purchased on my own, but after a few nights of playtime, I’m really enjoying it.
Right now, there are only two upcoming games that I’m waiting on: Mortal Kombat X and Batman: Arkham Knight. I’m sure there are others coming that I’ll want to get, but I’ll take those as they come.
It’s nice finally getting up to speed with the current generation of gaming. In a sense, it’s sad that I’m more or less leaving PC gaming behind, but then again that sadness is due to nostalgia more than anything else. It’ll mean less money out of my wallet for hardware, and it wasn’t as if I play very much on my PC these days anyway. It’s for the best, and when all is said and done, I’ll be able to play the games I want. :-)
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. :-)
On Saturday night, I was having dinner with my friend George, and he made an observation that I had developed a habit of “dogging” on the north side of town.
I have to admit that he’s kind of right. Since moving from Spring (in the far north side of the Houston area) to Pearland (located on the south side of the Houston area) four and a half years ago, I’ve been coming to Spring far less and been more critical of the area. However, it’s kind of justified.
Since I’ve left (and probably even before I moved), the area has gone seriously downhill. For example, I can remember seeing at least three news reports of serious crimes (including armed robberies) happening at the intersection by my parents’ house. There’s a Denny’s that we used to go to after late night World of Darkness sessions that has been robbed at least three times in the past year. There was a mass murder that made global headlines in a neighborhood near where I grew up, that I would pass through every so often to go to the movies. I’ve been hearing about security issues in my parents’ neighborhood, as well, including burglaries in broad daylight. It’s just not going so well.
The area has moved on, as well. The aforementioned intersection has turned into something of a ghost town, with two of the three strip centers having become more or less empty. Old familiar faces like Strack Farms have since gone out of business. It’s not the area I grew up with anymore.
However, the most telling (if a tad petty) sign for me is what I noticed Sunday morning. I was preparing to leave my parents’ house to make my way back to Pearland, when I noticed someone had stolen the two Doctor Who magnets from the back of my car. These magnets had stayed on the car when I’ve been all over Houston, yet it wasn’t until I spent the night in Spring that they disappeared off of my car.
So, yeah, I am critical of the Spring area of town now, especially after moving down to Pearland. Then again, it’s not the area I grew up in. It’s become much more urban than rural as the Houston area has expanded, and as a result the area has gone really downhill. I worry for my parents and friends that are still there, but aside from them… I don’t miss living there.
For all of its expansion, Pearland leaves a few things to be desired. One of the big problems we have has to do with restaurants. While there are some VERY good local options like Center Court Pizza and Killen’s BBQ, most of the restaurants around here are chain restaurants. Chains have their place, but for the most part they tend to be disappointing compared to local places. In particular, the only Italian places around here used to be Olive Garden and Carino’s; Olive Garden tends to be disappointing pre-made microwaved Italian, and Carino’s quality and taste makes Olive Garden seem fresh and appealing.
Needless to say, we’ve been jonesing for a decent Italian place. Fortunately, a new place has opened to fill the void.
This new place is called Grazia Italian Kitchen, and it recently opened where Jake’s Grill used to sit. As Jake’s was a typical southern low-end grill with wood tables and benches, a walk-up counter to order, and TVs everywhere, we were surprised at how different it looked now, with a bar installed, a private room, the benches removed, decent tables and seats, and even a wood-fired pizza oven. The service was very good, with a friendly wait staff, and timely food delivery.
As for the food… yum. The bread was fresh and came with an herb-infused olive oil to dip it in that was excellent. We ordered calamari for an appetizer, and while calamari has a danger of coming out rubbery (especially in chain restaurants), this was extremely well done and had a flavorful breading. When it came to our entrees, Jennifer ordered the chicken marsala, and was marveling at how good the included fettucine alfredo was. The chicken itself was tender and the sauce tasty. I personally had the chicken parmigiana, and it also was very tender and full of flavor. In particular, it was obvious how they used fresh ingredients; the tomato sauces for the calamari and my chicken parm in particular were very obviously made in house and were delicious.
If anything, Jennifer and I compared it to Romano’s Macaroni Grill. This is a compliment, as it is by far our favorite of the chain Italian restaurants. It has the added advantage of being a local place, and we prefer to give our business to local places.
If I had any worry, it would be the location. While we liked Jake’s, it was always struggling for business, to the point where when it finally closed we were disappointed but not surprised. The restaurant, while at the end of the strip center, is tucked away in a corner and it can be difficult to see, especially with a stand-alone emergency room standing in front of it. On the other hand, Grazia doesn’t seem to be hurting for business; Jennifer has been there before me and said she had to wait a half-hour for a table. It also helps that while Jake’s was in a saturated market (burger/grill places are a dime a dozen), Grazia is the only locally-owned proper Italian place in our part of Pearland.
It’s nice to now have a decent Italian place to go to, where we don’t have to go into the city and either pay out the nose for an expensive Italian place or go to Romano’s. We’re hoping it sticks around for a while, so that when we have a taste for some Italian food, we can indulge it with quality food and not have to drive far for it.