Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Again, I express my amazement.

My homebrew refill kit arrived today, and I've just finished the actual work part of brewing. All I have to do no is leave it alone for three weeks to a month before bottling it and leaving it to condition.

Again, I have to express my amazement at the fact that brewing alcoholic beverages even exists.

Let me compare brewing to something I have a little bit of talent in, namely cooking.

You see, cooking is easy it's simply a matter of tasting something and deciding what will work well with it.

So you open the fridge and find, say, a few pieces of chicken. Well, chicken is easy. Chicken is to cooking what a blank canvas is to painting. So you think 'Hmmm, mushrooms go well with chicken!" So you open the cupboard and find a can of mushroom soup. You brown the chicken in a pan and cover it with the soup.

It tastes good but not great. Chicken and mushrooms are a little bland, so you add something a little salty. I know! Bacon! So you fry up some bacon and crumble it on top. Maybe a pinch of freshly ground black pepper as well. A pinch of garlic powder...and if you want to get fancy, maybe a light dash of oregano and a hint of basil.

My point is, you start with something edible, and keep improving it...and you know if you've gone wrong. In cooking I've never experienced getting halfway through a recipe, it looking and tasting like freshly burnt ass-hair, and thinking 'Ah, I'm getting this just right!"

If something you're cooking tastes bad, you may be able to rescue it, but it's because it's gone wrong.

Brewing isn't like that at all. It's not even drinkable until it's done. Considering the only way to go from 'smelly brown liquid' to 'crisp, refreshing beverage' is to put it in a sealed container in a dark, warm room for about a do you know if you've gone wrong?

The recipe I got today was for Caramel Apple Cider. Here's how it went.

After sterilizing everything, I got to work boiling some distilled water.

The first part of the recipe called for a teaspoon or pumpkin pie spice and two cups of light brown sugar. I added this to the water and smell was amazing. Even Sunny who was on her way to work stopped by the kitchen and said "Damn, it smells good in here! I want some PIE dammit!"

Considering the recipe described the actual drink as 'apple pie in a glass', I knew I was on the right track.

Next I had to add the can of cider mix and the 'Unhopped Malt Extract'.

(For the curious, hopped malt extract adds the flavor of hops to the beer as well as 'fermentables'...the complex sugars that get turned to alcohol by the yeast. An 'unhopped' malt extract adds those sugars, gives the brew a nice color, but doesn't really add any flavor. Long story short, it adds strength and color.)

This is where everything seemed to go wrong.

The cider mix wasn't too bad. Imagine leaving a bag of apples outside in hot weather for a week. Basically, it had a very sickly, cloying smell, but wasn't completely unpleasant. I put this in with the water, spice and brown sugar...and just like last time, it started to look a bit like pureed sewage.

Then I opened the UME. It looked bad, it smelled bad...think 'ass-flavored syrup' and you'll be close.

This went in along with a cup of plain granulated sugar, and what started out looking and smelling like pumpkin pie soup turned into a very thick, gloopy foul-smelling mess.

This is what I'm talking about. If I was just 'experimenting' with a new drink, at that point I'd have thought 'It's all gone wrong' and poured the noxious concoction down the sink. It looks wrong, it smells wrong...and if you could bring yourself to taste it you'd probably say it tastes wrong.

Instead, that's exactly what it's supposed to be like at this stage.

If my experience with Mr. Beer is as good as last time, in 5-6 weeks I'll have a delicious apple cider with a hint of caramel and spices.

All those yeast cells must be wearing red capes and have a big yellow 'S' on their chests.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

It's not big and it's not clever.

It’s impossible to watch an episode of ‘America’s Funniest Home Videos’ or any kind of ‘funny’ home video show without seeing at least two clips of people getting drunk, dancing on a table and falling off.

As an ex-bartender who often had to call the ambulance and clean up the mess, let me give everyone this advice:

Don’t bloody do it. It’s not big, it’s not clever and you look like a tool. It’s also really fucking annoying for the employees of the establishment you’re dancing at.

I know the girls from Coyote Ugly do it and manage to look all hot, but the main difference is they each weigh about 90lbs soaking wet, and sober and have a lot of dance training, meaning their balance is excellent.

Oh, and the biggest difference? They;re dancing on a solid wood bar. That’s ‘solid wood’…not ‘cheap trestle table’.

Let me explain something:

The average function room table is made from compressed wood chips and sawdust, with an extremely thin plastic veneer on top. That’s what you’re dancing on. Sawdust and woodchips held together with low quality glue. Oh, and hollow aluminium legs and supports, designed to hold up to a few drinks and plates of food, not a full grown adult who is putting even more stress on the table by dancing around.

I can’t stress this enough. After yet another drunken idiot face planted at my old job, I saw one of the bar maids (a 4”9 90lb girl named Lisa) pick up what was left of the top, and nonchalantly snap it in half over her knee so it would fit in the dumpster.

Ok, first of all, I don’t even understand the attraction of dancing on a table unless there are people pushing fifty dollar bills into your underwear. The average reaction from the people who know you is one of embarrassment and mentally checking you off the list of people they’re willing to go drinking with. The ones who are drunk enough to think it’s the height of wit won’t even remember you did it in the morning.

Secondly, you have to question your intelligence when you think the best time to dance on a flimsy table surrounded by drinks glasses is when your equilibrium is so off, you probably can’t even walk on a perfectly level floor to bathroom without falling over.

Thirdly, even if somehow the table manages to stand up to the punishment of you jumping up and down on it, the one thing drunken table dancing is bound to do is attract more drunken idiots who think the only thing that would make your dance funnier is if they danced with you.

There’s a slim chance that one of those tables can support one person for a very limited amount of time. Two or three people? No chance.

So, basically, you fall to the ground, meeting lots of glass and twisted metal on the way down, and the landlord has to order yet another table.

Don’t do it…it pisses me right off.

Having Fun?

It’s been a day.

This morning I awoke to find my missus had already left. I won’t complain about this too much because there’s a chance she actually tried to wake me up and couldn’t. Basically, I was looking forward to spending her birthday with her and going to see Kathy and the new baby for the first time.

Instead I was awoken by Barney standing at the foot of my bed barking. Basically he’d decided he wanted to get up onto the bed (which is a gigantic no-no, he’s lucky I occasionally let him on the furniture to sit on my lap), and because he couldn’t get up that high…he’d decided that if he couldn’t sleep up there, I shouldn’t either.

Well, I got out of bed and I really felt like sitting down and working on my book for an hour or so. I had the house to myself so I thought, why not?

So I turned on the computer, opened up my manuscript…and the six thousand words I’d written the night before were gone. I checked my working copy and my backup and couldn’t find it.

This has happened before and usually I just tell myself I’m going to re-write anyway, but I really couldn’t face another few hours work to get right back to where I was the night before…and I didn’t want to ‘write ahead’ because I’ve found writing out of sequence does not a good story make.

So my writing went out of the window for today, so I consoled myself with a little web-surfing.

About an hour later I hear Barney start to heave and he throws up on the carpet. I clean it up, check him out and he seems to be his usual self, so I just decide to leave him alone but keep and eye on him.

About fifteen minutes later I hear him start to heave again. I look around my desk, call his name to see where he is…then feel something warm and wet hit my feet. Yup, I had Barney puke on my bare feet.

So I walk carefully to the bathroom, start the water running in the tub and clean and dry my feet.

On my way back to the living room I discover that Barney’s left me a ‘little present’ on the carpet. I discover his little brown jewel by standing in it…in my bare feet. Back to the bathroom I go.

Ten minutes and two spotlessly clean feet later, I arrive back in the hallway to clean up the mess. As I scoop it up, the smell hits me full in the face, and feeling queasy already…I just make it to the bathroom in time to throw up.

After all that Sunny arrives home and I wish her a happy birthday and we go out to eat…and the meal was very good and about the only good thing to happen to me today.

After the meal, I arrive home and Sunny hands me a sealed pack of 5 DVD-Rs and asks me to put the video she took of the new baby onto DVD for her and a few of the family. Of course, I agree to, because it should only take a few minutes and it is, after all, her birthday.

So I get in front of the computer again, download the video clips off the camera, convert them to DVD Video files and burn them to a DVD. I put the DVD in the player to check everything came out ok, and seeing the video start with the proper aspect ratio and clear, in-sync sound, I sit back at the computer and burn another copy.

It’s only as I’m burning the second copy that I realize that the DVD in the player has ended far too soon. Out of 14 separate video clips, the last four (the ones of the actual baby) haven’t played. I’ve made a DVD of people waiting for the baby to be born…without any footage of the actual baby.

So the one in the player becomes a coaster, the one currently burning also becomes a coaster and I try and work out what went wrong.

I figure I just missed those last four video files. I wasn’t really paying attention. So I get them off the camera again, making sure I have all 14, convert them to DVD Video files, making sure I have all fourteen, and burn them to the DVD…again making sure all 14 are on there.

I have three blank DVDs left, and I need three so that everyone promised one gets one. I burn the first one and decide to check it out before burning any more.

The last four video clips are missing.

This is the worst kind of computer problem. A messed up aspect ratio I can fix. If the sound’s missing I know there’s probably a codec issue. However, this is one of those cases where everything should work, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t…it just doesn’t.

I decide the best path to follow is to link all the videos into one continuous file before burning. I have two options with which to do it.

Option One is an absolutely ancient copy of Ulead Media Studio. Option Two is a slightly old version of Adobe After Effect, a special effects editing suite that’s pretty much industry standard. The same package they use for TV shows like Stargate, Star Trek and any number of high-end commercials.

You can guess which one I chose.

Unfortunately, even though all I did was drop with videos into the timeline and export them as an AVI file…it took well over five hours to render.

Finally when it was done, I played back the video…

One of the things I forgot is that After Effects does not handle low quality, compressed audio very well. Every few seconds the audio would skip and repeat. I didn’t think anyone would appreciate a video where people where saying things like

“O-oh wha-what a lov-lovely ba-baby.”

Five hours totally wasted.

On the verge of giving up I started Ulead Media Studio. As I started it I remembered why I stopped using it in the first place. It had a tendency to crash randomly. With no other choices I used it anyway.

It did the whole thing perfectly in under ten minutes…which is surprisingly annoying when you could have done that in the first place instead of wasting five hours.

I’ve not actually tried to burn it yet, for the simple reason I don’t have enough DVD-R’s left to make enough…and I decided to quit while I was behind.

How was your day?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Why Can't They All Be Like This?

Regular readers will know I hate advertising in pretty much all forms. If you know that, you also know that I won't mention a product unless I've tried it and thought it was great. If you're new here let me also point out that I'm not getting paid to say any of this.

In other words, I'm not a paid advertiser, I'm just a fan.

I really have to hand it to the folks at Mr.Beer.

You'll remember Mr. Beer from a few weeks back when I experimented with home brewing. I finished the last bottle of my home brew a few days ago and I have to say the system and end product are absolutely outstanding.

I mean, a monkey could make their own Beer with the Mr. Beer system. It's really that easy. As I mentioned in my last posts on this subject my Dad used to brew his own beer, and not only was it messy and complicated, you ended up with something that could be just about classified as 'drinkable' if you were lucky.

The Mr. Beer system took about half an hour, dirtied a single pot...and not counting actual brewing time and bottling, that was about it.

The result was also amazing. I'd put my homebrew up against any beer you can buy in the stores with confidence.

Anyway, I'm writing about this again today, because not only do Mr. Beer make a great product, they also have outstanding customer service.

You see, I went to their website to order a refill kit (This time I'm experimenting with Caramel Apple Cider. Hard cider with brown sugar and pumpkin sounded good and at 7.4%ABV, a hell of a lot more potent that the beer I made).

However, I made a mistake while ordering. I went through and ordered as a 'guest shopper' rather than creating an account. I figured it would be quicker.

It was only after my order went through that I realised that, without an account, I couldn't log in and check the progress off my order or get a tracking number. This is a big deal for me because delivery companies have a hell of a time finding my house.

So I sent an email to their customer support and asked if they could email me a tracking number. Going from my usual experience, I was hoping to get an email back sometimes before UPS tried to deliver, failed and returned to sender.

In less than fifteen minutes I got a reply.

The email told me that they'd set up an account for me, gave me a password so I could log in and track my order...and had even gone so far as to email me the tracking number so I didn't even have to bother logging in.

Now that's service.

Usually I have a really hard time getting things straightened out when the mistake is the seller's, not mine. For them to go to the time and effort to fix a problem that came about because I didn't bother reading the instructions properly is just fantastic.

Most companies I've dealt with over the internet tend to treat their customers like a necessary evil. What's the big deal in losing one customer when there are a million more?

Mr. Beer are incredibly rare in that you actually feel valued as a customer. They do things the right way by making it as easy as possible for you to do business with them.

I would say that a LOT of companies could learn a lot from Mr. Beer. Thanks to their great product and even more because of their outstanding customer service, they've earned a life-long and loyal customer.

That's more than I can say for most online companies I've dealt with.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

It Sucks Balls

A few months ago Sunny was diagnosed with sleep apnea. If you don’t know what that is, it means you stop breathing while you sleep.

Just to keep score, let me put this forward as exhibit A : She goes to the doctor because she snores a lot. He sends her to a sleep specialist who ‘diagnoses’ a disease for which there is no cure, but needs life-long treatment.

So they give her something called a CPAP machine. It sounds all complicated and sophisticated, but I can tell you now that it’s nothing more than a glorified air-pump with a bit of pipe and a mask. The documentation says that ‘This device ensures that a positive pressure is maintained outside the body’. To perform a quick bullshit translation, it pumps air up your nose.

Seriously, I could build one of these things out of an aquarium air pump, two meters of plastic conduit, a dust mask and some duct-tape. I can’t stress this enough, that’s all it is, an air pump that blows air up your nose.

So, over the past few months there was a lot of back and forth with the insurance company, who did the usual insurance company thing of taking your money for years, then refusing to give any of it back. A few weeks ago, we got a notification from the doctor’s office.

This glorified air-pump was going to cost well over $700 a month. We’re talking almost ten grand a year.

Put simply, there’s no possible way we could afford that. Even if we could afford it, I don’t think we’d pay it. It’s just a ludicrous amount. We could rent an 82 inch plasma screen and a make payments on a decent new car for that.

So the doctor suggests applying for a ‘hardship discount’.

It was a winner in the ‘See It Coming A Mile Off’ awards when the supplier said that we were making too much money for a hardship discount. They said we could afford it and didn’t qualify.

All I can say to these people is this : Yes, we can afford it, as long as we don’t plan to eat or live in a house while we’re making payments.

As you can probably guess, we took the thing back this morning.

However, before we did, curiosity got the better of Sunny and she did a quick search on the internet, to see how much it would cost to actually buy this machine.

Ready for this? To buy this machine, brand new, from another company would be a little less than $500.

I was pissed off.

When the thing was available to buy for $500 (which is still way to expensive in my book), Carolina Oxygen, with a straight face, tried to charge us two hundred dollars more than the thing was worth every month for as long as we rent it.

Nice gig if you can pull it off. Buy a new machine, rent it out, make your money back plus 200 dollars the first month, and then pure profit after that…Oh, and if the person does stop paying, you take it back and unload it on some other sucker.

As an immigrant, I don’t have a lot of bad things to say about America, but I’ll say this with confidence:

The medical system in this country sucks balls.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

One Pinch of Fertilizer

Well, this week something rare happened.

I came up with a new idea for a book.

Coming up with a new story idea, in itself, isn’t all that unusual. What’s rare is when a whole story, and not just a concept, suddenly appears in your head and as far as you can tell, it isn’t a story you read earlier that week with the wallpaper changed.

I’ve done that so many times. I invest 50,000 words in a new story, only to put it aside for a while…and when I pick it up and read it through to refresh my memory before continuing, I realize I’ve basically re-written something that’s already out there.

That’s the moment you feel your heart sink. You thought it was good, hell it is good…but the reason it’s good is because it’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ or ‘Harry Potter’…only the main character is female instead of male, the ring has become a necklace and instead of a wand, your protagonist carried a staff instead.

It’s fine to ‘borrow’ from other writers. If people insisted on being totally original, there wouldn’t have been a fantasy story written since ‘Lord of the Rings’…but there’s a difference between ‘comprehensive inspiration’ and flat out plagiarism.

For me, the hardest part is about to begin, and believe it or not, that’s not the actual writing part…it’s knowing when to write it.

Start too soon and you’re left with a story that’s a sketch, rather than a painting. Sure, you re-write anyway, but the idea is the foundation. Those ideas and flashes of inspiration come when the idea only exists in your head, not when the framework is already written down. Before an architect puts pen to paper, that building he’s designing could be anything. Once he starts drawing, he’s going to end up with a variation of what’s on that paper.

Leave your story just long enough, and you discover all the things about the story you didn’t notice at the start.

Leave it too long, and everything starts to get tangled up. That idea you had was awesome, but if you include that, you have to cut out this, which is just as good as the other part…but if you include that, you have to rethink this character, who you thought you had just about perfect.

Leave it way too long, and you either get completely and totally bored of the idea…or brain crack sets in. You realize that this idea is just too perfect to rush, and requires a lot more thought. You have to protect your idea, and putting it down on paper now means you wouldn’t get it just right…and this inevitably becomes the ‘great novel’ that would totally get you to the top of the best seller lists…but will only ever exist inside your head.

Unfortunately, there’s no sure-fire way to get this right.

If anyone knows a way, let me know.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

It's Not Like The Flintstones

There’s an ad currently running on the Discovery Channel for a show called “Dinosaurs : Return to Life?”

In this ad, a scientist guy looks at the camera and says “Why can’t we just take this DNA, change a few things around, and get a T-Rex?”

If I ever meet this guy in real life, I’m going to punch him in the balls and ask him if he’s ever seen Jurassic Park.

I mean, come on…a frigging T-Rex? Why?

You can’t really learn anything from it because they already said they’re going to diddle with its DNA. It’s not like they can look at a genetically modified T-Rex and say “Oh, look! T-Rex’s were actually bright orange and made a sound like an angry, underwater horse!” You know, maybe fucking around with their DNA made them bright orange.

Well, now I come to think about it, they wouldn’t say anything like that if they created a T-Rex… What they would say is: “ARRRRGHHHHH!!!! For the LOVE OF GOD! STOP EATING ME!!!”

Guys, we’re at the top of the food chain. Why change that?

It’s getting to the point where I’m starting to distrust scientists almost as much as the religious crazies. You see, the scientists are thinking “Think of all the things we could learn!”…but the people funding them are thinking “How much would someone pay to see a real, live dinosaur?” and “Do we really need electrified fences? They’re pretty expensive.”

Oh, and the military would be thinking “How hard could it be to train an ‘attack dinosaur’?”

Then, we know how it goes. The scientists, lost in their own little world, sign anything that’s put in front of them if it’ll let them continue their research. Then one day, they realize Disney owns all their research… and then some greedy asshole starts a theme park …and the next thing you know you’re being chased by raptors through a rainforest while Jeff Goldblum terrifies you even more by attempting to act.

It’s the nuclear bomb all over again. Some scientists thought “Wow, with this technology, we could totally generate a ton of electricity. Cheap, safe power for the whole world!” Then someone mentioned that the same technology could also be used to create a weapon of terrible, unimaginable power…and the scientist said “Well, I suppose it could be used as a weapon, but killing millions of people? No one is that crazy! It would end all wars because no-one would dare to use it!”

Then we got the Manhattan Project, followed by Hiroshima.

I hate to be the one to point out the obvious, but the dinosaurs dying out was a good thing. The lack of dinosaurs roaming around the planet is the reason I get to go to the grocery store in a Ford Aspire…rather than an armored car with gatling guns mounted to the roof.

What is it about the human race. If someone discovered a button in a cave somewhere that had “Warning : End of the World Switch, Do Not Touch Under Any Circumstances…I’m Being Serious.” Written on it…the paint of the sign wouldn’t even have the time to dry.

Let’s leave the 40 foot tall, bloodthirsty predators where they belong, k?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Scaling the Wall.

Ok, today’s post is directed to one person in particular, but this post is about one of my many philosophies, so hopefully everyone can find it interesting. To that one person (and I’m sure you know who you are)…I hope this helps a little.

In my experience, there are two types of people in the world. There are risk takers and people who love the status quo.

The first type are the people who will pack up and move across the country in order to take a new job. The second type will turn down a job that pays three times as much, has better benefits and is a lot easier than their current job… because they’d have to move to take it.

The way I see it is that the ‘Status Quo’ group are suffering from a form of ‘Brain Crack’. They’ve convinced themselves that they actually like the crappy job they’re stuck in. That the 20 year old car they’re driving is perfect for them…and that life is a garden of roses.

It’s a lot easier to lie to yourself and convince yourself that you’re happy, when actually taking that risk to go on to something better scares the crap out of you.

I saw a lot of this at my last job. To be absolutely and completely fair, my last job was absolutely f**king terrible. It was extremely difficult, stressful and thankless work that paid less than minimum wage. I’d say 80% of the people who worked there absolutely hated it and didn’t mind admitting it. The other 20% were people for whom that job was literally their life. They couldn’t grasp why anyone wouldn’t love to work there.

These were the people who looked down on me for not working voluntary overtime on the weekend…and got even more aggravated when I pointed out I wasn’t willing to give up my entire weekend for roughly thirty bucks. They always talked about ‘going the extra mile’…but gave you absolutely no incentive or reason to do so.

Long story short, I could have made more money working full-time at McDonalds…and these people couldn’t understand why I wasn’t willing to work a 60 hour week (instead of my contracted 40) for no more money, and didn’t read five inch thick ‘procedure updates’ on my days off.

I actually took part in, and overheard even more, arguments between the two groups. Someone would complain about the low wages, terrible work or idiotic management… and a ‘lifer’ would actually get offended that someone was badmouthing the job. Didn’t they know how great the job security was? How they got more vacation time than a lot of other places?

“It’s a job for life!” Was the most common comeback. They couldn’t understand how anyone could see that as a bad thing. I didn’t care how secure my job was…I hated it. The fact I could keep doing something I hated ‘for life’ didn’t fill me with much enthusiasm.

When I left that job to move to the states, I actually saw a lot of resentment and got more than my fair share of snide comments from those people. Moving to America to marry someone he met on the internet, what an idiot! Who does he think he is? What’s so great about America?

It reminded me of a story told to me by a girl I worked with at another job. She opened a bar in Spain, lived over there, but would come home to England for a few months a year. She told me she got to the point where she just couldn’t stand to be around her English friends because they never changed or broke their routine. She said that one week she’d be in Spain, sunbathing on a speedboat with a glass of champagne in her hand…and the next she’d be at the same pub in England with the same people, doing the same things every time she came home…and every one of her friends telling her that they couldn’t understand why she bothered living in Spain for most of the year…when she had ‘everything she needed’ in England.

The world is very small to these people

At first, I didn’t understand it where all that resentment was coming from. The people I actually worked with and considered friends were actively happy for me. Why did the people I didn’t really mix with, along with my bosses, even care? We were over-staffed anyway and I doubt I’d be missed by them…considering I wasn’t a ‘team player’ (Read : Not a mindless slave who’ll do anything he’s asked, if it’s in his job description or not).

Later on, I understood where that resentment was coming from.

People like that, no matter what they say, actually hate their jobs, they’re not even happy with their lives in general. However, rather than face that and change their lives (which would require a risk), they’ve build themselves a nice comfortable nest made of self-serving lies. Sure, their job sucks, but it’s too late to do anything about it now. They never got the chance to go to college, and it’s way too late to go now. They could look for something better, but what if their new job is worse than this one?

What it comes down to is change absolutely terrifies these people. Taking a risk is absolutely unthinkable.

Pretty much everyone in that job was more than capable of finding something better. However, making that change would mean going out on a limb, removing that safety net and traveling off the edge of the map. They’re afraid to do that, so they make up reasons why change just isn’t possible…until they eventually get to the stage where they convince themselves they’re actually quite happy where they are.

Long story short, there might be somewhere better over that next hill, there probably is…but why take the risk? Where I live isn’t great, but it’s good enough! Hell, in fact, why do I even need those ‘bells and whistles’. Pah! Look at those idiots heading over the hill! There’s probably nothing there! These people don’t know a good thing when they see it!

That’s where the resentment came from.

There’s nothing more offensive to these people than when someone escapes. Seeing someone in your own position go on to something better tears through all those self-serving lies like a hammer through a wet paper bag.

It’s really hard to tell yourself that moving on is impossible when the guy at the next desk is doing just that.

It’s like being stuck in a prison cell, telling yourself you can’t escape…until the day someone checks the cell door and discovers it isn’t even locked.

The only defense left when someone forces you to really look at yourself is to ridicule that person for making a ‘big mistake’. Sure, the cell door’s open, but there’s probably an armed guard just around the corner. Even if there’s not, you have a roof over your head and a couple meals a day in the prison cell…who knows what’s actually out there? It might be better, but it could be much worse.

The situation you’re in might suck, but it’s comfortable and above all safe. Looking for something better requires taking a risk…and that’s something these people just aren’t willing to do.

Long story short, the ‘Status Quo’ people just can’t face the fact that you’ve got the balls to actually do what they’ve wanted to do for years…because it’s easier for them to convince themselves you’re the one making the mistake for going…rather than them making the mistake of staying.

So, the next time someone decided to rag on you and make your life difficult because you’ve got the guts to make a change…just remind yourself they’re acting that way because they’re jealous and afraid, and because you represent what they wish they could be.

The way I looked at it when I moved to America to get married, was that if it all went to hell in a handbasket, I could a least look back on it and know I tried.

For me, it’s far better to regret something you did, than regret something you didn’t do. I’d rather tell myself I tried and it didn’t work out, than spend the rest of my life wondering what could have happened if I’d had the balls to take that chance.

That’s the reason the ‘Status Quo’ type resent risk takers so much. We hold a mirror up to their lives…and they never like what they see.

Monday, February 11, 2008


Well, thanks to our tax refund check, Sunny and I had a little spare cash this week.

So I bought myself a real, honest to God, rifle rest. I’d been having a little trouble ‘sighting in’ my rifle with the new scope I got a few weeks ago, and figured it would really help out.

If you don’t know what ‘sighting in’ is, in simplest terms, it’s adjusting your scope so the bullet lands at the crosshair. The way you do this is fire 3 or four shots at a target, see where they land in relation to where you aimed, and adjust your scope until the crosshairs and the point of impact are the same.

I set up a target, the rifle rest, put the rifle on it and adjusted the rest until the crosshair was right on the bullseye. I was grinning to myself at this point…usually I just use a bag or rolled up sweater to rest the front of the rifle on, and I could see the difference immediately…the rifle rest was rock-solid.

I was using sight-in targets. This is a main target in the middle of the paper with crosshairs so you can make sure your aim is dead on. There are also four targets around the outside you use as ‘testers’.

So I made sure the aim was okay and fired five shots. I was about an inch high and left. Doing a bit of mental math (I won’t bore you with the whole ‘minute of angle’ stuff), I worked out I needed to adjust two ‘clicks’ down and right.

I lined up again, and fired another five shot group. Three were dead center, one was slightly low…and the other was two inches high and to the right.

It wasn’t bad, and I disregarded the ‘flyer’, for the simple reason I was using bulk ammo. I figured I’d just fired a bad round.

So, I aimed at one of the testers and fired five more shots. These all landed in a nice group, but ridiculously low and right…there was also another flyer way off the paper.

At this point, I came back into the house to check the internet to see what the parallax setting is on the scope. Parallax errors happen when the crosshair in the scope isn’t projected on the same ‘plane’ as the target.

Without going into too much detail, all this means is that if the target is closer than the parallax setting of the scope, move your head a little while aiming, and the crosshairs in the scope will appear to move around. In other words, you can have your scope dead on, but if your head moves a quarter inch between shots, the bullet won’t land at the crosshair. It might not move by much, but when you’re aiming at a one-inch square at 75 yards, it’s the difference between a hit and a miss.

I figured that the scope’s parallax settingwas probably the problem, but it turned out I was wrong. The parallax on my scope is set from 50 yards to infinity…meaning it’s not an issue for targets further than 50 yards…considering I was shooting at a target 75 yards away, it wouldn’t effect aiming.

My problem continued. I would shoot, adjust, get it dead on…then the next target I shot at I’d be way off.

Finally, after shooting about 150 rounds, I just gave up. I figured that either the scope was defective or my rifle just hated Federal Bulk ammo. I considered breaking out the Remington Golden bullets that my Daughter in Law bought me for my birthday…but at that point, I was tired, frustrated and just couldn’t be bothered shooting anymore.

Then, as I put my rifle away, it tilted on its side and I heard an extremely quiet ‘click’ sound. I picked it back up, gave it a gently shake and heard ‘click, click, click’.

I held the scope and pushed on the side, it moved the tiniest fraction of an inch.


Turns out that when I installed it I hadn’t tightened the rail down quite enough. As I was shooting, every shot shook it a little looser. While a fraction of an inch doesn’t sound like very much…every time the distance doubles, so does the amount the scope is off by.

Just to highlight how big a deal this is, if your point of aim is off by a half a degree when shooting at a target at 20 yards, you’ll be off by two and a half degrees at 100 yards. If that doesn’t sound like much, 1/60th of a degree at a hundred yards covers roughly an inch.

In other words, being off by half degree at 20 yards means you’ll miss by over an inch…and almost 12 feet at 100 yards.

So, after spending a couple hours and shooting 150 rounds, I have to start again from scratch next time I shoot because I had to remove the scope to fix the rail.

Moral of the story:

Make sure your scope is properly installed before you go shooting…and always check the simplest fixes first.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

An Open Letter:

Dear Smacktards,

Recently, I've found myself getting more and more annoyed every time I surf the internet or try to play an online game. Please read the following and think about what you read:

1) The purpose of an online game isn't to insult other people in chat. It's to play the game.

2) Also, if you die in an online game, it isn't down to a 'hack', 'cheater' or any other reason other than the other person is better at the game than you and/or lucky.

3) The comments section on 'funny video' sites is not the place to air your political or religious views.

4) Having access to the internet does not make you an instant authority on everything.

5) When commenting, simply to flame the creator of whatever it is you're commenting on for being 'lame' 'geeky' 'nerdy', or to state the creator 'has no life'...ask yourself this question: What's sadder? Someone creating something or you spending time and energy simply to insult them about it?

6) When communicating online, try to actually have something to say. "First!" is not a reason to comment.

7) When you think you're being funny and 'outrageous', you think people are laughing with you and thinking about how awesome you are. Instead, people are just rolling their eyes and thinking about what a giant douchebag you are.

8) While on the internet, you will see lots of things you don't agree with, are offended by or simply don't like. The correct course of action in this case is to go look at something else. Freedom of speech is a fact of life, but nowhere in the bill of rights does it say you have the right not to be offended.

9) If you're playing an online game and 'jokingly' as a female player to send you naked are not being funny. You are being an asshole. Put simply, you're the reason why more women don't play videogames.

10) Arguing over the internet is a completely, totally and utterly pointless activity. Don't do it.

11) If you don't have the balls to say something to someone's face, don't say it over the internet.

12) Please bear in mind that if you start your own website or blog, the point is to create something, not just copy and paste stuff available on other websites. Thanks to people like you, over half of the internet is just copies of the other half.

13) I have never played a multiplayer game with voice chat enabled and not heard someone talk about how high they are, or what a bitch their girlfriend is. If you must do this, at least tell the truth...namely "I'm desperate to fit in and have everyone think I'm cool, so I'll talk about drugs despite the fact I don't even know what weed looks like. I'll also try to make everyone think I have a girlfriend, when in fact, I've never actually seen a real, human, female nipple."

Long story short, the internet used to be fun, intelligent and it was possible to talk to someone who could talk in complete sentences, and didn't think calling a random stranger a 'gay nigger fag' was the height of wit.

So here's the deal. Get the fuck off my internet. I was here first.

Thank you.

More from the Stoopid Files...

I just read something that both made me laugh and puzzled the crap out of me.

Apparently, in Minnesota, it’s illegal to shoot at a picture of a humanoid. If you’re shooting at paper, and the picture on that paper is person-shaped…you’re going to jail.

At first, it doesn’t sound too unreasonable, but when you think about it, shooting at a target is shooting at a target. There’s an area in that paper that you want to put your bullets into.

I can just imagine the police in Minnesota:

“Officer Bob, please be advised, the suspect is a well known target shooter and is capable of putting bullets in a half inch group at 200 yards.”

“Holy crap, Dispatch! Send me some backup! This sounds dangerous.”

“It’s ok, Bob, he can put bullets in a half inch group when shooting at a round target, but he’s never tried to shoot at a picture of a person.”

“Phew, that makes me feel a whole lot better!”

To be honest, what cracked me up the most, is that it’s not just illegal to shoot at pictures of people, it’s humanoid pictures as a group.

Ok, let me state as someone who enjoys shooting, that shooting at plain old bullseye targets can get a little boring. Online I’ve seen ‘fun’ targets that address this. Pictures of a guy in a ski-mask holding a gun to a hostage (shoot the bag guy, don’t harm the hostage), aliens, zombies…and of course, the ever popular Hitler and Bin Laden.

That’s the thing that has me confused. I can understand the police getting upset if you’re shooting at a picture of them, or your next door neighbor or the President or something…but for it to be a criminal offense to shoot at a picture of a zombie or Hitler…isn’t that going a little too far?

I mean, if someone is learning to shoot with criminal intent, is the inability to shoot at humanoid targets really that much of a handicap? Is someone going to run into a bank, start waving a gun and not be able to shoot anyone unless they’re wearing a bullseye on their heads?

Plus, it all comes back to the same thing. Criminals don’t obey the law…and if you’re willing to shoot a real person, a law forbidding you to print out a picture of a person to shoot at isn’t going to hold you back.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

I did, ya know.

Today I shot at a potato at 50 yards.

It 'sploded.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Dude, you've got some REAL brass balls.

I was looking through some of my email accounts today, trying to decide which ones need to be abandoned. (Every so often I'll make an email address 'public' for use with a blog or podcast etc. and they're usually at the hundred or so spam emails per day stage within a month or two).

Well, first, apologies to everyone who tried to reach me through some of those addresses and didn't get a reply. (Etcher, I sent you what you needed, only a month late, sorry bout dat).

Anyway, as I was sorting through, I came across an email that I had to read no less that five times, just to convince myself that I hadn't just eaten a ham and mescaline sandwich, rather than ham and cheese.

Here's the deal:

Many moons ago I wrote a post, basically making fun of 'Smilin' Bob' from those 'Male Enhancement' commercials.

Today, I got an email from someone who had spammed that post with a comment that said:

"Hey, great stuff and I love your blog! For more information on male enhancement visit (insert link to bullshit 'herbal viagra' website here)"

Normally, I delete spam comments as soon as I see them, somehow this one had slipped under the radar.

So the guy who spammed me wrote me an email, telling me that the particular website he linked to was no longer up, and would I mind editing his comment to link to a different 'male enhancement' site.

Well, I thought I'd reply to him here, as well as the email I sent him:


First and foremost, let me state for the record that you're a complete and utter asshole.

First of all, I worked pretty damn hard to 'establish' this blog and generate a fair amount of traffic. What you're looking at is three years of work and roughly two million words written. That's right, written, not cut and pasted, not stolen from other people, but actual, honest to God original content.

That's obviously a new concept to you. Some people on the internet actually contribute rather than just steal other people's content or sponge off other's popularity.

The fact that you obviously didn't even read the post you commented on shows me that all you're trying to do is exploit my hard work to try and drum up traffic to your bullshit website. Obviously, you just googled 'male enhancement', and left comments with links to your site on every blog you could find.

So I'd appreciate it if you'd explain to me and everyone else why I'd go out of my way to actually help you be the equivalent of a traffic parasite.

Dude, honestly, you're the scum of the internet. You, and people like you, are the reason I have to abandon email addresses within months of making them public. You're the reason it's pretty much impossible to surf the internet and not see pop-ups on every other page.

The fact you thing I'd actually help you do that is laughable.

Oh, and no-one falls for your super-smooth technique of saying how awesome their blog is. When it's painfully obvious that you didn't even skim the post you're commenting on, it doesn't take a huge IQ to realise you're just another asshole.

Yep, I wrote a post about how ridiculously fake those ads are, how those products certainly don't work...but mostly I wrote about how 'Smilin' Bob' pretty much screwed his acting career by appearing in those commercials.

Am I meant to believe you read that and thought that my post would be a great place to advertise the very products I just spent a thousand words ragging on?


So here's my advice. Get a fucking life, put your hand into your own pocket and buy some publicity, rather than just being a worthless leech.

Go take a flying fuck at a rolling donut.


Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Dumbass Dogs.

Well, we went to get the new puppy today. On the way home Sunny decided that ‘Mac’ didn’t quite fit and christened him ‘Barney’. No name changing now, we already got him a tag engraved at Petsmart. His name is set in…well, low-grade, powder-coated aluminum.

But low-grade, powder coated Aluminum that cost nearly eight freaking dollars…so he’s stuck with it.

So we got him home, and introduced him to Buddy.

Now this is something I wasn’t really worried about, but I was, shall we say, a trifle concerned.

Buddy has been used to other animals his entire life. Padme was here when he first arrived. My mother-in-law’s dog Annabell stayed with us for a week or so. Leonard stayed for a few months before buggering off (at last count, no less than five families in the area claim ‘ownership’ of him).

However, you never really know how an ‘established’ dog is going to react to a newcomer…so it was a tense experience. Barney is a miniature weiner-dog, and Buddy is a 60lb mongrel (I’m pretty sure that he may even have a little tiger in him). If Buddy decided he didn’t like Barney…he wouldn’t even have to chew.

I wasn’t really expecting any problems because the breeder guy told us that Barney was definitely submissive, and the way he acted definitely backed up the breeder’s story. So we had an established ‘Alpha’ dog, and a much smaller dog who was used to a submissive role. Match made in heaven.

Anyhoo, we pulled Barney out of the pet-carrier and showed him to Buddy, who turned into his usual hyper self. I was relieved to see that Buddy’s tail was wagging furiously. Obviously, he wasn’t threatened by Barney and saw no reason to ‘put him in his place’

So Barney started exploring the house, with Buddy in tow, like a dog that’s just discovered a new toy…until, suddenly, Barney turned and chased Buddy away, barking his head off. Buddy ran away.

Let me just re-state that in case you think it was a typo. The 9lb wiener-dog chased off a 60lb hunk of low IQ muscle.

It was then I remembered Buddy’s main talent…showing absolutely no fear of animals three or four times his size…and getting his ass kicked by animals no bigger that a gerbil.

Seriously. My brother-in-law’s has a Great Dane named Max. Buddy made damn sure that Max knew he was in his territory, and that privilege could be revoked at any time. My mother-in-law’s Shi-tzu? Scared the hell out of Buddy. Padme and Leonard (both small cats) would chase him away from his own food bowl.

As I write this, Barney is sitting at my feet, and Buddy is keeping a respectful distance.

Put these two dogs next to each other…how many would pick the daschund as the alpha?

Hole crap! How Many???

So, my webcomic is currently getting around 200 hits per day.

Let me rephrase that…200 unique returning hits per day. Holy shit! I already have 200 fans, and more are showing up every freaking day!

To be honest, I’m not sure whether I’m really, really happy…or really, really annoyed at this.

Basically, I’ve written this blog for over three years now, I’ve put more work into this than pretty much any other ‘project’ I’ve ever started. In less than a week, a webcomic I decided to throw together just for the fun of it is ‘out-performing’ something I’ve probably invested hundreds of hours and literally millions of words into.

Then again, I suppose the thing that’s really bugging me is that even if ‘Half-Assed’ gets ‘Penny Arcade’ popular…I can’t make a single cent off it. While Valve are very cool and forward thinking about the ways they let their stuff be used, someone making actual money off their property is probably frowned upon…and by ‘frowned upon’, I mean ‘They’re violate your very soul with a team of highly-trained lawyers’.

Well, the upside is I’m having a lot of fun making it, and people are definitely enjoying it.

The other thought about this that struck me today is bound to be a pretty controversial one. So here it is:

“I, Paulius, believe that making a Gmod webcomic requires an approximately equal amount of talent and skill as it does to make a traditional, hand-drawn comic.”

Now, before I get flamed, let me explain my thinking.

There’s a definite ‘art’ to creating comic book panels with Gmod (the Half-Life mod I use to create the comic). Taking a limp, dead ragdoll and making it look like a living, breathing character is a lot harder than it sounds.

Basically, what I mean is this: If you put the average person at a comic-artist’s desk and tell them to make a comic, they’ll end up with something that’s okay but not great. Not only do you have to actually know how to draw, there’s inking, coloring, layout, composition, etc.

By the same token, sit the average person in front of a computer running G-Mod, and you have the same sort of situation. Anyone can draw a stick figure and a speech bubble, and anyone can slap a ragdoll into an environment. However, making both look convincing is the real trick.

Basically, it’s two sets of tools that require particular skills to use.

Not only that, the same rules of composition, logical layout etc are exactly the same in both media. They’re just two ways to create an image, whereas creating an image that actually tells a story and tells it clearly and well is a whole different thing.

Basically, thinking that making a Gmod comic is ‘easy’ is like assuming ventriloquism is easy because you have a pre-made puppet. The skill is making that puppet come to life.

Anyway, just to be absolutely clear, I’m not trying to talk as an authority on gmod comics, because I’ll gladly admit I’m a novice at best.

Ok, anyway, I’ll give the webcomic posts a rest for a while.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled blogging.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

'The Invasion''s like getting anally raped.

Whenever Sunny has a day off, it’s become a sort of tradition for us to order a movie from OnDemand.

Today, we watched ‘The Invasion’.

If you haven’t seen it yet, my advice to you is this…don’t. It’s complete and total crap.

This movie doesn’t have a plot, it has a ‘concept’. Some guy probably said “Hey, how about a movie like ‘Pod People’, where aliens invade and possess people?”…then they went out and shot it.

I can honestly not think of a good thing to say about this movie.

First of all, that pacing is totally off. The first five minutes of narrative is stretched out over the first 45 minutes. The middle hour’s worth of narrative is squeezed into five minutes… and the ending is just terrible.

Seriously, there’s no twist, no story, no real conflict. To save you the trouble, here’s what you get for your money:

You spend the first half of the movie watching Nicole Kidman walking around, looking at people funny. This is interspersed with glaringly obvious exposition where people come to conclusions that completely defy plausibility. After 45 minutes of Nicole Kidman looking confused, in less than five minutes she and some other characters work out, with absolute certainty, that an ‘alien spore’ is infecting people. We also find out that you get infected and change in your sleep

Then, Nicole Kidman finds her son, who turns out to be immune. (This was another piece of ridiculous writing. Earlier she heard someone in the street say she’d ‘already slept’, and from 5 seconds with some medical records, she decides the woman is immune because of a childhood disease…that’s the theme of this movie, jump to crazy, implausible conclusions that always turn out to be right).

Then, there’s a 2 minute car chase, a helicopter picks up Kidman and her son, and everything is back to normal and the movie ends.

I just don’t get how whoever wrote this movie didn’t get laughed out of every office he pitched it in. The important stuff is totally skated over, and the meaningless fluff is given center stage.

Plus, isn’t the whole point of a movie like this meant to be the paranoia and doubt of not knowing who’s ‘one of them’? There’s absolutely none of that in this movie. The ex-husband just announces he’s an alien, and by the time that happens, everyone is infected.

Long story short, watching this movie is like watching a zombie movie… but a zombie movie where we spend the first hour and a half watching the main character going shopping, then one zombie jumps out, and the main character runs to the roof to find a helicopter to take him to safety.

I give this movie a -87 out of ten.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Interesting Experience.

Ok, just because I haven’t plugged it enough yet, I now have a new webcomic.

Not to ‘toot my own horn’ (hur hur, that sounds dirty), I now have two comics up, and both have received nothing but 5 star ratings. Normally, I wouldn’t consider this a big deal, but the ratings are anonymous, so it’s not the usual ‘Hey, I love your site/blog/comic! Do you like mine?”

Well, I just finished the panels for the third comic (not actually put them together yet tho, they’ll be up by tomorrow evening)…and thanks to a bit of experimenting I can say objectively that the new one is a lot better than the first two.

My biggest problem is that this is a Half Life webcomic, which means it’s really easy to make jokes that will go right over the head of anyone who’s never played the game…and pretty obvious to people who have. This third comic is my attempt and making something that everyone will be able to see the humor in, regardless of whether you’ve played the game or not. Once it’s up, let me know what you think.

It’s a very weird learning experience making this thing. As you can probably tell, I tend to be pretty verbose, so having to convey a story with just 6 pictures and a handful of words is something that’s pretty damn alien to me.

Of course, I’m making some stupid mistakes. I’ll spend half an hour getting a character posed just right, or ‘dressing the set’ down to a tee…only to discover that a lot of my hard work is hidden by speech balloons, or far enough away that the detail I went to was pretty much a waste.

What surprises me the most is what people don’t notice. It’s like drawing a rough sketch and listening to people comment on details that only exist in their heads.

For example, I got a private message through my hosting service from someone asking for advice on posing G-Mod ragdolls because of this panel:

The guy commented that I’d posed the Combine Elite ‘perfectly’, and asked if I could write him a tutorial on posing.

The truth is, I didn’t pose the ‘Elite’ at all. It’s a live spawn with the AI turned off. In a nutshell, that means that instead of starting with a limp and ‘dead’ ragdoll, you get a ‘live’ character who just stands there. (If I turned the AI back on, it would run to cover and try to shoot me just like in the game). The Elite is actually just standing to attention, holding his rifle. I just chose an angle that hid most of that. In fact, seen from a different angle, the G-Man’s foot is actually a good 20 inches away from the Elite’s body.

Of course, I didn’t tell the guy any of that…I just told him to practice J

Friday, February 01, 2008

New Dedicated Wecomic Site is Up

Hey All,

Well, I definitely wasn't happy with using blogger for my new webcomic, so I set up a dedicated site.

Unfortunately, I had to use a free hosting service, but it's 100% pop-up/hijacker/annoying spam free. Only thing I have to put up with is a couple tiny Google ads at the bottom of the page.

Unfortunately, I suck at HTML, so I'm stuck with a pre-made template for the time being and the best one I could find is a little weird.

That being said, there are now two comics up and the comics display at full size.

So, while you've got nothing else to do, go check it out