Friday, November 18, 2011

The Wonders of the Internet

Several years ago, I decided it would be fun to play a video game in French. Unfortunately, there aren't too
many French video games for sale in the DC metro area, so I turned to the internet for help. I went to ebay and, after quite a bit of searching, I found a lot of several French games going for fairly cheap. There was one expansion that was useless without the original game. Another was a defunct MMO that was also pretty useless. It also contained The Sims along with all its expansions, which was neat. But what really made be buy the lot was the copy of Diablo II and the expansion, Lord of Destruction. Though already quite aged, that was (and still is) among my favorite games ever. If I enjoyed the game in English, how much more awesome would it be to play it in French?!?

Fast forward to about a month ago. While going through my collection of video games, I came across that French copy of Diablo. I've recently been putting some renewed effort into improving my French, so I was excited at the prospect of again being able to practice while slaying demons and hoards (herds?) of possessed cows. But, when I went to install the game, I was dismayed to find that I couldn't find the CD key. It had been printed on an insert that had come in the case, but was now missing. I tried using the key for my English copy, but to no avail. My disappointment was epic.

Once again, the Internet was able to save the day. This time, in my opinion, in a much more awesome way than before. It occurred to me that Blizzard (the makers of Diablo) have a service set up whereby you can register your games on their site. Once registered, that game can be downloaded anytime you want. I had already registered my English copy, so I knew I could at least download it in English. Hoping to trick them into letting me download the French translation, I logged into the French version of Blizzard's site. Unfortunately, it still recognized that I had registered an English version, so that's what it offered. But then I noticed a tiny link next to where it listed my region which read "Change". Clicking on that tiny link opened a previously hidden menu which allowed me to choose from a whole list of languages, including French. Yay!!!

Even more recently, the long awaited Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was released. Due to my general being-too-busy-this-time-of-year-because-of-work-ness, I've opted not to buy the game immediately and risk getting sucked into it and accidentally staying up to play it until ten minutes before I have to leave for work in the morning. That's what this blog is for. But I couldn't resist the temptation when I saw that Steam was offering Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion on sale for only five dollars.
Those of you who have seen my video game collection might wonder why this would be tempting when I already own the game for XBox 360. The answer is simple*. I have my Steam installation set to French. Not only does that mean the Steam interface is in French but, when possible, it also downloads games in French. So, in the little time I've had after work, I've added Oblivion to my French video game agenda. More yay!!!

So, anyway... what's my point? Other than the obvious point that videos games in French are wonderful, of course. The point is that it's quite awesome that the Internet can so easily enable me to play them that way. Before the Internet, I may have had to go to France, or at least Canada, to get a French copy. At the easiest, I would have to find a specialty store that had one, probably with a huge markup since it would be imported. Now all I have to do change a setting in my software and the French version is readily available. The most awesome part of that is that something that was once extremely difficult to get because of issues involving international trade is now available without leaving my chair. And even without paying anything extra. So yeah... that's all I have to say.

* - That's the French word "simple", not English. Meaning and spelling are the same, but pronunciation is different. It's a clever hint that is completely lost in written format. Too bad this isn't a vlog.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Collection of Short Stories

When I was in first grade, my school had a program for fifth graders where they could volunteer some of their recess time to help teachers in whatever ways they could. One day, my teacher had to step out of the classroom for a few minutes. During that time, she left the class under the supervision of one of those older students, making sure we knew that we were to be very well behaved while she was gone. Shortly after she left, I was finished with the work we were supposed to be doing and quickly got bored. So I tore a strip from a piece of paper and wrote a note on it saying something to the effect of "My name is Justin. What's yours?" We had been told to work silently, so introducing myself verbally was out of the question. We had also been told to stay in our seats... but I had to break that commandment a little to carry out my plan. When the fifth-grader (after 22 years, I don't remember her name) wasn't looking, I quietly slipped out of my chair and sneaked up behind her. I draped the note across her shoulder then quickly ran back to my seat to avoid getting in trouble for being out of it in the first place. The next time her patrol brought her past my desk, she dropped off her response on the same slip of paper. We went on to become friends... as much as any first and fifth-grader can be friends.


I think I was seven (maybe eight) when my family went to New York to see Cats on Broadway. It was my first time seeing the show, but I already knew the show very well. I had listened to the soundtrack enough to have pretty much memorized the entire thing. This should be no surprise to anyone who knows my love for cats, which was already fully developed by that time. When the intermission came, I overhead the couple that was sitting in front of my family. They were kind of confused about what was going on. For some reason, the concept of a bunch of cats gathering in a junk yard, singing and dancing, was foreign to them. I stepped in and explained what was going on up to that point. They were very nice and I spent pretty much the entire intermission talking to them, explaining the different songs and answering their questions about the show.


My third grade teacher, Mrs. Davis, was extremely cool. One time, I came to her fairly randomly and asked her if I could get up in front of the class to sing a song from... wait for it... ... ... Cats. I didn't really expect her to allow the break from our usual schedule, but I really liked the musical and thought it would be fun to share some of it. Much to my delight, she actually agreed to let me sing. At some point between classes that day, she set aside a few minutes for my performance and I sang Memory in front of the class.


One day, again during third grade, the class was called to the front of the room to sit on the floor while Mrs. Davis read us a story. This was a fairly common occurrence back then. My desk was in the front row, so I didn't have to go very far. I sat down and waited for the rest of the class to sit and settle down for the story to begin. In the meantime, two other boys from the class sat down next to me. As everyone was still quieting down, one of them said to me, "Hey, does this hurt?" Before I could even turn to look at him, he jabbed his finger into my ribs. I had already had enough experience with stuff like this to know that he was much more interested in seeing my reaction than in knowing whether or not it actually hurt, so I did my best to hide that reaction. Unfortunately, I was unprepared and it hurt too much. I let out a soft sigh, hoping it wouldn't be noticed, but he and his friend did notice and they spent the next several seconds laughing about it. I liked that even less than I liked the pain in my side. As the class quieted down and the story began, I sat there contemplating what had just happened and decided to teach myself to hide pain so that it wouldn't happen again. I resolved to never again give anyone the satisfaction of knowing they had hurt me.


When I was in fifth grade, we weren't allowed to run on or around the playground equipment during recess. This was a problem because I loved to play tag, and there was no more fun place to play it than on the playground equipment. Fortunately, the rule was really only lightly enforced. It wasn't too long before I had started an underground tag club. I came up with a whole list of rules designed to keep us from getting noticed and to avoid any injuries that might draw attention to the club. Anyone who wanted to play with us had to follow those rules. I led the club for that entire year, regularly recruiting new members. We got caught a few times, but always managed to avoid any serious trouble.


Toward the end of my fifth grade year, my friend Robin decided to write a play and try to get it performed for the school. She spoke to our teacher, who said she would try to work it out. Robin began work on the play and started asking some friends, including me, if they would be in it. I thought it would be a lot of fun to be in a play and, hopefully, be able to put it on for the school, so I agreed. Over the next couple weeks, Robin and the cast met every few days during recess to go over the script as it was being written. It never did work out. There really wasn't enough time left in the year to pull it all together. But it was still a lot of fun working on it.


One day in the beginning of my sixth grade year, my math class had a free day where there was no lesson. Instead, our teacher let us spend the entire class playing games. She pulled out an assortment of math-based games and sat at her desk as the class played. I wasn't going to be fooled, though. They may have been games... but they were still designed to teach math. I decided I would use my free time to actually be free from math, so I remained at my desk and pulled out a sheet of paper. I thought it would be really fun to write a secret code that I could use to write notes to friends. It only took me a few seconds to realize the fatal flaw in my plan. I knew none of my friends would want to learn the code. But I was too excited about having a secret code to give up so easily. Looking up from my desk, I noticed one other person also still sitting at his desk a couple rows in front of mine. I didn't know him at all and figured he probably wouldn't have any interest, but I decided to try anyway. I got up from my desk, sat down next to him, and asked, "Hey, do you want to make a code?" He replied with a surprisingly enthusiastic "yes" and we spent the rest of the class working on our secret code. Hans and I have been friends pretty much since that day.


I played percussion in the school band from fourth to seventh grade. I really loved playing drums. I really liked cymbals, too. The crash cymbals were a lot of fun, even if they were heavy. I loved playing during the first two years. Unfortunately, once I got into middle school, the curriculum expanded and I was forced to learn to play the keyed instruments as well as the drums. I had joined to play the drums and had absolutely no interest in actually learning the layout of a keyboard or how to read anything more than rhythm. In addition to that, our percussion section was very large and there were never enough percussion parts in any song to give everyone their own. "Fortunately", the school was very well stocked with different types of keyboards, so everyone was still able to play. We just had four or five people playing the same keyboard part on every song. Of course, that made it relatively rare to actually have a drum part. By the end of sixth grade, I was pretty much hating band. Things got worse in seventh grade. There were two eighth-graders in percussion, Derek and Gene, who seemed to make a sport out of making fun of me for just about anything they could. I got made fun of a lot throughout school, being the tiny nerd I am, but they were especially relentless. I put up with it for a while, but I eventually got frustrated and went to the teacher about it. He called the three of us into his office the next day and talked about it. At the end, he threatened to have them removed from the band if they didn't leave me alone. Things quieted down a bit, but it wasn't long before they were at it again. I went to the teacher again and he threatened again to have them removed. He was forced to make that same threat two or three more times over the next several weeks before I gave up on going to him. One day, it occurred to me that Derek and Gene were being so mean because it was fun for them. Not that I hadn't known that... but I hadn't really thought about it too much. From that I developed and tested a hypothesis. I decided that I would start completely ignoring them. I wouldn't react to anything they said or did. I wouldn't even acknowledge their presence if I didn't have to. It wasn't easy. Especially not when getting pelted by spitballs or hit with mallets. But the test was success. It wasn't too long before they realized it was no longer fun and they eventually started leaving me alone. In fact, it worked so well, I decided that I would do the same to anyone who picked on me. As anyone who's ever been in middle school can probably guess, the next year and a half gave me ample opportunity to practice. I went into high school extremely skilled at not talking to people.


At the end of sixth grade, I was allowed to choose what class I would take for my reading credit during seventh grade. My options were Advanced Reading, Spanish, or French. While I loved to read, I hated being told what to read, so Reading was always one of my least favorite classes. Advanced Reading was out of the question. I really didn't know much about either of the other options. I knew French was the language of love, which made it seem very feminine. I figured I'd probably be the only boy in the class if I took French. The only thing I knew about Spanish was that you had to roll your tongue. I had tried before and knew that I couldn't roll my tongue. Besides that, I thought it sounded silly when people rolled their tongues. In the end, I decided I'd rather be the only boy in the class than to have to ever roll my tongue. And that's how I got started with French. To my surprise, when the class started the next year, it was about evenly split between boys and girls. I was also surprised to discover how much I enjoyed learning the language. In the end, I would count French as my favorite two classes (I took it in seventh and eighth grades) in middle school. Unfortunately, it wasn't as enjoyable when I got into high school. My teacher in ninth grade just didn't seem to like me. I wasn't the only one she didn't like. Actually, she seemed to really like a few students and pretty much hated the rest. While I still enjoyed French, the class itself wasn't very fun because of that. My tenth grade teacher wasn't as bad, but she didn't really seem to love me either. I kind of gave her reason not to, though. I was consistently late for class. Usually only by about thirty seconds... but anytime after the bell was late in high school. She also didn't seem to like the number of profane statements I had written in French on my backpack. (This was a couple years before I became a Christian.) But what really made the class unenjoyable was that she was never satisfied with my level of participation. She was constantly complaining that I didn't raise my hand enough. I always felt like I participated enough, but she insisted that I didn't speak enough in class. One quarter, she actually threatened to fail me because of it. Even though I still liked learning the language, when it came time to choose classes for the next year, French was not on my list.


I believe I was sixteen when, one evening, my aunt Marcia called from Maine. She wanted to talk to my dad, but he wasn't home and she got me instead. Not that that was a bad thing. It had been a long time since she and I had talked and we spent a few minutes catching up. I told her about how things were going in school and such. She talked about a trip that she was getting ready to take and how the rest of my family in Maine was doing. I've always liked talking to her and I was really happy to be able to catch up. At the end of the conversation, she said she'd probably be heading to bed before my dad could get back to her, so she'd try to reach him at work the next day. My dad wasn't very happy when got home from work the next evening. As he served dinner, he told me he had talked to my aunt and the she had told him about our conversation. She said she felt the entire time that I really didn't want to talk to her. Like she had to force the conversation out of me. As I took my dinner up to my room, my dad told me how sick he was of how little I ever said when I talked to anyone.


One night, not long after I graduated high school, I was driving a friend home from somewhere. It was getting kind of late and we were both tired, so it was a pretty quiet ride. As I drove, I remembered a joke I had just heard and thought was pretty funny. I started to tell the joke, but suddenly found myself too nervous to even open my mouth. I couldn't really explain why I was nervous. In fact, I knew I had absolutely no reason to be. I took a few deep breaths and was able to calm down. I tried a second time, but met with the same result. I sat for a couple minutes this time trying to calm down and reason myself into being able to just tell the joke. Finally, after calming down again, I tried one more time. Once again, I couldn't even open my mouth to speak. I went the rest of the drive resigned to the fact that, no matter how much I tried, I could not break the silence.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

First Post!!!!

Wait... really? This can't be right.

Is someone actually reading this?

I guess it's true, as improbable as it might seem. In that case, I'd like to apologize in advance for any boredom incurred by reading the content of this blog. I certainly don't intend to bore anyone, but I always imagine that to be the immediate result of any attempt to peer into my thoughts. I mean... is anyone really interested in reading about how I knew the battle at which William the Conqueror gained his title and the year it happened without knowing that I knew it? That's the kind of stuff I'll probably be writing about.

So why am I making a blog if I expect its readership to be in the negative numbers? The answer may shock you. I doubt it will, though. Put simply, the answer is because I've always been intrigued by the idea of writing a journal or diary. Someplace to put my thoughts on whatever subjects I choose to write about. But diaries are, by nature, private. I've always had problems writing when I know no one will read what I'm writing. It just seems pointless. I know that's not the purpose of a diary, but it's still been enough to guarantee failure every time I've tried to start one. I'll make a couple entries in the first week and then just kind of forget about it. So what's different about this? Well, a blog is, by nature, the antithesis of private. There's no guarantee that anyone will ever read it. In fact, as I've already pointed out, I don't expect anyone to. But there's a chance that someone will. Even just that slight chance gives me enough to be able to imagine an audience. And if I can imagine that someone's reading, it's much easier to write.

Even with an audience, I usually don't have much to say. I am quiet in writing as much as I am in speaking and anyone who knows me knows never to challenge me to a silence contest. So one shouldn't expect frequent postings here either. But, every so often, I may come up with some thoughts I deem worthy of voicing. I make no promise to deliver anything that's interesting to anyone but myself. Given my weird and eclectic interests, such a delivery is unlikely to happen.

Anyway... that's about all the interesting thoughts I have to share at the moment, so I'll wrap up this post fairly abruptly. It was the Battle of Hastings in AD 1066, by the way.