Sunday, November 25, 2007

City #2: Equilibria

Here's a shot of my second complete city, called Equilibria:
Equilibria is a small but incredibly diverse community. It exists solely to provide a haven for people of ANY religious persuasion to come, build their facilities of choice, and live in harmony with each other. As a result, there is every conceivable type of religious architecture represented. An example of this blend of sytles is shown in this shot of Religion Row:

In the foreground of this shot, you can see a Native American council hut on the right and a Spanish-style mission on the left. In the midground is a mosque just behind a Buddhist prayer wheel, across the street from the Buddhist monastery. Finally, in the background you'll notice a beautiful old Protestant church and a Japanese shinto pagoda.

One of the coolest buildings in Equilibria is the Catholic representative: the grand cathedral known as Our Lady of the Simulacrum:

I had to throw in this nightshot of it as well. You can't quite make out the graveyard on the right, but it's there. And it's haunted. No, seriously, it really is - ghosts, zombies, the works.
There's even a commune built a mile or so outside the city. I intended this to be a retreat - a place for those who needed to be away from the (relatively minimal) hustle and bustle of downtown Equilibria. Unfortunately, I discovered that the game mechanics don't support this idea very well. After building a couple of huts and a monastery, I found that the people living there were still having to walk to town for work and entertainment, and they didn't really seem to like that, leaving me with a handful of unhappy people. So I ended up having to build workplaces and venues in my "low-key" retreat. Nevertheless, I still think it looks cool, especially with the town (and the cathedral) in the background, so here it is:

And a couple of closing shots. First, this is my wind-powered generator facility, owned and operated by none other than BP (my wife's employer):

And finally, this neat picture of the monastery in Equilibria's Monastic District:

Next on the list of cities to create: a cyberpunk dystopian city of tomorrow! (Think The Matrix, but with less kung-fu).

Thursday, November 22, 2007

City #1: East Wallingford

Here's my first attempt in SimCity, called East Wallingford.

It's a small, tourist-oriented town in Pennsylvania, about three hours outside New York. It attracts primarily weekenders from the big city, although it also has a few frat houses for the college kids, as well as an elite private boarding school. Despite its highly-paid, trendy population, it likes to maintain a mid-20th century charm, with antique shops, old brick churches, and general stores.

I used this city primarily to gain the Sheriff achievement, which required a population less than 2900, a Spirituality usage score of at least 22, and any other trait (I chose Knowledge, to reflect the yuppy-style population) with a score of at least 85. With the Sheriff achievement, I got the Sheriff Monument which, when built in any other city gives me a Spirituality boost of 5 and a small daily income:

Check back soon for details on my next city!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Gaming update

Last week I picked up a game I've been looking forward to the most over the last few months: SimCity: Societies. I've only played a few hours so far, but I'm already working on my second city, and over the next couple of days I'll post some bios and pictures of the ones I've been working on.

Let me say that this is certainly not the SimCity that's come before. Which is okay; on the Fun-O-Meter, the last SimCity game ranked somewhere between filling out IRS forms and having a colonoscopy. This is much more of a macro version of The Sims, making for a more casual and, in my mind, fun experience. It does away with most of the plots, long-term planning, and stress, and brings in more of the stuff I like: cool city perspectives, neat graphics, and low-key experimentation.

More to come later, but for now, here's a shot from the city I'm working on right now:

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A father's bill of rights

Vanilla Bean took a dump in the tub again tonight. And despite her cute nickname, there is nothing pleasant about that.

So I've decided that this is the sort of thing that earns me the right to walk her down the aisle when she gets married. And I look forward to the day when my daughter is standing there, waiting for me to escort her down to the aisle to her beaming groom, and I can look into her beautiful brown eyes and say, "Sweetheart, I love you with every ounce of my being. And I proved that love to you on the evening of November 20th, 2007, when I scooped your poo out of the tub with a slotted spoon."

But maybe, just maybe, I won't mention this during the toast...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The power of words

Let me begin by saying that the intent of this post is not to offend anyone. If you know anything about me, you know that being offensive merely for the sake of being offensive is completely against my nature. I merely wish to present some ideas and hopefully spark some discussion.

I've been thinking about the power of words lately, especially given the scandals surrounding Michael Richards, Don Imus, and Dog the Bounty Hunter. Let me point out that I do believe that words have power, however, words have only as much power as we choose to give them. What if, instead of focusing on the fact that these individuals used words like "nigger" or "ho," and then bringing down the full might of our free press upon them, we were to completely ignore their actions, thus taking away the very power of the words they're speaking?

Let me give a couple of more positive examples to illustrate my point. The Constitution of the United States is, in its most basic form, a set of words written down on parchment. But the American people have chosen to give those words an enormous amount of power and influence because we feel that those words represent an important set of ideals. As a result, people have died to defend those words, and arguably the most powerful man in the world is tasked with defending and upholding those words.

Another example: the Bible. Again, in its most basic form, it is words written on paper. But we choose to recognize those particular words as spoken by God Himself, thus infusing them with the power of deity.

So when yet another celebrity uses a racial slur, and organizations across the United States condemn that personality and hold rallies calling for their resignation or firing, we are giving that word power. And when news organizations refuse to actually print the word, replacing "nigger" with "the n-word," we elevate it to the mystical. The word becomes, not only bad, but SO bad that our lips must not utter it for any reason at all!

Words are a gun, but we are giving those who would choose to use them the bullets. What if we chose to withhold those bullets, allowing racists and bigots to wave around scary but, ultimately, harmless weapons? If the media want to report on it, tell us what was really said; don't hide behind this thin veil of calling it "the n-word." We all know what word you mean. Calling it "the n-word" only gives it even more power.

Or even better, don't report it at all. Ignore it, and then ignore those who would choose to use these words. I know far more than I otherwise would have about Michael Richards and Don Imus because they chose to use racial slurs. If they'd simply been ignored and sidelined, their words would've ended up in the ether, unheard and useless. And isn't that the whole point?

Please, I'd love to hear thoughts or discussions on this one.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Some days it's not worth writing...

Some days you read something that makes you think you shouldn't even be writing yourself. Today is one of those days. Instead of writing anything myself, I'm just going to post a link to a friend's blog. Read it. No, seriously, read it... it's that good.

And leave a comment. She likes comments.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

When does a hobby become an obsession?

I've been thinking recently about how obsessed people often become by their particular hobbies, and the amount of money they can sink into them. I've decided that no matter what you do for recreation, you can find someone else who is way better at it, who spends way more time at it, and who has put way more money into it.

Here are a few examples:
  • Ann and I enjoy scuba-diving. With the presence of two kids it's not something we get to do much anymore, but we still enjoy talking about it and looking forward to getting back into it. But whenever we've been, we always run into "those" people, the ones with the multi-thousand dollar underwater cameras, wearing several thousand dollars worth of gear, and they're on their seventh scuba-diving trip. That year. And it's only April.
  • One of my long-time hobbies is computer gaming. Keeping decent hardware takes a non-trivial amount of money, and games easily run between 40 and 60 dollars. A standard computer game can take up to 20 hours to complete (although I have one that I've spent, embarassingly, over 100 hours on (curse you, Oblivion!)). But I heard a podcast a while back about a guy who'd spent about 2,500 hours on an online game called Guild Wars. And the game had only been out for a year and a half or so. They figured out that this guy had to have spent around 5 hours every day for a year and a half to log that many hours.
  • This afternoon the Monkey and I went to Fry's. In the parking lot, they had guys showing off their pimped out cars. You know the ones I'm talking about, with the custom rims and paint jobs and a sound system that sounds like he's performing nuclear warhead tests in the trunk (and the driver always has a Bluetooth headset). There was one guy who had an Excursion (base price, probably around $40,000) with a blue and orange paint job (I'm guessing several thousand dollars), an XBox mounted into the dashboard, a video screen in the dashboard, another small screen over the backseat, and then two ENORMOUS videos screens over the back seats (probably 15-inches each). So that's FOUR SCREENS in the car, twice as many as I have in my house. Then he had the sound system in the trunk, with a huge sub-woofer. I'm guessing the entertainment system alone was several tens of thousands of dollars. And of course the entire car was detailed and spotless. But it gets better: right next to the Excursion was his motorcycle with an identical paint job, and right next to that was the helmet for his motorcycle, with an identical paint job. So the whole setup had to have been well over 100 grand.

So how is it that somebody goes from saying, "I enjoy swimming underwater," to "I'll spend every spare dollar and hour I have to have the best gear, so that I can swim underwater"? How does someone go from, "I'll enjoy a couple hours of video-gaming every now and then," to "I will forget about having a life in the real world, so that I can have a life in this simulated world"? And how on EARTH does someone say, "You know, I don't think my kids really NEED to go to college; what they need is to be able to play their XBox on 15-inch screens in the back of the car, while I ride my matching motorcycle next to them!"?

Maybe I'm just getting old and crotchety...

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Give the people what they want

I've already had two requests for more details on my slapping-someone-upside-the-head story, so here it is.

We're travelling to Canada at the end of this month to visit Ann's family. Unfortunately, three days before our intended return, I have an extremely important meeting at work I need to attend. So I need to switch my tickets to allow me to return early, leaving Ann, the kids, and her parents in Canada for the rest of the week. There's a fee incurred with this switch, about $100, plus another sixty dollars or so for a shuttle to the airport, and since I'm having to cut short my own personal vacation for work reasons, I asked if the company could cover the cost of changing the ticket. No big deal, right?

My boss had no problem with this, and agreed that the request was justified. My secretary had no problem with it. But the travel coordinator didn't appear to understand the concept. Apparently, since this was outside the bounds of normal travel expenses, it was too hard for them to understand. They needed specific details on what day I was leaving, what day I was returning, and what flights I would be on. They asked whether my family could take me to the airport to avoid the cost of the shuttle. I responded with a very terse "No," and then waffled and sent another e-mail explaining that it would be about six hours out of the way for them, and that the mileage costs that the company would have to reimburse me for would be more than the actual cost of the shuttle ticket. They asked specifics on car rentals and how I would be getting around. Finally, after two days of this back and forth, they approved the cost. You'd think I'd asked them to solve world hunger or something.

Besides all this, we have a personal friend who is making some, if not poor, at least very immature choices about her lifestyle and the types of people she associates with, and the effects of those decisions tend to trickle into our lives a little. It makes me want to grab her by the shoulders and say, "What are you thinking? How in the world does that seem like a good decision to make?"

And now, I will step down from my soapbox. Wow, these Internet rants are kind of therapeutic. I feel better, even knowing that it's quite possible no one will read this! I'll have to do this more often.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

You ever have one of those days when you want to slap someone upside the head for being stupid?

Monday, November 5, 2007

Vanilla Bean did well at her appointment. She still has to wear the brace, but surgery's looking unlikely. Thanks for the prayers!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Prayer request for Vanilla Bean

Vanilla Bean goes in on Monday for another checkup on her hips. We're praying that the right hip socket will be well-seated. The best news of all would be that she can stop wearing the brace entirely, in which case she can start doing things like sitting up, rolling around, and so on. It's possible that the doctor will just tell her to keep wearing the brace, or she might even need surgery. But we should know more in a few days!