Cap'n John's Blog

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Sharing a laugh over a prank

Watching Punk'd and other "pranking" TV shows I wondered how we went from Candid Camera to Bam Margera and Punk'd. How did pranking evolve from fooling people to hurting people? Yes, sometimes Candid Camera made people think they'd messed up and gave them a scare, but it's far short from the lengths Punk'd goes to, where the objective seems to be to terrify the victim, reduce them to tears, or royally piss them off.

There are countless pranking channels on Youtube. Some are funny, while others are little more than the players hurting each other. And I'll admit, I laugh at both, because there is something funny (to me) about watching a guy run into a room, skid across the waxed linoleum floor, and run face first into a wall of plastic wrap. I'm sure if I were the guy lying flat on my back with a knot rising up on the back of my head where it bounced off the floor I'd not be quite so amused, but being the viewer, we're removed from the pain. Nut shots, however, are far too real. I'll laugh my arse off at Jackass, but when the guys take the inevitable nut shot it always makes me wince.

What happened to pranking where nobody got hurt, and folks could laugh it off?

It was my senior year at High School and I was in the Senior's Common Room getting ready for Math class. My friend Tim took his Math book out of his locker, sat it on the table behind him, then started chatting to another classmate. I walked past Tim, picked up his Math book, and walked to the other side of the Common Room. When Tim finished his conversation he locked his locker, turned around to get his Math book...and found an empty table. He knew he'd just taken his Math book out, and yet it wasn't there. Doubt set in. As he turned back around to unlock his locker I stepped up, set his Math book back down on the table, then moved away. Tim opened his locker and peered in; no Math book. He turned around, puzzled, and there it was, on the table behind him, right where he'd left it. Knowing he was being pranked he looked around and found the culprit with a stupid grin on his face. "I knew I'd taken it out!" he said, laughing.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

When you least expect it

It doesn't come from the drug dealers. You're minding your business; they're minding theirs. It's all good.

It's not the crazy guy talking to himself, or yelling and throwing punches at thin air. He's minding his own business, too. He's just a little loud, that's all.

It's not even the quiet ones who look the other way as they pass by. You think it might be them, but it never is.

It's when you least expect it.

It's the guy on the BMX bike who cuts off two cars as he veers across three lanes of traffic to make a beeline for your corner, where you stand waiting for the light to change.

It seems like he plans to ride up onto the sidewalk. What does he want to do? Does he want to go in front of you? Or behind you? You don't know and can't tell. If you move, it's a 50-50 chance you'll move into his path, so you stand your ground and let him make the decision.

It's not until he's riding up onto the sidewalk and is just a few feet away that you realize he's riding straight at you. You make a split-second decision and take a quick step back. He swerves but not away from you; he swerves toward you and almost hits you.

Was he playing "Chicken" and you both tried to dodge the same way?

Did he think you would jump out of the way a lot sooner than what you did?

Or was he deliberately trying to run into you? As he rode past, he did lean toward you as if trying to shoulder block you.

But he didn't hit you, and you need to get to work, so you don't give it any more thought. But as you start to cross the road, out of the corner of your eye you see him skidding to a stop. Still, you don't think anything about it. Not consciously at least.

But just as the sound of beating wings many years ago caused you to drop to your knees and avoid the pecking beak of the swooping magpie, the sound of rapid footsteps alerts you so when the shove comes from behind your body is somehow ready.

It's a hard shove - your back is still a little sore, even now - so you have to take a couple of quick steps forward to catch yourself. But you don't trip or stumble.

Fight, flight, or freeze? It's not a conscious decision.

Fight. You spin to face your attacker and of course it's the angry cyclist. You take a step forward, your hands move up and your feet slide into position. It's been twenty years since you studied karate but the basics are still embedded deep within your muscle memory. You slide into kokutsu dachi (back stance) as easy as you slide into bed at night.

Flight. Not expecting this reaction, this response, the angry cyclist turns and runs towards the bike he dropped in the middle of the crosswalk.

Big dog chases little dog. Again, not a conscious decision. You run after the angry cyclist and as he bends to grab his bike you return his shove and he trips over his bike. He gets back to his feet and turns to face you and you slide back into kokutsu dachi. Feet apart. Body balanced. Hands up. Relaxed, ready.

Freeze. He stops.

You're both about the same age. You've got a couple of inches on him while he outweighs you, but not by much. It would probably be a fair fight if he wasn't carrying a weapon. Is he?

His hands go to his pockets.

You tell yourself that if he had a weapon he wouldn't have just shoved you in the back. And if he does, at this distance, your best course of action right now is still Fight!

You slide forward, maintaining kokutsu dachi, and his hands come out, empty.

Flight. He takes a step back. He's intimidated. He doesn't want to fight you. He's pissed off that you beat him at whatever game he was trying to play, but he doesn't want to fight you. You're not the victim he was expecting. You weren't supposed to react like this.

His hands return to his pockets. Does he have a weapon? Or does he want you to think he has one. You stood up to him, then you knocked him down. You humiliated him. He wants you to think he has something. He wants to scare you and regain face.

You think all this without thinking it. You also still think your best course of action right now is Fight!

Again you slide forward, and again his hands come out, still empty. No weapon, just like you thought. Like you hoped.

But then...he makes a gun with his left hand. Like a kid on the playground. He points his 'finger gun' at you, cocks his thumb, then shoots you. When a little kid does it, it's funny. From this man in this situation it's a chilling sight. He wants to scare you. He wants you to think he has a gun. But if he did he would have pulled it by now. He would have used it. He hasn't, so he doesn't have a gun. Does he?

Fight. You slide forward.

Flight. He grabs his bike, jumps on and takes off. He didn't have a gun.

But...what if he did?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Snow play with the bunny

This weekend I took my daughter snowboarding at Mountain High Ski Resort with a few families from my son's Boy Scout Troop. I enrolled the bunny in an all-day beginner's snowboarding class (heh heh. Now she's a snow bunny ;) while I signed up for two beginners' skiing classes, one in the morning, and one in the early afternoon.

At the morning class the head instructor asked us if we'd been skiing before; the two young ladies standing next to me both said no, I said yes. So the ladies went with one instructor while I went with another. My "group" lesson was almost a private lesson until a teenager turned up late, and when he said he had skiing experience he was assigned to my "group". So there were two of us plus Alex the instructor, which is almost the same as a private lesson. By the end of that morning's lesson Alex had us working on hockey stops and parallel turns, which are basically hockey stops but where you don't actually stop, so not really "beginner stuff" any more.

The bunny's class included lunch so I didn't see her during the middle of the day. I had a break between the morning and afternoon's class, so I scarfed my lunch down then got a quick run where I worked on my hockey stops and parallel turns. I finished my run at the class meeting spot where the students and instructors had already gathered and yes, I pulled up with a hockey stop. When the instructor looked up at me, before he could even ask I announced, "Not my first time." As if my "showboat entrance" hadn't announced that already ;)

Once again I got bumped up to the "advanced beginners" class and when I saw Alex standing with the other instructors I waited for her to look our way, then waved and called out to her. She came over and we chatted briefly and I asked if she was going to be our instructor her again. She said she was working on it, and I think it helped that her Dad was one of the head instructors because she did get assigned to my group again. For me, that was good because she was able to continue my instructions from where we'd left off before lunch.

By now I was getting pretty cocky and my over-confidence resulted in a couple of spills. Although all four of us in the afternoon class would take a tumble, I was the first one of us to go down when my snow plow didn't plow enough snow and I wasn't able to stop in time. Fortunately the others managed to sidestep and leave me a gap to wipe out into and I literally fell down at their feet.

Alex laughed and made a comment about this being the true test of a skier's athleticism. I got one ski under me, stabbed my poles into the snow and heaved myself up. Alex laughed again and said that I'd defied the laws of physics by getting back up the "wrong way" while somehow making it look easy.

"You did say it was a test of my athleticism," I replied. "I had to rise to the challenge."

Near the bottom of the mountain we stopped next to where I knew the snow bunny's class was being held and...there was her red and black jacket! "There she is!" I exclaimed eagerly, like a proud father, "there's my daughter."

I watched as she took a turn on her snowboard. One of the intructors held her hand, holding her in place, then when it was her turn he gave her a gentle shove to get her going and...she was snowboarding!!! My snow bunny was riding her board! Just like a real snowboarder. She rode it down, down, down, all the way to the bottom of the children's run before running out of slope, stopping, then sitting down as casual as anything. Was I a proud Papa? You bet your arse I was! :D

When I finally finished my class I made my over to where I'd seen her earlier and there she was with her Instructor. When she comes back next time, he told me, she can go to Level 3.

From novice to Level 3 in one day. Definitely a proud Papa moment.

I asked her if she was done, or if she wanted to keep going.

"Keep going!" she exclaimed. I took her across to the chairlift which took us up to the easiest of the runs, and as we waited in line I instructed her on how to get on without falling over. And then up the mountain we rode, daddy and daughter, on the ski lift. It's a good thing Mama wasn't there to see us because there were no safety rails on this ski lift.

She avoided getting cleaned up by the chair when we got off, but she did take a spill down the exit ramp. But after strapping her rear boot back in (SOP for boarders is to unbuckle your rear boot while riding the chair lifts) we were off, down the mountain; the bunny in the front, me following keeping an eye on her. When she started to go too fast she bailed and sat down, and she did that a few times. I'd pull up next to her and wait as she stood back up, got her balance...and back down the mountain we went.

And then she didn't sit down as she built up a little too much speed, and she didn't fall over either. I watched incredulously as she spun her board 90-degrees, dumped some speed, then continued to spin the board, essentially doing a 180 with a brief pause in the middle, and when she was done she continued riding. As if it was nothing. As if she hadn't just learned to ride a snowboard that very day.

Proud Papa? Absolutely! That's my snow bunny!

Unfortunately I'm not sure how often we can get up to the snow. She obviously had fun, and she picked up snowboarding fast. So it would be something the two of us could have fun doing together. At least until she surpasses her old man and starts boarding down double black diamonds as if they're a walk in the park. Which would probably be on her third or fourth lesson ;)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Coffee politics

I'm not in charge of the Office Coffee Club any more, and haven't been for a couple of years. We don't have the K-cup machine any more now, either, we just have a drip pot.  If you're a frequent coffee drinker you can pay $10 per month and drink all the coffee you want. If you're an infrequent drinker you can pay $1 per cup. Either way it's a good deal.

Instead of joing the Office Coffee Club, the ladies in the next aisle over started their own coffee club. They brought in a drip pot of their own and set it up in an empty cubicle, and they all chip in and buy their own supplies.

And this morning they ran out of coffee. They're pretty fastidious about making their coffee (as any serious coffee drinker should be; can't fault them there) and they apparently needed one more scoop of ground coffee so the coffee-to-water ratio was correct. But they had no more coffee.

So they came to me - well, one of them did - to ask me if she could take a scoop of coffee from the Coffee Club's supplies.

The Coffee Club's supplies are not at my desk, they're in the breakroom. She could have just gone in there and taken a scoop, and at 6:30am nobody would have been the wiser. But no, she wanted someone to tell her it was okay to take a scoop. And because I'm in early, and because I'm probably forever going to be known as "the coffee guy", she came to me.

I don't manage the coffee club anymore, I told her, I'm just a member.

We just want one scoop, she repeated, showing me the scoop again.

I'm just a member, I repeated right back at her, I can't tell you it's okay. You'll need to ask Mandy; she manages the coffee club now.

In hindsight, I should have said, 'sure, just leave a dollar in the cup.' knowing she didn't want to pay; she wanted to take a scoop and if someone caught her she wanted to be able to say, "John said it was okay..."

Except I wouldn't tell her it was okay.

I'll ask someone else, she said, walking off.

Mandy will be in soon, I called after her. You should ask Mandy.

I'll ask someone else, she muttered.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Giving thanks

This Sunday at Church the Minister talked about not dwelling on the past; to give thanks for what we have received, but to live our lives in the present and look forward to the future.

Coincidentally - or not - my Mum was sitting beside me for the third Sunday in a row, and she was scheduled to fly back home that very evening.

There are days where the Minister seems to have written his sermon just for me and this was one of those days.

I took comfort from his words, and instead of being sad that Mum was leaving I gave thanks for the weeks that we'd had together.

Instead of dwelling on the past, on the years gone by and the thousands of miles that separate us, I look forward to when Mum will visit again.

I have been very bitter for many, many years over what I have wrongly thought of as my wife forcing me to leave my birth family and move here to the States. Wrongly, because it was my decision to leave. I could have stayed and let her go and never seen her again, instead I chose to leave my family so I could be with her. Foolishly, believing that we'd move back to Australia some day. Naively, not comprehending how difficult that choice would be to live with. But it was my choice. I made it, and I've lived with it.

But until now I've always lived in the past, dwelling on what may have been, instead of what is.

Life has been hard, there have been tears over the years.

But there has been joy, too.

It's time for me to stop living in the past,
to give thanks for the gifts I have received,
and look forward to the future and the gifts yet to come.

Today is a great day because it's one more day I get to spend with my wife, my children, my family.

Tomorrow will be even better.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Snarky without my coffee

We have two sign-in sheets at the front desk. These are for us, the staff, to sign in & out; not for people visiting our office. There are two sign-in sheets because the number of workers in our office spans two pages, A through M on the first page, N through Z on the second.

Because I'm almost always the first person to arrive at the office each morning, when I get in I take yesterday's two sign-in sheets off their respective clipboards, put them on the "old sheet" stack under the counter, get two new sheets from the "new sheet" stack, write today's day & date at the top of each page, clip them to their clipboards, then check off my name on the second page as being "Present!".

This morning I got in and saw someone had beaten me into the office, and they'd put a new sign-in sheet on the first clipboard. That is they'd taken the first sheet, the A-M sheet, from the new sheet stack, but only the A-M sheet because their name is on that first sheet, so obviously they don't need the second sheet. Duh! Then they put that new A-M sheet on top of Friday's sheet, dated it, checked off their name, then toddled off to their desk.

I looked at the sign-in sheets for a few seconds, almost unable to believe that someone would take out and date only that first sheet because that was all they needed. Almost.

I sighed, and reminded myself that coworkers can be friendly but that doesn't make them friends. Then I unclipped Friday's sheets, put them under the counter on the "old sheet" stack, took the page of N-Z names off the new sheet stack, clipped it to the clipboard, wrote today's day & date on it, checked off my name...and then...

I took another sheet from the new sheet stack, being the first page of A-M names.

And I wrote today's day & date on top of that page.

And I replaced the sheet my coworker had used to check off her name with this new sheet, and I put "her" sheet on the "old sheet" stack. And no, I didn't check off her name on my new A-M sheet. Bwah hah ha!

No, she won't get into trouble for not checking in or anything like that, but I gained a certain amount of perverse pleasure plus the satisfaction in redoing the entire "job" and not just "finishing what she'd started".

With that I went to the breakroom to get a cup of coffee and discovered she'd already been in there too, and that while the kettle was on to boil so she could make herself a cup of tea, Friday's 3-day old coffee was still sitting in the pot. Lovely.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Hey. How YOU doin' ?

Life has been going on, we've been doing stuff, but as more and more time passed since my last Blog post I felt less & less inclined to write another entry. So why now? Why not just the Blog die? Good answer. Boredom, perhaps :P

The boy and I have been playing a lot of Magic:The Gathering. He's getting pretty good at building & tweaking his decks, and seems to know how to get the best out of each of the cards in his hand at any given time. Our games are no longer a walk in the park for me, and when I'm not careful about how to play my own cards he will take advantage of the situation and my lack of concentration and kick my butt. And I'm happy for him that he's able to do so :)

We've been watching Wil Wheaton's "Tabletop" videos on Youtube, where he has a few guests over and they all play a board game together. It's not as boring as it sounds. Okay, some of the videos are, but some of them are very entertaining to watch, too. Through Tabletop I finally got to see Munchkin in action, which is game I've had my eye on for a long time but never felt it was something the family would want to play. But after watching it played on Tabletop, then having a birthday last month, I decided Munchkin should be my birthday present, and so it was. And when it arrived we played it almost non-stop for several days in a row. We would play back-to-back games, then take a break for an hour or so, then one of us would be "So...rematch?" and everybody said "Sure! Get it ready!" I won't bore you with the details, instead, watch Wil & Co. play the game and you can decide if Munchkin might be something you could get into.

Subsequent edit to the review of Facebook's Walking Dead Game. I will leave the review up, but they made a few changes to the game, as I discovered when I was playing the other night, which IMO are game-breaking.

I had leveled up so I went to do the next Story Mission, and I discovered I didn't have enough Supplies to attempt it. Which was odd because I'd never ran into this problem before. In fact I had almost 250 Supplies, and yet I still needed more in order to do the Story Mission. So I did a couple more regular Missions, obtained some more supplies, then completed the Story Mission.

The next Story Mission popped up and naturally it required me to gain another level before I could attempt it, or I could spend Dead Dollars to unlock it now. Except it was pointless unlocking it now because I had no Supplies...and I needed 260 Supplies to attempt it. For several seconds I stared at that requirement in disbelief. Then I quit the game.

Don't get me wrong. I understand wanting to be compensated for your time in building your game by encouraging your players to pay-to-play, but IMO this change was ridiculously excessive and achieved the exact opposite of what "they" were trying to accomplish.

Instead of persuading me to invest money in the game as I've done in the past with other games, LOTRO, Wizard 101, and DDO, just to name a few, they turned me off the game instead.

Anyway, here's my original review, for what it's worth, given that I no longer consider it worth playing.

* * *

I recently began playing Facebook's The Walking Dead game which, unlike many of FB and Zynga's games, actually plays like a real game. If you ever played X-Com or any of its spin-offs The Walking Dead game is a lot like that. Naturally it's a "lite" version, and naturally, being a FB game, there's the pervasive begging to pay them real money to play what is otherwise a free game. But being a FB game it's not something you'll spend an entire evening playing; it's really just a minor diversion for 30 minutes or so, but it's a fun 30-minute diversion and with the X-Com-like mechanics it's more like a real game than any other FB game I've played (and I've played a lot of them).

You start with your main character who, after a brief tutorial with Sheriff Shane, finds him/herself in the first season's camp, where you'll meet Lori & Carl, and T-Dog, just to name a few of the more familiar characters.

There are other characters in the camp, too, and chatting to them will provide you with a Mission, Intel, or boost your Morale, with Intel & Morale being 'resources' you'll need to attempt the Missions. Before you go on a Mission you select a character (other characters will join your "Main Character"), then select a weapon. Some Missions are Guns Only, some are Melee Only, which is kind of irrelevant because you can change weapons mid-Mission. On a Melee Only Mission you can switch out your Hatchet for the Shotgun, if you feel it necessary to shoot a Walker. Conversely, if you don't want to shoot (Ammo is a limited resource, and gunshots will attract other, nearby Walkers) you can just use your gun as a Melee weapon.

Missions are played in a hybrid real-time, turn-by-turn, grid-based system, where you select an action or a square to move to, and while your character performs that action or runs to that square, any nearby Walkers will just stand there and watch. So you can run right up to a Walker and bash his brains in (out?), if you want to.

But it's not quite turn-based, because while you're deciding what to do, the Walkers will still be moving around the map, with one exception: once a Walker notices you they will take several steps toward you, then stop. They had their turn, they moved their maximum amount of steps, and now it's your turn.

This is where X-Com-lite and strategy come into play.

Each Mission has a goal, "Kill X Walkers", "Find X Supplies", etc., and every action you perform while undertaking that Mission uses an Energy point, and your Character only has a limited amount of Energy. you run up to that Walker and hit him, even though you need to go the other way to get to the Mission-critical Supplies?

Do you Shoot the Walker from a distance, and risk alerting other nearby Walkers?

Do you "End Turn" and let the Walker move closer, so you don't waste Energy on moving but now run the risk of the Walker getting close enough to Melee you first?

Or do you run the other way, hoping you don't run into another Walker, and hope to find something to hide (Crouch) behind so - hopefully - the Walker loses interest in you?

It's the little things like these which I feel make The Walking Dead game a lot more enjoyable than your typical FB game.

As you progress through the game and complete Missions you Level Up and earn Skills points, which you use to improve your Characters by buffing their stats. Such as Vision, to increase how far you can see. Stamina, so you can take more hits in combat, and Movement, to increase how far you can move "per turn", and so on.

Buffing Movement is a good place to start as it allows you to outrun Walkers, get in and deliver the first strike, or even just move long distances thus maximizing your Movement-to-Energy point ratio.

A few points in Stamina can also go a long way to keeping you alive when you're forced to engage multiple Walkers. And sometimes you will, because the game has an annoying habit at higher levels of turning what appears to be one corpse into two Walkers.

Vision is useful but not terribly necessary. Items like Food, Water, Medical Supplies, etc. are always visible, even when at the other end of the map. The only reason to buff Vision is to increase your short-range distance so you can see any nearby Walkers.

You also have a Striking and a Shooting stat, which you'll need to buff not to make you better at Striking & Shooting, but to allow you to wield higher level weapons. Weapons wear out and need repairing after a few missions, and you cannot attempt a Mission empty-handed, so you'll want a good range of weapons so you're not waiting on repairs.

And with that, comes combat. When you enter into combat a circular targeting reticle appears, and depending on your weapon one of several patterns will begin. Sometimes the reticle will move in a figure 8, other times it will bounce up & down or move from left to right, but it will always be centered over the Walker's head. As it passes over his head it turns red, and it's obvious what you need to do; left-click when it's red and make the Walker dead (more dead?).

Time your click right and you take the Walker out, complete with animation. Time your click perfectly and you get credited with a Perfect Kill and a special animation. For example, a regular kill with the Hatchet has you bury it in the Walker's head, but a Perfect Kill has you first decapitate the Walker then stomp on its head. It's not a ground-breaking combat system, but that you don't just click "Strike" and get an automatic kill makes it more engaging and more interesting than your standard FB "game".

Now if you miss, by clicking too early or too late, it's the Walker's turn and they don't miss. Your character will struggle with the Walker for a second or two before pushing it back, but the green Stamina bar below your character will now no longer be full. And if there were two Walkers they'll both get in a hit. These are the moments when you'll be glad you used several of those early skill points to boost your Stamina.

One last thing on Missions and Leveling. There is a Story that unfolds as you get further into the game and complete more and more Story Missions. In an attempt to persuade you to give them money the Devs slipped in a game mechanic where a Story Mission requires you to be one level higher than your current level before you can attempt it. Oh sure, you could grind non-Story missions, slowly earning XP, until you finally gain enough to go up a level. could give the Devs your credit card number and unlock that Story Mission now ;)

If you can get over the fact that it's a Facebook game, look past the blatant attempt to wring real money out of you, and don't mind playing it for half an hour or so at a time, you'll find a fun little game that lets you indulge your Zombie-slaying fantasies without drawing weird looks from the neighbors peering over your back fence.