Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I have discovered why Blogger sucked for me.

Because I have been trying to use it with Internet Explorer.

Bill Gates was quoted as saying something like "It doesn't ship until Netscape doesn't work."

I can't find the exact quote but that was during the early browser wars and Bill was ordering his team to make it so that Windows had built in code that would mess with Netscape Navigator, making it crash more and be less effective at browsing the web.

Yeah, he got into a lot of trouble with that one.

Well, now I think Google is doing the same thing. I am typing this in Firefox and wow, does everything on Blogger all of a sudden work again. I can format text, I can cut and paste, I am assuming I can center pictures again and have them pop up when you click on them.

Let's try.

Biker Thor says "Touch my bone you get dragged behind my Harley."


Yup, the Dog of Thunder is centered and (unlike in IE) when I click on the picture it expands to full size.

My blogging just got a lot less frustrating.

I miss you Vermont. I will miss you Spain.

Wendy and I deciding to leave Spain is much like any similar decision in life, like leaving a job or a lover. Once you have made the decision, everything we love and hate about Spain is magnified.

I won’t miss the city. Sure, I’ll miss the parks and the massive statues and the atmosphere and the food, but I won’t miss “the city.” I had never lived in a city before Madrid. I have always been a country boy and visits to any city always made me wonder – Why would anyone live here? My brief stays overnight only convinced me more, thanks to the sirens, people screaming at each and traffic noises all night long.

But, Madrid is different. I fell in love with Madrid from the first time I woke up in Wendy’s bed and she took me for a walk and to lunch. Madrid is much more like a village, connected to another village, connected to another village and on and on. It’s just not the same as the newer cities in America. You can’t walk a hundred yards without seeing something older than when our country was founded. There are lots of areas that are fully pedestrian and the little bars and cafes scattered everywhere are so cozy. The place is so clean too. There are always workers out hosing down streets or picking up trash or getting rid of graffiti.

Which is one of the things I won’t miss. I think police should be allowed to shoot to kill anyone they catch spray painting their initials on a wall. I won’t miss the city noises. I won’t miss having to walk twenty minutes to the store, stand in line for ten minutes after shopping, dragging my cart the twenty minutes home and then hauling sixty pounds of groceries up four flights of steps. I won’t miss Thor having to be on a leash all the time. (That dog wouldn’t survive thirty seconds off leash in the city. As Wendy says “I’m going to dash into the road to play with my car friends!”) I won’t miss the beggars and the bums who even come up to you while eating at a restaurant and ask for money. I won’t miss being trapped on the subway when some street musician climbs into the car with a music machine and plays along with his pan flute and then walks around the car with his change purse open. I won’t miss accordions. God, I so will not miss accordions. People who play accordions can be added to the same list as graffiti “artists.”

I will miss the food, the wine the beer, the architecture and the attitude. Wendy and I both firmly believe that “Mahou” is the best beer in the world. And you can’t even buy it in some parts of Spain. It’s very regional to Madrid. The wine here is also something special. You can get an acceptable bottle of wine for under five Euros. And the grapes and variety they have here I think are much better than American wines. Of course, more and more of them are making their way stateside, so, that’s good. The food here is just completely different.

Honestly, I miss American food as much as I’m going to miss Spanish food. They’re just different animals. The steak here cannot be rivaled in the states. I don’t know why but the beef here is just amazing. I will miss the super simple preparation. Steak – no sauce. Razor clams – olive oil and salt. Mushrooms -Olive oil and salt. Fried eggs – olive oil and salt. Cockles – olive oil and salt. Octopus - Olive oil and salt. Oh yeah, and some paprika. An entire platter of goose barnacles, Norwegian lobster, tiger shrimp, two kinds of crab – all just boiled and served cold. For some reason there is mayo on the table but we never use it. Just eat them with nothing. It’s pure flavor unblemished by batter or cocktail sauce.

I’ll miss the casual attitude about drinking here. And I don’t mean that they casually drink to excess, they just don’t see alcohol as the great evil it is viewed at in America. All of Europe is that way actually. It will be depressing to go back to the states where you have special areas at fairs and festivals that are roped off, like we’re bad cows. It will be depressing to go to an outdoor cafĂ© and not see everyone with a glass of beer or wine enjoying the sun in the middle of the day. It will be odd to go to the butchers and not see him slicing meat with one hand, occasionally sipping a beer with the other while he chats to the little old lady he’s helping. I’ll miss that.

I’ll miss visiting the ocean on weekend trips but I guess I can do that in Vermont as well. One thing I’ll really miss is the double kiss greeting. I like saying hello to my female friends the Spanish way with two quick air kisses on each side of the face. Shaking hands or even just nodding when you meet someone feels impersonal after you get used to the Spanish way.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Blogger

Well, I have a new post that was going to go up today and both times I have tried to post it, it ignores all my formatting.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

My first Tweet.

"If I had one wish it would be to eliminate greed."

I say this in the wake of learning that Gaddafi has sequestered billions of dollars of oil revenue for himself and his family. This is just one in a long line of people where too much is never enough.

It reminds me of the Koch brothers and Fox news trying to break up unions in Wisconsin. Or Walmart paying its workers minimum wage, never granting health insurance while the Walton family (owners of Walmart) is one of the richest families alive.

I'm not against human desire to succeed or even become wealthy. I find those goals lofty, as shoudl everyone. But once you have billions do you really need to make others suffer so you can have even more?

But no. Stealing a hundred million from your country isn't enough. You have to have twenty times that.

You can follow me on Twitter as Jaedence.

Friday, March 18, 2011

UFC 128 Picks

Shogun vs. Bones Jones –

In every competition there are those guys who are just a level above everyone else. In poker it’s a sign of distinction to win a World Series of Poker bracelet. You are a master of the game now. You are head and shoulders above the top 1% of the game. But you know what? There are players with a dozen of those bracelets that are head and shoulders above you. Magic is the same way. There are guys who make the Pro Tour and some guys that have broken the top eight more than once. That is amazing! To make the top eight at a pro tour more than once is a huge feat. You are The Man (or Woman.) And there are guys like Finkel and Budde that have WON more pro tours than the amount of people in Vermont than have ever even competed in a Pro Tour. They are head and shoulders above the rest.

This is starting to sound like a dandruff commercial. Let’s change this from “head and shoulders” to “superstars.”

Other examples of people being the master of their particular arena, being almost super-human would be guys like Mike Tyson, Tiger Woods, and Pete Sampras.

In MMA, those names are Anderson Silva and GSP. (I’d mention Fedor but he is on a two fight losing streak. Sorry Fedor.) This weekend in MMA, a new Superstar will be revealed. His name is Johnny Bones Jones and I believe that after his dismantling of one of the true greats, Shogun, the Bones Jones era will begin. Like Anderson Silva and GSP, he will hold the belt for a long time.
Shogun has been inconsistent. There isn’t any doubt that he is one of the greats but has he ever been considered to be at the level of Fedor or a prime Wanderlei Silva or a prime Chuck Liddell?

I don’t think he has. He has also shown us he can have very bad performances. Until his knockout of a declining Chuck Liddell, Shogun looked like half the fighter he used to be. He has rebounded from that, but facts are facts. Bones on the other hand, while his legacy is just beginning, has steamrolled through every opponent he has faced, making some top ten competitors look like rag dolls soaked in meat juice being attacked by a pit bull. He has thrown around guys that should have been a good fight for him and he has made them look like amateurs every second they were in the ring with him.

I don’t know what round it will end but the Bones Jones era starts this Saturday.

Marquardt vs. Miller – Miller is a game opponent but Marquardt has the potential to be a Champion in the UFC. He shows flashes of brilliance in some of his fights that are pure magic. After his disappointing loss to perennial contender Ushin Okami, I am pretty sure we will see Nate “the Great” as great as he has ever been. I think Nate is coming into this fight with a hungry, murderous gleam in his eye.

Mirko Cro Cop vs. Brendan Schaub – Brendan Schaub is young and hungry and Cro Cop is… not. Would you like to see the Mirko Cro Cop of old who left high kicked people into a heap on the mat? Sure, who wouldn’t? Would you like to see Wanderlei Silva be the aggressive axe-murderer of old? Of course. Would you like to see Chuck Liddell deftly avoiding punches and then knocking people out even as he backs up? We would all love to see those things.

Except those days are over. Nothing but respect for anyone I mentioned but Cro Cop’s best days are behind him, not in front.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Superman or Batman?

One of the eternal questions. – Who is better/who would you want to be – Superman or Batman?

I would prefer to be Superman. I don’t like to fail.

One thing people say is that Batman is more realistic than Superman and today, it occurred to me, that is just not true.

How long do you think you would survive dressed as a bat fighting against guys with guns? Realistically you would last about one crime fighting night before being shot. If you survived that and persisted in your efforts and actually made yourself a nuisance, you would be killed. There’s a reason the police travel in pairs and call for backup when faced with superior numbers.

“Where’s your detective skills now Bats?” BLAM!

It is easier for me to believe that an alien would have powers above those of normal men than it is for me to believe a guy can take out ten gun-wielding mobsters using only boomerangs and martial arts.

If given the choice, I would choose to fly, be super strong, and immune to gunfire. In fact, since I hate losing so much, give me Thor’s hammer and Captain America’s shield while you’re at it. Oh, and Green Lantern’s ring would be nice too.



Is this the coolest thing ever drawn? I think it is.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Just some updates


The Dog of Thunder warns you to stay away from his teddy monkey!
.
It is fifty degrees and sunny today in Madrid. Madrid has received about one inch of snow that melted the second it hit the ground this year resulting in zero accumulation.

In the abstract, Wendy and I miss snow. It will be nice to come back to Vermont and have a real Vermont winter next year. In reality, we miss snow but I know I’ll be plenty sick of it soon enough if snowfall next year is anything like this year. In Vermont, people have literally had to shovel snow every day for weeks on end this year in a record breaking snowfall winter.

The second eye surgery went well, adjusting the left eye and putting the new lens in the right eye without complications. It is now two weeks and a day later and I am experiencing everything I was told I would experience. Peripheral vision is a little weird, still sensitive to sunlight, lights in the dark have a halo around them, but the eyes are improving every day by minor amounts. I’m told it can be a month or two before everything settles down and my brain gets used to the new lenses. So far so good. While my vision isn’t perfect yet, I am now typing and reading without glasses for the first time in five years and I am loving it.

Rode the bike for thirty minutes yesterday, but not allowed to do light weight training for another week or two and another three before I can start to push it with any intensity.

My mom suggested a movie to us last week , called Priceless, and after an exhausting work day, we made some pistachio chicken and sat down to watch it last night. It is a French film with English subtitles. I love how foreign films break the formulae of Hollywood. You think the movie is going one direction then it goes in another and then off into even another direction. You never figure out what's going to happen next because it’s not what people expect. One reviewer remarked that it was very French. That it was a nice statement on French culture and mores and I have to agree. You have to suspend your disbelief a bit at the beginning with the way the male lead responds to circumstances spiraling out of his control, but they make it work. Considering it doesn’t follow any typical Hollywood formulae we (enjoyably) didn’t have a clue where the movie was going next and it had a few laugh out loud moments. One scene had us laughing for a good minute.

Right now I am reading The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, suggested to me by my friend Chris McMahon. The writing in it is generally very good and I love the main character so far. The beginning started out strong with a genius boy learning a vast variety of skills, including magic, as he traveled with his mother and father’s troupe of performers. Then his parents are killed and he makes his way to a city and becomes a beggar. For the next hundred pages…
Okay, I have no idea how many pages, I’m reading it on my iPhone which doesn’t have page counts. It could have been fifty but it felt like a hundred. At least. While in the city he spends three years as a beggar, somehow forgetting everything he ever learned about magic, fighting, herbalism, healing, acting, playing the lute or any number of skills that would have helped him not be a beggar and not be beaten so regularly. This part of the book infuriated me. Luckily he’s finally made his way out of the city and to the mage academy and it’s already back to being a great book. I am engrossed. I’ll let you know how the rest of it is.

Answers to some responses to last weeks “Torn” entry –
Sam R. Thanks! Glad you’re enjoying the writing. Make sure to check out this site further as there are a lot of things on here you might enjoy other than just the Magic content.
Al – Thanks for pointing that out. I’ll look into that right away. They should be available everywhere.

Mr Fantastic – Thanks for the suggestion. I haven’t looked into Magic Workstation for years. The last time I looked at it, it was just too rudimentary for me. Magic Online was 100x as expensive but also a 100x better. Hopefully that’s changed. Proxying cards doesn’t for me. The friends I have here don’t play Magic and the language barrier makes it tough for me to go to a shop and just play, especially since they have tournaments going on whenever the store is open. Yes, it is a lame excuse on my part which could be boiled down to “I just don’t like proxies and I’m lazy.” Magic could be a priority in my life right now if I had a better base of friends to play with so the writing was better. My writing style has always played off of reporting clever things my friends say or amusing things that happen at tournaments or on the road. I respect your opinion Mister Fantastic but I respectfully disagree that I’m just saying "It's so expensive, OMG!" Well, that is what I’m saying actually, and I stand by that, but thanks for giving me some options I hadn’t considered.
The next Anonymous poster agrees with me on that. Concerning the writing, I have not looked at Guy Gavriel Kay’s work but will, thank you for the suggestion.

That’s all for today.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Torn

I was going to put some Natalie Imbruglia lyrics here, but they just didn’t fit how I’m feeling. I’m not out of faith, I’m not naked, cold and shamed, lying on the floor (that was Saturday night), nor has my inspiration run dry. Wait, actually, yes, I guess my inspiration has run a little dry…

At this point last year I would bound out of bed and have a billion things to work on. I was putting the finishing touches on a book, approaching agents, working on another book, updating my blog and thinking about getting back into Magic.

Well, two hundred rejections later, book finished and self published, then another book self published, then twenty-odd mediocre columns later – I’m a little beaten down. Two hundred rejections is a lot. I had some agencies ask for a partial, a few less asked for a full to read but none of the agents I approached wanted to rep me. My return to Magic and Magic writing has been less than stellar. So, now what do I work on? Let’s take them one at a time.

I’m very proud of “I’m not an Alcoholic, I’m just European!” The very beginning is a little slow but that's because it needs to be to explain why I moved to Spain. After that I think it’s some of my most humorous writing about a niche subject that I think would sell well if I could find an agent. I like to think I’m similar to Bill Bryson without the negativity.

Even though he does books on a lot of other subjects, Bill Bryson is the top of the heap for travelogue writers. Second place would probably go to Peter Mayle and third would have to go to Chris Stewart. Everyone else that I have read is a distant fourth. There have been some excellent travel writers that have written short pieces but nothing long enough to compare to the above three. And, I have to admit some ignorance on the subject in the sense that, I haven’t done an extensive study of the genre, but I have read multiple authors that are actually making a living off their travel books and their writing is awful.(Anthony Bourdain is not including in my list of Travel Writers because his books are about cooking, or they are a recap of his TV show.)

The sales for this self-published book are okay, but not great. In some ways it has exceeded my expectations on how many I would sell each month, but, best case scenario, it could be selling a lot more. I now have three self-published books on Amazon and if I had fifteen I might be making a living. I keep my eyes open for ways to promote the books and have tried different web advertising, word of mouth and even handing out free sample chapters on the street to tourists in Madrid. None of which have garnered the sales I had hoped for.

I read an encouraging article about a self-published author who is making a fortune in self-publishing. She said her sales really took off once she approached book review blogs. I spent the day looking over the links in the article and reading book review blogs policies. How her sales increased after approaching these blogs is a mystery to me since none of the ones I looked at accept self-published books for review.

She has sixteen self-published books out at the age of twenty-six. Guess what her genre is? Young Adult Fiction. (Which is what most of the agents are looking for when you look at each agency. Harry Potter + Twilight = Fad) Step 1. Teen Angst. Step 2. ??? Step 3. Profit! Guess what her books are about? That’s right, a girl who falls in love with vampire brothers creating a love triangle.

It makes me want to fall on my sword.

I started playing and writing about Magic again and while I received a lot of praise, I received a lot of criticism as well. While I thought the early articles were funny, they weren’t technical enough. Those criticisms stopped when I was moved to the free side of Star City but then the articles stopped being as funny because Wendy and I returned to Madrid. The clever, witty cast that lives in Vermont was replaced by me struggling to understand Spanish Magic players and flailing about in a format I didn’t understand. Which garnered more criticism.

Also, much like MMORPG’s, Magic takes a lot of practice and time. And unlike MMORPG’s, money. I found myself being drawn to mono green so much so that I didn’t want to play anything else. When I (and obviously my readers) got bored with it, I decided to try some other colors. Well, I wanted to try some other colors but, I’m sorry, I have been priced out of the game. The last time I stopped playing Magic the most expensive card was Umezawa’s Jitte. That card can go in any deck. If I want to move into white, I’m an idiot if I’m not playing Elsbeth and Gideon Jura. I never play blue so at least I’m spared having to buy Jace. But it doesn’t matter. Other that RDW, there isn’t a deck that I’m interested in playing that won’t cost me more money than I’m willing to spend - just to experiment! Hell, even my green decks would be more competitive if I had Lotus Cobra and Vengvines in them. All I need is $160 bucks (or more) for a set of four each and then I need that for online testing and another set for playing at the local shop- which would be fine if I knew they would fit seamlessly into my deck (which already contains four Primeval Titan both on MODO and physical copies.)

I love to compete. I love to try and qualify for Pro Tours. Right now, the format is Extended. To me this format is known as “All the cards Jamie doesn’t own because he’s been out of Magic for the last three years.”

I make my own decks and that requires lots of cards and lots of experimentation. This is nearly impossible these days without a support group of friends all willing to also spend big bucks so you can all borrow cards off each other and mitigate the cost even a little. I have been priced out of the game. (When I say that, I don't mean that it is impossible for me to raise the money I need to buy the cards I want, I just don't want to spend that much on Magic. It's like my favorite food, lobster. In VT I pay $7.99 to $12.99 a lb for lobster. I'll pay that. In Madrid, that lobster is 50 Euros ($70) a pound. I could pay that for lobster, but I choose not to.)

I have been taking a break from Magic because I don’t want to be like an aging boxer, mma fighter, sports figure – who has been in the game too long, refuses to retire and tarnishes his legacy. I’m not doing my Magic writing reputation any good by continuing to write crappy articles. When your boss tweets that “I used to like Jamie Wakefield’s writing, but now it’s just painful” you know it’s time to hang up the pen for a little while on that particular subject. I’ll probably pick it up again when we return home to Vermont in August.

So, what do I do now? Completing a book is like giving birth. It is a long ass, excruciatingly painful process. To do that and not find an agent is crushing. To release it as self-published and get some money for it sooths that pain a little but not much. Playing Magic and refusing to pay the cost associated with having all the cards needed to succeed is just frustrating. Writing about Magic and not having it be as good as it used to be thanks to said pricing, lack of clever, witty friends, time to playtest, refusing to move out of mono green through loyalty and cost, etc, is also frustrating. Not knowing what you should do for your next writing project when nothing has really succeeded to the extent it needs to, is depressing.

Six months ago I didn’t have enough time in the day to do all of the things I wanted to accomplish. Now I don’t know where to put my energies.

Do I transcribe my three hundred voice notes from South America and work on another book that won’t sell? Do I continue to flail at Magic and Magic writing? Do I give up for a while and focus on my body and mind by running, working out, taking Muay Thai classes as well as Spanish classes with Montse?

I’d get a job if I was legal to work in Spain.

Hence, torn.

This week has been a minor breakthrough. As regular readers know, Wendy and I will be leaving Madrid and returning to our home in Vermont in August. I’d like to work with computers again. I have great references, I find it hard to believe the HS wouldn’t take me back, and I loved it there. So, I’ve bookmarked a bunch of computer sites to refresh my knowledge and make it more current. I’m going to take this time to learn some more skills that will make me even more valuable.

I’m going to start approaching agents again. Maybe the economy has recovered enough or maybe I just haven’t hit the right one yet, but I’ll try another two hundred and see if anyone is interested in my book.

Night, Mare (Marilyn’s Story) still needs to be revised a couple more times but getting that done would at least put me closer to the goal of a dozen books available for purchase even if they are self-published. It’s also the one closest to being finished so I should work on that before moving on to our South American adventures.

As soon as my eyes finish healing (2-3 more weeks) I’ll get back to the weights and sculpt myself a little more.

So, I’ve got some goals, but I’m still torn as to what the best course to pursue is until we head home.

Random Dog of Thunder Pic!

Monday, March 7, 2011

I Want Some Ducks

I want some ducks. I blame Joshie Trash Talker.

See, he has just bought his first house and he wants ducks because ducks are cuter and cooler than chickens, and yet, they still make eggs. I eat a lot of eggs and I love animals.

So, I announced this to Wendy this morning, as I fried up three scrambled, that when we get home this August, I want to get some ducks.

“So we’re going to have ducks and Guinea Pigs?”

I don’t know where the Guinea pig idea came from but when we were in Ecuador it’s a common food. They have little pens for them and all they need is grass and water. Since it’s perpetual spring in Ecuador grass is easy to come by. Once they get big enough you skin them and grill them. I found them quite tasty.

“That’s a great idea. I can move the cage around on the lawn and I won’t need to mow.”

“They have to come inside in the winter though.”

“Nah, that’s when we’ll harvest them.”

“Harvest them?”

“Sure, we’ll have a big feast. We’ll invite all our friends and family. They’ll love it. We’ll have duck eggs and Guinea pigs. Hmm… Maybe duck, duck eggs and Guinea pig! What a feast!”

“Yeah, your family will love that.”

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Wouldn’t it be cool if we had Superheroes?

No. No it wouldn’t be.

Since I sometimes get nauseas from reading too much a few days after each eye surgery, I stocked up on a few things to watch. One of those things was Justice League Unlimited animated clips from YouTube. There are some things that work better in print than they do in animation or films and vice versa of course. One of those things is battles. If Superman is fighting Doomsday in the middle of Metropolis, thousands of people are going to die. The animated JLU illustrates this in almost every episode with the massive destruction of property when two super humans fight. Take a look at this clip of Superman fighting another good guy, Captain Marvel aka Shazam.



If I remember correctly, this is a new housing project so no one is actually in those buildings. But in many other episodes, fights like this happen in well populated downtown and there are people inside those buildings. All of those people are dead or maimed for life. Buildings being shorn in half and then collapsing as two beings harder than steel go careening through them does that.

Heroes or villains are always slamming into buildings, having been punched there by another super being.

Of course, we all suspend our disbelief in order to enjoy the cartoon/comic/movie but as you start to get older you realize you have to work at it sometimes. Take Spiderman for instance. He has a lot of human villains that attack him. Like, say, Doc Ock. Doc Ock is only human but has four metallic arms. Spiderman is not considered one of the stronger superheroes. He has other things that make him a powerful person in the Marvel universe, but not his strength. In one reference I remember that he could lift about ten tons at maximum exertion. The same reference listed the Hulk as being able to lift around a hundred tons and more when he achieves maximum angry.

Ten tons is enough to lift a city bus. When Spiderman fights Doc Ock or the Vulture or any other human with normal strength and no power to resist damage, the reality is the fight is over as soon as Spiderman hits them once. There would be no dodging of Doc Ock’s arms for five minutes, get in a couple of punches, bounce away to avoid the arms, spring back in and hit him a few more times. No. It would be – avoid the arms, punch Doc Ock in the head once and his head explodes like an egg in the microwave.

In closing, I just want to say that while I have enjoyed some comics that have explored the more realistic effects on human civilization as two super beings battle around them, I much prefer to just suspend my disbelief and go along for the ride. But, having watched some JLU this week, I just felt like posting that observation.