A Minor Victory

I have been fighting to get Katie interested in longer stories (books) for a year and a half now. This effort has been met with limited success: the world is full of too many interesting things to sit still for a story, even at night when winding down for bed. She is just too wiggly.

We have slowly been working through Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Katie had spurious interest in the story since it starts slowly. It takes almost 40 pages for Charlie to find the golden ticket in the second illicit candy bar in the store. But once the children started dying horribly*, Katie became intensely interested and then promptly pretended she was not interested at all.

This morning Katie was very very concerned that Charlie would be okay and not also meet some heinous fate and I told her we have to “read the book to find out what happens next.” And I cackled while she looked very put off that she would not get the answer. Yeah, we’ll finish this book as she pretends to hate the experience.

Other than my absolute favorites the Roald Dahl books, does anyone have any good recommendations of books about 150-175 pages in length for the 4-6 year olds? We have a bunch of the Disney fairy books but some of them are pretty badly written. I am still trying very hard to get Katie into the swing of a constant chunk of story/night and it’s amazing how important the writing is.

And I mean, hell, I have, what, 1500 books in the house? One does not get away with not reading books while living in a veritable library.

(As a complete aside, is Willy Wonka a gay character or the most gay character in children’s literature?)

* The children do not die horribly. They are merely rolled off-stage by Oompa-Loompas who come up with clever songs who mock their terrible and easily avoidable fates. But hey, Augustus Gloop goes off to a fudge folding machine. I’m sure that’s pleasant.

PAX East 2010 Roundup

Short form: We had a fucking fantastic time.

Long form: I am not a big fan of cons and I don’t attend gaming cons. I have never been a big enough tabletop gamer to want to dedicate my entire weekend, plus a drive, plus hotel, plus food, to tabletop gaming. But since I was about ten, I have wanted to go to a video game con — any video game con, anywhere. For years I devoured the coverage of E3 until it became so tepidly lame that it finally died. I would have gone out to Seattle to PAX if I could have swung it and the moment I heard there was a PAX East, we had tickets. I bought tickets three hours after they were announced and sat on them since September.

Video games are my primary nerd-dom, followed by (indie) comics, then indie music. PAX is awesome. Main passion is video games? PAX. Like comics? PAX. Into card and board games? PAX. Want to spend your entire weekend playing D&D 4th Ed? PAX. It is a pinnacle of nerd fury.

We drove up to Boston and stayed in the Sheraton Boston attached to the Prudential Center which also housed the convention center so we never went outside. I wasn’t a big fan of the hotel — the room was tiny, the bar sucked, everything was overpriced, and they tried to buy me out of my room the moment I arrived. (Um, no? How does NO grab you.) But we spent very little time in the hotel.

PAX East 2010 had a problem with underestimating the amount of space needed for all the panels and activities/people, so everyone got real friendly and there were problems with space and seating. Without dedication to the entire convention, it was very difficult to get into many of the main events. We already know that next year it is moving to bigger facilities for demand but once we figured out that getting into major events meant waiting in lines, we dedicated ourselves to waiting in lines.

Some of our high notes:

Wil Wheaton’s Keynote: It’s online (search YouTube for ‘wil wheaton pax east.’) It was a pitch-perfect speech that addressed getting Old and still being a Geek.

Saturday Night Concert: If we were going to do anything while we were in Boston it was see Internet Troubadour Jonathan Coulton perform live. We nearly killed ourselves getting guaranteed seating. We stood in the pre-line for the line to get the wristbands so we could get in the line. We were not disappointed.* The highest point was the performance of Mr. Fancy Pants on a Zen Drum hooked to Logic Pro. Seriously. Make with the clicky.

Also, if for some reason you don’t know or listen to Mr. Jonathan Coulton and you claim to know me, click the above and exchange money for music. Or go to the old Thing a Week and listen to some of the tracks and then buy CDs.

Eric met MC Frontalot: What else do I have to say? Eric had the MC Frontalot demos off the website and wanted to exchange money for CDs. And completely unbidden, every CD cover got signed and Eric got a signed poster. It was awesome. You should totally buy a copy of the new LP, Zero Day. It has Jhonen Vasquez cover art! A bonus XKCD comic just for MC Frontalot! A song about Kingdom of Loathing! I don’t like hip hop but even I like the CD.

Steel Battalion: I would have nothing to do with this incredibly wrong game but we had to watch a match. We had to. Steel Battalion is a game for the old XBOX that required this enormous 40 button controller and was a “complete power suit simulation.” They had 10 machines all lashed together on a LAN to play tower defense games. It was insane.

Apples to Apples: We couldn’t get into the MC Frontalot concert on Friday night, so instead we discovered we could actually check out board games and card games. We met another totally random group of guys and played three hilarious rounds of Apples to Apples for an hour and a half. It summed up the entire con for us: people were on the whole awesome, people were looking for other people to play with, and you could hook up with total strangers to play games. (I also bought a Fluxx deck finally.)

The Rock Band Lounge and the Handheld Lounges: The Rock Band Network took over a room and turned it into a faux-bar with beanbags and chairs and had people get up on stage and make total jerks of themselves playing Rock Band. If you didn’t play on Expert you were booed! Best run of the con were the guys who played Iron Maiden — total props to you guys. You know who you are.

The best part were the long hallways covered in beanbags. Anyone could just go collapse with a handheld or a laptop on a beanbag for a while. Two huge hallways had beanbags on two floors so there was always a beanbag free. This was just brilliant — if you collapsed from just tiredness you always had a place to go.

The EXPO Center: I thought the Expo was too small — and we already know it will be bigger next year — but most of the booths had playable demos. I saw Puzzle Quest 2 with the big upgraded interface, so once that comes out nice knowing you guys. I saw tons of really compelling tech from the huge upgraded video cards to the tiny portable gaming rigs with 12 hours of life to the full six-string guitar controller/trainer for the XBox 360. (They gave me a free t-shirt — there were free t-shirts everywhere.) The new Rockstar game looks fantastic. Big downer though: I couldn’t get into the Civ5 demo.

I still seriously want that gaming table/dining room table.

Awesome people: From the guys who played Apples to Apples with us to the guy who told me the horrors of trying to win a Mario Cart DS tournament (avoid the blue bombs!!!) to the guys who let me watch their Mafia card game to the guys who demo’d their insane D&D4th edition flat-screen table with minis, everyone was just awesome.

Friends! We saw Chris and Jen, and I had lunch with Mark, and then we had a great meal with Mark and Eleanor. We will see you guys at the end of May!

Despite scheduling issues and having real difficulties getting into panels and that we are so sore, I am intending to buy our PAX East 2011 tickets the moment they go on sale in September. For the first year, it was great, and it will be guaranteed to be better next year.

I do have a photo archive up. They’re not the best pictures but they’re something.

* We had a backup plan if we couldn’t get into the concert. Freezepop was playing at the Harmonix Showcase just outside the convention center.

Blergh

Katie brought some DEATH BUG into the house several weeks ago from school and it got to Eric. Then it took Eric down — and he doesn’t get bugs. Eric is normally impervious to every yuck and nasty that comes through the house. Then it went to me, and I’m full of misery and have been on-and-off work for days.

I will say: Tylenol Cold Head Congestion Severe only takes the white frosting off the misery and exchanges it for feeling tired. Seriously, I give it a B at best as a cold medicine. It’s pretty weak stuff but I know how I feel without it so it is better than nothing. I would gnaw my arm off for some Actifed. Sure I could go flash my driver’s license and say I AM NOT A METH ADDICT PLZ GIMME DRUGS but that means I have to move which I don’t want to do while this sick.

I am on day five and by watching the arc I have several more days to go. But at least I won’t be sick for PAX.

PAX East

Attention K-Mart Shoppers!  We will officially be attending PAX East in Boston!  We are leaving on the evening of the 25th and arriving on the 26th at the hotel adjoining the convention center and then leaving on the morning of the 29th.

I have already spoken to a few of you about our possible arrival but now it is certain. If you are also going to be at PAX East please let me know so I can arrange the phone number swap for meetups. If you don’t know me in person and are not part of Team Burlodge North but still want to meet up to see that I really am as short and loud as rumored, let me know as well.

Also, the schedule is totally up now.

WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Beware the State of Maryland

It’s an enormous pain to get rid of a dead car in the State of Maryland. If your car is dead, you’re pretty much screwed unless you get aggressive with the phone and go on some sort of quest to find someone to take it.

– You cannot remove insurance from a vehicle you still own.
– Insurance cash paid on the old vehicle is gone. They’ll eventually refund the money but meanwhile will ding you for another insurance payment on the new vehicle. No insurance rollover or transfer. Having a vehicle in the same class makes it easy to say, “Yeah, you know my policy? Duplicate that.” But otherwise, screwed-time.
– You cannot return tags on a vehicle you still own.
– If your vehicle does not run, or does not run well, no one will take it.
– Places that advertise they will take your vehicle in “any condition” totally lie — they will not take it.
– These places will say, sure, that’s what it says on the webpage, but no, they won’t take the vehicle, go away.
– Be prepared for multiple trips to the MVA, and not the MVA Express, the evil MVA with the multi-hour long waits.

I finally found a place that will take the dead Escape off my hands and give me a little cash for it. They’re supposed to take it tomorrow around 1pm after the tow truck no doubt gets lost getting to my house.

(Conversation today on the phone went like this:

“How much work did they say it was to fix the head gasket?”
“$6300.”
“HOW MUCH? I thought it would be around 3…”
“No, $6300.”
“We’ll come take it off your hands.”)

But Christ Almighty, it is nearly impossible to get rid of a vehicle that’s not on trade in in Maryland. And no tag transfer! New tags and old tags! Man.

The Tank

My truck died and we had two days to make a decision and $5000 that we could scrape together as cash for a down payment. And here is what happened:

1. We went to Ford Dealership A to look at their used cars and this was a terrible experience. Their vehicles were in such phenomenally poor condition we couldn’t believe they were selling them. The salesman was not interested in selling us a vehicle. He kept wandering off to do other things. We left after an hour but this was after we sat in a 2005 Ford Freestyle and we talked about how much we wanted a Subaru Outback but couldn’t find one used (they are impossible to find used in any condition) but we started seriously thinking about an SUV wagon.

2. We went to Lincoln-Mercury dealer in Annapolis where they were having a liquidation sale. Turns out the car dealerships are backed up with leased vehicles with leases that came up and now they cannot move. This is the dealership my super picky parents use for local service so we figured they might not be too sleazy. We drove a 2009 Mercury Mariner and a 2007 Ford Freestyle, but the Mariner was sadly out of our price range. The Freestyle drove pretty well and we went home to research it.

3. I found out that Ford doesn’t make the Freestyle any more but it won Truck of the Year 2007, had positive reviews, a decent review from Edmunds, a “Recommended” review from Consumer Guide Auto, and some other positive reviews. The 2005 model clearly had mechanical/design issues but I found far fewer issues with the 2007. Does it mean that simply no one owns one? I have no idea.

Of course for crossover vehicle of the same year there was the Saturn we cannot buy from Saturn being discontinued, the Chrysler we cannot buy from Chrysler going tit’s up, Pontiac and Buick are GM vehicles and who KNOWS about GM, the Toyota we cannot buy because Toyotas are deathtraps, the Subarus that are not for sale anywhere…. We sat in a 2007 Nissan Murano and hated it. We cannot afford Lexus or Mercedes. We could have looked at a Honda Pilot had we had more time and could find one used (you can’t). And as a Detroiter I would have to go through some convincing to buy a Honda despite the stellar reviews. Thus pickings are a little slim.

4. We went to Carmax this morning and Carmax is a miserable experience for anyone who has any knowledge or care or interest in their vehicles. At first they would only talk to Eric. Then they talked to me like I was Katie except with a very small brain. Then they were… it’s like the stupid Walmart of used cars. I drove a 2007 Escape and, to be honest, it was identical to my dead truck in every conceivable way. But I hated Carmax with a flinching vengeance. If the vehicle has flaws, they would be sure to mask them. Or not care. Look, just don’t go to Carmax.

5. We went back to the Lincoln-Mercury dealership and bought the Freestyle. It had a super high carfax score so someone took exquisite care of it. It didn’t seem to have any issues except a busted fob. We got ridiculous financing with a below the national rate.

In the end, we ended up with a 2007 Ford Freestyle, a vehicle no one has ever heard about and has been folded into the new Ford Edge line. It’s a Volvo XC90 chassis and engine with the Ford name slapped on it. It’s not really an SUV but it’s not a station wagon. It’s a crossover vehicle. Research shows complaints about some issues with the vehicle’s design so we’ll see what comes of it. We might have made a terrible decision but, hey, we also got an extra $4K knocked off the price so if we made a terrible decision we did it as cheaply as conceivably possible. It also feels like driving a tank.

If I had more time I would have saved money for the Mariner. Or had enough to put down on a Subaru. But a new Outback was out of my range so we did the best we could.

No Post Thursday

I didn’t post today. But I have an excuse: the highlight of the day was a neighbor’s house being lit, quite literally, on fire. Honestly. On top of everything else, the neighbor’s house caught on fire.

My poor truck is dead. It blew the head gasket which, for anyone who lives by the SE Michigan “it must die on 275” rules, is the death knell of a vehicle. That’s vehicle terminal cancer. The guys at Starting Gate really wanted to rebuild the engine for $6000 which meant $6000 on a credit card at credit card rates instead of a quasi-new, sanely financed vehicle at 4%. They weren’t happy with my decision to not rebuild the engine but I can get a vehicle hardly used with a chunk down and financed at a manageable monthly rate. It’s not their work I worried about — it’s the credit card. I haven’t put that much on a credit card since my wedding. No way. I was not going to have Chase Card Services own my soul.

It pisses me off royally that I tossed $2300 down the drain on my truck thinking I could fix the damn thing but I’m not throwing another $6000 on it. I have a little kid. I cannot place my bets on a rebuilt engine. That’s madness.

So I will call Carmax and have them drive down my new truck from Ellicott City tomorrow morning and I will buy it on Saturday morning. I already have a sales person and I know who I want to use for financing. And on the recommendations of many people I will be forgoing their crappy extended warranty. I will get like $200 for my truck.

This all blows not just because it caps off a terrible week but because I wasn’t ready to absorb a new car payment. But these things happen and we’ll put down a huge chunk of cash for the down payment and get off with something low and I will consider myself lucky.

Blech. This week needs to die in fire.

Plowed

We are now plowed and dug out. The enormous piles of snow are a little disturbing. In theory, we could get out. And that would be nice because I really must get to CVS some time in the rather near future.

Getting free of this storm was much less arduous than getting free of the last one. Thank God.

Pictures of the Third Storm

Snow Drift
Dead Tree
The Amigo



I managed to snap a few pictures out the door at the new storm. It is coming down very hard right now so going out in it was a non-starter. I have three interesting pictures —

1. The trees next to the door in the front yard are all dead. All of them. Luckily I think we can pull them out and buy new ones from Lowes.

2. Eric’s Amigo is covered with about a foot of snow right now. It’s not a good measurement gauge but by eyeball it looks to be ~10-12 inches.

3. My picture of the drift is not very good because it doesn’t convey the spookiness very well. That originally was a 5′ tall (one thousand milli-ems) drift but now it has a fresh foot of snow on it so it looks all sculpted. And enormous. And menacing.