Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A New Extra Life



There have been quite a few things I could feel compelled to write about this time around: the aggravation of trying to find and watch Olympic events on TV that don’t comprise Swimming, Gymnastics, or Track and Field (and even some of the Field events) at a normal working stiff’s time of day.

Or perhaps another tirade about the idiocy of our current political situation in America, and the absolute frustration of never having a genuine choice in an election when one not a political party idiotic drone who would have no idea who to vote for if the name of the parties were left off the ballot and all those running would just be one long mixed list.

But I am hoping to remain on a positive note for the next couple of months in this blog, and talk more about something that I have been passionate about for the last few years. I wrote about Extra Life last October (check out the previous blogs entries on the right – October 8th), so I want to expand upon that as we begin approaching the main event for 2016.

Earlier this summer, the doldrums had a hold of me once again. They seem to come and go a couple times a year at random, and I have never really figured out what can bring an onset of them over me. This time however, I think it was a case of some news reports, the beginning of summer, and Extra Life. Yup, that very thing I am passionate about put me down in the dumps. Now, one would think that summer arriving wouldn’t be all that depressing, but I guess I was already starting in that frame of mind, because the strange thought struck me that the beginning of the summer is really the beginning of the end.

The first day of summer is the longest day of the year, so all summer long, the days are getting shorter and we are slowly losing all that extra daylight we were getting all through Spring. I just found that very disheartening. Summer was one of the best times of the year, back in those days of yore when the only thing one had to worry about was the planning of the next Super Intergalactic Battle between every action figure IP available at the time, plus a few imaginary ones, and the return of the school year seemed a long way off. Now the only thing to think about is how the sun was just a little lower in the horizon every day while heading off to work.

Next up was that news story about the little boy in Florida who was on a family vacation and was killed by an alligator. That one especially hit home since he was close to Abby’s age, and I couldn’t help but imagine myself in the father’s position as everything unfolded in front of his eyes, and the absolute lack of power to be able to do anything to stop it. Both I and a co-worker of mine teared up talking about it since she also has a boy who was around the same age.

The culmination of that was gearing up for Extra Life. As part of the yearly promotions EL does for their fundraising, they produce videos that highlight what the Children’s Miracle Network hospitals do and the reasons why fundraising for them is so important. Some of those videos highlight a family whose child has required the resources of a CMN hospital. I have posted one or two of them already on Facebook, but there are more, and the unfortunate part is that not all of them have happy endings. Again, as I watch these videos, I can’t help but put myself in the position of the family as their child suffers through some ailment that requires hospitalization and treatment. I am forever thankful that I have two healthy children who (knock on wood) have not needed the services of our local CMN hospital – The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The powerlessness I feel just watching the videos would only be compounded in spades if it was my own child who was suffering.

That’s why I am an Extra Lifer, and am in my fourth year of participating in the fundraising organization. I may not have the power to cure and stop the suffering of these kids myself, but I do have the power to make sure that the hospitals that these kids need to survive have everything at their disposal to do what I can’t.

Fortunately, our annual vacation to Hershey came at just the right time to reset my mindset and remind me of all the positive I can do by talking about and promoting Extra Life. Plus, my inclusion this year as part of the Official Extra Life Stream Team makes this all the better. For those who are unfamiliar, streaming is sort of like a live TV broadcast. I’m sure pretty much everyone knows YouTube and streaming is very much in that vein – people upload videos of everything under the sun on YouTube and streaming is just the same thing except the video is broadcast across the Internet live, as the action is currently happening. The go to site for streaming is Twitch.tv for right now, though Facebook and YouTube have started getting into the action as well. Regardless, the Extra Life organization thought it would be a great idea to get a bunch of people together to stream videos on the official Extra Life channel on Twitch last fall, around the time the main event 24 hour marathon was planned. It went over so well, that they continued the Stream Team into this year, and it has continued to grow.

Gaming has always been a part of my life. It’s just another form of entertainment that I have always enjoyed along with reading books and watching movies. The difference with gaming, though, is that it is more interactive and immersive because, through games, I can be part of the story that is unfolding, and can shape that story based on my actions as I play. It allows me to escape those depressing things in the real world and gives me the control that I can never have going about the drudgery of the daily grind. It allows me to truly be the hero that I can’t be in real life.

The truly amazing part is that gaming is universal. Anyone can play a game – be it a baseball game, a game of Hearts, a computer or console game, or a board game. Heck, we have all played a game of Tic Tac Toe. Now with the Internet and On-line games that allow people from all over the world to play the same game at the same time, we can break through cultural and language barriers and be united in a game just like the athletes on the field in Rio de Janeiro are united in competition. I have played games with kids no older than Erin and also with grandmothers in their 60’s and 70’s (and they kicked my butt!) I am currently playing a castle building and warfare game where I am literally playing with people from all over the world – Poland, Russia, Australia, Spain, France, Africa – you name a country, and more than likely I can find someone from that country in the game. Nowhere else can you get that and have everyone enjoying what they are doing together with no hate and no fear of one another (except for their elite army of knights coming for your village).

Games bring people together, and that’s why gaming is perfectly suited for something like Extra Life. It gives us gamers (and I consider everyone who plays a game of some kind a gamer) a way to come together and be heroes in real life. But it takes more than just sitting down and playing a game. It takes people who can emphasize with the families who we are playing for to really make the difference. Extra Life cannot exist without us gamers to come together to play and promote the fundraiser, but at the end of the day, we can’t do what we do without the generosity of people willing to donate money to help these hospitals perform the function for which they are so vital.

I am extremely grateful to all the friends and family who have donated to CHOP through my Extra Life efforts over these last four years. Every dollar, every penny, counts towards helping CHOP, and all the CMN hospitals across North America (US, Canada, and Puerto Rico) with funding research, purchasing new equipment, and treating children, regardless of whether the family can pay for that treatment or not. So over these next few months leading up to this year’s main event marathon (November 5th and 6th), I hope to provide updates and insights in this blog and will implore all who read to help me reach my goal in raising as much money as I can for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, regardless of where you live. At the end of the day, the particular hospital for which we are playing is not as important as the fact that the money the hospital receives goes towards helping a child somewhere in North America get better. I participate in Extra Life as part of a team of other gamers who I met through gaming and make it a point to donate to each and every one of them as encouragement, regardless of which hospital they represent, for that very reason I just mentioned.

Over 112 million dollars have thus far been spent on Political advertisements by the two Presidential candidates. That is an insane amount of money for mud slinging ads that could do so much good in the hands of these CMN hospitals. Please help me continue to be a Hero in Real Life by supporting my efforts with Extra Life and making a donation #ForTheKids.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A Divided Nation Under God



Here we go. Tonight was the night the most interesting, and potentially frightening, political race gets underway to decide the future of America. There’s hope, at least, of some good coming out of all the nonsense and shenanigans of the political arena, and that’s we have had the beginnings of a political revolution and of a rebellion in the system. Bernie Sanders the Revolutionary and Donald Trump the Rebel, for better or worse have made a significant impact in the minds of Americans, and I hope that impact carries forth to herald changes to our political system in the United States. To be certain, what we have now, and what we will continue to have should Hillary Clinton be elected has not been good for the health or reputation of the American people.

However as much as I would like, I cannot lay the blame solely on those whose career is to be a “representative of the people” regardless of whether it be a local councilman (or woman) or one of the men who have become President of the United States. Much of the blame lies with the American people themselves for allowing our system of Democracy to devolve into the mess we have now. It’s kind of like those who adamantly support the 2nd Amendment, regardless of the actual safety and security of people it may harm. Gun ownership is not a God given right – it never has been and it never will be. It is nothing more than a privilege provided by the government of this country in its infancy, just like the right to vote is a privilege, and one that I wish many Americans viewed with as much veracity as the NRA does “their” Amendment.

It is an absolute abomination the lack of effort Americans put forth into exercising one of the basic tenants of Democracy by going out to vote every time Election Day rolls around. I seem to recall it being said that a Democracy gets the government it deserves, and this apathy of the American people have certainly given us a government that shows every bit of disdain we have shown towards this basic freedom we have in this country. Certainly, the process can be made easier in some respects, but again, we need to make sure the right people are put in the right place so that those changes can be put into motion. I have always held the belief that if you can’t take the time to get out to vote, then you have absolutely no right to complain about your lot in life or the kind of representation that the government provides. I hope this year we can see a bit of that revolution and rebellion take hold of the American people and everyone decides to go out and make their voice heard on Election Day. Even if neither of the primary candidates appeals to you, now is the time to ensure we can begin to support the changes that are so needed in our system and exercise that great freedom we have of being able to literally vote for anyone we want, despite who is listed on the ballot.

I am sick and tired of seeing Presidential races treated like some kind of wet t-shirt contest, where the main goal of the party conventions is simply to elect someone who has the best chance to win the popularity contest instead of supporting someone who can do the best job as our leader. It is disheartening for me to hear people talking about not voting at all this year because of the choices we are left with. The write-in vote can be a powerful tool for sending a message to those whose primary goal is to further their political careers and agendas rather than being a true representative of the common American Citizen. If enough people finally got up the gumption and actually voted for the person who could do the best job of running this country and being a true representative of the people, then the write-in vote can elect a President.

I am neither a Democrat nor Republican. I don’t believe in a party system that lives to divide a country whose name begins with “United.” I don’t believe in a system that continues to stoke the fires of division and makes it nigh on impossible for anyone other than a member of either of those parties to have a true chance of being a representative of the American people. I have already stated one of my reasons for not supporting Hillary Clinton in my last entry in this blog. The reasons for not supporting Donald Trump are a bit more obvious. While I can respect him for his business acumen and the good things he has done for a great many people, and while some of his rhetoric may have the right intentions, there certainly are better ways to get your message across and better methods of making “America Great Again.”

At the end of the day, while I may not agree with all his ideas or policies, Bernie Sanders has stood out to me as a person who can get the job done as President of the United States. In a couple of interviews he has given, he has genuinely impressed me with his attitude and answers towards some of the things that have gone on during the electoral process and beyond. Certainly, tonight, on the second day of the DNC he has done what he believes he needed to do for the party, but that does not mean we still cannot begin that wave of change that this year has brought.

Come November I am going to take a page from the Ted Cruz handbook and vote my conscience. I am not going to vote for History and I am not going to vote for Hate. I am going to vote for the man who I believe to be the best person qualified to be President of the United States and not vote for someone just because I think they have the best chance to win. Regardless of the outcome, doing so will allow me to sleep at night knowing I did the right thing in my heart and in my head.

#voteforbernie

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Outhouse is Open for All



Let me get this right … I can put on a dress, start singing “Man, I Feel Like a Woman” by Shania Twain, and mosey on into the women’s bathroom anywhere in America? Wow, a pervert’s dream – thank you for that President Obama. I am so glad that was a top priority in our system of government in May. Quite frankly, I don’t care where anyone decides they need to go, truth be told a tree is good enough for me if the need ever arises. Perhaps my sister can speak to this more, but I’m sure Europeans must be laughing at us over this situation.

You know what the quickest solution is to this problem – simply designate certain bathrooms to be gender neutral. We have family bathrooms popping up all over the place, so why not simply enact some guidelines or legislation that all places with public bathrooms build, or designate an existing one, to be the one that serves them all? No, what we get instead is threats of withholding funds from schools, among other things. Brilliant! and way to go President Trum… I mean Obama. Thank God that there is nothing else going on in the world, that our elected leaders needed to focus on this issue with the utmost urgency. I feel so much safer now when I walk out of my front door knowing that I can take a dump in any bathroom that suits my fancy.

After all, it’s not like we have a presidential hopeful who put a classified government network at risk. Oh yeah, that’s right – it’s no big deal. Just used personal e-mail to send some work related stuff to colleagues’ work e-mail addresses. Yeah, it’s not like hackers use the EXACT SAME SCENARIO as a means to launch phishing scams designed to elicit personal or other sensitive information from users. And yet, this seems to be treated as no big deal.

When I worked for a tech company, the biggest problem we ended having on the internal network was user’s workstations being infected by spyware or other malware because user’s were fooled into opening a poisoned e-mail because they thought it was coming from a trusted source, even though it was coming from a non-network e-mail address. Heck there was one time where my fellow network administrator received an e-mail from what looked like one of my legitimate AOL e-mail addresses, and opened it up without a second thought, clicking the link that it contained. Needless to say that the e-mail did not originate from my e-mail address.

So here we have one of the potential future Presidents of the United States opening the doors to a secure and classified government network by getting her co-workers used to receiving e-mails from a non-network e-mail address. And she still feels like she did nothing in the wrong. This, if nothing else, is grounds for me to consider her completely unfit to lead our country at the top spot. The sheer idiocy of this is astounding, and the fact that Hilary Clinton is most likely going to be our next president is mind boggling.

I’m not one to go spouting off telling people how they should vote, simply because I am hardly any more educated than the next person, though it seems a lot more educated than most of the morons who simply refuse to participate in one of those nearly unique freedoms our government does provide us. But then again, people too stupid to make the time to ensure they act upon one of our rights of American Citizens probably shouldn’t be voting now that I think about it. Regardless, this upcoming presidential  election is the one that I have found the most difficult to decide upon my candidate of choice. At least that was the case until a co-worker of mine reminded me of one important part of the balloting process – the write-in vote.

So I am going to use this space to encourage everyone reading this to go out and exercise one of our basic rights of American citizens, and when you do so, instead of flipping a switch or pushing a button for one of the two party nominees, activate the little slide out box on the side of the ballot and write-in a candidate that will actually be good for America. My personal choice at the moment is going to be a toss up between Democrat Bernie Sanders, and Republican John Kasich. Either one, while not completely ideal, are certainly better by far than the presumptive nominees we will be stuck with come November. I hope that everyone out there will do the same. It’s long past time that we send a message that the current electoral process is failing the American people and it needs to be changed. I complained about the massive amount of money spent by campaigns in the last election. It’s about time that all that money be put to better use, and we finally need to act like a United States and reject the candidates that will ultimately fail us as a country.

Thank goodness I still have this Outhouse to hang around in to maintain my sanity - and it welcomes all people regardless of your "persuasion". Just make sure to get out and vote.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Flash



That day that I thought was coming a year ago has finally arrived. We had to say good-bye to Flash this morning. It was a moment I had been anticipating for a while, but the end came all too quickly and hurt just as much. Though he had some ailments, it wasn’t quite like what Willy had to go through in his final years. Overall, Flash had a good life and was probably the healthiest of all the cats I have had as companions. It was only his old age, and a slight blood pressure problem that was affecting his kidneys that really got him down these last few years. His hearing and sight certainly weren’t what they once were, but he always seemed to know when I was in the room. He was a cuddly lap cat until the end.

I got home as normal yesterday, and ironically, had to call the vet to make an appointment for both Flash and Hershey for their annual exams. I was prompted to do so a bit earlier than I had originally planned since it seemed that neither of the cats had been eating as much as they normally did, something I attributed the on-going renovation we have going on in the house this past week. But otherwise everything seemed normal, until the evening when it was clear that Flash was not acting as his normal geriatric self. He was much more lethargic and his normally over the top loud meowing was reduced to a raspy whisper. Flash was close to 20 years old, which even for a cat is a pretty long time. Over the course of the last 5-6 years, his age was starting to show as he just wasn’t as active as he used to be, and the arthritis in his hind quarters started to limit his mobility, as did his decreasing eyesight. During that time, there was more than one occasion that I thought he would need a trip to the vet and it would be the last one he would make, but time and again he shook off whatever has gotten him down and was back to his normal self in a few days.

He joined the family in 2001 or 2002, after I decided I needed a companion for Willy and one that wasn’t as skittish around strangers as Willy had been. I originally was looking for a kitten again, but upon seeing Flash at the store, realized he was the one who needed to come home. His favorite position was spread-eagled on the flat top of the cat tree, and that was my first sight of him in the store. It was just so unusual to me to see a cat do that, I knew he would be the perfect fit for the family. His exact birth date is unknown, as he was picked up as a stray, but he was around two years older than Willy at the time, so was basically an adult cat.

                            Flash resting peacefully in the final minutes we had left together



I think the biggest scare we had with Flash came in August of 2008. One day, in the afternoon or early evening, a typical day as any other, I thought I heard a thump or a bang while I was sitting in the living room. Not something really unusual as there always seemed to be something or someone thumping every now and again in the house, so I really didn’t do much to investigate. It wasn’t until later, when dinner time for the cats rolled around that I noticed something was amiss – Flash hadn’t come running along with Willy for their eats. A quick search of the upstairs turned up nothing. Somehow, it seemed Flash had disappeared. Even checking their usual hiding spots didn’t reveal our feline friend. It wasn’t until a second check of the upstairs that I noticed the one window screen on the side of the house was slightly ajar. Flash loved to sit in the windows during the summer time, and it appeared that this time, he must have leaned too much against the screen and it gave way, sending him plummeting 20-odd feet down to the ground. It was then I realized what that thumping sound from a few hours previous must have been – the screen giving way. However, upon checking the perimeter of the house, he was nowhere in sight.

This prompted a desperate search around the neighborhood for Flash that lasted well into the wee hours of the morning. Naturally, this occurred on the evening before I was to begin night classes for my computer training and certification course. We eventually found him wandering the neighbor’s back yard, but he was obviously scared and any time I approached, he took off running. A one point he got under the fence that separated the yard from the junk yard of sorts of the businesses that are situated behind our property. Another hour or so of trying to corral him between tractor trailer bins and huge orb weaving spider webs yielded failure once more as Flash took off running, and we lost track of him. It was at that point, heading back to the house that I lost it, fearing I would never see him again. He must have had a guardian angel that night, though, because as we headed down our small dead end street, Shannon saw Flash waiting by the back door. I went in the front, so he wouldn’t get scared off again, while Shannon kept an eye on him outside, and he leapt into the house as soon as I opened up the back door.

I knew in my gut that last night was Flash’s final night at home, even though I was hoping he would prove me wrong one more time. It just wasn’t meant to be, this time he just wasn’t getting better, and this morning I knew the inevitable had come. When put in perspective, 15 years doesn’t seem like a long time in the grand scheme of things, but when you consider that 15 years is more than a third of my entire life, it really brings home how much a part of my life Flash and Willy have been, and how much I still miss Willy, and how much I am going to miss Flash for a long time to come. Willy loved to sleep on my chest as a kitten at night, and Flash loved to cuddle up on my lap in the living room chair at any point during the day. 15 years was far too short a time.