Monday, September 29, 2008

Marvels of the Modern Age: Or, Adventures In Supreme Nerdery

Blogging 'round these parts has, admittedly, been weak lately. It's politics -- as in, I'm fed up with 'em, so am suffering from a bit of intellectual fatigue. Don't worry for me; I'll snap out of it soon, I'm sure.

Anywho, this past weekend, I had an interesting experience that I'd like to relate to my audience: I attended the wedding of a friend who I had never actually met. What's that, you say? How could such a thing happen?

Well, Some of my readers probably know that I am a big "gaming" nerd, of both the offline and the online varieties. The offline pursuits are largely isolated engagements, much like reading a book or going for a quiet walk. But the online games are very much social events. The one on which I spend most of my scant gaming time, The World of Warcraft (celebrity endorsements here, here, and for you Europhiles, here), is in particular notorious for this aspect (known in some circles as World of Warchat). Now, I've never been a particularly social creature, so I keep my virtual attachments even fewer than my "real life" (hereafter RL) ones.

However, through a RL good friend and coworker whom I shall call "Jeff" (and for whom I am known as The Enabler, for my tendency to sucker him into addictive pursuits such as online gaming), I met this other guy, Brad, while playing WoW. Jeff and Brad were old college buddies, a perfectly non-nerd way to know one another. Anywho, Brad, single at the time and very much a night owl, quickly surpassed both Jeff and I with his addiction to the game, and was thus on-line at all hours, available for talking and joint playing and whatnot (and by "talking", I actually mean "talking", as voice chat has long been a feature of this game, both through third-party clients and, more recently, in-game as well). And as people talk on long dungeon crawls and raids into the wee hours of the morning, people get to know each other, so that, before long, I could genuinely call Brad a friend as well.

Now, I enjoy (okay, perhaps "endure") a strained relationship with WoW. I began abusing the drug playing the game back in January of 2005 (Mrs. Red Shirt's worst-lack-of-foresight-in-a-birthday-present gift, ever), a scant 3 months or so after its initial release. I played with extreme casualness (which I would define as less than an hour per day) at first. I kept playing intermittently in this fashion through the summer of 2005, until we learned that my wife was carrying the awesomeness that would become The Wee One. Far from stopping my addiction, this served to intensify it, as Mrs. Red Shirt, in the later stages of her pregnancy, would retire around 8:00 pm, enabling me to play to my heart's content (going to bed around 1:00 AM was not terribly uncommon for me). Even after the Wee One was born, I kept playing, although considerably less so. What with frequent naps on the part of both Mrs. Red Shirt and the Wee One, I could spare time here and there.

It became too much of a juggle, however, around the summer of 2006, so that marked my first "retirement", to many fond and understanding farewells on the part of guild-mates (yes, I was in a guild), which lasted all of, say, six months or so. The makers of the game were releasing an "expansion pack", full of new content and abilities and such, so I just had to experience it all for myself. My former guild welcomed me back, and there was Brad (with whom I had uniquely (among all fellow gamers) maintained email contact during my absence), and my habit continued apace. I also note here that my wife again bought me the expansion pack for my birthday. When will she learn?!? Anywho, I continued playing for another six months, through the summer of 2007, at which point, realizing that I could not commit the time to experience what they call "end game content" (which requires hours of continuous playtime and dedication to "grinding" for the more powerful items in the game), I again "retired", having become bored with the game once again.

And like all addictions, I couldn't keep away from it for long. In the winter of this year, I discovered "pirate servers" -- free servers offered by people of varying integrity and malicious intent, often "hacked" to enable players access to free (both in the time and monetary sense) in-game items and money. Of course, these being hack jobs, they only served as methadone to my smack habit, and very soon thereafter I required "the real stuff" in the form of "retail servers" (i.e., those pay-servers officially sanctioned and run by the parent company, Blizzard Entertainment).

Being back on the sauce got me thinking about people, so I emailed Brad to see what was up with him. "I'm getting married!", he says. Mercifully, not to any of the unsightly female trolls that attempt to woo male gamers (I mean that in RL-terms, of course, rather than reference to the fact that one can play as an actual female troll in-game. It's a well-known fact that only ugly chicks play WoW, unlike all us handsome dudes that spend our time there), but to a long-time RL acquaintance of his, with whom he had recently become romantically involved.

So, fast-forwarding to last week, I attended his wedding in scenic (and powerless, thanks to Hurricane Ike) Dayton, OH. The only picture I had to go on was of him in his pasty-chubby years, and it turns out that he had gotten into shape in the intervening years and had recently gotten a tan, so the only point at which I was sure it was him who I was seeing was when the vows were actually being spoken. It's certainly odd to have a first-time face-to-face meeting with a friend at the receiving line of their wedding, but hey, those are the times we live in.

Two final notes: 1) one of his groomsmen was a fellow WoW player I had met online but not in RL. Through him we established that I was "patient zero": I encouraged Jeff to play, Jeff encouraged Brad to play, and Brad encouraged this guy to play, thus completing the delicate chain of nerd life. 2) Brad came over to chat during a respite from dancing at the reception, trying to encourage several of us to dance. I played my "no dance partner" excuse card (Mrs. Red Shirt being with the Wee One in California at the time), jokingly hinting that unless he were available, I would be a no-go, to which he responded with remarkable glibness, "That's fine, I've always thought of you as a female Night Elf priest anyhow!" (playing off the fact that I spent much of my time playing as... yes, a female Night Elf priest). Trust me. If you're a nerd, that little anecdote is high-freakin'-larious.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Color Me Disappointed

So the Large Hadron Collider is officially now online. Despite fears (or at least fearmongering) that the LHC could, inter alia, create a black hole (er, sorry, Barack Hussein Obama fans, I meant "a hole of no color")that would devour the earth, or give rise to the wonderfully-named strangelets which would render the entire solar system into a puddle of grey strangelet goo, we are still here.

And I am, in a really weird and uncomfortable way that I'm not quite fully prepared to explore, a little disappointed. Wouldn't it be neat to be able to tell the grandkids (metaphorically speaking, of course, as they would consequently never exist) that you were alive when a new and exotic form of matter was created? Or isn't your curiously just a little bit piqued to know what's on the "other side", so to speak, of a black hole? And as a Bible-thumping redneck fundie, I know that any world-ending event must coincide with the Rapture, so I've got that going for me too!

And yet, here we are, mundane as ever, with Wednesday being exactly the same, for all intents and purposes, as the Tuesday before it. Ho-freakin'-hum.

Maybe the SSC down in Texas will come back online in the future, despite the best efforts of time-traveling world-saviors, and I'll get to experience a singular event of Physics then. Lousy Democrats and their lousy project-cancelling. One more reason to resent Bill Clinton!


Tuesday, September 09, 2008

When Celebrities Make Good

All of us have heroes. Anyone who says he has no heroes is either lying or a very spectacular narcissist for whom his only hero is himself. And for must of us, some of those heroes happen to be "celebrities", in one way or another. Now I don't just mean "celebrity" in the rock star/hollywood sense, but in the more fundamental sense of the root word, as in someone whose very existence we collectively celebrate.

And of course, as often happens, because those celebrities are in the public eye, they often fall from grace. It might be a politician embroiled in a scandal, or an actor/musician who says/does something remarkably stupid, or sports figure who commits a crime. But what about those celebrities who we see as personal heroes, fearing all the while that we'll learn something about them we find distasteful, some sort of "deal breaker", about whom we then discover even greater things, perhaps unrelated to what made them our heroes in the first place? Such things rarely happen.

Of course, I wouldn't be writing this if it had not happened to me. One of my own personal heroes, for a variety of reasons, is Food Network host Alton Brown, of the show Good Eats. Never seen his show? If you like food, or you like science, you're missing out in a big way. The gist of it, for the uninformed, is that, in each episode, Mr. Brown takes a particular food topic -- possibly a single ingredient, possibly a certain type of dish, or even a method of cooking -- and delves not only into how to cook this particular dish, or how to perform that particular task with utmost care and precision, but also, the exact nitty-gritty science of why the methods he describes are the correct methods. I'm talking physics and chemistry here, not just vague generalizations, including prop models of molecules and chemical reactions. And he does it all with a cheesy irreverence and sense of humor that prevents the show from every being boring to even the most uninitiated viewer.

Since I am a fairly hard-core "foodie", and a big science nerd as well, you can understand how I appreciate such a program, now in its eighth-ish season (too lazy to do a check here). We (Mrs. Red Shirt and I) even own his books, I'm Just Here For The Food, its imaginatively-titled sequel, I'm Just Here for More Food, and the nigh-indispensable Gear For Kitchen. I suppose the only criticism one could level at Mr. Brown is "get a grip, man!" as he tends to be a bit over-the-top in exactitude, but it's all for his art, clearly (one is reminded of the old Phil-Hartman-portrayed "Anal Retentive Chef" SNL skit). But he occasionally adds caveats pointing this out, so all is forgiven.

Anywho. Just last night Mrs. Red Shirt and I were watching his episode on Omelettes (only 10 easy steps to the perfect omelette!). A discussion between us about nitwit celebrities came up, in the wake of the British host of the MTV VMA show the previous night begging us to vote for Barack Obama and ridiculing our "retarded cowboy president" (and you all know how much I value the American political opinions of foreign celebrities!). One of us pointed out that one thing we appreciated about Alton Brown, who happened to be a celebrity, was that he didn't foist extraneous opinions on the audience, sticking to his subject matter of expertise. I followed that up by saying something to the effect of "Yeah, I assume he's probably a liberal twit, since he's on TV. But he treats the audience with respect, so it wouldn't bother me if he was."

Of course, not knowing whether he was a genuine liberal twit or not wouldn't stand, so I hopped on that most trusted and respected source of all celebrity biographical information, Wikipedia, and pointed by browser (seriously, how did "pointing one's browser" make its way into our lexicon, anyhow? It makes no sense!) to Alton Brown's entry. In the text, under "Personal Life", what do my eyes behold?
Brown is a born-again Christian and a member of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia.
. Didst mine eyes deceive me? Fortunately, the entry contained a reference after this factoid, which led to a 2007 article in "Atlanta Magazine" featuring an interview with "AB", as he is sometimes known. Buried down at the bottom of the article, which is totally worth a read to any fan of his:
In 1992, Brown says, he found God, or maybe God found him, but he blundered away until he became a born-again Christian. "The single biggest life-changing thing for me is I just got baptized last year. Everything else pales in comparison to acceptance of Christianity. That's number one." He keeps a Bible in his dressing room now, not to show he's pious but because he needs the help. "At Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, baptism is a full-immersion thing, and we joke that the water didn't spit me back out."

Although he was on the cover of the August 2006 issue of the inspirational magazine Guideposts for a story about the connection between food and faith, Brown is not about to start a career as a celebrity proselytizer. "I keep praying I'll be able to do my job and I'll be useful," he says.

Wow. Not only is one of my biggest heroes "Christian" in some sense, but he's an authentic, born-again Christian (a Baptist, no less!), full of the newness of life in Christ. That explains why he hadn't offended my oh-so-delicate sensibilities! He's One Of Us! I was actually excited by this revelation, so much so that I even had a difficult time sleeping (well, the tea I had had right before bedtime probably contributed to that just as much, but still).

So yeah, I'm pretty jazzed about that.

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Friday, September 05, 2008

A Trifling Thought On Palin and Obama

I'm glad that Barack Obama was nominated over Hillary Clinton in this election cycle. Sarah Palin's nomination to vice president has been a shot in the arm of a movement with rapidly waning (visions of arterial bleeding come to mind...) enthusiasm or even interest. Many, many pundits and wonks were talking about looking forward to "time in exile" to re-energize the cause of conservatism, much like the Carter-induced calm before the Reaganite storm. And what's great about it is that, for true conservative enthusiasts, Palin's womanhood is really secondary to her exciting persona and "proper" (and genuine!) stance on so many issues. Yes, we're excited about "hockey mom", but I think it's more hockey and less mom that gets us going. She's got an authenticity unlike so many other politicians that is very refreshing.

And had the Democrats nominated Hillary Clinton, none of this would be happening. A move by McCain to select Sarah Palin as his running mate in the face of a female presidential aspirant on the other side would have been seen (rightly so) as a crass move to shore up the old-white-male weakness of a McCain headline. Any enthusiasm for Palin would be underscored by the fact that she was a woman and was only there to compete with Hillary, and such comparisons would have caused her to be dead-on-arrival. So of course McCain would have been forced to nominate someone else (it's hardly the "maverick move" to put a woman in the number two spot against a woman in the number one spot), and it's hard to say how he would have reacted. Assuming Hillary wouldn't have picked Obama as her running mate, but went with another Bidenesque choice, McCain might (a very fragile "might") have picked someone like Bobby Jindal -- again, for many of the same reasons as he picked Palin in the first place: outsider, young, strong conservative credentials, and not an old white male. But Jindal is still young, and I think he's got more good to do in Louisiana before hitting the national stage. (This gives rise to the question, which is a whole topic unto itself: if I think Jindal wasn't ready yet, why do I think Palin is? I need to dwell on that one more).

And if Hillary had won the nomination, and picked Barack Obama as his running mate, I'd certainly be packing my bags for political exile right now. I'd say the same thing about Obama if he had picked Hillary as his own running mate, of course; and all the above arguments apply there as well. But I think a Hillary/Obama ticket would have been deadly to GOP prospects in an already dismally prospected year.

So to wrap things up: thank you, Democrats, for picking Obama. You've given us a new lease on life. And thank you, Barack Hussein Obama, for picking Biden. You might have given us the election with that one.


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Funny For All the Wrong Reasons

The above video was, to me, laugh-out-loud funny. High-frickin'-larious, in fact. But I don't think it was devised with the intent that I, a hard-core conservative voter with no intention of voting for the Barachrist Obamessiah, would enjoy it. First of all, it starts out with the currently popular canard among the left that McCain's choice of Susan Pollen Sarah Palin was an act of desperation. (Brief rebuttal: I have yet to see a single pundit not already completely and totally in the sack for Obama say that last week's Democratic Convention was somehow devastating to the Republican race; and although there was barely any gap between Obama's Thursday night acceptance speech and McCain's Friday morning announcement, there wasn't any discernible "bounce", however mitigated, for Obama. Moreover, most non-Obama-Zealots have indicated that Obama's speech was more or less Democratic boilerplate rather than the stirring, earth-shattering oratory for which Obama is (fallaciously, and I'll have more on that in a later post) reputed. Why then would McCain be suddenly thrust into "desperation mode"?)

But I digress. Like I said, I don't think the video was meant to be flattering, but to me, and I think to most conservatives, it comes across that way: that McCain really did pick someone who was ready, willing, and able to serve the role for which she has been selected, considerably more so than the guy the Democrats want in the front seat. It's going to be an exciting two months, if I can keep my lunch down from all the nauseating attacks, er, "journalistic duties" the MSM has been launching at Palin that they somehow forgot to do for Obama and Biden while the spotlight was on them. Minor clerical oversight, I'm sure.

For some clarification on Obama's "experience" and "readiness" versus Palin's, please watch this as well:

(HT: Instapundit via Ann Althouse)

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