Monday, November 28, 2011

Gift Giving Guide For the Holidays

For Christmas and/or birthdays, getting a gift can be difficult. What does the person want, what would they not really care about, how much should I spend. From growing up with extended family that didn't know how to give gifts worth crap, to having friends and trying to figure out the perfect choice, I've come to a few insights that I'd like to share with all of you as we move into the holiday season.

Let me start out on the bottom of the scale. I've heard that no gift is a bad gift, because it's still free. That's horse crap, and here's an example. When I was a child, my parents would buy my clothes; pretty normal for a 7 year old. A had one aunt and uncle who would give me a gift card to Old Navy each Christmas. My mom would use it to buy me clothing, which she would have paid for herself anyway, which left me with nothing. That, is a useless gift. Granted, it's hard to be that bad, but I want to establish a lower plane that we can build from.

There are 5 levels of gifts (independent of price), the above falling at the bottom of 5. Price is independent because it only applies to some of the levels. You can get a top notch gift without spending huge, or spend 1000 bucks and fail. So, that said I'm going to outline each level, with an example of something I've given or gotten.

Level 1:
A gift in this level is something you make yourself. Not bought. It's something you know they'd like, and it's original, since you made it yourself.

Example: A Do Not Disturb door hanging sign I made for two friends one Christmas. They'd gotten together pretty recently, and once they'd decided to go all the way, they went all the way allll the time.

So I found a picture on the internet of two stick figures having sex, attached the words Do Not Disturb, and printed it out. I put a plastic black backing onto it, then laminated the front, and gave it a border it tiny strips of gorilla tape.

Level 2:
You don't have to make something yourself to get a great gift. A level two gift is something you buy, but that the person doesn't know about. IE, not on their Christmas list. Anything asked for will be pleasant, but lack surprise.

Example: I'm a fan of Lord of the Rings. I do like paper posters, but only if they are old and rare. I find paper to be too fragile, so normally I don't buy posters at all. My mom knows this, and found something which I had no idea existed. A map of the world from LOTR, but a cloth tapestry instead of a paper poster. Much more durable, it's still hanging in my room today.

Level 3:
Level 3 is the last of what I'd consider the good levels. If you can't think of something that your intended would enjoy, take a peek at their Christmas list (assuming they have one), and buy something off of it. You know they'll enjoy it, even if it's not a surprise.

Example: Several years back I was getting into "modern" gaming (previously I'd played mostly NES), and I asked for an Xbox 360, which my parents got me for Christmas. I figured it was coming, so opening on Christmas morning wasn't surprising. But it was still great, because it was something I really wanted.

Level 4:
If you have no idea what they'd like, and they don't even have a list, you have a problem. However, you can't really be friends with a person without at least knowing some places they like to eat or shop. Level 4 is gift cards. Not really a physical gift, and an admission that you don't know what to get them. Yet you're still trying.

Note: This is generally above level 5, yet can fall below if you aren't careful. Make SURE they like the place that you give them the gift card to. As discussed in the opening story, gift cards can be completely useless and worse than cash.

Example: My aunt and uncle who used to give me Old Navy gift cards did finally wise up (after being told by my parents). They now get me a Gamestop gift card each Christmas, which is useful to me, since there's always a game I want and can't afford.

Level 5:
The final level, and worst of all gifts, is cash. It's useful, sure, but it's almost an insult. It's me saying to you, I don't know you at ALL, or if I do, I don't care enough to even take the time to go buy a gift, here's some cash instead. The absolute only time this should ever be used is if you really have no idea what places they like for a gift card, because admittedly some gift cards suck. Swallowing your pride is a sacrifice you can make if it means the person at least gets something they can use, instead of a gift card they'll just throw away.

Note: There is some debate about cards (Hallmark cards, etc) with no money. Personally though I think cards are nice, because they show you took the time to go get one and write in a little message. However, cards by themselves are not a gift, so aren't included.

Price is another issue that people sometimes don't understand. This really has nothing to do with the quality of the gift. A $100 gift card to a restaurant I hate is useless to me, while a $20 xbox game I might enjoy. As a very general rule, I normally spend $20 on each of my friends, maybe $30-$40 for my best friends and/or immediate family. Extended family is in the $20 range. However, price takes a back seat to getting a good gift. If I see something that the person doesn't know about but would love, even if it's above or below my range, I'll tend to go for it if I can.

Price depends on how well you know the person, and how much money you have. If you are a poor college student struggling to keep afloat, then don't go buy someone a new computer. If you're a doctor making 6 figures, then sure, buy your best friend a car. It's all relative, and no one's going to look down on you for not buying gifts you can't afford. They say it's the thought that counts, and that's very true. The effort you put in is far more important than the price.

The Home Stretch

I always enjoy these last 3 weeks after thanksgiving break. One regular week, then dead week, and finally finals. Normally labs are canceled or easy, and homework is not as intense. Instead we've just got to study study study. Finals can make or break one's grade, and by the second half of dead week, the prepping gets intense. Still, on average, these 3 weeks have a more relaxed mindset than the weeks immediately before break.

Additionally this is coming off a pretty good end to break, for two reasons. The first is that I bought a TV! A 32" Coby. It's only 720p, I'd have preferred 1080p, but it's not a big deal. It's 60hz instead of the new 120 or 240, but that I'm actually a fan of. I don't like the higher refresh rates, movies look ... weird, I guess. Hard to describe unless you watch one yourself. Hyperreal? And the TV was only $230 from Fry's Electronics. Ironically, it wasn't Black Friday OR Cyber Monday, it was on Saturday during Fry's' after thanksgiving sale.

Second and even better thing is that I had a hot date last night. Hot and nerdy. 8) We grabbed food and then watched Lord of the Rings. Yep, you read right. It, was, epic.

This next week looks to be pretty nice. I'm in between jobs at the moment, hopefully starting a new job at 10 bucks an hour, working for a CIVL professor. But until I start, I've got so much time. Plus lab for soils this week is going to have no take home work. It'll give me time to catch up on some shows. South Park is done for the season (Thanksgiving episode was amazing, go watch it), but Supernatural is still going, as is Walking Dead and Boardwalk Empire. I'll leave you with a taste of Walking Dead, a cool video about the special effects.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday

This year, retailers decided to do something different. Instead of opening at 5/6 am, most stores opened at midnight. I'm not a fan of this, for several reasons.

It's bad for store employees because they are required to work from Thursday evening through Friday morning. Example being Gamestop, which required employees to work from 10pm Thursday to 10am Friday. 12 hour shift, all night and morning. Not only does it kill their Friday, it kills their Thursday as well, and so Thanksgiving.

It's bad for consumers as well though, because of the increased number of them. More people are going to go to a store at midnight than at 5am in the morning. That means that A, stores won't be able to offer deals as good, and B, it's harder to grab the deals that are offered. Example, Best Buy this year sold a 42" HDTV for 200 dollars. Each store only had 10 though, and when I called the local store on Wednesday evening, I was told that there were already customers lined up outside. That's over 24 hours ahead of time for those of you who don't like math.

I ended up not going at all, because everything I was interested in was selling at midnight instead of 5am. What I'm looking at now are the Cyber Monday sales coming in in a few days.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Halo Anniversary Review

Back when 343 announced it was going to release a new version of Halo CE for it’s 10 year anniversary, I was worried. It’s very difficult to reimagine a game without pissing off it’s old fans, and very easy to screw it up. I must admit for a while I was really against the idea.

Fast forward a few months. We’ve had a few trailers and teasers released, and my suspicion is starting to thaw. The new graphics look really nice. And then comes the day that 343 confirms the rumors that the new graphics engine is built entirely on top of the original code, and at any time in game players can toggle back and forth between old and new. That little bit of news was the last straw and suddenly November 15th couldn’t come fast enough.

Read my full article at

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Snow White's Renaissance

I've been watching ABC's new show Once Upon a Time, and really enjoying it. Basic premise is that the evil queen that Snow White defeated unleashes a crazy powerful curse and transports the entire realm of fairy tales into our own world, into a small town called StoryBrook. Everyone has parallel lives, but doesn't remember anything. Snow White and Prince Charming managed to send out their daughter right before the curse struck, and now 30 years later she returns to StoryBrook as if by chance. The show then is about her trying to free everyone from the curse.

This is the first Snow White remake I've seen in a while. I call it a snow white remake because she's the central fairy tale character, even though the show is going to explore many of them. So I was surprised to see a trailer for a movie coming in 2012 called Snow White and The Huntsmen. From the trailer is looks pretty action-y and dark, so I'm kind of excited to see how it turns out.

Strange coincidence, two Snow White projects at once. But wait, there's more. Guess what I saw last night! ANOTHER snow white movie is coming out in 2012, called Mirror Mirror. So within a year long period, we're going to have a TV show and two separate big budget movies, all centered on Snow White. Go her.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Geeks unite!

I saw this today when youtube surfing. Geeks unite!


Sunday, November 13, 2011

We Just Lost The Game

Back last Spring during Cinco De Meyo, students in a public school in America (Not Mexico) were sent home for wearing a shirt with an American flag. This raised all sorts of public outcry. Whadya mean I can't wear have a picture of an American flag on my shirt in an American public school? It went to court.

Today, a judge ruled that the school did in fact have the right to sent the students home, based on the idea that the students were in danger because of said shirt. [Washington Post].

The school is basically saying, that if you show patriotism to America in this school, we can't protect you. First, you shouldn't have to be protected. Second, if you do, the school should be doing it's job and protecting you. THIS ISN'T FUCKING MEXICO, IT'S AMERICA.

Sorry, but this just pisses me off utterly, beyond which is just boggles my mind. We've gotten to the point where we have to be so politically correct that we can't wear an American flag because it might offend Mexicans? IN OUR OWN COUNTRY? WTF ...

Friday, November 11, 2011

Christianity in Schools

New Heights Middle School, Jefferson, South Carolina. The school brings in a Christian group to speak to the Children to convert them to Christianity.

This is a public school, paid for by money forcibly taken by the government from all citizens, even non-Christian ones. We also have a Constitution that prohibits the government from endorsing one religion. Yet here it is doing just that. The ACLU reposted the video that the Christian group put up originally.

One thing that struck me was a comment in the comments section of the article that the ACLU wrote about the issue.

"I applaud the school for their courage! They are indeed promoting civil rights for there is a direct correlation between the spread of the Gospel and the rise of civil liberty."

Interesting how the ideals of liberty and civilian, non-theocratic government arose in the 1700s with the rise of philosophy and beginnings of universal atheism. Also interesting that the countries with the highest civil liberties are the ones that have the most religious freedom. And another interesting point is that the ones who've been most consistently fighting civil liberties in our own country, from slavery in the 1860s through the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and now into the issues with gay rights ... are Christians.

Just to note of course, not all Christians are homophobic bigots who want to force their morality onto everyone. But if you look at people trying to force morality on others, chances are those people are Christians.

I saw this video yesterday and found it interesting, but not enough to warrant a post about it. But it's on similar topic so I'll go ahead and link it here as well:


Thursday, November 10, 2011

The End of Rick Perry's Campaign

Every time Rick Perry opens his mouth, my mind of boggled further at how he could have gotten this far in politics. He's hands down the worst public speaker of a politician I've ever seen. Not to say he's a bad guy; it's just that public speaking is a requirement for the job he wants.

He started out as THE anti-Mitt Romney. The one to really compete. Yet he's had a series of bad debates, which plunged his numbers down into minor candidate status. Yet his donations have held up in the front-runner status. Last night was the first debate in weeks, and his chance to come back, have a good showing, and convince people he's still up there in the running.

And then the debate actually happened ....

He's since said that he isn't ending his campaign, but I feel like this will still mark the beginning of the end. People can forgive one misstep, even one as bad as last night. But not when it's coming off a long series of similar missteps, and instead of showing improvement he's getting worse.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

My Second DiffyQ Exam in the Style of Henry V

Before an exam I always update my Facebook status with the quote, "Once more unto the breach, dear friends", a line from the Shakespeare play Henry V. Henry uttered the words as he and his men were beginning another battle, breach referring to a break in the defenses he was attacking. I just took my DiffyQ exam, and so this morning I again placed that as my status. This time, I'd like to continue it into a story of the exam itself, in the form of that quote. So I present, My Second DiffyQ Exam in the Style of Henry V

"Once more unto the breach, dear friends", I yelled, and we charged. My troops were trained as if to a polished sword from weeks of drilling, and I was confident my ability to win the day. We swept through the breach and into enemy territory, but things were eerily quiet, and I felt a nagging sensation in my gut. It lasted only a moment before the first arrows swept through the fog from our right, slicing mercilessly into our unprotected flanks. "Damn", I muttered, as we'd trained over and over for a front facing assault, and now things were being thrown at us from the side, completely unexpectedly.

I called out orders and we tried to react, but movement was sluggish as we were still shocked from the first blinding losses. One thing I've learned though is that no matter what, always keep moving. If you get bogged down facing one problem, the rest will close in and you'll never finish off the enemy before time runs out. We kept moving, barely.

Suddenly we ran into their forces, and our training started to pay off. 1, 2, 3 ranks we ploughed through almost easily, my spirits started to rise. The keep was before us, the last large bastion of resistance. And then suddenly the whole world exploded in flames. They'd laid pitch [pitch is oil that is laid on the ground and then lit on fire] all over the inner courtyard! We troops didn't break, but were stalled, spending time trying just to stay alive, all forward progress stopped.

After what felt like forever but was probably only 15 minutes, I ordered a retreat, we skipped past that keep and on to less important areas. Slowly painfully we worked through them, and finally ended up at the keep again. Our losses had been terrible and still the keep resisted us. With timing running dangerously low, I called a general retreat, and with heavy heart we fell back, leaving so much meaningless death.

Will they call it a victory? We leveled most of the place, but couldn't finish the job as time ran out. And we debatably didn't even do a good job on the parts we did complete. It was all the unexpected challenges that kept getting thrown at us that really caused the problems. Nothing in the earlier smaller battles could have prepared us fully. So will they call it a victory? We'll have to wait and see.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Exams, Exams, and More Exams

Exams and more exams. Tomorrow morning I've got my second DiffyQ exam, and I really have to slam it hard. I've studied quite a bit, so I'm feeling okay, but I felt great about the first one and got a 60%. So we'll see. Then Wednesday evening I have my second Soils exam. I'm feeling better about it, but still not Great. I've got tomorrow night to study though.

After Wednesday, it'll be pretty smooth sailing. I'll need to study a little for a thermo exam next week, but besides that it's pretty much done until Thanksgiving break. After Thanksgiving, we've got 2 weeks and then finals. This semester is basically gone already.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

This Is How I Live Life


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Writer's Block

Sometimes, as I sit,
the words, they just flow.
And why, they all fit,
the muse, only knows.

But some, of the time,
I'll sit, oh so still,
no words, and no rhyme,
nothing, nada zil.

What then, do I do,
when I've-

Friday, November 4, 2011

Why Politics Are Interesting

I read an article today discussing Obama's approval rating, which is starting to rise as unemployment falls. It's helped, the article said, by a very divided GOP field. I asked myself, why do I follow politics so closely, it's not like my knowledge is going to make a difference. What I thought of then was a scene from Star Wars, Episode III.

The scene was near the end, the battle between Mace Windu and Darth Sidious. I've loved that scene ever since I first saw the movie, because I felt like it was crafted to well. What makes it such a powerful scene is because everything, the fate of the galaxy, hinges on it. Mace Windu is the arms master of the entire Jedi order. Yoda might be the most powerful with the force, but Windu is the strongest of combat. He's therefore the only Jedi, the only one, who's skilled and powerful enough to defeat Sidious. And he does, when it's one on one. Without outside interference, he would have won, and the Republic would have survived. That is what makes Anikan's betrayal so significant. His betrayal at that moment, changes the outcome, from defeat to victory for Sidious, and everything else follows. With Windu gone, Sidious gives the order to the clones to begin killing all other Jedi, and Anikan destroys the Jedi temple. Later not even Yoda can defeat Sidious, and retreats, completing Sidious's victory.

Again, the reason I find this scene so compelling is that it leads in two completely different directions, depending on it's outcome. The universe, everything, is doubled at that moment, for both possible outcomes exist. Until the end of the battle at least. And I find real world politics the same way, if not to as high a degree.

Until the end of the race, we have two different outcomes, both of which are equally possible. That means that there is so much more in the world, and entire doubling of everything, looking into the future. It's fascinating, looking and exploring both possible outcomes, and knowing that right now, they both exist equally.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


I was talking with a friend about the idea that men are always going to ogle women, that it's a fact of nature. She was upset about that idea, and maintained it was a societal construct, and therefore something that could be changed. She also said it was demeaning to women, and led to things such as higher physical expectations as well as depression among them.

My position has always been, I can appreciate human beauty the same as I can appreciate other forms of beauty, and by looking, I'm not demeaning anyone. I'd be complimented if a woman thought I was handsome enough to look at. However, just because I'd feel complimented doesn't mean others would.

I think it's a question of how do you define harm. Punching someone in the face is definitely harm. Verbal attacks are less definitive. Among children, it's considered a form of bullying. But among adults, it's normally something you just ignore and move on from. And looking at someone has even less of an impact than speaking speaking to them. For ogling someone to really be considered morally wrong, it has to harm them. Where is the harm?

Well my friend observed that in our culture, women are expected to look good. That means that they have to wear makeup, heels; spend lots of time on looking good. And she pointed out, there are numerous cases of suicides as well as eating disorders that could be linked to this expectation, which is linked to mens' desire to look at pretty women.

I feel like this falls apart pretty quickly though. A, women aren't the only ones who spend time trying to look attractive, men do as well. Maybe not as much time, but still quite a bit. B, no one forces women to spend that time. They are choosing to spend it, men don't make them. In fact the ones they are competing with are other women, not men. C, women who have eating disorders have a problem, it's true, but it's no one's fault. Psychological disorders are problems with brain chemistry. Environments might help to bring out the symptoms, but they don't cause the underlying problem.

She did ask me, what about men who are in a relationship. I'd say that that depends on the relationship, because in that case, the moral wrong rises from violation of a contract/commitment. If someone is in a closed relationship, then looking at another person could be violating that, and that would be wrong. But it's wrong because of the prior commitment, not that looking itself.

I don't think that looking at a woman is morally wrong. If a woman takes offense, that's her problem, not mine, because I'm not hurting her by looking.