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2009 Holiday Letter Plus a Look Forward

This is a slightly modified version of the Holiday letter that T and I sent out. If you didn't get one, but thought you should have, let me know. T wrote most of this because I Was too lazy.

The year has, indeed, been busy. Most of the year was consumed with wedding stuff. In fact, if you look closely, you'll still find things that need to be put away; the twinkle lights from our wedding reception are doubling up as winter decorations.

2008 concluded with a trip to PA to meet some Houser relatives that T had never met and Jeffry still can't remember the names of. The rest of our winter was low key, with some local hiking and short trips to the Poconos and Boston.

Summer eventually came, which gave T more time to prepare for the wedding. We spent thousands of dollars at Home Depot to make our house presentable. The monotony of house projects was broken up by some short trips to VA and Vermont.

Our wedding weekend was not traditional. We started the weekend with several competitive games of laser tag and some yummy pizza. We did the deed before a beautiful cascading waterfall in the middle of the woods. Back at the house, we enjoyed an all day delicious barbeque styled open house reception. The next day, we headed to a local amusement park for some enjoyment. Jeffry's car was broken into the next day; but we still closed the weekend with a trip to the Yedinak Farm in Moscow, PA. We took a tractor ride, hung out by the pond, and picked backyard blueberries.

T's long-time friend, Irina, came in for the wedding from Moscow, Russia, with her daughter, Juli. They spent 2 weeks visiting Mystic, Boston, and many other local affairs. It had been 15 years since they'd seen each other!

The summer ended quickly when it was time for T to go back to the classroom, teaching eager young minds in the 4th and 5th grade. September and October were relaxed, but November had Jeffry bouncing all over the Northeast promoting Flextras, his set of UI Components for Flex Developers.

In November, T and Jeffry traveled to Newport, RI, meeting up with the Houser clan for a Cliff Walk and a trip to the Coggeshall Farm Museum. Next, they headed up to Vermont for a Guster concert. Then we had a rural Pennsylvania Thanksgiving meal at Jeff's brother's place in State College, PA. And finally, T got to be a tour guide when another friend from Russia, visited CT!

Our first Christmas together was spent, ironically, apart, a mutual decision to satisfy Jeffry the Homebody and T the Traveler. T went to Williamsburg, VA with her friend Rachel and enjoyed 3 days of sightseeing which included a side trip to Jamestown.

So, that was our Holiday letter; which got snail mailed out last week sometime. I'm not sure what the next year holds for us, but here are some things I expect to do in no particular order:

  • I expect to do more home cooking and add more fruit and vegetables to my diet.
  • There is a chance I'll buy a juicer, funds permitting. The thought of juicing your own veggies holds a strange appeal for me.
  • I did not buy replacement pages for my day timer, instead moving to Google Calendar synced with my iPod touch. So far so good.
  • I expect to have no more conversations about when the decade really starts, or ends.
  • There is a slight chance I'll switch from Blockbuster On-line to Netflix, part due to the streaming service, part due to the fact that if I build an app against the Netflix API I can expense the account
  • I will find a good, simple, bread recipe and finally use our baking stone and peel. I also plan to finally make some Pizza [from scratch] for T. I used to do it all the time with moderate success, but not in ages.
  • I'm going to try to participate in February's National Album Writing Month. Want to write a song or two with me? Are you in the area?
  • I will be a success!

Tales of Monkey Island Review

A brand new tale in the world of Monkey Island is out. After a short walk down memory lane, I sat down to play the Tales of Monkey Island series. Tales of Monkey Island is a single story released as five episodes over the course of six months. I was happy to have an old school style adventure game for today's world, but unfortunately the game lacked some of the polish I'd expect from a non-episodic adventure.

Running the Game

When playing the older games today, getting them to run was an adventure of its own. I wouldn't have expected any issues with such a brand new game, but alas I did have one serious issue. My game machine is not powerful enough to run the game at full capacity. I had to knock the quality setting down from 6, the default, to 3 before I could get beyond the title screen. TOMI comes with no documentation; not even a PDF. It was only through trial and error I was able to find the quality setting and change the setting. This took about an hour, because moving the mouse smoothly across the title screen was not possible at any setting higher than 6. It was a jagged movement, as if the screen only had 6 pixels. Once I figured that out that initial problem, I was able to start the game, things went much smoother. Thankfully each new episode was able to 'find' my settings from the previous episode and I did not go through the same setting nightmare each time.

There is an interesting option in the settings named hint frequency. I wish some documentation would tell me what that means, but I assumed this somehow related to in game hints. I turned it all the way down in hopes of making the games more challenging. By my estimate I spent 5-8 hours on each chapter, slightly more than the estimated 2-4 hours per chapter. I only turned the hints higher at one point in Episode 5 was I was ungodly stuck. It turns out my issue there was a missed screen exit. Once I discovered that exit, I was able to easily solve the puzzle at hand. At some points in the game you do have to walk right at the screen. Getting around in the game will be quite easy, especially if you've played other games in the adventure genre. Unfortunately instead of pointing and clicking to move around, you have to hold down the mouse button and move the mouse. It aggravated my wrist occasionally, but for the most part was not too bad. Beyond that, the game sports the traditional point and click to interact with items.

Onto the Story Already

The game starts out on a ship, and in order to make it seem realistic, the ship actually bobs back and forth on the waves, moving both your view of the scenery and the hotspots you need to click on to and fro. This is a cool effect that you get used to pretty quickly, but I think they should have introduced the game, and therefore the interface in some other manner.

Guybrush Threepwood, our hero, getting ready to fight LeChuck , our villain, with the Cursed Cutlass of Kaflu. Guybrush just needs to finish up the voodoo spell; which doesn't go as planned. LeChuck turns into a human and his demon essence floats throughout the Caribbean infecting pirates. Guybrush ends up on Flotsam Island with a cursed hand. On Flotsam Island all winds blow towards the center of the island, meaning no pirate can ever leave. It is up to Guybrush to find a boat and crew and to solve the wind problem so he can escape and find out what happened to LeChuck and Elaine.

The game plays much like a traditional adventure game. The puzzles are logical enough, often based on using or combining inventory items that you collected along the way. Some require more thought such as solving the map puzzle in Episode 1, and a different map puzzle again in Episode 4. I was impressed with the amount of locations in each game, as I expected them to be heavily watered down due to the time constraints of creating an episodic adventure.

Guybrush's search will lead him to meet up with many old favorites such as Stan--now a lawyer, The Voodoo Lady, and Murray the Demonic Skull. It also introduces the best character to grace a Monkey Island game since Murray: Morgan LeFlay the female pirate hunter. Morgan, like you and I, is a fan of Guybrush. You might even say she has a bit of a starry eyed crush. The two characters play off each other fantastically; in some cases, it mirrors the interplay between Elaine and Guybrush from Escape from Monkey Island.

Episode 1 focuses on Guybrush getting a boat and getting off of Flotsam Island. Episode 2 and 3 focuses on Guybrush finding La Esponja Grande, a magic voodoo talisman to help get rid of the Pox of LeChuck. Episode 4 focuses on using La Esponja Grande in a Voodoo spell; and episode 5 finishes off the story with a final showdown. Episode 5 has a real treat, where you get to play Guybrush as a Ghost and a Zombie, mirroring the first two incantations of LeChuck.

As with many stories, the game raises more questions than answers. It calls into doubt the true intentions of the Voodoo Lady, and she takes a much larger role than in previous games. The characterization of Elaine seems to back flip between the character we all know and love to someone with intentions not quite as clear. Each episode progressively improved in gameplay and story, until episode 5 where the characterization of Elaine slipped and none of the questions raised were ever answered.

What Next?

In episode one you can find treasure maps on-line and explore the jungles of Flotsam Island for more treasure. I thought that this was a great way to add replay value and was disappointed this option was not introduced in future episodes. Even so, while traversing the jungles using a creative map system was fun the first time; it wasn't enough to get me to go through again. The first treasure was a special background for your computer. I thought it was a novel attempt to add replay value to the game and to provide additional benefit to the customers.

I guess now I go into the waiting game. I'll probably replay through the game, possibly on a better computer with higher quality settings, around the time that Tales of Monkey Island 2 comes out, and I hope there is a sequel. I greatly enjoyed the adventure despite the questions it raised. I hope it is leading somewhere and I look forward to joining Guybrush on another adventure, hopefully next year.

Monkey Island 4: Escape From - Classic Game Review

A brand new tale in the world of Monkey Island is out, and I'm hoping for a fun old style game in the vein of the classic adventure genre. I went ahead and pre-purchased all five episodes, and can't wait to delve in. But, before starting to the new stuff, I decided to refresh my memory on that which came before. This is a review of my experiences with The Escape from Monkey Island. I think this is my favorite game in the series.

Running the Game Running

Like Monkey Island 3, I had Monkey Island 4 on CD. Unlike Monkey Island 3, MI4 is not supported by SCUMMVM. I was on my own getting the game to run. Thankfully the game installed and ran with no problems. Unfortunately, this Monkey Island is buggy in the "CD" state, so I had to search around and find a patch, here or here. For some reason my mind told me to look for patches before starting the game; perhaps I have some deep routed ill memories about this title somewhere below the surface.

Even with the patch, there was still a show stopper bug. When talking to some chess pirates playing , if you don't finish the puzzle the first time entering the screen the game locks up when you come back later to finish. Unfortunately, you can start the chain of events without knowing there is an actual puzzle going on yet. I had to restore a previously saved game going quite back a ways in order to get past the bug. In retrospect I remember having this problem the first time around too.

There is also a 3rd party replacement for the MI4 loader, which supposedly gives you an easier way to install the game, download the patch, and change various settings. I could never get it to work, unfortunately, so can't comment on it. The idea sounds promising, however.

Getting used to the Interface

Escape from Monkey Island is the first 3D Monkey Island Game. I'm not sure if the 3D rendering adds anything to the game, but it didn't detract either. The look of the game was very similar to the style of the previous game; which had the visual appeal of a cartoon. I don't mind cartoons, so it was all good.

This game uses the keyboard as the primary interface, so no more point and click. I remember this frustrating me greatly the first time around. Imagine a game from the year 2000 that didn't use a mouse? This time I didn't mind the keyboard usage. It took a while to get used to, but once I was there it was fine.

That was a great Honeymoon, are we dead?

The game starts with our heroes, Guybrush Threepwood and Elaine Marley, coming back to Melee Island from their honeymoon. Unfortunately, Governor Marley has been declared dead and they are trying to demolish her house. As Elaine goes off to get herself declared undead--no not like that---Guybrush tries to stop the house demolition. Along the way we reintroduce LeChuck as a political candidate in the Melee Island Governor race, Ozzie Mandril an Australian real estate developer turning all that is piratey into big tourist traps and a quest to unravel the secret of the Marley Heirlooms and discover the ultimate insult.

The tourist traps offer great ways to make a mockery of pop culture, taking stabs at Planet Hollywood, and Starbucks.

The puzzles are logical and somehow manage to avoid the endless point and click until something works phenomena that exists in much of the genre. By introducing some random element into the puzzles, the puzzles are slightly more varied and require some thought to solve. For example, in one point you need to figure out how a filing system works to find the hideout of a thief on Lucre Island. The filing system is consistent, but the name changes, so each time through the puzzle is slightly different. As you would expect, Guybrush has to find a ship and a crew. Each adventure leads to the next, eventually leading to Monkey Island a final show down with LeChuck.

In part 1, LeChuck was a ghost. In Part 2, LeChuck was a zombie. In part 3 he was a demon. This time they switch between all three personas as LeChuck's character takes shape. I especially liked seeing Ghost Pirate LeChuck rendered with "modern" capabilities.

The insult sword fighting idea returns in this game as Monkey Combat. You need to shout a series of nonsense monkey words to move to a position. Each position wins over a different position and you banter back and forth w/ your opponent. This is the weakest point in the game, unfortunately. It is tedious to figure out the magic commands and it feels like just a roadblack to enjoyment.

The banter between the Elaine and Guybrush is fantastic and for me really nailed the essence of the characters. Guybrush was a bit more naïve, and focused on comic relief. He played his character as if he were a kid in a candy store, and everything he explored was new and exciting. Elaine, on the other hand, takes the more serious stance on things. The voice acting and characterization of all the characters is what really made the game a joy to play.

What Next?

Well, I'm out of legacy Monkey Island games to add to my playlist. I guess it is time to move on to something more recent, the Launch of the Screaming Narwhal. This is my first foray into episodic gaming and I'm not sure what to expect. I hope the five episodes of Tales of Monkey Island are equal (or greater) than a single game. We'll have to see how it goes.

Monkey Island 3: The Curse Of - Classic Game Review

A brand new tale in the world of Monkey Island is coming out, and I'm hoping for a fun old style adventure game in the vein of the classic genre. I went ahead and pre-purchased all five episodes, and can't wait to delve in. But, before starting to play episode one, I decided to refresh my memory on that which came before. This is a review of my experiences with The Curse of Monkey Island.

Get the Game Running

Unlike Monkey Island 1 or 2, I have Monkey Island 3 on a CD. The game is supported on Windows 95 and I was hoping I could get it to work 'as is' without resorting to SCUMMVM or some other utility. It went through the install easy enough, but unfortunately I got stuck there. The game loaded, but immediately had a sound issue in the opening screens. I gave up and reverted to the ScummVM path.

This time I discovered the SCUMMVM wiki. It tells me the data files that are needed to run the game. I was able to grab those data files direct from the CD without needing to install the game. That is good info to have and made the setup process a bit easier. With SCUMMVM, I had no issues.

Elaine Marley, will you marry me?

The Curse of Monkey Island is a big change from the previous two games. First, the games visuals are done in a cartoony style. I have to say I quite like it. Second they added voices, something that would not have been practical back in the floppy disk days. It is also worth nothing that Ron Gilbert was not on board as the designer for this third entry. Despite these changes, the game goes out of its way to pay homage to the Monkey Island theology.

The game starts out shortly after the strange Monkey Island 2 ending. Guybrush Threepwood, our pirate hero, is floating through the sea on a bumper car. He is pining for his lost Elaine and fears for his death from hunger and thirst. He obliviously floats between a sea battle between Zombie Pirate LeChuck and Elaine Marley on Plunder Island. Elaine declares her true love for Guybrush, LeChuck is defeated, and Guybrush pops the question. Placing LeChuck's cursed diamond ring on Elaine's finger. She promptly turns into solid gold.

The voices are hit or miss. Guybrush sounds great and I couldn't have picked a better choice myself. LeChuck's is good enough. Elaine's voice is not what I would have imagined, though. Other characters from the past are back such as Wally the mapmaker, and Stan the salesman. Murray the Talking Demonic Skull is introduced in this game, and I must say he is my favorite character from the 'later' Monkey Island games.

Solving Puzzles and The Mega Monkey Mode

Defeating the curse and turning Elaine back into a human makes up the bulk of the games plot. Guybrush must get a bigger, better, uncursed diamond ring to offset the cursed ring. The ring should be found on Blood Island, and to get there Guybrush needs a ship, a crew, and a map. That is standard fair for these games.

The interface of this game is different than the previous two. You click on an item and a "do stuff" window pops up. You can either use the mouth, to talk to or eat something; the hand, to use something; or the eyes to examine something. The interface is simplier than te point and click verb noun of the previous game. But, you'll get used it to quickly. Unfortunately things do downhill after that.

The games puzzles were tedious and there are so many items that the game is often one big click fest, trying to figure out what you combine with what. There are so many "useless" hotspots it is almost impossible to figure out what should be clicked where. I'm not sure if it is better for a game to have lots of hotspots for the sake of exploration and fun, or only hotspots that move the game forward. I suppose a balance could be reached, but this game does not reach it. The endless clicking was just frustrating and detracted from enjoyment of the game. It was as if behind every locked door was another locked door, and any progress was slow.

As with the previous entry in the series, this game offers an easy path and a mega monkey mode. I played through both. The easy path bypasses a few of the more obscure puzzles, which actually makes the game a lot more enjoyable to play.

What Next?

Monkey Island 2 had the weirdest ending of all video games. Unfortunately, Monkey Island 3 tries to make sense of that ending with little success. I have no idea what Ron Gilbert originally intended, but I'm sure this was not it. The design of this game was probably constrained by what came before.

Next up, I'm going to try to install and play Escape from Monkey Island, the fourth in the series. This game is not supported by SCUMMVM, so I'm not sure what to expect in terms of installation woes. After that, I tackle the new Tales of Monkey Island.

Wedding Party Post Mortem - All the Nitpicky Stuff

My big wedding reception is over, and I'm wearing a silver-esque titanium band on one of the fingers of my left hand. We hiked out to a waterfall for our wedding ceremony in the middle of the woods with around 30 friends and relatives. Then we took a lot of photos, with and without various folks and hiked back to the parking lot, then onward to the reception which had a much larger guest list.

I love lists, so here is my list of various random thoughts about my wedding and reception.

  • Guest Count: Life is about the lessons you learn. And this time I learned a lesson that I should have already learned from my friends, the conference organizers. You will get some no-show guests. And you will have extra food! Our original invite list was 128 people, give or take. We told the caterer to expect 100 people, at the time expecting 96 people. That was mistake number one.
    We wanted to be clear in case the four "unknowns" made an appearance. That was foolish on our part. The final number of attendees was 93. We paid for seven extra meals, threw out a lot of food, and are still eating leftovers. We could have paid for 85 meals and have had plenty.
  • The Pre-Event Consultation: Our photographer gave us a free event consultation. It was just a PDF form that we filled out and e-mailed back to her. It was basically, a refresher course on the information we had already discussed. That was an absolutely brilliant idea.
    I wish we had done that with the caterer, and the friend who was going to let in the caterer. I have a lot of nitpicky complaints about the day. For example, we could have countered the "you didn't get enough water" with "there are 7 unopened cases in the basement." Someone, unknowingly, went out to buy more water [and cups]. We didn't find out until much later.
  • The people you expect to be there for you won't always be the ones who actually help out: Some folks certainly went above and beyond their call of duty. One of T's sister's best friends orchestrated our "great house de-cluttering" and watched the house to let in the caterer while we were off "doing stuff". One of my brother's friends let us borrow his big camping coolers, and he wasn't even a wedding guest. At last minute, I had my friend Tim drive me to the ceremony. And he ended up acting limo driver for T and I on the way home.
    On the other hand, we had to field a lot of complaints about hiking to a waterfall in the middle of the woods for a ceremony. God forbid we ask an American to walk somewhere. The amount of times people told us "You can't do that" during the planning process was just insane. We can, and we did!
  • Get it in writing: You'd think that me, of all people, would have known this. Our caterer painted a fantastic picture of how the event could work within the constraints of our property. After all is said and done that is probably why she got the job. Unfortunately, a lot of things we talked about were not explicitly stated in the final contract; and therefore never occurred. A few things that were explicitly stated in the contract got ignored. My family strongly suggested I write a letter to the caterer before blogging it, but things are so nitpicky I decided against it. Here are a few examples or my complaints:
    • Extras: We bought lemons, lime, lemonade, and iced tea based on her suggestion that we create a drink station so people can grab stuff "on their own." She was going to bring water pictures and make it all look pretty. The drinks were to balance out the bar which would have water and soda delivered by a bartender. It was not explicitly stated in the contract and I didn't ask because there was no cost associated with it. All this extra drink went untouched.
    • Casual Dress: The caterer has a bunch of different outfits that they wear for different events. For our casual outdoor August event, they were supposed to be in Hawaiian shirts and shorts. Yet, when we showed up they were all formal in black and white. I hate formal. I feel bad for the employees who were not in their more comfortable / appropriate clothes. Who would have thought that I'd have to enforce a dress code in a contract? I guess next time I know.
    • Tables: The caterer was contractually supposed to provide banquet tables for the bar and buffet. But, instead they used some of ours, which were earmarked for other purposes. Since our tables were not long enough, they brought the antique card table I inherited from my grandmother to extend the buffet. I didn't realize that until much later. The table has slight sentimental value and I do not bring it outside.
    • Schedule: We were having a big open house for seven hours and wanted food service for most of that time. I had proposed a six hour schedule, which the caterer pushed back to five hours. However, we were not on the same page here. I wanted five hours of food service. She wanted five hours on-site, which means about two hours of food service.
      Due to the open house nature of the event, there was supposed to be carry over between food and desert. I was fine if people who showed up six hours into the event didn't have hot food served to them. But folks who showed up two hours in should have been. No, the food service stopped after about an hour. Desert was only a half hour after that. I estimate that 10% of our guests showed up after food service stopped. I'm embarrassed by the quality of service I offered to my guests. It bugs me.
  • Where is my Stuff?: While I am quite happy with all the assistance we got cleaning up our house, I think a few people took it too far. We are still finding stuff to be missing or put in the wrong shelves. The one major missing pieces is the cookbooks that were kept on the kitchen nook shelf. Where did they end up to?

I could go on and on about nitpicky things. But, overall I think everyone has a list of nitpicky things to say about their wedding party, right? That is the thing that stories are made of.

The fact is, I got to spend some quality time with ninety three close friends and family. And it was not a two hour whirlwind that most couples are forced through.

I plan to do another post on the business of weddings that takes a clear look at the financial numbers, along with some theorizing on the whole "gift grab" nature of weddings.

We'll probably try another big party again for our 10th anniversary. When that comes around, remind to to find and read this post. I'm sure I'll have forgotten all the mistakes we made this time. And at that point, we'll be independently wealthy with our own island and the guest list will be 1,000 people, amplifying our mistakes tenfold.

Until then!

Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge - Classic Game Review

A brand new tale in the world of Monkey Island is coming out, and I'm hoping for a fun old style adventure game in the vein of the classic genre. I went ahead and prepurchased all five episodes, and can't wait to delve in. But, before starting to play episode one, I decided to refresh my memory on that which came before. I started at the beginning in Secret of Monkey Island.


As with Monkey Island 1, I have Monkey Island 2 on 3.5" floppy disks. I was able to get the game files, and install them using the included installer. The installer believes that you are installing from a floppy drive, not a hard disc, and there is not an easy way to switch discs during the install. I addressed this by putting all the disk files in a single directory. That way I only mapped one drive to the folder with all the data files and the install was off and running.

Running the Game

To run the game, I went straight to the SCUMMVM software that I used with Monkey Island 1. SCUMMVM is a tool for running old games, as long as you have a data file. It is named after the SCUMM engine which was used to create the original Maniac Mansion, Monkey Island, and other LucasArts titles.

One of the great things about SCUMMVM is that you only have to enter the copy protection on the first run. After that, the game goes directly into "restore" mode and lets you jump into a saved game without having to go through the copy protection again. The bad thing about this is that, if you want to start the game over, perhaps to choose the "lite path" there isn't a way to do it.

I ran the game, quit the game, and ran the game again to start over from the beginning. I have no idea why that worked or if there is a hidden "restart" key in the game.

Do you know any songs that are not about my ex-Girlfriend?

The story starts out with our Hero, Guybrush Threepwood, on Scabb Island. He is once again bragging about his victory against the Ghost Pirate LeChuck; while letting us know that he wants to find the treasure of Big Whoop. He gets mugged by Largo LaGrande, a bully on the island and is stuck pennyless looking for a way to free himself from Scabb Island. Since Guybrush can't leave, Scabb Island is a great consolidated way to introduce us to the game mechanics. Guybrush will walk around and talk to people, looking for information on Largo and Big Whoop. The Voodoo Lady pops back up to ask for help creating a Voodoo doll to destroy Largo.

You just need four things to create a voodoo doll; something from the dead, something from the thread, something from the head, and something from the body. Get those for things from Largo, and you can attack him on his own terms. He'll leave the island, but not before stealing LeChuck's beard from Guybrush, thus creating the Zombie Pirate LeChuck. When did that beard get into Guybrush's inventory?

So, now LeChuck is alive, sort of, and after Guybrush. What is he to do? The Voodoo Lady tells you to find the map to the treasure of Big Whoop. I remembered a lot more of this game than I did the previous one, and got through it with only a single hint near the end.

You'll Charter a ship and start to investigate the tri-island area. Booty Island is in constant Mardi Gras; and Elaine is governor and you get to go to a costume party. Phatt Island is less fun, and you end up in jail for a bit. There is a lot of travel between islands, especially if you don't know the solutions already. The game makes great use of multiple locations, and keeps them consistently interesting.

Eventually, you'll get a bunch of map pieces, visit LeChuck's fortress, then go onto Dinky Island to get Big Whoop and a final battle with LeChuck, loaded with Star Wars references.

Choosing the Easy Route

The game has an easy path, for game reviewers or beginners, which bypasses most of the puzzles. I never played this route before, but decided to partake in it for the purposes of this review. After playing the game the hard way, this approach took a few hours to plow through. It is an abbreviated version of the game, but you still get the gist. The puzzles are either cut out, or bypassed. Instead of chasing a map piece all around an island, you just pick it up. Instead of becoming a spitting master, you just ask for help and the puzzle goes away. I think this was a brilliant approach that helps make the game more accessible to beginners to the adventure genre. If more games did this, maybe we'd have a larger populating of adventure gamers.

What Next?

If Sleepaway Camp has the most shocking ending in the history of horror movies, Monkey Island 2 has the weirdest ending in the history of video games. It is unclear what the meaning is, and unclear how Ron Gilbert intended to resolve the story. Future Monkey Island game designer's tried to resolve it, each in their own ways, but none so satisfactorily that we still don't yearn for the secret that still lies in Ron's mind.

At the time of this writing, the second episode of Tales of Monkey Island was just released, and I'm still two games behind before I start playing the episodes. I always forget if it is Curse or Escape that comes next; but I plan to play the third game next, whichever one that may be. Part 3 introduces a new designer, and the feel of the series changes a bit. But, I still remember enjoying them immensely.

Letter to my Oil company

I went over the number of gallons I pre-paid for my heating oil this year. In fact this is the highest amount of oil I've used in the past 5 years. Every single year it has gone down as I've "learned" the house more. Along with the bill from the oil company, I sent them this letter:

Included you will find a check for XXXX for the oil delivery that occurred on April 8th, 2009.

I have to say I was very surprised to find out that I had used up the pre-pay amount, so I reviewed my records. This is my highest oil usage in 5 heating seasons, and I am 118 gallons over the average of the last 3 years. This year's calculations do not yet accommodate for a 'final' delivery that has traditionally happened in the end of May or beginning of June.

During our yearly cleaning / inspection at the beginning of the season, I had your technician turn down the heat on my hot water heater, which I expected would help limit my usage.

All this makes me wonder if the first fill up (11/3/08) accidentally went into my neighbor's tank. The fill location is labeled left side; however there is no fill valve on the left side of my house. I attached a copy of said receipt for your own amusement.

The overrun hurts extra since I locked the price in at what turned out to be an obscenely high amount, and I am currently not generating any income.

If there is anything you can do on your end, or you have any thoughts to share on the matter, please do not hesitate to contact me.

What would the oil company do next?

A stellar customer service move would be to credit my account for the initial fill up. It would make me a customer for life.

An okay customer service move would be to not charge me for the overrun. They'd say things like "It was ~6 months ago; we may have screwed up, but don't know. You should have been watching the tank to be sure it was full every time you got a fill-up." This is kind of like splitting the difference. If they do this, there is a ~75% chance I'd stay w/ them as a customer.

A realistic business decision would be to say "It's way to late to complain about something that may have happened 6 months ago. We're sorry, but tough luck." I'd shrug my shoulders and say "whatcha gonna do." At this point, there is a 50% chance I'd stay as a customer. Could something else have cause the discrepancy?

A horrible customer service response would be to cash my check and not contact me at all. This wouldn't surprise me. 25% chance I'd stay with them for the next heating season.

Last time I had a complaint with a different oil company, the person yelled at me on the phone saying everything was my fault. I not only stopped being a customer, I filed a complaint to the BBB.

I wish I knew more. I wish I knew that they did something incorrectly. I wish I caught the mistake--if there was one--back in November.

Why Didn't You Hire Me?

I'm searching for caterers for a wedding reception big backyard BBQ picnic this summer. I'm pretty sure that we have one chosen, but nothing is signed yet. One of the other potential vendors asked me why we didn't choose them as the top pick. "Was it the cost?"

This is my response to them (with minor mods for the sake of the public posting):

Price is always a consideration. But, in this case, our top pick is roughly 40% higher than your quote. Did you want to try to convince me you're the better option? I'll give you the chance if you want it, but you have an uphill battle.

Our top pick was more responsive, and her proposal was easier to understand. Those were the two primary reasons she rose to the top.

The first thing you did was send me two documents in my response. To this day, I could not tell you the difference between the Burger Bar Fancy and The Fundamental BBQ. They seem to be the exact same thing, except one doc had more detail on the menu. The price per person was not obvious in the original docs you sent me, nor was the total cost. Is cost even in the fancy document? I can't find it.

I didn't realize, until you mentioned later, that the initial two docs you sent were not custom proposals prepared for me. You wanted to chat; which is great, but you left me hanging for ~3 weeks and did not call me until I followed up. If it is not a priority to bring me on as a client, what sort of priority will you give us once we sign and start coughing over money?

The 2nd and more customized proposal you sent over is significantly improved over the initial menu docs. I'd even say it is the 2nd best proposal we've seen. Had it not been pulling teeth to get it out of you it would have warranted more serious consideration.

And there it is. That is probably why you didn't get my business. In my 9+ years of being in business, I've found that price is rarely the deciding factor.

This blog Open to Invited Readers Only

Really? WTF? Who has a closed blog? Doesn't that defeat the purpose?

Write a Story w/ These words

I was recently reading A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. The book is about why being competent at button pushing is no longer enough to survive in the new world order. You need to offer benefits beyond something that can be automated away from you.

One the components that the book touches on is story telling. My fiance is an elementary school teacher and she gave the assignment to her students to write a story using these words. I thought I'd give it a shot and write my own story.

Before you read my story, feel free to guess where she got the words from or write your own. Here are the words.

Died damage flowers witch
Fortune singing glare creature
Smoke woods dragon flame
Asleep dream princess screamed
Castle drawbridge knight fire
Moat fear glass mirrors
Lips wicked marry together

My story should be after the break.


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