RANDOM REVIEW – 2009

Another year has come and gone, and as I sit here bored at work, it seems as good a time as any to reflect on the end of what I like to call “the 2Ks.”

2009 was both a good and a bad year for me, personally. On the good side, I got off my rear and put the left side of my brain to work writing a few short stories and poems. I also started to pursue voice acting: taking lessons, getting into a studio for the first time, and doing some podcasting.

Interestingly enough, the shove that got my creative ball rolling again was Mizuumi-con, held on March 21st. There, I attended two panels; the first was a voice acting panel held by Kevin M. Connolly, which gave me an idea of what to expect going into the voice acting business. The second was Chris Holm’s “Inspiring Artists” panel. He and I had won the “My Cage” art and writing contests a while back, and it was my first time meeting him. At his panel, he told his story about (quite literally) where his art took him.

I started by going back through old ideas I had written down, thinking over which ones would be worth the effort to bring them to reality. I got started on a few things, and then a number of weeks later, Chris Holm emailed me. He wanted me to sit in on a meeting of an artists’ group that was starting up. I thought that it would be fun, and so I found myself at a coffee shop that Saturday afternoon. That group would eventually jell into First Storm Manga. My involvement with them has introduced me to some new friends, provided me with a creative outlet and led to some fun times spent at anime conventions.

Career-wise, the best I can say is that I had the same job at the end of the year as I did at the start of it. I was introduced to Military Flavored Baloney, as opposed to the Corporate Flavored Baloney I am used to having. At the end of the day, its still baloney, but the money’s good and the work isn’t too hard, so I’ll ride it out.

Moving on to the less-pleasant events of 2009, I lost two people that were important to me, namely Melinda Garcia, wife of my good friend Carlos Garcia, and my grandmother, Manuela Soliz. They are already sorely missed, and their passing has made me think about the direction I want to take my life in, but that is a topic for another time.

I had also hoped to have a house by the end of this year, but that got put aside due to the uncertainties of my job. Now that I feel more confident about my employment situation, I will start looking for a home in earnest, and my hope to have purchased one by summer.

In my opinion, 2009 was “The Year of the Attention Whore.” Maybe its just because we see them in the news more frequently, but I don’t recall the last time we had this many nutballs jumping up and down screaming “LOOK AT ME!” Just off the top of my head, we have Dick Cheney, Octomom, Joe Wilson, the Balloon Boy parents, Jon and Kate, the White House Gate Crashers, Lady Gaga, some prison escapee in England that has been taunting the cops via Facebook, and the various women that slept with Tiger Woods. Now, I’m not claiming any level of moral high ground, because I was admittedly watching and talking about them just like everyone else, so I guess I’m part of the problem.

It was bittersweet to have to say farewell to some folks in 2009, but new friends were also made. Thus, as a new year begins, I find myself a little more appreciative of my station in life and hopeful for the many possibilities that lay ahead in The New Year.

Here’s to you, 2009, don’t let the door hit ya where the Good Lord split ya!

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Apple is the new Nintendo (which is the new Apple!)

Somedays it is easy to believe that I have waken up in Bizarro-world.  Apple recently decided that the iPod Touch was going to be a game machine.  Nintendo turned the DS into a music player with the DSi, (using Apple’s codec, of all things!)  In addition, Nintendo announced the DS XL not even a year after the DSi’s release.

What’s next, a new version of Windows that actually works?

Oh…

I have thought of Nintendo as being the “Apple” of the video game industry for some time.  Much like Apple, they march to their own beat and don’t worry about what “the other guys” are doing.  Sometimes it works out great, sometimes they trip over their own innovations, and sometimes they are just too far ahead of the curve for their own good.  At the end of the day, they make lots of money and have lots of die-hard fans.

Apple, of course, has long been known for “thinking different,” as well as for Steve Jobs, overpriced hardware, constantly re-releasing new iterations of said hardware with minor updates, and not being very interested in gaming.  At the end of the day, they also make lots of money and have lots of die-hard fans.

Thus, it came as a surprise to see Apple take a page out of Nintendo’s book, as they touted the iPod Touch as their new portable “game machine.”  Apple was also pretty blatant in promoting their device as being superior to Nintendo and Sony’s portable offerings.  The beauty of Apple’s approach is that Apple itself does not have to make any of the games themselves.

Nintendo, for its part, recently announced the DS XL, a curious move which defies traditional gadget logic.  After all, things are supposed to get smaller over time, not bigger!  In fact, the 4-inch screen of the XL nearly brings it to par with Sony’s PSP.

Speaking of Sony, Lord only knows what they’re thinking…I mean, seriously, $250 for the PSPgo?

For all of the hype, I don’t see games being a big part of Apple’s overall strategy; instead they will be another revenue stream just like apps and music.  The games themselves have been mostly casual affairs, the ‘big budget’ titles have come from EA and their ilk…as if they needed another platform to release Madden onto.

It remains to be seen whether Nintendo will be adding other multimedia functions to take advantage of the DS XL’s bigger screen.  While a video player would be much appreciated by DS users, it won’t contribute to Nintendo’s bottom line, so I doubt we will see that happening anytime soon.

While Nintendo and Apple have taken pages out of each other’s business plans, the fundamental core of what both companies will remain the same, so long as the DS and iPod continue to be money-makers.

I suppose Bizarro-world isn’t such a bad place to be after all.

RANDOM REVIEW REVISITED – HP Mini 1000

I have owned my HP Mini 1000 netbook for just over seven months now, and it seems like as good a time as any to discuss my experience so far.

The original review can be read here.

WAS I A BETA TESTER?

It would appear that HP has corrected most, if not all, of the gripes that I had with my netbook.  Newer models of the HP Mini 1000 now have three USB ports, a standard VGA output, and I believe the whole “Mobile Mini Drive” malarkey has been done away with as well.  Big thumbs-up to HP for making those fixes, but they won’t be doing ME a whole lot of good anytime soon!

ITS SO SMALL AND KYOOT!

For all the press and hype, I don’t think Netbooks have become commonplace as of yet (not in San Antonio, anyway).  I have personally only seen two other Netbooks “in the wild” myself, and my Mini garners the occasional stare when I am out and about with it.  This usually leads into what has quickly become a prepared speech on the pros and cons of owning a Netbook.

Every so often I will get an “OMG ITS SO CUUUUTE!” from a woman, but I have yet to get any significant part of that attention thrown my way.  *sigh*

CRASH BANG BOOM!

Its as inevitable as the tides; you WILL eventually drop your portable computer at some point in time.  It happened to me in June, the Mini fell off of a countertop and the side smacked into a chair on the way down.  Needless to say, I freaked out.  Luckily, there appears to be no permanent damage, save for a nice dent in the speaker grille …so maybe NOW its not so cute!  As a consequence, the battery now has a tendency to fall out at random times, but it wasn’t nothing a little electrical tape could’t fix!

WHAT A DIFFERENCE AN OS MAKES

I was intrigued by the thought of installing Windows Vista on my Netbook at first.  Despite the optimizations and upgrades I had made to the Mini, Windows XP would still grunt and groan when running on the Mini’s modest hardware.  I did some research and found a few reports saying that installing Windows Vista on a Netbook was an excercise in futility, and having had my own bad experiences running Vista on underpowered hardware, I decided not to try.

Meanwhile, the computing press was busy gushing over the Windows 7
beta, and I became intrigued again.  On the surface, it sounded like madness: a newer version of a Microsoft operating system running better than the older one on underpowered hardware?  Unpossible!

Actually it was VERY possible!  I installed Windows 7 and the Mini felt much more responsive than it ever was under XP.  The Aero effects work just fine despite Intel’s nearly-worthless graphics hardware, and tethering my smartphone to get on the Internet when I’m “off the grid” works without any intervention on my part.  When Microsoft offered a discount on Windows 7 back in July, I jumped on it.  I installed Home Premium and I have been very happy with it.

The Mini was pretty good with Windows XP, but it’s GREAT with Windows 7.

ULTRA-PORTABLE BLISS

I have found my netbook to be a great portable computer; it has enough power to do everything I need it to do when on the road, and upgrading the RAM to 2GB made Windows happy.  I wish the battery life could be a bit longer, but except for that little gripe, I consider my HP Mini 1000 to have been a good purchase.

I would encourage anyone who needs a ultra-portable computer for basic tasks to look into purchasing a Netbook.  The price is right, the performance is good, and the portability is great…just be sure you test out the keyboard first!

NOTE: The author received no compensation for this review.

The Night The Nueces Flowed Upstream

Oct 20 1984, AP News Article

Oct 20 1984, UPI News Article

U.S. Geological Survey Report: “Odem Flood”

It was 25 years ago.  In my hometown of Odem, Texas somewhere between eighteen and twenty-five  inches of rain fell in a matter of hours.  To this day, it is simply referred to as “The Flood,” and nearly every Odemite I have ever spoken to still has memories of that night.

The memories I have of that night are those of a child.  Two months prior, I had turned eleven years old, and a month after that, I started the sixth grade.  The playgrounds of elementary school were gone, and the steady march to becoming a teenager had begun in earnest.

I remember Tia Maria was in town visiting us, as she would do every so often.  It was a Friday; and the skies getting dark as the evening progressed.  The rain was welcomed at first, because we were in a bad drought.  I remember wading through my backyard in waist-deep water to get to an aunt’s house, where we would stay the night.  The power went out at one point, I remember a bottle of cologne being used as an improvised  lamp.  The water rose to the steps of my aunt’s house; some parts of the floor were wet.

I remember waking up late, my parents had already gone to the house.  The power was back, I was told I had to stay at my aunt’s house, so I watched the Smurfs with one of my cousins.  Once I got home, I saw the line on the walls where the water had been.  My brother and I slept in bunk beds at the time, I was on the bottom bunk and my bed had been ruined by the water.  My mother was upset, we had lost nearly all of our pictures, I remember stacks of ruined Polaroids; seeing rainbows of plasticky color where family memories had once been.  Dad had already pulled out the carpet from the living room, he was not upset, instead he was very busy around the house, and talking on the telephone.

I remember throwing out stacks of wet magazines, and wondering if my collection of Atari 2600 cartridges would still work.  I remember the truck from the Red Cross that went through our neighborhood that evening, and going out to the curb to pick up peanut butter sandwiches and lemonade.  I remember hearing about the bus full of kids that got stuck and the man down the street that had to make a hole in the ceiling and roof of his house to get his family out.

The furniture and carpet would eventually be replaced, the house repaired and life would return to normal, but I doubt that anyone who lived through it will ever forget that night.  Even though my own memories are the scattered remembrances of an eleven-year old, I know I won’t.

RealmsCon Day 1: In The Ghetto

Originally posted at J2GAMES.COM

First a disclaimer: I am from the Corpus Christi area.  Thus, my opinions are colored by the fact that I think Corpus Christi is a podunk town that only has only had one good thing come out of it, and that’s Whataburger.  I went to Realms-Con to preach the gospel of First Storm Manga and also out of curiosity to see what kind of con they could throw, especially after experiencing the uber-goodness that was San Japan.

It started out well enough on Friday morning.  First Storm Manga “Roadie” Javier and myself headed to the Holiday Inn Emerald Beach to set up shop.  I had expected a big hassle getting our badges because of the fun times I had running back and forth between the Municipal Auditorium and the Holiday Inn during the start of San Japan (YES I’M STILL BITTER).  The original plan was for us to use half of Chris’ table for FSM and the other half to sell his leftover stuff from San Japan.

First, we had to FIND the registration table.  This was made even more fun by the lack of signage.  As REAL men don’t ask for directions, we simply hung a left at the hotel’s front desk.  Walking down a hall, we saw some tables, and at the end, we found one with a “First Storm Manga” sign on it.  I was enthralled that we had our own dedicated table, but just a bit disappointed when I realized we had been placed at the ass end of the convention.  The only thing nearby was the video game room, which wasn’t even open yet.  My confidence would have been more inspired if it hadn’t been for the flickering fluorescent light over our table.  Great, I thought, I’ll be drained AND blind by the time this is all over.

But hey, a table was a table, and it would be all ours.

We still needed our badges, and so we headed back the way we came to find the registration desk.  As we walked around, we passed by Chris’ table, located right in front of the panel rooms in a high-traffic area.  Wow, isn’t he Mr. Cool.  We soon found the registration table OUTSIDE of the hotel.  I would later learn that they were forced outside to avoid a long line of people inside the hotel, which made sense, but at the time I remember thinking who could have thought that was a good idea.

Now for the fun part: “Hi, I’m Eduardo Soliz from First Storm Manga, and I am here to pick up our badges so I can set up our table.”  Now, technically, I was supposed to be under Chris’ table, but after seeing they had a table assigned to us, I logically reasoned that they would have badges set aside for us as well.  As the registration-gal flipped through the packs, I saw one with Chris’ name on it, which I hoped meant he would have an extra badge for his guest.  Much to my relief, I would later discover that was the case…once they figured out who he was, that is.

Badges around our necks, we headed back to the Reliant (my 2005 Dodge Neon) to get our wares and head over to our table “in the ghetto” as I would refer to it throughout the day.

Traffic was miserable at first, partially because of our location, partially because it was a school day, and partially because the video game room was running late getting set up.  The sign at the door that originally said “Open at 12:00” was quickly edited to read “12:15” then “12:30” then “12:50” and then was taken down.  We kept seeing the same people walk by over and over again as well as the occasional hotel guest walking to and from the pool.  Luckily, traffic picked up around four, once school let out, and except for a quick run to Subway and a trip to the hospital to visit some folks, the day was pretty uneventful.  We gave away almost all of our copies of Manga Madness, each with a copy of San Japanic! inside.

I kept wondering what was taking Chris so long, because he had told me he was going to be there at 3.  He showed up much later, but by that time, the other tables were closing down, so I figured we would do so as well.  We all rode in the Reliant to the two-story Whataburger By The Bay where we chowed down and discussed Saturday’s plans.

It was decided that we would move over to Chris’ table for the improved traffic, and so that we could peddle his wares (no free lunch and all that).  The move would turn out great in one way, and not-so-great in another…

Flu Part Deux

Back in May, I had a pretty good laugh over the swine flu hype.  I got sick, went to the doctor, had to wear a mask while waiting and took a funny picture of it with my cell phone camera.  Everything ended up okay, and eventually all the swine flu hype died down somewhat.

Fast-forward to last Tuesday, when a coworker comes in sick.  I’ll be honest, I’ve been “that guy” and its no fun when you become Patient Zero and end up infecting the whole office.  For some reason, nobody wants to sit next to you at lunch anymore!  The woman who sits next to Patient Zero starts to feel sick the next day, and I go home Thursday after lunch and start popping cough syrup and acetaminophen because I am getting worse as the evening rolls on.

I wake up on Friday running a 102-degree fever and feeling like crap.  Despite this, I manage to drag my tail to HEB to get some groceries for what I figure is going to be a rough next few days.  I spend the rest of Friday either in bed or on the couch, feeling crappy the whole time.  Despite this, I figure I’ll ride it out and decide to not go to the doctor.

Yes, I know.  Bad Idea. I’ve already heard it from both my parents, both my brothers, and a couple of friends.  ANYWAY…

That evening, a friend drops by to pick up a hard drive enclosure because his computer has gone to binary heaven.  He wisely decides to not enter the apartment.  Frankly, I can’t say I blame him, because I looked like hell and sounded worse when I answered the door.  We jaw for a bit, and then he goes on his merry way to do some PC-fixing.

I wake up on Saturday feeling a lot better.  The fever is down to 100 degrees, and I feel good enough to do laundry and a little shopping.  I’m clearly not running on all eight cylinders yet, because by mid-afternoon I’m feeling tired.  I decide to take a nap before the First Storm Manga coffee shop meeting that evening.

I arrive at the coffee shop and place my order.  The guy behind the counter notices I’m not quite myself, and asks how I’m feeling.  I tell him I’m getting over a bug.  He asks if its the swine flu, and I remark: “Well, if it is, I’m not impressed, because I’m already getting over it.”

I’ll take “Asking For It” for $200, Alex.

The meeting is going well as the evening progress, mainly because there really isn’t much to discuss.  We spend more time shooting the breeze than anything else.  At just past eight o’clock, my phone rings.  I spend a few seconds wondering why my boss would be calling me on a Saturday night before answering.  He tells me that a third person at work got sick and went home on Friday.  After running a 102-degree fever himself, he went to the E.R. (“Puss” I thought to myself) and there it was discovered that he had swine flu.

Up until that point, I had not even thought about it.  As nutty as it sounds, catching the flu isn’t that big of a deal to me, because I usually get a pretty nasty case at least every other year or so.  I become miserable for a few days, miss a few days of work, maybe see the Doctor, take some meds and life goes on.

I tell the guys, and I’m all but ready to pack up my Netbook, go home and quarantine myself for the next few days.  One of our members, who happens to be a 4th-year pharmacy student, just shrugs and says, “its not that big a deal.”  The guy that was using my PSP at the time, however, spent a good fifteen minutes in the men’s room washing his hands but not until after he completely drained its battery playing God of War.

Now THAT’S  hardcore.

I’m still sick, mind you, so I take off an hour later once the acetaminophen starts to wear off.  I get home and sit on the couch to rest for a bit.  I remember the guy I lent the enclosure to…and his wife and kid.  Fark.  I call him and let him know he might have a nice warm box of H1N1 sitting in his computer room, and even he seems pretty nonplussed about the whole situation.

I figure they’re fine, so who am I to get freaked out?  I stayed at home on Sunday (temp now 99 and change), and enjoyed some football as the new season began.  I woke up this morning with no temperature but I’m hacking and coughing all over the place, so I take a second day off so that I don’t end up literally spreading it all over the office.  The boss tells me that the other two folks are out as well, so I don’t feel too bad.

I will be at work tomorrow morning, but whether I stay at work is another matter entirely.  I will probably still be coughing a bit, but whether that will be enough to get me tossed out of the office remains to be seen.

If it seems like I’m brushing it off, then yeah, I suppose I am.  In my defense, I don’t know if I even have the swine flu.  The guy that did test positive for it does sit within arm’s length of me, but that doesn’t prove anything.  If it is the swine flu, then its pretty damn mild compared to some week-long nasty bugs I’ve had in the past, so Praise the Lord and pass the chicken soup.

San Japanic! The Director’s Tale – Part I

August 13, 2009 – 1130 AM

The busy day lay ahead.  I was the point man for preparing First Storm Manga’s table for San Japan, and my duties consisted of securing a table at the Municipal Auditorium for our group and obtaining our badges.  The day started off well enough. I went to work, and my short day was quickly eaten by meetings and busy-work; as usual, not much got actually done.

My mission was made easier by the fact that we had someone “on the inside.”  Laken is a good kid, cat ears and all.  Our youngest member thus far, her initial shyness at her first meeting (she refused to let anyone see her art until I secretly photographed it using my cell phone’s camera, earning me her ire) got her unfairly labeled as being ditzy, but she can be counted on when there is a job to do.

Laken is also a San Japan volunteer.  She had also contributed to our first compilation and we were hoping for her assistance in navigating the confusion that is often associated with cons.

I had read on the San Japan forums that setup was going to start at two o’clock.  Thus, my plan was to get out of work at eleven-thirty, get home at noon, take an hour nap, and then drive to the Auditorium to setup the F.S.M. table.  We wanted to get a good location across from a known artist that we knew would attract a crowd.  To make sure I was on the right track, I sent a text to Laken once I got home, and I was all but ready to fall into sweet slumber for an hour when my phone beeped.

“BE HERE AT 1”

Well, frak.  I cursed Randomizer’s Dumb Luck ™ as I quickly got up and ready to leave.  About a half an hour later, I exited the Reliant after parking in front of the Holiday Inn El Tropicano where the convention was to be held, and luckily ran into another First Storm Manga member.

Chris Holm has a table in Artist’s Alley, and for the most part, he was doing his own thing at the con.  He was also helping us rookies out, and his previous experience at conventions, and San Japan, in particular, was to be of great help.  He also contributed to our first manga, “San Japanic!” and would be checking up on us as the con went on.  He was there to setup his table, and I was glad I wasn’t going to be going it alone as my San Japan adventure began.

For the moment, though, he looked as lost as I was, and he asked me where we were supposed to go.  Not having any idea myself (we only had two choices, the hotel or the Auditorium) I sent Laken a quick text and we started walking toward the El Tropicano.  Laken responded by telling us she would meet us in the lobby, and there we met.

Much to my disappointment over the lost nap, I soon found out that the Auditorium was closed until two o’clock, and we had an hour to burn until we could get our tables.  Instead of spending it lounging around the hotel lobby shooting the breeze and browsing the Internet, Chris and I were put to work stuffing goodie bags to be given to the con attendees.

It was lots of fun.  Being the only geek in my family, it is very seldom that I find myself in the presence of other geeks; so being in a room filled with geeks was a delight.  That said, I have an unfortunate tendency to show my age when I talk shop, and I soon discovered that more than a few of the kids in the room weren’t even born yet when Robotron 2084 came out in the arcades.

Pardon me for a moment while I grow OLD…er.

The hour soon ticked away, and the Auditorium was open.  Laken accompanied us as we walked over.

We were the first ones in Convention Alley.  The place was pretty much ours; we had our pick of tables.  After debating the merits of getting the end table (as opposed to the second-to-the-end table) we got the second-to-the-end table and I laid down our tablecloth and taped up our cheesy paper logo signs.

We kept the setup low-key for a reason; there is a fan group in town that has a penchant for tampering with other groups.  While I’m sure most of their members are decent folks, we know that there are a few miscreants in the bunch.   Some of our members have had dealings with them in the past that had come to unpleasant endings.  We kept a careful eye out for them; we wanted to afford them as little an opportunity to tamper with our table as possible.

Content that all was at the ready, Chris and I took the opportunity to go to Sam’s Burger Joint to scarf some good burgers and shoot the breeze for a bit.  I then headed home to relax and start packing for The Big Day.

Frankly, I was feeling pretty good about myself.  Everything was proceeding according to plan…just as the Emperor had foretold.  Actually, “The Emperor” was more nervous about the whole thing than I was, and I would soon discover that he wasn’t being entirely paranoid.

NEXT:  BADGES?!  WE NEED OUR STEENKING BADGES!