Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Cash vs Credit vs Debit

I temporarily lost my credit card over the weekend, which resulted in a short but intense panic. However, even had I lost it for good, it occurred to me how much better it is to lose a credit or debit card than cash.

Had I lost cash, it would probably have been gone for good. While there are kind souls out there who might try to return the money, how do you differentiate your bills from those that belong to other people? Other than knowing the individual serial numbers of every bill in your wallet (which, really, who would do that?), a $20 is a $20. I’ve heard of instances in which people were able to prove their loss by knowing the exact amount, but I’ll be honest, I have no idea how much cash is in my wallet at any given time. And that still depends on someone being exceptionally generous. I guarantee you there are more people who would just keep the money than those who would even attempt to return it.

Similar to losing the money, what happens if you get mugged? That cash is gone. Even if you report the crime to the police. Even if they manage to catch the mugger. Even if they still have the cash in their possession. What’s to say you’ll recover the money? How can law enforcement officers know you didn’t lie about how much was stolen?

Yet another possibility of losing money, a house fire would absolutely destroy paper bills. Insurance policies usually have a way to try to recover losses, but I doubt that includes cash money. Again, what insurance agent is just going to take your word for the amount of money you had stashed away? Like with numerous other maladies, the cash is gone.

Credit and debit cards have protection against these unfortunate circumstances. Fortunately, I knew that my card was within one of very few places, each of which were removed from the public. Even if I dropped my card in a parking lot or store, I could just call and cancel it as soon as I noticed its absence. Most credit card companies are willing to refund purchases made soon before and after a card is reported stolen.

Instead of just losing it, what if my card is stolen? Again, I’m not likely to be held responsible for any purchases made if I call in a reasonable time frame. Furthermore, any criminal who makes purchases on the card is going to be tracked down. Some may argue that the criminal could steal your identity, but credit card numbers can be easily changed with the help of the company. Some vendors like Visa are even allowing stores to update the card number automatically by pushing an update of some sort out. I don’t know the details, I just know it’s an awesome idea.

Even beyond the security benefits of credit and debit cards over cash, a statement can serve as a record of transactions. I have a notoriously bad memory, and I forget transactions soon after I make them. Unless I keep receipts, I may have no idea how much I spent, and where. Fortunately, I can look at my credit card statements and see exactly what I spent, often as far back as the entire time I’ve had a card.

Additionally, I keep an alternate card to make purchases in the event that my main credit card is unavailable. Nobody keeps alternate stores of cash, at least not in the same vein. I keep a backup $20 stored in a hidden flap of my wallet, but I don’t keep a backup wallet with any sort of significant amount of money in it. I could have gone several days or weeks without finding my card or receiving a replacement, and I still wouldn’t have been significantly inconvenienced.

Obviously, I am a big fan of credit or debit cards over cash money. People who insist on using exclusively or mainly cash puzzle me. I’d be more than willing to try and understand the logic, but nobody has yet given me a convincing argument as to why cash might be the superior option. In any case, I’ll hold onto my credit card a little tighter next time, but I still won’t sweat it too bad if I do happen to misplace it.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Ligon "One Lane" Bridge

Have you ever experienced nostalgia for something strange? Something like a bridge?
Anyone in the Enoree area has probably driven over Ligon Bridge at some point. This rickety old bridge crossed the Enoree River on Beaverdam Church Road, behind James Davis’s service station. As the most direct route out toward the Gray Court and Fountain Inn areas, it was used quite regularly by locals.
I say it “was” used because in 2015, Ligon Bridge was torn down and replaced with a new bridge. Admittedly, it was in terrible disrepair. Per Bridge Hunter, the inspection of Ligon Bridge in October of 2011 yielded some abysmal results. Deck condition was 5/9, superstructure condition was 5/9, substructure condition was 3/9, appraisal was “structurally deficient,” and the sufficiency rating was 13.9 out of 100. It was basically about to collapse. Replacing the bridge was a smart move for safety reasons.
Still, I miss crossing the bridge. Every single time, it was a thrill to drive over. Would this be the time that the bridge collapsed? It certainly felt like it. The entire thing creaked and popped as your vehicle hit each deck board. Being only one lane wide (and consequently being called “one lane” bridge by some), two vehicles couldn’t cross at once. There was even a game of stopping on the bridge, rolling down your windows, and turning off your vehicle. Some rumors circulated that cars wouldn’t start again if they were turned off on the bridge.

I regret not taking a video of crossing Ligon Bridge before they tore it down. Since they built up the banks on either side, the entire thing is just a smooth transition from one side to the other. With the old bridge, it felt like there was a genuine risk that you might die every single time you crossed it. Maybe that isn’t something that should be part of a commute, but that stretch of road just doesn’t seem the same without it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Runescape... Again

It was only a matter of time. After a hiatus of a few months, I’m playing Runescape again.
The last time I spoke of Runescape, I had recently started back and was contemplating paying for a membership again. Though the dates are a little fuzzy at this point, I seem to have started back sometime around Thanksgiving 2015. I made the blog post above on January 27, 2016. Though I’m not sure how gradual the process was, I eventually played for the last time on April 19, 2016. I’ll get to how I came up with that date in a moment.
While I did stop actively playing the game for a period, I continued to keep up with it. I still followed the official Runescape facebook page, as well as periodically browsed the subreddit forums for Runescape 3 and Old School. As I’ve mentioned time and time again, I do miss the game when I’m not playing it. It’s occasionally nice to talk about it and reminisce about all the fun I’ve had with it through the years.
Eventually, one of these channels mentioned a mobile version of Runescape. I thought to myself how neat that would be, since I’ve used remote desktop to play from my phone, but it would be so much better to have a native client running on my phone or tablet. I considered that once mobile came out, I would try it out and maybe start playing somewhat actively again. Mobile wasn’t scheduled to drop until sometime early 2018, though, so it would be a while yet.
On October 15, I discovered that the fletching skill had been made free-to-play (f2p). Honestly, I was taken aback. As a sort of freemium game, with a free version that has most of the content behind a subscription paywall, RS has typically added very little to the f2p game and instead made new stuff exclusive to pay-to-play (p2p). I can’t blame Jagex, the creators. They are a business, and they exist to make money. If you give out more and more features for free, what incentive do players have to pay? This was huge. They made a skill that was previously p2p, and made the entire skill f2p, with the exception of a few members-only items.
I talked about this decision with MrPickler, a fellow ‘scaper who I’ve mentioned before. We both expressed a renewed interest in playing again, since one of our favorite p2p skills was now available for free players. For kicks and giggles, as well as a little bit of nostalgia, I decided to download the client and log into the game again.
On the login page, you can see how long it has been since you last logged in. My previous login read 544 days. About a year and a half. I took a screen capture for posterity and logged in. Later, I used this figure and the date it was taken to calculate that April 19, 2016 was the date 544 days before October 15, 2017. I played around for a few minutes, looking through my bank to see what all I still had, and playing with the new interface. With updates like the NXT client, RS actually looked pretty good. I had no intention of playing at length, but it was nice to just know Myst_Jake was still hanging around in Gielinor.
Within a matter of days, MrPickler mentioned that he had started high alching. High Level Alchemy is a spell in the game that converts items to a set number of coins. For a few items, the cost to purchase the item and the materials to cast High Level Alchemy are less than the amount of coins produced by casting it. As such, you can purchase a large number of these items and “high alch” them for a profit. What makes this such an attractive prospect is that players can organize their inventory in a way that the item to be alchemized is positioned directly behind the spell’s icon, and can click their mouse to a rhythm to cast the spell without paying attention at all. If you set up something like mouse keys or remote desktop in order to click without moving the cursor’s position, you can simply tap to a beat and alchemize hundreds if not thousands of items with very little effort. I started high alching in my spare time, since it was so easy to tap on my phone screen while doing other things.
Skill levels on 2017-10-18 (left) vs 2017-11-17 (right)
I still haven’t restarted my membership since I ended it on September 8, 2013. As much as I did play fairly regularly for a half a year or so between the end of 2015 and middle of 2016, I remained f2p for the duration. Fortunately, Jagex did give a free membership weekend this past weekend, from Friday the 24th to Monday the 27th. I’ll probably post about that more in-depth later, but it did give me a chance to play around with the p2p skills that I haven’t gotten a chance to use in over 4 years.

For now, I’m going to keep high alching, doing a dungeon here and there, and trying to keep on top of my daily challenges. Without paying for a membership, I can play or not play at my leisure, and not feel obligated to get my money’s worth with anything. If I decide I want to go p2p again, the option is there. If not, the free game is more comprehensive than ever, and there is plenty to keep me busy for a very long time.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

2017-11-22_Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving day is tomorrow, and despite Christmas music on the radio and decorations up all over the place, it is still a celebrated holiday.
I understand that Christmas is a lot easier to get excited for than Thanksgiving. For one, it has tons and tons of music. I don’t have any sort of tentative figures on it, but I’m sure there are hundreds if not thousands of Christmas songs just in English. How many songs have you ever heard about Thanksgiving.
In addition to the music, Christmas decorations are as prolific and varied as holidays get. There are trees and ribbons and lights and garland and even flying spaghetti monster tree toppers. With so many decorations available, you can doll up your house and yard however you want. The sky's the limit, often literally with the size of some Christmas trees I’ve seen.
Let’s not forget presents. The holiday season brings people out of the woodwork to go shopping, and companies often hold off new releases until late in the year, just to entice people to buy the products as gifts. I don’t want to sound materialistic, but everybody enjoys receiving presents. Even if it isn’t the reason for the season, it is a nice addition.
Far from the least, Christmas shares a time of the year with numerous other religious holidays. For many people, religion is a defining element of who they are. As such, they get very passionate about specific days for their faith. With Christmas as the birth of Christ, that’s a pretty big deal for Christians.
With all these reasons, I can totally see why people like to skip right over Thanksgiving and hop right on board the Christmas train when November 1st rolls around. But I genuinely think that Thanksgiving has a few things in its favor to deserve a fair share of the holiday cheer.
My personal biggest reason for enjoying Thanksgiving is how it hasn’t been commercialized, at least not as thoroughly as Christmas. With the presents and decorations and such, Christmas is all about buy buy buy. With Thanksgiving, I don’t feel like that’s the case. You’re encouraged to cook a big dinner for family and friends, but there isn’t really much TO buy. And there’s the dynamic between Black Friday shopping creeping backwards into Thursday, versus companies making a political statement against it and publicly announcing that they will be closed until into the day on Friday. In recent years, more and more companies seem to encourage their employees to spend time with their families. I’ve always had a very close knit family, so I really like that Thanksgiving allows me to put aside everything and spend time with people I love, if only for a few hours.
Beyond the sentiment of time with family, Thanksgiving is all about some food. Looking at my stature, it’s rather obvious that I enjoy food, perhaps a bit too much. I like turkey and dressing, I like mac and cheese, I like just about everything that most people serve on Thanksgiving. Given the plethora of options available and the moral obligation against criticising people for what they eat or how much, Thanksgiving is a chance to pig out and not feel guilty about it. Maybe it’s unhealthy, but what’s one day a year going to hurt?

This Thanksgiving, be thankful. I’m not asking you to post on social media every day of November about what you’re thankful for. I don’t even care if you voice it to anybody else. But take the day to remember what you have, and appreciate it. Come Friday, feel free to go full-on Christmas. But until then, give Thanksgiving its due.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

"Completing" a Video Game

What does it mean to “complete” or “finish” a video game? What criteria are required to say that you beat a game?
Obviously, this isn’t a simple question, and there are no definite right or wrong answers. Video games comprise a huge industry, and there is such an immense variety among them that what applies for one game or genre may not apply in the slightest to another. I might be able to “beat” a First-Person Shooter (FPS) in under 10 hours easily, but to say that you “beat” a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) typically implies hundreds if not thousands of hours of work, and frequently means continued play as developers release new content.
Are there any hard and fast metrics you can judge this by? Main storyline is obviously a large component for completing a game. Can’t say you’ve beaten it if you’ve never seen the ending of the story. Usually that means you can see the credits, too. But what about games that have extra story content after the credits roll? Or games with multiple endings for different sorts of “new game plus” variants? Do you have to see every ending, or does the first ending that you get count as beating the game?
Besides the main story campaign, most games have some number of side quests. Do they count at all? Do you have to beat some threshold number of side quests? Or are side quests just as important as the main quest, and you have to finish all of them? Some games have “radiant quests” that are procedurally generated and never end. Since there is no way to complete all of those, do you have to do any? Do you have to beat enough to satisfy some arbitrary requirement? How much is enough?
Instead of quests and missions, maybe you choose to indicate completion from defeating bosses. When you defeat the antagonist of the game, it’s reasonable to assume that you’ve beaten the game. However, what about optional bosses? Final Fantasy and other games in the JRPG genre are notorious about having “super bosses” that aren’t required in the main story quest, but are tremendously more difficult to kill than any necessary enemies. Do you have to beat them to finish the game, or can you leave them be?
As of the Seventh generation of video game consoles, on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, many games had achievements or trophies that could be obtained by satisfying some criteria. On PlayStation, at least, players can obtain a Platinum Trophy by acquiring all other trophies available for a game. For many players, the Platinum Trophy is the ultimate mark of completion for PlayStation games. However, this is debatable by game, since some games do not require 100% completion, while others require some multiplayer participation, which some players would consider beyond what is necessary to finish a game. While I used to go for the Platinum Trophy in any game that seemed reasonably possible, I haven’t pursued them anywhere near as much as I once did for the past few years.
Expanding on the idea of multiplayer, there is quite a bit of variation between gamers on whether multiplayer facets count toward completion. Personally, I don’t think that any online or multiplayer facets should count toward completion. For one, they are an inconsistent metric by which to measure your ability, and I don’t think that’s a fair comparison. Also, it requires an active community, and that isn’t likely to be the case once a game’s sequel comes out. If a game’s servers are shut down, there is literally no way to experience the online play again. How is that a fair way to judge progress? In any case, there are people who say that online multiplayer should be required for completion. I am not one of those people.
One of the most simple and direct ways to measure whether a game is finished is the completion percentage. Many games list a distinct percent value, either in a menu or on a save screen. This indicates how much of the game that the player has finished. Games may differ on how that calculate this, but typically a 100% means you’ve beaten the game. A handful of games, one notable exception is Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, in which players much reach 200% by finishing the standard castle and then the inverted castle. Some players swear by this completion percentage, and will not consider a game complete until the value is maxed out. However, there is one game that infamously does not allow players to reach 100%. In Gran Turismo 2, no matter if players finish literally every single race in the game, they can never get higher than 98.2% completion. For some die hard completionists, this is unforgivable. Even though most people who have played GT2 are aware of this glitch, it bothers some players that they can never see 100% completion.
For me, it typically boils down to, “did I get my money’s worth?” That question has become increasingly fuzzy in recent years. I haven’t bought a new game for myself in a very long time, and I haven’t bought a used game since PS3 generation. Mostly, I either check out games from the library or borrow games from friends. So getting my money’s worth when I didn’t pay anything is difficult to determine.
Beyond getting my money’s worth, I might go with any of the above criteria. Given that I have far less time to play video games lately, I rarely go for Platinum. If I beat the final boss and see the credits roll, that’s usually sufficient for me. Optional bosses I may go after, but always. If there are trophies that I can get with very little extra effort beyond what I’ve already done, I may try to snag them before I put a game down. If I do choose to go after a Platinum trophy, it’s either because I really enjoy the game or because it seems relatively easy to get.

“Completing” a video game is clearly a very inexact science. There are numerous ways to count a game as “finished,” and it varies wildly from person to person. For some people, finishing a game is a trivial condition that has no bearing on whether they have fun with a game. For others, beating a game to the fullest degree is absolutely required. At the end of the day, play a game as much as you want to, and that’s all you have to do. After all, it’s just a game.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

StepMania, the successor of Dance Dance Revolution

I recently learned of StepMania, and it has ignited an attempt in me to play dancing games in the comfort of my home once again.
A few weeks ago, I was listening to my music on shuffle as I often do and a familiar song came on. “Beethoven Virus” was originally on Pump It Up, but it is the iconic song for dance video games in my opinion. There are numerous songs from dance games in my music library (don’t judge me), but this is one that just takes me back. It’s high tempo, catchy, and it embodies the nature of dance game songs.
While that particular song was from Pump It Up, I was always a bigger fan of Dance Dance Revolution or DDR. The 4 buttons in up/down/left/right configuration always felt more natural to me than the 5 button configuration with diagonals and a center button used by Pump It Up. Not only that, but DDR was available both in arcades and on home consoles, so I could practice at home and then show off my skills in arcades.
For whatever reason, Pump It Up has become the more popular dance game in the United States, and seems to be the only cabinet I see in arcades now. I’ve heard talk of DDR cabinets in niche places, but nowhere I’m willing to drive to regularly. I try Pump It Up here and there when I go to arcades, but the button layout and songs just make me miss when DDR was more readily available.
In any case, hearing “Beethoven Virus” got me wondering if any sort of DDR game was available on PC. Even if there wasn’t an official port or PC release, I could look into emulating PS2 games. Surely, with as popular as DDR used to be, there should be a community that still enjoys it.
No matter if I emulated or found a PC dance game, I would need a USB dance pad to properly play it. Unfortunately, dance pads could get expensive and I really wasn’t in the position to spend a lot of money on reliving an old hobby. I still had my old PS2 dance pads, though. What about adapters? It can’t be that hard to convert PS2 controller ports to USB.
I did some research and found good news on both fronts. This reddit post indicated that StepMania was an ideal DDR replacement. The more I looked into StepMania, the more excited I got. Apparently, it originated as a simulation of DDR, but has grown into a full-fledged engine in use by actual creators of dance games.
Not only is StepMania a great platform in and of itself, it also supports “Stepfilesfor custom songs. There are files available for basically every DDR game ever released. No need to buy every individual game and switch between discs for specific songs. You can literally import all of the songs you want into a single core game.
Best of all, it’s free. StepMania is open-source, so anybody can use it, and it has still received updates even as recently as 2016. This isn’t some obscure project that died back in 2004. It is current, and it apparently has a huge following. Honestly, if this whole project turns out as well as I hope, I’ll definitely donate to the developers for creating such an awesome product.
As for the dance pad, I looked mostly into adapters. There are full-on cabinets available for purchase, and plenty of custom rigs like this one created by /u/dcls, but those are way more than I’m looking to put into the project. I’m much more limited, both on funds and time. There were several products in the $10-$15 range on Walmart and Amazon, but of course, the cheapest ones available were Chinese knock-offs.

I’ve used AliExpress before, so when I saw this product, I had a good feeling about it. Sure, the entire site looks a little sketch, but they didn’t steal my card information before, and I can dispute it if they do. I bought a phone case that ended up working pretty well, and I paid something under $2 for it. I used a card that only pays for Netflix each month, so if it DID get skimmed, I could just cancel it and migrate my Netflix payment to another card. No biggie.
It’s a buck fifty. Even if the product is garbage and doesn’t work at all, what am I out? A cup of coffee? Completely worth the risk to me. If it does work well, I’ll definitely be buying another one. Two dance pads to go head to head with friends? It’ll be like 2005 all over again.
I personally owned DDRMAX2, Extreme 2, and SuperNOVA. Obviously, I grabbed the mixes from those games, and I’ll probably get all DDR songs ever released eventually. Loading them into StepMania is super easy, and it isn’t like they take a ton of space. And fortunately, StepMania truly does play just like DDR did. It’s like I was in middle school all over again.
If the adapter doesn’t work and I can’t get the dance pad connected to StepMania, at least it was a fun attempt. I can still play all of the old DDR songs with my fingers on arrow keys for nostalgia at least. If it does work, though? Best. Cardio. Ever. Any time I have friends over for the next while, we’ll be playing DDR. I’ll be posting an update in the coming weeks to discuss whether the adapter worked and how things play out.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

No Shave November

The baby face that I have sported for the past few months is about to be engulfed by a big, burly beard of manliness.
While I normally keep my facial hair to just a goatee, or occasionally shave it clean, November (and possibly into December or even January) comes the time when I grow it all out in support of testicular cancer awareness (or something like that). In all honesty, my beard isn’t really all that impressive. I grow facial hair ridiculously slow, so it takes a few weeks before anybody can even notice a difference. Day to day, that’s great because I can shave once or twice a week and never look all that scruffy. In November, though… Everybody else has a forest of beard while I still have what some would consider a five o’clock shadow.
Last year, I kept growing it out until soon after Christmas. My intent was to get picture proof of my 2-ish month old beard with all the Christmas photos. No Shave November because Don’t Shave December, but fell short of Just Don’t Shave January. Will I try it again this year? Maybe, but beards get awful scruffy. I could even make it to Forget Shaving February or Must Not Shave March. Ain’t Gonna Shave April starts to get a little warm, and May Not Shave May is when the weather just will not permit me to have a 6 month beard. Temperature and humidity just get way too high in the south.

We’ll see what happens. If I can ignore the scratchy feeling, beards are awful convenient come snowboarding season. I’ve had the outside collect frost, while my face is still warm underneath. The problem, besides being scratchy, is that beards also catch everything that comes within a few inches of them. Food, water, lint, and everything else begins to cling to me, and I have to keep a constant eye on it so that I’m not walking around with something unsightly in my majestic beard.