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Old News Archives:
(If you'd like to read about my travels in Japan, China, or another location, check out the Travelogues page.)
(If you'd like to read more about Ink, check out the Ink section.)

Year 1: 8/11/2003 - 8/9/2004
Year 2: 8/11/2004 - 8/10/2005
Year 3: 8/11/2005 - 8/9/2006
Year 4: 8/11/2006 - 8/10/2007
Year 5: 8/13/2007 - 8/8/2008
Year 6: 8/11/2008 - 8/10/2009
Year 7: 8/12/2009 - 8/9/2010
Year 8: 8/11/2010 - 8/10/2011
Year 9: 8/12/2011 - 8/10/2012
Year 10: 8/13/2012 - 8/9/2013
Year 11: 8/12/2013 - 8/8/2014
Year 12: 8/11/2014 - 8/10/2015
Year 13: 8/12/2015 - 8/10/2016
Year 14: 8/12/2016 - 8/9/2017
Year 15: 8/11/2017 - 8/10/2018
Year 16: 8/13/2018 - 8/9/2019

8/12/2020 In memoriam

No, no one died. I don't even know anyone who has gotten sick lately (from COVID or anything else). There have been a number of stores and restaurants nearby that have closed though. We don't live in a tourist area so local businesses don't have it as badly as some places, but it's still been hard for many of them. I've seen a number of places close up permanently. Most recently, I lost my favorite Chinese restaurant (well, my favorite here in Virginia), HHM BBQ. It had great, authentic food, reasonable prices, and a pretty good location. Unfortunately, it opened not all that long before COVID and I guess they weren't able to build up a big enough customer base in time to survive with nothing but take out. I do wonder why they didn't re-open their dining room once restrictions opened a bit, but they're not the only nearby restaurant to stick with take-out only for the time being. I assume that for some, the owners are really worried about the virus, other don't want to deal with all the additional rules and restrictions, and still others don't think they'll get enough business (while many people around here are eating out again, local restaurants aren't nearly as busy as they used to be). HHM is the place I'm going to miss the most (at least so far), but there's several other restaurants I like that, while I don't have confirmation that they've closed for good, have never reopened so I assume that's the case. There's some others I had wanted to try that aren't around anymore either. Plenty of shops too, though none of the ones I frequented. We also lost a really great nearby clinic a while back, which was rather depressing. I'd like to say that the wave of closures is finished, but I'm not too sure that's the case. Sigh...

See you Friday.

Josiah

8/10/2020 Light novels

As previously mentioned, I've been reading a lot of Japanese light novels lately in relation to that book I'm writing. Of course, I've read plenty of light novels in the past as well, but they're all I've been reading lately (research and all that). If you're not familiar with the term, "light novel" is used to refer to a certain category of novels. Honestly, I'm not quite sure how Japan "officially" defines what is and isn't a light novel, but from my experience, I'd say that light novels are typically shorter than regular novels (probably 180 - 250 pages on average) and targeted at young adults, though many are also popular with older readers. They span all genres, but you do see an especially high amount of fantasy, sci-fi, and romance. Honestly, they're strike me as the Japanese equivalent of American YA novels, more or less. Before, I wrote a bit about how lots of light novels are being translated in English these days. But even if you've never read one, there's a good chance you're familiar with some of them as many of the more popular light novel series have received anime, manga, and game adaptations. Sword Art Online, The Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, Spice and Wolf, Konosuba, and Slayers all started out as light novels, just to name a few. One thing about light novels is that they all include an afterword where the author talks about whatever for a couple of pages. Turns out, quite a lot of current light novel authors (including some very popular ones such as the creators of Sword Art Online and Konosuba) get their start writing web novels. Basically, in Japan there's a major website or two where people who want to write as a hobby create accounts and then post the chapters of their stories as they write them. Others, meanwhile, go on those sites to read said novels. Kind of like web comics. What's really interesting though is that the writing site is either owned or at least closely monitored by major Japanese publishing companies. If a particular web novel gets popular enough, the author is often offered a publishing contract and assigned a professional editor to help refine, improve, and expand on the original web novels before publication. It's a really fantastic system for both the authors and the publishers. I've complained a lot in the past about the difficulties of getting a novel published here in the US, which requires fame, connections, and/or a massive amount of luck, above and beyond the necessary writing skills. I really wish we had something like that here.

See you Wednesday!

Josiah

8/7/2020 Assorted musings

I managed to get a decent amount of stuff done this week despite having some appointments to deal with. I'm in no danger of finishing my to-do list anytime soon, but progress is progress. Unfortunately, despite the tropical storm having passed, we're still getting a lot of rain, which which is rather annoying when there still aren't any indoor play areas for Zack. Plus, while Virginia fortunately hasn't rolled back its COVID reopening at all (though with our governor there's a very real risk of that), DC and Maryland have. DC especially seems to be going pretty extreme (barring a few very clearly politically motivated exceptions) so I don't think we'll have any real reason to visit there anytime soon. Maryland isn't as bad over all, but they're starting to require masks in a number of outdoor areas. I don't particularly like wearing a mask for long periods of time in general but it's tolerable indoors with air conditioning. Outdoors in 90 degree weather with high humidity? That's miserable.

Is there a reason for all of this? The data continues to prove that COVID-19 isn't at all dangerous for most people (even less dangerous than I thought when I wrote my series of posts about it), but the politicians and media aren't about to back down on their rhetoric and fear mongering after all of this. If anything, they've doubled down. It doesn't help that Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube are actually removing videos/posts/tweets and even completely banning accounts that disagree with some of the pillars of the mainstream media's COVID-19 narrative. Sure, you do have some crazy conspiracy theories floating around, but they're also taking down serious research and opinion pieces from respected doctors and scientists. Honestly, I find their actions much scarier than COVID. Considering how much web traffic and news goes through social media, Google, and Youtube, they could significantly shape public opinion by removing or even just limiting the reach of various people and subjects. I'm not sure there's anyone in the world who, when given that level of power, wouldn't manipulate things to support his own beliefs and agendas, at least a little. Which is why social media and Google are supposed to be neutral platforms that allow access to pretty much everything (with the exception of a bare handful of things that virtually everyone agrees shouldn't be allowed, like child pornography). Sure there will be some false information mixed in, but people should be allowed to hear both sides of any issue or argument and make up their own minds. It's certainly not Twitter or Google's business to tell us what we should think or believe. They, unfortunately, don't seem to see it that way and have been steadily getting worse. If they really want to promote a specific viewpoint over another, that's ok so long as they're up-front and honest about what they're doing. But if they continue to do it on the sly while pretending to be neutral, something needs to be done before it's too late or, before we know it, we'll be living in 1984...

Have a good weekend.

Josiah

8/5/2020 On and on...

Rain, bills, work... This week has been pretty dull. Never enough time for all the things I need to do, much less want to do. Sigh... Honestly, this whole year is pretty depressing, but it's that way for just about everyone, not only me. It didn't have to be this way, and it most certainly doesn't still have to be this way, but fear, politics, and misinformation are still going full force to ensure that things don't improve. I really wish more people would think for themselves and actually look at the facts and data instead of just forming their beliefs around emotions or agendas. Unfortunately, I can't really see that happening any time soon.

See you Friday.

Josiah

8/3/2020 From Japan

Connie and I had been planning a beach trip this week but ended up canceling since the weather was looking too iffy. Hopefully we'll be able to give it another go soon. So, instead, I guess I'll just try and get a lot of work done over the next few days. Beyond that, I don't really have much to talk about. I'm inbetween games at the moment (I'll probably start a new one later today though, just need to decide which), but I have been watching a lot of anime and reading a ton of light novels. I can't really marathon things like I used to, not with Zack around, but I can still read a lot; especially ebooks, which I can sneak in on my phone, and I can watch a decent amount of TV after he's asleep if I want to (though that means less time for other things, like games). I'd talk a bit about some of those anime and light novels, but they're tied heavily into the new book I'm writing and I don't want to publicly announce it quite yet. Maybe after I've got the first draft finished (I'm currently somewhere around 30% - 40%).

I will note that it's amazing how much more Japanese media gets released in English these days than when I was younger. I missed out on the "early days" of anime that I hear about from older fans, but when I was first getting into anime as a teenager and even during university, there were still a ton of anime series that never got an English release. Some were available as fansubs, but even then there were a bunch of series I wanted to see that simply weren't available. Now, between Funimation, Crunchy Roll, and a few smaller players, the vast majority of shows get released here in some form or other, even a lot of the more niche ones. A number of them even feature simultaneous releases. As for light novels, when anime and manga had their first big heyday in the late 90's and early 2000's, there were a bare handful that got released but they mostly flew under the radar and usually stopped before completing the series. Over all, they were barely a thing outside of Japan. Some fan translations surfaced online, but the quality was uneven and the selection was pretty limited. Now, Yen Press translates and releases quite a lot of the more popular series, Seven Seas Entertainment gets some others, and J-Novel Club releases ebooks (and sometimes print volumes) of many lesser known series. There are still a number of excellent light novels that, unfortunately, don't have any official English translations, but the sheer number and variety of titles that are available is extremely impressive, especially compared to what things were like just ten years ago. And that's not all. Visual novels, J-pop, Japanese dramas, etc. are all undergoing a similar process to varying extents. While there's a little part of me that kinda misses being one of the few American fans of one title or another, over all, I'm really happy by the change. While not all of the Japanese media that's been making its way over here is especially good (some publishers take more of a quantity over quality approach), there's also a lot of fantastic titles (both famous and hidden gems) that are finally available to not just the US, but the English speaking world at large, and that can only be a good thing.

Later!

Josiah

7/31/2020 What could have been

Sigh... Otakon should have been starting today. Just the latest in a long list of summer plans that got canceled, and not the last either. Connie and I did have some other fun plans for the coming week, but it's looking like the that incoming tropical storm might ruin them too. Sigh...

Hope the rest of you have a good weekend.

Josiah

7/27/2020 Catching up UPDATE

UPDATE 7/29/2020: I really hate to do this two weeks in a row but, thanks to last week, I've still been running behind on things. As a result, I wasn't able to get a strip done for today. Updates will resume on Friday and this shouldn't happen again any time soon.

Now that Zack is all better, I'm hoping to use this week to catch up on some of the stuff I wasn't able to do while he was sick. Not sure if I'll be able to do it all, but the more the better. In another two or three weeks I'm going to have to start getting my fall classes ready and then things will get... Well, maybe not "busy" per say, but busier at least.

Anyway, the to-do list awaits.

Josiah

7/24/2020 Recovery

Zack is doing pretty good but still isn't 100% better. Meanwhile, I probably need another couple solid night's sleep to fully recover. Though I'm not feeling nearly as exhausted as I was earlier in the week, which is good. Still, this whole week has been a mess in regards to my work and to-do list. Here's hoping next week will be better.

Josiah

7/20/2020 Work week UPDATE

UPDATE 7/22/2020: Zack caught a cold and hasn't been sleeping well for the past couple nights. Which, of course, means I haven't been able to get much sleep either. Fortunately, he's getting better (the first night was the worst by far), but I've had a lot less time to work on things than I'd hoped. Plus I don't really trust myself with anything creative when I'm really tired so I don't have a PV strip ready. Updates will resume on Friday.

Actually, I don't return to work for another month but we have nothing in particular going on this week so I'm hoping to get a lot of work done on my new book and some assorted home projects. We actually had been thinking about using the free time to take another short beach trip, but the weather isn't looking good so we'll have to put it off until later. Definitely want to get in at least one more visit to Ocean City this summer though.

Anyway, I'm pretty worn out so I'm heading off.

Later!

Josiah

7/17/2020 Heat wave

After some really hot and humid days, the weather here has actually been pretty pleasant for the past week or so. But not anymore. It looks like, starting today, temperatures are shooting back up. I just hope the humidity isn't going to be too high. I'm fine with temperatures way higher than this so long as it's a dry heat (I went to university in Phoenix, after all). High heat plus high humidity though, is pretty miserable. I mean, we can always stay indoors but indoor entertainment options are still somewhat limited around here, especially for kids.

Well, not like there's anything I can really do about it.

See you Monday!

Josiah

7/15/2020 Binging

Somehow, inbetween the writing, family, and household stuff, I've managed to make my way through a lot of TV shows and over the past few weeks. Though, I haven't been able to play video games much lately, so I suppose I have been sacrificing something. However, I'm not watching and reading all of this stuff for fun (though it has been fun). It's actually related to that new book I'm writing. Research material, essentially. And I've still got a lot more to get through, but there's time. It's not like I can go on any long trips right now. My parents can't even visit thanks to Hawaii's stupid quarantine rules, which were unnecessary to begin with and were finally about to be lightened (not lifted, lightened), only to be extended thanks to a mix of politics and the Hawaiian government's general incompetence. Sigh...

Well, at least I'm getting stuff done. And hey, lots more books and TV shows to get through.

Josiah

7/13/2020 COVID continues

Now that the various protests and riots have died down in most places, the news has gone back to talking about how COVID-19 is going to kill everyone, especially since there's been an increase in cases in a number of states. Of course, as I discussed in my lengthy series of COVID-19 posts, the mainstream media has a tendency to twist the facts and only tell you certain things in order to push their own agenda and make the virus sound a lot worse than it really is. When you actually study it out, the vast majority of the increase can be attributed to increased testing. As for the claimed increase in hospitalizations, it's not exactly true. According to the doctors themselves, now that fears have gone down a bit and elective medical procedures are being allowed again, a lot more people are going to hospitals for non COVID related reasons. But, these days, most hospitals are testing all patients for COVID, regardless of what they're actually at the hospital for. So they're finding a lot more asymptomatic people (people who have COVID-19 but have either very mild or no symptoms). Of course, researchers have been saying for months that there's a massive number people out there with COVID-19 who never even notice, so that shouldn't be any big surprise. We're just testing more of them now. So basically, yes there are more people in hospitals who have COVID-19, but it's not the reason they're in the hospital. The media is also mostly ignoring the fact that, in most of the US, and the world in general, COVID-19 related deaths are way down. So this "surge" really isn't anything to worry too much about.
The other thing they tend to avoid mentioning is the most recent data in regards to overall death rates for the virus. As I previously explained, the current best estimates for the actual death rate of the virus (the odds of someone dying if they contract COVID-19) are somewhere between 0.4% - 0.2% (for comparison, the normal seasonal flu is 0.1%). But even that isn't the whole story. Apparently, for people below somewhere around 60 or 65 years of age, the death rate is around .01% or less. Of course, that would go up quite a bit if you have certain series medical conditions (lung or immune issues especially), but if you're young, or mid-age for that matter, and healthy, you're far more likely to die in a car accident, or even from cancer, than from COVID-19. If you're elderly, that death rate raises too...somewhere around 0.8%. A huge increase, but still not an especially high number. Though the elderly are much more likely to have other health conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19 (and every other illness), so certainly elderly people have a much, much higher risk of death. But for elderly people as a whole, the estimated death rate is still under 1%. Not so scary when you actually know the data, is it?

Later!

Josiah

7/10/2020 Stuck

Some stuff has come up that's likely going to prevent me from doing any long trips until at least October. Nothing to do with COVID-19 and travel restrictions. I just need to be at home for some appointments that are going to be scattered over the next two or three months. Unfortunately, that means no big trips this summer, even if travel restrictions are lifted. That said, we can still fit in short trips so Pennsylvania and more Ocean City are still in the cards. Unfortunately, a lot of attractions around here are probably going to remain closed for the foreseeable future. Or, if not that, have so many restrictions that they're not really worth visiting. Nothing to do except make the most of it I guess (and hopefully vote in some officials who won't colossally overreact next time there's some new illness going around).

Have a good weekend!

Josiah

7/8/2020 Juggling act

Family, household, work, writing, research, some other things... There's a lot going on right now, especially considering that it's summer and that we're not doing any big trips. Time management and all that, I guess.

Anyway, it's late and sleep is something I haven't been getting enough of lately so I'll stop here for today.

Later!

Josiah

7/6/2020 Research

While I still never seem to have as much time to work on things as I'd like, I'm making progress on my new book. I'm also doing a bunch of related research at the same time. Got to say, this is certainly the most fun I've ever had doing research. As for why that is...well, that has to do with the subject of my book, which I'm not ready to announce quite yet. I will say though that it's not a textbook, novel, or travelogue.

Fortunately, unlike the writing, the research is something I can squeeze in here and there throughout the day so I'm not having too much trouble fitting it into my schedule. Speaking of which, I have more research to do.

Later!

Josiah

7/3/2020 Independence Day

I'm often not at home on Independence Day, aka The 4th of July. And the last couple of times I have been, it was right after an international trip and flights and time changes left me too wiped out to do anything. Nothing like that this year. Unfortunately, the local celebrations have been canceled. DC is still having their big event (I suspect the federal government overruled DC's mayor). I'd love to go to that sometime, but it would run a bit late for Zack and, honestly, I want to avoid downtown DC for now. Not because of COVID, but because it's still having some trouble with violent rioters (I do have a lot to say on that topic, but this site is not the place) and I'm worried that, especially due to how anti-American the riots have become, the Independence Day event could be a target. So I guess we'll just stay at home that evening. Maybe I'll pick up some sparklers at least. Sigh... It's just not the same.

Anyway, happy Independence Day to all my US readers.

Josiah

7/1/2020 Summer marches on

July, huh? Sigh... I really thought that things in this country, and the world in general, would have calmed down by now. But events, and certain people, seem determined to ensure that's not the case. But anyway, I don't want to get into all of that. Between family, chores, and my new book, I've got more than enough to occupy my time. That said, I wouldn't mind another short vacation later this month. Pennsylvania maybe, depending on when and if some things there reopen, or back to Ocean City. Come August, we might actually be able to go visit my parents in Hawaii (or vice-versa). Or do some international traveling? That would be nice, but it's still looking pretty iffy in regards to when border restrictions and quarantines will be lifted. Sigh... Well, I already made my opinion on COVID-19 clear and nothing has happened to make me change my mind. But I'm not in any sort of position to affect opinion or policy. At least things around here are continuing to re-open a bit with Phase 3 starting today. That said, it still leave some notable restrictions and doesn't seem to have any sort of estimated duration or end date that I can find.

So yeah, just keeping busy and waiting to see what happens.

Josiah

6/29/2020 A new project

I got a publishing contract for a book! I'm not ready to publicly announce the details yet, but it's a little side project I started working on earlier this year that I think many of your will enjoy. Unfortunately, it means slowing down the work on my other projects (like Aurora's Nightmare) for a little bit. But this is a fun book to write and should be a lot of fun to read as well. Naturally, I'll post more details in the future when it gets closer to publication. For now though, just keep in mind that I've something special in the works.

Later!

Josiah

6/26/2020 Ocean City

Ok, time for a travelogue entry.

June 21st - 23rd: Ocean City, Maryland
Ever since we moved to this area, Connie and I have talked about taking a short summer trip to Ocean City, but for various reasons, we never got around to it. Well, with no big summer trip this year thanks to the COVID-19 situation, we were ready to get out of the house for a bit and Maryland was a little further along than Virginia in its reopening plans so, once the weather forecast looked good, we finally decided to take that beach trip for a few days, driving up on Sunday and returning Tuesday evening.
There's a number of beach towns here in the northeast, but Ocean City is one of the more popular ones and also one of the closer ones to us (a three hour drive). On top of that, I've got a bit of history there. My mom used to go with her family when she was young and she took me and my brother a couple of times when we visited my grandparents in Pennsylvania. That said, I hadn't been back in close to 20 years and my memories of it were rather fuzzy.
Anyway, we set out Sunday morning and had a pleasant drive, mostly through the countryside and across one of the longest bridges I've ever seen, before arriving in Ocean City. The interesting thing about Ocean is that the resort portion of the town is set on a very long and very narrow island (only around 3 - 4 blocks wide) with the beach on the eastern side and a bay on the west. To make up for that, it stretches quite a long way from north to south, three miles of which is lined by a boardwalk which follows the ocean. Connie and I got a hotel roughly in the center of the boardwalk. The boardwalk itself is wide, well maintained, and lined with hotels, restaurants and beach shops. I will note that most of the of the shops and restaurants are on the southern half while the northern half is quieter and less crowded, with mostly hotels and vacation rentals. There's even amusements parks and both ends of the boardwalk and a dozen or so mini-golf courses scattered about the area. It makes for a very pleasant walk. The shops and such are mostly cheap beach equipment and goofy t-shirts, as opposed to the high-end fashion shops that you tend to see in Hawaii. But I'm fine with that. There's plenty of restaurants and snack stands too, though they're not big on variety. If you like pizza, fries, burgers, and seafood, you're set. If you want more foreign options, you may have a tough time of it. There are some really good fries and pizza though.
Of course, while the boardwalk is fun, the main reason people visit Ocean City is for the beach. I've been to a lot of beaches and Ocean City's is really nice. It's very long and wide, and the sand is deep and pretty comfortable, despite being rather large grained. The water wasn't quite as warm or clear as in Hawaii, but it was fine and you could actually walk out a few dozen yards and still stand, which is something I always enjoy.
Zack was thrilled to see the ocean and we ended up dividing most of our time between the beach and the pool at our hotel (which he also loved). I personally would have liked to spend a little more time walking on the boardwalk (never did make it all the way to the southern end) and maybe play some mini-golf, but Zack was having fun so I can't really complain. Despite a little bit of trouble with sunburn (I over-estimated how long I could go without sunscreen) and Zack getting to sleep at night, it was an extremely relaxing trip. I'd been a bit burned out lately with everything going on, despite being on summer vacation, and it was great to just ignore the news, play with Zack, and have fun in the water.
I suppose, given the timing, I should mention the COVID-19 situation. At the time we went, masks were required indoors (though the enforcement seemed a bit lax). Outdoors, the beach and boardwalk were perhaps a bit less crowded than they'd normally be, and people were spaced out a bit more than I'm used to seeing on the beach, but for the most part, things were pretty normal, which was nice. The only real issue was that our hotel had replaced their breakfast buffet with a crappy bagged breakfast.
But anyway, it was a great mini-vacation. Connie enjoyed it as well and it's safe to say that we'll be heading back to Ocean City again in the future, quite possibly a little later this summer.

Later!

Josiah

6/24/2020 Relaxed

We're back home after our short beach vacation. It was a fun and relaxing trip. I should have the travelogue ready for Friday. For now, I'm still going through photos and I need some sleep so I'll see you Friday.

Later!

Josiah

6/22/2020 Vacation

So far, my family and I are having a very nice time in Ocean City. Zack was thrilled to spend time at both the beach and our hotel's pool and yesterday was probably the most relaxing day I've had in months. Here's hoping today and tomorrow are just as good. Haven't had a chance to sort my photos yet, so the travelogue will have to wait until later in the week though.

As a reminder, there's a chance Wednesday's update may get skipped depending on when we get home.

Later!

Josiah

6/19/2020 And we're off

We've been talking about it for ages (not just this year, but previous years as well), but it looks like Connie and I are finally going to visit Ocean City for a few days on the beach. I've been there two or three times in the past when visiting my grandparents in PA, but it's been a really long time and so I don't know how reliable my memories are. Anyway, it should be a fun trip and I'll be sure to write some travelogue entries. I plan to update PV while I'm there, but there's a chance that Monday and Wednesday's updates may be late or get skipped depending on how things go.

Have a good weekend!

Josiah

6/17/2020 This and that

Despite it being the summer, there's never enough time to do everything I want to. Between family stuff, chores, errands, assorted side jobs, writing... Plus I need at least a little time to relax here and there so I don't burn out. It seems I can never manage to check off everything on my to-do list. Whenever I start to get close, there's always something new. Sigh... Oh well, nothing to do except keep trying.

Josiah

6/15/2020 Getting outside

While I'm still not happy with the speed of re-opening here in Virginia, I got to say that, even with all the restrictions, it's really nice to be able to eat in a restaurant again. Even better, they've reopened the playgrounds (never should have closed them in the first place, but still), which gives us a lot more things to do with Zack. He's really happy to get out and go places again.

Not much else to talk about at the moment. Just focusing on a mix of family, chores/errands, and some writing work. I hope the rest of you are getting a bit of a return to normal as well.

Later!

Josiah

6/12/2020 Moving along

Nothing too interesting going on here. Still no real travel plans. Most states just aren't open enough for it to really be worth it yet. Though there are some exceptions. Connie and I have been thinking of a trip to Ocean City, but the weather has been a little too inconsistent to commit just yet. Doesn't help that the forecast seems to change every other day, which makes it hard to plan ahead. I mean, there's no point in driving for hours and getting a hotel on the beach if it's just going to rain. We'd visit my family in Hawaii, except that Hawaii forces all mainland visitors into a two week quarantine with some stiff penalties and they currently don't plan on lifting that until at least August. Though, considering that nearly all of Hawaii's economy revolves around tourism, I can't imagine there's going to be much of anything left by then. International travel, meanwhile, varies by country but most are either banning foreign travelers or requiring quarantines as well. It looks like that might start to change come July. Depending on when it opens up, a Japan trip a bit later this year actually isn't entirely out of the question. For now though, it's still mostly wait and see.

Josiah

6/10/2020 More developments

In more COVID-19 news, the WHO recently announced that asymptomatic carriers of the virus (people who catch the virus but so mildly that they don't get any symptoms), which is the vast majority of people who catch the virus, are highly unlikely to be contagious. Not that I trust the WHO after how badly they bungled this whole thing from the beginning, but this is based on research from multiple countries so it's probably correct. And, like pretty much every new development relating to COVID-19, shows just how stupid most of the precautions were. Many of the arguments in favor of the mass quarantines, stay-at-home orders, and mask wearing are all about how all these dangerous asymptomatic carriers my infect other who won't be so lucky. Now we know that the chances of that happening are minimal. So yeah, having the sick and those with a high risk (like the elderly) take precautions and letting everyone else more or less go about their normal lives (like in Sweden) would have made a whole lot more sense. Of course, don't expect that to actually change anything now. The reason most of the extreme precautions are still continuing is due to a mixture of fear and politics, not facts or logic. Plus, at this point no one in politics of the media who supported all of these extreme measures wants to admit that they were wrong. I mean really, it's not like any of them would say, "So, turns out we didn't actually need to shut down everything, force all of you to stay inside, destroy massive numbers of businesses, cost millions of people their jobs, and drive people to depression, and suicide. Oops, sorry about that." That certainly wouldn't go over well, to put it mildly.

On the "bright" side my part of Virginia will finally move into Phase 2 on Friday (well, probably, assuming the local government doesn't screw it up). Unfortunately, it's a very incremental step. The most notable different, at least for the average person, is that restaurants will be able to have some indoor seating and gyms can reopen with very limited capacity. There will still be a ton of restrictions and most entertainment venues will remain closed. Though it's pretty inconsistent since museums, zoos, and aquariums can reopen but theaters, theme parks, escape rooms, etc. can't. I suppose the virus doesn't spread as well in educational venues. Not that that helps us since all the good museums, zoos, etc. around here are in DC which is reopening slower and not a place I want to visit right now regardless. Also, no word about dropping that stupid mask law. We'll need to get into phase 3 before things get back to some semblance of normalcy but that will be at least another two weeks away. Sigh...

Josiah

6/8/2020 Max

I just learned that, since I get HBO as part of my TV package, I also get HBO Max (their new streaming service) for free (well, not really free since I do pay for the TV station). So I spent the past hour getting that set up and scanning though its collection of shows and movies. Honestly, it's a little bit of a weird mix, though there are a lot of good things in there. For example, there's a not quite complete collection of Studio Ghibli movies, a bunch of classic cartoons (The Flintstones, Looney Toones, Popeye, etc.), and what almost seems like a random collection of Cartoon Network and Adult Swim shows. There's also some anime series (not a whole lot, but many of them are pretty popular titles), Sesame Street (which HBO owns now), a bunch of classic US movies, a bunch of classic Japanese movies (samurai films and Godzilla titles, mostly), all the current DC super hero movies (meh), and an almost random mix of current TV shows and movies that has some real hits scattered throughout (Big Bang Theory, for example). And, of course, there's HBO's original shows like Game of Thrones and Westworld (a personal favorite).

So, if you don't get it for free, like I do, is it worth $15 a month? Maybe, depending on what you like. Netflix is around the same price and has a much, much large selection of TV shows and movies so it's really the best choice for a general all around streaming service, though Hulu probably gives it a run for its money in some areas (current TV shows, especially). I'll note that I say probably because I've never actually had a Hulu subscription so I'm not sure exactly what its library is like these days. On the other hand, you can get Disney+ or Crunch Roll for less than half the price. They're both rather specialized, but Disney+ gives you nearly every Disney movie ever made and quite a lot of their TV series along with pretty much everything Marvel and Star Wars, which is rather hard to beat. Meanwhile, Crunchy Roll will give you the largest anime selection of any streaming service by far, including a lot of brand new shows as they're airing in Japan (though you'll need to be ok with subtitles). And then there's Funimation, which is pretty similar to Crunchy Roll but with some different (and often more well known) series and a lot more dubs. And then there's Amazon Prime Video, which I always felt has a rather weird and inconsistent selection of shows and movies (some of which are locked between additional pay walls). But, at the same time, there's some good stuff there and it's included for free with Amazon Prime which a lot of us already subscribe to anyway, so I can't really complain. But anyway, HBO Max is a bit overpriced given the size of its library (though they can't really reduce it without reducing the subscription price for HBO itself), but there are some really great shows and movies that you can't stream anywhere else so if you want those badly enough it can certainly be worth the price. And, if you're like me and already subscribe to HBO, it's a pretty great bonus and will certainly encourage me not to let that subscription lapse.

On a related note, every so often I consider dropping my TV service and switching entirely to a collection of streaming services. But there's always a handful of shows I want that I'd lose access to. Still, that number always seems to be going down so maybe I should take another look. I already have Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, and now HBO Max. If I added Hulu and maybe Crunchy Roll to the mix that might cover everything, or at least come close enough. Though, at that point, I'm not sure if I'd actually be saving that much money, especially since I'd lose the discount for bundling my TV and internet service together. I'd need to check what exactly Hulu has and do a bit of math...

Later!

Josiah

6/5/2020 Weekend

It's not like weekends mean as much these days as they used to. But this week has been kind of exhausting (mentally more than physically) so I'm hoping for a chance to relax a bit. Unfortunately, this weekend won't really present any new opportunities to get out and do something as this part of Virginia isn't moving into phase 2 re-opening with the rest of the state (I really hate both our governor and local government). But we might be taking a short vacation in the next week or two so that's something to hopefully look forward to.

Other than that, I took my whole COVID-19 series and added it to the Virginia Travelogue. They're not exactly about travel, but related to the area and why I haven't been doing any sightseeing lately. Plus, I spent a ton of time writing them and want them to be easy to fine.

Anyway, have a good weekend. Hopefully by the time it's over, everything will have calmed down a bit.

Josiah

6/3/2020 COVID-19 Part 6

Ok, let's see if I can get this done.

I've already gone over the origins of the virus, how dangerous it is (or isn't), the effectiveness (or non-effectiveness) of many of the measures taken to combat it, and some of the arguments for continuing the lockdowns and such for as long as possible and why they don't hold up. Before moving on to today's topic though, a couple updates since last time...

The idiot British professor who made the wildly inaccurate computer model (like all the other ones in his career) that led to governments worldwide adopting quarantines, lockdowns, and all the rest of these unprecedented measures actually came out and admitted that Sweden ended up getting similar results without all the drastic measures taken elsewhere. He tried to downplay it a little bit by saying that Sweden might still have a spike in the future...but he basically admitted that he, and all the policies he recommended, didn't produce a result any better than Sweden, which was mostly able to maintain normal life and a strong economy.

In other news, the new requirements to wear masks indoors here in Virginia got me doing a bit of research on masks. Especially considering that the CDC can't seem to make up its mind on how helpful they are. It's one thing if you have those medical grade N95 masks, but most people don't so lets focus on the regular disposable masks that most people are wearing. Turns out, there's actually no medical or scientific consensus on the effectiveness of masks when it comes to protecting you or others. The only serious study on the matter that I found actually proved that the masks do very little to stop the transmission of germs, bacteria, and such at close range. With the counter argument being that the study only tested close range, so maybe the masks reduce the range of transmission (or maybe they don't, no one seems to have studied that), and that the tests took place a while ago before COVID-19, so maybe the masks are magically more effective when it comes to this particular virus. So yeah. There's nothing wrong with wearing masks, but they're not necessarily doing much for you or others. To be clear, I have no problem with people wearing masks if they want to, or with businesses requiring them for employees and/or customers (though it annoys be a bit when I'm forced to wear one). But it should be a choice, not a government mandate.

Anyway, on to today's topic. Why, especially after all this time and all the new data (the curve was flattened a while ago, the virus isn't nearly as dangerous are originally thought, etc.), are some people still so invested in maintain strict lockdowns, social distancing, etc.?

Let's start with ordinary people. Quite a lot of people have had enough and want the country the country to open back up, either fully or with various precautions. But there are some who really, really don't. For example, there's the woman I saw on a Facebook discussion about when local schools will be reopening who declared that she wouldn't send her children to school to die. Or, when a local woman was harassed and chased out of a supermarket by another shopper for not wearing a mask (prior to the requirement) because she has a medical condition that prevents her from wearing one. Most of the people talking about it on the local message board were very supportive however, there was a small but very vocal minority attacking the harassed woman and praising her assailant as a hero. If you look on social media or just across the country, there are many more stories like those, some are much worse. Not to mention all the people who say that, even if things reopen, they won't be leaving their home any time soon.
Some of those people are truly, legitimately afraid. And I can't totally blame them. If you listen to much of the mainstream media, and a number of politicians, you'd think that being in the same zip code as someone without a mask will lead to you catching the virus and, if you catch the virus, you're probably gonna die. Totally doesn't line up with the actual facts and data, but that's the story that much of the media and political worlds are pushing (we'll get to their reasons later). Unfortunately, a lot of people don't have the time or drive to look outside of their favorite news source and get the whole story. And, even when presented with the facts, they're often too afraid to accept them.
But that's not the only reason. It's one thing to be scared, but a number of people are self righteously sanctimonious about the whole thing, smugly telling off anyone who dares disagree. This is a little philosophical, but people need meaning in their lives. In the past, most people derived meaning just from the struggle to stay alive but these days, in developed countries, staying alive isn't really a struggle, even for most people in poverty. Other traditional sources of meaning are religion and family. But more and more people are discarding religion, or at least relegating it to a minor portion of their lives, and are in no hurry to start a family. So they look for meaning in other places. For many, their meaning in life comes from supporting a cause (often social and/or political). They're heroically championing the cause of the environment, or some oppressed group, or whatever. Not to say there's anything wrong with causes in general. Some are great, some are bad. But when someone derives much of their meaning in life from a cause, they tend to react very poorly to anything that goes against that cause (regardless of how its presented and whether or not its true). There are a lot of people out there who actually think (and loudly proclaim on social media) that they're heroes, saving lives and even the world by staying home, wearing masks, and social distancing. If you try to tell them that all (or even a little bit) of that wasn't really necessary, they get angry and defensive. It deprives them of meaning and harms their sense of self-worth. This is a trend that's not at all limited to the virus and is the cause of a whole lot of problems in modern society. If you can't deal with conflicting opinions, or even consider the chance that you might be wrong, you really can't function well in society. But that's a whole different topic.
It's also interesting to note that most regular people who are strongly in favor of the lockdowns and such are the ones whose lives were the least disrupted. Sure they may have had to cancel a few social outings, but they're in no danger of losing their job and are sitting quite comfortably in their houses or apartments so they really can't sympathize with the people who lost their jobs and businesses. To them, lockdowns are a small price to pay for safety. After all, they're "saving the world."

There's a line from a favorite fantasy novel of mine. I don't remember the exact quote, but it basically boils down to that people can be made to believe any lie because they either want it to be true, or that they're afraid that it's true. And that's basically the situation here. But what about the people feeding them the lie in the first place? Let's start with the media.
First, the media loves disasters, bad news, and panic. That gets people buying newspapers, watching TV, and clicking on links online. A headline like "Everything is Nice and Peaceful" doesn't get anyone reading or watching the news. A headline like "Apocalyptic Pandemic Could Leave Millions Dead," now that's a money maker. Just like every storm is the storm of the century and every theft or murder is the start of a massive crime wave. It's just normal for the news to blow things out of proportion. And, as previously discussed, China's extreme measures and the bad information coming from them and the WHO didn't help.
But soon it became more than that. Now, I make a point of not getting political on this site but I'm going to have to touch on politics here. That said, I'll try to keep the focus strictly on the facts of this situation and keep my own political opinions to a minimum. Anyway, these days it's really no secret that most of the mainstream media in the US leans towards the left, politically. The only real question is how far left. MSNBC is about as far left as you can go. CNN, the New York Times, and the Washington Post seem to be competing for the number two slot. And most of the rest are somewhere between them and center left. Don't believe me? It's very obvious if you take a look at their coverage of any sort of politically divisive issue or figure which side they're on. Now, whether or not that's a good thing depends on your own political leanings. I'm not going to get into that here, other than that, while I don't really have a problem with news outlets having a specific political bent, it does bother me when they claim to be neutral but they're clearly not. Anyway, there are a few exceptions. Fox News has the reputation of being far right. It's actually not that clear. Some of its anchors and commentators are solidly on the right, a couple are actually fairly far left, and many are somewhere in between. If you look at the station as a whole these days, it's actually getting close to the center. Talk radio, however, tends to be pretty far right, as are a handful of online news outlets (though most of the biggest ones are far left). Once again, whether any of this is good or bad depends on your political leanings and that's a topic I don't want to get into here. The reason I'm mentioning it is because, these days, politics drive a lot of the news coverage. News outlets and their individual reporters, anchors, commentators, etc. often have a very clear agenda they want to drive with their stories. And it benefits the left if people believe that COVID-19 is extremely dangerous.
Why? Well, because then they can attack President Trump, his team, and Republican politicians in general for not taking things seriously enough, mishandling the situation, caring about money more than lives, etc. For the record, I agree with some of Trump's decisions in regards to COVID-19 and disagree with a lot of them as well. I think Republican and Democrat politicians both made a ton of mistakes. Though I will note that all the states with the highest death tolls and the disastrous and deadly nursing home policies are run by Democrats, which also tend to be the states with the strictest lockdowns, so I think they came off the worse of the two parties in this whole mess.
If you don't believe that much of the COVID-19 news coverage is political, just look at how things have changed in light of the current protests and riots in regards to the death of George Floyd. Now that's a different topic and one I will not discuss on this site. But compare how the media reacted to protests in previous weeks to end lockdowns and re-open businesses. The protestors weren't all practicing proper social distancing. Some of them weren't wearing masks. Those protests were called dangerous and the protestors reckless, foolish, and even murders. Those protests, we were told, would cause a massive spike in COVID-19 cases and result in many lives being lost. On the other hand, the same media outlets and politicians that decried those protests are fully supportive of the George Floyd protests (despite a similar lack of social distancing and masks). I've only heard a couple of voices worrying about these protests and riots causing an increase in COVID-19 cases and those voices have been very muted. It's not like COVID-19 is any less dangerous or infectious than is was a week ago (at least if you listen to the media), but the George Floyd protests are useful for promoting various leftist social and political agendas (once again, whether those agendas are good or bad is another topic and one I'm not getting into here) so the media doesn't want to derail that. The re-opening protests, however, are more in line with the right, politically. So the media freaks out about protests that don't help their cause but completely forgets about the virus when it comes to protests that are in line with their agenda. Once again, trying not to take sides, just pointing out facts.

Finally, there's the politicians. I would assume that a few of them (and a few people in the media, for that matter) are genuinely scared of the virus (see my comments on normal people). Most, however, are trying to use it for political gain. Especially the Democrats. It's no secret that the left really hates President Trump and is desperate to win the upcoming election and kick him out of office. It's also no real secret that, even if you love his policies, Joe Biden himself (the presumptive Democrat nominee) is a terrible candidate that can't seem to get through a single public appearance without shooting himself in the foot somehow. And, love him or hate him, one thing Trump really had going for him was how great the economy was doing prior to COVID-19, with raising wages, record low unemployment across the board, tons of new jobs being created, etc. And a good economy tends to strongly favor the incumbent in a presidential race. Not to mention that Trump has handily beaten every alleged scandal that the Democrats have tried to use to take him down, include the impeachment attempt early this year. COVID-19 provided a new method of attack. First, they accused him of doing too much (his China travel ban). Then, when worry about the virus grew, they accused him of doing too little. Even better, at least for their political fortunes, all the lockdowns and such tanked the economy and created depression levels of unemployment. The kind of conditions that favor a regime change in elections.
But there's a problem. The virus wasn't nearly as deadly as predicted and started burning out relatively quickly so people want the country to re-open. There are top Democrat strategists who have stated in various party meetings that they're worried that, once the country opens up, the economy will quickly rebound, allowing Trump to not only boast about a strong economy, but a miraculous economic recovery, making it far more difficult for Biden in the coming election. Naturally, the Democrats want to prevent that. The longer states stay closed, and the longer people stay afraid of the virus, the slower the eventual recovery will be and the more it'll hurt Trump. Yes a lot of people will get hurt, but that might be worth it to defeat Trump, at least according to some.
And it's not just politicians that believe that way. There was a rather disturbing man on the street video taken in New York City during the early days of COVID-19. People were asked if they would make a hypothetical deal with the devil where the virus would last longer and kill more people but Trump would be guaranteed to lose the next election. Some people said they'd never do that, politics weren't worth sacrificing lives. Quite a lot, however, were in full support of the idea. One man even said that there was no amount of deaths that was too high as long as it meant defeating Trump. Now I'm not going to talk about my political views or who I want to win the election. But I can't imagine actually wishing for people to die just to ensure that my candidate is the victor. Honestly, that's sick. But that's how much some people hate Trump. And if that's the man on the street, just imagine his actual political opponents.
One final aspect of politicians' behaviors, and one that affects both Democrats and Republicans, is public image. With the media whipping up a panic and fully supporting lockdowns and such, any politician that dares to buck the trend will be loudly and repeatedly declared a murderer. Didn't put in enough restrictions? You're killing people! Starting easing restrictions too early? You have blood on your hands! Just look at how the media treated the governor of Florida, despite the fact that Florida has had a fairly low number of COVID-19 deaths despite having a very high elderly population. No one wants that and, for many politicians, staying on the media's good side (or at least avoiding their bad side) is a key factor in any decision.

So there you have it. We have a virus which, due to horrendous mishandling on the part of China and the WHO, wildly inaccurate predictions on the part of various scientists (especially that idiot in the UK), media bias and spectacle, and political gain, was blown far, far out of proportion. Yes it's very contagious and somewhat dangerous to small subset of the population but not all that much more than the flu. And for that we've drastically increased depression, suicides, domestic violence, and starvations. Cost millions of people their jobs, cost many others their businesses and life savings, and quite possibly destroyed some social norms for years to come. That is COVID-19. When people look back on this time years later, it will be quite clear that the "cure" was far worse than the virus ever could have been. I just hope that, at very least, the world learns from this mistake and doesn't repeat it in a couple of years when the next new illness comes around.

Josiah

6/1/2020 This and that

I was hoping to finish my series of COVID-19 posts today, but I had a few assorted web design related tasks to take care of so I don't really have the time. At least not if I want to get a decent night's sleep, which I could really use, so I'll aim for Wednesday instead. While my sleep schedule usually gets a bit off during the summer, it's much worse thanks to all the lockdowns since, not only do I not have work, but there's no classes for Zack, no synagogue, or much of anything else that we really need to stick to a schedule for. While I do enjoy a somewhat loose schedule, this is getting a bit too loose.

Anyway, I'm going to get some rest.

Later!

Josiah

5/27/2020 COVID-19 Part 5

There will be no update on Friday due to Shavuot. Updates will resume on Monday.

Did I mention that I don't like the governor of Virginia (my current home state)? Note that this dates back long before COVID-19. He's done a lot of things that I, and many other people judging by the protests, don't like. As far as his COVID-19 response though... Well, it's a heck of a lot better than that of New York, Hawaii, California, Michigan, or Pennsylvania, to name a few. But "it could be worse" is hardly a ringing endorsement. While he's certainly not one of the worst US governors when it comes to COVID-19, he's nowhere near one of the best either. Anyway, over the weekend he had a mini-scandal of sorts. As far as his scandals go, this is pretty minor. But anyway, he decided to visit the Virginia Beach over the holiday weekend. The town recently re-opened its beach and boardwalk, albeit with a lot of restrictions and social distancing guidelines. Well, our governor showed up and ended up taking some selfies with the beach goers (not quite sure why anyone would want a picture with the guy after everything that's come out about him, but whatever). Basically he ends up catching a whole lot of flak online for violating his own social distancing policies (you can't really take a selfie with someone while standing six feet away from them) and not wearing a mask (not actually required in Virginia, but the governor strongly recommends them). His response? To declare that everyone in Virginia now has to wear masks in all public indoor spaces. Now, regardless of your opinion of how useful masks are or aren't, it's kind of ridiculous to suddenly start requiring them here now, when COVID-19 cases in the state are steadily declining anyway. I really hope the guy loses his next election.

Ok, rant over. In the last part of my COVID-19 series, I went over the very stupid idea that any and all measures taken to combat the virus are worth it so long as they save at least one life. Remember, saving lives is wonderful, but that particular statement completely fails the test of logic. Another common argument is that, if some or even most of the measures we've taken to combat the virus are unnecessary, it's better to be safe than sorry, right? I mean, we are talking about people's lives here.
Thing is, more and more reports and studies are coming out (from notable sources including the UN, Stanford University, etc.) about the catastrophic results of the widespread quarantines, lockdowns, and economic shutdowns and how, when all is said and done, they may very well be far worse (and deadly) than the virus itself.

Let's start with the economy. Now, whenever someone brings up the economy, the pro-lockdown crowd loves to attack them for caring more about money than people's lives. But that's dishonest. The economy is about more than the stock market numbers. It's easy to discount the economy if you're working from home or in an "essential" position and still getting a salary (which seems to describe most of the pro-lockdown people). I am, and I'm grateful for it. But I know a lot of people who are out of work and have been out of work for months now. We're looking at depression levels of unemployment and all of those people have to make rent, pay utility bills, buy food, etc. Stimulus checks and unemployment benefits can only keep them afloat for so long, especially those who live in expensive areas (like northern Virginia, for example). I suppose the government could make more stimulus payments, increase the length of unemployment benefits, etc. But even that can't last. With so many people out of work, tax revenues are dropping drastically. Sooner or later, the government will run out of money. And what about businesses? They still need to pay rent for their buildings, utilities, and all of that. It's not like you can just keep them shuttered from months and then expect them all to open up again at the end. Every week more and more small businesses are closing for good, costing more jobs and destroying people's life work and savings. And, while it's not as politically correct to bring it up, we really shouldn't forget big businesses either. I know of at least one major restaurant chain that has shut down for good and lots other big businesses that are struggling and closing multiple locations. Yes, it's trendy to hate big business but there's nothing inherently evil about them and they employ a massive number of people. People that won't have any jobs to go back to if they shut down.
But hey, business owners are all evil versions of Scrooge McDuck sitting on big piles of money. Same thing with landlords, so they can just waive everyone's rent payments until this is all over, right? Uh, no. Business owners (including big business) aren't all rich assholes with unlimited money. That's an incredibly biased and simplified world view. And landlords? While I really admire the ones that can and have waived or delayed rent payments for their tenants, not all of them can do it, and certainly not for very long. They've got bills they have to pay as well.
The economy isn't just numbers. It's people's livelihoods.

Beyond that, the lockdowns and such are actually costing people their lives. Yes, our attempts to protect people from COVID-19 are actually causing deaths. Financial woes and the lack of social contact and interaction lead many people to depression. That's caused an increase in domestic abuse and a massive spike in suicides (California, for example, has already had as many suicides as they normally see in an entire year).
But that's not all. To ensure that hospitals have enough capacity for that massive crush of COVID-19 patients that never came, most states have banned "elective procedures." As we already discussed, that's actually caused hospitals to lose lots of money and lay of staff. Thing is though, some "elective" procedures are actually very important and there are people who have died because their elective procedures were delayed for too long. Don't believe me? The Canadian government released a report on it a while back.
And that's still not all. Because the media and many politicians and such have been non-stop disaster, doom, and gloom, some people are too scared to go to the hospital, even in emergencies, because they're afraid of contracting COVID-19 from the other patients. I know of at least one person (a young woman who was at virtually no risk from the virus) who died of an easily treatable infection because she was too scared to visit the hospital. And I'm sure she's not the only one.
And there's more. The UN released a report saying that, due to the economic impact the global shutdowns have had on poorer countries, there will likely be twice as many people facing starvation this year.

So really, it's not simply a matter of taking extreme actions just in case to be safe and hopefully save some lives. We're sacrificing lives and livelihoods in order to hopefully, maybe, save some other lives. So at best, we're making a trade-off and sacrificing some lives for others. At worst, we're sacrificing lives and livelihoods and saving few, if any, people. Perhaps you think that the virus is still the worse of the two. I disagree (and I believe the data does as well) but that's still a valid position to take. However, you need to at least be honest and admit that our actions to combat the virus are costing lives as well and it's impossible to say which approach would end up being deadlier when all is said and done.

And that'll do it for today. The next entry will probably the last and will look at the reasons why some people are strongly invested in increasing fear and seeing the lockdowns and such continue as long as possible. But that'll have to wait until Monday.

Josiah

5/25/2020 COVID-19 Part 4

So, we've covered how the virus appeared and spread, the measures taken to mitigate it (and how they might not really be doing much), and how dangerous the virus is (not much unless you're elderly and/or have serious preexisting conditions). Now, before we get on to the next topic, there's a couple things that have come to light recently that are worth mentioning.

First off, while it has not been widely reported (we'll get to the likely why later), the CDC recently announced that COVID-19 doesn't really spread via surfaces. In other words, while you could catch it if an infected person breathes in your face, if you touch a surface that person touched or breathed on, you're fine. So all that hand sanitizer people were hoarding? Not very useful. All the reminders to frequently wash your hands? Not a bad idea in general, but not going to reduce your chances of catching the virus much. Wearing gloves when going outside? Pointless. Constantly sanitizing surfaces at stores and such? Closing self service counters? Deep cleaning a building anytime someone who worked there tested positive? Not really effective. It even negates half the reason for wearing masks (breathing on a surface or object that someone later touches won't spread the virus). Of course, like I said, it hasn't been widely reported and I've yet to see any state, business, or organization retract some of the previously mentioned "safety" measures as a result.

The other thing to mention is the increasing information coming out about the nursing home policies in certain states. Now, remember that the elderly are far more at risk from COVID-19 than others, especially if they have certain preexisting conditions (which is relatively common among those in nursing homes). Also, remember that over half the COVID-19 deaths in the US have been nursing home residents. So why am I restating all that? Well, it's come out that a number of states (pretty much all the ones with the highest COVID-19 death counts actually, like New York) have official policies that say that, if a nursing home resident is diagnosed with COVID-19, but isn't in any immediate danger (remember, while they are more at risk, plenty of elderly people do recover), instead of being allowed to stay in the hospital until the virus has run its course, they're forced to return to the nursing home where they live. Of course, that significantly increases the likelihood of the infection spreading to other nursing home residents, which will probably result in at least some deaths as well.
Now, I have a tough time understanding the reasoning behind forcing nursing homes to take in people who test positive for the virus. And none of the governors or health officials who made these policies have seen fit to explain themselves (they tend to avoid the question or get angry at the person asking). My best guess is that the idea was that they didn't want to spare any hospital beds for patients who weren't themselves in immediate danger to keep those beds open for the predicted crush of COVID-19 patients that would overwhelm the hospitals and cause our entire healthcare system to collapse. Problem is, as I discussed before, hospitals never came anywhere close to being overwhelmed, yet these policies have continued on regardless. I honestly can't think of any other possible reason...unless the person who made the policy actually wanted to increase the number of infections and deaths from the virus. I really don't think that's the case (I'm not the type to buy into conspiracy theories). That said, thanks to certain things I've seen, I actually wouldn't quite put in past some people (we'll talk about why that is later) so I suppose it's not entirely out of the realm of possibility in some cases.

Ok, so now that both of those issues have been covered, let's get to today's main topic. As I've talked about in previous posts, quite a lot of the measures being taken supposedly to prevent the spread of the virus are actually worthless and many of the others are untested so we're really not sure if they're doing much good or not. Not to mention that we quickly took the most extreme measures possible before we really knew if this virus was anywhere near dangerous enough to warrant it (as previously covered, it's not), with only the actions of the Chinese government (which rarely, if ever, serve as a good example to follow) and a study from a professor with a very firmly established track record of overpredicting the danger posed by viruses and other illnesses by insanely huge amounts. At this point, all but the most irrational and uninformed person will admit that at least some of the things we've done were unnecessary and potentially harmful in other ways. I'd argue that applies to most of the measures we've taken, while others might say that only applies to a few of the most extreme ones. Either way, most of us can agree that we did some things that we didn't need to, or even shouldn't have. But it's all ok because any measure, no matter how inconvenient or potentially harmful, is worth it if it saves at least one life. At least that's what some people (including some very prominent politicians) say. So let's take a good at that argument.

Now, the idea that any measures are worth it to save a life sounds nice. Saving lives is good, no question about that. But let's add some logic to the equation. When you actually think it, "any measures" doesn't make sense. There's a certain amount of risk we all have to put up with in order to have a functioning society and just enjoy life in general. Let's leave off more extreme and risky hobbies like base jumping and focus on daily life. What if we really wanted to take any measures necessary to save as many lives as possible? Well, last year about 38,000 people died in the US as a result of automobile accidents. We could reduce that number drastically if we reduced all speed limits everywhere to 10 mph. Or we could prevent all automobile deaths by banning cars entirely. And let's not stop there. Around 2,000 people drown each year in the US so we should probably ban swimming pools, beaches, and bath tubs (just to be extra safe). Then there's food allergies,which kill around 200 people per year in the US so we should probably ban peanuts (or just nuts in general), shrimp, diary, soy, and whatever other foods are most likely to cause serious allergic reactions. Or, for a more directly related example, the normal seasonal flu kills an average of 40,000 people every year in the US (the record was over 150,000) so maybe we should close stores and businesses, force people to stay at home, and all the other things we're doing right now every flu season.
I could go on, but I think you see what I'm getting at. There's a point where you just have to say that yes, some people will likely die, but taking extreme actions to prevent that would just be too cruel (banning swimming or peanuts) or inconvenient (banning cars, shutting down every flu season) for everyone else to justify it. Of course we take plenty of reasonable actions and precautions to keep people safe. Foods have allergen warnings. Cars have advanced safety features and drivers must obtain a license and follow traffic laws. But we don't do everything possible to save just one more life (or even thousands of lives). Of course, different people will have different ideas of where we should draw the line between safety and fun or convenience, but no sane person would disagree that a line is needed. Acceptable risk is a necessary part of nearly everything that we do. So the argument that any and all measures taken to stop the spread of COVID-19 are worth it as long as they save even one life is utterly ridiculous. Anyone who makes that arguement either doesn't think about what they're saying (an idiot), or they're hoping that you won't think about what they say (a manipulator). Remember, as important as emotions are, you always have to consider facts and logic as well.

This seems like a good place to stop for today. I still want to talk a bit about the downsides of some of the measures we've taken to combat the virus and get into the reasons behind some of the more extreme media coverage and even personal views about the virus and the response to it, so we'll pick this up again next time.

Josiah

5/22/2020 Taking a breather

I probably have another one or two posts left to write about the whole COVID-19 thing to finish off that series, and I was originally planning to just keep going until I finished, but I'm taking a break today since the last couple of days have been kinda exhausting. First off, I had a pipe break when I tried to turn on the hoses for the summer. Honestly, water damage seems to be pretty much an annual thing for me since I moved into this house. Or heck, since I moved to Virginia considering that there actually was an issue when we were living in the apartment as well. Fortunately, this time I caught it immediately and shut off the water before there was any real damage. Still ended up having to clear off my bookshelves (though only half of them this time) so I could dry the carpet. But this time it just took a few towels and a three hour visit from the handyman to get everything fixed. No need to replace the carpet, drywall, or anything like that. Though now that it's all fixed, I'll need to spend a few hours putting my shelves back in order. On top of that, Zack had a bad night for some reason, which means a bad night for Connie and I as well. So I'm kinda worn out and wasn't able to clear out my to-do list like I'd hoped.

So yeah, I'm going to get some sleep and most likely continue talking about COVID-19 on Monday.

Josiah

5/20/2020 COVID-19 Part 3

In Part 1, I talked about how the COVID-19 coronavirus got started and spread. Then, in Part 2, I talked about some of the measures taken here in the US and their potential effectiveness, or lack thereof. In the end, we can't say with complete certainty how effective the shut downs, stay at home orders, and the like have been. Personally, the evidence I've seen leads me to believe that it's not all that much. But there are people who argue that all measures, no matter how strict, are worth it if they save even a few lives. We'll talk about that but for now, I'd like to go over just how dangerous COVID-19 really is. There are people who say it's no big deal, and there are others who seem to think that everyone who leaves their house is flirting with death. So what's the truth?

As previously covered, all the initial predictions about the death rates for COVID-19 were far too high. Part of the reason was due to the lack of reliable data from China. The other part was researchers (especially an idiot British professor) with bad models. As a quick aside, I'm a tech guy and computer models are universally terrible at predicting the future no matter what you're looking at (health, weather, finances, etc., etc., etc.). They're great at predicting the past, but that's because you can just keep tweaking them until you get the results you're looking for. The future though, is guess work and I've yet to see any computer model that can reliably predict the future of anything. So how dangerous is the virus, really?
Well, back in the earliest days when it was still mostly a Chinese concern, the numbers indicated an infection rate of around 10% (as in, around 10% of the people in the area got infected) and around 3% of those infected died. A bit concerning, but not so high that I was especially worried at the time. For comparison, H1N1 (Swine Flu) has a highly debated mortality rate of somewhere between 1% - 15%. Ebola, on the other hand, is about 50% (now that's one to be scared of). And the plain old seasonal flu is around 0.1%, or a bit lower. That said, we now know that the numbers out of China aren't at all reliable so we can throw that out. Actually, mortality rates for COVID-19 in general aren't very reliable because it's a very new virus and the mortality rate is calculated by the percentage of recorded cases compared to the number of recorded deaths. Thing is, the number of confirmed cases is entirely reliant on how much testing is being done so, unless you're periodically testing the entire population (which would be insanely difficult and impractical), the number of confirmed cases is probably going to be far lower than the number of actual cases, because most people are only going to get tested if they're required to for some reason, or they're feeling really sick. So getting a true grasp of the mortality rate of an illness takes time and a lot of data. So it's better to forget about percentages and confirmed cases and just look at the number of deaths compared to the population of the area (deaths per million, or hundred thousand). But anyway... As the virus spread to South Korea and Japan we started to get a bit more data and the death rate was looking more like 1%. Not quite so scary, huh? But that's not the end.
The US, however, has been doing a massive amount of testing, combined with immunity testing, and now we've got a lot more data in general and we're found some things. First, it looks like the virus reached at least some parts of the US far earlier than we realized and it's much more contagious than we thought. Forget 10% of the population, it could easily infect two or three times that; it might have already done so. That's bad (and higher than the infection rate for the regular flu). However, if that many people have been infected, that means the death rate is actually really low. Estimates based on current data put the mortality rate for COVID-19 at somewhere around 0.1% - 0.2%. So a bit higher than the seasonal flu, but not extremely so, and far below all the earlier predictions.
Not convinced? Let's talk actual numbers. In the US, we're currently looking at just over 90,000 deaths. Well, maybe. The CDC keeps two different sets of numbers. One is currently sitting at just over 90,000, the other at 67,000. The higher number is the one used in all the news reports. The lower number, however, is based on actual death certificates and likely far more reliable, if potentially a bit slower to update. The CDC's reasoning for the difference between the numbers is a bit dubious. But even the lower total is suspect. A number of prominent researchers, doctors, politicians, and even morticians have called the CDC's numbers into question, saying that they could be as much as 25% higher than the actual death count.
Why the would that be the case? Well, first off, it comes down to what's counted as a COVID-19 death. Naturally, anyone who actually dies of the virus counts. But many states are also counting everyone who tests positive for the virus and dies, regardless of the actual cause of death. So if you test for COVID-19 but die of a heart attack (which is not one of its potential symptoms), that's marked as a COVID death. Presumably that would also apply if you died from a car accident or something so long as you tested positive for the virus. Some states go even further, marking everything as a COVID-19 death without any sort of test so long as the doctors think the person might have had the virus based on their symptoms or medical history. Some medical professionals have even gone on record and said that they're being pressured by higher-ups to record as many COVID-19 deaths as they can. So why would that be the case? Well, there's a political angle, but we'll get to that later. There's also a couple more practical ones. First off, some of those professionals have said that it's just faster and easier. People are expecting lots of virus deaths and it's less time, effort, and testing to just run with it. Second, Medicare pays out considerably more money for COVID-19 patients, especially if they were on a ventilator. So there's certainly an incentive for hospital administrators (if not necessarily regular doctors) to game the system a bit. Even more so when you remember that most hospitals are losing a lot of money right now without elective procedures

However many COVID-19 deaths we've actually had (90,000, 67,000, or even lower) that number will still grow a bit but the numbers of deaths are tending drastically down (even the states that started opening up early have had a notably decrease in deaths, despite dire warnings from some officials and politicians about "opening too early"), so we're probably far past the halfway mark. In that same period of time, the US has seen 86,000 non-COVID related pneumonia deaths. And since October 2019, there have been around 40,000 deaths (the actually broad estimate is 24,000 - 62,000) from the boring old seasonal flu (which does have a widely disseminated vaccine, albeit an not very reliable one). In fact, the flu tends to average around 40,000 deaths per year in the US. And the worst flu season on record (which was decades ago) saw over 150,000 deaths, a number COVID-19 seems unlikely to top. In context, the virus isn't seemingly quite so dangerous is it?

And remember, a lot of people are at virtually no risk from COVID-19. It's somewhat more dangerous if you're elderly, especially if you have certain pre-existing conditions (mostly serious respiratory and immune issues). Outside of those groups, it's practically a non-issue. According to the data we have both in the US and abroad, there have been very few deaths of people below middle-age and virtually all of them had preexisting conditions. In fact, over half the COVID deaths in the country were people in nursing homes. Though the virus isn't automatically fatal to the elderly or people with those pre-existing conditions either. Plenty of people in both groups have recovered. Over all, it seems that the majority of people who contract COVID-19 have no symptoms whatsoever. That's right, without testing they never even know they have it. The second largest group has mild symptoms, no worse than a normal cold or flu, then recovers. A much small percentage have moderate to serious symptoms and need to visit a hospital but even most of that group recovers in the end.

So, if you're elderly or have certain pre-existing conditions, you probably should take some precautions against COVID-19. For everyone else, there really isn't much to worry about. Not that you'd realize that from watching/reading the news as much of the mainstream media, and many politicians, tend to try to make the virus sound as dangerous as possible. There's a portion of the population (10% or 15% from what I've heard) who are convinced that catching the virus means almost certain death and that relaxing restrictions even the tiniest bit will cause massive amounts of people to catch the virus and die. There's examples from famous high ranking figures (like New York's governor saying that "the virus is death"), to regular people (a woman on Facebook who commented on a story about the possibility of local schools re-opening in the fall "I won't send my children there to die!"). Of course while some of those people believe what they say (likely due to misinformation and a personality more predisposed to panic), some are more agenda driven, or some combination of the two.

I think that's a good place to stop for today. Next time we'll talk about some of the agendas behind this whole mess and I also want to talk about the idea that all measures are worth it so long as they save even a small number of lives and look at the downsides of the lockdowns.

Later!

Josiah

5/18/2020 COVID-19 Part 2

Last time, I talked about the origins and spread of COVID-19 and had just gotten up to the lockdowns and quarantines and whether or not they're effective, let's continue from there.

Like I mentioned last time, the number of COVID-19 deaths is far below all the predictions. Not to downplay the number of people who have died, but this pandemic hasn't been remotely as deadly as early predictions implied. So is that because of the measures we've taken, or in-spite of them?

First, we should note that most of the measures being taken in response to this virus are entirely unprecedented. It's common enough to quarantine sick people or, at times, those who are especially vulnerable to a particular outbreak (generally the sick or elderly). But mass closing of businesses and public places, forcing healthy people to stay home, etc., that's never really been done. So we actually have no real scientific evidence to say how effective it is, or isn't, at stopping the spread of an illness. On the one hand, it does kind of make sense. If people stay away from each other, it's harder for the virus to spread. However, most people can't completely isolate themselves. They need to go shopping occasionally, or at least get deliveries. And you can't close down everything. We need food production, grocery stores, warehouses, delivery services, utilities, etc. If you actually shut everything down we'd have no water, no electricity, no food, etc. Not everything can be done from home. So there's still a decent number of people out and about. Yes, other actions are also being taken. Increased sanitation, masks, social distancing, etc. But it's still hard to say how much all the lockdowns and such are slowing down the spread of the virus. Maybe a lot, maybe very little.
One other thing that's worth keeping in mind is that some researchers and doctors warn that, if the lockdowns and social distancing actually are working well and limiting the spread of the virus, that would also also slow the development of herd immunity (when an illness can no longer effectively spread amongst a population because the majority of people have developed immunity). Without that, there could be another major outbreak in the future. So, if the measures we're taking do work, they could end up causing more problems down the line. But, once again, that comes back to the question of whether or not all the lockdowns, quarantines, and social distancing actually work.
We really have no way to know for sure. We can, however, look at the case of Sweden. It's the only modern country that didn't undergo a massive lockdown or social distancing. In Sweden, businesses, schools, and even restaurants and bars were allowed to stay open. People were told to take precautions (washing hands, watching their health, etc.) and there were some regulations mostly designed around protecting the elderly and other highly vulnerable groups. For most Swedes though, life continued as normal. So how'd that work out? Hospitals haven't been overwhelmed and Sweden's COVID-19 death rate (when adjusted for population and such) isn't bad. It's higher than some countries (though not extremely so) and lower than others. Plus, according to Swedish health officials, the country's major population centers (yes, Sweden does have some fairly large cities) are nearing herd immunity so the chance of a future spike in cases is low. Yes every country is different (climate, population density, health and sanitation, etc.), but Sweden's example does seem to imply that at least most of the lockdowns and such weren't needed, or even that effective.

Now, some people will argue that Sweden is different (to a point, but probably no so much that that's a valid argument), or that things there will get worse in time (it's not looking like it, but we have no way to know for sure), or that all the lockdowns and such are worth it even if they only save a small number of lives. We'll talk about that one in more detail later. So let's look the lockdowns and other preventative measures taken in the US (we'll talk about how dangerous the virus actually is, or isn't, later). The federal government has mostly given advice and left it up to state and local governments to determine what measures should be taken. That's a move I agree with as rural areas with low population density (like South Dakota) probably don't need to take the same measures as highly populated urban centers like New York City. Though I don't agree with the steps many of those state and local governments have taken. But anyway...
In most parts of the US, all "non-essential" (as determined by local governments) businesses have been closed, or at least have their operations severely limited. Schools and universities have been closed or moved online. Gatherings of more than a handful of people are banned. Restaurants are limited to take out. Some areas have gone further, requiring masks, closing parks, forcing anyone who enters the state into a quarantine, etc. Some have gone even further, banning people from simply driving around, walking outside, gardening in their own yards, or even buying "non-essential" items in stores (as in, you can buy food and clothes in Target, but not toys). Some of the these restrictions make sense, at least if you believe that lockdowns and social distancing work and that slowing the spread of the virus is critical. Others, however, clearly have nothing to do with stopping the virus and are nothing but the result of petty wannabe dictators reveling in their power. And I really hope those people pay a price for it either legally or at the ballot box.

Putting those petty tyrants aside, we were originally told that the lockdowns and such would be for around two weeks in order to "flatten the curve," keeping the number of new COVID-19 cases from growing so rapidly that hospitals would be overwhelmed. Then two weeks turned into four, then six, then eight. At this point, most states are starting up open up at little bit, but mostly very slowly as part of long multi-stage plans. And some have made it clear that many restrictions will remain in-place until "it's safe" which, depending on who is talking, either means until there's a miracle cure, a vaccine, or at very least a lengthy period of time with no deaths and/or no new virus cases. So why the sudden switch? From what I can tell, it's a mix of genuine fear of the virus on some counts (whether that fear is justified is another matter) and politics on the others (there are some people who have a vested interest in keeping restrictions going as long as possible, but we'll get to that too). Thing is, that was never the original goal and this new "until it's safe" goal is ridiculous.
First, the original goal succeeded. Deaths are steadily going down in most parts of the country and hospitals never came anywhere close to being overwhelmed, even in New York City, which was the hardest hit part of the country by far. In fact, many hospitals have far less patients than normal since most states have temporarily banned elective procedures and a number of people are actually avoiding hospitals for fear of catching the virus. As a result, a large number of doctors, nurses, and hospital staff have been laid off or furloughed. Once again though, whether or not we "flattened the curve" with lockdowns and social distancing, or there was never any need to flatten the curve in the first place, is debatable.
Now, as far as waiting until it's safe... There's a few different drugs that have proven promising for treating the virus, which is great, but no definitive "cure" yet. Disturbingly, there are some people who actively root against some of those treatments for political reasons. For example, when President Trump spoke optimistically about a drug that was proving promising, a number of news outlets and politicians were tripping over themselves to convince everyone that said drug was useless and the president was a fool (or worse) for suggesting otherwise. There were even a handful of Democrat governors who actually banned doctors in their states from prescribing that drug to treat the virus. Yes, governors with no particular medical knowledge or experience telling doctors, who should know best about how to take care of their patients, what they can and can't prescribe. So that's where we are on the "cure" front.
As for a vaccine, I keep hearing that a number of different labs are closing in on one and we might even have it by fall. That said, typical development time would mean we don't get one until mid to late next year and we can't keep things locked down anywhere near that long (we'll talk about why later). And that's assuming there will be a vaccine, there are plenty of illnesses we still don't have vaccines for so it's hardly guaranteed. And, even if we do get one, we don't know how effective it will be (the flu vaccine, for example, varies from around 20% - 60% effectiveness depending on the year). On top of that, not everyone will get vaccinated. It would take too much time plus some people won't want the vaccine. I won't get into the whole vaccine debate here (though I will note that, if you actually read them, the arguments against vaccines are often far more intelligent and nuanced than they're made out to be so it's not really clear cut), but some people have legitimate medical reasons for not getting vaccinated. As for waiting until there are weeks and weeks with no new cases, or at least no deaths, that's another thing that's going to take too long. Even with herd immunity or a vaccine, the virus probably isn't going to totally disappear. Illnesses don't do that. Some of them get extremely rare, but we'll likely still be seeing at least a handful of new case pop up every week or month for years. And, as long as there are new cases, there will be some deaths as well (though only a tiny fraction of the number of cases result in death). And, once again, we can't keep up all these restrictions for even a few more months, much less years.

So why can't we keep things up that long? Especially if the virus is really so dangerous...or is it? More on that next time.

Josiah

5/15/2020 COVID-19 Part 1

So, the coronavirus, COVID-19. I'm going to write out my thoughts, both on the virus itself and all the lockdowns and other precautions being taken. First off, everyone has an opinion. So why should you listen to me? I mean, I am a university professor, but I'm not in the medical field. However, my father, brother, and both of my in-laws are doctors (of several different types). Growing up with my dad especially, I can safely say that, while I'm not an expect by any means, I know a lot more about health and medicine than the average person. I've also read a lot about the virus from the early days (since my wife is from China, I started to follow this with the Wuhan outbreak), and not just opinion pieces. I've read a lot of actual data and studies. Finally, I'm the type of person who forms opinions (and reforms them, if needed) based on facts, logic, and data rather than emotion.

So, with all that out of the way, let's briefly go over the history. The virus started in Wuhan China (and no, it's not racist to point that out, it's a fact). Most evidence now implies that it was an accidental release from a research lab there. And no, it wasn't bioengineered (probably not, at least). Basically, there are some researchers (including Dr. Fauci, interestingly enough) who say that various animal based coronavirus strains may eventually mutate to the point where they can infect humans, so we should research that process to learn more about it, develop medicines, etc. ahead of time just in case. Problem is, to do that, you need the a strain of the virus that can infect humans. I won't go into the whole process, but basically the researchers cause the virus to mutate much more quickly than normal until they get a strain that can infect humans and then they work with that. Once again, the idea is to be prepared for any future outbreaks. The problem is that, in the process, you're actually creating a version of the virus that can infect humans which, if there was an accident at the lab, could cause the very outbreak you're trying to prevent. If there was no research, the virus may have never undergone that particular mutation, or it may have done so far in the future or in a place where it wouldn't have come into contact with a large human population. Unsurprisingly, that type of research is very controversial and actually fell out of favor in the US a while ago.

Now, I really like China (the country; its government, no so much). My wife is Chinese (she immigrated to the US when we got married) and I've visited China several times myself. That said, China isn't great when it comes to sanitation or safety regulations, which you probably already know if you read my travelogues. So I have no trouble believing that the virus accidentally got out of the Wuhan lab (which is what all the intelligence communities are saying). Though the wet market theory is totally believable as well. Either way, when the virus first started popping up in Wuhan, the Chinese government engaged in a massive cover-up (lending credence to the lab escape theory), going so far as to silence doctors who spoke about the new virus and actively preventing accurate diagnoses and treatment. Eventually, thanks to that, plus China's poor sanitation and high population density, the virus got too big for them to cover up so the Chinese government shifted to some of their other common ways to deal with problems. First, misinformation (willing aided by the mostly worthless WHO (World Health Organization)), which is continuing today as we still don't have reliable info about the spread, number of deaths, etc. there. Also, an extreme military style lockdown (which seems to be China's go-to for most internal problems). That said, it's possible that all the other factors made things in Wuhan so bad that the lockdown was necessary. But the data we now have on the virus, and some things I've gleaned from Connie (who reads Chinese news, listens to Chinese podcasts, etc.) implies that it probably did more harm than good (starvations, suicides, people actually dieing of fear, etc.).

Prior to the lockdown, China also did nothing to prevent the virus from spreading abroad. And for quite a while everyone, including the WHO, all notable US mainstream media outlets (most of which drastically changed their tune a little later), and most major US politicians (including the ones who are currently super gung-ho about the lockdowns) were saying that there was no real risk, especially in the US. They were especially saying that after Trump put a China travel ban in-place. Suddenly most media and every Democrat politician was rushing to call him racist for that. None of them ever apologized, though they did very quietly drop their opposition to that particular policy once the virus started to become a bigger deal. As a note, I'll try not to get political here (I don't like to do that on this site), just stating facts.

Anyway, once China started their extreme mass lockdowns, they and the WHO could no longer get away with saying that the virus was no big deal and the WHO suddenly shifted gears to their usual reaction to any new sort of illness, apocalyptic warnings (they really on have two modes, "it's nothing" or "we're all gonna die"). The mainstream media mostly backed them up because that type of stuff is great for clicks, viewership, etc. Then there was the report... A British professor wrote a report predicting that COVID-19 would cause 250,000 deaths in the UK and over 2 million in the US, and that was assuming strong preventative measures were taken. That led the British government to reverse course on their previous decision to just let things play out and caused them to go all in with lockdowns and social distancing. That report also had a huge influence on the COVID-19 response in the US and much of the rest of the world. But there's a problem. The professor who wrote the study actually has a long history of drastically overestimating the death toll of pretty much every single new illness that's popped up during his professional career. And I don't mean that's he's slightly off. When all is said and done, his numbers generally end up being off by a factor of several hundred or more. So why does anyone still listen to him? Good question. In fact, two or three weeks later, an American researcher challenged his methodology at which point the British guy quietly revised his estimate to 1/5th of his original numbers (as a note, deaths so far in the UK haven't even hit that level). As an interesting aside, that same British Professor recently resigned from his post after he was caught violating Britain lockdown (which he himself help instigate) to meet up with his mistress. So yeah...
But he wasn't the only one who got it wrong. The major US research models predicting the number of COVID-19 deaths (while nowhere near as high at that British one) have all been revised numerous times, reducing the predicted number of deaths to a fraction of what they originally were.

Now there's two different ways you can take all of that. The first would be to say that everyone was very wrong from the beginning, the virus isn't nearly as dangerous as they thought, and the lockdowns and other measures probably weren't needed (at least in most areas). Or you can say that the virus is just as deadly as they said, but the far lower death tolls are because all of the extreme lockdowns and social distancing measures are working even better than we hoped. So which is the case? Well, this has already gotten extremely long so I'll address that next time.

Later!

Josiah

5/13/2020 Almost done

After two very full days, I'm almost done with grading. Just another hour or two of actual grading and then some e-mails and I'll be finished. Of course, I've got plenty of other projects to work on over the summer, but those will be a lot more fun. And, as for travel...it's still a big unknown. I get the feeling that pretty much any trip(s) we end up doing this summer will be kind of last minute. Can't really make plans in advance when I don't know when anywhere is going to open up. On that note, I'll probably be sharing my feelings on the whole situation on Friday (probably). Today, I'm worn out after all that grading and really want to get off my computer.

So yeah, gonna do that.

Later!

Josiah

5/11/2020 Last of the games

Let's finish that favorite game list. Though I've kinda screwed up the alphabetization a few times. Meh...

Stealth
Honestly, stealth is more of a sub-genre of action but I'm going to separate it out. As the name implies, the goal isn't to run in guns blazing, but to sneak your way through and either avoid or stealthily eliminate enemies. I got into Stealth via Metal Gear Solid, also my first M rated game, which I initially took an interest in after reading a review that talked about how great its story is. I loved the story but, once I got the hang of it, I ended up enjoying the gameplay as well.

Metal Gear Solid 3
Honestly, while I do enjoy stealth games in general, all my favorites in the genre are in the Metal Gear series. I could easily put most of the main series, and some of the spin-offs, on this list. But there are some I like more than others. The first Metal Gear Solid is just all around fantastic. Four does a surprisingly great job tieing up loose ends and finishing Snake's story. But my favorite would have to be 3. It jumps back in time to the Cold War era to follow Naked Snake, the main who would late become Big Boss, the villain of the first two games, for a gripping prequel tale that sets the stage for the entire saga that follows. It also moves the action into the jungle for a new take on stealth and features some of the best boss battles not just in the series, but in gaming as a whole. As a bonus, if you get MGS3 Subsistence (the upgraded rerelease, and the one used for all ports) it includes a lot of improvements, tons of extra content, and copies of the original Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2.

Survival Horror
Another genre I don't play. I never liked horror in general. First off, I simply never saw what's so enjoyable about getting scared. Secondly, horror doesn't really scare me anyway. At least not since I was a kid. All the horror I've seen since just strikes me as dumb and predictable. Same thing with haunted houses. They just come across as corny at best, or overdone gorefests at worst. As such, I didn't ever really care enough to try a survival horror game though, as part of my job, I do try to keep up with the genre by reading reviews and such. That said, I do feel that, as a game designer, I really should at least play one or two of the more famous entries in the genre and, over the years, I have actually picked up a number of the Resident Evil titles during various sales, so I'll get around to them sooner or later. Perhaps I'll end up liking horror games better than horror movies.

And I think that does it. Probably. There's a good chance I forgot something somewhere, but I think that, for now, that's the end of my favorite games list.

I've got finals to grade for the next couple of days and after that...well, we'll see.

Josiah

5/8/2020 A few more games

I'm a bit better rested today, but feeling strangely burned out for some reason. Maybe because I just started grading finals. But hey, in less than a week I should be done for the semester. Anyway, let's try and continue the game list.

Sports
I should have put this before strategy but whatever. Anyway, I don't really play sports games much. Realistic sports games just don't interest me much. Crazier ones, like some of the Mario Sports titles, are fun, but I don't do a lot of multiplayer these days so I haven't spent much time on any in quite a while. So yeah, no real favorites.

Strategy RPGs
Strategy RPGs take the character building and epic storylines from RPGs but battles are larger-scale (though nowhere near that of a normal strategy game) and take place on a battlefield where movement and positioning are very important. This genre was popularized by Final Fantasy Tactics (though it dates back to the early Ogre and Fire Emblem titles) and has had a strong niche following ever since. FFT was also what got me into the genre.

Final Fantasy Tactics
After all these years, the original FFT is still the best strategy RPG I've ever played. Mainly due to the immense amount of freedom offered by its job system and its very well designed battle system. The complex story helps as well. While it took me a while to figure out (it's a challenging and complex game and I wasn't a particularly experienced gamer back then) I quickly became hooked and have spent well over 100 hours between the original and the PSP port. On that note, the PSP port (War of the Lions) is the best version, with a lot of additional content and an improved translation. That's also the version available on mobile.

Front Mission 3
The Front Mission series is another long time SRPG series though only about half of them have made it to the US. It's set in the near future where mecha (though fairly grounded and believable ones) has become the standard military weapon. FM3's story is interesting and has two vastly different paths that really make it worth playing through twice. The mechs are highly customizable and you can even capture enemy mechs during battle. Unfortunately, FM4, while decent, isn't nearly as good and 5 never got an official translation. More recently, the series has dabbled in other genres with rather poor results. But I'll always have fond memories of FM3.

Disgaea
While I don't think Disgaea's gameplay is quite as polished as FFT or FM3, it makes up for it with humor and massive amounts of reply value. This is a game for min-maxers with a massive level cap and endlessly upgradable characters and equipment. The original was a cult classic that spawned a long running series and led to a massive popularity boost for its developer Nippon Ichi. The original is still my favorite and it actually just got a complete remake recently (though I haven't played it yet so I can't say exactly how it compares).

Still a couple genres to go, but I'll stop here for now.

Later!

Josiah

5/6/2020 Zzzz...

Zack didn't sleep well and neither did Connie. Which means, of course, I wasn't really allowed to get a good sleep either. Add that to a couple of late nights earlier in the week, and I'm pretty worn out so I'm just going to cut this short and, hopefully, get some rest.

Later!

Josiah

5/4/2020 May the Fourth

You know, this would be a good day to finally watching Episode IX, which I wasn't able to see when it was in theaters...except that I need to spend all day working (e-mails, homework, a paper to write, etc.) so that'll have to wait a bit. Maybe this week though. Speaking of work, only around a week and a half or so to go before all my classes are finished and then... Well, still not sure. Vacation, maybe. If there's anywhere to go. Still looking into that, but it's iffy. I mean, there's no point in traveling somewhere unless hotels, restaurants, and attractions are open. And even in the "open" states, that's a tall order. International travel, meanwhile, definitely isn't happening right now. Just about every country is either closed to foreign travelers or sticks them in quarantine for a couple of weeks on arrival. Maybe later in the summer. Maybe.

I keep going back and forth about what to write. On the one hand, part of me really wants to write a long post about the virus and how crazy everything is because I am really fed up with some of the stuff going on right now. On the other hand, writing it out would ramp me up and probably leave me even more annoyed for the rest of the day. Sigh... Maybe next time. For now, I'm not in the mood to write much of anything.

Josiah

5/1/2020 Another weekend

Welcome to May. Now that some states are starting to open up again, I'm kind of eager to check out my vacation options. Especially considering that Virginia's governor seems to be in no hurry to do much of anything. But hey, it could be worse. I could be in Michigan or California. But yeah, I don't really want to deal with another month and a half (or more) of this if I don't have to. And, with only a couple of weeks left in the semester, an early summer vacation is certainly possible. At least if I can find somewhere to go. I'm still pretty disappointed about my Japan tour being canceled, so a trip there would be fun, if it's open to foreign travel (it's currently not, but might be soon). Before this began, we had also been talking about visiting Connie's family in China. Honestly, I'm not worried about traveling to China in terms of health (at least not any more than usual), but I don't want to get stuck in a quarantine traveling one way or the other, which seems likely. But if that's not an issue, it's possible. We had also been talking about going to Hawaii to visit my family...but the Hawaiian government, which has never been one for competence or timeliness, has the state on an insanely strict lockdown and plans to keep it that way for quite a long time. Nevermind that nearly the entire state runs on tourism and, with how expensive it is to live there, most people can't afford to go long without working.

But yeah, I'm hoping to find somewhere fun to travel into the not too distant future, but we'll have to see if I can find a place. Also, got to hope at least some of the summer and fall stuff I look forward to near home doesn't get canceled. Relatively minor concerns, given that I've still got a job and everything. But I can't help but be disappointed.

Sigh...

See you Monday.

Josiah

4/29/2020 Games...

Sigh... Sooner or later I'm going to have to do another post about the virus and the reaction to it. But not today. I'm frustrated enough as is.

Simulation
This genre is all about simulating something. That something can be highly realistic or fantastic, but they're all about details, resources management, and long term planning. This is a genre I started with pretty early thanks to the classic Sim City 2000. I played a lot of assorted Sim games on the PC back before I moved more to console gaming and then picked them up again a bit more recently on mobile (Kairosoft has a lot of fun bite sized ones). At this point, I wouldn't say that any are favorites though. I have fun with them for a while, but I tend to got tired of open-ended games after a while and move on. Nothing against them exactly, I just like to have an ending I can work towards. Otherwise, after I've reached a certain point, it just gets hard to stay invested.

Strategy
Strategy games can be divided into two sub-genres, turn based and real time (RTS). Turn based gives you plenty of time to think and plan while RTS requires you to think on your feet and react to a constantly changing situation. They tend to focus on either war, empire building, or a mix of both. I got introduced to RTS games a long time ago when my uncle gave me a copy of Age of Empires. I had a lot of fun with both it and its sequel, but I never got quite as into RTS as I did Adventures games and RPGs so I haven't played them as much over the years. Same with turn based strategy. I enjoy them, and could probably get heavily into them if I tried, but I tend to favor strategy RPGs instead (more on those later).

Advance Wars 2
Advance Wars is Nintendo's turn based strategy series (Fire Emblem is Strategy RPG). It's not one of their most popular franchises and has laid dormant for a while, but the games are all well designed and a lot of fun. The focus is entirely on combat (no base building) with a good mix of units and commanders with a variety of passive bonuses and special abilities. I'm picking 2 as my favorite only because it's the one I spent the most time playing.

I guess that's enough for now. See in May.

Josiah

4/27/2020 Games again

I'm getting more and more frustrated with things...but let's just keep talking games for now.

RPG
RPGs (Role Playing Games) are my favorite genre, or at least as close to one as I have. I got seriously into RPGs with Final Fantasy VII and become a much bigger gamer as a result. They also set me on the path of becoming a game designer and writer. I'll try to limit this list to regular RPGs as opposed to action and strategy RPGs, which I'm giving their own categories.

Final Fantasy X
I could easily just list at least half of the main series Final Fantasy games. Along with Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy is one of the creators of the JRPG genre and still one of its premiere franchises. Unlike many series, FF is always reinventing itself, focusing on different worlds and characters while experimenting with different gameplay styles and driving the genre forward. Some of those changes have worked better than others, though which depends on who you ask. Pretty much everyone seems to like VI, VII, and X, but many of the other games are somewhat divisive. My personal favorite is X, both because of the battle system and the story, but VIII is a close second. Not quite sure what third is, but VI, VII, IX, and XIII all rank very high.

Persona 5
After Final Fantasy, my second favorite RPG series is Persona. The modern setting and focus on balancing your school life, personal life, and dungeon crawling is highly engaging and the writing and character development are top notch. The series really hit its stride starting with Persona 3. 4 improved on it in every way and is one of my favorite games. 5 is even better, and also one of the most stylish games ever made. I'll admit that I like Persona 4's main cast slightly better (though 5's is fantastic is well) but 5 is easily not just one of my personal favorites, but one of the best RPGs there is.

Chrono Cross
There are some games that stick in my mind for years after I've finished them. Chrono Cross is one of them. It's a sequel (though somewhat loosely related) to the SNES classic Chrono Trigger (also great) with a focus on hopping between parallel worlds rather than different times periods like the original. The island setting really stands out to me along with the fun but often melancholy story and the large and diverse cast of characters, each with their own story. There's just something special about Chrono Cross and I still hope that someday we'll get a third game in the series.

Shooter
A classic genre, this encompasses a lot of different styles, meaning basically every type of non first-person shooting game. I'm honestly not a huge shooter fan. I do play some every now and then from third person shooters like FFVII Dirge of Cerberus to arcade style shooters like Geometry Wars. And I've been meaning to give the Touhou Project a try (though I don't know if I really have the reflexes for bullet hell). That said, while they're fun, I can't think of any shooters I've played that I would really call a favorite.

See you Wednesday.

Josiah

4/24/2020 Another weekend

The days tend to blend together a bit lately seeing as all the stuff that used to separate them (my work schedule, Zack's classes, weekend outings, etc.) have all been either canceled or changed to home versions. On the plus side, recent studies indicate that the virus is a whole lot less dangerous than initially thought (as I suspected) and a lot of states are looking to start reopening soon. Unfortunately, Virginia isn't one of them and our governor (who I strongly disliked even before all of this) has shown multiple times that he couldn't care less about protests, public opinion, the constitution, or anything like that. He does what he wants and that's that. Though I have to admit, he's nowhere near as bad as some (the governor of Michigan, for example). But I should stop here. If I keep going it's going to turn into another rant and, while there's a lot that I'd kind of like to rant about, I'd rather not ruin my mood for the next couple of hours by dragging it all up again.

I'll continue the game list on Monday. For now, I hope you have a good weekend, even if it's not much different than the rest of the week.

Josiah

4/22/2020 Games, games, games

As the title says...

Puzzle
Puzzle games come in two types. There's the Tetris kind where you solve increasingly more difficult versions of a single type of puzzle and try to go as long as you can. Personally, I tend to get bored of those after somewhere between 15 minutes and a couple of hours so I don't buy them very often (though there's been a few exceptions). Then there's the kind that feature a variety of different puzzles, sometimes with a bit of other gameplay such as exploration or platforming inbetween. I'll admit that in those cases it can be a bit hard to decide where the line lies between a pure Puzzle game and a Puzzle/X combination. But anyway...

Professor Layton
The Layton series might be better classified as Puzzle/Adventure but anyway, the games tell the story of a British gentleman professor who makes a hobby of investigating strange mysteries alongside his young apprentice while solving a wide variety of logic puzzles along the way. The stories are charming and feature some great character development over the course of the series and there's a huge variety of puzzles with plenty of hints if you have trouble. Honestly, I don't know if I can really pick a favorite. Maybe Unwound Future, if any, as it made for a really epic and heartfelt conclusion to the first trilogy.

Braid
Braid is essentially a 2D platformer, but what you really do is use a set of time manipulation powers to solve some really clever puzzles. This was one of the titles that helped popularize the idea of indie games and between the smart gameplay, haunting audio/visual presentation, and thought provoking story, it's easy to see why. The final level is especially brilliant.

Echochrome
This game is hard to describe in words, but imagine that you made a puzzle game out of M.C. Escher's artwork where perception is reality. It's like nothing else out there.

Racing
The racing genre is always a popular one and can be divided into a few sub-genres. There's realistic racing, arcade racing (crazier tracks and looser physics), and kart racing (lots of power-ups and totally unrealistic tracks). Personally, I only really play kart racers. Nothing against realistic ones, just not quite my style.

Mario Kart 8
The Mario Kart series created the kart racing genre and still leads it. I've played a number of the different entries (though not quite all of them), and I like different ones for different reasons by my favorite is the newest thanks some brilliant gravity defying tracks combined with a collection of old favorites. The addition of the horn as a blue shell counter helps as well. My second favorite is Double Dash, which is probably the one I spent the most time on and also has a fun character switching mechanic.

See you Friday!

Josiah

4/20/1010 Back to games

Well, let's get back to my favorite games.

Platformers (3D):
Super Mario 64 reinvented the platforming genre (and gaming in general) in 3D. As such, 3D platformers are often much different than 2D. In particular, they generally have more of a focus on exploration and item collecting instead of getting from point A to point B.

Super Mario Odyssey
The newest and best of the collectathon type 3D Mario games. While I had never liked that style quite as much, Odyssey is absolutely brilliant. The gameplay is perfect, of course, and the ability to take control of enemies opens up a lot of interesting possibilities. But it's the level design that really stands out. Each country Mario visits is wildly creative and I couldn't wait to see what would come next. The bonus 2D sections are another really clever touch. It's easily the best 3D Mario ever.

Super Mario Galaxy
I've been trying to stick with one entry per series for each genre, but I can't help it here. Honestly, I could list just about every 3D Mario but what makes Galaxy really special is its use of gravity. Mario ventures into space and explores all sorts of strangely shaped planetoids, each with their own gravitational field. This makes for some of the most unique level designs I've ever seen and makes it a must play.

Lego Dimensions
The Lego games are a lot of simple fun, with humorous twists on popular movies and other licenses that tap into the joy of playing with Legos. Dimensions was their take on a toys-to-life game. Of course, being able to actually build with real Legos while playing was great, but I also have to give a shout out to the main story, which mixes DC Comics, Lord of the Rings, The Lego Movie, Doctor Who, and Portal, just to name a few, into a hilarious adventure.

Metroidvania:
I should have done these before platformers, but whatever. Metroidvania is a subgenre of action/adventure that combines 2D platforming and combat with giant complex areas to explore and re-explore as you collect new powers and abilities. Some also throw in RPG leveling and equipment systems in as well. I got started with them in the early days of the Nintendo DS when, looking for something to play on my pricey new handheld, I picked up Castlevania Dawn of Sorrows and quickly became hooked.

Castlevania Dawn of Sorrows
One of the two namesakes of the Metroidvania genre, the Castlevania series underwent a massive change with Symphony of the Night, departing from its more traditional roots to something like the Metroid series. There's a lot of great entries in the series including the afore mentioned Symphony of the Night and pretty much every GBA and DS title. My personal favorite is also my first, Dawn of Sorrows. While the touch screen implementation is a tad clumsy (like many early DS titles), the castle is huge and varied and I enjoy the ability to learn new skills from defeated enemies.

Metroid Prime
A rare 3D Metroidvania title, the developers did a fantastic job bringing the Metroid series into 3D without losing any of what makes the series special. The 2D Metroid titles are great as is the Metroid Prime trilogy. My personal favorite is the first Metroid Prime, mainly due to the level design, which I think is the best in the series. The sense of discovery and environmental storytelling is first class and there's always something new to find.

Bloodstained
After Konami went downhill, long time Castlevania designer Koji Igarashi left to form his own studio and create games in the spirit of the classic Castlevania titles, albiet under a new name. Bloodstained doesn't bring any drastic changes to the formula he pioneered, but it's an extremely refined and well designed entry in the genre and hopefully the start of a new series to pick up where Castlevania left off.

We'll stop there for today. Later!

Josiah

4/17/2020 Missed one

Passover is finished, I'm caught up on grading, and things are calming down. Or at least as much as they can with everyone. Having to keep Zack entertained all day everyday without being able to take him much of anywhere is plenty of work in its own right.

In other news, I realized that I completely forgot to include one of my favorite action RPGs and, for that matter, one of my favorite games of all time, from the list. So, here it is now.

The World Ends With You
TWEWY is one of the most unique RPGs I've ever played, especially on the DS, where it features a complex but brilliant two screen battle system. The storytelling is also brilliant. Not only is there a twisting plot with lots of memorable characters, but the way every element of the gameplay ties into and enhances the setting and plot is something that is rarely seen in games. I've played both the original DS version and the new HD remaster on the Switch. The Switch version is HD and has an entirely new epilogue chapter. However, it loses some of the unique features of the DS version, most notably the second screen. As such, the battle system in the Switch version, while still good, is clearly inferior to the original (as are the controls, for that matter). Honestly, either version is fantastic, though I suppose I'd recommend buying a new copy for the Switch since, if the sales are high enough, it'll increase the odds of a sequel.

Have good weekend!

Josiah

4/13/2020 VII

I first played Final Fantasy VII at a friend's house back in 1997. I was 12 years old at the time and already into games, though mostly platformers and adventures. Other than a weekend rental of Super Mario RPG (which I didn't totally understand at the time), Final Fantasy VII was my first RPG. The graphics, the music, the gameplay, the story, it all blew me away. FFVII was the reason I bought a Playstation, it was the game that got me into RPGs, and it was ultimately the game that made me want to design and write for video games. While VII is not my favorite Final Fantasy (looking at just the main series, it's currently third or fourth), there's no denying the huge influence it had on my life. And, for that matter, the entire game industry. I teach game history and, from a historical perspective, FFVII is one of the most important and influence games of not just its generation, but all time. It actually still holds up quite well today too. Sure the once impressive graphics are blocky and rough, and there's a few modern quality of life features that are missing, but the gameplay, overall audio/visual presentation, and the story have aged very well.

But now Square Enix has set out to create not a remaster or port (those have already been done and are available on all modern platforms), but a complete and total remake. I've only had a few hours to spend on it so far but I'm really impressed. The combat has been changed to an action/RPG system reminiscent of Crisis Core, the environments and level layouts have been completely redone from the ground up, and there's a massive amount of new content. To the point where the remake isn't just one game. The FFVII Remake which was released last week is just part one, covering about half of the first disc of the original game (the Midgar section). While they haven't said how many parts it will be, assuming they don't cut anything, I'm guessing 4 - 5. However, there's so much new content that what once took 7 - 15 hours is now closer to 45. Like I said, I haven't gotten that far yet so I can't say how well all the new content holds up but the reviews have been excellent, as has what I've seen so far. They've taken the opportunity to add a lot more depth to the setting, characters, and story. Midgar really feels alive now. And the graphics... FFVII was, at the time of its release, the most graphically impressive game ever made. Well, the remake might just be the same. The level of detail is far beyond what most games achieve in even their most impressive environments, much less in every single scene. I often find myself stopping just to pan the camera around and take it all in. Heck, I think this is the only game I own that actually requires two Blu-ray discs. As a game designer, I can see why they had to split the remake into multiple parts. With this level of detail and graphical fidelity, there's no way they could remake the entire game in the usual 2 - 4 year development cycle for AAA games, even without any new content.

So yeah, from what I've seen so far, the Final Fantasy VII Remake is utterly amazing. While the original is still worth playing, the remake series could very well end up surpassing it not just graphically, but in every way. Whether you're a long time FFVII fan, like me, or a complete new comer, if you have a PS4, you need to give it the FFVII Remake a try.

Josiah

4/10/2020 Victory!

Our Passover seder was nice, despite it just being the three of us. Can't wait for all these lock-downs and such to end...but I don't want to get into another rant about that today. I could keep talk about my favorite games...but I'm too hyped up right now. I finally defeated the insanely difficult secret boss in Kingdom Hearts III's ReMind DLC. Opinions about ReMind seem to be rather mixed. As for me, I enjoyed the story, though I will agree that having to replay a good chunk of the Keyblade Graveyard with only minor variations was a touch annoying. But after completing ReMind itself, there's the data battles against the True Organization XIII members. Now one thing that I really felt Kingdom Hearts III lacked was challenge. It was partly because I played before they added in Critical difficultly (which is what I got used to playing the Final Mix versions of the previous games). But I was able to just tear my way through the story without any real risk of dying and even the one optional super boss in the main game went down on my first attempt with fairly minimal effort. The data bosses, however, were just what I was looking for, much like the ones in KHII Final Mix. I still managed to take down a few of them on my first try (though not easily), but some required multiple attempts and a few really challenged me (requiring a solid hour to two to figure out). Though part of that is probably because it's been a year since I played KHIII and much longer since I played the older games and actually needed to put serious effort into blocking, dodging, and the like, so I was pretty out of practice. And then, after defeating all of them, there's one last secret boss (who will remain unnamed to avoid spoiling it for others) and wow... I think I can say with confidence that he is the most difficult battle in the entire series. He's fast, he's powerful, he has a ton of different attacks with require split second blocking and dodging to survive, and there's very few opportunities to safely attack. Not much room for error either. A slip up at the wrong time can easily spell the end. It probably took me around five or six hours, plus a very detailed strategy video on youtube, to get my skills to the point where I could maybe win, and another three hours or so to actually pull it off. A bit extreme maybe, but wow, that was one heck of a battle. And I thought Lingering Spirit back in KHII was tough... Anyway, I'm pretty thrilled that I pulled it off and just in time for Final Fantasy VII!

Later!

Josiah

4/6/2020 Again with the games UPDATE

UPDATE 4/8/2020: Passover starts tonight. Unfortuantely, we'll be doing the seder on our own this year thanks to everything that's going on, but I've still been very busy cleaning, cooking, and the like. And that's after a bunch of grading and such. I'm worn out and don't have a comic done so I'm going to skip today's update. We'll pick up again on Friday.

Only a few more days till the Final Fantasy VII remake. Well, part one of it anyway. I really need to beat the last optional super boss in Kingdom Hearts III Remind before that... Anyway, here's some more favorite games.

Party
Technically, like casual, party is more of a descriptor than a proper genre. Party games are designed for local multiplayer with quick rounds and a minimal learning curve. While I usually played Smash or Mario Kart with friends, we did enjoy the occasional party game as well.

Mario Party
The classic party game. Combine a board game with a bunch of mini games and you've got Mario party. They're fun and easy to pick up and play though, like some board games, luck often plays more of a role than skill. It's a long running series, and I can't say that I have a particular favorite, but the one I've spent the most time playing is Mario Party 5 for the Gamecube.

Towerfall Ascension
Towerfall is sort of a party fighting game with four players jumping around and shooting arrows at each other. Matches are quick and furious. Though it perhaps targets a slightly more hardcore crowd than some party games.

Platformer (2D)
Platformers are a classic genre and a very important one in the history of gaming. It was the original NES Super Mario Bros. titles that got me into video games to begin with and they've been a favorite genre ever since. I've decided to break this up between 2D and 3D platformers since they play pretty differently and because I lot a lot of both.

Super Mario World
It's hard to pick a favorite 2D Mario game because they're all fantastic. I could easily fill this list with nothing but. That said, for the sake of variety, I need to pick a single favorite and World is the biggest and most complex with a brilliantly diverse collection of levels, including a number of challenging hidden ones. And you can't forget about Yoshi. Though I do have to mention that Super Mario Bros. 3 is a close second with its own set of awesome levels and the best and largest collection of power-ups in any 2D Mario title.

Mega Man 3
The Mega Man series is another one that I picked up fairly early and stuck with over the years. I've played all the main series games and quite a lot of the spin-offs. While I've enjoyed all of them, the original series is still my favorite and, out of all of them, I'm going to go with Mega Man 3 as my favorite entry in the series. While 2 has the best weapon selection, 3 adds the slide move, additional levels, and more story (though that's never been a major focus of the series) which, in my mind, gives it a slight edge.

Puppeteer
This game came out of nowhere for me when I suddenly saw a launch trailer on the Playstation Network. The trailer looked interesting, and it was weird to come across a non-indie game that I hadn't heard about, so, after reading a couple reviews, I picked up a copy and quickly became hooked. The levels are diverse and creative, the gameplay features some unique mechanics, and the story is fun and often hilarious. This game is really a hidden gem and I would love to see a sequel, or even a PS4 remaster.

I think that's enough for now. I need some rest and I've got a lot I need to get done before the start of Passover late this week. We'll pick this up with 3D platformers next time.

Josiah

4/3/2020 Still more games

Let's continue with my favorite games.

MOBA
Multi-player Online Battle Arenas are a relatively new genre and a very popular one at that with games like League of Legends. That said, it's not a genre I've ever gotten into. MOBAs focus almost entirely on online multiplayer matches, which isn't really my preferred type of gameplay. Add in a really big learning curve, and the fact none of my friends are really into them either (so I don't have anyone to play with), and there's never been any compelling reason for me to give MOBAs a try. Maybe someday.

Music
I've been into music games for many years, ever since I was first introduced to Dance Dance Revolution. Over time I picked up many other games and series as well, though it's been a while since I last played one seriously. I should do something about that...

Dance Dance Revolution
I was a pretty hardcore DDR player for a while, though I'm a bit out of practice right now. While I wasn't as good as some of the people I've seen on Youtube, at my best I could get decent scores on the highest level songs. I've played a lot of different versions of DDR over the years, both US and Japanese. There are some I like a bit better than others based on games modes and song selections, but I don't know if I really have a favorite. Maybe the Japanese version of Supernova. I really wish they'd release a PS4 version with a massive collection of DLC songs but with the way Konami is these days, that's probably not happening. Anyway, DDR is a lot of fun and great exercise, though it takes plenty of practice to get good.

Project Diva F 2nd
A friend introduced me to Project Diva back in university. I picked up my own copy in Japan and got hooked, both on the games and on Vocaloid music in general. I've mostly kept up with the series ever since, though I haven't spent much time on the most recent versions yet. The gameplay has been steadily refined and improved over time and the music is great. When it comes to my favorite entry, Future Tone has pretty much all the songs from every other version combined, which is a big deal. However, it lacks most of the extra modes and features that the other games have and I personally prefer playing on a handheld. I spent so much time playing various Project Diva games on my PSP and Vita that trying to play with a regular controller on a big screen TV actually throws off my timing quite a bit so I go from an expert player to a rather mediocre one. I'm sure I could adjust with enough practice, but I haven't gotten around to that yet. So, for now, my favorite is probably F 2nd for both its gameplay and song list, though it's a tough choice between it and F.

Elite Beat Agents
EBA is a DS game based on the Japanese Ouendon series. They all feature fantastic touch screen gameplay and hilariously goofy story modes. I like both EBA and Ouendon. I want to say EBA is my favorite...though it's actually probably a tie between it and Ouendon 2. I just hope that maybe, someday, we'll get a sequel, as both series have been dormant for a long time.

Well, I've got some other things to work on so I'll stop here for today. Have a good weekend!

Josiah

4/1 More games

Happy(?) April Fools, I guess. Should have done something special for PV but I'm not really in that kind of mood. Not that things have been bad, per say, but there's still a lot of stuff going on that really annoys me. But I don't really want to talk more about that today either. So, let's get back to favorite video games.

FPS
First Person Shooter is a popular genre these days, but it's honestly never been one I've been especially into. One reason is that I'm rarely all that into competitive gaming (outside of a bit of Smash and Pokémon) and when I was growing up the FPS genre tended to lack any sort of decent stories, so it held little appeal for me. Over the years though, there has been the occasional FPS that got my attention.

Metroid Prime
The Metroid Prime trilogy successfully married the Metroidvania exploration elements of the 2D Metroid games with the action and gunplay of a FPS. There's a lot more exploration, platforming, and puzzle solving than a normal FPS (to the point where I could argue that they're more of a combo genre than a pure FPS) but they're fantastic games regardless and appeal to a lot of people who aren't really traditional FPS fans, like myself. While the entire trilogy is good, the first game is my favorite due to its focus on a single expansive planet to explore.

Portal 2
Portal is another game that isn't necessarily a true FPS (see a trend here?), it's more of a first person puzzle game where you use a gun of sorts. Anyway, the puzzles are clever and unique thanks to the portal gun mechanic and the humor takes everything to the next level. While the original Portal is a classic, Portal 2 is bigger and better with more diverse environments, more crazy characters, and additional puzzle mechanics.

Bioshock Infinite
The Bioshock series is unusual in the FPS space due to its focus on story and world building over combat (though there is plenty of that too) and single player over multiplayer. Both Bioshock and Infinite feature fantastically creative settings and thought provoking storylines. Of the two though, I strongly prefer Infinite for a number of reasons, especially the much more developed main characters and smoother combat. It also doesn't dip into full-on horror like the first Bioshock does at times, which is a plus for me (though perhaps not for everyone).

MMOs
As previously discussed, I don't do a ton of multiplayer games. I've also never been a fan of monthly subscription fees, which were the norm for MMOs for quite a long time. Even today, with more and more of them going free to play, a lot of the best still use subscriptions. As such, while I've toyed around with various MMOs over the years, there's actually only one I ever spent a significant amount of time on. Hard to say if I'd truly call it a favorite, but it's worth listing here. I'll also note that Final Fantasy XIV interests me quite a bit so I may give it a shot sooner or later.

Guild Wars
I initially picked up Guild Wars because of the ways it shook up the traditional MMO model. For example, the lack of a monthly fee (or any serious micro-transactions, for that matter) and focus on strategy and build instead of grinding. It was a fun and refreshing change of pace. Unfortunately, I never really had a dedicated group of people to play with, but the game still kept me engaged enough that I played for hundreds of hours across multiple characters and campaigns. Even now, I'm still occasionally tempted to load it up again to finish that last campaign.

Later!

Josiah

3/30/2020 Quick rest

I'm running a little late today and I've had a couple late nights so I'm gonna just keep it short today and continue talking about my favorite games next time.

Later!

Josiah

3/27/2020 Even more favorites

Continuing my list of favorite games...

Beat 'em Up
You can debate whether or not this is really a genre, but it's sorta a side scrolling 2D action game which involves smashing your way through lots and lots of enemies. It's mostly an arcade genre and much of my experience with it involves a few quick games here and there. But I have played all the way through a couple of these at home. And I've been meaning to try out the River City / Kunio-kun series. For now though, I've only got one favorite.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Video Game
The Scott Pilgrim graphic novels are a must read for any gamer and, despite all the changes, the movie was pretty awesome as well. The game took the story and converted it into a fun retro style beat 'em up. It perfectly captures the vibe of the source material and has a good bit of depth to it with lots of unlockable characters, abilities, and the like.

Casual
Technically, casual isn't really a genre. It's a descriptor you tack onto games in other genres to show that they're east to learn, inoffensive, and playable in short bursts. While it's easy for more hardcore gamers to look down on casual games, some of them are still a lot of fun. While there's probably only one casual game I'd truly consider a favorite, some runner-ups include Peggle and Kairosoft's series of Story games (Game Dev Story, Hotel Story, etc.).

Plants vs. Zombies
The game that not only introduced a lot of core gamers to casual titles, but also revived the Tower Defense sub-genre. I was a bit hesitant to pay full price ($20) for this at first and ended up waiting for a Steam sale and getting it for half that. Turns out, I shouldn't have waited, the humor, smooth progression, and depth kept me playing for around 100 hours. The sequel is fun as well, but held back a bit by its mobile free-to-play design.

Fighting
The "problem" with many fighting games is the massive amount of time and practice you need to put in to get to even a competent level of skill. And since I don't do a lot of competitive play, it's not one of my top genres. I do, however, occasionally pick up a fighting game because I really like the style (like Skull Girls) or I'm interested in the story (like P4 Ultimate). Generally, the more over-the-top the better. Following today's trend though, I've only really got one game, or series I suppose, that's a true favorite.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
I've been playing Smash since the N64 days and I've enjoyed every entry. While I do miss a handful of things from the previous games (trophies, Pokéfloats, Subspace Emissary, etc.) there's no denying that Ultimate is the "ultimate" version of Smash. It's fun to play on your own but a true blast to play with friends. If you're wondering, Kirby has been my main ever since the original Smash Bros. and is the only one I'm tournament level with. Other characters I enjoy playing include: Greninja, Joker, Inkling, Mega Man, and Young Link.

Have a good weekend!

Josiah

3/25/2020 Favorites 2

Time for more of my favorite video games, by genre.

Action RPG
Action RPGs have RPG style length and character development but with more fast paced action game style battles. I got into them thanks to my love of RPGs.

Kingdom Hearts II
I love the entire Kingdom Hearts series, but II is still my favorite, especially the Final Mix version. It's the biggest and most complex entry in the series with a ton of different worlds to explore, has my favorite version of the gummy ship, and tells a great a story which is a lot more straightforward than that in some of the later entries (though, to be fair, I enjoy the series twisting complex plot).

Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga
The Mario & Luigi games could either be called Action RPGs or Platformer RPGs but anyway, the mix of light platforming and heavily timing based battles with RPG mechanics is a win. It doesn't hurt that the Mario & Luigi titles are also some of the funniest games out there. Personally, I still like the first one the best, but they're all good.

Crisis Core Final Fantasy VII
Most of the FF series are traditional RPGs but this prequel to the classic Final Fantasy VII took a more action focused twist. While the overall plot got a little crazy, the story of Zack as he went from a naive Soldier candidate to a true hero, while overcoming death, betrayal, and dark secrets is gripping and emotional. It also features an absolutely brilliant ending and is one of the very few stories (in games or otherwise) that actually made me cry.

Adventure
Adventure games focus more on exploration and puzzle solving with little to no combat. I got into them pretty early, back when I was primarily a PC gamer (primarily because I didn't really have the money for consoles).

Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney 3
I love the Ace Attorney series. The clever mysteries, quirky characters, tense courtroom battles, and touching character arcs keep me hooked. While the entire series is great, if I had to pick a favorite I'd go with the third for the way it ties together so many elements from the first two.

Myst III
The Myst series got me into Adventure games in the first place with its beautiful graphics, haunting environments, and interesting plot. While the original game probably sticks in my head the most, I think the third still manages to be my favorite overall.

Ico
The lesser known first game by Team Ico of Shadow the Colossus fame. It's the dreamlike story of a boy and girl trying to escape from a crumbling castle. There's a lot of things to like but I think it's the atmosphere and relationship between the characters that stand out the most. It's a game I like to replay every once in a while just to relive the experience.

See you Friday!

Josiah

3/23/2020 Favorites

My university decided to cancel all summer travel, including the Japan trip myself and another professor were going to run. I'm pretty disappointed (and so are the students, for that matter), but nothing to be done except try again next year. I still might go to Japan this summer, and I certainly want to, but it's a bit iffy.

Anyway, I'm tired about talking about how screwed up everything is right now. So I figured I'd talk about something a bit more fun, like my favorite video games. Yes, games. It used to be easy to name a single favorite game, but now, not so much. So instead, I'll break it down and talk about my two or three favorites in each genre. I'm not going to get through all of them today, but let's get started.

Action
I didn't really get into action games until one of my cousins gave me a used copy of God of War. While it's a genre I enjoy, it's not one I've played quite as extensively as some, and there are still some very popular titles I haven't had a chance to try yet. But anyway, here are my favorites.

Bayonetta
While the violence and fan service is a bit over the top, Bayonetta has the fastest and smoothest combat of any action game I've played. And I love how just about every button combination pulls off some sorta of cool combo attack. Add in a ridiculously over the top story, and a lot of depth, and it's my favorite 3D action game by far. I'll note that Bayonetta 2 would likely be on this list as well, except that I haven't played it yet. I fully intended to back on the Wii U, but I got sidetracked replying the Wii U port of the original...several times. But I recently ended up buying the Switch port on sale, so maybe I'll get to it soon.

Viewtiful Joe
A crazy 2.5D adventure based on Japanese henshin (transforming hero) movies. The movie special effects powers, crazy level design, and colorful cast make a extremely memorable. Interestingly, some of its key developers went on to work on Bayonetta years later.

Shadow of the Colossus
Not quite sure if this goes under Action or Action Adventure (I could argue either way), but even all these years later it still features some of the best bosses to be found in any video game. The thrill of taking on monsters as tall as a building with nothing but a sword, bow, and your trusty horse, never fades and the mysterious dream like atmosphere ensures that even the downtime between battles is memorable.

Action Adventure
These games have more more combat than pure Adventure games, but far more exploration, puzzle solving, etc., and a pure Action game. It's a favorite genre of mine and has been for quite some time.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Currently, my favorite Zelda title, though I haven't found the time to dive into Breath of the Wild yet, so that may change. While the difficulty is, perhaps, a touch on the easy side, the world design and puzzles are fantastic, Midna is a great companion, and the ability to turn into a wolf opens up all sorts of interesting gameplay and puzzle options. To avoid filling this list with Zelda games, A Link to the Past is my second favorite in the series and Majora's Mask is probably the third.

Assassin's Creed Brotherhood
The highlight of the series, or at least of all the ones I've played so far (I fell behind when it moved to the PS4) in terms of story, gameplay, and general structure. Many of the later titles either tried to do too much and over reached, or felt a bit rushed, but Brotherhood really struck the perfect balance.

Gravity Rush 2
The original was a bit more focused, especially in regards to the story, but the sequel really took advantage of the PS4 to create a large colorful world to let Kit and her gravity bending powers truly shine. There's just something about running up walls, flying through the air (well, technically controlled falling), and constantly shifting gravity to stay one step ahead of your opponents. The series is really an underappreciated gem.

Lots to do, so I'll stop there for today and pick this back up next time.

Josiah

3/20/2020 Is it worth it?

Sorry, it's another coronavirus related post as more and more places here shut down or at least put significant limits on their operations. Now, there was a recent paper by a respected researcher at Stanford. He points out that we really don't have anywhere near enough data to have an accurate picture of how infectious or deadly this coronavirus is. Initial guesses about the mortality rate were around 2 - 3% based on what was happening China. And, while it's hard to get any reliable data, Iran could be a good bit higher. However, they don't seem to be the norm. The most realistic mortality rate I've seen for a country that has good sanitation, a decent medical system, and doesn't feature serious government incompetence (China) or sheer stupidity (Iran) is around 0.68%. Of course, there are probably some deaths due to the virus that have been missed. At the same time, pretty much everyone agrees that there are a lot of undiagnosed cases of the coronavirus since, in most people, it's mild enough (like a regular cold or flu at worst) that they won't seek medical attention and therefor won't get tested. Which means the actual death rate is probably a lot lower. That researcher I mentioned said that, based on all the data available, the potential mortality rate in the US is somewhere between 1% - 0.05%. Now that's a pretty big range (relatively speaking). Let's add some more perspective to that. First off, remember, of course, that all deaths are terrible. But, realistically, people are going to die from all sorts of things. Illness, car accidents, allergies, etc., etc., etc. So the question is whether or not the coronavirus is much more dangerous than anything else we encounter in normal life. If the actual mortality rate is around .05% (the low end of the scale) that would mean that the virus is less deadly than the normal yearly flu and everything has been one major, major, over reaction. If it's 1%, well, that's a lot higher than 0.05%. Though it's not like that means 1% of the entire US population is going to die. It would mean 1% of the people who caught the virus, and even in Wuhan (ground zero and with a horribly botched government response that let the virus run free for months), only around 11% of the population caught the virus (I will grant that all numbers from the Chinese government aren't necessarily reliable). Now I like China, but the sanitation there isn't great so it's reasonable to assume that the virus wouldn't spread nearly so well here. But hey, let's assume 10% of the population gets infected with a 1% mortality rate as a worst case scenario. Remember, that's likely the worst case. Also remember that the virus is only real dangerous to people who have immune and/or respiratory problems (mostly the elderly), and that those people likely already take extra precautions against illness since even the common cold can be kinda deadly if you have those kind of health problems.
So we have a virus that, at best, is less dangerous than the regular flu. At, at absolute worst, could perhaps kill 0.1% of the US population. But the thing is, we really don't know for sure where the coronavirus falls between those two extremes and we probably won't know for quite a while. So the question you have to ask is, is our country's (or, for that matter, the world's) reaction to the virus worth it? Once again, any deaths are terrible. But we don't ban cars to prevent deadly accidents. We don't shut down everything for the annual flu. We don't ban peanuts because some people have dangerous allergies. For this coronavirus, we've shut down entire cities. It's not just about the inconvenience of not being able to go to the gym or a movie. The economy has taken a major nose dive. This is hurting big business, small business, and regular workers. Places are going out of business. People are losing their jobs. The falling stock market puts many people's savings at risk. In China, there are people who have committed suicide after losing everything due to the quarantines. Yes we probably reduced the number of infections and deaths at least somewhat (how much is impossible to say), but given what we know (and don't know) about the virus, can you really say that the damage we've caused to so many people's lives is worth it? That's not a question with an easy answer but, personally, I'm not so sure.

Josiah

3/18/2020 Recovering

Zack is, thankfully, back to normal and I'm feeling a bit better after a full night's sleep. Though I've really busy with work this week thanks to the university moving everything online for the rest of the semester.

Seems I just keep getting more and more exasperated with the reactions to the coronavirus. But if I keep writing about it, it's just going to turn into a full-on rant. It's ironic that civilization is being brought to its knees not so much by an illness, but by the reaction to it. But there's no way people can keep up this level of panic and inconvenience for long. If there were millions of people infected and bodies piling up, sure. But the reality isn't even the tiniest fraction of that. No matter how much the media tries to fan the flames, sooner or later people are going to calm down, even if it's only because they get burned out on the whole thing. Personally, I'm predicting most of this will die down within the next month. At least I hope so...

Later!

Josiah

3/16/2020 Ugh...

It's been a rough weekend. Not because of coronavirus panic. Though that did result in some annoying cancellations and more issues with grocery shopping. Instead, Connie and Zack got sick again (once again, not coronavirus). Zack was the real problem. He had a fair bad fever, which meant checking on him at night and giving him medicine (which he often really didn't want to take). He didn't sleep especially well either. That meant I didn't get a lot of sleep for a couple of nights. It's been pretty exhausting. Fortunately, it looks like the fever finally broke, though I'll need to check a couple of times over the night to be sure. Good thing to, I've got a busy week ahead. Although it's technically the second week of extended spring break, I've got to finish switching my classes to online format and do a bunch of grading.

So yeah, I'm going to check on Zack and then, hopefully, get some sleep.

Later!

Josiah

6/22/2020 Getting more complicated

Reactions to the coronavirus are getting more serious (reactions, not the virus itself). My university, for example, decided to extend spring break and then switch to online classes for a while. On the one hand, that sorta means I get more vacation. In practice though, I actually have a lot of extra work to do in order to change all my classes around to fit the new schedule and format. It's gonna be...interesting.

Though that's not all. I went shopping in Costco yesterday morning and it was like Black Friday with the crowds and the lines. I didn't see anyone stocking up on toilet paper, though I'm guess that's because it was already gone, along with the tissues and sanitizer. Now I understand sanitizer (though I don't think people need to go crazy and stock up) but why toilet paper? Unless you're expecting a full scale quarantine where you can't leave your house for weeks, why the heck would you need a giant supply of toilet paper for a virus that that mostly just causes mild flu-like symptoms? And that's if you somehow manage to beat the odds and catch the virus to begin with. Even stranger than toilet paper though, was that most of the people at Costco were stocking up on bottled water. Now that, I can't figure out the logic for at all. This is a virus, not a hurricane or a blizzard, so it's not like there's any chance that the plumbing is going to stop working. And the virus isn't transmitted in water, so it's not like there will be a contamination or anything. It's just general panic without any actual thought behind it. I've done a bit of reading lately and it seems like every couple of years there's some new scary disease. And many of the recent ones, like SARS, Swine Flu, and Ebola, were far more dangerous than coronavirus yet they didn't receive anywhere close to this level of reaction and panic (thank you media, government, and WHO). The amount of things that are being shut down and canceled is crazy. If this is the new norm, we're in trouble. Like I said, there's a new one of these things every couple of years, give or take, and we can't shut down significant portions of the planet and the economy every time. I really hope that people come to their senses sooner rather than later. Take precautions, sure. But don't incite panic and don't lock down anything and everything "just in case."

Have a good weekend!

Josiah

3/11/2020 Taking it easy?

Did I mention that I'm on spring break this week? Not that I'm really just relaxing or anything. I've been taking care of Zack a lot and I've got some chores and errands I've been putting off that need taking care of. Not to mention that, as a professor, I'm not 100% on holiday. I still have a handful of work related things to do over the week. So really, I haven't been less busy exactly, just busy doing different things. Connie and I did, however, take advantage of the best weather we've had since returning from Hawaii to take Zack to the zoo the other day, which was fun. But so far I haven't really had any more time than usual for reading, gaming, or the like. But hey, the week isn't over yet. Right now though, I've still got some work to do.

Later!

Josiah

3/9/2020 Virus

By now, I'm sure you've heard about the coronavirus. It's certainly in the news enough. And, because it started in China, I've been paying fairly close attention. While it's always good to be careful when it comes to health, the reaction to it strikes me as overblown. The risk of catching it here in the US is currently very low, so people really need to stop freaking out so much. Heck, even in places like China and Italy that have much larger outbreaks, the number of cases is pretty low compared to the population of the country, or even the region. On top of that, even if you do catch the coronavirus, it will most likely be no worse than a regular flu. The death rate isn't very high and nearly everyone who did die already had serious problems with their lungs or immune system (mostly the elderly). While coronavirus is dangerous to people in that condition, so is just about everything. I don't want to downplay the deaths that have happened but, when you actually study it out, you're far more likely to catch, and even die from, the regular flu than the coronavirus. That's true in China and even more true here in the US. But the regular flu is a normal thing that's always around, not some new named virus, so no one reports on it or freaks out about it. Once again, not to make light of the deaths coronavirus has caused, but it's looking like the damage done (emotionally, economically, etc.) from both the efforts to contain the virus, and the panic it's caused, are going to be far worse than the virus itself.

While it's a relatively minor thing compared to what many people have had to go through, the virus has left my summer plans in a bit of a limbo (we had originally been planning a Japan and China trip). Right now, I'm taking a wait and see approach. While I'm not especially worried about catching the virus myself, I don't want to get caught up in a travel ban, quarantine, or anything like that. So, we'll see.

Regardless though, don't panic. If you don't believe me, do some research. The experts (not the reporters and such trying to drum up viewers and clicks) agree that, while you should always be careful, there's really not much reason to worry. Panic never helped anyone (except for those reporters).

Josiah

3/6/2020 I still hate Dreamweaver

I just want to restate that I hate Adobe Dreamweaver. I mentioned a while back that I was creating a new web site in Dreamweaver and I was complaining about it then. Well, I had to take a break from the site for a while to get some other things done and I just came back to it. Dreamweaver didn't get any better. Just to give an example, I had a big block of text to put on one of the web pages. It needed some editing, but I figured I'd just paste what I had and do the editing in Dreamweaver. Big mistake. First off, even just getting my cursor where I wanted was a chore that often took several clicks while Dreamweaver kept deciding that I wanted to select something different, not what I was actually clicking on. Trying to just get the cursor somewhere in the text and then move it with the keyboard didn't work either since, after moving it a few spots, Dreamweaver would decide I actually wanted to scroll the page or select a different element instead of move the cursor. Then, once I actually did manage to get the cursor in the correct place, I had to deal with Dreamweaver adding in extra spaces and deleting nearby letters when I tried to type. I mean seriously, this isn't just some minor bugs or love it or hate it design choices, this is completely broken. How do they release a professional level product that can't even handle simple text editing? I am seriously tempted to transfer the site into GoLive. No matter that was discontinued years ago. It works, which is more than I can say for the current version of Dreamweaver.

Have a good weekend!

Josiah

3/4/2020 Catching up

Now that I'm done with my current batch of grading, and everyone is finally over the flu, I finally managed to take some time to work through most of the items on my latest to-do list. Didn't really leave me with much time to write a news post though (especially since I needed to get this strip done), so I'm off. I'll try to have more written for Friday.

Later!

Josiah

3/2/2020 Up and down

After several years here, I think I've finally figured out Virginia's temperatures. The consistent thing is that the temperatures never stay stable for any real length of time. Instead, the temperature bounces up and down by ten or twenty degrees at a time. For example, over the past week or so, we've gone from low 50's, to low 30's, and back to low 50's. Up ahead, it's going to hit 60 soon...then back down to mid 40's. While I do appreciate the early warm days, some consistency would be nice.

Later!

Josiah

2/28/2020 Leap Year

Tomorrow will be a rare February 29. Too bad it's not a PV update day.

Anyway, I think I'm just about over the flu. Now, as long as I don't somehow catch something else, I should be fine. Though now it might be Connie's turn to get sick... So, while I might be feeling better, I may have to spend extra time taking care of Zack over the weekend.

Well, here goes...

Josiah

2/24/2020 Here I go... UPDATE

UPDATE 2/26/2020: I think what happened is, just as my cold was nearly gone, I caught something else (possibly the flu). Might have been what Zack had, since we never really had the same symptoms last week. Ugh... Anyway, it's not terrible and hopefully the worst is already past. However, I'm a bit out of it and I need some extra sleep so no comic today. Updates should resume on Friday.

Here goes another week of classes, grading, and the like. I did manage to get over my cold, though it might be another day or two before I completely lose the cough. My voice isn't quite 100% yet either, though it's close enough. At very least, I think I can probably get through my lectures and stuff without too much trouble. Hopefully. Zack got sick as well, so it wasn't the greatest weekend. But anyway, that's all finished and now I've got to get back to it.

Later!

Josiah

2/21/2020 Legos

On the bright side, my sore throat faded away. But I mostly lost my voice in the process (having to lecture with a sore throat tends to do that), which also left my throat feeling annoyingly scratchy. I still feel a tiny bit sick as well, though not too much. Fortunately, I don't have any meetings or anything today so I can probably get through the weekend without doing much talking if I need to.

In other news... Um, not much I guess. Other than trying a new Chinese restaurant, it hasn't been a particularly exciting week. Let's see, what else? I've been watching Lego Masters, a new game show which challenges teams of two to build all sorts of elaborate LEGO creations. I loved Legos as a kid. Still do, for that matter, though I haven't really had the time and space to do much with them for quite a while, beyond making some little Duplo (kids' Legos) builds with Zack. I'm kinda looking forward to when he's a bit older and can play with all the regular bricks. Anyway, Lego Masters is fun to watch. It also makes me wonder if I could have gotten to that level of building skill if I'd really stuck with it through university. Well, maybe someday...

Have a good week!

Josiah

2/19/2020 A bit too much

I might have been pushing myself a bit too hard over the past week or so and now I've got a cold. So far, it's not much more than a sore throat, and hopefully it won't get any worse than that. Hopefully...

Josiah

2/17/2020 Recharge

Well, I had a fairly nice weekend so I'm more or less rested and caught up on things. Now for a new, and less busy week. Hopefully I can make some serious progress on Death Stranding as well. With Persona 5 Royal and the Final Fantasy VII remake coming out next month, I really need to get it finished. It's an unusual game, but I really am enjoying it. Maybe I'll write more about it later in the week. For now, I'm going play a bit and then get some rest before work.

Later!

Josiah

2/14/2020 Home

If you're a fan of the Pokémon games (which is a fairly safe guess if you're visiting this site), you probably know that Pokémon Home was released yesterday. It's the latest game/app/program for storing large amount of pokémon and transferring them between games. This looks like the most full featured one yet, though said features are split between the Switch and mobile versions (speaking of which, I had a really hard time finding it in the Google Play store for some reason). I spent some time the other day transferring over the bulk of my pokémon collection from Bank (the storage system on the 3DS) and organizing them. Still need to grab a few others from my various 3DS cartridges but most of the work is done. Anyway, a few oddities aside, it seems to work ok, has a nice pokédex, and, most importantly, works with all the newest games (well, mostly, Go is going to be added later). I'm looking forward to playing around with the features later on (maybe using the trading system to pick up a variations that I'm missing) but I had a really busy day with grading and MFA work, so my time was pretty limited. It also left me rather burned out (again), so I'm afraid I don't have much to say. Anyway, it's nice that Home is finally out and I'm looking forward to once again having my complete pokédex worth of pokémon at my fingertips.

Later!

Josiah

2/12/2020 Still working

Still lots of grading left to do. I'm not feeling so burned out, but I think I picked the wrong TV shows to watch while I worked on this update, as they're leaving me rather annoyed. Plus, I need to get some sleep before I get back to work, so I'm afraid that it's another short news post today. I'll hopefully have the time and motivation to write something more interesting for Friday.

Later!

Josiah

2/10/2020 ...

It's been an exhausting day (not due to any major problems, just a number of small things) and I'm too burned out to write much of anything. I need to get some rest and them throw myself into a whole lot of grading.

Later!

Josiah

2/7/2020 Here it comes

Things are about to get a lot busier for me this coming week thanks to my first big batch of grading for the semester combined with some MFA work. Can't say I'm really looking forward to that (I've been busy enough as is), but it is what it is. Ordinary life and all of that. I'm trying to get a little bit ahead of the work, but there's only so much I can do in that regard.

So yeah, back in the swing of things and all that.

Have a good weekend!

Josiah

2/5/2020 Back to it

The furnace is fixed and I'm keeping busy with Zack, work, and some stuff around the house. And things will be getting a bit busier soon, as the semester really kicks into gear. Hopefully I can strike a decent balance this semester, it can be tough with a three year old in the mix. Well, nothing to do but try.

Later!

Josiah

2/3/2020 Heating

We woke up Saturday morning to find that our furnace had died. Well, more specifically it won't ignite. I tried what I could but couldn't get it going. I'm still trying to get a repair appointment scheduled (that's the problem with something breaking on a weekend). On the bright side, our house has two furnaces to so we still have heat on one floor (where the bedrooms are). The rest of the house, however, is rather cold. At least the weather has warmed up a bit over the past few days, so the temperature is staying within a livable range and I don't have to worry about the pipes freezing or anything. I think we probably just need a new igniter so hopefully it'll all be taken care of soon.

See you Wednesday!

Josiah

1/31/2020 Editing

Between my MFA classes and some side jobs, I've been doing a lot of editing over the past months, both fiction and non-fiction. While I'd rather be writing my own things, I think I make a pretty good editor. Probably not something I'd want to do professionally though. How much I enjoy it is directly related to what I'm editing and, more often than not, I'm fighting off either boredom (when I'm not that interested in what I'm editing) or frustration (when I actually dislike what I'm editing). Regardless, I've got a few more months to go before I can really take a break from it so, for now, I guess I'm an editor.

Have a good weekend!

Josiah

1/29/2020 Bobobo!

They just released a new Blu-ray collection of Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo. And yes, that's the correct title. Bobobo is a zany and rather random comedic anime. Normally, I don't actually get into those much since I find them to be high on random weirdness, but rather low on comedy (I don't find weirdness to be automatically funny). Bobobo, on the other hand, is certainly weird and random, but it's also consistantly hilarious. To briefly summarize, there's an evil empire that's out to shaves off everyone's hair because...well, just because. However, they're opposed by Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, a martial arts master (sorta) who fights them off using his nose hair and whatever random stuff pops out of his big blond afro. Along the way, he amasses a team of allies (or at least living shields) including a large piece of jelly, a guy with ice cream (or is it poop?) as a head, a young man who fights with his farts, and a torpedo, among others. Together they fight against the empire's champions and generals such as a talking fishcake and a really depressed guy with a bag over his head. And no, I'm not making any of that up. It's completely and utterly ridiculous, but in a really fun way.

Bobobo holds a bit of a special place in my memory. During my fist visit to Otakon (which was also my first time at any anime convention) back in 2004 (about a year after I started PV), I had a bit of time to kill and dropped into the nearest screening room just in time to see the second episode of Bobobo, which had only recently started airing in Japan. I loved it, but that was it for a while since, at the time, it didn't have any sort of official US release. So it just kind of stuck in my memory until, around a year later, it got a fantastic English dub on Cartoon Network. Viz also released a little bit of the manga, but only a few volumes from the middle of the series (something I'm still rather sore about). Unfortunately, the home release of the anime was similarly problematic. It was first released on DVD by a brand new anime localization company, but they botched the whole thing in a number of ways and only released the first couple of discs before going out of business, leaving the series in limbo for years. It did finally get a complete DVD release much later on, but that one was also flawed (though not as badly) and quickly went out of print so I was never able to get a copy. But now, finally, there's a new Blu-ray set which contains the complete unedited series with both the English dub and the original subtitled Japanese (subtitles were one of the biggest issues with the past releases). While I'm slightly disappointed that it's not in HD, over all I'm just really happy to finally have the full series in both English and Japanese. Especially since, to my knowledge, it's never been available for streaming in the US either. If you're like me and have fond memories of Bobobo, this is the set to get. If you've never heard of Bobobo, but you like crazy funny anime, give it a try. There's nothing else quite like it.

Later!

Josiah

1/27/2020 Now playing

Now that I'm back from Hawaii, I have my PS4. So it's back to Death Stranding. Though I might take a break from it to play the new Kingdom Hearts III DLC. Or maybe I'll just start a new game on Critical and work the DLC into that playthrough. Though, if I do that, I'll probably wait until after I finish Death Stranding. Hmm... Well, I'll figure that out in another day or two. While I have a pretty massive game backlog, the next must play titles for me are coming out in the spring. Specifically, I'm waiting for Persona 5 Royale and the Final Fantasy VII remake. Of course, I've already played the original versions of both of them, but I'm still really looking forward to the new ones.

I could go into more depth about that, or write about something else that's been on my mind, but I'm a bit burned out today so I think I'm just going to get some rest. Or maybe take a little time to actually play a game, which I don't get to do nearly as much as I would like these days.

Later!

Josiah

1/24/2020 Finishing the travelogue

Well, let's get the Hawaii travelogue finished.

January 14th - 16th (Tuesday - Thursday): The End of the Trip
My brother's family returned to Maui Tuesday morning, just as my dad arrived. We didn't do anything too special on our last couple of days on Oahu. Walked around, visited a couple more restaurants, took Zack back to the Discovery Center, and the like. Unfortuantely, it wasn't really beach weather, but it was a pleasant couple of days and we did see a nice rainbow and one last sunset on the beach.
I always get a bit pensive when it comes time to leave Hawaii. I'm pretty happy with things in Virginia, but I can't help but think about what life would have been like if I'd been able to stay. Sigh...
Anyway, we flew out very late Wednesday night. Zack managed to stay awake a whole lot longer than I thought he could to, but over all our flights went very well and, unlike last year, everything back home was totally fine. No water leaks or anything. While I may not live in Hawaii anymore, I am glad that I at least have the means, reason, and oppertunity to visit every year. It's nice to be home but, as always, I'll be looking forward to our next Hawaii trip.

Later!

Josiah

1/22/2020 Back to it

Sorry about the missed update on Monday, but now my classes are all ready to go and things are settling down. I still have a couple travelogue posts left so let's get back to that.

January 13th (Monday): Fish and Horses
It wasn't really beach weather so, after discussing a few options, we decided to take the kids to Sealife Park, which happened to be one of the few tourist attractions on Oahu that I hadn't visited yet. It's not really an aquarium, because there aren't a whole lot of tanks (a few, but not many). If anything, it's a bit like a small version of Sea World. Anyway, after watching the fish and sea turtles for a few minutes, we moved on to the touching pool where you can touch the usual sea creatures (urchins, starfish, etc.). Fun for kids, but nothing too special. However, at certain times of day you can touch a young sea turtle, which is pretty cool since, as they're endangered, there are really steep fines if you touch one in the wild. Zack's attention was soon grabbed by the nearby bird area (he loves birds). Not exactly "sealife" but whatever. There were a lot of very colorful birds inside and, unlike similar attractions I've seen at various zoos and parks, here they gave you feedsticks for free. Zack was thrilled to feed the birds and we stayed in there for a while. Next up, the sea lion show. While Sealife Park isn't all that large (you could easily see all the habitats and exhibits in less than an hour), its specialty is its shows. The sea lions were well trained and the show was pretty entertaining. Of course, the kids loved it. There was some time before the next show (dolphins) so we took the kids to the playground for a bit. Connie and I actually didn't stay for the dolphin show (though the others told us it was pretty great) because we had a reservation elsewhere. I'd say Sealife Park is worth a visit with kids, but easy to skip otherwise, unless you really love sea lion and dolphin shows.
Connie and I left Zack with the others and headed north to Kualoa Ranch. I've written about the ranch in the past. Specifically, I've done the ATV tour there twice which, aside from getting to drive ATVs through some beautiful scenery, gives you a chance to see a bunch of film locations for a variety of TV shows and movies including Lost, Jurassic Park, and Godzilla. This time, however, Connie and I were back for their horseback tour (her birthday present). I have a bit of riding experience from a camp I used to go to in Colorado, but it was Connie's first time on a horse. However, the horses were very well trained so that wasn't really a problem. I had to lightly guide mine from time to time, but it mostly just followed the others at an easy pace without any real input. The horses follow a similar route to the ATVs, but mostly ignore the roads in favor of smaller paths through cow pastures and forests. Kualoa Ranch is extremely scenic no matter how you experience it, but I would say that the horse path is prettier than the ATV route. That said, if you really want to see the filming sites, the ATVs are a better option. While the horses still pass many of them, you can't get off to take a closer look and listen to the guide like you do with the ATVs. But, since we'd already done the ATV tour, that wasn't really an issue. The horseback tour was a pleasant two hours and Connie enjoyed it quite a lot.

Ok, one more travelogue entry to go. I'll aim to get it posted on Friday.

Later!

Josiah

1/17/2020 Back home

We made it back home with no real problems. I've got a couple travelogue posts left to write, but I'm pretty worn out (an overnight flight with no sleep and a big time change) so I'm going to save them for next week. Actually, what I really need to focus on over the next few days is getting my classes ready for spring semester. Two of them will be fairly quick and easy. One requires some moderate updates, and the last could be a ton of work. There's a chance I'll have to skip Monday's update if I end up running really behind schedule, but hopefully it won't come to that.

Anyway, for now I'm going to get some sleep then get to work.

Have a good weekend!

Josiah

1/15/2020 Last day

It's our last day in Hawaii. Tonight, Connie, Zack, and I will be flying back home to Virginia. While I kind of hate to leave Hawaii and go back to the winter, it will be nice to get back home. Though I'll be pretty busy for the first few days getting everything ready for the start of spring semester. After that, things should calm down, at least for two or three weeks before the semester really kicks into gear. I'll note that Friday's update is a little iffy. On the one hand, if all goes well I should be home with a perfectly good internet connection. However, there's a chance I'll be too busy and/or tired after the flight, so we'll see.

And now, more travelogue.

January 3rd - 12th (Friday - Sunday): Back in Honolulu
Connie, Zack, and I left Maui on a Friday morning for a short flight back to Oahu. We spent most of the following week there on our own. The weather, unfortunately, wasn't nearly as good as it was at the start of the trip, but we still had fun going to the lagoons at Ko' Olina, visiting the zoo, and otherwise doing things in and around Honolulu.
The following Thursday, my mom and my brother's family came to join us. We went to the water park the next day (Zack, unfortunately, wasn't in the best mood) and the beach the day after that. On Sunday, the weather took a turn for the worse so we decided to take the kids to try out the Honolulu Children's Discovery Center. I wish I'd known about it last year. It's a huge (and very reasonably priced) children's museum. It's been around for a while so it's not quite as snazzy as some of the newer ones I've visited, but it's the largest one by far and has a huge variety of activities and play areas that are both fun and educational. There's even a little Asian village. Highly recommended if you have young children and need a way to pass the morning indoors.
That wasn't the end of the trip, but the following day's activities deserve a post of their own.

I think that's enough for today. I'll finish the travelogue back in Virginia.

Later!

Josiah

1/13/2020 Dreamweaver sucks

Well, our time in Hawaii is almost over. The travelogue still has a few entries to go, but I need to get some photos sorted before I can write the next entry.

So today, I just want to say that I hate Dreamweaver. I learned how to use it years ago in a class, but I didn't have a copy of my own. Then I got the Adobe suite, which included a different professional web editor, GoLive, and I started using that. Eventually Adobe bought out Macromedia (creators of Dreamweaver) and started including both programs. Then, finally, they discontinued GoLive in favor of the more popular Dreamweaver. I thought about switching over to Dreamweaver, but it didn't work well with the drop down menus I use on Pebble Version, so I stuck with GoLive. And I still use GoLive today. Whenever I sit down to create a new web site, I think that maybe I should do it in Dreamweaver (since GoLive hasn't been updated in years and has a few issues in Windows 7). Well, finally I decided to do just that. And I really wish I've just stayed with GoLive. I'm willing to admit that some of my issues with Dreamweaver may be simply because I don't know where some of the different tools and options are. But that's only part of the problem. First off, it just seems to be missing a lot of tools that are front and center in GoLive so I've had to frequently resort to writing the html and css code directly. Even worse, the program is buggy. The preview interface sucks, the editor keeps adding extra spaces to my text, table cells aren't sizing properly for no apparent reason, etc. Sigh... I'm kinda committed to sticking with it for this one new web site, but unless there's some major improvements, I don't think I'll be switching my other sites to Dreamweaver so long as my copy of GoLive still runs.

Later!

Josiah

1/10/2020 More Maui

And now for a bit more travelogue.

December 29th - January 2nd (Sunday - Thursday): Enjoying Maui
Our last week on Maui was a mix of family time and repeating a couple of favorite activities from last year. Once again, Connie and I went to the Grand Wailea's luau on New Year's Eve. Nothing really changed from last year, but it's still a great luau in a beautiful setting. I won't go into too much detail, since I already gave it a full write-up last time, and I didn't take too many pictures this year either (I decided to just sit back and enjoy). Though I couldn't resist taking some time lapse shots of the fire dancing.
The following day, we took Zack to the Ocean Center (aquarium). While he visited it last year (when I also wrote about it in more detail), and we've taken him to the Baltimore Aquarium a few times as well, he's never shown a ton of interest in fish (he prefers birds and small animals). He rushed past the first few rooms pretty quickly so I was worried he'd get bored. But, fortunately, he suddenly took a liking to the sea horses and then began to pay more attention to the fish as well. So it made for a pretty good outing after all.
Nothing else we did is especially worth writing about. Our time on Maui was enjoyable, and we got to have a lot of fun with Zack and with my family. It wasn't exactly as relaxing as I'd hoped (between Zack and some assorted projects and such I kept pretty busy) but it was a good time none-the-less.

I think I'll stop there today. I've still got things to work on (and that's not even taking into account my spring class prep). I'll write about our return to Honolulu next week.

Have a great weekend!

Josiah

1/8/2020 Making time

I'm running a bit late today (despite this being a vacation, I really haven't had a ton of free time) so no travelogue entry or anything, sorry. I'll try and have one ready for Friday instead.

Later!

Josiah

1/6/2020 Back in Honolulu

Connie and I are in Honolulu. At the moment, it's just us and Zack, but my family will be coming over to join us on Thursday. We're having a good time, though Zack seems to be having a bit of trouble sleeping at night so I've been getting less sleep as well. On that note, I'm going to keep this short.

See you Wednesday!

Josiah

1/3/2020 A bit of hiking

Connie, Zack, and I are leaving Maui today and returning to Honolulu for the last phase of our trip. We'll be there by ourselves for a while and then my family will come for the last few days before we return home. I still have a couple Maui travelogue entries though, so let's get one of those done.

December 28th (Saturday): The Waiakoa Loop Trail
Unlike some of the other Hawaiian islands, Maui isn't especially known for hiking. There are some trails, however, and I figured we might as well try to do at least one hike while we're here. Though hiking with a couple of toddlers is rather limiting. You either have to stick with simpler trails or carry them a lot of the way. My brother ended up choosing the Waiakoa Loop Trail, which is up in the mountains. It was also in the clouds (literally). Thanks to the clouds, there wasn't really any view, but the forest was nice. There were a lot of banana guavas (a longer yellow guava) around. Not one of the best types of guava, but possibly worth collecting anyway. There were also a lot of berry bushes around but, unfortunately, only a few ripe berries (wrong time of year).
Zack fell asleep during the drive up so I carried him in our Ergo for the first part of the hike. We all ended up going at different speeds due to kids and other reasons. And, due to some miscommunication, I ended up going the opposite way around the loop as the others. I eventually decided that, rather and push on and hope to meet in the middle (which I wasn't entirely sure would happen anyway), I should just turn around. But by then Zack was awake so I let him walk back with me. It was a little slow, but he did surprisingly well, walking a mile or so on his own.
I'm a little annoyed that I didn't complete the hike, but it was still a fairly nice time. It was fun to get into the forest for a while and Zack enjoyed the exercise. While I don't think the hiking on Maui can't beat Oahu, I'll have to try another trail or two next time I'm here.

Later!

Josiah

1/1/2020 Happy New Year!

Here's to a great 2020! Also, happy birthday to me!

Josiah

12/30/2019 Snorkeling trip

Time for the last update of the year. And it's a travelogue entry!

December 24th (Tuesday): Snorkeling off Molokini
I like to do at least a little bit of snorkeling when I'm in Hawaii. This time, my mom wanted decided to take a few of us out on a snorkeling boat tour. I've done some similar tours before, but on Oahu. This was my first time doing any serious snorkeling on Maui. We got up pretty early to get to the boat. However, there was some confusion with our tickets (long story short, someone in the booking office screwed up). We did manage to board, but at the last minute and only because another group didn't show. Annoying, but it all worked out in the end and we were off with the sunrise.
It was the biggest snorkeling boat I've ever been on, with a full three levels and around 150 people. Our destination was Molokini, a small island surrounding an old volcanic crater. The island itself is a bird sanctuary, but the crater contains a large reef and is Maui's most popular snorkeling spot. The ride over there was a little rough, but we did spot some whales on the way. There were already a lot of boats by the time we arrived, but the reef was easily large enough to avoid feeling crowded. I really need to get an underwater camera sometime. The reef was large, with some nice coral and a ton of fish. I didn't see any of the really unusual ones (which I've occasionally spotted when snorkeling off Oahu), but that aside, Molokini is a great snorkeling spot and we had pretty much perfect conditions with sun and very clear water. There was even a seal hanging out on the rocks. And, once we'd had our fill of snorkeling, the boat also had a couple of slides and a jump point, which were a fun little addition.
As we ate lunch, the boat headed back towards Maui, but not to the docks. Instead, we drew near the coast and stopped at another reef. This one didn't have many fish, but it is a popular hangout for sea turtles. I saw at least half a dozen while snorkeling, plus the one on the surface that I got a picture of. In the future, I could probably swim out there from the nearby beach if I want to, no boat required.
Finally, it was time to head back. But it wasn't over quite yet, as we spotted some more whales along the way. Ticketing issues aside, it was a good snorkeling trip and the best snorkeling boat I've been on. I don't think I'd rank it quite as highly as my favorite snorkeling boat tour on Oahu (which also has great reefs, turtles, and a chance of whales, plus dolphins), but if you're looking for some snorkeling on Maui, you can't really go wrong with a trip to Molokini.

Later!

Josiah

12/27/2019 Sorting

Now that I'm done with grading and a couple other things, I'm busy sorting through my photos from the past couple of weeks so the travelogue will have to wait until Monday.

Have a good weekend!

Josiah

12/25/2019 Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas! Or, in my case, Chanukah. And now, on with the travelogue.

December 16th - 23rd (Monday - Monday): On to Maui
On Monday, my parents, Zack, and I flew to Maui for the next part of our trip. You may remember that they got a place there a bit over a year back. Connie and I stayed there for a couple of weeks last year and plan to do the same this time around. This time though, my brother's family will be there too, as they just moved to Maui a couple of weeks ago.
After arriving, I settled down to spend the rest of the day finishing my grading. The following day, we went to Lahaina. We spent a bit of time at a "baby beach" (meaning that there's a little sheltered spot good for young children) then walked around and got dinner. After which, my mom took the kids (Zack and my nephew, Isaac) on a Christmas train ride. Meanwhile, Connie arrived on Maui and met up with us when we got back home.
The rest of the week was pleasant, but nothing too exciting. We spent time with family, took Zack to playgrounds and beaches, and the like. Maui, or at least the parts of it that I'm familiar with, doesn't seem to have changed much since last year. I guess things move more slowly here than on Oahu. But the slower pace can be nice. Maui may not be as exciting as Oahu, but it has a lot to offer. And we are going to be doing more here than just relaxing...but more on that another time.

I'll stop there for today. Expect a most interesting travelogue entry next time.

Josiah

12/23/2019 Hanging out in Hawaii

Ok. I still don't really have a whole lot to write about, but let's try and get the new Hawaii travelogue started at least.

December 9th - 15th (Monday - Sunday): Hanging in Honolulu
Winter break means it's once again time to spend a few weeks visiting family in Hawaii. This year started out a little different though. Connie had a seminar she wanted to attend in China so we split up at the airport. She headed to southern China and I took Zack to Honolulu. This was my first time flying alone with Zack but, fortunately, by this point he seems to understand that plane rides involve staying in his seat. While his Kindle didn't hold his attention as long as I hoped, and I did have some trouble keeping him from standing in his seat, or kicking the seat inf ront of him, the flights went really well for the most part.
After landing in Honolulu, I met up with my mom and then it was off to the condo and a curry dinner at Coco Ichibanya. The next few days passed in a bit of a blur. For the most part, my mom (and my dad, who arrived a few days later) kept Zack entertained while I graded final projects. I did join them for meals and a handful of outings (a bit of shopping, an outdoor Christmas movie, etc), but I spent most of my time working. I finally got to take a break over the weekend to walk around and get in a little pool and beach time. Then, Sunday afternoon, it was back to work as my last set of finals came due while also preparing to fly to Maui for the next phrase of the trip. So yeah, despite being in Honolulu for a week, I feel like I really didn't do all that much.
I did get to walk around Ala Moana and Waikiki a bit. As usual, there's been some changes. Some places I liked have disappeared, and some cool new places have sprung up. The Shirokiya Japanese food court has revamped a little bit, and the Yokocho Japanese food court added a bunch of free to play classic arcade games. There's some good new bubble tea places (though one I liked has closed and another had to move to a smaller location due to construction) and a neat (if expensive) Japanese figurine store opened up near the mall. Not to mention that lots of new buildings are going up. As usual, I think most of the changes are for the best, though I will really miss some of the places that have closed. I'm looking forward to spending more time in Honolulu, and on Oahu in general, later in the trip.

Not the most exciting opening, but it's a start. Look for more next time.

Josiah

12/20/2019 Family time

It's nice spending time with my family. Still not too much to write about though. I'll try and get a travelogue entry ready for Monday. For now though, I'm just trying to work though a few assorted tasks that have been sitting on my to-do list.

Have a great weekend!

Josiah

12/18/2019 Vacation!

Well, grading is finished and Connie has arrived so I think I can say that I'm now fully on vacation. Not that I won't be doing any work in the coming weeks. I've got a couple side projects to do and spring classes to prep. And, if I have some extra time, Aurora's Nightmare. But still, mostly vacation.

Later!

Josiah

12/16/2019 Off to Maui

I'm back to grading. Though I'll hopefully finish later today and then be totally done. Zack and I are also off to Maui for the next couple of weeks. It feels like I barely had a chance to do anything here on Oahu...and that's kind of true since I've spent most of the past week grading. But we'll be back here again for the last leg of our vacation so there will be more time then. Anyway, expect some travelogue entries eventually, once that grading is finished and I have something interesting to write about.

Now for one last push...

Josiah

12/13/2019 So close...

Well, I've finished grading three classes and also got my own final projects done. Now I've finally got a couple of days to relax until the finals for my last class come due, then it's another couple days of grading before I'm fully on break.

So yeah, still not much to write about but I'm getting there.

Josiah

12/11/2019 Hawaii time

Made it to Hawaii without any issues. Zack even behaved himself pretty well on the planes, despite not getting nearly enough sleep.

Anyway, I'm currently in the midst of grading and stuff so nothing too exciting to write about yet, but it's nice to be back.

Later!

Josiah

12/9/2019 Off to Hawaii

Not much to say. In a few hours Zack and I will be off to Hawaii. If all goes well, PV updates shouldn't be affected (though they will take place a few hours later than normal due to the difference time zone).

Later!

Josiah

12/6/2019 Last weekend

Just a few more days and then off to Hawaii. Pebble Version updates shouldn't be affected, though the update time will shift by a few hours due to the big change in time zones. At this point, I'm done with classes (though I still have a meeting today) but will have a ton of finals to grade (and one to write). And, well, I guess that's it for now. Still need to pack and get a few other things done before the trip.

Have a good weekend!

Josiah

12/4/2019 Rush to the finish

There's a lot going on right now. This is the last week of classes and there's a couple other work related things (one rather exciting, one extremely annoying) that I'm also trying to get done before the week ends. And not just because of the end of the semester, but because on Monday Zack and I are off to Hawaii (Connie will be joining us a week later). That means there's also a handful of around the house type things that need to be taken care of before we leave. And then, immediately after arriving in Hawaii, I actually need to jump right into grading finals so I can get them finished before deadlines. So yeah, I'm really looking forward to winter break, but I still have a pretty hectic week or two ahead of me.

Later!

Josiah

12/2/2019 Museum day

It's the last week of class. And then it's off to Hawaii, though I'll still have to grade finals and stuff when I'm there. Anyway, let's get the travelogue entry done.

November 24th (Sunday): The National Museum of American History
Before Connie and Zack returned, I wanted to go to DC for a day to see a museum or two that I hadn't gotten to yet. Top on my list, the National Museum of American History. It's a huge museum with a wide variety of exhibits. They're not really organized in any particular way, so I just went from floor to floor. I started out with the founding of the US and creation of the government. Next up, immigration, followed by one tracing the history of an old house and the families that lived in it. All were fairly interesting, and they had some cool artifacts, especially from the country's founding. But one of the coolest things in the museum (though you can't take pictures) is the original Star Spangled Banner. As in, the actual flag that inspired (and is sung about) in the national anthem. Then, for something quite different, a section on American innovations, which featured some notable American inventions and a few pop-culture items from famous TV shows.
I ate lunch in the cafeteria (the menu isn't as diverse as, say, the Native American Museum, but still fairly good) then on to another floor for more pop-culture, both modern and classic. There was even a little section with video games that heavily feature the US (such as Earthbound and Red Dead Redemption 2), and another about the history of audio/music playback devices. Moving on, there was a section dedicated to American presidents and first ladies, and another about wars in which the US was involved (with the main focus being on the Revolutionary and Civil Wars).
Moving on to another floor...an exhibit about food? Um, ok. Sort of about the history of food production and distribution in the US, tied into how people at different times ate. It even had Julia Child's kitchen. Next up, the Hall of Transportation, which was a lot more interesting than I expected, as it was less about showing off different types of vehicles, and more about how the creation of different methods of transportation, roads, and the like, changed the way people in the US lived. For someone like myself who has driven all over the country, it was interesting to think about how many of the highways that we currently take for granted didn't even exist when my parents were young. Next, a bit more pop-culture with the Batmobile and Ralph Baer's workshop (if you don't recognize the name, he was an important figure in the early days of the video game industry and also electronic toys in general). Finally, I finished in a section on American enterprises (which also had a lot of notable inventions and pop-culture items).
I'm pretty sure I forgot to mention a few exhibits but that's the highlights at least. I took a fairly leisurely pace through the museum, though I did tend to skim a bit in some areas, and it ended up taking me most of the day. Personally, I found it to be one of the more interesting Smithsonian museums (though that certainly depends on personal preferences). There's a kids play area as well, which would have been useful if Zack was along with me. I'm a little disappointed that I only managed to visit one museum, but it was a fun and interesting day.

Later!

Josiah

11/29/2019 Back together

Connie and Zack have returned and we're all set for our slightly late Thanksgiving today.

I still need to get those photos done, however, so I'll aim to get that travelogue entry up on Monday. Enjoy the holiday weekend and I'll see you then!

Josiah

11/27/2019 Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to my US readers! I'll be celebrating a day late due to Connie and Zack not getting home until tomorrow afternoon.

Back on Sunday, I spent the day in DC exploring a museum. I'll have a travelogue entry about that up at some point, but right afterwards a couple of things came up that, while not especially serious, have been rather annoying and time consuming. As a result, I'm not really in much of a writing mood, plus I'm behind on my grading and photo sorting so it'll have to wait. Right now, I have to get back to that grading and then it's off to get some of my Thanksgiving dishes cooked ahead of time.

Later!

Josiah

11/25/2019 Moving on

Sorry, really not in the mood to write about anything today. There will probably be a travelogue entry on Wednesday.

Later!

Josiah

11/22/2019 One more week

Connie and Zack will be returning on Thanksgiving day (it was supposed to be a couple days earlier, but the flight got canceled). So we'll actually be celebrating the holiday on Friday instead. Anyway, it will be nice to have them back, though I still have a couple more things I want to get done before that. I did, however, totally finish the work I was doing in my office and library and nearly everything else on my list. Took longer than expected, but I'm happy with how it all turned out.

Anyway, I think that's about all for now. I need to get some rest and then finish a final few tasks.

Have a good weekend!

Josiah

11/20/2019 Catherine Full Body

Well, I've been saying that I'll write about Catherine Full Body so I might as well do it today.

The original Catherine for the PS3 and Xbox 360 was a favorite of mine for its very original story and gameplay and how much nuance it gave to the central conflict. Basically, Catherine is the story of Vincent, a 32 year old guy with a dead end job whose long time girlfriend, Katherine, is pressuring him to get married. He, however, likes the status quo. Then, he meets a flirty younger girl, Catherine, who is all for having fun and living in the moment. The story focuses on Vincent's struggle to decide between these two women and, on a larger scale, how he wants to live his life, while also trying to keep his relationship with each woman secret from the other. Meanwhile, Vincent begins having strange and deadly nightmares which connect to what's going on in his waking life. It's unique, clever, and, remarkably enough, avoids being preachy and forcing a "correct" answer on players.
Fully Body is an upgraded port for PS4 and Xbox One. It adds a lot of excellent gameplay tweaks, including a whole new set of puzzles in Remix mode for both the nightmares and the Rapunzel arcade game, lots of online play features, etc. Even the sections with Vincent and his friends in the bar have been improved. So, lots of quality of life improvements, lots more puzzles (if you like the puzzles), and a super easy mode (if you don't like the puzzles). So far, so good. Then there's the additions to the story. For starters, there's a few new cutscenes which further flesh-out Vincent's relationships with Catherine and Katherine. Both of them also get a new ending (which, after fulfilling a very simple condition, replaces their respective bad endings), which are interesting (Catherine's especially). Once again, so far, so good.
And then there's Rin... Rin (short for Qathrin (yeah, they really had to grasp at straws for that spelling)), is an entirely new character and potential love interest. She's integrated surprisingly seemlessly into the game, to the point where, if you never played the original, you wouldn't know she was added in. However, she's given so much emphasis and screen time early on that she pulls a lot of attention and tension from the Catherine / Katherine dynamic, which is a problem. What's worse, if you don't end up on Rin's route, she leaves very abruptly about two thirds of the way through and is barely mentioned afterwards. That's needed to get the focus back on Catherine and Katherine, but it feels really awkward and will leave you wondering why she was even there to begin with. Of course, that's not an issue if you end up on Rin's route (which diverges a good bit from the other two, complete with a new final level and boss), but it has its own problems. To avoid spoilers, I won't say what the theme is. However, I'll say that some people will be thrilled that a route based on said theme has been included. Others will appreciate that it's there, but have no real interest in exploring it. And still others will hate the very concept. There's also the fact that Rin's route carelessly spoils a few major plot twists and it gets really weird the further you get. I feel really bad for any new players who manage to trigger Rin's route on their first playthrough (which, given the conditions, seems unlikely though certainly not impossible). So I have to say that, whether you like her theme or not, the over all story is just better without Rin. And most of the reviews I've read, even those who really like Rin's theme, seem to agree with me on that regard.
Which puts me in a weird position. Catherine Fully Body has a lot of great gameplay additions and tweaks and the new scenes with Catherine and Katherine are good as well. So if you liked the original Catherine's gameplay and want more, Full Body is easy to recommend. If you just want to re-experience the story, you might (or might not) find Rin's content interesting, despite the issues, but I wouldn't say that the new story content on its own is worth buying Fully Body. On the other hand, if you're a new player who never played the original Catherine... Full Body is the better version in most ways, but Rin's presence hurts the main story enough (outside of her own somewhat problematic route) that I kind of want to recommend picking up a copy of the original version of Catherine instead.

See you Friday!

Josiah

11/18/2019 Stranding

I spent a while yesterday playing Death Stranding. First off, it's one of the best looking games I've ever played. The story setup is rather intriguing as well. As for the gameplay... It's very unique. I almost want to call it a walking simulator. The one true walking simulator (as opposed to all those games where you just move around and look at things), thanks to the emphasis on balance, terrain, etc. But there's a lot more to it than that. Anyway, I might give it a more detailed write-up after I've gotten further. Right now, I'm only 6 or so hours in. I probably will write a bit about Catherine Full Body later this week though, now that I'm pretty much done with it.

Anyway, I don't have any grading to do this week so, other than yesterday's half-day Death Stranding marathon, I'm planning to use the time to work through the remaining items on my to-do list. A bit disappointed that I'm not done with it yet, but nothing that's left should take all that long.

See you Wednesday!

Josiah

11/15/2019 Weekend

Looking forward to the weekend. I'm hoping to get most of the remaining things on my to-do list done and I also want to start Death Stranding. Of course, Pokémon Sword and Shield are coming out today to. But I probably won't be starting on them for a little while. Not because I have any particular complaints, but because I want to play Death Stranding and finish my Alola dex in Sun/Moon first.

So, off to it.

Josiah

11/13/2019 Getting fit

I've been playing Ring Fit Adventure nearly daily for the past couple of weeks so I'm going to write a bit about that today.

Ring Fit is Nintendo's latest attempt at a fitness video game, following Wii Fit and Wii Fit U. As a long time DDR player, I'm no stranger to mixing games and exercise. I also played Wii Fit U for a little while a few years back, though it failed to hold my attention for too long. Anyway, Ring Fit was one of the rare games that caught me completely off guard. As in, I don't remember ever hearing a thing about it until release, when I happened across a review. And, being a game designer, I follow game news pretty closely so I'm normally at least somewhat aware of every notable upcoming release. Anyway, that review interested me and, with Connie and Zack having left for China a couple days before, I had already been planning to get my exercise routine restarted, so I grabbed a copy and gave it a try. But enough with the backstory.

Ring Fit is a Switch games that comes with two accessories, a leg strap and a pilates ring and you attach one Joycon to each while playing. Unlike most other exercise games, Ring Fit actually has a full fledged story mode. At the start, you accidentally release a very muscular dragon who was sealed away by Ring, a talking ring. Said dragon it out to...do something that's probably not good (so far, I'm not really sure what he's after beyond working out and making monsters appear) so you team up with Ring to put a stop to him...by exercising! The game is part platformer, with you running through the levels (by jogging in place) while getting past different obstacles (squatting to activate spring boards, squeezing the ring to create blasts of air to blow open doors and such, pushing the ring against your abs to crush rocks, etc.). The environments are actually pretty scenic (if a bit repetitious), and the game does a good job steadily introducing new mechanics and mini-games along the way. Though navigating the levels is only half of it. A good chunk of gameplay is made up of RPG lite type battles against various monsters (mostly themed after different exercise gear). But instead of stabbing or shooting the monsters, you defeat them by exercising at them (while drinking the occasional smoothie for buffs and healing). Yeah...best not to think about it too much. The story isn't meant to be taken very seriously but it's kind of amusing and gives you a reason to keep going. Anyway, battles involve choosing from your selection of exercises and doing a number of reps (based on your chosen difficulty level) to attack. Early on you'll be doing a whole lot of squats and ring presses but soon you'll be unlocking a steady stream of new exercises. as you gain experience points and level up. Add in AOE ranges and enemies that are weak to certain types of exercise (legs or arms, for example), and there's enough depth to keep things fun and, as with the exploration, new mechanics are periodically introduced as well. The story seems to be long enough to last for at least a couple of months of frequent play (though that's a guess; all I can really say is that I'm nowhere near the end).

Anyway, there's a ton of different exercises and activities to help you get and stay fit. One complaint I had about Wii Fit U was that it just wasn't a very intense workout. I never felt like it really pushed me. Well, I have no such complaints about Ring Fit. Based on my age and fitness level, the game started me out at a difficulty of 21 (out of 30), which I bumped up to 22 about a week later. I've been playing for 20 - 40 minutes a day and by the time I finish I'm often hot, out of breath, and a little sore. But I can tell that my muscles and stamina are improving. Assuming you play the game properly (use a mix of exercises and don't try to cheat the movements) it actually makes for a surprisingly intense and balanced exercise routine. Plus, it makes doing all of those exercises a lot of fun. I often find myself falling into the "one more level" mentality, just to push myself a bit harder and/or see what's coming next.

Long story short, I'm really enjoying Ring Fit. I'm finally getting back in shape and I'm having fun doing it. Plus, unlike many exercises tools or routines, I think it'll succeed in holding my attention for quite a long time.

Later!

Josiah

11/11/2019 Phase 2

When Connie and Zack went to China last year, my big project here at home was setting up my library and office downstairs. Which came down to assembling a lot of shelves then unpacking all my books, games, movies, etc. Well, Connie and Zack are in China again and my big project this time is...doing more stuff in my library and office. Specifically, I'm finally putting in some wall shelves to display my figurines. Which means unpacking and organizing said figurines (a pretty big job). My parents also sent me a few boxes of stuff that had been sitting at their place for a while. But now that they're moving to Hawaii full time, and I have a house again, we figured it was time I finally got it back. So I need to sort and unpack all that too. Anyway, that's what I've been working on lately and I'm making good progress, but I probably need another two or three days to finish. Unfortunately, the next few days are going to be dedicated to grading. But hopefully, by early next week, I'll finally be fully unpacked for the first time since I left Hawaii. Maybe I'll post some pictures when I'm done.

Later!

Josiah

11/8/2019 Busch Gardens

Ok, travelogue time.

November 3 (Sunday): Busch Gardens and Howl-O-Scream
When I went to Busch Gardens Williamsburg back in the Spring, I was mostly focused on Zack so I didn't get to go on many of the rides. But, with Connie and Zack in China, I decided to go back get a better feel for the park. This ended up being their last full day of the season, and the last day of Howl-O-Scream, their Halloween event. While Howl-O-Scream doesn't really kick into gear until the evening, there were still decorations up all over the park. Anyway, as previously mentioned, Busch Gardens Williamsburg is sorta European themed. You start out in England and there's also, Ireland, France, Germany, Oktoberfest (which is essentially still Germany), Italy (which is also broken up into two areas), and...Northern Canada? Not to mention the two kids areas (Land of Dragons and Sesame Street).
Anyway, I made my way slowly through the park, checking out all the rides, shops, etc. as I went. In addition to that VR motion simulator I rode last time, there's a number of roller coasters. I'd say The Griffon is probably the best one in the park. Though all the big ones are fun, if sometimes a bit on the short side. One that really surprised me was Verbolten, which looked like a pretty simple and low intensity coaster at the start, but ended up having a lengthy dark section with a surprising twist. The newest ride is Finnigan's Flyer, which is a giant swing, not a coaster (there's a new coaster coming next year). A lot of fun, at least as long as you're ok with heights.
There's also animals. Not as many as, say, Disney's Animal Kingdom or Busch Gardens Tampa, but they've got wolves, bald eagles, and a lot of other birds. I even ended up hearing the eagles chirping(?) at something when I passed by in the evening. Didn't sound like I expected. There's also that pet show that I saw with Zack last time.
So I walked around and tried different things out. Unfortunately, my neck was a bit off (it's a chiropractic thing) so I had to take a break between coasters to avoid getting really motion sick, but it was still fun. Due to the time of year, a few attractions were closed (water rides, for example). Maybe next time. I will note that the European theme isn't especially deep. Not like, say, Epcot, which can be fairly educational in addition to fun. But it works. As a note, the best place to eat is in Italy (which has a lot more than just Italian food).
While I'm not big on Halloween, I figured I might as well stay for a bit of Howl-O-Scream. And besides, the sun sets really early these days. Before the main event there was a family friendly Halloween...disco? There was still a bit of time to kill before it got dark, so I decided to save some time and line up by one of the haunted houses. I ended up going through three of them (out of six), just because I was there. They seemed pretty much in line with the other theme park haunted houses I've been in (not counting Disney's Haunted Mansion, which is much higher quality but also much more family friendly). You follow a twisting path through loosely themed corridors filled with creepy decorations, dismembered limbs, and people in costumes trying to scare you. All fine, I guess, but they just don't do it for me. For one thing, stuff like that doesn't scare me in the least. Plus I'm extremely hard to startle (you basically have to catch me entirely off guard and even then it's iffy). In the end, the only time I was even a little surprised when when the girl behind me freaked out and hit me in the back. And since I'm not in love with the bloody horrific style Halloween aesthetic (pumpkins and ghosts can be kind of fun through), there just isn't much attraction. At least when I'm by myself. They can be kind of fun to visit with a friend, especially if he or she scares a lot more easily than I do. Outside of the haunted houses, there were also sections of the park where costumed actors roam around and try to scare you as you pass by. Once again, I don't care that much either way, but watching some other people scream and run was amusing. What I would have been more interested to try were the special Halloween escape rooms, but they cost extra and weren't open that weekend anyway.
So, to summarize, Busch Gardens Williamsburg is a pretty good theme park. In this general area, I'd still give Hershey the nod for its larger selection of rides and coasters, though Busch may have more for younger kids and a bit more variety when it comes to food. As for Howl-O-Scream. If you're looking for a big fancy teen - adult Halloween event, it seems like a pretty good one, even if I personally don't care too much either way.

Later!

Josiah

11/6/2019 To-do listing

I haven't had a chance to sort my photos from Busch Gardens so no travelogue entry today. Probably on Friday.

Without any grading this week, I've been trying to work hard on my to-do list for the last couple of days. And I'm making decent progress. Unfortunately, at the same time, I've been coming up with new things that need to be done and taking care of those things has slowed my progress on the original list. With a bit of luck, I'll have most of it done by the end of the week...but who knows.

Another thing I've been doing a lot of lately is exercising. I picked up a copy of Ring Fit (Nintendo's latest exercise game) and have been putting in around 45 minutes on it nearly every day. I'd always intended to get my exercise routine going again while Connie and Zack are gone (lack of free time is the usual reason when I skip it) and Ring Fit is giving me a new way to go about it. It's actually pretty fun and a serious workout. As both a game and an exercise method, Ring Fit is far superior to the old Wii Fit series. I'll probably right a more detailed review of it in a week or two once I've made a bit more progress.

And, I guess that's it for now. Got a full day of work (my job) and then back to the to-do list.

Later!

Josiah

11/4/2019 Recreation

I was thinking about switching to a different character for strip #2300 but decided that it's not really a good place in the story for that. So, instead, here's the start of a little bonus series I've thinking about. I suppose it's a few years late to be making Pokémon Go jokes, but what the heck?

Things have calmed down a bit for me. Enough that I've been able to get a bit of extra video game time in. I also went to Busch Gardens yesterday for their last regular day of the year. Expect a travelogue entry later in the week. Now though, I do need to get back to work. It won't be too busy (at least not this week), but I've still got a lot of things on my to-do list and, without too much going on for the next few days, I'm hoping to get through most of it.

Later!

Josiah

11/1/2019 Rush

Sorry, I'm running really late today so I don't have time to talk. But I'm looking forward to a much calmer and more relaxing week ahead.

Later!

Josiah

10/30/2019 Ugh...

It's been a long day. Teaching, MFA course work, then grading around 70 papers. So I'm pretty burnt right now. And in the morning I've got another day of teaching, MFA stuff, and grading to look forward to. With a bit of paperwork mixed in. Yay... Ah well, things should be a lot more relaxed come Thursday.

Later!

Josiah

10/28/2019 Changing plans

I was hoping to go to Busch Gardens yesterday but the weather had other ideas so I'm putting it off until next week. I was thinking that I'd go watch a movie instead, except that the only one currently in theaters that I want to see isn't playing near here. So I decided to stay home and keep working on my to-do list. But even then things didn't go my way since my vacuum broke, which kind of screwed up my plan to get the vacuuming and mopping done. So yeah, kind of an annoying day. But, on the bright side, I did get a lot done. Just not many of the things I originally had planned. Anyway, I'll be keeping busy this week. The next couple of days I'll be focused on grading and then, after that, back to the to-do list. I could spread things out a bit more but the sooner I get everything done, the sooner I'll be able to focus on Aurora's Nightmare, and some more fun activities.

So, back to work.

Josiah

10/25/2019 On my own

Connie and Zack left for China on Wednesday to visit my inlaws for the next month or so, which means I'm home alone. So what am I going to be doing? Well, I do have a couple of fun outtings planned but, for the most part, it's not going to be anything too exciting. Aside from my usual work, I have a big to-do list I want to work through. A lot of stuff around the house and the like. And, after that, I'm hoping to do some work on Aurora's Nightmare, which I haven't had much time for over the past month. So yeah, that's all for now, though I may have a travelogue entry next week, if the weather cooperates.

Later!

Josiah

10/23/2019 Still more commentary

Looks like I forgot to announce that I was skipping Monday's update due to the last day of Sukkot. Oops... Anyway, barring something unexpected, there shouldn't be any more skipped updates for quite a while.

The commentary for strips 356 - 360 is finished, completing the current batch.

Later!

Josiah

10/18/2019 More commentary

The commentary for strips 350 - 355 is up!

Have a good weekend!

Josiah

10/16/2019 Commentary!

I owe you guys some commentary from last month's donations, so here's the first batch covering strips 341 - 349.

Later!

Josiah

10/11/2019 And continue some more

Yom Kippur is done and I'm caught up on my grading...at least for a few days. Nice to have some calm days for a change. Speaking of which, the High Holy Days aren't over yet so there'll be no update on Monday since it's the first day of Sukkot.

In other news, it looks like I'll be going to Japan next summer! Another professor and I are going to be taking some students to Tokyo for a tour. It'll be part sightseeing, part visiting various game developers. Doing a Japan tour is something I've been thinking about for quite a long time, so I'm excited to actually give it a try. And hey, as long I'm going over there, I plan to follow it up with a family vacation to other parts of Japan, and possibly a bit of China as well. For now though, there's still a lot of planning that needs to be done.

Anyway, have a great holiday weekend (happy Columbus Day!) and I'll see you on Wednesday.

Josiah

10/7/2019 The holy days continue

There will be no update on Wednesday due to Yom Kippur.

We took Zack to a local carnival yesterday. Would have been kinda boring for me, but he had fun. Otherwise, I've just been trying to get caught up with all my work. With a bit of luck, I should be done with it later today. Not much else to say. I've got a couple of things I wouldn't mind writing about, but I need to unwind and rest a bit before I get back to work so I'll save them for later.

See you Friday!

Josiah

10/4/2019 Catching up...again

That virus, or whatever, hung on a bit longer than I expected but I'm pretty much full recovered now. Even managed to finally do some apple picking yesterday so I'm looking forward to doing some cooking. But, before that, I still have a bunch of work to catch up on. I got behind a bit thanks to Zack's illness and then the combination of the holiday and getting sick myself really didn't help. On the bright side, I think things will be calming down for me soon. But I'll have another busy week or two before that happens.

Have a good weekend!

Josiah

10/2/2019 Double ugh...

Fortunately, Zack has completely recovered. Unfortunately, I caught whatever it was he had (too little sleep plus a couple too many drinks from Starbucks because of that). It didn't really hit me until Sunday afternoon as we were getting back home from the Renaissance Festival (which was great, as usual, though I don't think it needs another travelogue entry). I've had worse, and I'm probably 80% better at this point (hopefully 100% by morning). But it made an already busy week even crazier.

So yeah, lots to do. I'll write more on Friday, if I have the time.

Josiah

9/27/2019 Ugh...

That title really sums up how I feel right now... Anyway... It's the last few days of the Aurora's Nightmare Kickstarter so if you've been on the fence, now's the time. Also, there will be no update on Monday due to Rosh Hashannah.

But that has nothing to do with my how I'm feeling right now. Zack got a bad fever starting Tuesday night. It eventually got the point where I left work early on Wednesday so we could take him to urgent care. Fortunately, it seems that it wasn't anything too serious and he's doing pretty good now. But it led to a lot of stress and a couple of nights with very little sleep. It also left me a bit behind on work, which I'm currently struggling to catch up on. Add in a few other things and I'm exhausted and kind of burnt out. Hopefully I'll be able to relax and recharge a bit over the weekend, though I still have a lot of work that needs to be done...

Anyway, I'll see you Wednesday.

Josiah

9/25/2019 Final stretch

There's only a few days left in the Kickstarter for Aurora's Nightmare, my visual novel. It still has a ways to go to reach the goal so I'd appreciate any pledges, shares, etc. That said, from the beginning I knew there was a good chance that it wouldn't be successful. Getting a game successfully Kickstarted these days is pretty difficult if it's not tied into an already famous designer, development studio, or license. It's not impossible, but there's a ton of luck involved. Or you can spend a whole bunch of money advertising, which is a big risk since, worst case, the campaign still fails and you wasted the money. Best case, you might have to use a decent chunk of your Kickstarter money to pay back those advertising fees. Fortunately, even if the campaign fails, I'll still be able to complete Aurora's Nightmare with the save level of quality seen in the demo. I just likely won't get to add in some nifty (but unnecessary) extra content.

Anyway, we'll see what happens. Oh, and speaking of money, the PV donation gauge has gone up so I'll be writing another set of commentary soon. For now though, I'm off.

Later!

Josiah

9/23/2019 Pokémon Masters

I try not to play too many mobile games, since it can be easy to get sucked into the daily grind that a lot of free to play games revolve around and I can only keep up with so much of that before they start eating up way too much time. But after reading a review, I decided to give Pokémon Masters a try. It involves a whole bunch of characters from throughout the series gathering on an island for a special tournament where each trainer can only use one pokémon. They can, however, form teams of three trainers (except for your opponents, who can sometimes use up to six for no good reason). Battles are real time and fairly fun and strategic. And while there is a gatcha system for recruiting new trainer/pokémon pairs, it's not really needed. You recruit a lot of characters over the course of the story and, shockingly, some of them are actually pretty good. And any of them are good enough to clear the story content if you power them up enough. If you want to max out your team's power, the game can get ridiculously grindy, especially for the last few upgrades, but at present that's unnecessary for all but the hardest optional content and there's really no good reason to tackle those battles anyway except for fun. The only annoying thing about battles is how they handled types. Basically, every pokémon only has a single weakness and no resistances, which really throws off people like me who have the normal weakness/resistance chart memorized. It also means that you ideally want to power up lots of different teams so you have a good attacker of every element, which gets back to that whole grindy part again. Fortunately, like in the regular Pokémon games, you can overcome a type disadvantage with a big enough power difference.
Masters is also the best looking Pokémon game yet (though Sword and Shield will change that soon) and has a good soundtrack. But the main reason to play isn't the characters. As previously mentioned, Masters features a wide variety of characters from all the main series games including player characters, rivals, gym leaders, Elite Four members, and even random trainers. As a long time fan, seeing them interact is both fun and occasionally amusing. For example, listening to a Youngster and a Lass debate the merits of shorts vs. skirts, or a swimmer complaining about how all the other swimmers just happened to wear the same suit as him. The writers really know the games and had a lot of fun with the script.
So far, I've enjoyed with Masters. I got lucky and pulled Brendan early on. Who, conveniently happens to be one of the stronger attackers, though I am disappointed that he uses a treeko instead of torchic. I just finished the all the currently available story content (which is quite a lot) without any real trouble other than the current last battle, which I had to power-level a little bit for. At this point, I think I'll keep logging in for daily rewards and some daily battles while waiting for the next set of story missions, but I'm going to avoid getting caught up in a big grind. Besides, I don't really need to. Anyway, while Masters isn't perfect, it's a fun take on the franchise, especially for long time fans, and a good choice if you need a Pokémon fix before Sword and Shield.

Later!

Josiah

9/20/2019 All the grading

It's a grading week for me, and a rather busy one at that due to the mix of assignments and some other things going on. I've probably gone though around 100 papers at this point and still have a bunch to go, plus a short paper to write. So I'm running late and a bit too burned out to write much of anything here. Hopefully I'll be caught up, or at least close enough, come Monday.

Later!

Josiah

9/18/2019 Games, games, games...

Maybe I'll start writing about video games more in these posts. On the one hand, I already spend a good portion of my days talking about video games at work so it's nice to focus on other things a bit at times. On the other hand, when I'm teaching class I tend to talk about very specific games in very specific ways so I don't always get to discuss the games or elements of games that are on my mind at the time. So maybe I'll do more of that here instead. Or maybe not... Travelogue entries aside, I generally don't plan my news posts too far in advance, it just depends on my mood at the time. So we'll see. At very least though, I'll probably be writing a bit about Pokémon Masters soon. But not today since I'd like to have a bit of time to play Catherine Full Body (the main game I'm focusing on now that I've finished Bloodstained) before turning in.

Later!

Josiah

9/16/2019 Taking Google on the road

I've had some issues with Google but I'm still stuck using them for a lot of things. For example, in our new van. It didn't come with a built in GPS. Actually, I'm fine with that since, from my experience, built in car GPS systems tend to be rather lacking compared to stand alone models. I could take the GPS out of our other car, or buy another one, but the van has Android Auto, which lets me hook up my phone to access Google maps, stream music, etc. Actually, it's kind of weird how it all works. I can connect my phone via Bluetooth to stream music and send and receive phone calls and messages. Or I can plug it in to get the full Android Auto experience which includes using Google Maps for navigation. Though there's some weird inconsistencies between the two. For example, when connected over Bluetooth, the car works with both text messaging and Facebook Messenger but not What's App. However, What's App works just fine if the phone is plugged in. Also, over Bluetooth, I can use the car's interface to select any track from my music library (well, sorta; it chokes a bit and only manages to load the first couple of dozen albums) and, when playing, it shows the track name, artist, album, art, and song length. But when the phone is plugged in, I can only select recently played music and playlists (to access anything else, I need to use the phone itself) and, when playing, it doesn't show the album name or length. Not to mention that, when I have the phone plugged in, it still needs to connect via Bluetooth as well for some reason.

Then there's Google Maps itself. While I didn't notice it in the past, after using Google Maps several times to go to the same location, I've realized that, unlike a regular GPS, it doesn't consistantly follow the same route from point A to point B. I assume it changes things up to try and avoid traffic (it does have much better traffic info than the regular GPS). I suppose that can be useful, but I'm not sure that frequently getting rerouted onto back roads is always a good thing.

Anyway, just random musings. For the most part, I like Android Auto, some weird design issues aside. I'll keep using it as long as Google doesn't start giving Google Map blacklists of businesses it doesn't want people to visit (with some of the stuff that's come out about them lately, it could happen).

Later!

Josiah

9/13/2019 Food and traffic

The Kickstarter for Aurora's Nightmare is slowly making progress, but has a long way to go if we want to reach the goal by the end of the month so be sure to tell your friends.

I went to the Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore yesterday. I've written about it before so I won't go into detail. But it was fun and I found some cool products. And then I got stuck in traffic for nearly three hours on my way home because of road closures. That was considerably less fun. Though hey, I was driving our new van so it was comfortable and I had plenty of music to listen to. So it could have been worse.

Anyway, have a good weekend!

Josiah

9/11/2019 Never forget

It's been eighteen years and I still clearly remember that morning. And it's probably better that way. History shouldn't be forgotten, not unless we want it to happen again.

Josiah

9/9/2019 Corn maze

It's week two for the Aurora's Nightmare Kickstarter, and a great time to make a pledge!

And now for that travelogue entry...

August 30th (Friday): Cherry Crest Farm
Connie and I were planning to go to Cherry Crest Farm when we did our overnight trip to Lancaster. But the weather had other ideas. So we went back today for a day trip. This year, Zack was old enough to enjoy most of the different activities on the farm. There's a huge variety and they keep adding more each year. In addition to feeding the goats, which were the surprise highlight of his visit last year, Zack especially loved the water pumps, the wagon train, mini-town, animatronic chicken show, and the corn barn. Speaking of which, I went in the corn barn with him for a while. The dried feed corn they fill it with has got to be at least a foot deep. It's also surprisingly comfortable. I think I'd take a beach of that stuff over sand. Though it does really get stuck in your clothes.
We decided not to take Zack into the big maze this year. There's no way he'd say in a carrier or stroller the entire time, unless he was asleep, and I was worried that he might run off and get lost. So Connie played with Zack while I did the maze. The theme this year is the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. As usual, I went for the "ultimate challenge" which means not only finding the exit, but also tracking down every hidden map piece and crossword puzzle answer. It was a pretty good maze design and I scored one of my better times, making it out in a little under an hour and a half.
All in all, went spent several hours at the farm and, if he didn't need a nap, Zack probably could have played there the rest of the day. But he was getting pretty tired so we left mid-afternoon and decided to get an early start driving home. It was a fun day. The maze was great, as always, and Zack had a blast. Looking forward to going back next year.

Later!

Josiah

9/6/2019 Last chance for Kickstarter specials

While the Kickstarter campaign for Aurora's Nightmare will be running through the end of the month, you only have until the end of the week to take advantage of the Early Morning specials, which let you grab the Angellus or Nightmare reward tiers for a discounted price.

I'm still working on my photos (though I have gotten through everything else on my to-do list), so the travelogue entry will have to wait a little longer, sorry.

See you Monday!

Josiah

9/4/2019 Kickstarting

If you didn't see Monday's update, I just released the demo for Aurora's Nightmare, the visual novel I've been working on. I'm also running a Kickstarter to fund some extra content and features. There's a couple of special limited time discount tiers that are only available until the end of the week, so this is a great time to get onboard if you're interested.

In other news, Connie and I did get back to Cherry Crest Farm over the holiday weekend so I'll have a travelogue entry for that up sometime soon. But not today since I also had to spend a lot of the weekend reading through Walden for the first time for one of my MFA classes. Now, I know it's supposed to be a classic but I was pretty thoroughly unimpressed. The occasional good line or description aside, it was pretty boring and the author was as self righteous and arrogant as he was ignorant. I also had to read a critique on him and his writing afterwards and, apparently, the guy was a serious hypocrite as well. Honestly, I enjoyed the critique a whole lot more than I enjoyed Walden itself. It just goes to show that not every classic holds that designation for a good reason.

Later!

Josiah

9/2/2019 Aurora's Nightmare

For those of you who haven't heard, Aurora's Nightmare is the visual novel game I've been writing and developing in my free time. While the full game isn't going to be finished for a while yet, I've just released the official demo so you can give it a try for yourself. To coincide with the demo's release, I've also launched a Kickstarter campaign. I've been funding Aurora's Nightmare on my own and the game will get finished regardless of how the Kickstarter goes but, if successful, I'll be able to recoup the development costs and devote more time to it. And, if any of the stretch goals are met, I'll be able to add some cool extra features and content like animations and voice acting. If you're interested, please considering backing it. There's even a couple of special backer discounts for this week only. And even if you can't afford to donate right now, please tell all your friends. Kickstarters can live or die by word of mouth, so the more people who hear about it, the better.

I hope you enjoy the demo and I'll see you Wednesday with a new PV strip.

Josiah

8/30/2019 Trying again

The Aurora's Nightmare demo and Kickstarter will be launching on Sunday! I'll tell you all about it on Monday but, if you can't wait, you can check the dev blog on Sunday morning.

In other news, it's the start of a holiday weekend! One week into the semester... Anyway, Connie and I are heading back to PA today to go to Cherry Crest Farm and the corn maze. Though it's just going to be a day trip this time. So I've gotta run.

Have a great weekend!

Josiah

8/28/2019 Long day

While my work schedule this semester is better than the last one overall, Wednesdays are a little ridiculous as I have to be on campus from around 9 AM - 10 PM. At least I have a decent amount of time between classes to work on things. Anyway, I've got one more travelogue entry.

August 23rd (Friday): Hands-On House
We were planning to spend the day at Cherry Crest Farm. Unfortunately, there was a very sudden change in the weather over night and what was supposed to have been a nice sunny day turned into steady rain, wrecking our plans. As such, I ended up spending much of breakfast on my phone, looking up nearby indoor activities that would be good for Zack. On a side note, the breakfast buffet at Hershey Farm is pretty good. It has all your classic breakfast foods along with less well known local specialties (such as scrapple, though that's not something I eat).
But anyway, we settled on a visit to the nearby Hands-On House, a children's museum and play area. It was a pretty nice place, though really crowded since it looked like quite a lot families in the area had the same idea as us. There were several different themed areas including a farm, grocery store, dress up area, and factory. There was also a large outdoor area, but we didn't get to check it out due to the rain. Zack had fun, though there were a few things he wasn't quite old enough to enjoy. If you need an indoor kids' activity in the Lancaster area, it's a good option.
Eventually, we decided to get a quick lunch and drive back home a little early. It wasn't a bad day, but missing out on the farm and maze was pretty disappointing. We're planning to head back there for a day trip sometime soon.

Later!

Josiah

8/26/2019 Dutch Wonderland

It's back to work for me. I have a fairly simple teaching schedule this semester, though I'll have to see how much work my latest set of MFA classes end up being. Regardless, I should have two or three weeks before work starts getting especially busy, which is good since I have some other things I need to get done in the meantime. All that aside, I've got some travelogue entries for that PA trip Connie and I took last week.

August 22nd (Thursday): Dutch Wonderland
Connie and I always go to the Lancaster area in PA for a day in the summer to visit the Amazing Maize Maze at Cherry Crest Farm and do some other sightseeing. This year, we decided to spend the night and make it a two day trip. Both to break up the driving and to give us time to do some more stuff.
Speaking of the drive, I decided to use it to test out our brand new Honda Odyssey, which we just bought a week ago. As hoped, it's great for road trips. It'll also be really useful when we have visitors. On top of that, it was Zack's first time facing forward in the car seat. I think the combination of that and the van's big windows kept him pretty happy since he managed to make it pretty much the entire drive without needing a phone, tablet, or anything besides a couple toys.
But anyway, we decided to use the first day of our trip to take Zack to Dutch Wonderland, which is a theme park in Lancaster that's been around for over 50 years. Now, before you read any further, I should make one thing clear. Dutch Wonderland is for kids. Specifically, little kids. If everyone in your group is at least 10 years old, there's absolutely no reason to go. Head to Hershey Park instead, it's got plenty of stuff for all ages. Honestly, I suspect even a lot of 8 year olds would have more fun at Hershey. That said, Dutch Wonderland is great for little kids. All the rides are kid friendly (either solo riding or with parents). Even Zack, at 2 1/2, was tall enough to go on the vast majority of them. And he loved it. He rode the whip five times in a row, and would have stayed on longer if we didn't lure him away to try other rides. The park isn't overly large, but there's a good number of kids rides, some shows (which we didn't watch so I can't comment on) a big sandbox and playground area, and a water park (mostly a large elaborate splash pad, with handful of small slides).
We stayed until mid-afternoon, at which point Zack really needed a nap, so we left to check into our hotel. For convenience, we stayed at Hershey Farm (not related to Hershey Chocolate), since Connie and I always eat at the buffet there anyway. While it's not the cheapest hotel in the area, the rooms are fairly nice and they've got a pool, two playgrounds, farm animals, and the buffet (breakfast is free, and you get 20% off other meals). You can even buy smoothies and ice cream 24 hours a day in the lobby, which I saw quite a lot of people take advantage of. They can also get you discounted tickets to a number of local attractions. Anyway, after Zack's nap and a bit of time in the playground, we hit the buffet for dinner (very good, as described in previous years' travelogues) and then Zack chased geese for a while before bed. I knew he loved chasing birds, but it was a bit odd to see him chasing a after a whole flock of geese that were each as big as he is. It's good that they're not especially aggressive.
Unfortunately, despite being tired, Zack really didn't want to go to sleep (he's been fighting it a lot lately), which made our night a bit more exhausting than it should have been, but otherwise it was a pretty good day.

More on Wednesday. Later!

Josiah

8/23/2019 Last hurrah

Connie and I are on our annual trip to Pennsylvania to visit my favorite corn maze. But this year we decided to make it a two day event and do a bit more in the area to wrap up the summer. Expect a couple travelogue entries next week. I was debating trying to sort through my first day's photos and get the first entry done for today...but I've had a lot of late nights lately and there's no telling how well Zack will sleep in the hotel, so I'm going to go to bed early for once.

Have a good weekend and I'll be back to work and back to PV (probably with a travelogue entry) on Monday.

Josiah

8/21/2019 So close...

Not much to say. I've been spending a lot of time doing stuff with Zack, so I'm still not quite done with my last class. I should get it finished today though. Then it's off to Pennsylvania for a last couple days of summer fun. Speaking of which, there's a chance I might miss Friday's update because of the trip. Though that hopefully won't be the case.

Later!

Josiah

8/19/2019 One more week

The demo for Aurora's Nightmare, the visual novel game I'm developing, will be released to the public on September 1st!

It's the last week before fall semester. I've got three out of my four classes ready to go, but the last one still needs a solid day or so of work. Connie and I will be taking a little trip later in the week though, which will be fun and should lead to a couple travelogue posts. For now though, I've got a busy day or two ahead of me.

Later!

Josiah

8/16/2019 On a Friday?

Been awhile since I've posted a regular comic on a Friday. Though in this case it was due to an updating error back with Monday's comic. I originally started posting Blooper Reel comics on the main page on Fridays because I was having trouble getting Top Web Comics to update its voting incentives. Eventually though, I stopped checking TWC and just made Friday Blooper Reel comics on the main page the norm. I wouldn't mind getting back to three regular strips per week, plus a Blooper Reel but, between my work, studies, and family, I'm a lot busier than I used to be and having to make one less strip per week really helps sometimes. So I think I'll stick with the current approach, at least for now.

Have a good weekend!

Josiah

8/14/2019 Oops...

It looks like Monday's comic didn't update properly (been a long time since that happened). It was added to the archives but didn't appear on the main page like it was supposed to. So, I'm putting it back up today for everyone who missed it and I'll post the comic that was supposed to go up today on Friday instead of a Blooper Reel.

Sorry for the mix-up.

Josiah

8/12/2019 Another year

Pebble Version has passed yet another anniversary. Honestly, I never thought it would continue this long. Not that I thought I'd give up or anything, but I never thought it would take anywhere near this long to finish to the story. To be fair, that's kind of my fault. I certainly could have abbreviated a lot. But whatever, we're getting fairly close to the end so there's no point in changing things up now.

Here's to another year!

Josiah





Pokemon and all related images and trademarks are copyrighted by Nintendo, one of my favorite games companies who would certainly never waste their time by trying to sue me. Especially since I'm protected under the Fair Use Rule of the United States Copyright Act of 1976. Aside from that the actual site content is copyrighted by me, Josiah Lebowitz 2003.