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(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
Year 17: 8/12/2019 - 8/10/2020
Year 18: 8/12/2020 - 8/09/2021

1/12/2022 Goodbye to Hawaii

Tomorrow night we'll be heading back home. As a result, there will be no PV update on Friday.

Unfortunately, no travelogue post today since I'm running a bit late. I've got two or three more entries to wrap it up, but it looks like they'll have to wait until next week.

See you Monday!

Josiah

1/10/2022 Fun in Hawaii

Back to the travelogue.

January 4th (Tuesday): Sea Life Park
We visited Sea Life Park two years ago, and Zack really enjoyed it. But we couldn't go back last year due to COVID restrictions. But now the park is open again and since I didn't get a chance to see the entire thing last time (Connie and I left early to go horseback riding) I figure it's worth another write-up.
Sea Life Park is sort of like a mini Sea World. It's pretty much all outdoors and has a focus on shows and animal watching instead of rides. Zack especially enjoyed feeding animals like sea turtles, fish, and birds (even though the birds they have really aren't "sea life"). The birds were his favorite by far and we ended up going back to them multiple times. Animal feeding aside, the main thing to do at Sea Life is watch the shows. Unfortunately, the really good sea lion show that they had last time isn't being done anymore but they do have a new (if not quite as good) one. There were also animal feedings, some primarily educational shows, and a really good dolphin show (one of the better ones I've seen). As a side note, the dolphin on the far right of the second picture (with the darker skin) isn't actually a dolphin, but a wolphin (a rare whale/dolphin cross-breed), which is kind neat. Shows and feedings aside, you can walk around and look at the animals, and there's a decent playground. If you skip the shows you could easily see everything the park has to offer in an hour or less. But with them, you can stretch that out to 2 - 3 hours easily enough.
In the end, I wouldn't really say that Sea Life Park is a must see on Oahu, but it's a fun way to spend a morning, especially with kids.

Later!

Josiah

1/7/2022 Under the sea

I've really been running behind on this travelogue despite relatively few posts. Let's see what I can do about that...

December 29th (Wednesday): Scuba Diving
My brother said he had some sort of birthday surprise planned for me on the 29th. I had a few guesses as to what it might be, but scuba diving wasn't one of them. The reason? I was under the impression that you needed a license to scuba, even with a guide. But it seems I was wrong (to be fair, I heard it many years ago and in a different state at that). Anyway, once I found out, I was pretty excited. I actually did scuba dive once before, but that was many years ago in a swimming pool, as part of a class. I've always wanted to scuba in the ocean. Snorkeling is great, but sometimes I really want to get a bit deeper and take a closer look at things.
Anyway, my brother has a friend who does scuba expeditions, so he set up a session for us and some of his friends. We met at a beach at the south end of Lahaina to gear up and go over the basics. As a note, scuba tanks are pretty heavy. What's even heavier is all the weights you need to wear in your suit. Why weights? Well, although you can drown in the ocean, humans are fairly buoyant (not to mention all the air in that tank), so if you want to sink, you need to weigh yourself down a bit. All that weight isn't really a problem when you're in the water, but it's pretty tiring to lug around on land.
We headed into the water by an old dock, the ruins of which have become a reef. (If you're wondering, that's me in the second picture. My brother brought his GoPro so he was the photographer this time around.) Despite being so close to the shore, it's a pretty nice snorkeling/scuba spot. Very good coral, lots of fish, even a bunch of sea turtles. Snorkeling is fun, but it's great being able to stay under for a long time without having to worry about coming up for air. We even swam underneath some overhangs and such. Unfortunately, I probably could have used one more weight, as I had a tendency to start floating towards the surface if I wasn't careful. That was annoying, but I had a lot of fun regardless. Hard not to with such great scenery. There was even a shark, though not a type that's particularly dangerous to humans. We were probably in the water around 45 minutes or so before heading back to shore. It wore me out a bit more than expected, but it was a lot of fun and I would definitely go again sometime.

December 31st (Friday): New Years Eve in Honolulu
On Thursday, Connie, Zack, and I flew to Oahu with my parents. As usual, we enjoyed our time on Maui. It was relaxing and we got to do a lot of fun family stuff. But we were also looking forward to a couple week in Honolulu. Unfortunately, Friday not only marked New Year's Eve, but also the start of a big rainy spell that blanketed the whole island. I had originally planned to head down to Waikiki Beach for the big fireworks show, but with all the rain, I wasn't sure they would even hold it. In the end, the weather did clear up eventually, but the sand was bound to be a soggy mess by then and I figured I could get a decent view from the walkway across from my parents' condo. Unfortunately, I was wrong about that, there was a big building in the way. And by the time I realized it, it was too late to go to the beach anyway so I ended up hanging out the deck of the condo. Turns out, I got a pretty good show anyway. I've noticed it before, but people in Hawaii really like their illegal fireworks. There were scattered bursts here and there starting at sunset, but it really kicked into high gear at midnight. The video is only a short part, there was a solid 10 - 15 minutes before things died down. It was fun to watch, though I suspect that launching such large fireworks right in the middle of the city, just barely above some of the buildings, is a pretty bad idea, especially for amateurs. But hey, I got to see some good fireworks and the city didn't burn down (though that might only be because it rained so much beforehand), so win-win I guess.

Still note quite caught up, but getting there. Have a good weekend!

Josiah

1/3/2022 Happy new year! UPDATE

PDATE 1/5/2011: Some stuff came up at the last minute which I had to deal with right away. Then, as I was working on that, I realized that I'd forgotten about some other work that I really should have finished a couple of days ago. Long story short, by the time I finished everything, I didn't really have enough time left to get today's Pebble Version update ready. But at least I got all that stuff done so this shouldn't happen again.

Welcome to 2022! Here's hoping the world at large develops some common sense and we have a better year than the last one. Though I'm not holding my breath.

December 27th (Monday): The Iao Valley
While I have visited most of the tourist spots on Maui, I never had made it to the Iao Valley. Honestly, it just wasn't much of a priority. But my mom was heading to that part of the island on some errands so we decided to stop by. A little ways before the valley itself is Kepaniwai Park, which contains a number of different small gardens to honor the people of various cultures that have made their home on Maui over the years. Including Korean, Portuguese, and Japanese. It's a pretty place, but there isn't much to do besides walk around and take a few pictures so you can see everything in 15 minutes or so. As for the Iao Valley itself, it's also very scenic. There's some short hiking trails, the main one of which takes you up to get a good view of the Iao Needle. There's a decent number of steps but it's still a pretty short and simple hike that most people shouldn't have any trouble with. And that's about it. We walked around, snapped some pictures, then left to get lunch and take Zack to a playground. Between the park and the valley, the Iao Valley area is worth a short stop for the scenery, but don't expect it to take more than an hour or two (if you really take your time) to see it all.

Later!

Josiah

12/31/2021 Going under

Made it to Oahu without any problems. Got some more Maui stuff to write about though so let's get back to the travelogue.

December 22nd (Wednesday): Atlantis Submarine
The oceans around Hawaii have some pretty nice reefs and fish but not everyone can go snorkeling or scuba diving to see them. However, there are other options. Glass bottom boats work, but you can see more if you actually go under the water and for that, you need a submarine. The submarine company I always saw ads for back in Honolulu was Atlantis and it turns out that they've got a Maui branch as well. My brother and parents had taken an interest in it so we decided do a family outing.
The submarine tour departs from Lahaina, though you actually have to take a boat out to the submarine itself. It's a little cramped, but there's plenty of port holes so everyone has a good view. The boat ride was a bit choppy, but once you're underwater, you don't really feel the movement at all. The sub goes down to around 130 feet below and you get to see lots of fish, reefs, and even a sunken ship. You don't really see anything quite as close or as clearly as when you're in the water yourself, but it's a neat (and easy) way to get a look at the world "under the sea." The submarine ride itself lasted for around 45 minutes, and then it was back on the boat for the return trip to Lahaina. It was fun, and I suppose I'd go again if the opportunity came up, but I'd say that if you're physically fit enough, a good snorkeling tour (or even scuba) is the better option. That said, for older people, those with young children (like my son and nephew), or even those who feel too nervous to go swimming themselves, a submarine ride is worth a look.

And that's it for today. I have one more Maui entry to write, but I'm waiting for a copy of the photos so it'll have to wait.

Later!

Josiah

12/29/2021 On to Oahu

Tomorrow we'll be heading to Oahu for the remainder of our vacation. I was hoping to have another travelogue entry done for today (got a couple more Maui things to write about), but I'm running a little late so it'll have to wait for Friday.

Later!

Josiah

12/27/2021 Hanging in Hawaii

Let's get the new travelogue started.

December 13th - 21st (Monday - Tuesday): Family Time
As usual, winter break means visiting my family in Hawaii. And, as usual, we're splitting our time between Maui and Oahu. While traveling to Hawaii is a bit easier than it was last year, they're still one of the more strict states in regards to COVID restrictions and force all travelers to show proof of vaccination or get a COVID test to avoid a quarantine. You have to sign up for their special web site, upload documents ahead of time, and the like. It's a pain in the neck but I already did it (and wrote about it) last year so at least I knew what to expect. And, although travel is starting to ramp back up, flights are still kind of weird. For some reason, flights from Baltimore were way cheaper than the Virginia/DC airports. Though BWI is a little bit far from my place for a taxi or Uber, especially for a really early flight. In the end, we went to Baltimore a day early, took Zack to the aquarium, then spent the night in a hotel and left the car in a long term parking lot. Surprisingly enough, that was still, much, much cheaper than any other flight options.
The trip itself was smooth enough, though our first flight sat at the gate for a little while because they were missing a part for one of their fire extinguishers. And we weren't able to get the new wrist bands that you can pick up to avoid the COVID paperwork check line when arriving in Hawaii (convenient, but they're only available in certain airports and there's no guarantee the desk that handles it will be anywhere near your gate). But all in all it was an ok trip.
Maui hasn't changed too much since we were here just under a year ago. They don't try to make you wear masks outside anymore, which is nice, but you have to show proof of vaccination to eat inside a restaurant (at least officially, some restaurants are ignoring it). But most stuff is up and running and the number of tourists has certainly increased a lot compared to last year (can't say how it compares to pre-COVID numbers though). Since I've written about Maui and Hawaii in general a lot in my previous travelogues, I'm going to gloss over a lot this time around and mostly focus on some highlights and new things.
Our first week was mostly spent hanging out with with family and doing things in the area. Playing with Zack on the trampoline, going to the beach, that type of stuff. Connie and I did get away for a little while to see Spiderman (which is great), but otherwise we mostly hung out with my parents and/or my brother's family. We did, however, spend one night in a hotel. That's not something we normally do here since staying with my parents is free, but someone has gifted them a night at the Hyatt Regency in Lahaina so we headed up there for a day with my brother's family so the kids could have fun in the giant pool. While not quite as elaborate as the pools at some of the resorts I've seen, it's still big, fancy, and has a nice kids area so we had no trouble passing a few hours there. We also got to check out the hotel's assortment of tropical birds and enjoy the great view from our room and the sunset over the beach. It was a fun change of pace since we don't normally get the whole resort experience. There's certainly some very nice (and expensive) hotels around here.
Anyway, it's been a pleasant and relaxing time, though not especially exciting. We will be doing some more interesting things later on though...

Well, that's enough for today. I'll try and get completely caught up later in the week.

Josiah

12/24/2021 The day before Christmas

Not much to say today. I'm having a good vacation so far, though trying to get some work in here and there as well. Expect some travelogue posts soon, though I need to sort through my photos first. For now, have a good weekend and merry Christmas!

Josiah

12/22/2021 Neo Part 2

Continuing where I left off last time, let's talk a bit about the story in Neo The World Ends With You. First off, if you're a returning player and you're eager to see the resolution of the teasers from the original game and mobile port, not to mention the cliff-hanger from Final Remix, don't worry, everything will be explained and brought to a fitting conclusion. However, if you're eager to catch up with Neku, Shiki, and the rest of the gang from the first game, you'll need to be patient. With the exception of Minamimoto ("So zetta slow!"), who pops up pretty early on, the rest of the original cast takes quite a while to return. And, if you're not familiar with the first game, you may end up wondering who some of them are and why they suddenly appear late in the game to take on important roles. That aside though, Neo does do a pretty good job of explaining things for players who are new the series. But honestly, the first game is excellent so there's really no good reason not to play it first.
You'll be spending most of the game with a new group of players who find themselves pulled into the deadly Reaper's Game. Though the game has changed in a number of ways since Neku and his friends first found themselves in Shibuya's UG. Most notably, it now features large teams of players competing against each other. Newcomers Rindo, Frett, and Nagi join with Minamimoto to form their own team, The Wicked Twisters, and try to find some way to unseat the reigning champion Ruinbringers and escape the game. The team aspect is interesting but unfortunately, with the exception of the Wicked Twisters and Ruinbringers themselves, the teams are basically comprised of an interesting and unique team leader and a whole bunch of generic mooks, which is a bit of a missed opportunity and just feels kind of lazy. Though it does allow for some relatively large-scale battles. Fortunately, generic team members aside, the new characters are all interesting and well written, providing a large variety of styles and personalities. The Wicked Twisters in particular have a great synergy and it's always fun watching them interact. The main plot is also very well done with a good build-up, strong pacing, plenty of interesting twists, and a suitably epic and satisfying finale.
However, there is one area where Neo drops the ball a bit. Back in the original TWEWY, a huge part of the plot was Neku's character development as he learned to open up and trust others. But in Neo, the character development takes a bit of a back seat. The new reapers and enemy team leaders mostly get solid character arcs (with a particular shout-out to Shoka) but the same can't be said about the core members of the Wicked Twisters Themselves. Rindo supposedly has an issue with learning to step up and make decisions for himself (as opposed to being a more passive follower), but it's only briefly mentioned a few times early on and it wasn't long until I forgot about it entirely until it got a bit more mention in the post-game (more on that later). The concept is fine, it just wasn't given enough emphasis throughout the story. Next up is Frett who actually has a really cool arc that I don't want to spoil. Only problem is that he gets virtually no character development until you're about 75% of the way through the game and even then it's condensed into a handful of scenes. Good scenes, but also too little too late in many respects. And Nagi...apparently doesn't need any real character growth or development. Despite appearances to the contrary, she's already wise and adjusted enough to handle herself pretty well (first appearance aside) and even help the others overcome their issues. All in all, the character development is a bit disappointing, especially since, speaking as a writer, it would have been relatively simple to fix up the emphasis and pacing and giving the characters the growth and development they deserved. Once again though, I want to reiterate that the characters are fun and well written, the main plot is very good, and there are some strong character arcs as well. Just don't expect to see the core cast members learn and grow the same way Neku and his friends did in the original game.
Much like the first game, Neo is spread over several weeks of game time and you'll eventually unlock the ability to replay previously completed days to collect any missed items, rank higher in various special battles, challenge bosses on other difficulty levels, and uncover secret reports that add some extra detail and context to the story. Unfortunately, there's no presents to find this time around and the reports, while interesting and worth collecting, don't contain any big reveals like they did in the first game. And, like the first game, there's a handful of bosses that can't easily be rechallenged without replaying most / all of the related day, which can be a bit of a pain if you're trying to 100% your pin collection and noisepedia (enemy database). On the bright side, Another Day makes its return, offering a hilarious adventure in an alternate dimension complete the most challenging gauntlets and enemies in the game. It does feel a little short and simple compared to the original's Another Day, but it's still fun.
There's still a lot I haven't touched on, but I don't want to get into spoilers for a pretty recent game. Anyway, long story short, Neo The World Ends With You is an excellent game and it was totally worth the wait. While it doesn't quite reach the heights of its predecessor, fans of the original will not be disappointed and even new players will find a lot to love (but seriously, play the original game first).
So, will we have to wait another fourteen years for a third game? Or, for that matter, do we even need one? Well, Neo wraps up everything without a single plot hook so, even more so than with the original game, there's no need for a sequel. That said, the setting and concept still have a lot of potential and I wouldn't say no to another trip to Shibuya. Or maybe it's time to see how the Reaper's Game is played in others parts of Tokyo. Akihabara or Shinjuku, for example, would make excellent settings for future entries. But whether I have to wait three years or fourteen, or if this really is the end, I'm grateful that TWEWY finally got the sequel it deserved.

Later!

Josiah

12/20/2021 Neo

Ok, finally time to write a bit about Neo The World Ends With You.

The World Ends With You didn't need a sequel. The original game wrapped up the story very nicely, with only a single minor sequel hook hidden behind the hardest optional boss fight. But the setting, characters, and gameplay still had so much potential that I really wanted another game. Unfortunately, that sequel never came. But there were hints that the developers hadn't forgotten. The mobile port had a more obvious sequel teaser added to the ending. Then the main characters got a cameo in Kingdom Hearts DDD. And TWEWY Final Remix on the Switch included a brand new epilogue chapter which didn't just tease a sequel, but featured a full-on cliff hanger ending. Then, finally, after 13 years (14 from the Japanese release) we finally got the sequel that many (myself included) thought would never come. So was Neo The World Ends With You worth the wait? In short, yes. It doesn't quite reach the heights of the original, but it's still a brilliant return to Shibuya and the UG. Want to know more? Read on.

While Neo does a good job of bringing back the style and spirit of its predecessor, a lot has changed. First off, the game is now full 3D, though the 2D manga style is retained for dialogue and most cut-scenes. Despite that, it looks good and retains the highly stylized anime/manga look of the original. The characters look good and Shibuya is bigger and better than ever. While I do miss the fantastic sprite work of the first game, Neo's visuals don't disappoint. Though I will note that the 3D perspective makes chaining noise a little more difficult.
Another standout element of the original game was its soundtrack, which featured an eclectic mix of J-Pop, Rock, Rap, and the like. I've listened to it tons of times over the years and, while I can't say that every track was a hit, it's incredibly catchy overall and one of my most-listened-to soundtracks. I've even had one song (the very appropriately named Calling) as my ring tone for years. Neo's soundtrack features a similarly diverse mix and somehow manages to be just as catchy as the original. I hadn't even finished the first week in-game before I bought a copy and I haven't been able to stop listening to it since. There's some returning favorites (like Twister and Calling), but also a lot of excellent new songs. I'll probably be listening to Insomnia, Kill the Itch, Shibuya Survivor, and Unpainted, among others, for years to come.
Of course, the move from DS to Switch and from 2D to 3D means the battle system needed a complete rebuild. The new one is a action combo based system (kind of like Valkyrie Profile or Indivisible). While I miss the original, battles in Neo are fast, fun, and strategic. Though it unfortunately prevents your individual party members from having any unique abilities or skills in battle, as everything simply depends on their equipped pin. As a side note, you can still chain multiple encounters and fight at a reduced level to to increase your drop rate, creating a great risk vs. reward mechanic.
Beyond that, most of the old systems are back including pins (and their evolutions), threads, fashion, shopping, and food have returned. Though most of them have been streamlined and simplified a bit compared to the original game. Some of those changes are clear improvements. For example, I like the way eating is handled now and not having to worry about (or ignore) different fashion trends in each part of the city is probably for the best. On the other hand, some aren't so great. Pin evolution, for example, is much easier to grasp and control, but a bit less exciting as a result. And the change in how style and thread abilities work, while convenient, is a bit disappointing as well and robs the system of much of its impact. But those are essentially minor issues. As a side note, a few things such as Reaper Creeper and Tin Pin Slammer (which I actually liked quite a bit) have been dropped entirely, but they're still referenced in sports, which I appreciate.
But while Neo generally succeeds in regards to its audiovisuals and gameplay, the story and characters are just as important, if not more so. So how did they fare? Well, this post has already gone on pretty long so I think I'll save that for next time.

Later!

Josiah

12/17/2021 Low power

No time to write much today. I don't have a plug socket handy and the battery in my laptop is running low. Expect that Neo TWEWY post and probably some travelogue next week.

Have a good weekend!

Josiah

12/15/2021 Vacation start!

The trip to Hawaii went pretty smoothly. I had to spend most of yesterday gradining finals but now that's finished and I'm ready to relax a bit. Of course, it's not like I won't be working at all for the rest of the trip. I want to prep my spring class and then do some writing. But it's still a break and I am looking forward to it.

Later!

Josiah

12/10/2021 TWEWY

I'm in the midst of finals right now but winter break is closing in fast. As usual, we'll be heading to Hawaii for a little while to visit my family. Expect at least a few travelogue entries while we're there. As a heads up though, there might not be a PV update on Monday due to our travel schedule.

For a while I've been saying that I wanted to write a bit about Neo The World Ends With You. Well today...is not that day. Because I want to write a bit about the original The World Ends With You as a lead-up. Now, I've written fairly extensively about it in the past (see my textbook on game writing and the entry for Oct 15, 2018 for example). Long story short, it's one of favorite games of all time. It's fun, extremely unique, and does an utterly brilliant job of tying the story and gameplay elements together in a way that few games manage. While I suppose it's not for "everybody" (because, if we're being honest, no game is for everyone), I really can't recommend it enough. But which version should you play? Well, the original DS version is cheap and easy to find and the original two screen battle system, while it takes some getting used to, is the one of the most fun and unique RPG battle systems I've ever encountered. Then you have Solo Remix, the mobile phone version. Which is...easy to get I suppose. No need for a game console, but the battle system unfortunately got simplified to work on one screen. It's still good, but not the best version by any metric. Then there's Final Remix on the Switch. It got an HD upscale and, most importantly, a new epilogue chapter that features a direct cliff-hanger setup for the sequel. Really the only downside of Final Remix is that is uses the single-screen mobile version of the battle system. Once again, it's still awesome, but the battles and controls just aren't quite as good as on the DS. So unfortunately, there isn't a truly definitive version. The original DS game has the better gameplay but Final Remix has the epilogue and the mobile version...exists. So yeah, just play whichever one you want. But if you don't play Final Remix, you should go online and watch a gameplay video of A New Day (the epilogue chapter) before moving on to Neo The World Ends With You. It's not an absolute must see, but it'll make some parts of the story easier to understand.

Or, if you really don't want to play one of the greatest games ever for some reason but are still interested in the story, there's the recent The World Ends With You anime series which you can stream on Funimation. So how is it? Visually, the game's distinct art style got toned down a bit for easier animation. Also, the entire thing is CG, which is usually a big turn-off for anime. But, despite that, the TWEWY anime actually still look pretty good, nails the proper visual style, and has a lot of great nods to the game mixed in. Good soundtrack too, though it doesn't use any many tracks from the game as I would have liked. Of course, what really matters is the story. TWEWY anime does a pretty good job of condensing the main storyline of the game into twelve episodes and even manage to fit in a handful of original scenes that I really like. But the length is a problem. They have to rush through the plot a bit to fit it all in and the first week gets hit especially hard, smashing seven days into three episodes. Worse, while they do hit all the main plot points, they have to drop virtually every sub-plot and side character in order to do so. While events in the game like Shiki fixing a loose button on Neku's pants, or Neku and Joshua helping the owner of a ramen restaurant regain his passion in the face of a new competitor, are in no way vital to the main plot, they go a long way towards developing the characters and setting. And considering that a key theme in TWEWY is how Neku learns to open up and connect with other people, without all those extra scenes the character growth and development suffers quite a bit, and the plot along with it. So, while the TWEWY anime servers as a perfectly decent primer or refresher for the main plot, it loses a lot of the soul and impact of the game. I really would have loved to see what the team could have done with, say, 26 episodes. That would have given them the time needed to fully flesh out the story and maybe also include both the hilarious Another Day bonus story that unlocks at the end of the game and A New Day. Yes, that's right, as much as the anime was probably meant to build more interest in the series leading up to Neo, it doesn't actually contain the big cliff hanger that sets up for the entire plot of the sequel... So yeah, the anime is a kind of fun (if slightly disappointing) watch if you've already played the original game. If you haven't, you could use it to try and get up to speed but the story loses a lot of impact in its abbreviated form and you'll still want to go online to watch A New Day before playing Neo.

And with that out of the way, I'm finally ready to write about Neo itself. Expect that next week if I don't get too jetlagged.

Have a good weekend!

Josiah

12/8/2021 Further consideration

Well, since my last post, I read a bunch of reviews (postive and negative) of Amazon's The Wheel of Time adaptation to see what other people thought and get an idea of where it goes in the later episodes. I also spent awhile discussing it with a friend of mine. In the end, I decided that I'm not going to bother watching another episode. One was enough. It's pretty rare for me not to give a new series two or three episodes before making up my mind, but from what I've heard about the rest of the season, I'm pretty certain that watching more won't change my mind. And I'm hardly alone in my opinion. Judging from the reviews, it tends to be a love it or hate it type of thing. Actually, "love" may be too strong. Like it or hate it? Anyway, it seemed that around 90% - 95% of people who had read the books fell squarely into the "hate it" catagory. And since I love the books and have read them multiple times... Yeah. Like I said before, if you're not familiar with the books, you might enjoy Amazon's The Wheel of Time, though I'm sure you could also find plenty of better things to watch. I do, however, highly recommend the original books, so long as you've got the patience for a very, very long series.

Later!

Josiah

12/6/2021 The Wheel of Time

I was going to write about Neo The World Ends With You today...but I just watched the first episode of Amazon's The Wheel of Time and I want to talk about it instead.

So, first off, I'm a huge fan of original Wheel of Time novels written by Robert Jordan. I started reading it in my early teens, when I was first getting into epic fantasy, and it's still one of my favorites. That said, I never expected a TV or movie adaptation. In addition to being a big epic fantasy with castles, monsters, magic, and all of that stuff which requires a massive budget, it's also really long. You think Game of Thrones (or Song of Ice and Fire, if we're talking about the original books) is long? It's got nothing on The Wheel of Time. Jordan's epic is 14 volumes (twice as many as Song is, or at least will be whenever the last two books finally get finished), most of which are easily in the 700 - 1000 page range. It spans numerous countries and dozens of important characters. Even in the post Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones era, it just seems too big and expensive for a live action adaptation. But apparently Amazon really wanted their own alternative to Game of Thrones so they decided to take a stab at it. How'd they do?

Full discloser, I've only seen the first episode so far...but I'm actually not sure I want to watch any more. First off, I got to say that they did a good job with the sets and scenery. Nice special effects and a high budget too. The magic and monsters look great. Casting, however, is a pretty mixed bag. Some of the characters look pretty good, others look somewhat miscast. But, while I really hate to say it, the biggest problem with the casting is that it's too multi-racial. Now I've got nothing against a mixed cast, or an entirely foreign cast for that matter (not with all the Asian stuff I watch), but it needs to make sense given the setting. While the world of Wheel includes a number of different races, the story starts out in a medieval European type setting where nearly all the inhabitants are white. More than that, the first location is a small isolated village (The Two Rivers) where even a traveling merchant is a rarity. Yet in the show, that village is somehow more multi-racial than the average modern US city. Even my wife (who is Chinese and never read the books) thought the racial mix of the village was weird and unnatural.

I could overlook the overly politically correct casting if they did a good job with the story itself...unfortunately the first episode didn't give me much hope in that regard. Now, I'm a writer and while I primarily focus on novels and games, I'm fairly familiar with TV and film scripts as well and I understand the differences between mediums. So I'm not one those people who complains if a film adaptation isn't a perfect scene by scene recreation of the book. Changes are necessary. So when I'm watching a film adaptation of a book I like, I fully expect to see some changes. Maybe even a lot of changes. But those changes needs to make sense given the characters and story. I need to see a good reason for why those changes were made. Now when I watch the Lord of the Rings movies or Game of Thrones, for example, I can look at probably 90% - 95% of the changes, understand why they were made, and agree that they make sense. On the other hand, when I watch the Harry Potter movies, most of the changes seem entirely nonsensical and only serve to weaken the story and characters. And The Witcher (Netflix's attempt at an epic fantasy adaptation) is somewhere inbetween. Unfortunately, the first episode of The Wheel of Time was much more like Harry Potter than Lord of the Rings. There were some minor details they got wrong which aren't really a problem...but are annoying since they would have been really easy to get right. But more importantly, they made a very large number of changes to many of the main characters which, if carried to their natural conclusions, will drastically change their personalities and relationships going forward. I could go into detail about all the notable changes they made and why so many of them are a bad idea...but that'd take a while and would only be of interest to hardcore fans like myself so let's just say that many of the characters were changed a lot and not in any particularly good or sensible ways.

I do want to call out one particular change that doesn't have to do with the characters, but rather the main plot. As stated as the very beginning of the show, a major focus early on is discovering the identity of the Dragon Reborn (the reincarnation of a legendary hero (and villain, it's complicated)). It's known early on that the dragon reborn is probably one of three young men, but they're not sure which. The show, however, emphasizes that no one knows if the Dragon Reborn is a man or a woman, and adds a couple of the female characters to the list of suspects. But, as someone who knows the entire storyline, the Dragon Reborn can only be a man. There's a number of story reasons that a female Dragon Reborn simply wouldn't make any sense (in fact, it would break a key plot point entirely). In the books, this was understood and there was never any question whatsoever about the Dragon Reborn's gender. So why change that for the TV show? I mean, it's not like they're going to change the identity of the Dragon Reborn (if they did that, they might as well make an entirely new story from scratch). Unfortunately, I can't think of any other reason than political correctness (gotta give both genders a fair change of being the "chosen one" or something). Having a female lead or chosen one is fine (I've written some myself), but in this particular story the very possibility makes absolutely no sense and every character who knows anything about the Dragon Reborn should realize that.

But that's enough ranting (though I could go on for quite a while). Lately, I've seen a number of very good film adaptations of books I like so I had fairly high hopes for The Wheel of Time. Unfortunately, at this point I'm not sure I even want to watch the second episode and that episode would have to be pretty amazing to make me stick around any longer than that. To be fair, I'll note that, had I never read the books, I'd probably think the first episode was...not amazing, but decent. Certainly good enough to watch another episode or two. So if you're not especially familiar with The Wheel of Time, you could find worse things to watch. But if you're looking for another excellent book to film fantasy adaptation like The Lord of the Rings or The Game of Thrones...The Wheel of Time is not it. This is yet another case where you're much better off with the original books.

Josiah

12/3/2021 Getting closer...

Ok, I'm caught up on grading (again). Now I've got a few days to work through various things on my to-do list before it's time to grade finals and then, off on winter break. Time sure seems to fly sometimes. Hopefully I can get everything done before vacation.

Anyway, my plan is to also get caught up on PV strips over the weekend and then next week I can actually take the time to write a substantial news post or two. For now though, have a good weekend and happy Chanukah!

Later!

Josiah

12/1/2021 Still keeping it short

Doing a bit better on sleep, but I didn't get any PV strips for this week done ahead of time, plus I've got a bunch of other things I've trying to get done this week so I'm still a bit short on time.

Later!

Josiah

11/29/2021 Recovery

Zack didn't sleep well the other night and I'm pretty exhausted so I'll see you Wednesday.

Josiah

11/26/2021 Relax...

Thanksgiving was very nice, but I'm pretty worn out so I'm off.

Have a good weekend!

Josiah

11/24/2021 Happy Thanksgiving!

Finally caught up with things so I was able to get all my comics done on time this week. Anyway, happy Thanksgiving to my US readers! Well, technically it's tomorrow, but close enough. And hey, even if you don't live in the US, it never hurts to celebrate all the things you're thankful for. It's easy to get caught up focusing on the negative but when you look at things objectively, most of us have it pretty good. And even for those of us that don't, we're still mostly way better off (in terms of general quality of life) than the average person from even 100 years ago. Life will never be perfect, but you'll be much happier and healthier if you remember to be thankful for all the things you do have.

Later!

Josiah

11/22/2021 Sales

Black Friday sales are starting a bit early this year. On the one hand, that means it a good time to grab some stuff I've been wanting for a while. On the other hand, that also means I get tempted to spend a bit more money than I really should... Anyway, I certainly don't need to worry about running out of books or games any time soon. The only problem is finding the time to go through them all.

Later!

Josiah

11/19/2021 On to the holidays!

Well, I'm all caught up on grading...until Monday. Which means I probably won't have time to get all my errands and housework done before then... Oh well, I do get part of the week off for Thanksgiving, which I'm looking forward to. No big family get-together this year either, but we're going to have some friends over, which will be fun. And then the week after Thanksgiving will be Chanukah. After that it's finals, and then winter break. Not long now...

Have a good weekend!

Josiah

11/15/2021 One month to go... UPDATE

UPDATE 11/17/2021: I really hate to do this two weeks in a row but between trying to catch up on grading after last week, computer problems, and such I didn't have time to get today's comic done. Updates resume on Friday and this will hopefully be the last time I have to skip an update for a while.

Well, technically just under a month but anyway, winter break isn't too far off. This semester has been...busy. Which is a bit strange. For one thing, for the first time in a while, I wasn't taking any MFA classes. And those tended to eat up a lot of time. And, on top of that, I've got a relatively light course load this semester as well. But, despite all that, between creating new lecture material and various home and family stuff, it seems like I've always got lots to do. So, as usual, I'm really looking forward to taking a break. Just a few more weeks and teaching, grading, and to-do list stuff then off for a (hopefully) relaxing vacation.

Later!

Josiah

11/12/2021 Finally

Finally got the lectures done. Now I just need to do some grading (slightly behind on that due to those lectures), catch up on a few household things (lawn work, fixing a shelf, etc.) and I'm good.

Later!

Josiah

11/8/2021 Lecturing UPDATE

UPDATE 11/10/2021: Sorry, no comic today. Between those lectures and a bunch of other things that keep popping up I've been kind of swamped with work the past few days and the time I'd normally spend working on the comic had to be used for other things. Updates will resume on Friday once I've had a chance to catch up (more or less).

One of my projects this semester has been to create some new lecture material for my game history class. It's taken a lot longer than I thought it would. Though I suppose it's not that the lectures themselves are taking longer than I expected, just that I haven't had as much time to work on them as I thought I would. Still, I'm finally just about done. Which is good, since I'm kinda approaching the deadline... But anyway, another day or two should do it. And that'll leave me with some more free time to work on other stuff, which is good.

Anyway, time for a last push...

Josiah

11/5/2021 Hooked

Lately, I've been listening and relistening to the soundtrack for Neo The World Ends With You. I'm listening to it right now in fact. As with the first game, it's a rather eclectic mix of J-Pop, J-Rap, J-Rock and a few other things in both Japanese and English. Honestly, quite a lot of the tracks are in styles I don't normally listen to. But there's just something about it, or quite a lot of the tracks at least, that really grabs me for some reason. Out of my massive collection of game soundtracks, The World Ends With You is probably one of the 10 or 20 I've listened to the most times over the years and I think Neo is going to quickly join that list as well. But it's not just the soundtrack, the whole game is excellent as well. I'll probably give it a full-on write-up sometime over the next couple weeks (after I finish the post-game). But for now, I'll just say that it's a worthy successor to one of my favorite games of all-time.

Later!

Josiah

11/3/2021 Attention Pebble Version Forum Members

The Pebble Version Forums have been essentially dead for a while now, but for a number of years they were pretty busy and we had a lot of great regulars. Recently, I made a Discord server for the old PVF crew to catch up. I sent out invites to a number of people but I didn't have recent contact info for everyone so if you're a former forum member and want to say hi, feel free to join in.

Later!

Josiah

11//1/2021 Burnt

It hasn't been an especially busy weekend. Actually, other than going out for lunch yesterday, we haven't even gone anywhere. But I'm feeling rather burned out at the moment. There's a few reasons, but nothing really serious. Regardless, I need to relax a bit and get some rest before work so I'll see you Wednesday.

Josiah

10/29/2021 Skylanders

As a bit of background, I started playing video games with Zack last year. While I always intended to get him into games eventually, I wasn't in a huge hurry. At first, he was just messing around on my NES classic a little bit here and there. But earlier this year, totally randomly, he got hooked on videos of various Mario games on Youtube, especially Captain Toad. And hey, I hadn't played Treasure Tracker yet and it had a co-op mode so I decided we'd try and play it together. And we've been working our way through various Mario and Kirby titles (plus Untitled Goose Game, again thanks to Youtube) ever since.

Then when I was working on my Amiibo collection that got me thinking about toys to life games in general and reminded me of Skylanders. I'd never gotten into it myself (as previously mentioned, Lego Dimensions was the toys to life game I played) since it seemed to be aimed at kids and the characters didn't really jump out at me (other than Spyro, and I didn't especially like his Skylanders look). But I knew that the games themselves were supposed to be pretty solid (if simple and easy) and you could play through them all in co-op. Perfect for playing with Zack. Plus, I figured he'd really get a kick out of the whole toys to life thing. So I grabbed a cheap bundle on ebay with most of the games and a ton of figures (and then went on to make sure I had enough different figures to get 100% in each game, because it would bug me if I couldn't). Anyway, we just started playing a little earlier this week (after finishing New Super Mario Bros. Wii U Deluxe). And, since I got the entire series, we're starting at the very beginning with Spyro's Adventures. I was right, he loves it. And I'm enjoying it too so far. It's well made and the dialogue is fairly amusing. And yes, great to play with a kid. The figures are pretty good quality as well, even if I don't have the same interest in the characters as I do with Amiibo or Lego Dimensions. Anyway, with six games (more if we add in the DS ones) I figure Skylanders will keep us busy for quite a while. Though marathoning the entire series would probably get a bit boring so I'll work in some other games inbetween entries.

And that's all for now. Have a good weekend!

Josiah

10/27/2021 Still sleepy

Was up a bit late the other night (totally my fault too, got stuck on a boss battle) so I'm going to keep this short.

See you Friday!

Josiah

10/25/2021 Sleepy...

Friday was fun, and this has been a nice enough weekend in general. But I need some sleep.

See you Wednesday!

Josiah

10/22/2021 Family time

Now that we're well into fall, a lot of the fun summer stuff around here is getting ready to close for the season so we're taking Zack to Cherry Crest Farm one last time today.

Have a good weekend!

Josiah

10/20/2021 The final arc...

As previously mentioned, Pebble Version is at long last entering its final story arc. And it has been a long time coming. I started Pebble Version in 2003 when I was 18. Did I ever think it would last this long? Honestly, I didn't really think about it. I always intended to complete the story, but I didn't think it would take me so many years to do it. Could I have done things faster? Probably, but that's a topic for another time. I've had the basic idea of the how Brendan and May's adventures in Hoenn end since pretty much the beginning, but it's only more recently that I took the time to jot down the specifics to make sure that I don't forget anything when all is said and done. Did the comic turn out the way I expected it to? Not entirely, but not many creative projects (or just parts of life in general) actually do. I'm rather excited to be nearing the end but, at the same time, it's strange. Pebble Version has been a constant part of my life for such a long time, it's a little hard to imagine what things will be like without it. Though I admit that I will welcome the extra free time.

But anyway, I can save the emotional stuff for once we reach the end. For now, let's talk a little bit about what's coming. It's time to wrap up all the plot threads that have been building throughout the comic. Team Rocket, the legendaries, mew, the black suit guys (we haven't quite seen the last of them yet), Teams Aqua and Magma, it'll all be resolved and you'll see how things wrap up for Brendan and May, Xain and Cali and all of your favorite characters. We'll even check in one last time on people like the grass kid. Expect epic battles (or at least as epic as they ever get in Pebble Version), returning characters, heartfelt conclusions, and jokes, of course.

So how much longer is left? I'm not quite sure. I have an outline of the remaining plot, but I don't know how many strips each part will take. Better to just let that develop naturally I as go. I think I can safely say that PV will continue into next year. but I'd be a bit surprised if it makes it to its next anniversary. Anyway, it will end when it ends. Everything will be concluded the way I want and I'll try to keep the current update schedule (regular comics on Monday and Wednesday and Blooper Reels on Friday) going until the end (though doubtless I'll have to skip a day once in a while for one reason or other).

Over the years I've put a lot of time and effort into Pebble Version. While it's had its ups and downs, and never got quite as big as I hoped, I don't regret doing it. And whether you've been with me from the beginning, or just found this comic recently, thanks so much for reading and I hope you'll stick with me until the end.

Later!

Josiah

10/18/2021 The complete collection

I'm planning to do that post on Pebble Version's final arc on Wednesday. Today though, since I spent so much time talking about my Amiibo collecting, I wanted to share some photos now that my collection is complete.

First off, a couple of smaller collections that I ended up doing along the way... Here's my complete set of Starlink: Battle for Atlas ships, weapons, and pilots. Though you can't actually see most of the pilots since they're in the ships. As previously mentioned, I already had most of these. They're not overly common, but not too hard to find or too expensive, though a couple of exclusives (one regional, one retailer specific) took a little time to track down.

Next up, Lego Dimensions. I should note that the top shelf is mostly just some other random Lego minifigs I picked up here and there. The only actual Dimensions stuff on the top shelf is the Ghostbusters 2016 things in the center (and no one cares about that movie anyway). I already had most of these as well since I was pretty into the game back was it was being released. I just needed most of the Ninjago series, a couple of random other sets, and Super Girl (who is probably the rarest one since she was a fairly limited promotional character). Got to say, I really appreciate the variety of different franchises represented here.

And finally, the Amiibos. I had quite a lot of them, but there were still a good number that I needed (the whole Animal Crossing set, for example). If you're wondering why there are some gaps on the shelf of my "complete" collection, it's because I'm saving some spots for the remaining Smash Bros. Amiibos that were announced for next year. Aside from the Amiibos themselves, I also got all of the PDP stands, some of which are fairly rare in their own right (there are some other diorama style stands released in Japan by a different company; they're easy enough to get but I'm not actively going after them right now). All in all, I'm very happy with how it turned out (both the collection and the general arrangement and display).

Finally, you may have noticed that the bottom left section doesn't actually have Amiibos. As I was figuring out how to arrange my display, I realized that I was going to have one empty section. I could leave it for the future, but it could be years before there's enough new Amiibos for me to need it. But Nintendo actually had a set of NFC figures before Amiibos that tied into Pokemon Rumble U. Since they're proto-Amiibos of sorts, I thought they'd be a good final piece of the collection. I had a couple from back in the day but I didn't get too into Rumble U (kind of burned myself out on the concept with the first game back on the Wii). Turns out, they're pretty rare now (at least, there aren't many for sale). Prices for single figures vary quite a bit but it looks like you can usually grab a sealed complete normal set (18 regular figures plus the two special black and white kyurem) from Japan for around $170 on ebay, which isn't too bad (and way cheaper than trying to buy even half of them piecemeal). Unfortunately, my collection of these actually isn't complete yet. Like with the Amiibos, there's a few extremely limited edition promotional figures that were only given out to contest winners, but I don't really count those (not to mention that they're unlikely to ever show up on ebay and would probably be prohibitively expensive if they did). However, there are also shiny versions of three of the regular pokemon that were mixed in randomly (they were originally sold in blind boxes). I'm not sure how rare the shinies were originally but there's not many Rumble U figures being sold online to begin with so the shinies are especially hard to find and the few I've seen so far seem really overpriced. So I'm keeping an eye out, but it may be a while before I manage to find some within my budget.

Anyway, that's the collection. While the Starlink and Lego Dimensions sets are are truly complete, Nintendo is still releasing new Amiibos (though just a handful each year lately) so my collection will continue to grow over time. Though keeping up with new releases is certainly a lot simpler and cheaper than going after the old ones. This whole collecting binge has been fun, but now it's time to take a break and save my money for other things.

See you Wednesday!

Josiah

10/15/2021 Ugh...

This has not been an especially great week. A lot of reasons for that. Nothing super serious, just Zack's cold plus a few other things. I'm also a little short on sleep. Partly due to Zack, partly my own fault. Hoping for a more relaxing weekend. And some decent sleep.

I'll write something better when I'm well rested.

Josiah

10/13/2021 Lectures

I've been adding new content to my history of video games class. I got a good chunk done over the summer. Thought I'd have the rest finished two or three weeks into the start of the semester. But, for various reasons, I just never had as much time as I expected. I've finally started to get back to it lately, but I've still got two lectures to finish. And it's not only the research and text, I've also got to record audio versions for my online classes. Still, if I can get one done next week and then the other by early November that should work. Cutting it a bit closer than I'd like, but it seems like that's just how this semester is...

Anyway, I suppose that's not especially interesting to talk about. Next week I'll try to finally write that big new post I've been putting off about the the start of Pebble Version's final arc.

See you Friday!

Josiah

10/11/2021 Tired...

Zack got a minor cold over the weekend which messed up our plans a bit and I'm a little short on sleep so I'm just going to end it here.

See you Wednesday!

Josiah

10/8/2021 Planning for Japan...again

Lately I've been spending time working on plans and preparation for a university Japan tour. This time for summer 2022. Another professor and I have been wanting to do this for quite a while but it's already been canceled twice thanks to COVID restrictions. Hopefully third time is the charm. Travel to Japan is still up in the air at this point, but if we want to have everything ready we need to start now and assume it'll all be ok. Interestingly enough, with each cancelation, our plans for the trip have only gotten bigger. Which is cool, but it also means more work. Still, it'll be worth it if we ever actually get to run the thing. For now, we'll just have to get everything ready and wait and see...

Later!

Josiah

10/6/2021 Progress!

Been a busy couple of days, but I've gotten a decent amount of things done. Not nearly my whole to-do list, but I've still got a few more days before I need to grade mid-terms so we'll see how far I get. Also, my Qbby arrived! Probably the simplest Amiibo there is, but one of the most expensive... I have Rathian and Cheval on order too and the new Metroid set is coming out on Friday along side Metroid Dread so expect some photos of my complete collection coming soon.

Later!

Josiah

10/4/2021 And more to do

Another week. Though the first one in a while when I don't have any papers to grade. Which means I've got extra time to get other things done! Yay?

Anyway, we took Zack to Busch Gardens yesterday (wanted to take advantage of our passes while they're still good) and I need to get some rest before classes so I don't have time to write much.

See you Wednesday!

Josiah

10/1/2021 More toys to life

I got a Qbby Amiibo! Well, it's in the mail. I got a decent price too, though it's still my most expensive Amiibo so far. Just one more to go... Looking for a couple more stands for my display too.

Anyway, while on my Amiibo kick, I looked into some of the other toys to life series, so here's a few quick tips on those.

Skylanders: Most of these are very cheap and you can find lots of people selling big lots on Facebook marketplace and the like for dirt cheap. Actually, with a bit of work you could probably buy those up and resell them individually for a decent profit... Anyway, a handful do sell for around $40ish. But there's a couple of Imaginators that cost considerably more. Wild Storm goes for over $100 and Ro Bow is $300+ for some reason. Finally, keep in mind that, unlike with Amiibos, finding new sealed Skylanders is rather tough. Fortunately, I only wanted to get enough to 100% the various games with Zack. That wasn't too bad, though it did require more figures than I initially thought. Plus, I can't 100% Imaginators without the aforementioned Wild Storm and Ro Bow, which I don't want to pay for. Them aside though, you can get what you need for fairly cheap. At least so long as you don't try to get complete sets since there's a ton of figures.

Lego Dimensions: Turns out I nearly had a complete set already (mostly just missing the Ninjago sets, which I almost entirely skipped for some reason) so I decided to grab the rest. Anyway, you can find them new or used for fairly cheap. The most expensive single figure by far is Super Girl, who was only given out as a promo, at around $45. Keep in mind that most of the figures came packaged with a vehicle or two and some ebay sellers split them up to sell individually, which tends to make things more expensive. For a lot of them, buying new ones might actually be cheaper.

Disney Infinity: I haven't researched this one much. I do have Infinity 3.0 and a few random figures I got on clearance ages ago though. Might end up getting more at some point to play with Zack but I haven't decided yet. Plus Skylanders should keep him busy for quite a while. But anyway, you can find a lot of used figures for cheap on Facebook Marketplace and nothing on ebay looks especially expensive so it's probably not too hard to at least get the main games and level packs.

Starlink Battle for Atlas: A newer and lesser known toys to life game. Be sure to get the Switch version, which features the Star Fox gang in a major supporting role. That said, it only had one series of figures and not an especially large one. Turns out I already had the majority so I decided to try and get the rest as well. Most of them are very cheap and easy to find. Though there's one pilot that wasn't released in the US who goes for a little more and one ship that was a Gamestop exclusive and doesn't come up for sale as often as the rest (that's the only one I need).

Hmm... This has been fun, though I think I've gotten a little too toys to life obsessed lately. But hey, my Lego Dimensions collection is done and my Amiibos and Starlink almost so. That only leaves Skylanders, where I've pretty much got everything I want and have no strong desires to 100%, and Disney Infinity which I've barely touched (though may grab a bit of later) and doubt I'd ever go for a complete set of either. So I'm winding down on the collection front.

Anyway, this should be the last post about my toys to life collecting. Except for a few photos at some point once I've got everything nicely displayed.

Have a good weekend!

Josiah

9/29/2021 More work

Sukkot is over so no more holidays interrupting my schedule for a while...except Columbus Day. Which actually isn't very far off. Ok, so maybe I'm not quite done with holiday interruptions yet. Anyway, I just barely got this strip done on time so I need to run for now. I will write more about what's coming up in Pebble Version, along with some other stuff soon. Just need to get a little more caught up with things.

Later!

Josiah

9/27/2021 Festival fun

My family and I spent a fun but busy Sunday at the nearby Cox Farms Fall Festival. We went there originally back in 2019 and it skipped last year due to COVID lock-downs. Now that I think about it, I never did write a travelogue entry about it back then, so maybe I should this time... I mean, it's pretty much all for kids, but may still be worth an entry. Well, I'll think about it. For now, I should get some rest.

Later!

Josiah

9/24/2021 Another weekend

It's starting to feel like fall here, which makes sense I guess since fall officially began a couple days ago. It's also been kind of rainy, though it seems like that's clearing up. So what have I been up to? Work and family stuff mostly, along with a little Amiibo collecting and playing Neo The World Ends With You when I have time. I've got some stuff to write about Pebble Version, I'm not really in the mood today. Soon though. I'll probably also write my thoughts about Neo TWEWY at some point, but not until I've beaten the game. Which...looks like it's gonna take a while with how my schedule has been lately. I am enjoying it though.

Anyway, sorry for the series of boring news post. Been busy and a little worn down. But things seem to be improving in both regards so here's hoping for a good weekend and a good week to follow.

Josiah

9/22/2021 Here we go...

And the battle begins. I'll say more another time since I'm running late. Even before the fighting actually starts, making strips with so many characters and pokémon takes a long time.

Later!

Josiah

9/20/2021 Another to-do list day

I did manage to get a lot done on Friday and a bit more yesterday. Now if I can get most/all of this week's grading done today I'll be in good shape. And hey, sukkot should be fun so I've got that to look forward to as well, even if it does mess with my schedule a bit.

Later!

Josiah

9/17/2021 All the Holy Days...

All the High Holy Days, combined with my work and other stuff, has kept me pretty busy the past couple of weeks. Hopefully I can get caught up on a lot of things today. Though there's still Sukkot coming up so the holidays aren't finished quite yet. Anyway, back to it.

Have a good weekend!

Josiah

9/15/2021 Still more Amiibos

Managed to grab a few more Amiibos for a decent price since my last post and now, as long as everything arrives ok, all I need is Qbby and Rathian and Cheval, which I probably won't be getting anytime soon given how much they cost. On a side note, I forgot to mention it last time, but there are a few Amiibos I didn't list. Namely silver and/or gold variations of the Mega Man 11 Amiibo and some of the Monster Hunter Amiibos. But those were made in super limited quantities and given away as contest prices so chances are I'll never even see one for sale, much less be able to afford it. So I'm not really counting them as being part of a complete set.

What's next now that I've almost finished my Amiibo collection? Well, there's a few cool Amiibo display stands that were released years back. They'd be a fun addition to my setup, but most of them are pretty expensive these days so I'm keeping my eye out for deals, but none of them are must-haves for me.

I've also been grabbing a few Skylanders. Not to collect (once again, I have no real desire to collect them), but since I decided to play through the series with Zack, I figured I should grab what I need in order to 100% the games (you actually don't need much to clear the story modes, apparently, but there's a lot of extra areas you can't reach without certain types of characters). Anyway, since this isn't for a collection, I'm going for function over anything else, though I want decent condition. Anyway, most Skylanders seem fairly cheap and easy to grab, though there's some rarer ones, a few of which are actually needed to 100% some of the games, which is a bit annoying. Maybe I'll skip those...

On one other side note, the only toys to life game I actually got serious about playing back during their heyday was was Lego Dimensions, which I'd say is the best Lego game out there, even without all the cool physical mini-figures and vehicles. Back when it was being released, I made sure to get all the figures I needed to access every world and level, and grab every golden brick, along with some additional ones that I just really liked. So I've got quite a lot. Seeing as I already have enough to 100% the game, plus all my favorites, I don't have a really strong desire to get a complete collection or anything. Though I have to admit, I'd be curious sometime to dig up a checklist and see just how close I am. If I'm only missing a handful of cheaper ones then maybe...

Ugh, I've definitely got my dad's collection bug. I'd better be careful about that...

Later!

Josiah

9/13/2021 More Amiibos

Might as well finish talking about my Amiibo collection. So, picking up where I left off last time...

Splatoon Series: Splatoon and Splatoon 2 got eight Amiibos each. Will Splatoon 3 be the same? No idea. Anyway, a lot of this series is actually rather expensive these days. Fortunately, I had gotten nearly all of them at launch. Unfortunately, nearly all isn't all. Specifically, I skipped the recolors of the original Splatoon three pack since they were just recolors and, of the three, I liked the original colors better for two of them anyway. Actually getting the full recolor three pack is pretty expensive but, with some shopping around and a bit of luck, I managed to get them piecemeal for a more reasonable price.

Legend of Zelda Series: The third largest series (after Smash Bros. and Super Mario). Nothing horribly rare, but some moderately rare and expensive ones mixed in. Fortunately, I already had almost all of them. The two exceptions being Skyward Sword Link and Twilight Princess Link (two of the rarer ones, of course). At the time, I figured they looked pretty similar to other Link figures I had (including Link's Smash Bros. Amiibo) so I didn't bother. I mean really, how many different Link Amiibos do I need anyway? Apparently the answer is 13 (between the Zelda and Smash series) and counting. Yes, there's really that many Amiibos of just one character. Though, to be fair, Link has had a lot of different incarnations over the course of the series. Anyway, I recently picked up one of the two I'm missing, still waiting for a good price on the other though.

Yoshi's Woolly World Series: This extra special series features knitted woolen figures. The three different colored Yoshi's, which I already had, are pretty cheap and easy to find. Poochy, who I thankfully also had, is pretty rare and expensive. But the most expensive Amiibo in this series (and the only one I was missing, of course), is the extra large Mega Yarn Yoshi. An unopened one can easily sell for $250. I managed to get mine (which should arrive today) for a good bit less, but I'm still rather upset at myself for not getting one in the past. They were kind of hard to find in the US (being a Toys R Us exclusive) but my friend in Japan offered to grab one and I turned him down, thinking that three yarn Yoshi's was enough. Actually, I started regretting my choice not long after once I saw how cool the regular Yarn Yoshis were. Definitely a mistake on my part.

Skylanders Series: Of course, Skylanders is an entirely different toys-to-life series with its own set of figurines. However, for Skylanders Superchargers, the Wii and Wii U versions added in Donkey Kong and Bowser as bonus characters, complete with their own figures. And they can be used not just as Skylanders figurines, but Amiibos as well. There's the two base figures (Bowser and DK) and each has a matching vehicle. The vehicles don't have Amiibo functionality (though they do work in Skylanders) but I feel like if you want a complete set you should include them as well. Now, used Skylanders figures are super easy to find these days and a lot of them are pretty cheap. However, while it seems pretty easy to find sealed Amiibo and open ones in very good condition, sealed Skylanders seem to be considerably rarer and the condition of the used ones is pretty hit or miss so while finding the Skylanders Amiibos isn't too hard, getting them in good condition can be. It doesn't help that most sellers sell the figures and vehicles separately. Anyway, turns out that you can still get new copies of Skylanders Supercharges for Wii (which includes Bowser and his vehicle) and Wii U (with Donkey Kong and his vehicle) for pretty cheap. Probably cheaper than buying the figures and vehicles separately, plus you get some other Skylanders and the game. Easy enough. But then there's the "dark" versions, which are the exact same but with black coloring. Those are rare (they only came with the game's special edition dark starter set). They're still not that hard to find, but they're much more expensive and, as previously mentioned, finding used ones in good condition is tough. You can get a sealed copy of Superchargers Dark for Wii (with Dark Bowser) for around $80, which is worth it. Unfortunately Superchargers Dark for Wii U is more like $200 (I assume it had a much smaller production run) so I had to gamble on used figures with mixed results.
On a side note, I have no desire to collect all the Skylanders figures. Though, now that I actually have a few and one of the games, I realized the series would be a good one to play co-op with Zack so I'm going to grab a few just for that purpose.

Shovel Knight Series: One of only two non-Nintendo games to get an entire Amiibo series. Not super rare, and I got all of them back when they launched anyway.

Monster Hunter Series: The second non-Nintendo series, it also features some of the rarest Amiibos around. The most recent six, three from Monster Hunter Rise and three from Monster Hunter Stories 2, did get a US release and, while they sold out pretty quickly (I totally missed the launch at the time), you can still get them pretty easily, though you may have to pay up to twice retail. I suspect they'll go up quite a bit over time though, so grab them soon if you want them. The real challenge here is the original six that were released for the first Monster Hunter Stories. They were exclusive to Japan and are all rare and expensive. Though some more than others. I managed to grab a sealed copy of the cheapest one for $50, but he's the exception. Most of them run from $100 - $250 new (and probably $80 - $150 used). But then there's Navirou, who can easily go for around $200 used. And finally Rathian and Cheval, one of the two rarest Amiibos around, who're more like $300+ for a used copy. This is another set where I'm really kicking myself since I was actually in Japan when these Amiibos were released and I remember seeing them on store shelves. But, while they looked cool, I thought I'd wait and see if Monster Hunter Stories came to the US first. Sigh... If I'd picked up a few sets back then to hold onto I could have made some serious money.
Anyway, I get the newer Monster Hunter Amiibos easily enough and I've been working hard on the originals. And, so far, with a lot of searching and a bit of luck, I managed to get decent prices on all of them except Rathian and Cheval. That said, along with Mega Yarn Yoshi, they're still my most expensive acquisitions.

One Off's: There's also a bunch of single Amiibos for various games. For example, Detective Pikachu, who is, surprisingly enough, the only non-Smash Pokemon Amiibo. Or the Loot Goblin from Diablo. Some of these are common and cheap, some are pretty rare and expensive. Fortunately, I already had most of them. Of course, one of the couple I'm missing is Qbby (from BoxBoy), a Japanese exclusive and one of the two rarest Amiibo there is. Like Rathian and Cheval, you can easily spend $300 for a used copy.

And that's all of the Amiibo figurines. So how's my collection coming? At this point, assuming my remaining packages arrive ok, I only need another half dozen. Four of those are within my budget, but I'm waiting a bit to see if I can find a better deal. But then there's Qbby and Rathian and Cheval. Even the best prices I've seen for them are a good bit above what I want to pay for a single Amiibo. Maybe, given enough time, I'll get really lucky and find a great price. But I may just have to save up for a while and bite the bullet in order to complete my collection. Anyway, I'll be sure to post some pictures once I actually do have them all.

Later!

Josiah

9/10/2021 Amiibos

Earlier in the year I backed the Kickstarter for the Unofficial Amiibook, a handbook for Nintendo's Amiibo figurines. It was a fun read, but between going through it, and talking collections a bit with my dad (he's a pretty serious baseball autograph collector), I began thinking that it might be nice to try and get a full set. Now, I've been buying amiibos since they were first released, but I never really tried to collect all of them. In fact, while I do buy a lot of stuff for my hobbies (books, video games, movies, music), it's hard to say if any of that is a proper "collection." I get what I want, but it's not like I'm trying to collect "every" Playstation 4 game, or every RPG, or anything like that. The last thing I seriously collected was Yu-Gi-Oh cards and I stopped when I first moved to Japan back in 2007 and never really started up again after that.

As for Amiibos, the first batch was released a few months after I moved to Hawaii. Initially, I thought I'd just grab ones for my favorite characters, though it wasn't long before I decided that I should at least get the entire Smash Bros. series since I was having fun using them to make custom fighters in the game. Though that was easier said than done. There were some serious supply problems early on and being on an island with a very limited number of stores didn't really help. There was ebay, of course, but the prices tended to be pretty crazy. However, not long after, one of my friends from Florida moved to Japan (where Amiibos were generally easier to find) and offered buy and mail them to me and some of our other friends so long as covered the costs. Between his help, and some eventual reprints of the rarer ones (like Marth), I mostly managed to get all the Amiibos I really wanted. The one exception being gold Mario, which somehow managed to sell out before I arrived at the store even though I went early in the morning on launch day. I was still mostly focusing on the Smash Bros. series, though I did pick up some from the various other series (no complete sets though, just the ones I wanted the most). Over time, Nintendo got much better at judging supply and demand (for Amiibos at least, not the special editions of some of their games (still a bit annoyed I missed out on a couple of those)), to the point where any given Amiibo would normally be relatively easy to get for at least a few weeks after launch. Plus, Amazon Japan eventually started allowing more and more of their stuff (Amiibos included) to be shipped directly to the US as long as you were willing to pay the shipping fees. So things got a lot easier and, over the years, I've kept up with Amiibos pretty well. Though, once again, other than Smash Bros. I wasn't actively trying to complete any particular set, just get my favorite characters. But, like I said, a month or so ago I started wondering what it would take to get the ones I was missing. Not neccessarily unopened (I tend to take them out of the box anyway), but in good condition. I started by looking up that gold Mario I'd missed out on years before and found that, unlike back then, you can actually get it for a fairly reasonable price these days. So I bought one on ebay then started looking at the other Amiibos I needed.

To be fair, collecting Amiibo is actually rather easy. Between Amazon sellers, Amazon Japan, and ebay, it seems that there's always at least a few copies of even the rarest ones available, both new and used. So, if you've got the money, there's no need to go to great lengths to track down any of them (unlike many collectables). Though money can be an issue. There's a limit on how much I can spend at any one time. Not to mention a limit on how much I'm willing to spend on a single figurine, even if I can afford it. I'll also note that I'm focusing purely on the Amiibo figurines. I don't really care about the Animal Crossing trading cards (which also have Amiibo functionality), the Super Mario cereal box that can be scanned like an Amiibo (yes, that's a real thing), or the like. But anyway, I've been having fun checking different web sites and such and trying to fill in the gaps in my collection without breaking the bank. Though I've also been kicking myself a bit for not buying some of these back when they first came out... So how am I coming along? In no particular order...

Smash Bros. Series: This is, by far, the biggest Amiibo series and it's still growing with the remaining DLC characters from Smash Ultimate coming in the future. Fortunately, I've kept up with it from the beginning (though I had to wait until the second printing for a couple). Most of these figures are worth at least what I paid for them, often two or three times that, even out of box. But few of them are extremely rare and expensive. The main exceptions being the alternte outfit Player 2 ones that several characters have. Fortunately though, I bought those at launch so I don't have to worry about them.

Super Mario Series: At first, I was only getting the characters that didn't also have Smash Bros. figures. So I had the goomba, boo, and Waluigi, and wedding set, for example, but not the reuglar Mario or Bowser. A lot of the figures in this series are still pretty affordable, but silver and gold Mario tend to go for at least several times retail. As do the relatively new, but apparently kind of hard to find, wedding and cat sets. Right now, I'm still missing Wario, Rosalina, Donkey Kong, and Diddy, who are some of the rarest and most expensive single Amiibos in the series. That said, they tend to be in the $50 - $80 range, which is a lot more than they originally cost at retail, but not horribly expensive either.

Kirby Series: A small four figure series. I made a point of getting two of these back from they first came out (Kirby and Waddle Dee), and randomly picked up the others in the past when I happened across them at a good price. Since I already have them, I haven't actually checked prices so I don't know if they're especially rare or expensive, though I don't think they are.

Animal Crossing Series: There's 16 of these (ignoring the aforementioned cards, which number in the hundreds) and, since I don't play Animal Crossing (nothing against it, I just have a tendency to avoid open-ended life sims) I never actually got any of them in the past. Fortunately, these Amiibo either really common or just not very popular. Most of them can easily be bought sealed in-box for their original retail price or less (sometimes a lot less). There's only two or three that regularily go for more than that and even those can be gotten for around $20 - $30 if you shop around. While not all of them have arrived yet, I was able to pick up the entire set for less than the cost of some single amiibos.

Fire Emblem Series: Most Fire Emblem Amiibos are actually part of the Smash Bros. series but there were a few others released as well, and they've all gotten fairly rare. Fortuntaely, I bought them all back when they first came out so that's not a problem for me.

Metroid Series: As with Fire Emblem, this is a small but popular series and I already had all of them. On that note, I'm looking forward to the new Metroid Dread set next month.

Hmm... There's more but I'd better stop there for today. Lots to do (work and family stuff, not Amiibo hunting). I'll finish this on Monday if I have time.

Josiah

9/8/2021 Back to work

Well, this has been a nice extended weekend and we certainly took advantage of it. Malls, Busch Gardens, the Maryland Renaissance Festival... But now it's time to get back to work and also catch up on some of the things I hadn't been able to get around to over the past week and a half with everything that was going on. Now much to say, just a lot to do.

Later!

Josiah

9/6/2021 Holidays

It's Labor Day! Immediately followed by Rosh Hashanah, which is a more serious holiday but still a holiday. It's going to be a busy week... Fun, at times, but busy.

As for what I was talking about last news post, the final arc won't begin this week, but likely next week or the week after. More on that when it comes.

Later!

Josiah

9/3/2021 Planning...

This has been a busy weekend. On top of work, Zack didn't have any preschool which meant he kept me busier. Plus he had a cold for several days... And now a holiday weekend (double for me, since Rosh Hashanah is right after Labor Day). Probably still pretty busy, but at least we'll have some fun as well.

In other news, many of you have probably realized that, at this point, Brendan and May have pretty much wrapped up all the major post-game stuff from Ruby and Sapphire. All that's left is to tie up the original plot threads. I've known for a while, but it only really hit me recently. The end is coming. Pebble Version's final story arc will be starting soon. In fact, I just took a little time to jot down my plans. I'll write more about it when the arc officially begins, but it won't be long now...

Josiah

9/1/2021 Staying busy

I just cannot seem to find enough time to keep up with everything that needs doing this week. Anyway, at least I got a comic done, but that's about it.

Later!

Josiah

8/27/2021 VR Games UPDATE

Update 8/30/2021: Sorry, no new strip today. Had a couple of things come up over the weekend that I needed to take care of right away and, as a result, I wasn't able to get a strip done in time. Updates should resume on Wednesday.

As I mentioned before, my gaming time has been somewhat limited lately and I'm currently playing Neo The World Ends With You, which I've been looking forward to for a very long time, so there's still a lot of VR games I want to try that I haven't gotten around to yet. But, as for the ones I have played...

Hatsune Miku VR
This seemed like a given seeing as I love the Project Diva series and Vocaloid music in general. Unfortunately, it is not Project Diva, or even remotely close. You only get two costumes, a handful of rather boring stages, and a small number of songs (though they, at least, are pretty good). Add in mediocre graphics and really dull gameplay, and this one is easily skippable, even for hardcore fans like me.

Beat Saber
This is the VR music game you want to get. If I'm being honest, it would probably work equally well on the Switch (or any console with motion controls), but playing in VR really gets you into the music and serves are a nice showcase for VR gaming. While the music selection could use some work, they are releasing new DLC packs from time to time and it's just a good music game in general.

Space Pirate Trainer
This is more or less a classic arcade space shooter (like Space Invaders or Galaga) in VR. You get a weapon in each hand (choosing from several types of guns, a melee weapon, and a shield) and shoot down everything that moves. You also have to physically dodge or shield against enemy fire. It's fun and intense but not especially deep and you can't expect much from it beyond the arcade style score chasing experience.

Spice and Wolf VR
Not so much a game as "VR experience" this one is purely for fans of the anime or light novels. You can essentially think of it as a lost anime episode or short story, with you looking through Lawrence's eyes as he and Holo engage in their usual banter. At about half an hour in length (plus another 10 or 15 minutes in the bonus mode where you get to interact with Holo), it's kind of expensive, but probably worth it if you really like the series.

Job Simulator
One of the earlier popular VR games. You work in recreations of several different jobs (office worker, mechanic, etc.) created by robots who don't really understand how any of those jobs are supposed to work. A lot of the fun comes from the humor, and from just messing around with all the different objects. It can get old after awhile, but it's amusing and a decent VR showcase.

Tetris Effect
This one isn't VR exclusive, but VR is clearly the best way to play it. It's basically just Tetris (with one new ability tossed in), but what sets it apart is the audiovisual presentation. The visuals, the music, the falling blocks, it's really engrossing, artistic, and meditative. I don't normally even like Tetris all that much. I'd say this is one of the better VR showcase titles as well, despite its simplicity.

In the end, I wouldn't call any of these games "system sellers." Though I do like Beat Saber and Tetris Effect quite a lot. But they're fun and the VR does really add another level to them (even if it's basically a non-essential one). When I have the time, I am looking forward to trying out some of the bigger full-scale games like Half-Life Alyx. But the might not be for a little while yet...

Have a good weekend!

Josiah

8/25/2021 Trying VR

I've been pretty busy between family stuff and class prep, and I'm still working on those new lectures I need to finish. I am squeezing in a bit of gaming here and there though, to keep from getting burned out. Mainly Neo The World Ends With You, which I'm enjoying, but I'm not far enough into it to write anything yet. I've also been playing around a little bit more with my VR headset from time to time, and I do want to write about that.

Anyway, around a month back I picked up an Oculus Quest 2. Why? Well, no big reason. I'd been wanting to get a VR headset for a while, though there wasn't (and, honestly, still isn't) any must-have games for me so it was never a high priority. I was thinking that I'd maybe get a PSVR when there was a good sale. Then my brother got a Quest 2 since he liked his friend's and Costco had a bundle. So I did a bit of research. I certainly liked the idea of untethered VR. Unlike the other major headsets, the Quest has a computer built in so you can play a lot of games directly from the headset, without having to run a cord to a computer. Of course, the game selection is a bit limited due to hardware constraints and such, but it can run a lot of the major VR games. In the end, what sold me on it, as opposed to any other headset, was that the Quest 2 actually can be plugged into a PC as well, giving it access to not only the full Oculus game store, but Steam as well (including Half-Life Alyx). While there's still one or two PSVR titles I would have liked to play, the Quest 2 seems to have access to the largest library of any VR headset, much of which you can play untethered. Plus, it has pretty good motion tracking without the need for a camera array. All things considered, I'd say that the Quest 2 is the best VR headset currently on the market. So, when I saw the same Costco bundle, I decided to give it a try (though I'll note that the Costco bundle isn't really discounted, you just get a free (kinda ugly) carrying case).
So how do I like the Quest 2? Well, it works quite well. All the games that I've gotten from the Quest 2 store have run fine untethered and the battery life, while not spectacular, is good enough seeing as you probably wouldn't want to play a VR game for more than two or three hours at a time anyway. There are some issues though. Your account is tied to Facebook (since they own Oculus). I don't especially care, despite not liking Facebook much, but some people who really hate Facebook aren't thrilled about that. And you have to be ready to pay for some accessories up-front. No one seems to like the included straps so you'll probably want to get the pro-set (overpriced, but fairly good) or a third-party, and the foam lining is kinda uncomfortable and doesn't provide the best seal so you may want a silicon cover. And if you want to be able to plug the Quest into your computer to play regular Oculus and Steam games that requires a special cable. The official one is ridiculously expensive, but there are much more reasonably priced third-party options. Some people also say you should get silicon grips for the controllers. I didn't really find those necessary (they're nice, but for me at least the normal grips were fine). All in all though, you can easily spend an additional $75 - $150 on accessories on-top of the Quest 2 itself (at least the motion controllers, which work well and are fairly comfortable) are included.
In use, I do have some issues with the lenses fogging up (though you can mostly mitigate that if you're careful), and they rarely seem to align 100% perfectly with both of my eyes (good enough, at least). And I have to tuck my headphone cord under my shirt to keep from accidentally catching my arms on it (wireless headphones aren't recommended, though the built-in speakers are passable). I could nitpick a few others things but, in the end, it's easy enough to forget about those things once you've got a game up and running. Could the Oculus Quest 2 stand to be a bit more polished? Yeah. But none of the issues really hold it back. As I said, when you take everything into account, I'd say it's the best VR system available and VR gaming is pretty cool. Don't get me wrong, if I had to I'd take any current game console or a good PC over the Quest due to the variety and quality of the games available. But if you have the extra money, VR is worth the investment.

I'll write a bit about some of the games I've been playing in the future. For now though, I should get going.

Josiah

8/23/2021 And go!

Well, today is the first day of fall semester. I haven't been on campus, much less given a live lecture, for something like a year and a half at this point. The university still has a number of restrictions and such in-place due to COVID as well. Let's just say that this semester will be...interesting, and leave it at that.

Here's hoping for a good fall semester, here and elsewhere.

Josiah

8/20/2021 Getting there

Well, I've taken care of nearly all the annoying things going on (though they didn't all work out the way I wanted). And my class prep is coming along nicely. I'll have the last of the critical tasks done today, though I have to write and record a few more lectures for an online class and that might take another week or so to finish. After that though, this should be the least stressful semester I've had in a long time. At least as long as nothing crazy and unexpected happens...

Anyway, have a good weekend!

Josiah

8/18/2021 Keeping busy

Still dealing with a couple of those issues I mentioned last time, plus lots of class prep left (I'm restructuring one of my classes a bit and adding a bunch of new material to it as well), so I'm pretty busy. Things should actually be calmer next week when classes start. Or maybe the week after, depending on when exactly I get all of that new material done.

Later!

Josiah

8/16/2021 The little things

I've had a lot of stuff going wrong lately. Nothing major, but it all gets annoying and I have to waste time dealing with it. Honestly, I kind of want to rant about it a bit...but I should work on the travelogue instead.

August 7th (Saturday): Cherry Crest Farm
Seeing as we were spending the weekend in Lancaster County, we naturally had to take a day to visit Cherry Crest Farm. I've already written about it many times so I won't go into detail, but it was just as good as always. The theme for the corn maze this year is thanking fire fighters, police, paramedics, and the like. I had fun with that and, of course, Zack loved all the different activities and play areas. As always, it's a great place to spend the day, especially with kids.

August 8th (Sunday): Dutch Wonderland
For the final day of our trip, we headed to Dutch Wonderland, a theme park aimed at younger kids. We took Zack there once two years ago and had planned to go last year but they were closed for much of the summer and, when they finally reopened, were requiring everyone (kids included) to wear masks at all times, so that was a no go. Anyway, with that requirement gone, we headed back this year. As before, most of the rides are for little kids. Though they did have a roller coaster that I don't remember seeing last time. It's certainly the most intense thing in the park, though not on the level of what you can find at Hershey or Busch Gardens. But it was fine for Zack. That kid has absolutely no fear of rides. While he'll probably outgrow the place in another couple of years, for now he still had lots of fun and went on nearly every ride he saw. We also checked out an area of the park we'd missed last time, which had a gondola ride, car ride, and a bunch of dinosaurs. Also, while we only caught a couple minutes, it looks like they have some fun shows to watch. Once again, I wouldn't recommend Dutch Wonderland for adults, or even older kids (probably 8 or 10 and up), but for families with young kids it's a pretty good choice.
After leaving the park, we got some food and drove home. It was a fun and relaxing trip and it was nice having my parents along this time.

Later!

Josiah

8/13/2021 Some time in PA

My parents are back home and I've got a lot of class prep to do. But I do want to keep my travelogue more or less up to date so here's a bit about our weekend in Pennsylvania.

August 6th (Friday): Lancaster and Sight & Sound
We wanted to do a quick overnight trip while my parents were here and we settled on Pennsylvania. For the first day, we started out by heading to downtown Lancaster. While I've been to a lot of places in Lancaster County, I don't think I've ever actually been to the town itself before. It's a nice area to walk around, lots of old buildings, shops, restaurants, etc. Our main destination was the Lancaster Central Market, a sort of indoor farmers market with a good mix of local produce, meat, etc., handicrafts, and food stalls. We walked around, snacked, and explored the town a bit.
Afterwards we drove over to The Hershey Farm Inn (our favorite hotel in the area) to check in and unpack. Then it was off to Sight & Sound Theater. Sight & Sound is a place I've been hearing about ever since we moved to Virginia. It's a theater that specializes in plays based on various Bible stories. They do a different one every year and this year is Esther. Lots of people have told me that their shows are a must see, but in previous years I didn't think that Zack could sit through the entire thing. This year though, we decided to give it a try. I wasn't sure exactly what to expect, but the theater itself was pretty impressive both outside and inside (and, conveniently, a very short walk from our hotel). And the theater wasn't the only impressive part. I've seen a lot of versions of the Esther story over the years but I can safely say that this was the best. We're talking Broadway (or better) production values with fantastic sets and costumes. As a neat touch, the stage wrapped around more than 180 degrees and they made really good use of the space and always had something to see wherever you looked. The acting was solid as well. But, most importantly, they nailed the script. I'm really picky about adaptations of stories I've read but this one hit all the key points, filled out the parts that needed it (unlike a modern novel, Bible stories do need some expansion when adapted to stage or film), but didn't add any dumb fluff scenes either. Add in some good musical numbers, and you have an absolutely top-notch production. My whole family was really impressed and we already want to go back next year to see their version of David. If you're Christian or Jewish, you'll love it. Even if you're not religious, so long as you don't mind that it's based on a Bible story, you'll probably still enjoy it since it's such a well-done production. If you're in the area, I highly recommend a visit to Sight & Sound Theater.
After the show, it was back to the hotel for our usual buffet dinner, then we let Zack play around outside for a while before calling it a night.

There's more, but I'll stop there for now. Have a good weekend!

Josiah

8/11/2021 Fall is coming...

More specifically, the fall semester. And, for the first time in around a year and a half, I'll be teaching in-person classes again. Well, one anyway. Most of my classes are still online. But it's a start I guess. And my parents are heading back to Hawaii today so it's time for me to knuckle down and finish getting my course materials ready.

There will be some travelogue entries coming soon (probably Friday), but I've got a few more photos to sort first. And now, back to work.

Later!

Josiah





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