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5 Great Websites for Learning

Digital learning is the future of education. At no point in history has the average person had access to so much knowledge, and had the opportunity to learn as many skills as they can today. The trick, however, is knowing where to look.

1. Khan Academy

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Khan Academy offers an extensive library of online courses ranging from introductory algebra and chemistry to macroeconomics and philosophy. Started in 2006 by educator Salman Khan, its goal is to provide a free college-level education to anyone, anywhere.

If you want to learn more about a subject, or brush up on something you learned in school, just log in and hop into a class. The site gives placement tests when you select a subject to see how much you already know, and then tailors your experience based on that.

2. Duolingo

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If you’ve ever wanted to learn a new language, Duolingo is an excellent resource. Select a language you know, and you can see what languages are available. For example, English speakers can learn: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Dutch, and more languages are being added all the time. (Danish, Irish, and Hungarian are almost available. In addition, Duolingo users help to translate real text on the web as practice exercises.

3. MIT Open Courseware

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The Massachusetts Institute of Technology publishes all of its course materials on the web. Anyone interested in Aerospace Dynamics, Structural MechanicsCognitive Robotics, or a host of other classes can view lecture notes, assignments, and projects. Textbooks and other readings are also listed for you to pursue on your own.

4. Codecademy

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As the Internet and software continues to permeate our society, the value of being able to program effectively continues to rise. Codecademy offers a fun and easy environment to learn the fundamentals of writing code, in a few common languages. Whether you want to create a simple web page with HTML and CSS, add some functionality with Javascript or jQuery, or create a full web app with Ruby, Codecademy gives you the knowledge to get started.

5. TED.com

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TED Talks don’t necessarily teach you skills like the other sites on this list, but they can teach ideas. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, and started in 1984 as a conference. Since then, it’s grown to cover almost all topics, and exists to allow people to share revolutionary ideas “to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world.”


Nelson Mandela once said that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” The tools for education are available right now to anyone willing to reach out and use them.

What are your favorite educational tools or websites that I may have missed? Let me know in the comments.

PAX East 2014 Games Round-up

I was lucky enough to be able to attend PAX East this past weekend. For those who don’t know, PAX is short for Penny Arcade Expo, and is a 3-day conference in Boston based entirely around gaming, with previews of upcoming games, informative panels on gaming industry topics, and opportunities to play a lot of games.

Here are a few of the games that stood out to me over the weekend:

Max Gentlemen

(Men Who Wear Many Hats)

photo-mainMG was such a simple game, but completely silly and fun, and was one of my favorite things to stop by and play.

Made by the aptly named Men Who Wear Many Hats (Organ Trail), Max Gentlemen is a game about stacking tophats on your head. You drink beers to get more hats, and then dodge flying objects (like other beers, boomerangs, and shuttlecocks) to keep them from getting knocked off your head. You can either play solo for a high score, or compete against a friend to see who can get the most hats. One of the best things is that in addition to the normal selectable characters, they also had a Corgi, a bear, and Octodad.

It sounds ridiculous, and it really was, but it was that over-the-topness that made it incredibly fun. It’s best to see it in action, but I couldn’t find a video of the mode they had on the show floor, so check out their Kickstarter page for it to check it out: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/hatsproductions/max-gentlemen

Also, it’s free. So there’s that.

Available: Out soon on Android/iOS/Tablet

Dungeon of the Endless

(Amplitude Studios)

“A neo-old-school pixel art, dungeon, squad-based, adventure, tower defense, roguelike-like, role-playing, strategy game.”

Made by Amplitude (Endless Space), DotE combines a LOT of different elements into one game. Your squad of characters is tasked with exploring the starship they’re stranded on in search of the exit. They need to protect the “crystal”, which powers the rooms of the dungeon, which in turn lets you build towers that help you survive. It’s an RPG so you can level up and upgrade your characters with new equipment, and boost their stats. There’s a bit of an RTS feel to it also, since there are four resources that you need to manage to build towers, research new things, recruit people, and power rooms.

Available: Early Access now on Steam.

Secret Ponchos

(Switchblade Monkeys)

Secret Ponchos is a multiplayer, overhead-camera shooter, set in a Wild West town. You can either fight in one-on-one duels, team-based gang fights, or play a deathmatch mode with about 7 other players. (Deathmatch was set up in the PAX booth.)

The controls, mostly the aiming and reloading parts, were a little weird and took some getting used to, but once I got the hang of it, it was thoroughly enjoyable. The broad range of characters caters to many different play styles, so everyone should be able to find at least one character they’re comfortable with.

Also, the woman staffing the booth was very personable, fun to talk to, and had wicked cool hair. (I didn’t catch her name, but if you read this, high-five!)

Fun fact: “Secret Ponchos” started off as the code name for the project, and it just stuck. The same thing happened with a lot of the characters, their names come from the nicknames that the devs called them while working on it.

Available: Later this summer on PS4.

Hyper Light Drifter

(Heart Machine)

Hyper Light Drifter is a 2D, 8-/16-bit pixel art game that plays a bit like a modernized A Link to the Past or Diablo: lots of enemies, tactical thinking, a large world with a deep backstory. The scope of the game looks grand and ambitious.

I backed this on Kickstarter back when I first heard about it, but got to play it a little at PAX. The combat is really fun and satisfying, and I’m really looking forward to when this comes out.

Available: Later this year on PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, Vita, Wii U, and Ouya. (Basically everywhere but Xbox One)

Crypt of the NecroDancer

NecroDancer is a rhythm-based dungeon-crawler game. Set to a fun, upbeat score, you control your characters in time to the beat by stepping on dance pads. Moving and attacking is as simple as stepping in a direction, and spells and special attacks can be used by hitting two directions at once. It’s a novel idea and always had a great crowd. I’m looking forward to this one coming out later this year, although I’ll need to do a bit of dungeon-crawling of my own to pull my dance pads out of the depths of my closet first…

Available: Later this year on Steam. (http://necrodancer.com/)

Infinite Crisis

(Turbine Entertainment)

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A DC Universe MOBA. ‘Nuff said.

Available: Now at https://www.infinitecrisis.com

 

Also be sure to check out:

  • Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime (Asteroid Base): A two-player co-op game where you both control various systems on a spaceship.
  • Road Not Taken (Spry Fox): A roguelike puzzle game coming out later this year. The demo was pretty fun, and the art style is beautiful.
  • Gods Will Be Watching (Deconstructeam): A point and click adventure that focused on moral choices. I didn’t get to play this, but it sounded really interesting.
  • Drunken Robot Pornography (Dejobaan Games): Why is giving a robot bartender sentience a bad idea? Because life turns into a bullet-hell FPS.
  • Tower of Guns (Terrible Posture Games): A Quake-like FPS with procedurally-generated levels. As a “lunch break” game,  it offers a fun shooter experience that can be consumed in short bursts.

Those were my favorites from what I saw at PAX. (If you couldn’t tell, I hung out in the Indie section a lot.)

Did I miss anything? What were some of your favorite games this year?

Tap, tap.

Couples all have those quirky things they do; those inside jokes that come from sharing your soul with another person. A word that makes you both laugh for no reason, a habit that neither of you knows where it began. For them, it was the knocks. Eight raps on the door when he came home from work, one for every letter of “I love you.” Eight claps to wake him up from a lazy afternoon nap. Eight slow taps on his chest after they made love. Eight became their lucky number, and they made sure to marry in July.

Now, twenty-five years later, he sat alone in the dark, listening to the rain hit the window, and the thunder roll. The glass of scotch barely had time to warm in his hand before he brought it to his lips and took a large gulp. He tapped on the glass, five soft clinks, waiting for the other three that he prayed, begged to come, but he knew never would.

Three weeks ago, they had gone into the city for a night on the town: shopping, dinner, and a late night show. They were having so much fun. His mind’s eye betrayed him again, though, as it had every night, replaying that night over and over and over. He could still picture the silver gleam of the masked man’s knife, vivid as streetlight glinted off its blade. He could still picture her mix of fear and defiance as she clutched her purse tight. And he could still picture that silver slipping into her side. The blood poured over his fingers as they sank to the sidewalk. Tears blurred his vision while he yelled for help. Someone finally came, but it had been longer than an eternity for him since the blood has stopped running.

He sat nursing the half-empty glass. Lightning lit the room, shining off its surface like starlight on steel. With a primal roar of rage and sorrow, he pitched it across the room, watching it shatter like the life he once had. He snatched the bottle off the table, draining what little was left as he stumbled up the stairs to the bedroom.

Falling backwards, he kicked one shoe off before passing out. His dreams wavered back and forth between pleasant and terrible memories until he slowly opened his eyes. It was still dark, and he could hear the rain still falling on the roof. It was then that he felt it, icy cold on his skin, above his heart. Eight slow taps…

Murder on 34th St.

Flashing lights shone in Herald Square on Christmas Eve, turning the falling snow shades of red and blue. Detective Elsa Hargrave stepped out of her police cruiser on 34th Street outside of the flagship Macy’s store in New York City. She ran a hand through her dark hair before pulling on a pair of latex crime scene gloves, wishing they were her warm mittens. A frigid chill had settled over the city, only made worse by the scene before her.

Santa Claus lay face-down in the middle of the sidewalk, blood pooling around his body and snowflakes contrasting against his bright red coat as they settled. The Forensics team swarmed around him, tagging the scene and snapping pictures. Hargrave surmised that the man had fallen from the roof of the building. She turned to her partner, Detective Alex Hallman, who was already on the scene. “What do we have here? A jumper, or something more sinister?”

“Vic’s name is John Murdock. Played Santa here at Macy’s. He came down about a half hour ago, probably off the roof.” Hallman replied. “Jumper’s not looking likely though. Our Santa looks like he might have put up a fight going over the edge. ME will confirm, but it looks like he got a little roughed up before taking his tumble.”

“Ok, let me know when the autopsy report comes back. In the meantime, let’s see if we can pull any security footage for the roof, and interview the other employees.” Hargrave shook her head. “Who kills Santa Claus on Christmas Eve?”

“Ho, ho, homicide.” quipped Hallman.

***

Hargrave took a swig from the Starbucks cup one of the officers had been kind enough to bring her. The interviewing wasn’t going well. No one she’d talked to so far had seen anything. With it being Christmas Eve, they were all far too busy, and she wasn’t holding out much hope of the sour expressionthe on the young guy in his mid-twenties sitting in front of her giving her any useful information either.

“Never spoke to the guy much. Being on the registers, we cashiers don’t get to spend much time with the Santa crew.”

“Alright, did you happen to see him before he fell, or anything out of the ordinary? Establishing a timeline of events is important for us.”

“Lady, it’s Christmas Eve, at Macy’s, in New York City. It’s been insane here all week, today even more so no, I haven’t gotten a chance to breathe, let alone see anything.” The kid chuckled. “Hell, I’m surprised Murdock’s the <em>only</em> one who jumped.”

“Yes, well, thanks for your time then.” Hargrave rolled her eyes as she turned and walked away. “Prick.”

***

“He was a real asshole, y’know? I ain’t sayin’ I’m happy he’s dead, but I ain’t too choked up about it, neither.”

Hargrave frowned down at the little man leaning on a giant red and green nutcracker with his arms crossed. She had to work hard to keep a straight face, though, since his bright green elf costume clashed so much with his surly attitude and thick New York accent. “Mr. Byrd, have you been here working all evening?”

“Yeah, I been playing elf since noon. Christmas Eve, kids are all gettin’ their last-minute wishes in to Santa. Not to mention the parents gettin’ in their last minute gift shoppin’ cause they forgot somethin’, ya know?. But yeah, I was here. Johnny said he was goin’ up to the roof for a smoke break, never came back. Not alive anyway.”

“Do you know of anyone here who might have wanted to see Mr. Murdock killed?”

“Like I said, he was kind of a prick to the other workers. Not a very jolly fella, unless you’re pointing a camera at him. But no, I don’t know of anybody who had that big a grudge against the guy.”

“Thank you, Mr. Byrd.” Hargrave shook his hand as she flipped her notebook closed and turned to go find Hallman.

“Any luck on that security footage?” she asked when she found him.

“A little. The quality is crap, and the snow obscures a lot of it,” Hallman shrugged, “but he definitely didn’t jump. And it wasn’t our elf friend, that much we could tell.”

“Good. Ornery little guy, but he was growing on me.” Hargrave said with a grin.

“He seems like your type.” Hallman got a playful shove for the gibe.

***

Hargrave continued interviewing store employees, but mostly got the same answers as she got from Byrd: nobody much liked Murdock, but they tolerated him because he made a good Santa. He looked the part, and everyone said that he was fantastic around the children. It was to adults that he was often rude and unforgiving.

Hargrave stood staring one of the usher girls she was interviewing, who sat fidgeting in front of her and refused to look her in the eyes for more than a few seconds at a time.

“Hi there, Tiffany, is it?” The girl looked up, nodded, and returned her gaze to the floor. “Can you tell me anything about Mr. Murdock and what happened here tonight?”

“Nothing, really. I don’t know him all that well.”

“But you worked with him, didn’t you?” Elsa asked.

“Well, yeah, but I didn’t know him personally. It’s not like we went out dancing after work every night.” It seemed like Tiffany found a bit of courage. Hargrave pushed back to keep in control.

“What about dancing with him on the roof then? You were working with him the night he died. This makes you and every other employee here, a person of interest in this investigation.”

“Sorry, Ma’am.” Tiffany went back to staring at her shoes. “Like I said, we didn’t talk much. I really don’t know anything that might help you catch who did this to him. He went on break, and never came back.”

Hargrave sensed that Tiffany knew more than she was letting on, based on the girl’s fidgeting. Elsa asked her a few more questions, but didn’t get anywhere, so she decided to let the girl go for now and play a hunch instead.

***

“Mr. Byrd, you seem like an observant man who knows what’s going on around here. What can you tell me about Tiffany Robbins?”

“The blonde girl? Hell of an ass.” The dwarf smirked.

Hargrave chuckled. “Fair enough. Anything else I might be interested in?”

“Hmm. Well, I think Murdock had the same opinion of her. He’s made a few comments from time to time ’bout how he wouldn’t mind knocking his Santa boots with her. I never saw him try nothin’, but that don’t mean it didn’t happen. Funny thing is, he ain’t the only one. You talk to Tim yet? Cashier, young, kind of a snarky little shit?”

“I think I know exactly who you’re talking about. What about him?”

“He’s always staring at the chick. Makes excuses to make his way over here when he can, trying to chat her up. Creeps me out a little, to be honest. Stalker much?”

“Thanks, Byrd. I appreciate the help.”

“Glad I could help. Like I said before, I didn’t like Murdock all that much, but doesn’t mean somebody shoulda thrown ‘im off a roof.”

***

Hargrave sat looking over the notes she’d jotted down so far. She felt that she was close to finding something that might tie things together. She laid her forehead in her hands and stared down at the notebook on the table, scanning the page, hoping that something would pop out at her.

Nothing. She yawned, crossed her arms, and sat back in her chair. Outside, a group of employees stood in a small circle, soft, orange glows lighting their faces every now and then. Elsa stared at them for a moment, remembering something that the elf had said, that Murdock had gone to smoke. If he had gone up to the roof to have a cigarette--which would have been more likely than out on the street; after all, Santa doesn’t smoke--then the killer could have been up there with him without arousing any real suspicion.

As the smokers came back in, she realized that one of them was Tim, the cashier she had talked to earlier. She still wasn’t entirely sure what his connection to Murdock was, but she stood up to go talk to one person who might.

***

“Tiffany, I think there’s more to this story than you told me earlier, and sooner or later, I’m going to get to the bottom of it.”

“I, uh, I’m not sure what you mean. I told you everything I know.”

“I don’t think you did. See, while I don’t think you know who killed our Santa Claus, you left out the part where Mr. Murdock was interested in you.”

“He’s made some comments before, but he’s just a pervy old guy, why would that matter?”

“Because he’s dead now, Tiffany, that’s why.” Hargrave shifted gears to avoid getting into a pointless arguing match. “You don’t smoke, do you?”

“No, why?” Tiffany looked puzzled.

“Just curious. Santa did. How about Tim Stern, do you know him?” Elsa asked.

“Yeah, he’s friendly. He comes around a lot to see if we need anything. Water, snacks, things like that.”

“Are you two together?”

Tiffany laughed out loud. “No way. He’s just a friend. My boyfriend lives on campus at Columbia.”

Hargrave was about to ask Tiffany more about the cashier when she saw her partner wave to her out of the corner of her eye. “Alright, I think I’m done for now. Go on.” she told the girl, getting up to see what Hallman wanted.

“Heard back from the ME. He’s pissed we called him in on Christmas Eve, but laughed when I told him he’d be working on Santa. Anyway, here’s the preliminary report. Short version: he died from the fall--obviously--but like I said, he got roughed up before he went over the edge. He’s got some bruising from a few punches to the torso, but the kicker is this: a few of them have a distinctive square mark, probably from a ring.”

“Thanks, Hall, this is quite helpful. I think I know who might be our killer.”

***

“Going somewhere, Timmy? You lied to me.” Hargrave said, approaching the cashier. He had a heavy coat on, and his hands were in his pockets.

“Excuse me?” The boy looked confused.

“You told me you didn’t spend much time with ‘the Santa crew’, as you put it. That’s not true, is it?”

“Well, I’ve been pretty busy the last few weeks, but I know they’re really swamped over there. I try to check in, make sure they’re OK. Get ‘em coffee if they need it.”

“Is gopher boy in your job description?”

“A guy can’t be nice in New York?” he asked.

“Not without raising an eyebrow or two,” she fired back. “The way I hear it, you’ve taken quite the interest in a fellow employee; a Ms. Robbins. You know, if you want to date someone, it usually helps to ask them out, rather than the implication of bribery with coffee. That doesn’t usually get you anywhere, other than the “dreaded Friend Zone”, as it were. In fact, I’d wager you’re already there. What was it she said when I asked about you two? Let me check my notes.” She pulled out a small sketchpad as she spoke and flipped it open. “Oh right: ‘Ha! No way.’ Tough luck, kid.”

Stern, clearly upset, pulled his hands out of his coat, yelling and pointing at her. “What the hell do you know, lady?” He stopped short as Hargrave snatched his wrist out of the air.

“I know that someone’s been roughhousing lately” Stern’s knuckles were red and swollen. “I’m betting that’s not from the gym. That’s a nice ring you’ve got there, too. Class of 2010? I’ll bet it matches the bruises we found on Murdock’s body.”

Stern’s face turned pale. He spoke softly. “Murdock was an asshole. Always messing with Tiffany, making comments and staring at her ass. She’s too nice to do anything about it though. So I did.”

“Timmy, the bad news is, being an asshole isn’t a crime. The good news is, in your case, it doesn’t matter, we’ve got plenty to book you for. Like murder.” She waved over a couple other officers. “Take ‘im away, boys.” She turned to Hallman, who had come up a few minutes earlier, and smiled. “I love it when I get to say that.” She looked down at her watch. “C’mon, let’s get out of here. It’s Christmas after all.”

The Devil Loves Bacon – Cards Against Humanity #2

Welcome to the second installment of Cards Against Humanity Stories, where random combinations of CAH cards get turned into full works of fiction.

The Combo: With enough time and pressure, [A micropig wearing a tiny raincoat and booties] will turn into [The Devil himself].

A small rainboot tipped over, spilling a tiny, red pool across the floor.

2 WEEKS EARLIER…

Alice Fox froze mid-stride as the most adorable thing she had ever seen came towards her. Her six-year-old daughter Suzie pulled her arm forward until Suzie realized her mother had stopped. “What’s wrong, Mommy?” Alice just pointed ahead, and Suzie let out a girlish squeal as she saw the tiny piglet sauntering through Central Park. Even though the sky was clear, it wore a tiny yellow raincoat, and matching miniature rubber boots.

The micropig trotted up to them and stopped, calmly sniffing around their feet. Suzie pulled on Alice’s hand, her wide grin and bright eyes begging her mother to let her pick it up. Alice looked around to find the pig’s owner, but didn’t see anyone else. They were standing at the crossroads of two main paths, so anyone nearby should have been visible. Alice looked back at Suzie, smiled, and gave a small nod. Suzie’s eyes grew even wider, and she bent down to pick up the animal. It squirmed a bit as she did so, but quickly stilled and snuggled itself into Suzie’s chest as she held it. “Can we keep her, Mommy? Please?” Suzie pleaded.

Alice knew this question was coming. She continued to look around for someone who might know where the pig had come from, but there was still no one in sight. Alice took another look at the pig. It didn’t appear to have any tags or any other information about who it might belong to. Alice took one last glance around and made a decision. “Well, Honey, she must belong to someone. We can bring her home with us for now, but we have to see if we can find out who her real owners are.” All Suzie heard was “We can bring her home.”

“THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, MOMMY! What should we name her? How about Lucy? That’s a good name. Lucy, for…I don’t know what for, but it’s a good name.” Alice chuckled at her daughter’s enthusiasm. She gave Lucy a pat on the head, producing a short series of oinks, and the three of them set off for home.

Alice would soon realize that there might be a problem. While she and Suzie were the only human occupants of the Fox household--Alice’s husband had passed away shortly after Suzie was born--they also had a cat. Angel got along with Suzie wonderfully (and mostly avoided Alice, unless it was dinnertime), but he was an indoor cat, and had never lived with other animals before. Alice wasn’t sure what would happen, but she figured they would just have to wait and see.

As Alice unlocked the front door, the pig leaped out of Suzie’s arms and started doing laps around the living room. Suzie laughed and began chasing her. The cat, who had been lying in the corner, hissed at the new intruder and jumped to perched atop the television set where he remained, watching the proceedings. After a few laps, the pig suddenly stopped, staring up at the cat. It let out a “hmph”, and resumed its circular trajectory. Angel merely narrowed his eyes.

For the next week or so, everything was normal. Alice printed a few “Found: Pig” flyers and hung them up, and made some inquiries to local animal shelters, but no one had reported a missing micropig. They took a few more walks through the park, but never met anyone who was looking for the animal. Alice began to wonder if they would ever find the previous owners. The raincoat and boots they had found it in indicated it was owned by someone--after all, a pig couldn’t dress itself--but if no one came forward, she didn’t see the harm in keeping Lucy. The pig wasn’t much trouble, Suzie was happy, and Angel…well, Angel would adjust.

A few days later, Alice and Suzie were sitting in the living room, watching television with a plate of chips and salsa. Lucy was quiet on the floor beneath them, except when Suzie would sneak her a chip, which she accepted eagerly. Angel, who had avoided the pig with disdain since it had arrived, padded his way down the hall towards the litter box. As he passed the couch, he hissed at Lucy. The pig sprang up and darted down the hall, and the cat followed close on its heels. A commotion came from the other room as the two animals knocked over books, lamps, and other odds and ends in their frantic chase. As they came back down the hall, the cat pounced, and raked a claw down the pig’s back.

The pig exploded in a cloud of red smoke, and the smell of bacon was thick in the air. Alice and Suzie both screamed, and the plate went flying.

“FOOLISH MONGREL.” a deep voice bellowed from the smoke. “BY WHAT RIGHT DO YOU DRAW BLOOD FROM THE KING OF HELL?”

Alice and Suzie continued screaming as a man in a crisp, dark suit stepped out of the dissipating smoke. His patent leather shoes tapped impatiently on the hardwood, and the small horns protruding from his head gave off a dull red glow. He brushed himself off and looked at the two screaming girls.

“OH, COME NOW, STOP IT. I CAN’T SHOW UP ANYWHERE WITHOUT SCREAMING AND HYSTERICS. IT’S TERRIBLY ANNOYING.”

Alice and her daughter quieted, and sat there blinking. “Wh…who are you?” Alice asked.

“WELL? ISN’T IT OBVIOUS? The HORNS DON’T GIVE IT AWAY? SATAN, LUCIFER, BEELZEBUB, ABADDON, KING OF HELL, THE DEVIL HIMSELF! SURELY, YOU’VE HEARD OF ME.”

Alice didn’t have an answer to that. There was a man in her living room, claiming to be the Devil. This was New York, and strange things were known to happen, but this was pushing even her suspension of disbelief. Thankfully, she didn’t have to come up with anything to say, because Suzie spoke first.

“If you’re really the Devil, where’s your pitchfork?”

“I LEFT IT AT HOME.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“HA. OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF BABES. SUCH A PRECIOUS CHILD. I LIKE THIS ONE. BOLD.”

“Fine, you left it at home. But why were you my pig then? And why were you a girl pig?” Suzie demanded.

“BECAUSE I CAN DO AS I PLEASE. A CELESTIAL BEING IS NOT ALLOWED TO VISIT EARTH ONCE IN A WHILE? SPEND SOME TIME WITH THE LOCALS? I HAVE A FONDNESS FOR YOU HUMANS. AS FOR MY DISGUISE, BASED ON MY OBSERVATIONS, IT SEEMED RATHER SAFE. NO ONE WOULD EVER HARM A TINY PIG IN A RAINCOAT. EXCEPT YOUR FILTHY ANIMAL, I SUPPOSE. WHERE DID IT GO? I MUST DEAL WITH IT.”

“You leave Angel alone, you big meanie!” Suzie cried. Alice began to fear that her daughter was beginning to be a bit too bold. Whether or not this man was really who he said he was, he was still a stranger in their apartment, and there was no telling what might happen if he were angered.

Fortunately, at this exact moment, another smoke cloud appear next to Lucifer, this one smaller than the first. A grotesque creature stood there when it cleared, holding a blackened clipboard.

“Ah! Sir! There you are. We’ve been looking for you for weeks! You’re needed in Hell urgently!” the thing squawked.

The Devil sighed heavily. “OH, FANTASTIC. THE MINIONS HAVE FOUND ME. THERE GOES MY VACATION. LET ME GUESS, MEPHISTOPHELES IS CALLING FOR WAR WITH THE ANGELS AGAIN? CAN’T YOU DEMONS TAKE CARE OF ANYTHING WITHOUT ME?”

He turned back to Alice and Suzie. “IT LOOKS LIKE I MUST DEPART. FAREWELL, IT WAS A PLEASURE. OH, AND THANKS FOR THE CHIPS. IT LOOKS LIKE YOU’VE MADE QUITE THE MESS THOUGH.” He was right. When the plate of chips and salsa went flying, it ended up everywhere.

With that, a final cloud of smoke appeared around the Devil and his demon. The apartment shook as they both disappeared.

A small rainboot tipped over, spilling a tiny, red pool across the floor.

Angel came out of hiding, and began licking at the salsa.

Today was actually a fairly productive day.

1. I went to the gym and did a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) routine.

A friend recommended this program, http://www.dailyhiit.com/content/7-day-challenge. I’ve only done the first workout, but I like it so far. HIIT gives a pretty intense workout in a rather short time, which is nice for those of us who want to fit a lot of stuff into our days. It should also serve as a good break for the regular weight training that I’ve done the last few weeks. It’s always nice to switch things up a bit, to not let your nervous system get too into the routine and complacent.

2. I built lighting stands out of PVC pipe, for making videos. (I have no idea what exactly those will be yet, but I’ll figure that out as I go. Maybe something involving cooking.) Here’s a tutorial for the stands. It’s really simple and inexpensive. Pro tip: GET THE PVC CUTTER. It’s like $6, and will save you a ridiculous amount of time.

3. I also managed to make some headway on a stabilizer rig for my GoPro. All I need to do now is actually mount the camera on the frame. Here’s something like what I’m building.

4. And now I’m about to sit down with a glass of bourbon scotch and pound out a few paragraphs in the latest CAH installment (check out the first one, “Do You Know The Muffin, Man?“, if you haven’t read it!). And maybe play some video games. We’ll see what happens…

All in all a decent way to spend a day.

CAH #1: Do You Know The Muffin, Man?

Cards Against Humanity is a game where you make hilarious sentences out of combinations of cards. Many of the combinations are entirely offensive and rude, but they often can make potentially interesting stories.

Here’s the first in a series of short stories inspired by random combinations of CAH cards:

The combo: Lifetime® presents [Space Muffins], the story of [Sniffing glue].

Arthur sat alone on the bridge of his ship, watching the stars pass as it traveled through hyperspace. The trip back from the salvage mission would take another three days, but he didn’t mind. Returning to his home on Ganymede simply meant that the adventure--if you could call it that--was over. He’d have to endure the bill collectors, his overbearing girlfriend, and everyone else who desperately wanted to shatter his peace and quiet. He was in no great hurry.

Since he wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon, Arthur reached over and pulled a small canister out of a hidden compartment. He was breaking any number of galactic regulations by even having it on the ship, but he didn’t care. He held the canister up to his face and pushed a small button on the side. With a soft hiss, it let out a cloud of invisible gas that smelled like leather and blueberries. He sank into the pilot’s chair and waited for it to wash over him.

It began in his toes. A subtle tingling that quickly worked its way up his legs, through his chest and out to the tip of his nose. He felt relaxed, even contented for the first time in days. He smiled as the tingling worked back down his chest and out to his fingertips, then back to finally settle in the back of his skull.

After a while, Arthur opened his eyes, and jolted when he saw the muffin that he had had for breakfast hovering a few inches from his face.

“How ya feelin’, Artie?” it said, crumbs falling everywhere as a mouth, if you could call it that, formed as the muffin split itself open in the middle. There were two blueberries on top of the muffin that moved around like they were eyes. They settled on Arthur.

“Umm. Fine?” Arthur replied, immensely confused. Shit, how much did I take? he thought.

“Hmmph, not for long. The Muffin God is greatly displeased with you…” the floating muffin said, in a very imperious tone.

“Mu…Muffin God? I know I’m high, but…what? That’s…not a thing, right?”

“A breakfast item is floating before you, talking to you, and you’re skeptical? Well, in any case, you’re right, I’m just messing with you. This is entirely a figment of your imagination. Why you picked a muffin to commune with I’m not quite sure, but hey, it’s your own messed up head.”

Arthur merely blinked at the muffin. “Okay, sure. Do you, like, have a name?”

“Nope. Do muffins usually have names?”

Arthur pinched the bridge of his nose. Let’s not encourage the talking muffin… “No, nevermind. So, why am I talking to a muffin?”

“I’m just here to dish out a little wisdom, be your ‘spirit guide’ or whatever. You know, you should really be nicer to Lily. She may be a handful sometimes, but she loves you, and she’s just trying to get close to you. Let her in once in a while, will ya?”

“Look, I don’t need relationship advice from a pastry, alright?” Arthur muttered indignantly, and started to stand up. His head protested harshly, the cockpit and the muffin spinning in his vision, and he quickly sank back down into the bucket seat.

“Yeah, you probably shouldn’t move for a while,” the muffin said sympathetically. Arthur grunted in mild agreement.

“Anyway, as I was saying, she loves you. She’s the best thing that’s ever happened to you, and you’d be devastated if you let anything come between you two. You just have to pull your head out of your ass and realize it.”

Arthur closed his eyes. He was still angry with Lily about the fight they had before he left, but he realized that he couldn’t even remember exactly what it was they were fighting about. The muffin’s words began to take root, and the anger faded somewhat. It would take a while to fully resolve things between them, but he knew that he needed to apologize when he returned home.

Arthur opened his eyes to thank the muffin, but it was gone. He looked around, bewildered, and his eyes settled on the chronometer on the ship’s dash. I’ve really been out for eight hours? The stars continued to sail past the window, the engine humming softly.

He smiled and shook his head. “I picked the wrong day to start sniffing glue.” 

Neglect, Crime, and Potato Chips

February.

Of 2012. Ouch.

This blog has seen some serious neglect. If it were a child, I’d probably be in jail right now. (Who am I kidding, screw jail, I’d be in Costa Rica on a beach, sipping rum out of a coconut. Wait, does Costa Rica have an extradition treaty? Damn, they do. Dubai then. Also,I’m pretty sure I just ended up on some FBI watchlist by Googling “countries without extradition treaties with the US”. I’d make a horrible criminal.)

Anyway, I’m going to make more of an effort to write more. Mainly because all I ever write these days are support ticket replies, which 9 times out of 10 follow the same basic format, and super-short social media posts. Which, to be honest, is really the mental equivalent of eating celery and potato chips all day.

This is a forum where I get to stretch my creative arms a bit and write whatever I want. Personal updates more substantial than two-line Facebook posts, essays about topics that interest me, opinions about books/games/movies/etc. Really whatever strikes my fancy, because the only way to get better at writing, is to, well, write.

Spotify Ballroom Dance Playlists

As I’ve been listening to music on Spotify recently, if I come across one that suits a particular ballroom dance, I’ve thrown it into a playlist, which I’m offering for general consumption. These are all set to be collaborative playlists,  and they’re by no means complete, so feel free to add and edit them.

Smooth

Waltz
Tango
Foxtrot
Viennese Waltz

Standard

Waltz
Tango
Slow Foxtrot
Quickstep
Viennese Waltz

Rhythm

Cha-Cha
Rumba
Swing

Salsa/Mambo

Bolero

Latin

Cha-Cha
Rumba
Jive
Samba
Paso Doble

Misc.

West Coast Swing
Hustle

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