Wednesday, February 29, 2012

WWA, Chapter Sixteen

Here's Chapter Sixteen of my story about Nancy Drew: Warnings at Waverly Academy.  Today, Nancy calls her father and learns a valuable life lesson.

---

Becca Sawyer patted her straight red hair. She had just put one over Izzy Romero, the student body president! That was brilliant! Becca was well on her way to becoming the coolest girl in school! Why, she would become the valedictorian this year, and she'd—

What?

Nancy Drew shook her head.

I'm getting a little too much into character here, Nancy thought. I'm here to solve a mystery, not to become popular. Becca Sawyer is just a cover.

Nancy went to the school computer and logged on, with the Internet password from Izzy. She was going to send a quick email to her father, letting him know that she arrived at her destination safely, but it turned out that the computer could only connect to the school website.

I went through all that trouble, just to reach the school website? Nancy thought. If this is the only website the computer can connect to, why did they block it?

The website had more information about the school and the various rules. The rules were all obvious things, like no sneaking out of your room after curfew, no climbing the tree in the yard, and no breaking the special collections cabinet with a flag.

Would have been nice if I knew that last one four chapters ago... Nancy thought.

The most important thing on the list of school rules was the part about the snack shack. All new students—AKA Nancy—had to work the snack shack at least once a day. You got demerits if you skipped out on snack shack duties, and you got credits if you did snack shack more than once a day.

Great, the school is too cheap to hire people to work the snack shack, so they make the students do it... Nancy thought. She sighed and then breezed through the rest of the website. The other pages were mostly boring or under construction.

Well, if I can't email him, guess I'd better call Dad, Nancy thought. She got up and left the computer. On her way out of the library, she saw a sign on the desk which read "Corine Meyers: Student Librarian". Nancy made a note of this in the journal, then stepped outside and called her dad's cell phone.

"Nancy?" Carson Drew answered on the second ring.

"Hi, Dad," Nancy said. "I'm calling to say that I arrived at New York okay. I dropped off my stuff in my room, and now I'm going around the dorm, meeting everyone."

"That's good to hear," Carson said. "I can't tell you how glad I am that you're at Waverly Academy. This way, you won't miss any school while you're solving a mystery out-of-state. Maybe those valedictorian girls will be a good influence on you, and they'll convince you to spend more time studying and less time solving mysteries."

"I prefer to let my track record speak for itself," Nancy said.

"Yes, and your records stink," Carson Drew said. "You barely passed biology class, as I recall."

"Dad! I meant my record as an international supersleuth!" Nancy said. "Besides, biology is totally useless in the real world!"

"Oh, yeah?" Carson said. "What if, I dunno, someone asks for your help with a DNA model? You wouldn't know what to do!"

"...Okay, you win," Nancy said. "I'll try to study harder when I'm here. Especially since I have to keep up with all the other valedictorians."

Carson chuckled. "That's my girl," he said. "Stay safe, okay?"

"Will do," Nancy said. "Goodbye."

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Death Penalty in California

Last Tuesday, we had a presentation on the death penalty.  It's a timely topic, because here in California, people are working to get the death penalty replaced with life in prison without the possibility of parole.  This proposed law will mostly likely be on the ballot in November.

What struck me as the most interesting part of the event was seeing the different reactions of the family members of murder victims.  Some of them were staunch supporters of the death penalty; others work hard to eradicate it.  I was interested to see such a wide range of different reactions and emotions about the death penalty, from people who are usually grouped together as "the same" in the philosophical tracts I've read.

Personally, I do not support the death penalty, and I will vote to get rid of it in November, if given the chance.

There are many problems with the death penalty.  Killing is immoral.  The death penalty costs too much money.  It does not do an adequate enough job of deterring crimes.  The system is imperfect, and the possibility of innocent people being condemned to die still exists; in fact, we know for certain that this has happened many times in the past.  In California, there seems to be an element of racism in the use of the death penalty; latinos and blacks are killed at a much higher rate than whites.

Going back to the family members of murder victims, though, you sometimes hear the argument that the death penalty is good, because it brings peace to the family members of the victim.  I don't think I can agree with that.  The people from families where the killer received the death penalty were just as affected as the people from families where the killer got away.  Yes, it should bring a sense of righteous satisfaction to learn that a killer has been brought to justice and appropriately punished, no matter what the punishment is.  However, that doesn't replace the lost life.  It might appease some people's sense of vengeance, but it doesn't take away the pain of losing a family member.

Of course, I'm Catholic, and the church teaches that all life is sacred, including the lives of killers, fetuses and disabled people.  A lot of people are surprised to learn that the Catholic Church officially opposes the death penalty. I don't find that information surprising at all. The Catholic Church comes from Jesus, who was sentenced to the death penalty by the local government, even though he was innocent of any crimes. Also, for the past 2,000 years, there has always been a place, somewhere in the world, where Catholicism has been outlawed and punished with the death penalty.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Nancy Drew Music

It seems that some of the Nancy Drew music is available on CD.
Or, not CD, but for download.  Ten dollars gets you the music tracks for five games in the series, which is two dollars per game.  Not bad, considering most iTunes songs are 99 cents; these songs will cost you about forty cents.
Of course, you can probably find these songs on Youtube, but now you can get them on your iPod.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Brave

They released another trailer for the next Pixar movie, Brave.  This trailer appears to be two and a half minutes, taken directly from the movie.



Okay, now I want to see the movie.  The last two trailers didn't capture my interest, but this one makes the movie look good.  I can't understand what the characters are saying all the time, but it looks interesting.

It also reminds me of Robin Hood, but that's probably because that movie also had an archery scene, in which someone hits a bullseye by shooting an arrow through another arrow.

I was nine when the first Pixar movie came out, so I guess it's accurate to say that I grew up, watching all of the Pixar movies. I stopped watching Pixar films when I went to college, and I haven't seen a Pixar film since, except Toy Story 3. Maybe it's time to start watching their shows again.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

WWA, Chapter Fifteen

Here's Chapter Fifteen of my story about Nancy Drew: Warnings at Waverly Academy.  Today, Nancy finishes talking to Izzy.

---

Nancy eventually managed to solve the DNA model puzzle. She went back to Izzy and placed it in front of the student body president.

"There, I'm done," Nancy said. "Now can you tell me the password?"

"Awesome," Izzy said. "Okay, the computer password is WAC35NE136."

Nancy copied that down in her notebook.

"Anything else?" Izzy asked.

"Uh...sure," Nancy said. "What do you think about the other students here, like Megan or Mel?"

"Oh, Mel," Izzy said, half-laughing. "All that edgy, free spirit, deep thinking stuff is just an act. She knows that she can't cut it here, so she's making it look like she doesn't care."

"Maybe she really doesn't care," Nancy said.

"Everybody cares what other people think," Izzy said. "In fact, if they don't, they're psychopaths. I just learned that in AP Psych."

Nancy had a feeling Izzy knew a lot about psychopaths.

"Speaking of psychopaths, have you gotten any notes from the Black Cat?" Nancy asked.

"Everyone on the Val Can floor has," Izzy said. Then, seeing the blank look on Nancy's face, she added, "The valedictorian candidate floor. Our floor."

"Oh, right..." Nancy said. She had been thrown off by the fact that there was no real reason to name the different floors in a two-story building. "I think the notes are kind of creepy."

"I think they're just a stupid distraction, and the person sending them should be expelled," Izzy said. "Not that who that person is is any great mystery."

"It isn't?" Nancy asked. Had Izzy solved the mystery without telling anyone?

"It's Mel," Izzy said. "Like I said, she's a little psycho. And black cats, strange mishaps—it all fits in with the inane goth thing she's got going on. I mean, who else could it be?"

"Maybe somebody is trying to frame her," Nancy said, trying to be logical. "You know, they pick an alias that fits with Mel, to cast suspicion off of themselves. Why else pick a name like the Black Cat?"

"Well..." Izzy said, looking around to make sure no one else was near them. "Don't tell anyone I told you this, but..."

"Mel has a boyfriend?" Nancy asked.

"What?" Izzy asked. "No! I'm trying to say that—"

"Pink isn't her natural hair color?" Nancy asked. "Yeah, I kind of guessed that."

"No!" Izzy said. "I mean—"

"Oh! You used to be a goth, and you're secretly jealous of Mel because she pulls off the goth look way better than you did!" Nancy said.

"Stop interrupting!" Izzy said. "I'm trying to tell you the story of the Black Cat."

"Oh," Nancy said.

Izzy's voice went low. "Supposedly, there was a teacher here once, long ago, who none of the students liked. They were always playing tricks on her, scaring her and stuff, until one day one of their pranks gave her a heart attack, and she died. Her black cat went running off into the woods during the funeral and never came back. But for years after that, people would spot it, lurking in the shadows, and whenever it did, something bad would happen. They said it was the teacher, Miss Hallowell, coming back as her cat to get revenge."

"Interesting..." Nancy said. So the school had a history of being plagued by a black cat who brought bad luck?

"Somebody here's obviously trying to get some mileage out of a silly ghost story," Izzy said. "One the headmistress is trying desperately to squelch, by the way, so remember, you didn't hear it from me."

"My lips are sealed," Nancy said. "But hey, before I go, I just want to know one more thing from you. What do you think your chances of making valedictorian are?"

"Chance has nothing to do with it," Izzy said. "I deserve to be valedictorian, therefore, I'm going to be valedictorian."

"Your grades are that good?" Nancy asked.

"It's not just a matter of getting the highest grades," Izzy said. "The faculty also looks at extracurricular activities, leadership, community service, school spirit—things I totally excel it."

"I get it now," Nancy said. "You're counting on your status as student body president to put you over the top of the competition."

Izzy nodded. "I'm going to be valedictorian, and then I'm going to Harvard," she said.

"Good plan," Nancy said. "Of course, your chances of being valedictorian might drop once the school learns that you force other people to do your homework, but I guess that's a risk you're willing to take."

Izzy froze. "What?" she asked.

"I'm just saying, if someone were to tell the biology teacher that she did your DNA model, not you, well...things could be bad for you," Nancy said.

"Are you threatening me?" Izzy asked. "You can't prove you put the model together!"

"Can't I?" Nancy asked, pretending to examine her fingernails. "If you try to make me do your homework again, I guess we'll find out."

Izzy started fuming, but Nancy turned and walked away from the angry student body president.

"Oh, by the way," Nancy said, casting a backwards glance towards Izzy. "Nice hair."

Friday, February 24, 2012

Springtime

Springtime is coming early this year, as it's getting abnormally warm and sunny for this area.  All the trees and plants bloomed early, and we're in the mid 70's.

I tend to talk about this every year, but I'll say it again: the first week of spring is pretty hard on me and all the other people whose freckles come out in spring.  It basically feels like I have heatstroke for an entire week, and I have to sleep more and drink more water.

Anyway, that's your news for this Friday: Spring has come early this year.  I'm getting exhausted, and the birds are getting all twitterpated.  I'm serious about those birds; there was a hawk outside my window at work today.  It took the creature two hours to eat a dead squirrel.  I'd share the pictures here, but I don't think people want to see them.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Video Responses

I've received a few requests for video responses lately.

1. You might remember that I sang an impromptu song, at the end of the third Professor Layton game. Someone took the audio for that, and they put it to different cutscenes from that game. I'm slightly disappointed that they cut out one of the verses of my song, though.



2. Someone put a copy of the trailer for the next Nancy Drew game, up on their channel. I decided not to make this a video response, and you'll notice I decided not to put this trailer up myself. Why? The official Nancy Drew channel put the trailer, and I don't want to steal views away from them.



3. Someone liked one of the Professor Layton songs, so they played it in the background of a few cutscenes from the game. That's fine, I guess, but how is this really a response to my walkthrough?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent.  Lent is the forty day period before Easter, and people observe fasting and abstinence during Lent.  The official requirements are to abstain from eating meat on Fridays, and only Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fasting.

Of course, many people go above and beyond these requirements, and they give something up for the entire forty days of Lent.  People will often give up something bad, like smoking or gossiping.  People also give up good things, which are bad in excessive amounts, such as television or the Internet.  And of course, people decide to take up good things for Lent, such as when someone works at a soup kitchen every week of Lent or someone pledges to say a daily rosary for all forty days.  Almsgiving in particular is highly recommended as a good virtue to practice during Lent.

I'm going to give up playing videogames for Lent, because they have the tendency to eat up too much of my time.  Even when I'm not playing videogames, they can sometimes distract me; I'll get so caught up with thinking about games that I don't pay attention to what I'm doing.  And that should not be the case.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Question

How long would you say it takes before you decide an Internet project is officially dead?  Two months? Four months?  One year?

I read stories on Fanfiction.net sometimes.  Every now and then, I come across a very popular, very good story.  And then, after I'm five chapters in and I'm completely hooked on the story, I notice that it's unfinished, and it hasn't been updated since 2003.

Well, if the author hasn't written a new chapter in nine years, it's a pretty good bet the story will never be finished.  But sometimes, the author hasn't written a new chapter in four months.  That could mean the story has been abandoned, or the author has just been too busy to write much lately.  Where do you draw the line?  How do you make that judgment call between "the project is dead" and "the project has been delayed for a long time"?

Personally, I decided to make a special folder for projects I like, which haven't been updated in a while.  Every six months or so, I go through the folder to see if any of them have been finished.  Sometimes they do get finished, which is always a nice surprise.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Back to the Future: Episode Three

The video walkthrough for Back to the Future: The Game: Episode Three has been finished! This one is a little more orderly than the walkthrough for the second game, although Paul and I still spend way too much time discussing the finer points of Doc and Edna's relationship.



Sunday, February 19, 2012

Harry Potter Movies

My friend Nathaniel recently did a marathon of all eight Harry Potter movies, in a row.  His thoughts on the series were interesting, and now, here are my thoughts on his thoughts.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is indeed more whimsical and lighthearted than the other movies in the series.  A lot of people think this is due to the director, but I think it's also due to the book.  There was more of a sense of joy and exploring the fun new world of magic in that book than in the others, probably because it was the book in which Harry first was exposed to magic.  In the following books, there are fewer and fewer new magical things that Harry gets exposed to.  As I recall, this gets mentioned in Book 4, when Harry hears the term "Death Eaters" for the first time.

When I watch this movie, I get the sense that they had to hold back with the special effects.  The later movies all had special effects budgets which ranked somewhere between "huge" and "unlimited".  But this movie feels like it had a limited special effects budget, and they had to cut corners a bit. Just off the top of my head, here are some ways they saved money on special effects.

1. Seamus sets things on fire, but this always happens off camera.
2. The chess set scene involves a lot of zooming in on stationary chess pieces.
3. When Wood teaches Harry about Quidditch, he does a good deal of pretending that the Bludger in his hands is actually moving, when it's not.

The later movies would have done all of those things in CGI.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.  I agree: Movie Lockhart is not like Book Lockhart.  I still liked him.  And I loved how the movie ends with Hagrid getting a standing ovation for no apparent reason.  That's good stuff right there.  And I'll be honest, I liked Young Voldemort in this movie much more than Young Voldemort in the sixth one.

Also, Dobby and Lucius Malfoy do a great job of stealing every single scene that they're in.  Crabbe and Goyle also do a good job with their extended screentime, which is probably more than we of them in all the other films combined.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  I dunno, I never really liked this movie.  It just sort of screams "the director didn't read the book", with all the things that don't fit into the Harry Potter canon.  For example, the movie starts off with Harry at the Dursleys, casting the Lumos spell multiple times in a row.  At this point, it's already been established that Harry can't do magic outside of school, without getting in trouble with the government.  But the movie just completely ignores it, and the following movies will likewise ignore the "no apparition in Hogwarts" and "no one besides Voldemort can fly without a broom" rules.

No, really.  It's the small things that bug me.  Aunt Marge is severely underdone, considering how good her actress is at playing villains.  Why does everyone wear civilian clothes instead of robes now?  Why are there talking Jamaican heads everywhere?  When did Tom from the Leaky Cauldron become a hunchback?  Who came up with the Bridge of Indeterminate Origin?  What happened to the plotline about the Marauders?  Is it possible for someone who has never read the books to know who Peter Pettigrew is, and why he is important to the plotline?  Why shove the Firebolt plotline into the last thirty seconds of the film?

Harry Potter and the Goblet of FireSure, it does take a while before the movie actually reaches the main plotline, about the Triwizard Tournament.  But that was the case in the book, too.  It's Chapter 12 of 37 when the tournament comes up, which is a third of the way through the book.

Overall, I like the movie more than the previous one.  The lack of Dobby disappointed me, although they replaced Dobby's role with developing Neville's character, which was nice.  And I agree that this is the movie where it is blaringly obvious that Angry Dumbledore is totally out of place.  He continues to be out of character for the rest of the series, and I like to blame Michael Gambon, the actor, for this, because he purposely avoided reading the books.

Harry Potter and the Order of the PhoenixI also enjoy how the movie crams in as many things as it can, without making anything seem too forced.  They do this through the use of some really good montages.  Also, this is the movie where Luna Lovegood is introduced.  Like Cedric Diggory before her, she does a good job of quickly assuming the status as one of the series' main characters, in a relatively short period of time.

It's her first movie, and she gets paired with secondary characters who have been in all the movies so far, such as Ginny and Neville.  And yet, she not only seamlessly integrates herself with them, she stands out as the most notable of the three auxiliary DA members who join the Battle at the Ministry.  Bellatrix Lestrange pulls off a similar feat among the Death Eaters.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.  This is a good movie, but I don't like it.  I blame the book for this; the book doesn't really fit in with the rest of the series.  The other books are (usually) fast-paced fantasy adventures.  In this book, romantic comedy takes the center stage.  Also, unlike the other books, this book doesn't really have a standalone plot; a lot of it is build-up for the seventh book, rather than it being complete material on its own.

It could also be that this book is more Dumbledore heavy than the others, and Movie Dumbledore never got my official seal of approval.  I like Horace Slughorn, though.  He did a good job, although I kind of wish that he had a mustache, just like he did in the books.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part OneYeah...I didn't really notice it in my review, but 90% of the characters wear normal clothing in this film.  The film spends hardly any time in magical locations, too.  Truly, it's mostly just an exercise in the development of the three main characters, rather than a series of exciting adventures.

I'm still not sure how I feel about Dobby, though.  Poor Dobby, at this point, had not appeared in the series in over six years.  They only brought him back, so they could give him a dramatic death scene.  Sure, they make up for this by giving Dobby some great one-liners, but...I would have either left him out entirely, or included him in one of the other films.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two.  Yes, I think you can make an argument that the last book should have been made into one movie, just like the others.  If they can make one movie out of the other, longer books, they can make this one into a single film.  Then again, I was always on board for splitting Goblet of Fire into two movies, so I dunno.

It was a good action movie, though, which is nice considering that the previous two movies were not action-centric.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

WWA, Chapter Fourteen

Here's Chapter Fourteen of my story about Nancy Drew: Warnings at Waverly Academy.  Today, Nancy tries to solve the DNA model puzzle.

---

Our heroine, Nancy Drew, was not in a good mood. She was being forced to do Izzy Romero's homework, in exchange for the Internet password.

"You just have to make sure that adenine is always paired with thymine, and cytosine is always paired with guanine," Izzy lectured Nancy. "And make sure each pair is connected to a sugar on the alternating sugar-phosphate side."

No...no...please, just stop... Nancy thought sadly. She didn't know what any of those things were.

"Just jump in. You'll figure it out," Izzy said. "When you're done, bring it back, and if you're right, I'll give you the password."

"Okay..." Nancy moaned. She grabbed the messy DNA model pieces, then went to a nearby study desk and spread them out. The pieces were mostly just colored balls, connected by pink sticks.

Izzy's handwritten note told Nancy that each color represented a different molecule. Or were they atoms? Nancy had no idea. She sort of failed that part of her high school biology class, because she had been solving a mystery in Canada the week her class went over DNA.

Nancy flipped open her notebook, which had all the details written out. Adenine was yellow, and it always connected to the black one. The red and blue ones always connected together, and the two longer ends alternated with white and brown. It was sort of like a weird jigsaw puzzle.

It took ten minutes, but Nancy finally got all the pieces together. She held up the DNA model proudly, ready to declare her victory over the evil, evil puzzle, when it fell into pieces.

"That means you got it wrong," Izzy called from across the room.

"Yeah, I figured that out!" Nancy snarled back at Izzy.

Now I know why she wants me to do this, Nancy thought. This is impossible! I'm not a science person, like George or the lab technicians or...hey, wait! The lab technicians! Those guys deal with DNA all the time!

Nancy pulled out her cell phone and called the River Heights Police Department. She talked with Chief McGinnis for a bit, then she got transferred over to the people at the police laboratory.

"Nancy! How are you?" the lab technician said. "I haven't heard from you since you figured out who stole my car! Thanks again for that!"

"I'm fine, and you're welcome," Nancy said. "That mystery wasn't so hard. It only took me five minutes to figure out that your daughter crashed it."

"I'm still grateful," the lab technician said. "So, what can I do for you?"

"Well, I have to make a DNA model for a school assignment," Nancy said. "But I'm not sure how the pieces fit together."

"The pieces?"

"Yes, I'll send you a picture of the DNA pieces on my phone," Nancy said. "If you could put them together for me, that'd be great. You just have to make sure that adenine is always paired with thymine, and cytosine is always paired with guanine. And make sure each pair is connected to a sugar on the alternating sugar-phosphate side."

"Nooooo!" the lab technician moaned. "You want me to work for you? Everyone always makes me do their chores for them! I'm sick of it!"

"On second thought...maybe I'll solve the puzzle myself," Nancy said.

Friday, February 17, 2012

US Presidential Race

All right, time for another installment of Friday news.  For the past few months, the big news has been the Presidential race.  Right now, there are four men competing to become the Republican candidate: Mitt Romney, Newt Gringich, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum.

The two candidates I liked have already dropped out of the race, so I haven't been paying too much attention so far.  From what I can tell, the election results have been jumping all over the place.  Newt looked like he was winning, but then Romney pulled ahead, and he was winning for about a week.  Now Santorum is in the lead, which surprised everyone because he was in last place.

Fun challenge: Recite the poll results, in a horse race announcer voice.  "It's Romney in the lead, Romney in front by two.  Gringich close behind, Santorum picking up speed.  He's passed Paul.  Paul still in, falling down.  Romney still in front.  Santorum passes Gringich.  Romney looks worried.  Santorum catches up to Romney.  It's neck and neck.  Santorum passes Romney!  Santorum in the lead!  Santorum wins the Arizona finals!"

I guess that pretending the candidates are horse jockeys shows how seriously I'm taking the election.  No matter who gets the final nomination, my home state of California will vote for Obama.  Plus, California's polls are the last ones to close, so it usually happens that the election is already finished, before we tally the votes for our state.

Nancy Drew for President!  She's tough on crime, which is what our country needs right now!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Three Things -- Top GameFAQs Contributors

1.  As you may know, I've written a good number of guides for GameFAQs over the years.  I even have a spot on their unofficial (and now-defunct) Hall of Fame as one of their top contributors.  The other day, I found a more up-to-date ranking of the top GameFAQs contributors.  To my surprise, I'm still near the top of the list, at spot #10.

2.  The archives of this site say that I was steady in spot #11 for several years.  But in July 2011, I managed to bump myself up to #10, surpassing someone called Kevin Butler, who stopped writing for GameFAQs in 2006. I'm only three guides behind #9, who stopped writing guides two years ago.  So maybe in the next few months, I could jump up another spot on the list.

3.  I am glad that this ranking has a separate category for "how many pages you've written".  The people who are on that list are pretty much all RPG players. Whenever I read a guide for an RPG game, it always seems to look something like this:

33% = List of every piece of equipment in the game, their stats, etc.
33% = List of every enemy in the game, their stats, etc.
33% = List of every character in the game, their stats, etc.
1% = Actual content that tells you how to beat the game

That's why RPG guides tend to be over 300 pages.  They're basically just a huge list of statistics.  I do not have the patience to write one of those guides.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

WWA, Chapter Thirteen

Here's Chapter Thirteen of my story about Nancy Drew: Warnings at Waverly Academy.  Today, Nancy tries to get the computer password from Izzy Romero.

---

Nancy frowned.  The trip to the library had proved rather useless.  The book she wanted was locked in a special cabinet, and she couldn't use the computer until the student body president gave her the right Internet password.

Fortunately, Izzy Romero was the student body president, and she was inside the library, studying.  Sure, Izzy made fun of Nancy's hair earlier, but maybe Izzy would be helpful now.
"Bonjour!" Izzy said.  "Unfortunately, that and chouette alors are the only French I know.  Hey, my condolences on your roommate assignment.  You know, it might not be too late to get it changed..."
Nancy shrugged.  She was only going to be investigating here for a few days, so it wasn't like the roommate situation was permanent.
"Yeah, back in France, I had my own room, all to myself," Nancy said.  "But Corine doesn't seem that bad.  At least she never made fun of my hair."

"Hey, that comment I made about your hair being on fire was just a joke," Izzy said.  "Don't tell me you got offended by that."

"Oh, I'm not offended," Nancy said.  "I'm just saying, Corine probably has some friends you don't know about."
"Uh, no," Izzy said.  "Corine doesn't have any friends.  Last I heard, only two people have added her on Facebook, and they were both her relatives."

"Oh, ouch," Nancy said.  "I didn't know she was that unpopular."

"But look, don't worry," Izzy said.  "Everybody knows rooming with Corine wasn't your idea.  As long as you don't hang out with her, nobody's going to hold it against you."

"Just out of curiosity, who's your roommate?" Nancy asked.
"My roommate's Leela Yadav," Izzy said.  "Athletic superstar and savior of Waverly's athletic program.  We actually get along fine.  Probably because we're pretty much equals.  Everyone knows who she is, and everyone knows who I am."

Izzy's kind of full of herself, Nancy thought.

"A word to the wise," Izzy said.  "Avoid hanging out with your roommate as much as possible."

"Okay, I get the picture," Nancy said.  "You're not a big fan of Captain Awkward.  I didn't come here to talk to you about her.  I came to talk about the school computer."

"The school computer?" Izzy asked.

"Yeah, it says I can't use the Internet until I get a password from you," Nancy said.

"That's right," Izzy said.  "Unfortunately, I need to finish this DNA model before I can give it to you.  Too bad, huh?"

Nancy didn't like the tone of Izzy's voice.  It was the same tone of voice other people used, when they wanted Nancy to do their chores.
"Um, sure, it's too bad," Nancy said.

"If only there was someone who could help me," Izzy said.  "Then I'd be free to give you the password."
No, no, no, no!  I do not want to do her work for her! Nancy thought.

"Someone who just moved in and doesn't have any homework yet..." Izzy said.

"Someone like...me?" Nancy asked.

"Good thinking, Fire Hair!" Izzy said.  "Sure, you can do my DNA project for me!"

"NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Nancy screamed.

---

Making fun of Nancy's hair and forcing her to do a chore at the same time?  That's just hairrible.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day Sale

Today is Valentine's Day.  My plans for tonight are not too exciting; they mostly involve doing laundry.

But Amazon is having a big Valentine's Week sale, with most of the Nancy Drew games up for grabs.  If you want one of them, now is a great time to buy.  For example, Secrets Can Kill Remastered, which is $20 if you buy it from Best Buy, is only $2.99.  You just saved $17 dollars.  Nice!

So, basically, this is Amazon's way of saying, "Hey, gamers!  We know that you don't have any plans for Valentine's Day?  Why not buy a new game to play, when you're at home all alone tonight?"

Monday, February 13, 2012

Health Care Problems (Update)

There's been a minor update with the health care problems I mentioned over a week ago.  To recap, President Obama's new health care plans upset a lot of people, especially when it comes to its stance on abortions and contraceptives.  I could have said a lot more on this topic, but my main problem with the proposed laws is that they overstep the separation between church and state.  I believe that religious organizations, who have a direct, moral opposition to these laws, should not be forced to comply with them.

This is similar to how people who have a direct, moral opposition to war should not be forced to join the army.

Last Friday, the administration decided to tweak the health care laws a little bit, in response to the backlash it has received.  I was hopeful that this would be a step in the right direction.  Sadly, the legal experts have poured over the laws and declared that the changes are merely a minor sleight of hand.  Mostly, they just shift the burden of payment from employers to insurance companies.

...That completely ignores the problem.  I mean, people were upset about the health care plan in general.  The plan is still objectionable, whether the insurance companies or the employers are the ones who pay for it.  The main point of contention was the policy on abortions and contraceptives, and the laws about them have remain completely unchanged.  I consider that to be side-stepping the main issue.

The government should not enact immoral laws.

Further, what about my specific objection that the laws overstep the boundaries between church and state?  Well, let's see...

I have a religious (Catholic) insurance company.  They are forced to pay for the health care procedures which they find morally objectionable.

I have a religious (Catholic) employer.  They have the option of "declaring" they do not offer insurance coverage for the immoral health care procedures...unless someone asks for it, in which case, the employer will have to provide it.  Sounds like there's a disconnect between declaring exemption and actually being exempt.

It looks like both my religious insurance company and religious employer are not exempt from paying for the health procedures which they find morally objectionable.  In other words, they will still be forced to violate their consciences by purchasing a health care plan they object to.  So, despite the minor changes to the laws, the government is still forcing religious organizations to do something that they don't want to do.  The separation between church and state, therefore, remains violated.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Disneyworld Debate

I was recently asked to write a short play about the Presidential debates.  The play was performed as part of a Disney-themed event, so I made it a play about the Seven Dwarves, running for President of Disneyworld.  Here's the script I wrote:

----

MODERATOR
Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Florida debate. Today, we are going to be speaking with all of the candidates who are running for President of Disneyworld. Please welcome our seven dwarves, I mean, debaters: Bashful, Doc, Dopey, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy and Sneezy.

The dwarves come onstage.

MODERATOR
Okay candidates. As you all know, the current economic recession has really hurt a lot of the Disney characters. The government has repossessed Sleeping Beauty's castle, the 101 Dalmatians have too many mouths to feed, and Baloo the Bear can't afford his bare necessities. The first question is what do you think about the current economic recession?

GRUMPY
The recession was caused by poor financial decisions made during the Goofy Administration! He gave too many tax breaks to the wealthier cartoon characters!

DOC
No, the recession was caused by charging too much money at the concession stands!

HAPPY
It's Mickey's fault! I want to see Mickey Mouse's tax returns!

DOPEY
Wait, what are we talking about?

MODERATOR
Sneezy, your thoughts on the economic crisis?

SNEEZY
It's, uh...
(sneezes)
Nothing to sneeze at.

MODERATOR
I see. Bashful, do you have anything to say?


BASHFUL
Aw, gee...I don't know what to say...there's a big crowd watching and everything...

MODERATOR
Sleepy, we haven't heard from you yet. What do you think caused the economic recession?

SLEEPY
(snores)

MODERATOR
Grumpy, if you were elected, what would you do to help get us out of the recession?

GRUMPY
I think the best way to fix the recession is to get rid of Small World. It's a stupid ride, with a stupid song!

HAPPY
I like that song! It makes me happy. Happy is good!

SNEEZY
(sneezes three times)

DOC
I think the recess—I mean, the recession—I think we should get rid of Pirates of the Caribbean. It's too violet—I mean, violent. It sets a bad example.

SLEEPY
We could—
(yawns)
We could put in a nice bed, for people to get some sleep.

DOPEY
I think we should change the name of the park from Disneyland to Dopeyland. That'd bring in more customers.

GRUMPY
Where'd you get an idea like that? Fantasy Land?

MODERATOR
Bashful, we still haven't heard from you. How would you fix the economic crisis?


BASHFUL
Aw...gee...I'm kinda shy, so I don't like when people take pictures of me. Maybe we could get rid of the cameras at Splash Mountain.

GRUMPY
Splash Mountain! There's another ride we could get rid of! If people really wanted to see a fifty-foot drop, all they have to do is look at Dopey's approval rating!

DOPEY
Hey, the latest polls from Adventure Land say that twelve percent of the birds in the Tiki Room would vote for me!

SNEEZY
That's not--
(sneezes)
I mean—
(sneezes)
There is too much pollen in the Tiki Room! We need to get rid of the flowers!

DOC
I think the powers—I mean, the flowers—the flowers are dine and fandy—I mean, fine and dandy.

MODERATOR
Okay, candidates. I have some questions here, which have been sent in by actual voters. Sleepy, Cinderella wants to know what you intend to do about the amount of singing in the park.

SLEEPY
(yawns)
The singing is too loud. I'd make it quieter, so it's easier to go to sleep...

GRUMPY
I'd get rid of all the songs in the park. Nobody likes singing.

HAPPY
Grumpy, that's just a load of heigh-ho! Songs make everyone happy!


MODERATOR
Dopey, Aladdin wants to know, if you had three wishes, what would they be?

DOPEY
I'd wish that I could run for President.

MODERATOR
But Dopey, you're already running for President!

DOPEY
Hooray, I got my wish!

MODERATOR
Sneezy, the dogs from Lady and the Tramp have been chasing the Aristocats all over the park! What do you plan to do about that?

SNEEZY
(sneezes)
I'd stay away from them! I'm allergic to cats!
(sneezes)
And dogs!

MODERATOR
Bashful, your critics have said that you're too camera shy to be the President. Do you have any response?

BASHFUL
I—
(freezes up, then tries to hide)
Augh! Cameras!

MODERATOR
Sleepy, if you get the nomination, who would be your vice president?

SLEEPY
(yawns)
I'm going to pick Sleeping Beauty.

MODERATOR
Just two more questions, here. Doc, are you doing anything to work on your stuttering problem?

DOC
Yes, I ham—I mean, am. I hired Mary Poppins to be my speech therapist. She's teaching me all sorts of new words, like supercauliflower, supercalifornia, supercalifragilisticexplosion...well, we're working on it.

MODERATOR
And Grumpy, the last question is for you. Jiminy Cricket says that sometimes, you seem too grumpy to be at Disneyworld. What would you say to him?

GRUMPY
Bah, humbug!

MODERATOR
That's it for the debate. Any last words from our candidates?

HAPPY
Vote Happy, for the Happiest Place on Earth!

DOC
No, vote Doc! I'm building a better Tomorrow-Land, Today!

SLEEPY
Can I take a nap now?

SNEEZY
(sneezes)

DOPEY
Vote Dopey for President! Otherwise, the only dope around here is you!

BASHFUL
Vote for Bashful! Don't be shy about showing your support!

GRUMPY
You're all a bunch of weirdos! Vote Grumpy!

MODERATOR
That's it for the debate, everyone. Thank you, and good night.

---

I took the role of the moderator in the play.  Rumor has it that a video of this debate might be put on the Internet sometime soon.  I'll let you know if it does.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Emerald City Confidential

The videos for Emerald City Confidential have all been finished. Here are the first three videos and the last three videos of the playlist.












Friday, February 10, 2012

Cooking Chicken Burritos

Everyone seems to want me to try cooking chicken tacos, so yesterday, I decided to make some for dinner.

I wrote down the ingredients of the recipe, and I went through the fridge and made a list of all the foods I needed.  After a brief moment of bewailing the fact that I have now become my list-obsessed mother, I went to the grocery store.  As usual, the grocery store was an adventure.  The adventures include:

  • Going through the entire store twice, looking for the non-existent pretzels aisle
  • Learning that you can buy pre-shredded cheese
  • Looking for the right kind of juice (namely, the kind that my roommates won't drink)
  • Being confused at the fact that there is more than one type of chicken.  I decided to get the boneless, skinless chicken, because it was on sale.

I went back home and started the cooking.  Fortunately, I was smart enough to remember that you leave the chicken out for an hour ahead of time, so it can defrost.  Unfortunately, nobody told me that when chicken defrosts, it leaks some kind of nasty, watery chicken goo.  Ew.

Step One in the recipe says to shred the chicken.  I had no idea how to do this.  I don't have a shredder in my kitchen.  Am I supposed to use the cheese grater or something?  I decided to settle for taking one of the four chicken pieces and cutting it into smaller pieces.  It was pretty gross, cutting up a slimy chicken thing covered with that chicken goo.

Step Two is to heat the chicken in a skillet, which I believe is a fancy type of frying pan.  I used the frying pan, and I made sure to spray it with the fancy spray can first.  Then, I put the chicken in the skillet and let it heat.  So far, so good.

Step Three is to make chopped avocadoes.  I had no idea what to do.  I tried cutting it with a knife, but it turns out the insides of avocadoes are gooey.  So I ended up having to get my hands covered in green junk, as I peeled the avocado, then cut it into pieces.

I think I was supposed to make guacamole from the avocado, but I didn't know how.  I tried mashing the avocado chunks together with a spoon, but that didn't work.  It just gave me messy avocado chunks.  Where's a mallet when you need one?

Step Four is to call Mom and ask her what to do next.

Step Five was to take a taco shell--I used a tortilla--and put the cooked chicken on it.  Sprinkle it with cheese and avocado, then heat it in the microwave to get the cheese to melt.  Presto, the burrito is finished!

I had enough chicken for two burritos, and they tasted...not bad!  The avocado didn't taste good, but if you pretended it wasn't there, then you had a decent burrito.

Michael: 1
Cookbook: 0

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Three Things

Here's another edition of Three Things, which is basically just a list of three eBooks I've edited.  Maybe, someday, I'll actually make a definitive list of the 57 eBooks I've helped produce so far.

  • The First Easter is a book about the life and death of Jesus, with a focus on the first Easter.  It's a children's book, so it's short and it has nice pictures.  For some reason, this book italicizes everything that appears in quotation marks, "Just like this".
  • De Tribus Habitaculis Liber is a book in Latin, about Heaven and Hell.  Most people think Saint Patrick wrote it, some people think Saint Augustine wrote it, and some people think it was written by an Irish bishop named Patrick (but not the Saint Patrick).
  • The Life of Saint Columba is a biography of Saint Columba, who is a popular Irish saint.  He founded monasteries and did a lot of work on the northern islands of Ireland.
Sneaky me, finding a way to get out of writing a lot for Three Things Thursday.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Prop 8 News

Some of you may remember Proposition 8, the proposed law concerning gay marriage in my home state of California.  It was put on the 2008 ballot, and the voters decided not to legalize gay marriage.

Ever since then, there have been a huge number of trials about Proposition 8.  As I've said earlier, it's been bouncing around the courts like a pinball.  It doesn't seem to make a difference which way the courts rule, because both sides immediately appeal any decision that gets made.

Here's the latest news.  The 9th Circuit held a 2-1 vote, saying that Prop 8 is unconstitutional.  Or in other words, gay marriage has to be legal, because it's illegal to prevent gays from getting married.  So, the decision of millions of voters in 2008 has been overturned by two people, which, I have to say, does not inspire me with a lot of confidence in our government or the voting system.


Either way, I'm 99% sure that this ruling won't make a difference, because pretty soon, the decision will be appealed by both sides.  The people who support gay marriage want to appeal it, because the ruling only affects California.  The people who don't support gay marriage want to appeal it, because they disagree with the ruling.

Now, here's where it gets interesting.  The appeal can go back to the 9th Circuit, but this time, eleven people in the circuit will vote on it, not just three.  Or, the appeal can go to the United States Supreme Court, and their decision will apply to all 50 states.  Where will the appeal be sent to?  What will the decision be?  Will that finally be the last decision, or will we have yet another appeal?  Could they, perhaps, decide to put the gay marriage initiative on the national ballot?  Time will tell.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Cooking

As I've mentioned before, this year is pretty much the first year of my life where I've had to cook every meal for myself, on a consistent basis.  Everyone tells me I need to expand my diet and try new recipes, but I've been reluctant to do so.  Trying out new recipes involves a lot of preparation and buying the right food ahead of time.

Well, I got two cookbooks recently, and now I really don't have much of an excuse to not start cooking.

So here's what I'm going to do.  I'm going to list some different recipes in my cookbooks, and y'all will get to pick which one I'll make for dinner on Friday.  Then, I'll write about my hilarious misadventures in cooking.  Sounds good?  Here are the candidates...

  • Chicken tacos
  • Cheese straws
  • Cheese potatoes
  • Savory rat traps

Monday, February 6, 2012

Nancy Drew

Someone put together a mosaic of the various times Nancy is seen in the Nancy Drew series:


Now we all know what she looks like. Mystery solved!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Health Care Problems

Some of you may remember several months ago, when there was some controversy over new health care regulations that were being proposed.  The regulations say that, among other things, all health care plans have to include contraceptives, abortions and pregnancy prevention.  People who have moral objections to abortion are, well, pretty much out of luck.  President Obama has recently given these health care regulations his personal thumbs-up, and they're set to go into effect next year.

As you might expect, there are some exemptions to this rule.  Certain groups who have religious or moral objections to abortion do not need to comply with these laws.  Groups that qualify for exemption include:

1. The Amish
2. Christian Scientists
3. Native Americans

Groups that do not qualify for exemption include:

1. The Catholic Church

Does anybody else see a problem with this?  Clearly, there is a problem with these new laws, if they do not classify the Catholic Church as an "organization which has religious and/or moral objections to abortion".  I'll spare you the specific details of why we don't qualify, but trust me, they're not logical.

I mean, just in general, if a law allows for religious exemptions, no particular religion should be excluded without just cause.  Otherwise, you're getting dangerously close to religious discrimination (which is illegal) and to breaking the separation between church and state (which is also illegal).

So, the way things are now, it's starting to look like the government will force Catholic institutions to purchase something which violates their religious beliefs.  Needless to say, the Catholic Bishops in the United States are very unhappy with this, and they have set up a conscience protection website to help people contact the government and learn more about the issues.

I'll keep you guys posted if there are any major developments.  Right now, I'm hoping that either the laws will be rejected outright by Congress, or that the government will change the laws so all religious organizations that want an exemption can receive it.  To deny an exemption to any religion--much less the largest religion in the world--without just cause is a gross miscarriage of justice.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Basketball Game

Yesterday was the big charity basketball game.  My team won, 62 to 59.  It was a very close game, the whole time.   I got a lot more playing time than I expected, and I even had a very nice steal.  I didn't have any shots, though, but it's okay.  The person I was defending never scored, and that's just as good.

I've been doing a special diet / exercise regimen for the past month, in training for the game.  It's nothing special, just twenty minutes on the bike machine every day and eating only one meal a day, most days.  I was looking forward to getting off of my training regimen, but it appears I lost six pounds this month.  Now I'm beginning to think I should keep up the training regimen, until I get back down to 150 pounds.

I'll try to get pictures of the game up here, as soon as I can.  I was playing in the game, so obviously, I wasn't one of the people taking pictures of the event.

Friday, February 3, 2012

WWA, Chapter Twelve

Here's Chapter Twelve of my story about Nancy Drew: Warnings at Waverly Academy.  Today, Nancy visits the library for the first time.

---

Nancy entered the school library for the first time. It was everything a modern school could ask for in a library. Lots of room, over 300,000 items in the collection, study areas and...

"Only one computer?" Nancy asked. "A school this big, and they only have one computer?"

Nancy sighed. She had to read the Waverly Student Handbook online, so she sat down in front of the computer. It only had two icons: one for the school website, and one for the library catalogue.

Nancy clicked on the school website. An error screen popped up, telling her that the site was blocked unless she had the right password.

"You have got to be kidding me," Nancy said. The school computer couldn't do anything besides visit two websites...and one of those websites was blocked. What kind of school prevents its own students from visiting the school's website?

Fortunately, the library catalogue website was working. Nancy did a search for "Moore", and she discovered that The Story of Four by Madeline Moore was currently inside the Special Collections cabinet.

Nancy walked over to the cabinet. The book was clearly on display. Nancy grabbed the door handle and...

"It's locked," Nancy said.

Nancy took a step backwards and looked around. On top of the special display cabinet were two Waverly flags. Nancy unscrewed the flag on the left, then used it to break the glass of the display cabinet.

"Now it's unlocked," Nancy said, smugly.

"Becca, what are you doing?" Izzy asked, in horror at Nancy's blatant destruction.

"Getting a book," Nancy said.

Suddenly, Nancy magically disappeared from the library and reappeared back inside her room. Her cell phone beeped, and she saw a text from Paige Griffen, the floor monitor, telling her that she got three demerits for destroying school property.

"How did I end up back here?" Nancy wondered. She left her room and went right back downstairs. Amazingly, the broken display cabinet was magically repaired.

"Let's try this again," Nancy said. She unscrewed a Waverly flag, then used it to smash open the glass of the cabinet. Then, Nancy reached inside and grabbed the copy of The Story of Four.

"You can't break things like that!" Izzy said. "I'm telling!"

One second later, Nancy was back in her room. The book had magically disappeared from her hands.

"I don't believe this!" Nancy said.

Nancy marched downstairs and threw open the doors to the library, and she was shocked to find that, once again, the special collections cabinet had been repaired. Either Waverly Academy had a really efficient glass-maker on the staff, or they had an unlimited supply of special collections cabinets.

"Third time's the charm," Nancy said, unscrewing the Waverly flag again. "And if Izzy tells on me again, I'm going to tell her to—woah!"

Paige, the angry floor monitor, grabbed Nancy by the back of her neck and dragged her away from the cabinet. "If you even think about breaking the cabinet again, I will have you expelled," Paige threatened.

Nancy shuddered. She had never seen Paige before, and from up close, the older girl looked like a gorilla with a ponytail.

"Fine!" Nancy said. "I'll open the cabinet the normal way, by finding a key! Sheesh!"

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Three Thoughts

I went through some of the comments on last week's philosophical discussion about happiness.  Here are three things that struck me.

1. There was a question about the relationship between happiness and love.  Interestingly enough, Saint Thomas Aquinas posits happiness as the main goal of humanity, while he says right actions (with a heavy emphasis on love) as the way to attain happiness.

To put this another way, the answer to the question, "What comes first, love or happiness?" seems to be love, because happiness is a direct result of love.  That's a logical enough conclusion. Surely, it can't be the other way around (love being a direct result of happiness).

2. I just want to highlight the fact that the happiness which is completely union with God involves the use of the intellect.  Religion is not just a matter of feelings; it is also a matter of thinking.

3.  Question: Is happiness an emotion or is it a chemical reaction?

I find it interesting that our society does not debate this question, but it does debate whether or not unhappiness is an emotion or chemical reaction.  Specifically, there are huge arguments over whether or not depression should be treated as a medical disease.  Usually, people who see depression as an emotional state don't think it should be treated as a disease, while people who see depression as a mere chemical reaction tend to think that it is easily "cured" with drugs or other chemicals.

I'm not sure which end of the spectrum I fall under, in this debate.  I can understand arguments for depression being a disease, or at least, a mental condition.  However, I find myself wary of people who argue that people should take happiness-inducing drugs.

That's a completely different conversation, with little relevance to the original discussion, though.  Obviously, the happiness that is union with God in Heaven is not controlled or influenced by chemicals.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Saint Bridget of Kildare

Today is the feast day of Saint Bridget of Kildare, the Patroness of Ireland.  I helped edit a short eBook about her life.  Today would be a good day to read it.
One story that is told about Saint Bridget (which is not contained in the eBook) is about the day of her ordination.  Bishop Saint Maccaille performed the ceremony, and he had to say special prayers of consecration over her, because she was being made the leader of a small group of nuns.

The Bishop accidentally opened his book to the wrong page, and he started reading the prayers to make her a bishop instead of an abbess.  He didn't catch the mistake until the very end of the consecration prayers, where the word "bishop" appears.  He decided the mistake was a sign from God, and because her ordination as a bishop was automatically invalid by nature, he went back and said the correct prayers to make her an abbess.

Many of the biographers today think that this is just a silly story that the Irish people made up, and they don't mention it.  Still, sometimes you'll find references to Saint Bridget being a bishop.  Those references really confused me, until I heard the story of her accidental ordination.  I'm sure that if it's a true story, it was the source of many humorous jokes over the course of her lifetime, especially when she asked (and received) permission to turn Kildare into a diocese.

Saint Bridget, pray for us.