SYS 64738

This morning, I was playing videogames with Sam and my phone buzzed with a Facebook notification. It was from my friend Eric. Our friend of nearly a quarter century, Greg Scott, had died the night before.

Let me tell you about Greg.

When I first met him, I had just graduated from high school, and had started calling local BBS’s in Pekin. I was playing a multiplayer BBS door game called The Pit, and there was always a guy going by the handle The Mad Hempster in the top 3 somewhere. Not very long after, my friend Trent started up his BBS, Gridpoint, and I started seeing The Mad Hempster posting there as well. I’d never met anyone like Greg before. He had a particular way of putting things combined with an absolute zero-tolerance for bullshit. A few of the more colorful phrases I still find myself saying today originated from him. The guy was fantastic at telling stories and giving his opinions in an interesting way. It’s what got me to hang out with him. It wasn’t long before a few of us had hung out on the message boards, become friends, and formed an unruly group of young people that annoyed the crap out of the mostly-over-35 BBS scene.

Around this time, if somebody said they were going to Greg’s, it meant they were going there to get stoned. I didn’t visit until later, as I was deathly afraid of the recreational use of all drugs and/or alcohol. (Not much has changed, but I have a drink now and then.) I’d never even really been around anyone who did such things with any regularity. Even so, I’d chat with Greg quite a bit and he seemed pretty cool. There was one night in particular I’ll never forget. He called me up asking for help setting up his C*Base BBS, and told me about half an hour in that he’d done two hits of LSD right before he called, and that I might need to hang on for a minute because the letters on the screen kept moving around. Especially the green ones.

I’m not exactly sure when he got his DUI, or when he got arrested for possession of some marijuana seeds and stems. I know that the first time I ever visited his house, he had to wear a cuff around his ankle that would call the cops if he wasn’t in by 9pm, and that he was sober now and he wasn’t very happy about it. A big group of us used to descend upon his place every Saturday night, shooting the shit and watching movies while we waited hours for a 1x CD burner to copy the coolest new games of the week. It was the high point of my week in those days. Greg had the fastest home computer I’d ever seen at the time: a Pentium 90mhz he dubbed the “Tower of Power”. I will never forget the day he screwed up installing a 2.88mb floppy in it, releasing the Magic Smoke from his motherboard. “It smelled like oranges.”

For the record, I have never seen anyone do with a Commodore 64 the things Greg could do. Like hooking up Zip drives and browsing the Internets and God knows what else. It was like watching an extremely specialized high level wizard.

I used to ride to school with Greg at ICC every day for a whole year. We only had a couple classes together. One of them was Human Sexuality, which I can safely say we were not acting particularly mature about (especially the day we found out that female porcupines masturbate with sticks). Greg introduced me a lot of music I never would have listened to otherwise, including Bad Religion, and Living Colour, Corrosion of Conformity, and Rage Against The Machine, and even GWAR. We used to talk about everything on that commute, and it pains me that I can’t remember much anymore, just that I enjoyed his company.

I used to drive Greg to jail on the weekend, as part of his punishment for his drug offense. I remember when his parole hearing came up, and he was scared he was going to prison and he talked me into messing with my BBS clock to let him take about 100 turns on TradeWars 2002 because he thought he wouldn’t get to play it or anything else again for years. Everything went his way, and he stayed out of prison, and we were all relieved. I remember at one point he’d asked me to move into an apartment with him, and I thought he was crazy and that I could never afford that and turned him down. He kept pressing me, but I didn’t do it. It wasn’t until years later he told me he knew I was going to be sober and help him stay that way. Even so, he did it. I used to play poker at his place on Sunday nights, and a lot of his AA friends would come by. I’d watch the number on his coin increase month by month, year by year.

He used to tell the story of his DUI a lot, and how he’d drunk enough to make his heart stop and be clinically dead until the paramedics revived him, and how he felt like he’d cheated Death. I’d never seen anyone hit rock bottom before, much less successfully turn himself around. That alone made look up to him. Greg had a rough edge or two, but he was a pretty damn stand-up guy and if you were his friend he was there for you. From many accounts, he touched a lot of lives in a big way through AA over the years. I was shocked when he told me he was going to be the father of twins and doubly shocked when it turned out he was a really great dad to them. It breaks my heart that they won’t have him anymore.

I am 100% certain I have not done the man justice with this, and for that I am sorry. I’ve made the mistake of trying to make sense of any of this. I’m just numb. It’s like somebody popped a brick out of my foundation. I can’t shake the feeling that we’re going to hear him tell the story about all this a week from now, ending with “welp, not fuckin’ doing THAT again”. I wish more than anything that was the case. I am glad for the times I had with him, and don’t really want to think about the times I’ll never get again. I honestly believed that an old, grizzled Greg would be there after all of us were gone, screaming at the TV about his Blackhawks. I felt like he’d earned it. I wish I could have stayed up all night yesterday to give him a hundred more TW2002 turns, if only to buy a little more time.

Rest in peace, man. I hope whatever’s out there is as awesome as you. We’ll miss you.

Even More Useless

As I may have mentioned once or twice before, I very much dig the neighborhood my new job is in. I almost fell over when I realized I’d somehow, for a month, overlooked the fact that a FLGS was right across the street.

I went in there for the first time today, helping a friend who played D&D years ago buy some stuff for his son, who was interested in learning how to play. I considered briefly having him sign up for the playtest, but I didn’t want to spook a brand new player with such things. I hooked him up with a D&D Essentials Rules Compendium. He wanted some adventures to run and some baddies to fight, so I suggested Monster Vault – a fine supplement I have used to great effect in my own game, chock full of stuff to kill and a low-level adventure.

We go up to pay, and the guy at the counter wrinkles his nose and goes “uhhhhhhh whyyy are you buying this”, pointing at Monster Vault. And I explain, my friend’s son is learning to play and these are starter materials. He wrinkles his nose harder, and says “I uuuhhhhh this is useless for a player”. I’m starting to get irritated, but I explain a little further. “He doesn’t have a group yet. He might DM or play, we’re not sure yet.”

This yielded an eyeroll, and an unprecedented LEVEL THREE NOSE WRINKLE. “This is even more useless then. I don’t know why you’re suggesting he buy this. Yeahhhh I dunno, I just…. I dunno….”

I thought about arguing, but I tried simply listening. No alternate suggestions or anything useful happened. Just “uhhhhhhh” filled with derision. This lasted for a good minute, laced with the finest awkward tension available over-the-counter.

There was a part of me that was curious what this guy wanted us to buy instead. That part was crushed by the part of me that wanted to scream “HOLY COMIC BOOK GUY STEREOTYPE BATMAN DO YOU HAVE AN ALLERGY TO THE MONEY OF CUSTOMERS WHAT IN THE NAME OF PELOR IS YOUR PROBLEM!!???!!?”

Instead, I simply said “I think we’re good. Let’s check out.”

I hope that guy wasn’t the owner. I am disinclined to return to that place, and that makes me sad.


Not Your Usual Bucket Of Water

I had a long, exhausting, but very exciting dream the other night about being on the run from a dark army led by an evil witch.

I can’t remember many of the details, but at the end of the dream I wasn’t directly involved and I was watching things like a movie. I watched in horror as the witch had cornered my 4 year old son Sam in the ruins of a warehouse. A 7-headed hydra sprouted from her back, and flames swirled all around her, and she yelled something appropriately evil and hubrissy like “MY POWER IS BEYOND YOUR REALITY!”

I expected him to cry, but instead I saw a steely look cross my young son’s eyes. He stood tall and confident with his chest out and shoulders back. A narrator’s voice began to speak: “It was then that the coder’s son did what came naturally to him.”

Then Sam enclosed the witch in <div> tags and set her css style to display:none.

This Opportunity Comes Once In A Lifetime

I’m gonna chalk this dream up to me being super-congested (rendering my CPAP mask useless).

I was in college (I think), and I decided to live out on the quad and left all my stuff (consisting of three sketchbooks I had as a kid) out in the open. I don’t know why I was surprised to find them half buried and all dirty and being stomped on by a horde of beer-swilling fratboys later that night, who were trying to get into a trailer that I think was full of the marijuanas. They yelled at me and were shoving me around as I tried desperately to get my stuff back and I was screaming and crying and eventually shoved some of them back enough to get my things and run.

I found myself in what was half the post office in Pekin, and half the Milwaukee Convention Center, and I was really upset and I went in the restroom there and realized this experience was going to be the basis of my “8 Mile Experience”, so I started rapping like Eminem as hard as I could. Even dream-me realized that freestyling the words “flibida bibida” at the end of a lyric was going to get me thrown off the stage, so I went back into the lobby to be depressed.

Then my mom showed up riding a tricycle that could cover windows in ice crystals, and saying things that were meant to be comforting but were instead extremely sad. I am glad I can’t remember any of them. They were so bad that Elmo appeared and told me “Don’t worry. This is one of the episodes of Sesame Street you didn’t watch back in the 90’s when everything was really depressing”.

Missing Or Corrupt Parking DLL

My first project at my new job has been to take An Existing Site and modify it for Other Purposes, thereby creating Another Site. I have been knee-deep in documentation and reviewing code for nearly two weeks now.

Our office is on the 9th floor of the building, of which the first 6 floors are parking deck. This makes for a great deal of counterclockwise driving anytime you want to go up or down.

Last night, I dreamt of the project I’m working on, which manifested itself as our parking deck. If you went up a level, my new code showed up in light blue. If you went down, the old code was displayed in white. So I drove around in a circle for several hours, ascending and descending as needed, fixing bugs and adjusting things.

I woke up terrified that I was going to go into work and find the changes I’d made were real.

WotC Vampires & Obamachucks

Couple really damn weird dreams this weekend.

The Origin Story

I dreamt I was watching a documentary about Greg Bilsland, one of the producers at Wizards of the Coast.

In it was the story of how he became a vampire. It wasn’t a long story. He was standing in a room next to a powered-down arcade cabinet, and the lights got dim and a disembodied voice asked “do you like games that are relaxing?”. Then black stuff swirled everywhere and it got scary and I knew he’d become a vampire.

I don’t remember much else, but I remember the narrator saying “how strange it is that a member of the damned has taken the game of D&D so far away from its Satanic roots”.

Michelangelo Clearly Voted Blue

This was a long dream, most of which I don’t remember. It was something about renting out my grandmother’s old house and hating the new tenants or something. I was just happy, as usual, to get to hang out in there for a little while again. I wouldn’t exactly call it lucid dreaming because I’m not really aware at the time that’s what’s going on, but I always feel like it’s the latest in a series of me cheating fate and going back in time.

At one point, I don’t know exactly when, aliens took over the Earth and pretty much blew up everything and I was part of the resistance. I found myself on the White House lawn, and President Obama was lying there, unconscious and armless, on the ground. Mitt Romney was also there, gesturing menacingly at everyone. Turns out he had allied himself with the aliens to get revenge for losing the election, they’d given him superpowers. Though Obama had fought valiantly, Mitt ripped his arms off and was preparing to finish him off as I arrived.

Well, I couldn’t let that stand. So I did what any rational red-blooded American would do:

I shrunk the President down to 2′ long, and I started using him as a pair of nunchaku.

I’m not sure how effective this was against Romney. I deftly evaded his rage-filled swings and struck him repeatedly with the President right on the Reed Richards grey part of his head, but it didn’t seem to be slowing him down much. It must have done something, because he soon changed to what I recognized as his “secret Mexican attack” — waving a Southwestern-themed throw rug at me, possibly trying to flop it on my head.

I woke up before the final outcome of the battle, but I know I felt like I was losing. I may have voted for Obama as President, but I would definitely not vote for him again as a melee weapon.


So, About That Novel

Man, what a month.

Nearly everything was my own damn fault, and nothing catastrophic, but there’s been a lot of big scary changes around these parts.

The largest of these, of course, is that I quit my job and got a new one. I’m not going to get into the details, but some stuff happened I didn’t like and I decided to get out of there. The two weeks before I left were insane and bittersweet. I’m gonna miss my team there, they were far and away the best part of that job (though the free chiropractor visits weren’t bad either).

I wound up at another software development shop in downtown Peoria, and they seem like they’re going to be really good to work for. There are a few minor bummers for me involved in this switch. My new job doesn’t pay as much as my old one (though I suspect the benefits to my morale and sanity will be well worth it), and my new job’s policies on Internet usage are more restrictive than I had before. This effectively means that you’re not going to see much of me on Twitter or Facebook during the day anymore. I understand this is how a lot of places operate and I completely get the whole concept, though I will definitely miss it. I’m likely going to make greater use of scheduled posts just so the stuff I post at night will be visible to people the next day. Barring those, though, I think I’m going to like it a lot there. My coworkers seem both friendly and highly competent, and the view is pretty nice from the 9th floor of our building. I don’t have a window office, but everybody around me does, so I get to see an awful lot of the city whenever I want.

We’re primarily an asp.NET shop. At my old job, we used this too (with a backend of C#), but a lot of what we did was using a really extensive MVC/js framework called ext.NET and a lot of what I was doing was adding on to existing projects. As a result, though I had done some development there, I still felt like I really didn’t know asp.NET after leaving. After a day at the new job and familiarizing myself with some of the projects I was slated to work on, I was surprised to find I wasn’t even a little bit lost. I was also very surprised to find out that I know how to use stored procedures in SQL, something I hadn’t messed with since college. It seems the reports I was writing all last year in SQL Server Report Builder use an almost identical syntax. I still have to google for the specifics of how some things work, but it’s a relief to know I don’t face a steep learning curve right out of the gate. I do, however, finally have to learn VB.NET. C# would work, but most people code in VB there, so it’s a good lowest common denominator and I really should have gotten around to it a decade ago.

That being said, I get a reprieve from VB for my first project. It’s written in C#, and apparently it’s sufficiently enormous that the developer on it currently could use some extra manpower. I’m sure he’s feeling the pressure to get it done, but one of the reasons I took this job was because I know the 70/80/90/100 hour weeks I pulled a couple jobs ago in 2010 won’t ever happen to him, me, or anyone else there. There will be the occasional OT needed, but they work pretty hard trying to keep a normal working week. I even heard the phrase “manage client expectations” when I asked what happens when things don’t go according to plan, which is a nice change from “instantly cave to every unreasonable demand and blame the developer when it inevitably goes south”. So, like I said, it’s still probably rough on him and it may well be no picnic for me. But I know I’m still going to have time for my family and my health and sanity, and that’s huge. Not having that is an absolute dealbreaker. I’m not missing Sam growing up, period. I’ve had a couple people there tell me it’s the best job they’ve ever had, and they’ve been there for 10+ years. 3 days in, I’m still understandably nervous, but I’m hoping that’ll be me saying the same thing in 2022.

Then, of course, there were the ten thousand other little things this month. I had some sort of phase-shifting respiratory plague ever since my birthday in the middle of October, and I’m just now starting to feel like I’m getting over it. Naturally, my wife woke up with the stomach flu this morning and Sam’s acting like he doesn’t feel great too, so I may be experiencing some unexpected downtime soon as well. Two of my good friends are moving away. Thanksgiving was two full days of driving, kids being all crazy, and waaaaay too much turkey. It was fun, but exhausting. There was a good deal of other stuff too, but I can’t really remember it. It’s like that.

So, if you’re wondering why you haven’t heard anything about my NaNoWriMo novel, it’s because my brain exploded at about 3000 words early this month about the time I was interviewing and accepting offers and resigning and starting at new places and being sad and anxious and hopeful, all while sick and occasionally full of turkey. Reality was exciting enough — I simply just didn’t have the resources for fiction too. I fully intend to pick it up and try again next month, though I’ll be damned if I’m going to try to do 1700 words every night. Expect it sometime early next year, or in 2025, or whenever Half Life 3 comes out. Sure, if I ever want to be a professional writer, I’ll have to have the discipline to keep a pace. At the moment, I’m perfectly happy simply knowing that nobody in my immediate family has spontaneously combusted.



This coming Thursday begins the month of November, and also the start of National Novel Writing Month (known to all the cool kids as NaNoWriMo). I decided it would be a good idea to give this a try.

I’m not going to lie. I’m pretty intimidated by the whole thing. I’ve been blogging pretty regularly since about 2003, and I did a lot of creative writing in high school and college, but I’ve never tried anything on this scale.

It’s not the length that’s got me worried. The “rules” of NaNoWriMo say you should shoot for a 50,000 word novel in the span of a month. That’s about 1667 words per day, which is, oddly, right around the average length of my blog posts on Critical Hits. If my mind is open and the words are flowing, I can do that in an hour. If it’s not and they aren’t, that’s about three hours of pain — but at least the work of the day can get done.

I’m more worried about plenty of other things.

I wonder if I can make something of that length that will engage the reader long enough to want to finish it. I’ve heard from several people that this event isn’t about making something good or editing, it’s about brute force writing until your arms fall off until it’s out. Then you edit.

I’m worried about having the stamina and the focus to finish. I started this blog in the hopes of keeping my momentum going, and a weekend trip and a nasty sinus infection later I’d fallen off the wagon and wandered off into the woods. I can’t find the statistic, but only something like 14% of NaNoWriMo attempts actually succeed. Fortunately, I have several cohorts who are also taking this journey with me: my dear friends Phil and Malcolm. Having a support/nag system in place is likely going to drive me insane, but also keep me from straying. I’m really looking forward to seeing what they come up with.

As for me, I have the premise and most of plot of my story worked out, and I’m figuring out how to put the pieces together. I’ve been fiddling with Scrivener, and I’ll be laying these ideas out in said Scrivener tomorrow so I can hit the ground running on Thursday.

I know why I’m concerned about not finishing, but I can’t really pinpoint why I’m nervous about the entire business of writing a novel. I’ll be glad to get started just so the waiting is over. Maybe I’ll figure it out on the way.

To everybody doing NaNoWriMo this year, especially my dog-brothers in writing Phil and Malcolm: may your pens become king by their own hands, and wear their heavy crowns upon a troubled brow.

But that is another story.

Money Boo Boo and the Tree Of Salami

My dreams last night were plagued with Obama and Romney, as they were at the debate at the moment when Romney got all up in Obama’s face. No matter where I went, no matter what I was doing, there they were staring each other down and making their points. I couldn’t understand the words coming out of their mouths, I could just hear their voices. This went on all damned night. I think I might have had a fever or something, because I get dreams that don’t change topic for the entire night, drive me insane, and leave me exhausted the next day when I have a fever.

I’m still not sure it was better than what I’d dreamed the night before.

In that dream, I walked into my house and there was Neil Gaiman, sawing a salami-sized log on a dinner plate with a tiny hacksaw. He smiled at me. Then a bunch of people came over. He’d invited them all for individual tutoring on how to write erotic fanfiction.

I think the worst part of that dream was waking up and realizing that if Neil Gaiman offered to teach me how to write erotic fanfiction, I’d definitely take him up on it.

Commemorative Theatre Mouthwash

I don’t remember everything from my dream last night, but what remained is pretty clear evidence to me that my fall allergies are kicking my sinus-butt enough that my CPAP machine can’t work well.

I went to a play at some theatre in northern Wisconsin. Each season, they would release a commemorative bottle of mouthwash featuring art from that play. The one I was at featured green mouthwash and what may have been the face of a smiling leprechaun. I’m mostly sure Steven Townshend was attached to this project somehow, but I never actually saw him. When I looked at the bottle, I had a revelation that I had two more of these bottles from previous seasons (one gold, one purple) at home and wondered how they got into my house.

I had either created or was about to create something, and I’d enlisted the help of a woman  to do it. I went to the restroom, and as I was washing my hands, I realized I needed my friend Jake to do the guitars and bass for whatever project this was, and the music I had in my head was pretty sweet. I wish I could remember it.

When I came out, the woman simultaneously was making out with a random dude and signing over the rights to my creation to him. At that point, an actual physical label began floating in front of her that said “The Whore That Betrayed Me”. Subtle, brain. I clearly felt bad about calling a woman a whore, even subconsciously, because there was a brief flashback scene where it showed how she got her start as a prostitute and lived a life of misery and poverty eventually leading to her stealing people’s stuff for a living. It made me briefly empathize with her, then I resumed hating her guts again.