Categotry Archives: Randomness


y=mx+b or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Maths

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Categories: Essays, Geek Stuff, Randomness, Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Like many, I’ve long held the belief I’m “bad at math,” but as the spring semester at Rock Valley College winds down, I’ve learned this isn’t true.

In 5th grade, I tested into the gifted program in the Rockford Public School District. I jumped from standard 4th grade classes to advanced 5th grade classes. Given the shoddy state of Rockford’s standard curriculum in the late Eighties/ early Nineties, it’s no surprise I struggled, especially in mathematics. My gifted program teachers taught as though I had been in the program from kindergarten (as most of the students had been). My troubles at home, which manifested as poor behavior at school, didn’t motivate my teachers to give me extra help, I’m sure. After a rough 5th grade, I returned to standard classes in 6th grade. The result of this ping-ponging between curricula was a severe deficiency in basic arithmetic skills.

Fast-forward three years, when I was enrolled in the Academy, RPS’s gifted program for high schoolers. Still behind in math, I failed my college algebra course the first time around and barely passed geometry. My senior year, I dropped out of my advanced math class (trigonometry, if I recall) rather than face another two semesters of brutality. I hated math.

In 1999, when I took the entrance exams at Rock Valley, I scored less than 50% on the math portion (shocked, I’m sure you are), earning me the privilege of several remedial courses, including geometry. This semester, I’m completing a “super course,” which tackles all of those remedial classes in one semester, save geometry. I have a 91% in the class right now, and finals are in two weeks. On a lark, I retook the geometry portion of the placement test, and scored an 80%: enough to skip the required remedial class. I have one college-level math class to take – scheduled for next semester – before I graduate with my A.A.

What I have learned in this semester at RVC is that I’m not bad at math; I’m bad at arithmetic. I have little difficulty understanding algebraic concepts. Where I struggle is with simple multiplication and division, managing fractions, and the like. My difficulties stem almost entirely from the learning I missed back in 5th and 6th grades. From these deficiencies flow frustration with myself and feelings of stupidity. But I can’t help also feeling proud I’ve been able to overcome some of my limitations (thanks to help from Texas Instruments) and score an A in a class I was convinced I would barely pass, if at all.

It’s perhaps a bit strong to say I “love the maths,” but I do have a new-found appreciation for them, especially algebra. There are theories in math to be sure: ideas unproven because we can’t test every possible case, but for the most part, algebra is fundamental, truthful. Race, religion, political affiliation: these don’t matter to algebra.  y does, in fact, equal mx+b.



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Categories: Randomness, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I’m a fan of iced coffees and cappuccinos, despite Denis Leary’s admonitions against such beverages. However, as a recent addition to the ranks of the unemployed, I can’t justify spending $5.00 or more for a trip to Starbucks. On a recent shopping trip, I stumbled upon a breakthrough in brokeassology that allows me to enjoy a frosty cup of joe that doesn’t break the bank. Further, my discovery minimizes the lactose issues I sometimes have with iced coffee, and clocks in at under 200 calories per serving. Win!

Aldi has an instant cappuccino mix that retails for $2.29 in my area. It’s available in French Vanilla and Mocha flavors (I used la française variety, but I imagine the chocolate flavor works the same). I also came across a box of shelf-stable soy milk at Dollar Tree. Of course, your local dollar store may not have soy milk available, but Aldi routinely does. You can, of course, use regular or skim milk: whatever suits you. You’ll also need a pot of regular coffee that’s cooled to room temperature.

To make some delicious iced goodness, follow the hot cappuccino directions on the instant mix package, substituting coffee and soy milk for the boiling water. I made a pitcher full of cheapaccino, so I alternated between soy milk and coffee when mixing the ingredients. That is, one cup of soy milk, then three tablespoons of mix, then one cup of coffee, then three more tablespoons of mix, etc. I whisked the drink after each addition of powdered mix to ensure a consistent blend of ingredients (large amounts of the powder can clump together). Once you’ve filled the pitcher, let your iced coffee drink cool in the fridge for at least thirty minutes before serving.

After a half hour, check for any clumping or settling that may have occurred. Whisk away any clumps you find. If your coffee comes out nice and smooth, you’re ready for a glass of iced cappuccino with few dairy ingredients, less than 200 calories, and a price tag under $0.50. Enjoy!


Moar H8

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Categories: Poetry, Randomness, Rant, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

While I can appreciate the goals of the NOH8 Campaign, I think they might have it wrong; we don’t need less hate, we need more, and we need to direct it at the right things. Not sure what the right things to hate are? Don’t worry! I’m here for you:

  • Hate intolerance. Having an answer to the question of life, the universe, and everything else is great. Using that answer to treat humans different from yourself like garbage is odious.
  • Hate violence. Animals resolve disputes with claws and fangs. Beating a problem down is a sure sign one is the intellectual equivalent of a beast.
  • Hate gingers. I believe Trey Parker and Matt Stone have done a good job on this topic, so no further explanation from me is needed. See also; Brian Campbell.
  • Hate greed. Enlightened self-interest is OK. In fact, it’s a moral obligation to improve yourself and your situation. It’s not OK to crush the less fortunate under your heel as you climb to the top, however.
  • Hate dishonesty. A hurt delivered immediately is still painful, but far less so than one with months of deceit piled on top.
  • Hate excuses. There is a difference between an excuse and an explanation. Learn to see excuses for what they are, and unleash your ire when given one.
  • Hate hating hate. Those who claim to hate hate are either ignorant of the basics of English composition, or lying assholes. Either way, they should be avoided and shunned.

Of course, with your hate properly channeled, it’s important to remember that other humans are never a valid target of your hate. Hate what they say; hate what they do; but treat the people themselves with love, or at least indifference.

Conveniently enough, I wrote a poem regarding hate shortly before getting the inspiration (a NOH8 twibbon on someone’s avatar) for this post. I’ll finish off, then, with the poem. As always, I appreciate every piece of feedback I get.

Holding On To Our Hate

Because they were whores

who cared not for their kids,

we’ve lost our mothers,

so we’re holding on to our hate.
Because we borrowed more

than we could beg or steal,

we’ve lost our homes,

so we’re holding on to our hate.
Because we weren’t shown

the right way to love,

we’ve lost our wives,

so we’re holding on to our hate.
Call it pain, wrath, or rage,

the answer’s always the same.

When everything else washes away,

we’ve got no one else to blame.
Because our fathers never

showed us how to be men,

we’ve lost our strength,

so we’re holding on to our hate.
Because we played Doom

for hours on end,

we’ve lost our control,

so we’re holding on to our hate.
Because his pain was too great

for antacids to kill,

we’ve lost our Voice,

so we’re holding on to our hate.
Call it pain, wrath, or rage,

the answer’s always the same.

When everything else washes away,

we’re left with nothing but shame.
Because our leaders lied

time and time again,

we’ve lost our trust,

so we’re holding on to our hate.
Because we smoked and snorted

and shot up too much,

we’ve lost our sanity,

so we’re holding on to our hate.
Because our priests betrayed

their most sacred vows,

we’ve lost our faith,

so we’re holding on to our hate.
Call it pain, wrath, or rage,

the answer’s always the same.

When everything else washes away,

we’re holding on to our hate.


The Shadow

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Categories: Randomness

Did I have a dream, or did the dream have me?

– Rush, “Nocturne”

Last night I had a nightmare. I realized I was dreaming and forced myself back to consciousness.

As I began to slide back to wakefulness, the dream-demon tried to swallow my mind. Refusing to let me awaken without a fight, he attacked me with a claw of burnt midnight sky. His ebon hands fumbled about my head and face. I fled his ferocious assault.

Blackened flesh and sooty sinew melted away and the demon’s hands became rivers of inky darkness. The Shadow tried to drown me beneath waves of undulating, liquid hate. I tried to paddle away, but the crests were too high, and I’m a poor swimmer. Icy, coal-black water began pouring down my throat and ears. As my lungs filled, I began to panic. The terror of drowning erased rationality and sense, my most prized possessions. Perhaps the dream-demon would finally have me.

I coughed and spat as the waves crashed about my head. Suddenly, I caught sight of a tiny island – barely big enough for a single person to stand on – nearby. I struggled to reach it before the waters of demonic rage could claim me.

Spending the last of my strength on reaching the island, I collapsed on the white sands of the miniscule beach. I became aware of a thin, sharp sound in the distance. It grew stronger with each wave lapping against my knees. I turned to see a tsunami of unearthly proportions rushing toward me.

Seconds before I was to be consumed completely by the hateful sea, a face appeared in the colossal tide. The demon’s face – my face – laughed a loathsome, taunting laugh at me. Then the wave crashed down, and I was enveloped in the frigid, numbing waters.

I awoke with a start, clutching my black-and-grey blanket to my face.


Obey Your Master

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Categories: Randomness

This post is dedicated to my Twitter friend (would that be “twend?”), @Crzywritergrl. Read her blog, especially the tales of her lusty affair with a guy like Master.

I’m not gay or into BDSM (much), but like a lot of people, I did some experimenting in college. Shortly after I started school at Illinois College in the autumn of 1998, I met a guy who would change my life.

Before I go any further, I should take a moment to explain that I was only seventeen (insert Winger reference here) when I started college, due to my September birthday. I had always preferred the world of books and games, which can teach you many things, but are not a substitute for the real world. I was also a virgin, at least in the Bill Clinton sense. Copious amounts of Internet porn, a few handies, and some hummers, but never the “real deal.” I was naive.

I’m sure my naivité made me the perfect target for this chickenhawk. He showed up in my dorm about two weeks after class had started. I never learned his real name; he only introduced himself as “Master.” His name sounded ominous and thrilling at the same time, but he was genial enough. He told me he was from Providian (that’s in Rhode Island, right?) and he wanted to hang out and have fun with me.

I was suspicious at first. Why would an older guy like Master be interested in me? What could he possibly want from me? What could I possibly have to offer him? Master told me not to worry: whatever I liked, he was interested in. He wanted me to share all of my interests with him. He said he knew I would be cool to be with because I was going to an expensive private college. He told me that he’d been hanging out with some of the upperclassmen for a while.

I started hanging out with Master a little bit at first. We’d walk up to the gas station to get a pack of cigarettes, or order Jimmy John’s every once in a while. Each time we did something together, Master was so courteous, sending me a note thanking me for sharing my interests with him.

Soon, Master and I were hanging out all the time. We’d rent movies, do dinner, or go shopping for my girlfriend. Master didn’t mind being the third wheel: he said as long as I shared my interests with him, we could do whatever I wanted. By this time, Master and I had become such good friends that he would call, usually once a week, to let me know how much he valued our relationship. He still sent me notes too, decorating them with red lettering.

I started developing strong feelings for this guy, Master. They were feelings I hadn’t felt since I’d been with my first serious girlfriend. Even the girl I was dating at the time didn’t make me feel like Master did. When we touched, I felt a little jolt, a shock, sometimes. I was confused that I could feel this way about Master, but I couldn’t deny the truth; I was in love with him.

I thought that Master loved me too. He did so many nice things for me, I thought he must feel about me the way I felt about him. He threw me a party when I turned eighteen alone, away from home and family and friends. When I lost my virginity to my girlfriend, it was Master who bought the Trojans from the pharmacy for me. He gave my roommate a ride home when he felt homesick. When I wanted to drive for hours to see my girlfriend, it was Master who made it possible.

Suddenly, however, everything changed.

I dropped out of college shortly before midterms in my first semester. There were serious family issues I had to deal with, immediately. I was confident I could get through it with the help of Master. He had always helped me out before, so I knew he would be there when I needed him most. But I was wrong.

Master turned on me and revealed what he really wanted. He didn’t care so much about my interests now; he wanted reparations. He told me that it was high time I repaid him for his kindness. He said kids like me were always to be his serfs, if he even deigned to grace them with his presence. I was aghast.

Master then appeared to me as he truly was. He was not the suave, sophisticated older man who opened doors for me and showed me a good time. He was not the debonair gentleman I thought he was. No, Master was the fiercest of whip-crackers. He was a dominator, a violator. His zipper-head mask was adorned with silver rings, and I smelled the co-mingling of my Grey Flannel cologne and my girlfriend’s Sunflowers perfume. This bastard had been fucking me, even as I was fucking her!

As he shoved me to my knees and forced the ball gag into my mouth, I knew that I had no one to blame but myself. I had allowed Master to take over my life. I surrendered my self-respect to him in a vain attempt to live above my station. With each passing moment, I made myself more his slave. The sting of his riding crop on my ass was nowhere near as painful as the stinging, burning feeling radiating from my ego.

Master’s abuse of me lasted a long time, but eventually (with the help of Tiffanie, who’s now my wife) I turned the tables on Master. He’s no longer in control of my life. I decide when and what I do. When I first met him, I was but a student; now, I am the Master.


À Tous Mes Amis Francophones

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Categories: Randomness, Tags: , , , , , ,

Bonjour! It’s been a long time since I had any semblance of regular practice at speaking, reading, or writing French. I have lost much of my previous proficiency with the language. This saddens me deeply.

In high school, I earned an award from the American Association of Teachers of French when I participated in Le Grand Concours. I tested into a French Lit (taught in French, all assignments to be completed in French) class in college after only two years of study in high school. My point is, I used to kick ass at French. I don’t anymore.

I would like to regain some of what I have lost, but I need help to do it. So, dear readers, I’m begging you: if you can read/ write/ speak français, drop me a line. I need practice to gain back my skills. Send me an email, tweet, or Facebook message en français, s’il te plait. Merci!


Osama Would Play A Paladin

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Categories: DDO, Gaming, LARP, President Obama, Randomness, RPG, Shadowrun, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I believe in the power of gaming.

By gaming, I mean console and computer gaming as well as pencil and paper role-playing games. To a lesser extent, I would also include board games.

When I look at the impact this hobby has had on my life, it’s a bit overwhelming.

If it weren’t for gaming, I would not have met most of my friends. Specifically, my friend Mike Diamond and I would not have met if it weren’t for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Second Edition. (We had an ongoing AD&D2E game that we played in junior high by writing on a desk [in pencil!]. It was play-by-post before there was play-by-post.) Mike and I graduated from from junior high, and graduated from D&D, together. We spent hours playing all kinds of other games: Star Wars, Starfleet Battles, Marvel Super Heroes, Rise of the Dragon (Oh my God, Shandi!), and my favorite RPG of all time, Shadowrun. We still play Shadowrun together, every Saturday night.

Without Vampire: the Masquerade, I would have never met Travis Legge. My friend came from a very different world than I did, but we shared a love of gaming. Travis was the best man at my wedding and we even ran our own game publishing company for a time. We met at a Vampire LARP, but we played plenty of other White Wolf games together: Hunter, Trinity (taint in the Tesser!), Aberrant, Wraith, and one of the most influential games I’ve ever played, Mage.

I met my wife at the same Vampire LARP that I met Travis at. We had seen each other in passing before then, but never really met. Through some boneheaded moves by other people, she ended up playing a character with a direct connection to mine. The time we spent together in-character led to meetings out-of-character, which led to her ending a dysfunctional relationship with her longtime boyfriend and starting a new dysfunctional relationship with me. We’ve been dysfunctional together ever since. Tiffanie and I have played a ton of games together, from D&D3.5 to Zombies. We still play Dungeons & Dragons Online together, when time allows.

The breadth and depth of people you meet through gaming is sometimes astounding. By playing games, I’ve had the pleasure of chatting for hours with a couple of guys from Chile (¿Cómo están, amigos?), been guild-mates with a carny (Luv ya, Bernie!), called people by some strange nicknames (Shaggy and Little Shit top the list, I think), watched someone laugh so hard they puked (indirectly due to gaming: a gaming buddy was over for Bad Movie Night. Blackula + well-placed one-liner = puke!), had the cops question me about “having an orgy in the street” (actually a mob combat in the aforementioned Vampire LARP), and so much more. Gamers have been some of the kindest, friendliest, and most genuine people I’ve ever known.

I don’t want to overstate the point, but games can be powerful tools to bring people together that never would have met or seen eye-to-eye before. Where else can you bring together an atheist with a devout Catholic, a radical feminist with a staunch Republican, a high-school dropout with a graduate student, a teenager with a pensioner, or a cop with a drug dealer? Not only have I seen these disparate people gaming together, I’ve seen them working toward common goals and having fun doing it.

So, here’s my proposal: I’ll run a game. Kim Jong-Il, Osama Bin Laden, Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin, Hu Jintao, Hamid Karzai, Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel, and Omar al-Bashir (along with many others) are invited to play D&D with me some time (3.5: I don’t care for 4E). Perhaps, when they’re faced with the World’s Largest Dungeon, they’ll realize their countries and causes are pretty small. Maybe, when confronted with the alien nature of a great wyrm red dragon, they’ll realize people have more commonalities than differences. Maybe, when they’ve reached level 20 together, they could usher in a new age of peace and prosperity for humanity.
And I bet Osama would play a paladin.


My Favorite Malkavian


Categories: LARP, Randomness, Rockford, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Yesterday, at work, I was listening to the song Fade to Black by Metallica and nearly broke down in tears. That song reminds me of my friend, Jamy Schumm, who died nearly ten years ago. I don’t know exactly why this particular day, and this particular listening, choked me up; I’ve heard that song several times in the past decade. Still, there I was, sitting at my desk, trying to stifle a sob.

Jamy died in November of 2000, shortly after his 28th birthday. I remember there was some controversy surrounding his death when it happened. Some people thought he fell; some thought he was pushed; the official verdict was that he jumped from a parking garage in downtown Rockford. How he died does not change the fact that he’s gone, however. It also does not change how much I miss him.

I will not pretend that Jamy and I were very close friends. Many people knew him far better than I. Many people suffered his loss more profoundly than I. Jamy’s death did, however, affect me deeply. I was twenty years old when Jamy died. I thought, in some unconscious way, that I would live forever: that everyone I knew would live eternally. Jamy was among those everliving fixtures of my universe. We gamed together, and hung out at That One Place (erstwhile coffee shop extraordinaire) together. We shared laughs, and tried to solve the world’s problems, as twenty-somethings oft do, over a cup of Joe.

I really started getting to know Jamy when we were players in the Vampire: the Masquerade LARP held weekly at That One Place. Jamy was one of the core players in that game. In fact, he’s one of the finest role-players I’ve ever had the pleasure of gaming with. His Malkavian character was so well-played and central to that game, I can’t even remember his name: (though there were other Malks in the game) we always just called him “The Malkavian.” I don’t know if it was a true gift for drama or his own inner torment, but his characterization of insanity was honestly disturbing to watch at times. I think it was a bit of both.

I wish that I would have had the chance to get to know Jamy better. I bet he was even cooler than I thought. I wish that Jamy knew how many people truly cared for him. I bet he’d still be here if he did. I wish that he were still here to meet my daughter. I bet he would’ve been great with kids. I wish he could’ve been at my wedding. I bet his costume for the reception would’ve been awesome.

But wishes don’t bring people back from the dead, except in movies and games. Instead, I’ll wish that everyone who knew Jamy, even in passing, would keep his memory alive. It sounds cliché, but it’s true: in your heart, he’ll never die. If you knew Jamy Schumm and want to share a story, please do. I’ll keep the comments on this post open forever. It’s the least I can do.
Rest in peace, my favorite Malkavian. You are sorely missed.


In Bloom

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Categories: Family, Randomness, Tags: , ,

The weather in northern Illinois was simply beautiful today, so I took some time off work and headed home to spend some time with the family. I tried feebly to take a bit of a nap too, but could not fall asleep. I did get to spend some time playing and being silly with my daughter, however. That was really the best part of my day. I wish I had more moments like those, but the long commute I pull means I have far less time with my little girl than I would like. I hope when she gets older she understands why I wasn’t around very much. I hope she understands that I love her more than life itself. I hope she’s happier for the life I’ve been able to provide for her than not.