Frank Provo's World

Bury my shell at Wounded Knee

The elements
annoyed, anxious
The last month or so has not been a convenient time to reside in Michigan... or the Midwestern U.S., for that matter.

The ice storm on December 21st was just plain ridiculous. Imagine every single tree enshrouded in at least a half-inch thick sheen of ice. That's not hyperbole. It looked like Bill Cosby turned our city into the largest pudding pop ever made. Thing is, ice is pretty damn heavy. Limbs and trees fell all over the city, taking down power lines and transformers, damaging homes and cars, and blocking roads. Power was out to the entire city for approximately 24 hours and many pockets went without electricity for anywhere from 2 to 7 days.

We were without power for 36 hours. During that time, our "entertainment" (for lack of a better term) consisted of listening to the tree limbs outside crack and break away. The outside had become the auditory equivalent of a loud bowl of Rice Krispies. On the Sunday following the storm, a branch high atop a tree in our backyard came loose and landed on one of the utility lines coming to our house. It bent the utility mast attached to our house, which we came to learn is not something any of the local utilities or our insurance cover. So, we're out about $825 to repair that whole mess.

Christmas and New Years were, eh, OK... we had the occasional blackout due to city-wide electrical maintenance, but no big deal. Last weekend though, it snowed and snowed and snowed and snowed. And then the temperatures fell below zero. We're talking -10 without wind and -30 with wind. I missed a day of work because Cindy's car was unable to gain traction and get past the driveway. After hours of digging and some help from neighbors, we did eventually move hers to a cleared parking lot and were able to free mine. We've learned that if that much snow is in the forecast in the future, to make sure my car is the one parked at the driveway entrance.

At some point while slip sliding in the snow getting to and from work, I somehow managed to crack the rear driver's side fender on my Kia Soul. I just bought the thing! I figure I must have done it sliding into one of the many frozen snow banks coming around a corner somewhere. There's no sense in trying to get insurance to cover it, since the repair won't be too much more expensive than the deductible, but now I have a 3 inch crack that's going to bother me for a while.

All this past week, the radio mentioned auto accident after auto accident... people driving too fast on highways and sliding into ditches or flipping upside down. The local news interviewed body shops saying they will be at maximum bookings through May.

Last year, a quick thaw and heavy rainstorm happened that caused one section of our basement to incur significant water intrusion. I wouldn't call it a flood, but we did extract more than 40 gallons of water within the first few hours of clean up. My spring project was shoring up the soil around the house and filling-in any foundation cracks that may have been vulnerable.

Last night, the temperatures rose and it rained a lot. The rainfall wasn't as bad as last year, but we again awoke to a damp carpet in the basement. This time, thankfully, we've only managed to siphon up about 5 gallons. I should be able to further shore up what I think is the problem area in the spring, though we may invest in ownership of a carpet extractor anyway. Total cost of the rental last year was well over $100. If we hit that this week, it's only because we're holding onto it to shampoo the carpets upstairs just for the heck of it.

All told, I'd say the wild winter weather has cost us about $1,000 in surprise expenses. That sucks, but I know it's a lot less than many of our neighbors have had to shell out. The people next door have had a tree service out the last two days, and a plumbing service before that. One of my coworkers had to buy a generator due to the extended power outage. Downed power lines resulted in some people's homes burning to the ground.

We learn, we move on, we plan better...

... nevertheless, the weather can kiss my ass.

Reflections on 2013
When I closed out 2012, I summed up the year as "restless" and said I'd do something about it. I can proudly say that I am on my way toward accomplishing that goal, but still have another year or so to go before my accounting knowledge is such that I can transition into a career that I feel suits my proclivities. I'm not a patient person by nature (it's usually an act), but I'm trying my best to focus on the long game.

Other goals I had for 2013 were put on hold by two brief, but unfortunately timed hospital stays. These goals are back in sight for 2014 now that I have a better handle on my health, and I hope so very much to achieve them.

I have a plan.

I don't know if it's good or bad, but I do have a plan.

Reflecting on 2013 as a whole, I can't say I had an altogether "up" year. I can't even sugarcoat it. But I did get to see Lindsey Stirling in concert again, we moved my mom in with us, and we adopted two very wonderful cats. While that's not a sugary coating, it did at least lend a little flavor to the year.

As we close out 2013, I'm sitting on a couch watching movies with my wife and mom while our cats snooze on cushions and the carpet. My back is a touch sore. My anxiety over going back to work in a couple days is high. But I'll worry about all that mess later. I'm choosing to ring in 2014 on a high note.

Carpe diem... or as the youngins say these days, yolo.

Meowstation 4: Catching Purr
Frank starts journal entry. Cat jumps on lap. Cat naps. Frank naps. Cat leaps off lap. Frank resumed journal entry. Repeat countless times. It's not the worst kind of distraction in the world.

Accounting class is almost done for the term. Thank goodness too, because it's honestly like having a second job. The thing that keeps me going is the belief that the knowledge I gain will free me from the world of accounts receivable. It's a world that, so far, I've been shown that there no room for growth and no path of enrichment. Whether you excel, hold pace, or stagnate, the only future is the same as the present: the job itself.

And I'm not OK with that.

So, next term, it's more classes and even less sleep.

I saw Hunger Games: Catching Fire. It was better paced and better acted than the first movie, but it didn't resonate with me for some reason. I'm not sure why. I'll still go see the last film(s) though, because I'm a completest like that. Plus, I'm curious to see how the audiences that haven't read the books react to the way it all ends.

Two new video game consoles launched this month: the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One. So far, both launches seem to have fared the same. Both machines have "sold out" their initial production runs. Both experienced a similar number of defects. Both have an equally tepid selection of available games. Both were rushed to market and won't even have their full feature sets until subsequent software updates provide them in the coming months. I bought a PS4 from the funds I had stashed from my PS3 sale, but I can't say that I'm emotionally attached to it. I do wish Sony would add 3D BluRay support sooner rather than later. I can't believe both Microsoft and Sony shipped units without that simple feature, especially since the Vudu movie service works in 3D just fine.

Ages ago, when such things happened to me, it would take me weeks, sometimes months to get over the end of a relationship. Having been with Cindy for a decade now, I'm pretty confident that I won't be going through that again. However, I still feel that same sense of separation and sadness when someone I'm close to goes through a break-up. I'm kind of feeling that now. It comes back to the age old problem: some dummies don't know when the perfect match is right in front of them.

Ah well, life goes on.

More PS4 impressions
I have had little time to really tinker with this bad boy of a game system, but I have discovered a few more tidbits that make me feel a little better about my purchase. There's a 3D effects adjustment in the settings menu, suggesting greater 3D support is in the works. And by chance I figured out that my TV remote works to control the system when I'm watching movies. My TV remote doesn't have a popup menu button, but it does at least have play, pause, and fwd/back.

I'm still not a fan of the current game lineup. I know there are plenty of folks that get hot for Call of Duty and Assassin's Creed, but that's not my bag. Need for Speed Rivals might earn a buy from me when it's $10-$20 cheaper. Who knows... by then maybe DriveClub will be out. For the time being, I'm playing Flower (a $6.99 downloadable title) and it's really satisfying my "OMG I only have 10 spare minutes and I want to see lush scenery" itch.

I really appreciate how much lighter and quieter the PS4 is compared to the PS3. It's nice to watch a movie and not hear jet engine-like noise during quiet scenes.

Also discovered that the system's fingerprint-magnet status is exacerbated by some weird coating on the plastic the outer shell is made from. After going crazy on it with lens cleaning wipes I noticed the cloths were marked by this white/gray powdery substance. Not sure what it is, but hopefully it means I won't always be wiping my thumbprints off the system. I wash my hands... I swear!

PlayStation 4 impressions
It's 5AM and I'm having trouble sleeping. I've been having a devil of a time staying asleep for the past 3 weeks or so. Some of it has been my own doing (Marvel Puzzle Quest in bed is a rough addiction), but mainly my brain has gone off the rails. My best guess is that lack of decompression with work combined with an intense accounting study schedule has put my body into a constant "watch your back" type state. If that's the case, I'll probably have to learn to cope with it since I have at least another 2 years of classes and this is not a program I'm going to lollygag on.

On the upside, I did just get to see my two cats engaged in a rather amusing game. The orange one was sitting on my lap with his tail dangling off my knee. The black and gray cat came over and started trying to grab the orange cat's tail. The orange cat noticed and started moving his tail around in a game of keep away. He was actually intentionally baiting the other cat and watching him hop around! They went at it like that for 5 hilarious minutes.

Since I'm up, I may as well chime in with my rather limited impressions of the PlayStation 4. Like a lot of people, I preordered one back in June from Amazon. Between no requirement for a down payment and my wonderful shipping experiences on expensive electronics items, I have become a big fan of Amazon for items like these. Anytime I can avoid walking into the den of filth known as Gamestop is a welcome (non) happenstance indeed. I figured I'd cancel the preorder if I decide I didn't want one. When my PS3 drive died and I had to have it repaired, I pretty much set myself that I'd get the PS4 if I could fund it from a PS3 sale and non-wage related cash. A couple of well-timed eBay auctions and a small writing project foot the bill nicely.

I received my PS4 without incident on Friday. Setup was a snap, though linking my PSN account did take more than an hour thanks to Sony's network experiencing "launch day" levels of traffic. After doing some homework, I pulled out my Disney WOW Bluray and calibrated the PS4's HDMI input to my TV. Since then, I haven't had much time to tinker, but I have been trying to get a feel for the new system.

From a usability perspective, I like the new controller and the tweaks that Sony has made to the graphical user interface. The tablet style icons and zen-like background music certainly fit my personality, though I am bummed that there's no way to changes themes yet. My biggest gripe about controlling the system is that Sony doesn't currently have a media-focused remote control on the market yet. That's how I mainly used the PS3, so going back to a controller seems weird to me. It works, but it's not my preference.

From a games perspective, I can't say much about the launch lineup. None of the games apart from Need for Speed Rivals remotely interest me (FPS games, yech), and that's not a priority purchase for me since I already have plenty of racing/driving games. I did play some of the free games, notably Contrast and Resogun. They're OK, but aren't anything the PS3 or 360 couldn't do. These days, I'm not much of a gamer, so my lack of enthusiasm is probably more due to that and less about the system's launch lineup. That said, they could have gotten $60 from me had it shipped with something like Gran Turismo, God of War, or Tekken.

For the last year roughly, having a PlayStation Plus subscription has pretty much been a "must have" for PS3 owners. The amount of free content more than justified the $50/year price. Right now, the PS4 barely has any Plus exclusive content, and the few games that are available free aren't the sorts of things people will be clamoring over. Anyone that already has a subscription will probably be satisfied in the short-term just from the cloud save-game storage, but those that aren't signed on to the service would likely be better served waiting a few months until the content matches the price of admission.

From a media perspective, I have mixed feelings. Streaming video options are plentiful, but my TV already has all of the same apps (and more). There's no way yet to allow the system to yank media off of my laptop. As a BluRay player, the PS4 loads discs even faster than the PS3 did. I love that. I don't love that Sony didn't ship the system with BluRay 3D capability. It has all of the necessary hardware; 3D just isn't baked into the software. As someone that enjoys 3D movies from time to time, this could become a deal breaker for me in a few months. I hope they'll just put out an update, like they eventually did for the PS3. If they don't, I'll probably sell the PS4 and get a wicked cheap PS3-slim and bank the difference.

That may sound crazy, but I'm more of a movie guy than a gaming guy these days... when I have free time anyway. I'm just the sort that prefers an all-in-one device. A game system that plays movies is my preference, especially since my experience with the PS3 was that it was a wonderful BluRay player.

I do have to give Sony kudos for the PS4's video output. I'm one of those freaks that calibrates his TV whenever a new piece of hardware is attached to it. Running through the expert Disney WOW tests was a breeze on the PS4. Black levels, white levels, and color accuracy are darn near perfect right out of the box. The PS3 needed a red push and an across the board increase in white balance. I was thrilled to be able to dial those tweaks back for the PS4.

Audio output options actually work as designated on the PS4. The PS3 had all sorts of issues sending DTS codecs. The PS4 does Linear PCM, Bitsream D.D., and Bitstream DTS as its supposed to. Interesting to note, though, is that you can set the game and movie settings independently. If you set games to PCM (for some reason), you can bring up the options menu while a movie is playing and set it to Bitstream... and the setting will stick for all future movies. I'm not sure how useful that independently split is, but I can say that I like the way the PS4 and my Sony receiver get along. So many directional effects, yum!

On the whole, I currently have a lackluster vibe from the PlayStation 4. This is probably the tenth console I've purchased at its launch, so that sentiment (or lack thereof) is tempered with the fact that initial game line-ups and features are always a let-down compared to what finally materializes about 3 to 6 months down the road when companies aren't simply scrambling to take advantage of Christmas shoppers. I know the people getting the Xbox One next week are going to have their own "mixed bag" feelings. This is just the way it is at launch.

My new Soul
Car purchases with me always seem to be fast-paced. My lovely Rendezvous developed a coolant leak last week. The diagnosis was it was LIKELY the manifold gasket, but that it could be any number of things. Repairs could range from $850 up to $2,500, and they wouldn't know until getting the engine out just how bad.

Cindy and I talked, I looked at my options, popped some cars into a spreadsheet, and after 4 hours of a test drive and discussion this morning, I am now the proud owner of a 2010 Kia Soul Sport.

I'm a Hamstar.

An odd graffiti-themed poll
This is perhaps and odd request, especially since I don't know how many people actually read my Livejournal anymore... but here goes. I may be getting the opportunity to have a very conspicuous graffiti tag displayed in an upcoming video game. As you can imagine, I'm having trouble deciding because it's a "one shot" type thing.

Shown below are 6 concepts I just threw together. Note: these are all ideas in-progress in order to visualize font & tag combinations. As such, my final selection will be guided by input but probably not be 100% identical to the concepts shown below.

Would anyone reading this please voice their preferences in the comments or on the Facebook / Twitter posts announcing this entry on my FB wall? Thanks!

1. "Who Nu? F.Provo Nu! Mue 6.8" - Rapscript GW, Gold to Red

2. "Who Nu ? F.Provo Nu ! Mue 6.8" - Illegal_Edding GW, Gold to Red

3. "6.8 Lives! Mue, Provo?" - Rapscript GW, Gold to Red

4. "6.8 Lives! Mue, Provo?" - Illegal_Edding GW, Gold to Red

5. "I Like Big Butts & I Cannot Lie. F.PROVO 6.8" - Illegal_Edding GW, Gold to Red

6. "I Like Big Butts and I Cannot Lie. F+C Provo 6.8" - Rapscript GW, Gold to Red

Hiroshi Yamauchi
Hiroshi Yamauchi died today. Well, yesterday technically. Sort of. Japan time. He was 85. I imagine a lot of people are going, "who?"

You may know his family business: a small company called Nintendo. He was president from 1949 to 2002 and while known to be one gruff SOB, is also very responsible for bringing the ENTIRE video game industry back from the brink of extinction by pushing Nintendo first into arcade games and then into home consoles (at a time when home console sales were dropping fast). Love him or hate him, he basically helmed the comeback of the industry and is a major reason why you can go buy Call of Doody 37 for your PlayStation 9 every six months.

So, yeah, a very important person to geeks of my ilk.

And Nintendo also bought the Seattle Mariners under his watch, which means I have to like the guy just a little extra.

Quick update
I don't have much spare time these days, but I thought two video game updates at the top of my LiveJournal was excessive. So, here's what I've been up to:

Accounting Class.

That's pretty much it. I probably could have taken the business law course this term after all, but I'm OK putting that "extra" time into accounting... and sleep. Accounting at the college level is no joke. But I find it enjoyable, so hey.

Still have way too many (for my liking) medical appointments scheduled, though nowhere near as many as when I had an ongoing injury. My podiatrist, doctor, and rehab therapist were all very pleased with my progress at my last visits, so I should be winding down into "normally scheduled" territory real soon. My general health has actually improved quite a bit since getting treatment and taking their advice. Blood sugar is back near normal, I've lost a couple pounds, and my feet and legs are looking great. I'm excited to keep the progress going.

Also, Lana Del Rey is pretty great. I had only previously caught her on Letterman and was unimpressed, but I gave her "Born to Die" album a shot after hearing the dubstep remix of "Summertime Sadness," and whoo-boy that's an album that makes me want to go listen to lounge singers.

My own classic NES Mega Man rankings
I recently did a cram session on the six classic Mega Man games for the NES (school is starting soon, yo). My prior knowledge of the classic series consisted mainly of brief stints with 1, 2, and 6 so I thought fleshing out that experience would be rewarding. I'm not sure plowing through is the best way to learn what each game has to offer, but the process did clarify some things for me and help me to decide which to keep and which to sell.

Mega Man 2 is indeed great, but Mega Man 3 (to me) is actually under-rated given all of the polish and character it brought to the table. There are some things that MM2 does weakly that MM3 does better, and vice versa. Both have some great stage designs mixed with iffy ones. The insta-kill lasers in Quick Man's stage in MM2 are bullshit requiring complete foreknowledge to beat, and don't get me started on that damn trap room that requires full Crash Bomb energy to beat. If your Crash Bomb meter isn't full, you're simply done. MM3 is more fair with regards to the tools you need, but its stages can be absolutely murderous if you don't tackle them in one or two specific sequences. By contrast, MM2 is rather easygoing apart from some "holy crap, I hate you for designing this Akira Kitamura" moments. MM2 wins on music and gets a pass on visuals, while MM3 wins on visual detail and gets a pass on music.

Where MM3 truly shines is in its character. The no-name tools from MM2 became Rush, Mega Man's friendly robot dog. Mega Man's "older brother," Protoman is introduced and turns up as a mid-boss at times. After you complete the eight main stages, instead of trudging through two fortresses (a series staple) your first trial consists of four revised Doc Robot stages that incorporate the bosses from MM2. What could have been a throw-in rehash somehow feels new again thanks to the change in scenery and different weapon load-out. And, let's not forget that MM3 introduced the slide maneuver, which finally made it possible to squeak underneath bullets and low-flying enemies.

I honestly can't pick a favorite between MM2 and MM3. I know that both exemplify the best the classic series has to offer, but I can think of an equal number of reasons why one should be held above the other.

Hot on the heels of the second and third entries, I consider MM5 and MM6 to be very-very-good entries (whereas MM2 and MM3 are legitimately great). The stage designs are more intricate, there are visual upgrades galore, and each has its own claim to fame. MM5 is a much longer game than its later cousin and has the coolest stage of any I've played: Gravity Man's level often has you walking on the ceiling. However, there isn't exactly much freedom to explore, so that fatigue feeling sets in by the time you reach the first fortress. MM6 gives you a reason to re-visit completed levels in search of alternate boss forms that reward you with Rush Suit tools. I liked the artistic style of MM5's levels a little more than MM6's, but that's mostly because MM6 often hides the best looking spots deep within a stage.

MM5 goes overboard with dropping extra lives and energy items, which you'd think would make the game easier, and yet my experience was that was true up until the fortresses after which good drops became infrequent. However, for as difficult as MM6 felt, I actually completed the game fairly quick. If put to the question, I would say I like MM5 slightly more than MM6. I really, really loved the alternate boss paths in MM6, but MM5 just felt a little more polished, if that makes sense.

A sad thought occurred to me while pondering MM5 and MM6. If the best bits of the two games could somehow be mashed up, you'd have a game that would rival the second and third installments.

Most people seem to loathe Mega Man 4. For some time, I did too. However, I've softened lately. There are some great level designs all throughout and I actually rather enjoyed the Cossack and Wily fortress battles. As I think back, I liked a fair number of the bosses too, both in terms of visual theme and fight strategy.

The biggest problem with Mega Man 4 is the designers nerfed the acquired boss weapons, meaning any so-called "weakness" is hardly useful, while at the same time they added a charge capability to Mega Man's buster cannon. Without a doubt, it's the most powerful weapon in the game and it sucks out the majority of strategy that should've been present during boss fights. Thanks to those two unfortunate design decisions, Mega Man 4 went from being perhaps the third-best NES installment to being just above the baseline. Oh, I guess I should mention the music is annoying too.

At the "bottom" of my list, I have to reserve a spot for the very first game.

There's nothing terrible about it; it's OK on its own, especially compared to other action games that were out at the time; but it loses big time in the comparison to all of its progeny. Stages are short, there's nothing in the way of exploration, and the six robot bosses are, eh, with the exception of Guts Man. The game is also overly difficult, not because of the sheer swarms you face at every turn, but because Mega Man slides all over the place like his feet are coated in oil. And despite all that, I still somewhat enjoyed playing it thanks to what I'd consider some genius platforming sections.

For the classic NES series of Mega Man games, this is how my personal ranking breaks down:

Mega Man 2 - A
Mega Man 3 - A
Mega Man 5 - B+
Mega Man 6 - B
Mega Man 4 - B-
Mega Man 1 - C

I may revisit this topic when I get time to truly savor MM2 and MM3. I am not an expert at them by any stretch and I'm curious as to whether one will move ahead of the other once I've developed some mastery.

Interesting postscript: the two best games in the series are the most affordable to acquire. Used copies go on eBay all day long for between $15 and $20. MM4 and MM6 go for about $30-$35, while MM1 and MM5 change hands for $50 a pop. These prices are clearly based on perceived rarity, a facet that I am dubious over. I know the fourth and fifth games both shipped in 1992 when the SNES was out, but Mega Man was still bankable then, and MM5 shipped for Christmas. Rare my foot. MM6 shipped in 1994, so you have to assume the print run was lower since the NES was nearly defunct by then, but it was also published by Nintendo and promoted with the new top-load NES model, so maybe that tempers the issue. On the whole, I can generally stomach the elevated values knowing the demand that exists, with the exception of MM5. If you pay $50 for that game, you're ridiculous.

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