Frank Provo's World

Bury my shell at Wounded Knee

My first Sega Genesis.
Following up on yesterday's post, I thought I'd share the story of how I originally came to own a Sega Genesis. As I mentioned before, my loyalties back then were firmly with Nintendo. I'd played the heck out of the original Nintendo Entertainment System for 5+ years before upgrading to a 16-bit console, and even though games like Altered Beast and Revenge of Shinobi had me tempted to ask for a Sega Genesis, I waited patiently for Nintendo to unleash the 16-bit powerhouse they'd been hyping for months in Nintendo Power magazine. That's right, I owned a Super NES before I owned a Sega Genesis.

I have to include the Super NES in this story, because my eventual acquisition of a Sega Genesis actually came about because of my like for a certain Super NES exclusive: Final Fight. Bet you thought I was going to say Street Fighter 2.

When Capcom released Final Fight for the Super NES, it was like a revelation to me. Giant characters, arcade quality graphics, and most of what made the arcade game great had been crammed into a tiny cartridge. I was a little dismayed that they were unable to include the 2-player mode, but that didn't stop me from playing it and playing it and playing it...

I used to bring Nintendo Power, EGM, and Game Players magazines to school to read during home room and at lunch. This was in 9th and 10th grade. Other classmates did the same. At some point, I got into a discussion about Final Fight with one of my classmates who was a Sega Genesis fanatic. He countered my joyful rant with one of his own, for a game called Streets of Rage. At the time, my own Nintendo fanboyism made me unable to hear his key argument, which was that Streets of Rage was a richer, more diverse experience thanks to its expansive move set and 2-player mode.

Sometime in early 1992, my mom received a rather large tax refund and asked me if I wanted anything. This was before magazines were thickly covering the eventual release of the Super NES version of Street Fighter 2, so I started thinking back to those discussions with schoolmates. By then, another classmate had also begun to drill me with praise of Streets of Rage, and positive hype about Sonic the Hedgehog was also in full swing. So I asked for a Sega Genesis and Streets of Rage.

When I got home from school on a Friday, my mom and I trekked out to Fred Meyer in North Seattle on a mission to acquire a Sega Genesis. Ignoring the TurboGrafx display, I made a beeline for the box containing the Genesis and Sonic the Hedgehog pack-in. It was priced at $149.99. Sitting about 10 feet away was a "clearance" shelf with a different console set: the Sega Genesis with Altered Beast pack-in for $109.99. Since I mainly wanted Streets of Rage, I asked my mom if we could get that "cheaper" set instead and buy Streets of Rage seperately. She begrudgingly said yes and we walked out of there with the Altered Beast set, Streets of Rage, an A/V cable, and a second controller for roughly $170 (if memory serves me right).

We lucked out with that purchase. When we got home, we discovered that the clerk had put a glossy coupon in the bag that promised a free copy of Sonic the Hedgehog with the purchase of the Altered Beast set. If they'd advertised that bonus better in the store, I doubt the older sets still would've been on sale. As I recall, we sent in the coupon and the UPC code from the system box and a copy of Sonic the Hedgehog arrived in the mail in less than 2 weeks. During those 2 weeks though, I played Streets of Rage religiously.

For the most part, I realized my classmates' claims were correct. Streets of Rage was wickedly fun and offered more variety than Final Fight. My friend Don and I had so much fun playing the 2-player mode and it wasn't long before he convinced his brother to buy a copy for their (up to that point) rarely used Sega Genesis. Nevertheless, Streets of Rage didn't quite change my opinion of Final Fight or on the superiority of the Super NES, and though I did very much enjoy Streets of Rage and Sonic, I was quickly back to being a Super NES fanboy when Street Fighter 2 came out that summer.

On the whole, I spent most of my video game time in my teen years playing Nintendo's 16-bit console, but that doesn't mean I didn't give the Genesis its due. When Sonic 2 and Streets of Rage 2 came out, they were very popular at my house, especially when I had friends over. I also went completely ape for Gunstar Heroes and Dynamite Headdy thanks to the slick screenshot-filled spreads in Diehard Gamefan magazine.

Video games were a major part of my life for roughly 30 years. While some of that is simply due to the explosion in popularity of video games as an entertainment medium, I have to also give credit to both my mom, for buying me those first systems in the first place, and to the systems themselves, for providing she and I with additional bonding experiences. She was never great at playing them, but she nonetheless would sit with me and play Streets of Rage, Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat, and anything else I needed a partner in when Don or the neighbor kid weren't around. I like to think those experiences gave her additional happiness also, since she quickly turned her room into a Tetris zone when I lost interest in the 8-bit NES.

And now, many years later, mom lives with my wife and I and has a room in which she still plays Tetris on a Sony Trinitron CRT television. With my reacquisition of a Sega Genesis, it's almost like a circle is being completed.

Genesis does.
Within the last few months, I've rekindled an interest in the 16-bit Sega Genesis video game console. Those that know me aren't too shocked by this, since I used to frequently write about retro game re-releases for GameSpot and also have a rather large NES collection. What may surprise people, though, is that the Sega Genesis wasn't my favorite console back in the 16-bit era, and that my interest in it wasn't strong enough back then to drive me to buy anything more than the AAA mega-hyped releases that everyone else bought. I had the Sonics, the Streets of Rages, and Gunstar Heroes, but passed up games like Castlevania Bloodlines, Thunderforce 2-4, and so forth.

I did later own a Sega CD and a 32X, but that's a whole other topic for a different post.

It amuses me to see teenagers these days vehemently debate the pros and cons of the big Sony and Microsoft game consoles, when they both have pretty similar libraries apart from some key exclusives. For those of us that lived through the 16-bit "console war" between Sega and Nintendo, we can tell you that the fervor back then was on a higher, more crazy level. Few people had an even-handed appreciation for both. You either loved the Super Nintendo, with its Mario games, first-run Capcom arcade ports, and top-notch RPGs. Or you defended the mighty Sega Genesis, with its Sonic games, stellar beat-'em-ups and space shooters, and a constantly updated selection of sports games. I haven't seen an ad campaign yet that tops Sega's "Genesis does what Nintendon't" in terms of overt rabble rousing and political overtones. I also remember witnessing more than one playground fist fight that germinated from an argument over Sega vs Nintendo or Sonic vs Mario. Yeah, it was nuts.

Back then, I was firmly on the Super Nintendo side. The richer color palette of the SNES won me over, as did games like Super Mario World, Final Fight, and Street Fighter 2. Street Fighter 2 was the game that ultimately sealed it for me. Sega didn't even have a port of SF2 until the Hyper Fighting version came out, and even then it came out 2 months after the Super NES version.

That's not to say I disliked the Genesis; I just prioritized my spending in Nintendo's favor. Back in the day I definitely played the hell out of Streets of Rage 2 and Gunstar Heroes, and loved every minute of it.

As time went on, I was later exposed to the games I'd missed the first time around, thanks to the proponderance of retro game compilations on the PlayStation 2, Xbox 360, and so forth, as well as through ROMs and emulators. I came to develop an appreciation for the Sega Genesis and what skilled programmers could do with it.

Getting back to the discussion of Street Fighter 2, I have to admit that I've come to prefer the Genesis version of "Special Champion Edition" as I've now had years to compare the minute differences between it and its Super NES counterpart (SF2 Turbo). What I didn't realize back then is that the responsiveness, CPU A.I., and general flow of the Genesis game is much closer to the arcade game than is evident in the Super NES version. Not that the Super NES is bad. Plus, the visual and audio clarity found in the Super NES game makes it hard to overlook the reduced color depth and scratch audio found on the Genesis.

In 1993, we chalked those differences up to the weaker video and audio processors in the Sega Genesis. In fact, the Super NES version of SF2 sold millions more copies than the Genesis version did because of that. Recently, I've come to learn that we were wrong. The Genesis release of SF2 didn't have to suffer the audio-visual "downgrade" that it received. Capcom was just lazy. A pair of Genesis aficionados that frequent the Sega Age and Sega-16 forums have put out patches for the game that make the colors more faithful to the arcade and all but remove any evidence of scratchiness from the music and voice samples. I've played the patched version of the game on the Kega Fusion emulator and am floored at how a few hours of effort from two devoted coders has improved a game that Capcom supposedly put thousands of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars into. If THAT version of SF2 had been released for the Sega Genesis in 1993, I can't even tell you how many systems it would've sold.

Off and on, I've had the urge to obtain a Sega Genesis console, or perhaps a Retron 5, and to reacquire some of the games I consider my favorites. I'm not going to lie, seeing that improved version of Street Fighter 2 led me to purchase a used Sega Genesis, and now has me on a quest to find someone willing to burn the ROM onto a cartridge so I can play that version on real hardware.

In the meantime, I've also picked up a few of my other favorites, like Sonic 2 and Streets of Rage 2, as well as some shoot-'em-ups that I had only experienced through emulation: Thunderforce III and Lightening Force. Thankfully, my drive to acquire Genesis games isn't as lusty as I had when building my NES collection. I'm also glad that the secondary market for these games isn't as ridiculous as the Super NES is right now. With the exception of a few truly rare titles, you can get most Sega Genesis games loose for $5-$20 and complete in box for roughly $20-40. That's far more affordable than the market for Super NES game right now. Just go look on eBay for complete copies of non-rare Super NES games like Contra III or The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and you'll see what I mean.

Most people would be content with playing these old games on emulators, and while I too am generally satisfied by that method, I find myself preferring the original hardware when I can manage it. For me, emulators "clean up" the experience too much. And I get added enjoyment from putting an actual game cartridge into an actual system and playing it using an actual controller. Here again, I am thankful that it's possible to get back into the Sega Genesis without spending an arm and a leg.

That's not to say the doing so is dirt cheap; after all, retrogaming is a huge business these days; but I've been able to manage it merely by reapportioning money that I might have otherwise spent on DVDs or unnecessary lunchtime food purchases.

I'm pretty happy to have done so. I get more enjoyment from playing these "old" games than I do from my PlayStation 4 or Xbox 360. The PS4 is mostly a BluRay player right now (though I am looking forward to playing my unopened copy of "The Last of Us" before classes restart next month). And my 360 is basically just a Street Fighter 4 machine.

Meanwile, I put four hours into Streets of Rage 2 and 3 the other night, which is more time than I've put into any video game since August.

For anyone else out there that has been thinking about diving back into retro gaming on old school hardware, I recommend doing so after doing a little bit of research. For example, it's suggested that you find an old CRT TV to play 16-bit games on because the upscalers in modern HDTVs make them look like crap. But that doesn't have to be the case if you're willing to have your system modified or don't mind dropping $50 on a special convertor box, which I will talk about in a later post at some point.

Alternatively, if you can find one in the wild, a Retron 5 console isn't a bad choice. Yeah, it's just an emulator box that plays actual cartridges, but the compatability and features are beyond those of any other clone knockoff and you can still use original controllers for that classic feel.

Camera phone image of Streets of Rage 2 on actual hardware on my Samsung HDTV

Achievement Unlocked: Intermediate Accounting II
I'm feeling pretty relieved right now. I just learned that not only did I get a 4.0 in Intermediate Accounting II, but that I scored 95 (unadjusted) on the final test. When you add all of the extra credit for the semester, my percentage of points is just a smidge above 110%. For the longest time, I've felt the desire to be an accountant growing, but have also had this misgiving in my head causing me to constantly question myself.

"Can I really do this?" is what it came down to. Up until this semester, I was unsure of the answer. Now, I've never been more certain in my life that I can do this.

Intermediate II is known to be the most time-consuming, most challenging course in the accounting sequence. Not just at LCC, but everywhere. And I kicked it's ass! It's a wicked good feeling!

But I have to admit, it didn't come easy or quickly. It came at the expense of free time. Four months of missed opportunities to have fun, be entertained, and socialize. Four months of choosing the basement and my textbook over my wife and my cats. I have a movie and video game backlog that's ridiculous even by my recovering-gamer standards. Each week, I'd easily put 15-20 hours into studying and doing problems--except for the last week, when I totally slacked and only studied a grand total of four hours.

My previous instructors had put some fear into my head about Intermediate II. Searches on the Internet then amped that fear to 11 and had me battling right out of the gate. But that fear also led me to respect the course and tackle its challenges with a sense of wonder. Thankfully, I get a great deal of enjoyment out of solving accounting problems, so I was able to channel my fear into productive results. Perhaps that is the sign of a twisted individual?

Now that I've bested Intermediate II, do I think its reputation as the most challenging class is warranted? Not really. The challenge lies purely in the time commitment. There is an abundance of material to learn and many of the concepts interrelate in such a way that you absolutely need to master one concept in order to fully understand something later. In that regard, it's exactly like learning a foreign language. Fluency requires practice. The more you practice, the better you do.

I think anyone with the right motivation can succeed in the class, particularly if they reduce their course load or workload slightly to allow a bit more time to practice. Alternatively, I guess one could make a career out of frisbee golf...

Next semester, I signed up for Cost accounting and Advanced Accounting. Having survived and bested this semester, I now am not just confident that I will do well in my future classes, but that this is a career path that I am 100% capable of doing and loving. Bring it on.

My current retrogaming situation
When it comes to video games from the 8-bit and 16-bit eras, we're definitely going through a renaissance of sorts. Demand for popular games is high and prices continue to rise, with many complete-in-box games selling for $40, $50, and higher. Much of this demand stems from the fact that people that grew up with these games (my age cohort) are now in their mid-to-late 30s, seeking a psychological escape to a more carefree period in their lives, and are bringing home incomes that allow ready fulfillment of this need to escape.

You'd think that new television technologies would lessen demand for old hardware, since consoles connected by RF and A/V inputs to HDTV's look like garbage, but as they say: "where there is a will, there is a way." People have figured out how to modify old consoles to retrofit S-Video, RGB, component, and HDMI inputs. And some companies, such as Hyperkin, have released emulation-based consoles that play games from multiple systems and output high-definition video in 720p and 1080. Right now, we're in a positive-feedback loop where demand is driving availability, which in turn is driving demand.

I, too, have been getting into retrogaming a bit more lately. Not that I ever really stopped playing my favorite old games, as my longtime love of the 8-bit Nintendo is well-known. But, as the stresses in my life have increased thanks to my busy schedule, I find my desire to play these quick, fun games from a bygone era has surged. In general, I am grateful that many of the games I enjoy I either already own or are still available-for-sale at reasonable prices.

But that isn't totally the case.

I'm still hunting down a copy of Gun-Nac, the Compile shoot-'em-up for the NES, but prices have now hit the $130+ level for a loose cartridge. I have a large cache of store credit built up at the local Disc Traders on the off chance they get a copy. Hey, it could happen: they had Little Samson a few months ago.

Some years ago, I had a chance to buy a copy of M.U.S.H.A., another Compile shmup for the Sega Genesis, for $75 complete with box and manual. At the time, it was too much money. If I could wrap my leg around, I'd kick myself in the ass for not doing so. Complete copies now easily fetch upward of $200 and $300. A bare cartridge tends to fetch about $140. I temper my disappointment by remembering that I do still have a copy of Robo Aleste for the Sega CD, a similar game also made by Compile that is in many ways better than M.U.S.H.A.

Probably my biggest missed opportunity is the PC-Engine Duo (aka TurboDuo), the Japanese version of the TurboGrafx CD system that basically is a gateway to some of the best shoot-'em-up games ever made. Yeah, I have a soft spot for shmups. At various times since 1995, I've had a chance to get consoles for under $100 and games like Blazing Lasers, Soldier Blade, and Gate of Thunder for $30. I'm not sure when it happened, but there's no way those opportunities will appear again.

I don't let these missed chances bug me too much. I already own a decent selection of great games. And, if I really, really want to play these games on actual hardware, I can buy reproductions or Everdrive units to do so (shhh).

That's really where the appeal of retrogaming comes into play for me: the actual hardware. There's just something about popping a cartridge into a genuine system, pressing the power switch, and grabbing a legit controller that makes the experience whole.

And that has led me to my recent conundrum. I've been debating picking up a modded Sega Genesis console to play games like Streets of Rage 2, Lightening Force, and Gunstar Heroes with better video clarity. At the same time, Hyperkin's Retron 5 offers a compelling alternative (HDMI upscaling, and I can use my original controllers). Honestly, I can't decide which way to go because evaluating my options requires time I don't really have. Am I the only one that spends hours coming to terms with an electronics purchase?

Who knows. Perhaps my desire to make such a purchase will simply subside once the term ends and my stress levels reduce for a while. Will the desire return once classes return? It's a valid question since I am about to complete Intermediate Accounting II, which is widely regarded as the most challenging of the core accounting courses (anywhere, not just at LCC).

In the meantime, I highly recommend that anyone that might enjoy 16-bit shoot-'em-up games go to Youtube and check out videos for a Sega Mega Drive (Gensis) game called "Eliminate Down." The line-scrolling effects and color depth is very impressive. You can't find a legit copy of the Mega Drive cartridge for less than $500 these days, but reproductions that are playable on the Sega Genesis can be had for between $30-$45. Tough to really harp on the legality of that option, since the companies that developed and produced it are defunct and the rights were never transferred.

Peering up from the fog
Remember that job interview I mentioned in my last post? Yeah... about that... I was offered and accepted the position of accounts payable coordinator for the Neogen Corporation. That was a little more than a month ago. The job is new and challenging, both with regard to the change in atmosphere and to the immense learning I've had to do in transition from A/R to A/P. It's one thing to know the theory. It's quite another to put it to practice. Every day gives me 10 new things to do. Sometimes I make mistakes. It's humbling and fulfilling, but also awesome because I am closer to the accounting functions than I was when I worked in A/R. That's kind of important to me, you know, since I'm studying accounting.

The change in atmosphere has actually been the greatest and hardest thing to come to terms with. And I don't mean that in a bad way. The people are nice, management is nice, and the company generally seems to treat its workers with a level of respect and care unlike my previous employer (and the one before that, too). It's a positive place to work and I should just be happy with that. But here's the thing: the last 5 years and 3 jobs left me with a level of cynicism and fear that aren't just going away overnight. Deep inside, when someone criticizes me, points out a mistake, or even just does something nice, my kneejerk reaction is to imagine the worst and recoil. I hate that my instincts are that way and that I can't just take interactions with my new coworkers at face value.

But that's a psychological trait that will change with time as my brain realizes that I won't get browbeaten for voicing concerns or speaking out. I still have many responsibilities (it is a job, after all), but I am no longer confronted on a daily basis with the impression that I am responsible for everything that led up to the invoice that rests on my desktop. To put it another way, it's a collaborative atmosphere.

It's still too soon to say how it will all play out, but I'm pleased to say that I now enjoy going to work each morning and I have a great deal of optimism for my future.

Shifting gears in 3...2...1....

Classes are taking up almost all of my remaining free time. Intermediate Accounting 2 is well-known to be the toughest of the entire accounting curriculum (anywhere, not just at LCC), and while I haven't found it to be killer, I have found that it doesn't leave much room for friendships, relationships, or hobbies. If I want to enjoy any of those pleasurable aspects, it usually means I need to stay up until 2am to finish up the reading or homework I had to delay. And I'm only taking two classes (marketing is the other). I can't imagine how my classmates that are taking 3 or 4 are managing it. Actually, considering I got the highest grade in the class on the first exam, I imagine its downright draining them too.

But it's ok, because, again, it's all about the future. And next semester when I take Cost Accounting and Advanced Accounting, it won't seem as rough. Maybe.

Before I disappear again for a while, I just want to mention that I got to hang out with Adrianne the other day. I'm not sure how many people have kept up with this journal long enough to know who she is or what she means to me, but basically she was my high school crush (unrequited) and we lost touch for a number of years. A few years ago, she reached out to me and I eventually had a chance to visit her and her husband when I took a trip to MLB Spring Training in 2012. We got along great and it really reshaped my world view to have her back in my life again. We don't communicate as often as we probably should, and she is constantly moving around the country, but we do keep in touch.

A work assignment has brought her to Michigan for the next few weeks, and she was gracious enough to spend a day with Cindy, my mom, and I last weekend. We took in the Grand Ledge Color Festival, which was pretty sweet if you're into that whole Fall colors thing. Me, I was just happy to spend time with a good friend. Maybe it's nostalgia. Maybe it's that our personalities go well together. I don't quite know what it is, just that spending time with that redheaded chatterbox really puts me in good spirits. That's probably why I felt so strongly for her all those years ago. I've often said I don't feel a connection with many people, that I don't have many friends. So the ones that do bring out that joy within me stay with me in such a way that even an 18-year gap can't kill my desire to have them be part of my life. Small part, big part, random part--it doesn't matter to me just so long as I know they're out there.

And on that sappy note, I'll check in again at some point *grin*

Oh, hi there...
It was mentioned to me today (in a job interview no less) that I haven't updated this journal since January. What can I say... I was busy. OK, not really. I've been a disenchanted monkey for a long time and about the only hobby of interest I've kept up with is studying accounting. I know, I know--that sounds ridiculous. But it's actually a very engaging topic for me these days and I'm doing my best to run with it.

I was also reminded that I haven't done much with my novel project in a while. Sadly, I think that's going to sit on the shelf for a year or two. But don't fret--it's not dead. It's just taking a vacation. I actually have two book projects sitting dormant on my laptop. The serious novel is approximately 33% complete, but that portion has been dutifully copy-edited. The for-fun "novel" is 95% complete but is going to need some help. I basically wrote it semi stream-of-consciousness and, uh, I'm no James Joyce. In both cases, I don't plan to pick them back up until I finish the brunt of my accounting studies.

So, what major events happened in the nearly nine months since the last entry?

Honestly, for seven of those months, time just kind of passed for me. And then summer hit and I guess it was time to have some drama in my life.

I shaved my head, though that was more of a "I wonder what if" kinda deal.

I applied for and accepted a job as treasury clerk at my employer, MPS. But I wasn't satisfied with some aspects of the job or retaining so many responsibilities of my old A/R job, so I gave notice. No, I didn't have another job lined up. I know there's not much context here since I didn't put three years worth of ups and downs in this public journal, but the bottom line is I've just evolved past that particular job and company. For me, there is no work/life cohesion there anymore.

What are my job plans now? I can't say that I have a specific focus in mind. I can say that I am open to anything that furthers my experience in accounting, and that I am probably done with accounts receivable unless a unique opportunity comes along.

The other big event, if you can call it an event, is that my orange cat, Tang, became very sick this past month. There are various names for what he had--Feline Urinary Syndrome is one. Basically, he developed a urinary tract infection and crystals that prevented him from releasing urine. It was painful and basically made him a sad, lethargic, nearly dead kitty. There were a couple close calls, but I'm happy to report that two weeks and nearly $1,800 worth of hospitalization and drugs later, he's pretty much back to normal again. He has special food to eat now and there's a risk of recurrence, but I'm not focusing on anything except that he's alive right now. Some people say, "he's just a cat." Yeah, well, he's a very loving, personable, vivacious cat and I'm thrilled to have him in my life.

His brother is kind of a jerk sometimes, but we love him too *grin*

That's a good-sized update for now, don't cha think?

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!

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