Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Blazin' Challenge

I thought I'd post a quick blog on my activities last night. I went to Buffalo Wild Wings with Michelle and our friend Thomas and took the Blazin' Challenge! Just me, mind you. Michelle and Thomas opted out. :) If you've never heard of the Blazin' Challenge, let me explain. You have to eat 12 of their traditional wings (Meaning fried, bone-in) smothered in their Blazin' Sauce. It's the hottest sauce they have. They give you 6 minutes and the following rules:
  1. You must first sign a waiver releasing Buffalo Wild Wings from liability in any injury or death that may occur.
  2. No Drinks until the challenge ends.
  3. No Napkins until the challenge ends.
  4. The bones must be cleaned completely with the mouth only.
  5. You have 6 minutes to eat all 12 wings.
  6. If you throw up, you're disqualified.

That's it in a nutshell. So I ordered my wings, and when they were ready, the store manager came out to time me, and off I went!

Let me interject here with a little Hot Sauce tutorial if you aren't that familiar with how they're rated for hotness. The scale used to rate hot sauce is called the Scoville Scale. The sauces are measured in Scoville Units. The number basically tells you how much a sauce has to be diluted before it is no longer detectably hot to the taste. It isn't a perfect rating, but it's a good ballpark. Anyway, the hottest sauce I have ever tried is made by the Pepper Palace in Gatlinburg, TN. It is called "The Hottest Sauce in The World" and weighs in at approximately 1,000,000 Scoville units. I tried it with my friend Eric years ago and we both had to sit down and cry from 1/8 Teaspoon on a cracker. About a 15 minute burn that built slowly over the course. Not your grandmother's hot sauce. (Or maybe it is if your grandmother is related to Popeye or something.)

I did some looking around, and Buffalo Wild Wings' Blazin' Sauce registers at around 300,000 Scoville Units. About a third as hot as my hottest sauce ever. The catch? I had to eat a LOT of it. But I was fairly certain that I could pull it off.

So the timer started and off I went. The heat was a little delayed. I was on my third or fourth wing before I really started to feel anything. (Incidentally, the Blazin' Sauce has a good flavor, along with the heat. Tasty sauce if you're into it.)

About wing 7 it started to get pretty intense. Oddly, it wasn't so much blinding heat, but rather a kind of rolling electrical feeling. If you've ever been shocked by a light socket or outlet you'll know what I mean. It felt like a sort of heavy tingle everywhere the sauce touched my face and lips. At wing 8 or 9 my vision narrowed a little bit and my ears started to ring, but it wasn't excruciatingly painful. really just a slow intense burn. Nothing I couldn't handle. The other sensations were interesting though. I'd never had enough really hot sauce to experience that before. More disorienting than painful.

By the time I finished my 12th wing, (at 3:30 by the way) The sensations weren't getting any worse. Everything had peaked (Or so I thought). My official time was recorded on a Polaroid and hung on the Wall of Fame, out of the way, by the bathrooms. :) You can go to BW3 in Ironton and find me there. I also was allowed to buy a survivor T-Shirt for $5. (Allowed to buy a survivor t-shirt. C'mon. I risked life and limb! can't you spot me a t-shirt?)

After the challenge, the heat continued for about 10 minutes, and then peaked. 20 minutes later I was completely cool again. :) That was fun. And more than a little stupid I have to say.

So at the end of the night I had earned a $5 T-Shirt, a place of honor near the bathrooms, and the respect of literally tens of people as my name was announced over the loud speaker as a survivor of the Blazin' Challenge. I have it straight from Thomas also that he didn't think I would pull it off, and that he was proud of me. And if a little hot sauce isn't worth the pride and respect of your friends, then I don't know what is.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

GenCon 2009

Hello all, and it's time once again for a new blog entry! Today's topic? GenCon 2009! Many of you may already know that Michelle, Mike and Jenn and I took a little trip up to Indianapolis a few weeks back to attend one of the largest gaming conventions in the country. It is attended by thousands upon thousands of gamers, anime fans, cosplayers and various other social minorities! :) I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to explain how we were able to attend this convention. It would have been quite expensive to pay for the room, the food, the badges and everything else, but we were able to go essentially for free thanks to one of the games that has become a staple of GenCon. We volunteered to help run True Dungeon. True Dungeon, most simply put, is a live action Dungeons and Dragons style game, where the players are put into a full size labyrinthine series of rooms, in which lie dangers untold and hardships unnumbered. We went out to Illinois earlier in the year to actually play the game, volunteered then to help run it at GenCon and were selected, which meant the room was paid for, the convention badge was paid for, and the food was paid for. Add that to the fact that my company graciously allows me some personal mileage on my company car with the gas covered, and how can you NOT go to GenCon? :) So, True Dungeon was all kinds of fun. It is run by a lot of really personable, hard working people who are focused on making sure that their customers are going to have a great time! The four of us spent most of our time as NPCs, or Non-Player Characters, meaning we were costumed and interacting with the players. I was in this costume most of the time: That's not actually me, and the paint is now a little different, but this is a foam suit painted to look like stone. They added some red and UV paint to make it a Fire Elemental costume. The rest of the time, I was under a table waiting to scare people by thrusting my hand up through a glove and out of a bowl of glowing liquid. I remember thinking: "I'm not sure how I ended up crammed in this tiny box with my hand sticking up through a table." Bet you were wondering when I'd work that in there. :) Long story short, fun and more than a little bit stuffy, but a good time! Thanks to the TD crew for allowing us to participate! Alright, so the rest of the time, when we weren't working at True Dungeon, there was a whole big convention for us to enjoy! I've posted a lot of pictures on my gallery for you to see. As we all had the opportunity, we got to roam the exhibition hall, which was absolutely huge, and packed with game vendors for anything you can imagine. RPGs, Board, Card and Video games and their corresponding merchandise like shirts and such. I had never been to a convention or conference in which I was the target demographic, and so it was really hard not to walk around with my mouth open gaping at everything. While there we did a couple of other things related to the convention. We attended the zombie walk, which is pretty much just what it sounds like; A lot of people, who are dressed as zombies, walking. Kind of a zombie parade. You'll see a few pictures of our costumes as well as some of the other stand out zombies as well in the gallery. We also attended a Masquerade. This too was a costumed affair. Michelle and I went for a classic Italian masquerade look, and Mike and Jenn tried their hand at steampunk to great effect. So, I can't truly speak for everyone else, but I had a fantastic time at GenCon. I have never felt out of place where I live, but being in a city full of gamers and geeks like myself for a few days was kind of like a "homecoming" experience. I was pleased to find that the ages varied all over the place, and most everyone was friendly and polite and that this mass collection of gamers in general was a good collection of people who represented the demographic as well as could be. It was also a lot of fun to put on an obscure shirt and have people get it. :) Here's what I mean. Michelle and I were walking the floor in a couple of shirts from, and someone from the site saw us. They were walking about taking pictures of people wearing their products and we ended up on the site in a blog post! That's right. Internet Famous. Those of you who read this blog regularly will know that this is not the first time I've been Internet Famous. Thanks again Brandon! Ok, I'm getting to the point where I'm starting to feel like the post is long enough. Maybe too long. Looking forward to GenCon 2010! I think True Dungeon will have us back, so how can we NOT go? :) Talk to you soon! -Jon

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Baltimore or Less!

Ok, so I'm catching up on my blogging. Now you're probably feeling inundated by posts about my summer exploits. This is an entry about the second of three summer trips that Michelle and I have taken with Mike and Jenn this year. There was a trip back in the spring also, and there will likely be a fall trip or two. As with the previous blog, I'm going to direct you to my website's gallery for pictures of the Baltimore trip. The main reason for this trip to Maryland was for a concert, which was being performed by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. They performed the music of Final Fantasy, composed by Uematsu Nobuo. The game series has long been a favorite of mine. I've played it since I was very young, starting on the Nintendo Entertainment Center. I haven't missed one at this point. It's a great series, with sweeping, epic story lines and fun characters, but I digress. This was about the music. So we left on a Friday evening and drove all night to arrive in Baltimore, where we stayed at the Lord Baltimore Radisson. A very interesting hotel for sure. Beautiful decor and a picturesque lobby, but the rooms were a little worn, if cozy. The shower was insteresting. One end of the bathroom was just curtained off and there was not so much a stall as a corner. It was very institutional. Took some getting used to. :) So what did we do? First let me tell you that the concert was phenomenal! The music was played while a screen above the orchestra played different scenes from the games, and slideshows of character art and such. I absolutely enjoyed myself. Anyone would enjoy the music, whether they had played the games or not. What I love about Final Fantasy's music is that it really does stand on its own as great work. It's much more than the looped 8-bit synth and bleeps and bloops that a lot of games employ. Uematsu-san is a talented man! Fine Jon, the concert was awesome. What else did you do? Well, I'll tell you. We spent a lot of time at the Inner Harbor in downtown Baltimore. There are historic buildings, historic ships, great food, and great shopping all to be had in a four block radius. We had lunch one day at Edo's which is a nice Japanese place. Alright, one picture. Here's my lunch: Fun eh? That's Edamame, Teryaki Chicken, A pair of Spring Rolls, Four pieces of California Roll, a really tasty piece of Volcano Roll, and a salad with a carrot/ginger dressing. Awesome. We also took time out to visit a museum while we were there. I've posted a lot of pictures on the Gallery of everything from old chain armor to a mummy. The last big ticket sight that we saw in Baltimore was Edgar Allan Poe's grave. His grave was interesting, but the whole cemetery is incredible! The architecture is sometimes bizarre, and there are some huge names from American history buried right in the same place as Poe and his family. You'll find pictures of that adventure in the gallery as well. A couple of cool facts: Poe was moved from his original plot, across the cemetery, when it was decided that he should be honored with a memorial. Also, the church that shares the grounds, is actually built over the cemetery. There are catacombs beneath the church. We wanted very badly to see them, but apparently they are off limits, or they were while we were there. We could see through the locked gates somewhat, though. All in all, I really liked Baltimore. It's an old town. Really old. At least here in America. The buildings are a mix of all sorts of styles. Roman, Modern, Victorian...there are just different things to see everywhere. The people were friendly and the culture was rich. And a good time was had by all. Tune in next time when we hear Jon say: "I'm not sure how I ended up crammed in this tiny box with my hand sticking up through a table." -J

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Appalachian Trail - Better Late Than Never!

Hey all! Finally, I am about to blog about my experience on the Appalachian Trail in June! I'm sorry it has taken so long to put something up about it. Sometimes you just get busy and suddenly it's almost 3 months later! Anyway, as I said, better late than never right? :) So, just to make sure you're up to speed, late this past May, Michelle and I, along with my Brother in Law Al and my Dad, started at Winding Stair Gap in North Carolina, and over the next 8 days, we would walk a total of 53 miles of the Appalachian Trail, to be picked up in Cades Cove, TN. The experience was difficult and often treacherous. It was a little scary, and stressful. But it was definitely an experience not to be missed, and I'm sure that none of us are finished with the AT. If you haven't seen the pictures yet, they're in my gallery on my website. Rather than post a lot of pictures here, I'll just send you that direction for a better interface. It's probably next to impossible to put everything we experienced into a single blog post, but I'm going to do what I can. Here goes! First, I'll say that none of us were truly prepared for a week in the woods. I don't think any of us believed we would be, but that doesn't change the fact that it was more of a challenge than we anticipated. We were fortunate to have an excellent shuttle to our trail head. Without them we'd have dealt with some difficulties that were unneeded. Our driver went over some possible hazards to avoid, and helped us a great deal with pack weight, and food management, so after the three hour drive to the trail, we felt more prepared than we had been, which was good. We would need every extra bit of help! :) Jeff (our driver) also asked us why we had chosen the hardest length of trail in the southern half as our first piece. Well, the location worked out best for our drop off and pick-up, but would we have made an adjustment had we known that before the day we started? No point dwelling on that now. Done is done! (it was all my fault) :) My aunt and uncle met us at the trail head to see us off. With a prayer and a couple of pounds of birthday cookies, (thanks Aunt Patty) off we went! Day one, and we hiked and hiked and hiked. Now, we had some long days scheduled. 10 miles, 12 miles. On our first day we went about 8 before we camped, at a place called Wine Spring. The spring was a little creek, which was where we first filled our water bottles with mountain stream water. A lot of realizations on that first day or two. Let me relate a few:
  1. We aren't making the kind of time we planned. Either have to speed up, or not go as far. (This was also some good advice from our shuttle driver. Relax, and enjoy your time, he said. It's a vacation and you aren't racing. Very quickly we realized we were not going to go as far or as fast as we had planned. That realization and subsequent acceptance made the trip a lot easier and more enjoyable.)
  2. Everything you do has to have a purpose. In the woods, there is no action without thought and purpose behind it. After awhile, the routine got easier, but you have to be aware of every step, lest you plummet over the side of the hill. You have to cook in the right place in the right clothes (as not to attract rodents and bears) , plan your water stops, prepare your camp efficiently, break your camp efficiently, hit the trail early enough to make your next campsite. The thinking can wear you out, but as we often talked about on the trail, you may still be stressed, but you aren't thinking about work, or the lawn, or the bills, You're thinking of things that will keep you alive and healthy. Bears, clean water, dry clothes and shoes. You're trading one set of trials for another. And I can't speak for everyone else, but I found that enjoyable once I was accustomed to it.
  3. Too much food! We all experienced this. Our appetites were slim under the physical exertion. I could have carried two thirds less food and probably still had too much.
  4. Small kindness really does matter. This is related to number three actually. We had too much food, but there were foods that we didn't have that we really missed. Day two we encountered a lady at a picnic site that came near to the trail. She had some fresh strawberries which she offered us, and which quickly disappeared. I actually didn't' have one, but the rest of the group did. Later in the week, the same thing happened when we hiked along with a couple of ladies who gave us a bag of cherries. I had a few of those. Those were the best cherries I've ever eaten. I think just because they gave us a little of something that we didn't have, and couldn't possibly have had without them. It made me realize how significant even the smallest gift or aid can be to someone who is without, and we didn't even need the cherries to live. They just hit the spot. It's funny how much of your time on the trail revolves around food. When to eat, how much, where and so on. At Fontana Dam, NC, just before we crossed into Tennessee, I offered a melted Snickers bar to one of the kids who was sharing a shelter with us. His eyes got wide, and he thanked me as though I'd given him a nugget of gold! We found out a couple of days later that he and his friends had been raided by bears in the middle of the night, and they had stolen all of his food, so he had been living fairly lean for those few days. Likely he'd have taken a Snickers over a gold nugget out in the middle of the woods. :)
  5. I was worried about drinking water from a stream. If you stop to think about everything that drinks from the stream, that crawls in's a little disgusting. But I realized that the taste of the water coming out of those mountains is not to be had from city water. It was so clean tasting that when we were finally able to drink some city water again, it was metallic and heavy by comparison. After we left the hostel where we slept mid week, I was tempted to dump my city water in favor of a spring we passed, but I just didn't want to wait for the purification.

So the hostel is another story. After three or four days, we were very tired, and having a hard time of it, so we decided to take a day off of the trail to heal and relax. We stopped at the Nantahala Outdoor Center in North Carolina. It is a fabled destination for AT hikers and affectionately called "The NOC". A couple of restaurants, $20 hostel rooms. Hot water and showers. We decided that in the spirit of not killing ourselves, and also enjoying ourselves, that we needed to take the time. It was well spent. Laundry done, showers taken, gear cleaned up and repacked, we shuttled ahead so we could meet our pickup in Cades Cove on the appointed day.

I think I can be safe summing up the rest of the hiking. Naturally there are countless stories I could tell you, but I want to keep this blog readable. Feel free to ask me any question you have. But I can say that the hiking and camping were harder, and more worthwhile than I could have imagined. The time I got to spend with the people who went with me was irreplaceable. And as I mentioned in a previous blog, God was there too, as I expected. Interestingly, the bear activity this year is extremely high. People coming and going saw them the whole time we were on the trail. We never saw the first one. I wouldn't trade this hike for a week doing anything else! Also, there are some views of the Appalachian Mountains that you can't drive to. I saw some incredible places. There are pictures of some of them, but pictures don't do them justice. More than once I was awed by a 360 degree panorama of mountains as far as I could see. If you haven't experienced it, that's good stuff! :)

I think the only way I can make sure to answer everything that you might be wondering is in the comments section of this post. Ask a question or anything and I'll see about answering! If it requires another blog post, then all the better! Thanks, as always, for reading!!


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Contents of My Pack

Well, Here we go. I'm going to do a quick blog about the items I'm taking with me when we head out on our big hike this weekend. We'll be headed out on Friday evening, the 29th, and returning on June 7th. This is a week long, no holds barred, sleep in the dirt kind of hike. We're also going to be raising money for the Faith and Fitness Center in Ironton by making this a Hike-A-Thon. Willing sponsors can pledge by the mile (75 of them) or a flat amount. But anyway, I thought I'd give you a quick tour of my pack, which is effectively my house for the next week.
First, a picture of all the contents. I have numbered them, and I'll go over each number to let you know what's what.
There we go. Let's begin shall we? 1. This bag contains my personal effects, and electronics with which I'll be documenting the hike. My phone, for micro blogging and GPS in a pinch, the camera for....well, pictures. My charger, spare batteries, a trail log, a new testament and a novel. Also included is my headlamp and my clip on light. On the test hike a few nights ago, it made an excellent overhead lamp in the tent. 2. This is the toiletries bag. Soap and deodorant, toothbrush and towel, you know. All the essentials to keep me from smelling any worse than I need to. :) 3. My emergency kit. All of my first aid and just in case gear is in this one. Hand warmers, gauze, band aids and ointments, and some pain and fever medication. Also a couple of chem-lights. You never know when all of your lamps/flashlights might all die. If everything goes according to plan, though, I should never have to open this one up. 4. Two 1 Liter bottles of water. This is all the water I'll be carrying at any one time. They'll be refilled at streams or springs along the way and purified. 5. Camp shoes. $1.00 Croc rip-offs from Walmart. Women's size 10. They were lighter, cheaper, and better looking than the men's. :) If I need to go slogging across a stream and don't want to take a chance on getting my boots wet, these will come in handy. Also, the one shower I get at Fontana Dam, three nights before the end, will require these. Would you stand in an outdoor bathhouse in bare feet? :) 6. My Eureka Silver City 30° Sleeping Bag. This is one of the pieces of gear I'm most proud of. Packed and compressed, it's not much bigger than a loaf of bread, and it's good and light. 7. The orange sack and the long black one next to it are my tent and poles. The tent, which I have blogged about before here is a Eureka Solitaire. I've slept in it twice now and it's a pretty cozy little getup, if a little shy in extra room. It only requires moderate skill in yoga to get around inside it. :) 8. This is my spare clothing. Nothing more than a change of clothes for the camp site so I can wash the stuff I'm hiking in, along with a set of thermals in case of a cold night. All of it is synthetic, quick drying and light. 9. Foul Weather Footware. This is a pair of socks, sock liners and small gaiters in case things get really sloppy on the trail. I'll have two spare pairs of socks and a spare pair of liners total. You can't be too prepared when it comes to your feet. 10. This is my rain gear. A Marmot Precip jacket and field and stream pants. It's all packed into one of the jacket's pockets. I hope we never have to get this stuff out either, but in all probability it'll rain on us some. Looking at the forecast, it may rain on us a lot. :) 11. This is my rain cover for my pack. Another piece of gear that's good to have along, but better if you never need it. 12. My fleece jacket, in case things get cold. I don't expect it'll get cold enough to need this, but again, an ounce of prevention and all that. This jacket actually works along with my other clothes for layering. I have my base layers; this jacket is my mid layer, and my rain jacket is my outer shell. 13. My kitchen. I like my little cook set. This is a Coleman MAX pot and pan, and inside is my stove and fuel, (Esbit solid fuel tabs) along with two mini Bic lighters. Also contained inside are coffee filters for my water and my purification drops. My drops are Aqua Mira, which is chlorine based and safer than iodine in a long term situation. 14. This is the majority of my food in our Ursack. The Ursack is a cool piece of gear. It's a bear bag, made of Kevlar. We're using the bag primarily to keep our food from rodents and such, but this is supposed to be able to resist the bears as well. Technically it should be bulletproof also. :) Laying next to the Ursack, you can see a sample of the food we're taking with us. That's a small jar of peanut butter, some dehydrated 3-bean Chili from, a bag of my famous homemade beef jerky, and in the back there is some freeze dried corn. It's a fantastic snack! Tastes just like a well buttered ear of corn! You can also see my all purpose spork there. Ya gotta have the spork. :) 15. This is my sleeping pad. It's basic, closed cell foam that you can buy at any Wal-Mart. I trimmed a little off of it to save some weight. 16. Here it is. The Gregory Baltoro 70. A 70 Liter Capacity pack with a legendary padding and suspension system. It had better be up to the challenge of carrying all of this gear, because I'm not certain I am. :) So there's the nickel tour of my gear. I hope you find it as fascinating and engaging as I like to pretend it is. How about a picture of the whole mess packed lovingly into the aforementioned backpack:

Total Packed Weight: 39 Pounds. A little high perhaps. I was hoping to keep it near 35, but in a couple of days it'll be down around there as I eat. My food weight will be reduced by about 2 pounds per day. Hard to believe that this is all I'll have with me for 7 days, but at the same time, It's hard to believe that there's so much there. :)

Alright, I have time to entertain a few questions, but as of Friday afternoon, I'm out of here! I'll see you all on the Twitter feed if there is sufficient service to update via phone. Later!


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Kung Fu - My First Class

Well, guess what Michelle and I started tonight? We attended our first Kung Fu class at Magic Fist Kung Fu in Huntington, WV. Mike and Jenn are attending as well, and have actually been going for about a month. And so, just like that, we are off on our quest for awesomeness. My thoughts after the first night are positive. I really enjoyed the class, and the instructor is attentive and knowledgeable, and seems to be a really nice guy to boot. I have to tell you that I have never, and I mean never, stretched that thoroughly in my life. We stretch standing, seated, against the wall and in all manner of directions. The funny thing about it is that before class tonight, I'd have sworn that I could not touch the bottoms of my feet if they were out in front of me with my legs straightened, but after the stretching I could. My hamstrings were quivering and my thighs were burning, but you know it was a good pain. :) As I sit here, I'm still sore and I can only imagine how sore I'm going to be tomorrow and the next day. So, we started learning a lot of things tonight. He spent a little time on several basic techniques. If I recall everything it was a basic kick, a sidestep, dodging a punch, disarming a knife at your throat, deflecting and disarming a knife attack at the body, and part of our first form, which he explained was not so much for striking and blocking, but more for teaching your body how to move to strike and block. All of it was at half speeds and basic, but that's fine by me. I'm going to need slow and basic for a few months. :) I'm considering the addition of a 2009 Goal, but I don't know yet. I need to attend a little more and see, but I might just add "Attain a White Sash in Kung Fu" to my list. That's usually the color earned when you know the very basic stuff and can demonstrate it. I've done some looking into it, and it looks as though it takes an average of 4-6 months to reach that rank (for the average person, working at it and practicing), but I really know next to nothing about it at the moment. We'll see. :) Anyway, good time tonight. Excellent workout. Very sore. Definitely going back. :) -J

Monday, April 6, 2009

True Realm (Spoilers Within)

How about a quick blog about what Michelle, Mike, Jenn and I did this weekend! We took off Thursday night and headed to Marion, IL for an event called "True Realm". We had a fantastic time. Literally. :) True Realm, you see, is a fantasy adventure. It is produced by the people who have been doing "True Dungeon" at Gencon Indianapolis since 2003. It takes table-top fantasy role playing to a new level. Basically, what we did was go to a 40,000 square foot warehouse that had been set up with a full tavern (Totally dry BTW. No alcohol admitted), two full 7 room dungeons, and 2 smaller ones. We did a 4 room and the main 7 room while we were there. The rooms of these dungeons are intricately decorated, full size, and feature combats, puzzles and traps. Each room had a volunteer GM or Game Master, who assisted the 8 member parties in combat and answered questions. There were some truly spectacular animatronic critters, and some excellent live actors. In the first room we were all addressed by a none too polite Drow who essentially gave us our quest. Well, she told us what NOT to do and we did it anyway. :) The puzzles and challenges were both mental and physical, from arranging a series of numbered cards in a proper order based on information printed on plaques all over the room, to arranging a series of pieces into a cube the size of a small car while unable to speak to your teammates. There was also a challenge where you had to shoot a button on the wall across the room with a crossbow. (Which I succeeded in doing thank you very much!) Anyway, I could go on and on about all the things we had to do to make it through our dungeons, but it would be too hard to explain. Let's just say that it was a whole lot of fun. We had four people in our party that we'd never met. Two veterans, and two young newbies. We, ourselves were new, but everyone was very friendly and helpful as far as explaining how things worked and getting us equipped to play. Equipment, by the way is done with tokens. They come with all kinds of equipment printed on them. They represent your weapons, armor, rope, potions, or anything else that may be useful inside. You get 10 with your ticket, but more are available for purchase. There are some people who collect them of course, and they were all about with their suitcases of tokens. I ended up using an "Orcish Flail" token as my weapon, FYI. So that's what we did this past weekend. I would post pictures of the event, but not only was photography inside somewhat discouraged, but the inside was very dark. I could go into the specifics of how combat works, and all of that, but I'll just post a link to the True Dungeon website, and let you peruse there if you like, at your leisure. Perhaps, if you're feeling crazy, you can even drive up to Indy this August, attend Gencon, and run the dungeon yourself! Hopefully they'll have another one next year in Marion as well! Take it from me, this was great time! :) -J

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Memory of Light - Thoughts on The Final Book of "The Wheel of Time"

Hey all! Some of you might have heard this already, as I know a few of you who are also huge fans of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time, but It was announced by the publisher, TOR, today that the 12th and final book of The Wheel of Time will be released in three volumes, beginning with the first volume, "The Gathering Storm" this coming November. Here is the press release from TOR, posted at I wanted to first of all, express my excitement over having a general date for the first volume, and then to comment on the method of release. There are a lot of Wheel of Time and Robert Jordan fans who are up in arms right now considering it's been 4 years since the last book came out, and the series is somewhat infamous for growing beyond its original scope and becoming a behemoth of a work. Not to mention that before Jordan passed away in 2007, he initially said he would finish this story in one book if TOR had to invent a new binding system. It would be easy for a reader who's been following the series for the better part of two decades to become somewhat impatient or angry or cynical at the announcement that the author chosen to continue and finish the story has expanded this final volume into three of them, released over the course of two years. Brandon Sanderson has posted an article over on his website explaining a great deal of what led to the three volume, two year release. It's a good long read and well worth it for the doubting fan of the series. Let me tell you why you should not be angry by telling you why I am more excited than I have been previously after this new information. 1. Short and fast would probably mean quick and dirty - There is no way I would prefer to have a single volume that is cranked out as fast as possible. Mr. Sanderson seems to be very concerned about the quality of the story. The more care that is given into the crafting of this final chapter of Wheel of Time, the more gratifying it will be, not only for the author, but for the fans, and for the memory of Robert Jordan. The fans who realize what he was creating, ought to be overjoyed that Brandon is writing so much and is continually stating that he is bound and determined to be sure that the standard of quality is there. Sure he could write a quick summary of what happens at the end and call it the final book, but by book 11, the story is anything but brief. Some people detest it, some people love it. If I may invoke the name of another venerated master of the genre, consider this: J.R.R. Tolkien wrote volumes of information about Middle Earth that were not a part of The Hobbit or Lord of The Rings. Having read those extra volumes enriches and increases the understanding you have of the world surrounding the main story. I, for one, love the richness of the story as much as the climax of the tale. Jordan wrote the same supporting depth around his world, but he included the details within the story itself. Tolkien and Jordan both have their faults as authors, and they write about different details, but that's they just way they do it. It makes them who they are, and who am I to suggest they do it another way. If I want a story written another way, then it's up to me to write it, but Jordan's detail is his way. Brandon Sanderson seems to understand this and is doing his best to see that the story gets the treatment it deserves. 2. I have a long standing personal philosophy that has served me well in keeping a good perspective concerning luxury, entertainment or anything that I do not need to actually live. Anything from video games to restaurants. There are two types of people in this world. There are the "Get what I Wants" and there are the "See What I Gets". The "Get What I Want" is the kind of person who looks at the world around them, and expects everyone to change what they do to please them. The food is not salted enough. The game is not pretty enough. The book is too long, too short, too simple, too complex. This person cannot be pleased by an artist or entertainer because they expect what they want and not what they get. The "See What I Get" is eager to hear, taste or see what the artist, musician or chef has up their sleeve and is willing to try something out to experience the particular creation as the creator intended (And in general believes that the creator was creating their best). In general I am a "See What I Get" and I find that I am able to enjoy things that some people may not, simply because I want to experience what the creative designer has prepared for me. Brandon has made it very clear that he is a fan of Wheel of Time and that he intends to do his dead level best for us. For me, even if he was a terrible author (which is most certainly is not) I would be glad to buy and read this book whenever and in however many volumes it ends up being. I am not only supporting RJ and his family by buying and reading this book. I'm supporting Brandon Sanderson and the fact that I respect his care and work on this series, and want to "See What I Get". 3. Three volumes is not about greed. It's about completion and practicality. If you read TORs press release, you can jump to a conclusion and say that TOR is just trying to get as much as possible out of this book and hang the fans. Brandon's article denies this, as do his frequent blog updates over the course of the past year. He has said from the get-go that this book was huge, and in all likelihood too big for it's "one volume" britches. We've seen it grow gradually and have been kept up to speed as it grew to accommodate all of the loose ends that need tying up. It is also practical and makes perfect sense from a business perspective. It is a less durable book if you push the spine to that thickness, and it is true that smaller books do make better sense for a book store with limited space. Some comments I have read have practically suggested that the idea of producing this book in three volumes is next to criminal. Is it too much to ask that an author who works himself so hard to create the book, and the booksellers and publishers that manage to get them to us make a little money for it? There's nothing wrong with that. If you disagree with paying for three hardbacks, then don't. Wait for the paperback, go to the library, borrow it from a friend, but there's no reason on earth to threaten to tell everyone you know not to buy that book from those tyrannical publishers and money grubbing booksellers. The bottom line is this. We've been waiting a long time, true. Robert Jordan began a story that became greater than he could have imagined. It's a fantastic story in itself. One for the epic fantasy books. The creator's creation grew in scope beyond even his own imagining. He could not finish so someone else was asked to do so. Despite trepidation and nervousness that he could complete such a task, he accepted anyway, and now it seems that not only was he up to the challenge, but he'll complete his quest as a hero while the rest of the world looks on. So I appeal to you. Whether or not you agree with how it is given to us, let's enjoy the finish of this tale to first of all, honor the people who have worked so hard to bring it to us. RJ, Harriet, Brandon, and everyone else involved. Then, to appease our curious minds concerning a group of characters we've followed a very, very long way. Let The Dragon ride again on the winds of time! -J
Good evening! This will be a quick one. I just wanted to drop a quick note to divert your attention over to the left, where the Japanese progress bar now indicates 23%. I am working on lesson 19 on my course of study and just completed my Beginning Hiragana book! It's really unbelieveable, but I'm reading and writing Hiragana fairly smoothly! I'm at nearly a quarter of the way there at the end of the first quarter of 2009! That means Basic Japanese is on track! This has been really fun so far, as I have already said. I have to buy my Beginning Katakana book in the next week or so and begin working on that syllabary. I think I might actually break into Kanji a little bit this year as well. I have also decided that I'm going to use another goal to work on this one. I'm going to strive to write a program in Python that will take a compiled vocabulary list and drill me on it. Like flash cards! Should be a fairly simple program. I'll get started on that next month I think. I'll keep this short, but I've got a couple of commentary blogs coming up concerning one of my favorite books, and one of my favorite bands! Talk to you soon! -J

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Bento Blog!

Hey guys! Michelle and I spent a little time in the kitchen tonight packing our lunches for a big day of costuming tomorrow with Mike and Jenn. We decided to pack Bento lunches for ourselves so naturally we took pictures (which are dark and difficult to see) but I will post them anyway just because it has been so long since I've told you what Michelle and I are eating for lunch! Here are the pictures first: There you go! Now, as always, a brief description of exactly what we're looking at here. We are both using the same food, but we each packed our own lunches. The rice contains a soy apple mix that I improvised. I tried one onigiri mixed together entirely, and the other has the mixture in the center. Michelle garnished with apple, snap peas and a small piece of soy egg. I chose to cut out a quick stencil and make cinnamon faces on mine, along with tomato ears on the bottom and a jaunty snap pea hat on top. (My soy eggs ended up looking a little like rabbit ears which kind of gives you the impression of a panda and a rabbit with my onigiri.) As for the soy eggs, these are hard boiled then rolled in soy sauce. Michelle sliced hers to great artistic effect! I, as I said already, ended up making rabbit ears out of mine. Fortunately so. Initially, they kind of looked like a big ole soy egg hiney before the placement with the onigiri. Michelle's eggs ended up looking really good with the tomato and pea garnishes. I think she won the artsy award for this Bento. I would say that my panda and jaunty-hatted rabbit take the "kawaii" award. That would be Japanese for "cute". So, everybody wins. Was I going for cute? Well, not really. I wanted ultra-manly, but accidents happen when you're packing a bento. *shrug* Rounding out the main dishes, Michelle used the remainder of the soy-apples and more snap peas and tomatoes. I also used the veggies, but I threw in some light rye crackers, which are buried under some colby-jack cheese and a short skewer of turkey pepperoni. We both have some rice crackers that Michelle picked up this week in Chicago, and we both have a couple of caramels from the same place as well. You can't see it very well in the picture, but I have added a small piece of dark chocolate with sea salt. If you haven't tried salted chocolate, I HIGHLY recommend it. Think chocolate covered pretzel. It's a great combination. World Market sells it, but I know it has to be around elsewhere. So there you go; Another bento blog! I hope this makes you hungry, because I'm ready to go back in the kitchen and just eat it all right now! Talk to you soon! -J

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cook's Kitchen: Beef Jerky

Well, I've got some beef in a marinade right now. I'm making some beef jerky in order to try out a new vacuum sealer we picked up at the store. I thought I'd take a few minutes to post about my beef jerky. Odd? Maybe, but I think you'll find that beef jerky is underrated and worthy of a little examination. "Why are you writing about beef jerky?" You may ask. Well here's why: Jerky is actually a very old food. The word "jerky" actually comes from "charqui" (Pronounced CHAR-KEE) which is a Quechua word used in the 1500's in South America. This from a few minutes of research on the web. Isn't the internet cool? :) Anyway, the idea of being able to keep meat for long periods without it spoiling is extremely useful. It is a great food for hikers. Beef is a powerful food for a person who will be packing heavy weight for long distances. Why? Beef is a powerhouse of Protein and Iron and the curing process packs it with Sodium. In a nutshell, Protein to repair the muscles, Iron for efficient oxygen intake, and sodium for balancing fluid and keeping the neurons a-firin'. That on top of the fact that it's a light food to carry. I'm not a nutritionist. One of my readers is though, and so I hope he doesn't shoot me down here for my amateur evaluation. :) So now you're saying, "Ok, Jon, I'm sold. How do I come by this 'jerky' of yours." Well, I'll tell you. You need a few things to make Jon C. Cook's Killer Beef Jerky. Here is my list. 1. A food dehydrator, lovingly provided by the Coopers for your wedding. (Any food dehydrator will work of course, but a nice one with heat and convection will get you there faster) 2. Real soy sauce. (Kikkoman is a good brand), Worcestershire Sauce and Liquid Smoke. Buy large containers if you plan to make more than one batch in order to lower your costs overall. 3. Good beef. I say good beef because there are definitely "beeves" that don't make good jerky. I use thin sliced (about 1/4 inch) eye of round steaks, cut across the grain. The cross cut is vital for my recipe. First of all it is much easier to eat. You won't yank your teeth out trying to tear a piece off. Secondly, the cross cut allows the marinade to really soak in and flavor your jerky in a short amount of time. I'd like to also note that ground beef pressed through a caulking gun and mixed with spices is not jerky. It's a dog treat. Here at the Jon C. Cook School of Jerky, we don't pre-chew our beef, and we certainly don't squirt it out of a caulking gun like Taco-Bell sour cream. :) That's it. That's all. Here's how it goes together. 1. Mix your marinade. Use a 1 to 1 ratio for the soy and Worcestershire. I use about 1.5 to 2.5 tablespoons of liquid smoke, but you can really be flexible with it. You can also experiment with other flavors added to this base marinade. Try anything that sounds interesting! I made a batch with a plum spread once that turned out pretty tasty. 2. Trim your beef. Make sure and remove as much fat as possible from the slices. The fat will not dry completely and can go bad much more quickly than the lean meat. The more you remove the better your jerky will keep. I just use kitchen shears. 3. Put your beef in the marinade and let it sit for at least 6 hours. The longer you leave it, the more flavorful the jerky will be. I usually prepare the marinade in the evening and the next morning it's ready. It's a good idea to agitate the beef at some point to make sure everything gets covered. Generally, 3 to 4 hours in, I just flip the top pieces that may be sticking out of the marinade at all. (Cover and refrigerate) 4. Once the marinade is finished, it's time to dry it out. Turn your dehydrator on and make sure to set it to the correct temperature for meat. All you have to do is put the beef on the trays and let it go. The actual time will depend on your dehydrator. Mine usually does the job in 12-15 hours. You can let it dry until it's crispy if you like. Consistency is largely a personal taste, but make sure it's dry enough that it'll keep. 5. Remove from the dehydrator, let it cool, and bag it up! If you're going to use it on a hike or something then you're good to go, but if you want to keep it longer than a week or three, vacuum seal it and refrigerate it to be on the safe side. Chances are that it will not last nearly as long as it'll actually keep. :) There you go! Now you can enjoy beef jerky for a snack, or as a trail food, the Jon C. Cook way! Enjoy!! -J

Pottery Update

Hi kids! Guess what time it is? That's right! It's time for you to see pictures of my pottery! My latest batch came out of the kiln just this evening and I have a few pictures to show you! I'm not going to post them in the text here, but I'll give you a link: Jon C. Cook's Photo Gallery I'm trying not to post a lot of pictures in my text because Blogger seems to be doing some strange things to spacing and stuff. Rather than wrestle with it, I'll just send you over to my website! Have a look and tell me what you think! Better late than never eh? -J

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Appalachian Trail Update

Hey gang! Just filling you all in on our AT plans, and such. This past weekend was a good trip. Michelle and I went a little crazy at Little River Trading Company in Maryville, Tennessee in preparation for the hike. We grabbed a few last things that we needed. Water purification, good insoles, clearance Columbia mid-layer fleece (total score), socks, sock liners, gaiters, a water carrier for know. All the things that you may need when walking a long way and camping without the modern conveniences. As I said before, once I get everything together and arranged, I'll be posting my complete gear list for you. Weights and all. I figure it will be a good idea so I can then compare after the hike and figure out what I really needed and didn't need. (I'm thinking it'll be a good comparison for all of you out there if you decide to try this at some point.) We are pretty much ready to go with the exception of food at this point, and we mostly have that figured out, so the prep is essentially over. That is of course, excepting the physical conditioning, which is ongoing. So now we just train, and wait for it. And read and try to learn as much as we can to be ready. I figure there's only so much head knowledge you can accumulate for this kind of thing. At some point you just have to put one foot in front of the other and do it. We're ready I think. Is there trepidation? Are we a little nervous? Yeah a little, but the excitement and anticipation are there in equal parts if not greater. This is going to be real adventure. The kind you can write books about! :) So I was doing a little reading about Thru-Hiking. Hiking the whole trail in one go. And the guy was talking about what happens to you on the trail. I know we're only doing a week and only 75-80 miles at that, but I hope that this trip has an impact on me. The guy who wrote this article, put it this way (paraphrased): Most people who attempt a thru-hike and succeed find that they are a different person at the end. In a good way. On the trail, there are three examinations that happen in order. First, you examine your body. You wonder if you can really pull it off. If you're physically capable. Then you start to examine your gear. Do I need this? Do I really need it? I can definitely get by without this or that. Many people start to leave their unneeded gear behind. (Sometime if you get the chance, stop in at the Happy Hiker in Gatlinburg in peak thru-hike season and take a look at the boxes of discarded gear left by hikers. They leave it in case another hikers needs it.) Finally, you start to examine yourself mentally and spiritually. (End paraphrase) Michelle and I call it "resetting your meter" and that's the part I hope I get to in my short week on the trail. The point at which you start to see what you're fortunate to have in a different way. When you start to appreciate what you have more fully, and when you start to see how much it really is that you're blessed with. That's really the biggest part of what this trip is about for me. Perspective. There's a lot of fun in seeing how simply you can live, and in seeing how far you can travel on foot and all that, but truth be told, if I can gain just a little more appreciation for creation, and the things I have, then the trip is worth it. In short, my expectations for this little walk in the woods are as follows: I expect to-
  1. Have a lot of fun with Michelle, Dad and any friends we may make along the way. (By fun I mean walking really far, hurting a lot, and smelling bad. On purpose!)
  2. Do something mentally and physically daunting that I never imagined I'd do.
  3. Spend some time while I have a perfect opportunity to pray and meet with God in the mountains.
  4. Search my pack and leave behind any gear that I don't need. Figuratively speaking
So, that's that. And THAT was going to be a quick update, but it seems to have turned into a discourse. :) Anyway, that's what I hope to do on this hike. Won't be too long on that gear list I mentioned. Thanks for reading! -J

Friday, March 13, 2009

Brandon Sanderson Made Me Famous!

Hey all! I normally am not given to posting blogs in the morning, but this couldn't wait! Last night I sent Brandon Sanderson a quick e-mail after finding a reference to one of his books in the popular Internet meme known as a Lolcat. I sent him the link to said lolcat, fully expecting that he'd probably seen it a hundred times by now. As it turns out, he referenced the link in his blog this morning, also mentioning one of his vigilant readers by name! 'Scuse me if I go a little fanboy on you here. :) Check out his blog (And my 15 minutes of fame) here! I've written about Brandon before in a blog or two. Here's the one about our trip to Dayton for his book signing. I didn't mention it at the time, but another book to check out, which is a rarity in the fantasy world is Elantris. It is a rarity because it is a compelling fantasy novel with an epic feel, yet all contained in one normal sized single volume. :) Alright, I have to get to work now. I'll post again soon. Michelle and I are making our trip to Tennessee to finish our outfitting this weekend! More to come.... -J

Monday, March 9, 2009

General Update

I have just a quick update on a few things for those of you following along. It's a big week in the general goings on leading up to the crazy (I mean AWESOME) summer of 2009! 1. Fitness: In the world of fitness, things are now underway. Today I bought a new pair of Saucony running shoes and Michelle and I rebooted our runner's training with Couch to 5k. I linked it way back in 2008 when we started for the first time. This time we're going to try and repeat the program with a couple of differences. This time we're in pretty decent shape to begin with, and also we're doing it faster with a goal of running the Memorial Day 5k in Ironton and posting a much better time. It shouldn't be too hard to beat last year's time of over 37 minutes, but I'd like to beat the Jingle Bell Run time of under 29 as well. More on this as it develops. 2. The AT 2009 Expedition: The planning has begun. Our long anticipated week long hike on the Appalachian Trail looks like it'll be taking place the first week of June, barring any scheduling trouble or unforeseen circumstances. Michelle and I are heading down to Tennessee this weekend not only to see my grandparents who are up from Florida, but also to make a quick trip to a couple of good outdoor/backpacking stores for a little outfitting. We're going to get the rest of our footwear (socks and liners and such) and also our cookware. I have my stove, but I need a little better mess kit. We're planning on scouting out some of our food as well. There are various other essentials that Michelle has on a list that is pretty long, but hopefully not all that heavy once they're loaded on our backs. :) I'm thinking I'll probably post my complete gear list once I have everything together in one place. After the hike we'll do a comparison and I'll see what I can eliminate for future hikes. 3. Ninja Skills: Beginning the first week of April, Michelle and I will be joining our friends Mike and Jenn in a Kung Fu/Self Defense class in Huntington. We have never taken any kind of martial art, and thought it would be fun to try, not to mention a good thing to help with fitness and protection. Who knows, I might have to wrestle a bear in June! Michelle has expressed some interest in Bo Staff. I for one think it would be the coolest thing on earth if Michelle could just go nuts with a Bo. Just like Donatello!! 4. Japanese: I have finished lesson 11 of 30 on my Japanese I course. I did a quick review of lessons 1-10 just to make sure I had a grasp of most of the material, and I feel like I am definitely improving. Slowly but surely this course is increasing my flexibility with the language. Also, I picked up a used copy of "My Japanese Coach" for Nintendo DS this weekend and I've been working on my vocabulary with it. It's a neat little program that teaches with word games. There is a good dose of Education about Japan itself. The program is actually designed not only to teach you the language but to be a travel tool as well. It includes a fairly large dictionary and phrase book, as well as a sketch pad in case you jut have to draw something to get your point across. There you go. I know there were other things I was going to update, but I can't remember. I should write them down somewhere. I've been thinking about getting a Moleskine notebook for that purpose. Blog ideas, random thoughts and such. They're so nice in that display at Borders. So earthy and Bohemian. I think I need one. Alright. I'll get one soon, and then you won't have to feel so cheated when I can't remember all of the details that I meant to impart. :) Later! -J

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Japanese Update: Method to the Madness

Hi gang! As my faithful readers, I feel I owe it to you to clarify one of my 2009 goals as I ascertain the method by which I will judge its completion. As such, I have figured out what will constitute the definition of "Basic Japanese" and figured out the way I will update the progress bar. Thus: The Japanese course I have chosen to study has a total of 90 lessons, each 30 minutes long. Henceforth I will consider the completion of each lesson to be 1% of my goal. These, as anyone can probably see, will add up to 90%. I will consider "completion" to mean that I can progress through the lesson with an estimated 80% accuracy of responses. This is the recommended percentage according to the program. So far, I have completed 10 of these lessons and I'll be setting my progress meter accordingly. I need the remaining 10% from somewhere, and since I have decided to be able to read and write as well as speak Japanese, then the remaining number will come from a solid basic understanding of the two basic Japanese syllabaries. Hiragana and Katakana. This year I'll be learning to read and write both of them, and will consider competence to be the ability to sound out and read words in either or both. (As well as to write a word I hear) without the aid of a reference. The completion of each syllabary will earn 5% on my meter. Two sets of symbols totalling 10% FYI- I have been working on my Hiragana and at present have learned to recognize and write 35 of the 46 basic symbols. So: Pimsleur Japanese I, II, III - 90 Lessons = 90% Hiragana Syllabary = 5% Katakana Syllabary = 5% ------ 100% Basic Japanese As for the Kanji; The 2000 or so borrowed and commonly used Chinese symbols; Well, I think I'll tackle those in 2010. Maybe I'll start casually working on them when I finish Hiragana and Katakana. As it stands, I'm thinking I might try to have a single Kanji learned for every day of 2010. 365 out of 2000 is a pretty fair start. :) Talk to you soon! -J

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Japanese Update!

Konichiwa! I just wanted to update on my pursuit of the Japanese language! It's been a good week with my studies. The audio lessons are definitely the way I pick it up the best. I have to recommend the Pimsleur series for anyone who learns by listening and doing. You get right into speaking in lesson one and you learn the grammar as you go. I would also recommend the series if you have a long commute. I've been able to progress pretty quickly being that I drive so much. I am working on lesson 7 of 10 out of the basic set right now. I'm going to have to either buy or borrow the comprehensive set if I'm to really get going with it. The bad thing is that to progress through all three levels it can be pretty expensive. The comprehensive set has the same first 10 lessons, and then 20 more on top of that. Alright, so I have to tell you that I did not expect to enjoy learning a language this much. I expected it to be worthwhile, and I expected to enjoy it, but I am really having a great time with this! I have a theory that I'm loving it so much because I'm getting to use my brain in a way that I really haven't used it since I was very young. I did take a lot of Spanish in high school and college, but for some reason it wasn't the same. I can't really figure out why, except that maybe it is so close to English in so many ways, that it's not really like truly learning to communicate for the first time. The romance languages are that way. Similar sounds, alphabets, words etc. The trickiest part is the grammar and verb conjugation. Japanese is like learning to communicate all over again to me. The pronunciation and words are very foreign. It isn't what I'd call difficult, but it is different. It seems to actually be a pretty efficient spoken language so far. That doesn't even enter into the alphabet. If you take all of the Kana and Kanji into account, there are more than 2000 that every Japanese child is supposed to know by the 9th grade or so. Everything is new. Like learning to speak your first language as a child. I did decide around lesson 5 that I needed to learn to read and write Japanese as well. By all accounts, reading Japanese improves your pronunciation and your basic concept of the words themselves. Knowing the Kana (the letter systems) you can more easily grasp the words themselves as opposed to the Romaji (or the romanized Japanese words using roman letters to spell the Japanese sounds). So I went to Borders and picked up my workbook to learn the first 46 Basic Hiragana. I can recognize and write the first 12 so far. In Romaji: a-i-u-e-o-ka-ki-ku-ke-ko-sa-shi. So here I am, a 31 year old guy practicing my letters on a workbook sheet and saying them as I write them over and over. Using a mnemonic device for each one to remember them when I see them and learning to speak by listening to other people. This brings me back to why I think I'm enjoying it so much. I think maybe my brain remembers learning to speak and is having a wonderful time doing it again! As I said, I'm thinking in a way that I haven't since I was a small child. This is getting a little long winded for a blog that's supposed to just tell you, I'm progressing with speaking Japanese, I am now learning to read and write it as well, and I am having a blast with it! I'm raising my progress bar for Basic Japanese to 5%, but I have to confess that I really don't know what encompasses basic Japanese, so I'm guessing blindly. Anyway, I'm being as conservative as I can until I'm more certain about my progress and my destination. Thanks for visiting! Talk to you soon! -J

Friday, February 27, 2009

A little optimism in a difficult time...

Hey all. This is just a quick repost of a short article by Dave Ramsey. If you haven't heard of him, he's a really great finiancial guru and his program has been extremely helpful to Michelle and I. Dave isn't shiny-happy about the economy, but he does have an optimistic outlook and an uplifting attitude about the trouble we're in. Check out what he has to say here. And if you think your finances need a reboot or you're up to your neck in debt and stress, look into Dave's site. Talk to you soon! -J

Friday, February 20, 2009

How to Eat an Elephant

Well, Michelle and I have placed our house up for sale. It's the first bite of our elephant. You've possibly heard that old proverb. "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time." In other words, if your goal is too big, cut it into smaller pieces that you can manage one at a time. Michelle and I have a huge goal. We want to build our house on the hill. About a year and a half ago we bought a piece of property that pretty much fell out of the sky and was perfect. It's a little two acre plot overlooking the peaceful village of Chesapeake Ohio. You have a beautiful view of the valley, the river, and the Huntington bridge. The land is covered in trees and boulders with a flat, house sized spot amongst them all, and there's an honest to goodness rock face back there as well. It's very Middle-Earth. Close to town, with the illusion of seclusion. That's where Michelle and I both want to end up. So, we bought it. Now here we are, anxious to build and excited to be in our new place, but living in our tiny little house in Ironton and still trying to be responsible financially. What do we do? Well, here's the plan. 1. We sell our house. Could be a tricky step in this whole plan, owing to the market doing what it's doing. BUT! I have done a little looking around and the market here does not seem to be as bad as in some places. Perhaps the cost of living and the economy here was already dodgy to begin with and we haven't seen as much of a slowdown as a result. For whatever reason, home values do not seem to have slipped as drastically, and the market is still moving pretty well in our part of town. Now, when, not if, the house sells.... 2. We bank the profit on the home, and find a place to rent. I've done a little looking at rental properties and the costs thereof. We can live about the way we are now without jumping too high on a payment. We'll probably also have to rent a little storage space to hold the stuff we don't liquidate. And we plan on cleaning this place out! 3. While we are renting, we are still saving. We start to shop builders and excavators. From them we acquire estimates to put us under roof and so forth. Then we head to step... 4. When we have the contractors and pricing we need, we go to the banks and start to shop loans. Hopefully, and also according to our realtor, we should be able to land a pretty good interest rate. At this point we'll know exactly how much we'll need up front for a down payment and all that. 5. We start the build. (Still saving) 6. As soon as the house is live-inable we're out of the rental and we start moving stuff in. At this point, we're pretty much there, with the exception of the finishing inside and so forth. I do plan on calling upon the cosmic power of "The Dads" as Michelle and I like to call them. They're excellent for saving costs on labor and such. Are you reading this dad? :) So there's an outline of our plan. No strict time frame as that is largely contingent on selling the house and shopping before the building starts. Anyway, if anyone would like to donate to "Project: Cook Manor" feel free to send checks, cash or change! Should I put up a Paypal button? Here, by the way, is the house plan we have picked out. We haven't been able to think of a thing we don't like about it, which is fairly amazing! You guys can start picking out your rooms and all that. :) -J

2009 Skills Update

Here's a quick update to let you know that I have started on my Basic Japanese skill for 2009. I will be moving the progress bar to 3%. Tonight I picked up an audio course, and have completed the first lesson. It's basically a little grammar and an introductory conversation. I can say a few phrases like, "I am an American." and "Do you understand English?" and "I only understand a little Japanese." I can also say the various permutations thereof. I'll be going over lesson 1 several times to solidify things before I move on to lesson 2. I decided as well, that I should take time to look up the words I'm saying. That's the one drawback to an audio only course. You can't see what the words look like. In other news, my dad has informed me that one of the members of our church who is an ex policeman is going to be teaching a gun certification for a donation to the Faith and Fitness Center Building Fund. This was fantastic news! Michelle and I are going to donate and take the class together, which should effectively knock out the Firearms Certification goal! I should probably follow it up with attaining some level of proficiency beyond the basics if we do this one in a hurry. Maybe some sort of accuracy percentage or something. I have a customer that I call on who is a master class pistol shooter in Ohio. Maybe he can give me some pointers. (Oddly, no one has ever robbed his pharmacy. He even pays for his employees to become certified with a handgun.) Lastly in this update, I also bought a basic navigation book for my orienteering goal. I'll get started on that as soon as I get a chance. This whole goal thing seems to be working pretty well! :) I need to think of some more. Oh and yes Coopers. We're totally camping this year. See you guys soon! -J

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

2009 Goals

Evening everyone. First, let me explain that I feel asleep earlier than usual, and that I'm having trouble going back to sleep for a few reasons. One, I'm restless because I'm kind of excited that Michelle and I are about to try to get our house sold so we can get our new house built in Chesapeake. The realtor is coming tomorrow to get the preliminary paperwork started and to take pictures and so forth. Also, there's a Woot-Off going on over at I can never sleep when there's a woot off happening! :) Anyway, I've been meaning to write this blog for awhile and I figured that I'd go ahead while I'm up and thinking about it. I kind of made a resolution this year. Normally I'm not given to resolutions, at least not New Year's resolutions. I usually make one when I think of one, or I put it off until I'm really ready for it. You know how it is. :) But this year I decided to make it a big year for improvement. You'll notice that over on the side of my blog I have a 2009 Goal section now. This is where I'll maintain a "percent to completion" progress indicator for each of my 2009 Goals. What they amount to is a set of skills that I want to learn the basics of, as well as things I want to finish in 2009. Yes it's mid February, but I've already been at work researching and so forth, so I'm on my way! :) The list isn't complete. I'll probably add to it. But the starting ones are there. Let's take a quick tour shall we? 1. Basic Orienteering - I'd like to be able to find my way in the woods or anywhere for that matter without the aid of a GPS. In other words, I'd like to be able to navigate with a map and compass. I love the outdoors, and this, I think, would be one of the best ways to prevent the outdoors from killing me someday. :) 2. Merrick: First Draft - Merrick, as most of you may know, is the novel I've been working on. My goal is simply to finish the first draft of the book in 2009. I am one quarter, or perhaps a third of the way finished with this already and so I have the percentage set at 25 to begin. 3. Firearm Certification - I was reading a list of "Things I learned from action movies..." and one of them was that anyone can automatically pick up any weapon without training and use it with the ease of a practiced marksman. Well, my goal is to be able to pick up a handgun and actually know what I'm doing with it. Not that I want to carry one with me, but I think it might be handy to know something about it beyond which end to point at the target. So what I intend to do for this one is go down to the police department at some point, and enroll in a handgun certification course. 4. Basic Wilderness Survival - This kind of follows with the orienteering. I guess orienteering is a part of basic wilderness survival, but I decided to list them separately, just because the navigation is usable even when I'm not surviving in the wilderness. :) By basic wilderness survival I mean I want to have a good idea of how to conduct myself if lost in a hostile environment. I've done quite a bit of reading on the subject already. For example, I already know that the first priorities are shelter and water, followed by food, etc.. but to solidify things, I want to take some kind of basic training for this as well. I think what it'll ultimately take for me to achieve 100% in this one is to actually go out and survive for a night in the woods. (The upcoming Appalachian Trail hike doesn't exactly count, but it'll help the progress bar a good deal.) 5. Basic Japanese - I plan someday to go to Japan. Michelle and I are kind of Japanophiles. We like the food, we're fascinated by the culture, and we really like their horror movies. :) Anyway, I want to pick up enough Japanese to be able to travel there. There are a few audio courses that I'm looking into. At some point I'll pick one up and get started! 6. Basic Python - I have felt the need for some time to learn a programming language. Python by a lot of accounts is a good language to get into as a beginner. I already have my book for this one and I've started reading the introduction. I haven't gotten into really learning the language yet, but soon this one will be underway. Alright, I'll probably add more as the year goes on, and I'll certainly have some blogs along the way pertaining to specific goals and accomplishments. As it stands right now, It's starting to get pretty late, so I think I'll go and at least TRY to get to sleep. I'll keep you posted! Thanks for reading! :) -J

Monday, January 19, 2009

Advice to the New Paintballer

Just a quick update on the paintball thing. I played this evening with my new(used) Tippmann 98 Custom. As I mentioned before, either I was going to make the Spyder work with the new hopper, or I was going to make the Tippmann work. As it turns out, I had yet more trouble with my Sonix. Tonight it wouldn't fire more than 20 or 30 yards and had no power behind the shot, so I put the new force feeding hopper on the Tippy and off I went. We played three games before it got dark. Straight up capture the flag. The gun performed admirably considering the sub-freezing temperatures. The paint was cold, the gun was cold, and the CO2 just made things more cold, but it still fired well enough and only broke one ball, at which time the gun continued to perform without a hiccup. I didn't even notice the one broken ball until after the game was over. And the bonus is that tonight, on our third game, I actually won the game by getting the opposing team's flag and returning to base with only a hit to my hopper and one in the right leg, which as we play was not a kill! So GO ME! :) So what can we learn from this little outing? A few things. Tips, if you will, from the slightly experienced fledgling paintballer to the very new, perhaps unschooled paintballer to be. There is little I can offer in the way of tactical advice, but I can give you a good boost on beginning gear. This is that boost: 1. What to Wear: Largely dependent on where you'll be playing. Woodsball means trees, brush and probably brambles, mud and a host of other difficulties. It's a total blast! Cover your arms and legs, not just for the sake of staying away from prickly or itchy things, but because paintballs sting! :) I wear normal clothes under a $15 army surplus mechanic's cover-all. It's quick to put on, covers everything, and is a little loose. This is a good thing too. Loose clothing is less likely to burst a paintball on impact. This is good, because "No Dye, No Die" :) My cover-all is jungle camo as well. I recommend a good camo, but really any forest colors will do. Blacks, browns and greens. Wear gloves that you can still fire your gun in. Two reasons. It can be cold out there, and again, paintballs sting, but more so if they hit your hand! My footwear is a $30 dollar pair of Brahma hunting boots. forest camo. Nice and warm and so far quite water resistant. Something reasonably comfortable and sturdy should work fine. Clothing aside there is one thing you MUST have to play. Get a mask and goggles made for paintball. You can get cheap ones at Wal-Mart, but resist the temptation. For about $20 you can pick up a V-Force Mask that is all the mask you will need. Why the V-Force? It will not fog up when you start to breath into it. I've tried several cheap masks and inside of 10 minutes you can't see through them for the fogging. Trust me when I tell you, that'll ruin your game. Should you decide you want to step up and increase your peripheral vision and reduce paintball breaks on your face, you can go up in the V-Force line. But I absolutely recommend this mask. Like the Tippy 98, it just works. 2. What to Shoot: There is a huge field of acceptable paintball markers out there. Some manufacturers make entry level, some make high end professional guns, and some make a whole bottom to top line. Consider Kingman, Smart Parts and Tippmann to name three of a large crowd of companies. Honestly the selection of your first gun can be a fairly daunting experience. Without the advice of some experienced players it can be a crap shoot. Here is my recommendation. If you can manage, play before you buy anything. Borrow a friend's gun, or go to a field and rent one to try. If you can't, or don't want to do that and you want to jump right in, then my next suggestion is to buy a used gun. You'll save money which is always good when picking up a new hobby. Trust me. I know about picking up new hobbies. Look for someone on Craigslist or eBay who is selling their gear. Usually you'll pick up an air tank, a mask and other essentials in the deal. If you want to buy a brand-spankin'-new gun, I suggest the Tippmann 98 Custom. Just about everyone I play with has this gun, myself now included. It works very well without causing problems and in my opinion that's what a new paintballer needs to truly enjoy the sport. Trouble free paintball. 3. What Else Do I Need: All you really need is a mask, a gun, an air tank and some paintballs to get started. As for paintballs, I'd really recommend that you get something from a local paintball shop if you have one. They are more likely to have cared for them properly. It amazed me the first time I used paint from my paintball store, versus Wal-Mart's paint. It didn't cost me more, but due to proper care and shipping, the paintballs were less prone to chopping and also much more accurate. I'll never buy Wal-Mart paint again if I can help it. As for the air tank, if you buy the right gun, you'll probably get a tank as well. I'd suggest that method of acquiring the tank because it's usually a better deal, but various sizes are available to buy on their own, the 20 ounce tanks costing about $25 to $30. Other than a spirit of adventure, and the willingness to be shot with a projectile that feels like being snapped with a wet towel, that's all you need to get on the field! If you haven't tried paintball, I recommend it. It's a lot of fun and good exercise, not to mention a great way to build friendships with your "war buddies". It never fails that after a game there are stories of heroic moves, of stupid moves, and of hilarity. Also, if you're in my area, the Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky Tri-State area, Then you have a great paintball supply store on Fourth Avenue in Huntington, WV. Go here: Voodoo Paintball & Supply. The owner, Steve and his wife run the place and he is a very knowledgeable person to talk to about what you need. His prices are excellent and he deals in some used guns as well. I know this was a long one, but I wanted all of you budding paintballers to have a good foundation to start with! Have fun and DUCK! -J

Friday, January 16, 2009

General Update

Hi everyone! Time for another post. This one promises to be general in nature, and on varied and sundry subjects. Just thought I'd catch you up with what's happenin' now. The holidays are behind us, but they're in front of us too you know! Christmas 2008 was a good one I'd have to say. Busy as always, but this year I didn't mind so much. There's a radio station here that begins playing 24 hour Christmas music the day after Thanksgiving. I discovered this, and listened to it for most of December. Normally I listen to a couple of Christmas CDs and that's it. Those namely, When My Heart Finds Christmas by Harry Connick Jr. and Behold the Lamb of God by Andrew Peterson. Both are great albums! Buy them both. Not next Christmas, but now! Follow the links to Amazon and get them. Or iTunes...whatever your personal venue for musical acquisition may be. Anyway, I digress, as I often do. The radio station really had me in a Christmas mood this year. By that I mean, willing to nudge my way through a crowd, able to smile when I was stuck in traffic, and the like. It was nice for a change. New years was over in a blink. Doesn't really feel like 2009 to me. Not yet. Maybe I just haven't had to write it much or something. Fast as it was I've had my cabbage and black eyed peas, along with dad's fried hogs jowls, so I'm pretty much set in the good fortune department. (If you have to ask, just think of it as bacon. Very similar.)
In other news, I bought myself a bass guitar. I had been using the church's bass to play on Sunday mornings, but I wanted one of my own for a few reasons.
  1. I wanted one I could keep at home, practice regularly and call my own.
  2. If someone else wants to learn from church, now there is a bass available for them.
  3. The church's bass is nice, but I wanted something that felt more like me. (The bond between a boy and his musical instrument is a whole other blog, which I intend to do before long. I have given a lot of thought to the subject, and it's an interesting thing to think about. If you have never played an instrument, perhaps you have owned that one car. You know the one I'm talking about. You miss it don't you? Or perhaps it's not a car...but it's something. More to come on this one.)

Here is a picture of my bass. It's not actually mine, but this is the style and Ibanez Roadstar II. Ain't she a beaut'?

Ok, so holidays, bass...Paintball!

So check this out. I finally got to go out and play a little paintball after a long hiatus. Last year, as some of you may know, I bought a paintball gun and played a couple of times with some friends from church. Well, after that things got a little quiet and we didn't play anymore. I was understandably sad. Bought the gun after all. So we're starting up again and playing. Thing is, I've been having a lot of trouble with my gun, which by the way is a Spyder Sonix, chopping a lot of paintballs. That's where the ball sort of half loads and the gun's bolt literally chops the paintball in half inside the gun. Gets very messy. So I did two things. I bought a fancy force feeding hopper (that's what holds the balls and feeds them into the gun) and also a cheap used gun. A Tippmann 98 Custom. One of two things is going to happen. The hopper is going to fix my chopping problem, or my new(used) gun is. The Tippmann is widely regarded one of the most durable, unrelenting, workhorse guns in the entry level paintball arsenal. It just works. It doesn't break, and it's as upgradable as anything out there. Tonight I did something very manly. I disassembled my new(used) Tippmann and cleaned it inside and out. It was quite a mess. But the process of breaking down a gun (Even a paint gun), cleaning it, and reassembling is about as awesome as it gets. :) Ranks up there with cooking a meal over a campfire, changing spark plugs and opening pickle jars for the missus! I'll let you all know if anything interesting happens in the paintball world. It's fun if you have the opportunity to try it. It doesn't hurt...long.

I'll close for now. I'm going to think about this musical instrument blog. I need to start writing topics down. I've forgotten as many blog topics as I've actually posted. Talk to you all soon! Thanks again so much for reading!