Dragon*Con 2010: Day Zero

It’s Thursday, where are you?  If you are local to Atlanta and pre-registered for Dragon*Con, your answer should be, “Reading this on my phone from the line.” because pre-registration badge pick-up just started.  Pre-regs get a nice solid 6 hour jump on everyone else this year, so hopefully that will help with the lines.

Preparation for con is always a big deal.  You have to make sure you pack everything.  Technically there are a few shops around, but mostly tiny stores with seriously jacked up prices.  There is a Publix about 8 or 10 blocks away, but since public transit in Altanta is pretty crappy, you’ll likely be hoofing it, in September.  ”Hot and humid” just doesn’t really describe Atlanta well enough.  Long hikes in the city are uncomfortable at best.  But in addition to packing everything, you also need it to be manageable.  You don’t really want to be juggling a dozen suitcases.  You’re best bet is to pack one case (with wheels) of regular clothes (shorts, t-shirts, socks, underwear and toiletries – deodorant, toothpaste, even soap and shampoo if you prefer your own over the hotel stuff), a cooler (with wheels) packed with food and stuff (don’t bring ice, all the hotels have ice machines – and unless you specified in your reservations that you had to have a fridge for medical reasons, you won’t get one, so you’ll want a cooler if you want to keep anything cold), and then a case (with wheels if possible) for costumes and stuff that can’t be packed into the regular clothes.

Case and Cooler (with wheels)

You might have noticed a theme there.  Wheels.  Trust me, lugging around heavy cases just isn’t worth it.  Every year I see some poor schmuck hauling around a half dozen old no-wheel-having suitcases, or standing in line waiting for a bell hop, or leaving the cases at the front desk to have them delivered to the room at some point in the future.  Meanwhile, the wife and I roll on by and head to our room.  The cooler is even more awesome because of the extending handle means we can even stack a couple things on top of it (like sodas or a box of extra snacks) with ease.

And of course, if you plan to buy anything, make sure you have a way to take it home.  (If you aren’t local, there are, I believe, a FedEx and some other shipping store in the hotels or close to the con, and don’t worry about them being closed for the holiday, most of the time you can leave a package with your hotel with shipping instructions and a tip and they’ll send it off for you on Tuesday.)

Anyway… enough about packing… you might be wondering, “If the con begins on Friday, what is there to do on Thursday?”  Well, lots actually.  Plenty of fan groups will have unofficial gatherings on Thursday night (this is why you should find the sites/forums for the various tracks and fans groups, and keep up with them throughout the year), and there are a few bands playing.  Plus, the lobbies and hotel bars will be hopping with people, both out of costume and in.

What will I be doing on Thursday?  Well, for one, since I’m staff this year, the MMO Track is having a little party where the director lays down the law, people can swap shifts and we can let our hair down a little more than we’ll be allowed to during the con itself (not to say we won’t be enjoying the con, but staff is expect to not show up for shifts completely plastered).  Check out our schedule from this nice rundown provided by Krystalle over at Massively.  I’ll be wandering around the hotels pretty much all day, though when not with the MMO crew (or perhaps even with them) I tend to be in the lobby of the Marriott Marquis, not only because it is the hotel I’m staying at, but, in my opinion, it is the best hotel for seeing and being seen.  Perhaps I’ll see you around…

Just as aside… in previous years, I posted at the end of the day with what I did.  This year I’ll be posting in the morning with my plans for the day and my reflections on the previous day.

For Hire

Hi, my name is Jason and you are reading my blog.  I am currently looking for work.

Check out my resume!

In short… I’m a computer programmer, been doing ASP.NET and C# for the last four years, and am looking for work in the Atlanta and Northwest of Atlanta (Marietta/Kennesaw/Acworth) area.  I’m not looking to relocate unless the company is willing to help me sell me house.

2007: Day 3

Day Three always seems to start late, perhaps its because of the long day that day two always is. So, I’m pretty sure I always miss the 10 a.m. panels on day three. This year is no different.

But I did make it down for the 11:30 panel on the Future of the Game Industry in Atlanta. Pretty much as I expect the answer to “how is it?” is “how is what?” Atlanta has White Wolf, which owns CCP now and is making an MMO. There is also GameTap and the stuff the Cartoon Network is working on. Outside that it is little shops doing either gambling sites or no-budget games. Currently the best bet for anyone in the Atlanta area who wants to work in games lies in leaving Atlanta. But, that might change in the next few years. The Georgia Commerce Department recently created a division to look into drawing more entertainment ventures to Georgia. Movies, TV, games and other things are in their sites, and they really want to try to ramp up Atlanta as another entertainment hub for the US. We’ll have to wait and see.

Then I went and saw some comedy short films, a panel on Eureka (I love the show, the fans… not so much), a panel on Apocalyptic themes in media, and then some apocalyptic short films. All the short film stuff is great… okay, not all of it, but most of it, some of the shorts I have to only applaud the effort put into making the film and the determination to get it done because the writing and/or acting was horrid.

But lets take a half step back and revisit the Eureka panel. I think the only thing that prevents me from going to more TV show based panels is the fans. In the case of Eureka one of the earliest topics of discussion was the character of Carter not really being dumb, but just not being book smart and college educated, that he is actually smart but in a more intuitive manner. Yes, score one for the people who watch the show, because every single episode in some way involves Carter solving a problem other “smart” people can’t. So the next topic is… Carter not really being dumb. Fine, I hear you started your comment with “I really don’t think Carter is dumb…” but we’ve covered this. On to the next topic… Carter is apparently not dumb. Whatever, we agree. Moving on… Carter’s daughter isn’t dumb either. Cool, kind of some new ground here… except that now we are talking about Carter not being dumb either. Check, not dumb, got it. Allison is a good leader for Global, oh and someone interjects that Carter is not, in fact, dumb. Oh. My. God. Carter might not be dumb, but I think many of the fans are. Either that or they just don’t listen… ugh.

In any event, after the Apocalypse short films we had dinner and then hooked up for people for partying, drinking, talking and people watching. Another day at Dragon*Con ends… time to hit the sack.

Buying a Home

First I want to make a distinction: House versus Home. I do not want to buy a house. A house is the place you reside. I want to buy a home. A home is where you live, raise a family, good times, bad times, life, love, laughter. A home is where your heart is, a house is the physical dwelling that contains it.

I want to buy a home.

However, the current housing market disagrees with me. It has become appearant that I could afford to buy a house only if my plan is to turn around and sell it in a year or two. Every real estate agent and article for the Atlanta area talks about how the market is ripe for investment. But I do not want to invest money into a house, I want to invest into a home. I do not want to buy with the intent to sell. I want to buy with the intent to spend twenty years there, more if I can, less if life turns out that way.

Richard Bartle, a guy whose blog I read because he’s a game designer and often has interesting stuff to say or link to, wrote about the current situation in England (where he lives). I found this extremely interesting because it resembles my own experiences here in the States.

You see, I currently rent a 1,600 square foot townhome apartment for $850 a month. As I have been house hunting, I have not been able to find a 1,600 square foot house (or townhome for that matter) to own for less that $1,200 a month in mortgage payments unless I wish to live so far outside Atlanta that I will spend 5 hours a day in traffic and easily $300 a month in gas and parking (I currently ride public transportation, but the buses only go so far). All in all, its at least $400 a month cheaper for me to continue renting, and more realistically it is about $800 a month cheaper. That is just messed up. By renting and living close to the bus line, I literally cut my living expenses in half.

But its not just that I cut my expenses in half… if I was doing that and pocketting the extra money for savings, that would be awesome. But the truth is that I could not afford (and when I say I, I mean “my wife and I”) to be spending that $1,500+ per month. That $800 I save is being spent paying other bills and expenses. Sure, I could buy the house… as long as I did not want cable, electricity, or to ever do anything other than work and sit at home.

So why not buy a smaller house? I tried that, but Atlanta is infested with McMansions. You know, where they take a nice quarter acre lot barely big enough for a bungalow, tear down the bungalow and build a 3,000 square foot house that will sell for $800,000 and leaves them with a yard that takes two minutes to cut with a pair of safety scissors and where they can touch the neighbors’ McMansions without losing grip of their own house. And when I have found a small house for sale, well, I already live in a ghetto, I do not want to move next door to a crack house. Besides, if the house is too small, it just ups the expenses since you wind up having to go out more often to get away from each other. And really, 1,600 square feet for 2 people and 2 pets really is not all that big.

Essentially, what I see here is an economic state that encourages lack of assets. Its cheaper to rent than to own. Its cheaper to commit a year at a time (standard lease) than to commit to a 15 or 30 year term (standard loans). In fact, the only way to get a loan on a decent house that is lower than my rent is to do an “interest only” loan, meaning that for the first 5 years or so, I’m not actually buying my home, I’m just renting it from the bank since I’m establishing no equity.

And while I do not wish people to lose money, here’s to hoping that in 2006, the bottom falls out of the real estate market and by August I’ll be able to afford to buy a home.

I’m a Switcher

No, I haven’t gone from PC to MAC. I’m not that crazy. But after having my car broken into three times in downtown Atlanta, I figured it was time to do something about it. So I’ve switched to public transportation.

Let me begin by saying that I’m not really happy with it. Mostly this is due to pricing and passes. From where I live I have to utilize two systems, I start out in Gwinnette, then transfer to Marta. Both systems sell monthly ‘Unlimited Use’ passes, however, neither accepts the other’s card. And while I get free transfers from one system to the other, it still means I have to carry cash, tickets or tokens on me every day. It also means I can’t take advantage of the monthly discounts.

On the other hand… Not having to actually drive myself to work is nice. I no longer care about all the idiots on the road, its the bus driver’s job, or in the case of Marta I’m on a rail not the street. I get to work more relaxed. And while it takes an hour to get to work, and anywhere from an hour to two hours to get home, that’s time I can spend reading, or writing, or just listening to music absorbed in my own thoughts. Looking over the whole thing, its a pretty sweet deal.

I’m looking to move again, and in my search I’m trying to put myself within reach of Marta, then I’ll be able to use just one system and get a monthly pass. That’ll be cool.

3 Days in the City

One of the few things I do like about living in Atlanta is Music Midtown. Its a 3 day music festival. This year it had 8 stages, plus the usual set of vendor booths and non-profit organizations.

Friday. We (Kevin, Jodi and I) headed down a little late, got there just in time to catch a song or two of American Hi-Fi on the 99x stage, and then wheeled over to 96rock to see Cheryl Crow with a plan to return for the big act (for us) of the night, Live. A few songs into her set, the winds picked up, and with the lights swinging over the stage they called for a break and slipped off. A few minutes after that, the sky opened up and dumped water on the city. We made a run for cover, and waited a bit. Before we could decide if we wanted to try to wait out the rain, the PA system crackled to life and announced that the show was being called and that everyone should head for cover. Seems there were “extreme weather” warnings out for our area. Despite the forecast for rain, we’d hoped it wouldn’t, and optimistically didn’t buy ponchos. So we walked about 6 or 7 blocks back to the car in the rain. In the parking garage we dried off a bit, then called it quits and went home. It rained. Alot. All the way home. Then it stopped. Live played at midnight. We missed it.

Saturday. We managed to get downtown a little earlier this time, around 2:30. Armed with ponchos this time, we stood in the rain and heard the last few songs of Die Trying on the 99x stage. Jodi and I headed off to check out the vendors who were weathering the weather, but returned shortly (not much to see). The rain stopped. The clouds began to part, and the blue sky beneath became revealed. Evanescence took to the stage. Poetry. They played their album, which of course, as often is the case, would have been better had the guy working the soundboard not decided that EVERYTHING had to be set at eleven. During their set, the crowd around the stage increased ten fold as people came crawling out into the sunlight. After Evanescence, we slid back to the food court near 99x’s stage and found something to eat. As we sat consuming our far too expensive food, Angie Aparo went on and played well. A good performance. After that we wandered around a bit, mostly checking out the location of some of the other stages and passing through the non-profit zone. Then returned to the 99x stage to catch Cowboy Mouth and a few drinks. At 8:30 we had to make a dash for the other end of the park, to the V-103 stage, to see the greatest band ever… Morris Day & The Time! (oh-ee-oh-ee-ohh!) After 20 years you expect a band to be tight and have a polished act, and they do. Song to song, Morris and the Time play and perform almost perfection. It was like opening a door and looking into the 1980′s. Pure bliss. Once we’d finished absorbing the funk, we split up and Kevin headed off to see Godsmack, while Jodi and I took a mellow turn and visited the stage of Tony Bennett. All these years, and Tony still knows how to croon.

Sunday. Down for the last day, we went late. We slid past the 99x stage as Jack Johnson played and headed to where I would plant my feet for the remainded of the day, 96rock. drivin n cryin were up first (not Kevin Kinney solo, but dnc a.k.a. the good stuff) and they put on a decent show, swinging through all the expected hits with a few other tunes for flavor. We stayed there through Everclear. While I respect any band that puts themselves out there, and Art is a pretty decent guy, Everclear really needs to expand their sound. I enjoy them. They have a bunch of good songs. But boy do alot of them sound alike. Still worth listening too though. Kevin took off again at this point to go see Zwan, while Jodi and I remained to experience Def Leppard. They opened with Side 1 of High and Dry. Not many bands have the balls to do something like that. Then they began to slither down through their hits (avoiding notable love balads like “Love Bites”, but hitting all the others that got them banned from Dial-MTV in the 80′s like “Animal” and “Pour Some Sugar On Me”) and slipping in a new song now and again from their new album “X”. Just like Morris Day & The Time, after 23 years (Def Leppard first came to Atlanta in 1980) you expect to see a good show, and they delivered. Joe still has a pretty good voice, Vivian and Phil are good guitarists, Rick Savage thumbs a mean bass, and Rick Allen, the one armed drummer, still bangs a wicked set of bongos. I missed them in tour for Hysteria (my parents wouldn’t let me go, my brother did, I have a t-shirt), while this doesn’t make up for it, it helps.

3 Days, 2 legendary bands, a few other good ones, rain, feet aches, expensive food, more expensive drinks, and a couple of souvenir t-shirts. All in all, a good way to spend a weekend.

16 October 1999

If you get angry and there is no one to yell at, did you really get angry at all?
A couple days ago, as I’m coming out of work, just wanting to go home, relax a little, then head out to raise a few glasses with my friends, I happen to notice that there is this big orange sticker on my driver’s side window.
Then I see the boot on my front tire.
I park in a parking lot that costs me $2 a day. And I pay, begrudgingly, every day. And I had paid that day. But to pay for parking at the lots in downtown Atlanta, often you just slide money into a numbered slot on a big metal board. You see, it costs $5 or more a days to park in a lot with an attendant.
Anyhow, I know I had put my money in that morning, but in the haze of waking up I may have put it in the wrong slot. So now it becomes their word against mine. And I’m pissed, largely because I know I am screwed big time. I have no way out of this and its going to cost me, AND I WASN’T WRONG TO BEGIN WITH!!!
But there is no parking attendant, no one to yell at, so I just start yelling at nothing. The air.. the sky.. God. I’m yelling like a madman and kicking the ground and the boot, and generally making an ass out of myself… if there had been anyone to see me. That’s the meat of this .plan. Just being angry and having no one to even vent to. The rest is me just venting. :)
I call the 800 number on the big orange sticker, and talk to a very pleasant woman, who starts asking me questions that I feel shouldn’t need to be asked. In this day and age, when they boot my car, they should get my license plate number and car make, model and color, and call into a central office and have the stuff entered into a large database that includes which lot it was in, the exact address, and anything else they might need. To be honest, in this day and age, the guy who puts on the boot should have a little computer in his van that allows him to do this directly.
But noooOOOOoooo… this woman on the phone, who isn’t even located in Atlanta, asks me where I am. “Well, I’m in the parking lot.” But she wants the address. “It’s on a street in Atlanta.” She wants me to be specific. “Look, I work in a building down the street at (building address) and I park at this lot, I don’t know the address of the lot. Shouldn’t YOU know?” Then she explains she isn’t in Atlanta, doesn’t know the area, and doesn’t even know how long it should approximately take for the guy to show up to remove the boot. Then she asks me for my license plate number, make and model of the car… oh, and the color.
Then she politely says “If you could please stand in the parking lot next to your car, it will make ev
erything easier.” I’m about to give her the whatfor and tell her what would make it easier, but I hold it and just hang up.
An hour later, this little punk in a white van pulls up and opens his window about 2 inches. He asks how I’m going to pay, and I try to tell him my story. Of course, he’s heard it all before, but I’m telling the truth. Either way, turns out he doesn’t care because the company that boots the cars is contracted by the parking lot company, so he can’t do anything anyway. Then he informs me that he will not get out of the car until I have paid.
So I pay. $95. Parking in that rinky-dink lot cost me $97. It’s a scam.
But I learned a couple important lessons, the most important being how to remove a boot. Next time they boot me, I’m keeping it. :)