Saturday, December 30, 2006

The XD40's first day at the range

Thanks to my wonderful new job, my office was dismissed from work early to go prepare for the New Years weekend. So, I had some extra time to kill and some money saved up, so I thought to myself, why not go shooting? I haven't broken my new handgun in yet and I have 200 rounds of target ammunition just sitting there. So, I ask my dad if he wants to go shooting with me. The next thing I know he's ready to head out to the range. We went to Bullet Express, a local range. The adjoining gun store is where I purchased my XD and the staff at the place is good at taking care of their customers.

For those of you who aren't experienced shooters, let me give you the things I've learned over the years as a non-gun owning (and very infrequent) shooter. Shooting at an indoor range is a bit more equipment intensive than just going out and blazing away at a target. You should have a range kit of some kind. It's a collection of basic safety items and accessories that make your time at the range easier.

So, what does my range kit currently consist of?

1 pair of safety glasses
1 pair of full-size (70s-headphone style) ear protectors
1 baseball cap since I shoot left-handed and would like to not get a face full of hot brass.
1 HKS loading tool for loading magazines quickly and easily

And for right now, that will do. As I go more often, I might add a small first aid kit in case of something like getting cut by the slide or something similar. I'll probably also pack a small flashlight of some kind since indoor ranges can be a little dark at times. I'm sure I'll think of a few other small and useful items as time goes on.

So, with my range kit ready, Dad and I are off to try out this new gun, and I'm out to see how bad my shooting skills have deteriorated over the years. While at the range, I grab some small bullseye targets as opposed to the human silhouette targets. My current concern is making every shot count in a very small area as opposed to a very large area like a burglar or other assorted ne'er-do-well. I put the targets out to 7 yards, take aim, get my sight picture and fire.

As for hitting small targets, I currently am not so good. As for hitting large targets like people, I'm not too shabby. I didn't notice until I took the targets down that there was a human silhouette on the other side. The silhouette was rather perforated. This is all well and good, but the perfectionist in me isn't going to be happy until I can get every shot inside the high-visibility sections of the target. Then I'll feel better about it. Dad also got a chance to fire a few rounds through it and naturally he lands all his shots in the hi-vis sections. He's had 20 years as a police officer and nearly five years as a CCW-permit holder (Illinois currently allows only retired police officers to carry concealed handguns if they qualify yearly) so he's gotten plenty more experience in handgun training than I have. He seemed pretty impressed by it, so I'm sure he'll come along for another few rounds of shooting with this gun. The next time we go, I'll see to it that he brings his guns, too. I've been wanting to fire them since he first got them many years ago.

Hopefully I'll figure out what I'm doing wrong, too. I don't know if it's my stance or grip on the gun, or if it's a sighting problem. I'll figure it out with more practice and then I'll be back on my way to being a decent shot again. Now that I've found a source of inexpensive brass-cased ammunition I won't worry so much about the cost of training.

And naturally, the day ended with cleaning the gun to ensure that it will be ready for firing the next time I take it to the range.
Saddam Hussein Is Dead

There's no real joke to this one. Saddam Hussein is dead. All I will say is that the tyrant is now in God's hands, to do with what He wills. I think this is one case where the punishment has fit the crimes. The Kurds, the Shiites, the Christians and Jews and even his fellow Sunni whom he terrorized to keep his family in power will hopefully accept this as punishment for the crimes perpetrated against them.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Farewell, President Ford

I was born at near the tail end of the Nixon administration, but Gerald Ford was the first President who I remember seeing on television. I think he was on some program that had to do with the Bicentennial celebration. After 93 years, though, he had a full life. There aren't many men who can lay claim to being President of the United States, much less becoming President in the manner he did. The report of President Ford's death came on as I was getting ready for bed after my usual Tuesday night City of Heroes session. I hope that the nation will find the politeness to honor this man's service and I hope that historians will not judge him too harshly for his pardon of Richard Nixon.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

That Claus feller does good once more

Christmas is over so let's take a little stock, shall we?

Midnight Mass at my parish: if any Catholics out there have not gone to a Midnight Mass, I'll tell you that you're missing out. The choir was nothing short of amazing, the church was packed, and I saw more kids there than I've seen at any Mass I've attended since I moved back to Springfield. What was more amazing was the number of unaccompanied kids. There were so many middle school and high school students there without their parents. There were ten or so altar servers as well, which is something I don't remember from when I worked Christmas Masses. It's worth going to Midnight Mass at least once in your life.

Christmas dinner: Dad went all out and made Prime Rib. Between that and the loaded twice-baked potatoes, it was agreed to be the best Christmas dinner my parents ever made.

Christmas Day: Opening presents later in the day is better than waking up at 6 am, especially if you didn't get to bed until 4.

The Swag: Less than previous years, as I hoped for. A new winter coat and a wristwatch were all I got with the rest of the money my folks saved for presents going to various charities. That's what I'd rather see done instead of buying me more stuff.

My Christmas present to me: A Springfield Armory XD40. It's the only handgun I've got at the moment, but that'll change. I've spent the time since I picked it up doing little more than familiarization exercises. I'm not at the point where I can field strip it blindfolded (and why would I want to do that anyway?) but I am familiar with it enough to where I can shoot safely. The ammunition isn't cheap, but it's worth the expense to be able to shoot well. Now if I could schedule some range time I'd be set. The thing I found a little weird was that it's cheaper to purchase a new semiautomatic pistol over a new revolver. I don't get that at all. My guess is that it's due to the polymer frame. It makes the gun lighter, that's for sure. The steel slide, barrel, and spring are very well-made and the other steel parts in the frame are very nicely made. The feed springs in the magazines I got are stiff. And by stiff I mean it makes me wonder if the springs really haven't been replaced with a solid block of metal. They're supposed to break in after a few uses, though. The sooner the better.

I hope everyone got something they were hoping for this year.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Rape Charges Dropped in Duke Case

Yeah, the accused guys at Duke University might have been typical jocks, but that's no excuse for a State's Attorney to ignore evidence that exonerates those who are on trial. Mr. Nifong should be ashamed at the very least, if not subject to disciplinary action and/or financial restitution. The three Duke lacrosse players have had their names and reputations dragged through the mud. Even if they weren't the best guys to begin with, that still doesn't excuse any behavior on the prosecutor's part.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Get well soon, Senator Johnson

Senator Tim Johnson, a Democrat from South Dakota, has become incapacitated due to something similar to a stroke. I do hope that he has a speedy recovery, since coming back from a brain injury is very difficult. Keep the senator and his family in your prayers if you're the praying sort.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Issue 8 is here, and it is good.

So, the fine folks at Cryptic Studios and NCSoft have sent out their latest expansion of City of Heroes, titled "To Protect and Serve." Now, you're sitting there thinking "Well, yeah, that's what superheroes are supposed to do." Here's where there needs to be a disconnect between the real world and City of Heroes game. Usually, anyone who tries taking the law into their own hands in the real world, especially while wearing a mask and cape, is going to be taken into police custody and asked about their activities. For the heroes in the fictional setting, the police and the heroes really haven't interacted too much. I could see how this might make the Paragon Police Department a mite suspicious in terms of whether or not it wants to work with or investigate the doings of the heroes.

Well, Issue 8 has made it abundantly clear that the PPD wants to work more closely with the local superpowered community. By going to one of the detectives added to your contact list, you're given a handy-dandy police radio. Well, it's a bit more than a normal police radio, as it has a holographic projector, allowing the hero to get a map and other visual data on the crime in progress. The animation for it is rather cool-looking. Now you have an opportunity to take random rescue and arrest missions generated for your level and zone. If you're too high of a level for the zone, you won't get any missions. A Level 45 Hero is not going to answer any calls in a zone that's designed to be a threat to Level 8 Heroes. Anyway, much like the Newspaper missions in the City of Villains expansions, performing enough missions that you accepted through your police radio will give you an opportunity to run a special mission. In City of Villains, you have the Mayhem Mission, where you rob a Paragon City bank and go around causing huge amounts of property damage. The Heroic version of this is where you're called to stop a robbery in progress (complete with a non-faction supervillain) and prevent any property damage caused by the villain or the gangs that frequent the neighborhood. These Safeguard missions are perhaps some of the most fun missions in the game. You have a time limit of five minutes when you start the mission. Within five minutes, you have to capture the villain who's robbing the bank as well as the local gang assisting him. Your best bet is to fight the villain first, then the gang leader, then mop up their pals who are causing all the trouble with the bank's tellers and patrons.

Once the robbery is stopped, you're given fifteen minutes to explore the neighborhood and put a stop to any crimes going on there. Your main job will be to stop vandals who are destroying local property, such as parked cars, lamp posts, parking meters, newspaper vending boxes, even trash. As you run around the neighborhood you'll be able to find an exploration badge and unlock side missions, such as preventing break-ins, weapons deals, bombings, and arson. If you stop these things from happening, you get additional time to fight crime in the neighborhood.

This addition of Newspaper missions made City of Villains a lot of fun, and changing them around to a more Heroic bent is a definite winner.

The other addition to Issue 8 is the complete revamping of the Trial Zone known as Faultline. Faultline was originally supposed to have a Team Trial where you would gather your friends and save the Paragon City Dam from being destroyed, and you'd receive a dual-purpose power enhancement in return. This Trial never made it past the beta-testing period. So, Faultline really never had much reason to exist other than to reinforce the fact that you really need to have a team of heroes with you when you go to Faultline. The groups of enemies that spawn there are murderous for single heroes. About the only reason anyone went to Faultline once the Trial was scrapped was either because they'd been assigned a case to hunt down x number of Dr. Vahzilok's Frankenstein-esque creations, or Circle of Thorns cultists, or perhaps even some of the Clockwork King's metal minions. Once those missions were complete, the only other reason to go was to find any plaques needed to get history badges or find the exploration badges there. As a result, Faultline was one of the most desolate zones in the game. You might be lucky to see maybe two or three more heroes in the zone while you were there, and that's on one of the busier servers.

Issue 8 changed Faultline's problems with getting people to show up. It's now a regular zone, so it's no longer level-restricted. The villains are geared for levels 15 through 25, so there's more low-level fun available. In addition, the new storyline has been added that due to the funding of Proposition X, the neighborhood of Overbrook (Faultline's original name) can now be rebuilt. As a result, construction crews are flowing into the ruined area and rehabilitating it. This doesn't sit well with the local villains, who resent the gentrification process, I suppose. The Vahzilok and Circle of Thorns have been replaced with the Lost (a gang of well-armed and heavily-mutated homeless people) and the Sky Raiders (high-tech mercenaries whose flight capabilities give them great mobility). The Clockwork are still there. In addition, the agents of Arachnos (Lord Recluse's organization of evil nastiness) have used the resulting chaos the rehab work brings to infiltrate Paragon City. His agents have been digging through the places that have not yet been reclaimed, looking for old supergroup bases and any lost technology therein. So, yes, there's plenty to do in the new zone when it comes to stopping street crime.

There is also a new set of contacts who are zone-specific, starting with Jim Temblor and ending with Agent G. Finishing Jim's missions will unlock the next contact, whose completed missions will unlock the next contact, and so on. If you go through all of the contacts, not only will you get access to something pretty neat, you'll also get a detailed history of what happened to Faultine to make it such a terrible place.

Note to Cryptic: If you want to immerse the players in the history of the zones and help make the city seem more real, make more contact groups like this. It worked pretty well with Striga Isle and Croatoa, and the Faultine story is the best so far. Add them as options for the heroes from Level 1 and give the players even more ways to reach Level 50. This will increase replay value by making it tougher to exhaust all of your contacts and thus run out of level-specific missions.

Issue 8 also sees the beginning of the Veteran's Rewards program, where your total amounts of time spent as a paid customer get you certain perks. This includes reward badges, new costume pieces such as kilts, wings and trenchcoats, new decorative bits for your group bases, free costume changes and respecs (where you can change the order in which you took your powers and how you allot your available enhancement slots), and even the opportunity to get some temporary powers as permanent ones. As you keep playing, more rewards are unlocked over time. I'm waiting for the 36-month rewards: some of my characters really do need a little robot to follow them around if only to look cool. The trenchcoats are pretty nice, even if they're not able to wrap completely around. The wings are also very nice-looking, and yes, they flap when you fly. As a non-Veteran costume update, Female characters also finally got some more costume pieces, allowing them to dress a little more modestly.

There were some problems with Issue 8, though. The only real problem is that many of the costume pieces are either kind of lame, or accessible only through the Veteran's Rewards system. In one case, the new costume pieces which you get through Veteran's rewards are lame. I'm looking at you, Greek Letters. I suppose if I need to make The Amazing Frat-Boy and his sidekick The Pledge, it works. Otherwise, it's not so hot.

The one-shoulder cape thing is also pretty lame. It looks like you've got a spit-up towel pinned to your shoulder in case you get a mission to burp 20 fussy babies in Kings Row. We were also supposed to get new flight poses, but the player complaints about not being able to choose what pose you got were enough to make the developers take them off the table for reworking.

In addition, while there are some more modest-looking costume pieces for women, the majority of them reveal a lot more skin. Thankfully, a lot of the pieces are available as patterns to use on top of other outfits, so you can use them a bit more appropriately. The Angelic pattern looks great on long tights, but rather slutty on bare skin. Same thing goes with the Assassin pattern. I'd also like to see the athletic shorts option added for something to wear underneath skirts for women, if only to add another way to stop guys from looking up said skirts. Yeah, we get all kinds in the game, even the weirdoes.

Now, let's talk about the kilts given out as a Veteran's Reward. The kilts... gah. I know that there is a vocal faction of "proud to be Scottish, even if only a distant ancestor" players as well as "Scotland Stuff= cool" players, but kilts? Oy gevalt, or at least its Latin equivalent. I may have some Scottish ancestry, but this kilt thing is too much. Do we really need our heroes to look like an army of ugly schoolgirls? No, no we don't. Take Jackie McBagpipes, Hero of McParagon McCity and send him back to Idealized Glasgow with his sporran in tow. Kilts are lame for anyone who is not born and raised in places where kilts are more common. You know, like Scotland. This is the United States, where our people left Scotland for the right to wear trousers and the right to laugh at kilt-wearing throwbacks. As a person of primarily German and Polish ancestry, perhaps I should demand lederhosen for the men, dirndl corsets and dresses for the women, as well as the kielbasa emote.

I have a similar problem with the samurai armor, even though I use an entire set of it for one of my characters. There was an old thread stating that thanks to Captain America being white, you couldn't make patriotic-themed minority heroes with any chance at credibility. I wound up making a set of of red-white-and-blue samurai armor to create Uncle Samurai, a California native and American citizen of Japanese ancestry. Silly? Very. The point was disproved, though.

If we're going to go with theme-oriented costume pieces, we might as well add the plumed chapeau for our Knights of Columbus-based heroes and our Napoleonic-era sea captains, and add the fez for our Shriner-based Heroes and the requisite Moroccans.

All told, Issue 8 is a lot better than I expected. It was worth the extra few weeks between the promised release and the actual release. Even though Issue 9 is worrying people about adding a "loot"-based economy with Inventions, I'm looking forward to seeing what the developers have come up with to make the system work. I'm also looking forward to the Winter Event this year, which seems to be saving the timestream by saving the spirit of the New Year. There will also be skiing and snowball fights.

It's a great time to be a hero, heroes. Let's have some fun with this.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Hooray for winter!

And I mean that very sarcastically. I was shutting my computer down for the night last Friday morning when the power went out completely. Mind you, this means no heat, no light, no cable, and no internet. Horrors! Thankfully the phone lines still worked, so I have to give credit to AT&T for winterproofing their circuitry. I am very happy we have a gas water heater in the house, so it kept us able to at least have hot showers in the morning. When I wake up later on Friday morning, I call into work to let them know that I'm snowed in with no power so I won't be making it in. I get called not a half-hour later by our HR coordinator letting me know that our agency building is without power as well, so I shouldn't come in. So, I have the day off to... do absolutely nothing but listen to talk radio. This is not exactly what you'd call good.

Later that evening, we head over to my grandmother's house for a hot meal, and Dad and I decide to stay at the house while Mom stays at my grandmother's place, this way if the power comes back up we'll be on site to get everything up and running properly. We look outside, and see that our neighbors across the street all have power, but our section of the block is still without power. Meanwhile it's getting colder and colder here. So, while listening to the All-Night Diner on 970 AM (hey, I like the old standards as much as I like more modern music) I finally drift off under about six blankets. I wake up again to notice that it's extremely warm in bed. It's not the cat snuggled in next to me, since he got up and roamed around the house. I open up one eye and I swear I'm hallucinating. It looks like the living room light is on. I stagger to the door and look. My digital clock is flashing, the lights are on, and wonder of wonders I feel heat emanating from the registers. The power returned about two hours before I woke up. I wake Dad up and we get to the business of checking the house for any problems. All told we found a two-inch layer of ice underneath about six and a half inches of snow. The ice build-up on the power lines that led to our stretch of the neighborhood had snapped due to that ice. I'll also give credit to the City Water, Light and Power utilitymen who worked double shifts to get the city up and running again. They're okay in my book.

So yeah, winter can bite me. This is why I like summer. You don't have to worry about scraping heat off of your windshield. If you lose power to your house, you're not stuck there, either.