Category Archives: Real Life

From the NOW I’VE SEEN EVERYTHING Department.. The Mongol Guinea Pig

Lori Knight-Whitehouse, spouse of Howard “Mexican Jack” Whitehouse, recently brought the mongol armored Guinea Pig Armor on Ebay to my attention.

Yes, there’s someone who made a complete scale mail suit for their guinea pig out there. That’s love, I guess. Apparently the subject guinea went the way of all flesh recently and now the owner is selling the armor for charity.


The armor appears to be modeled after Mongol Heavy infantry but I admit I’m not up on Pig Armor and I’m sure there’s an authority out there to contest my judgement.

Here’s a little from the listing itself:

his auction is a charity auction for hand-made guinea pig scale-mail. (You’ve read that correctly)

Is your pet guinea pig tired of wandering around the house unarmored and vulnerable? Do they get picked on by other guinea pigs? Has your guinea pig ever wanted to go with you to a Renaissance Faire but had nothing to wear?

Fear not! A solution is here!

This hand-made scale-mail and tiny steel helmet will keep you guinea pig protected and secure in all situations. The scale-mail is made from polished steel scales and steel rings. It was painstakingly “woven” by me over several weeks in an effort to better prepare my guinea pig Lucky for the dangers of the modern world. The helmet was purchased at a Renaissance Faire later as it was the perfect finishing touch.

Lucky mostly wore his armor to begrudgingly pose for photos – once on top of a remote-control jetski. Don’t worry – he never rode the thing in the water… I don’t think he would have had the balance.

Lucky passed away this weekend, and no longer requires his noble suit of armor. In his honor and memory, any money from this auction (after Ebay fees) will go to the Metropolitan Guinea Pig Rescue in Virginia. Lucky was adopted from the organization, and they’re a fantastic group who do all they can to find, foster and adopt (to others) Guinea Pigs in the northern Virginia area. You’ll see them on this auction as a 100% donation – it’s not a hollow promise 🙂

Please bid high and bid often!



Again, if you’re safety conscious about your guinea pigs and can’t stand the thought of sending them into battle without proper protection, THIS IS THE AUCTION FOR YOU.

At a current bidding price of 1,050 USD, it’s getting too rich for my blood. I guess my guinea pig (if I had one) would be light infantry (perhaps a slinger). Good thing I can’t stand the benighted little things.. I don’t think I’ll ever find out.


Storm Eagle Software: a company that would have made George Orwell proud

IF this is the new paradigm for software distribution, it leaves a lot to be desired.  (written in 2012, not posted until now)

Note from the year 2013: I wrote this a year ago, and sort of let it lay in the draft hopper out of apathy.  It’s still all true, but I would add a small epilogue: I did finally get the software installed after two weeks of effort and lots of repeated system admin tasks…. and it sucked!  The game interface is moronic, you have very little control over individual ships beyond steering them and hoping for the best, and it’s a bit of a yawner.  Not really worth giving an in-depth review too.  Kind of anti-climatic after all that work, no?  I have to stress that Storm Eagle, cited here, did not create the software I’m trying to install in this transaction, so I can’t fault them directly for that, that’s all on Totem Software’s head. In the end, I wasted my money, and went through a lot of stress, to boot.  I’m posting this a year later, really because it amuses me more than it angers me.  The so-called customer service rep’s replies become blander and less officious as the exchange continues, and in the end I wondered if he could type that drivel with a straight face.

There are days when I feel like a relic, and the last four days have certainly made me feel that way. I have always had an interest in games with a military history element to them; that much might be obvious from casual reading of this blog. So when I was idly responding to an advert banner ad about Dreadnoughts at the Storm Eagle Software site, I noticed this boffo new-ish product:

Totem Games Victorian Admirals

They are having a sail on Totem Games’ VICTORIAN ADMIRALS collection for roughly 30 bucks. This is just ducky for a guy like me who’s nuts for the pre-dreadnought Age of Steam naval conflict era– I have reservations about the Totem Games interface– it’s a little clunky and not exactly inspirational, but the art is lovely and the history is obscure.

So I did a mental version of “Yipppeee!” and ordered it.

Full disclosure: I just ordered it. This is TOTALLY my fault for jumping and not looking.  Don’t even bother lecturing me or shaking your head.  I didn’t think about reading the damned fine print. I did zero research. I saw something about digital delivery, but so what? I’ve ordered games from Matrix Games with a digital delivery option, I just got a download code, downloaded the thing and that was it. I’ve even ordered from in the past, and though it was slow, I downloaded their version of digital delivery. So what could possibly go wrong?

There was a link on the Storm Eagle website that informed me that they were selling the software as an affiliate for SES.  Yeah, yeah, so…

Without reading much more than that, I paid by paypal, and was then told I had to download the STORMPOWERED application which is the way they were going to send me VICTORIAN ADMIRALS.  I should have had alarm bells going off at that stage, but I complied, downloaded their “STORMPOWERED” client application, which is somehow beneficial to the software delivery process.   Digital Delivery, as my hipster younger friends tell me, is the way of the future for computer programs.  That’s progress.

FOUR DAYS LATER, after frequent attempts to download the product I PAID FOR, with NO CHANCE OF A REFUND, I realized that A) I was foolish and should have read the fine print, and B) this ain’t no way to run a railroad.  Because we’re in the age of “Digital Distribution”, Storm Eagle Software has essentially adopted policies that preclude the customer getting a refund if he or she is dissatisfied, with no redress whatsoever.  There are no reasonable alternatives offered if the client doesn’t work– I can’t get a CD download (hell, I’d even pay extra for it now).  I can’t access the software from a secure FTP site, like I can with Matrix Games.  Throughout the process of dealing with Storm Eagle Software’s so-called customer service agents, I have been told that this is essentially my fault.  I have followed their instructions.  I’ve tried to download this at home and at work.  The STORMPOWERED client, essentially, is defective.  It will apparently work if I add exceptions to my anti-virus software and log in as an administrator to install and run it.  I have done so, and it still doesn’t work.   So, apparently, I’m also supposed to do all these extra system administrator tasks to download a file.   I rapidly got fed up with the defective software, requested a refund, and was told that no refunds are granted.  I asked for a CD delivery, and was told they don’t supply software that way.  I asked for a FTP download and was told they wouldn’t make an exception for me.  During the four days of increasingly fruitless “customer service” emails from  the while, every message ended with a cheerful variant of “We’re committed to doing whatever it takes to make sure you get your product”.   Except, of course, CD Delivery, FTP delivery, or any other reasonable option to satisfy a very disgruntled customer.

Do you think I’m over stating this?  Maybe, being a bit of a drama queen?  Read on by clicking below.

But wait, there’s more!

Shock and Sadness in Connecticut

massacre in CT

Elementary school massacre: 26 dead, including 18 kids, in Connecticut

Today, Ryan Lanza, aged 24, walked into the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, CT. He was dressed all in black. Ryan, reputedly, pulled out two pistols and started firing into the crowd of students and teachers present, which included his own mother, a Kindegarten teacher at the school. In the ensuing madness, 26 people were murdered, 18 of them children in kindegarten to fourth grade. Among the dead was the alleged shooter’s own mother.

I know that I take a somewhat, er.. sardonic tone in this blog. This is reflective of my personality and sense of humor. I don’t have the heart to do that right now. ‎18 little children were murdered. What did they do, what did anyone do, to deserve such evil? I am revolted and sick at heart. Please, believer or non-believer, find it in your hearts to send thoughts, prayers and good kharma to the families of these murdered innocents today. They’re going to need every ounce of support in the weeks to come.

Words like “Tragedy” just don’t cut it right now. My heart isn’t into the usual gaming and geekery. Pray for the children.

12/15 update: events were still unclear when the above was written yesterday. It appears I was inaccurate due to the deception pulled by younger brother Adam Lanza. Adam used his older brother Ryan’s identification when he went to the school to commit massacre– why, we don’t know. So Ryan’s ID was on Adam’s body. Also, even more tragically, Adam had shot his mother at home before the event. Adam used his mother’s registered firearms to murder the children at school. Those are the facts we know. They only make this tragedy more unfathomable. Why DID Adam go to the school to kill? We’ll likely never know.

PTSD Modern Army Men

Someone passed me these images recently.  I was impressed.  They originate from this person here, named “Dorothy“, and it’s called the Casualties of War Boxed set.   Four plastic figures sculpted in a fashion evocative of the plastic army men of my childhood, only with a darker side– one soldier is frozen in the act of suicide, another is begging on the street, another is an amputee in a wheelchair.

Sadly, beneath the tragicomic imagery, there exists a real problem.  Don’t get the wrong idea.  I don’t consider the problems faced by returning soldiers to be remotely amusing.  However, I wonder if kids had little green army men like this in their toy chests, would we be willing to embrace the idea of a war so readily?

Images: originally on LET’S PLAY ARMY MEN


Enhanced by Zemanta

Veva, you little tease, you…

Recently, I got a message from a total stranger on Facebook, by the name of Veva Schrills. She was reasonably ordinary looking, not unpleasant but not a raving beauty either, and sent a request for friendship with this explanation (which is rare enough):

Hi ! I came across your wall,wanted to say hello ok i will tell you a bit more about myself, As far as my personality, I’m very open minded, honest, easy going, definitely a gentle type, and I love to make people laugh.If you’re interested in chatting, feel free to write back when you have the chance. If there’s anything you’d like to know about me, just feel free to ask away as I’m a very open lady.

Now, the TEXT is nothing out of the ordinary, my spam box is full of this kind of stuff, usually with similar language about how she’s a lonely college kid just trying to get ahead, come see her webcam, signup for a dating site, etc.  That’s usually what “I’m very open-minded” means.  The phenomenon is called Camwhoring. It’s been around for a while. What made it odd for me was this was a first for FACEBOOK. AND! someone I know on FB had friended her. I denied her request, asking:

I’m sorry, I’m clueless why you messaged me. Do we know each other somehow?

Then ran a simple google search on the name VEVA SCHRILLS.

All those Vevas!  I feel like I’m cheering on a flamenco dancer!  And look!  most of them are from the same town in Belton, Missouri!  And went to the same high school!  And are members of the same Alumini Org!  And went to the same college, University of Missouri!  All named the same name!

What an astounding coinicidence!

Wow, Veva gets around

The RED arrow was the Veva who messaged me. The yellow arrows are the others that seem very similar. The two without arrows actually might be called Veva Schrills, who knows.

So for the lonely hearts out there, when Veva comes a knocking, I’d ask for some bona fides.

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

Enhanced by Zemanta

I got introduced to RadioLab via expanding my horizons on Stitcher– a great little app for Iphone, Ipad, and Android devices that permits entire shows to stream to conclusion without an internet connection.  Lately I’ve been checking out some other … Continue reading

Joe Bodolai

Joe Bodolai

Joe Bodolai, from his blog

Joe Bodolai was a writer, television producer and comedian. He wrote for SNL in the post-Jean Domanian years and actually saw the script that came back with her writing “Make it funnier” at the top. His SNL experience is nicely chronicled on BlogTalkRadio.  After SNL he went to Canada and produced THE KIDS IN THE HALL for Lorne Michaels. For a while, things went well for him. He moved to LA and he tried to represent Canadian comedians (successfully for the most part). Things stopped happening for him, and he spiraled downward into alcoholism and depression. He chronicled his life and his decision to kill himself on his own blog on WordPress.

If you have a moment, read this post.  It’s fairly breezily written and attempts to keep the subject light, but it is clear that Bodolai was in a lot of pain and just didn’t want to live any more.  It’s incredibly poignant to read the following bullet points under the heading “Things I Regret”:

  • My inability to conquer my alcoholism
  • The things I did because of it
  • Leaving Canada
  • Moving to Los Angeles
  • Not fighting harder or making a better deal to stay with The Comedy Network I helped create
  • Not being able to live up to the helping hand so many wonderful people offered me
  • The hurt I caused in my family, friends, and maybe even strangers.
  • That I am no longer able to withstand any more of life’s pain
  • Most of all, the pain I have caused and am now causing my sons and the love of my life, my ex-wife Bianca, my love and connection with her is infinite
  • The fact I will never get to repay the love and generosity you all deserve
  •  Lisa.

Seriously.  Take the time to read it.   I don’t normally dwell on the morbid on this blog, but there was something about the way that Bodolai chronicled the disappointments in his life that stuck with me after reading it.  Was it exhibitionism?  Was it ego?  Make up your own mind.  It’s a good read.

One week after his long, rambling and chatty blogging suicide note, Bodolai checked in to a hotel and prepared a lethal cocktail of Gatorade and Anti-Freeze.  That had to be a painful way to go.

Enhanced by Zemanta

A surprising life lesson from

I like to shop at, though I often I have to talk myself out of buying stuff I see in the pages there. To quote my friend Carol Kocian: “Wow! Neat! That’s the coolest thing I’ll never buy!” on a recent ThinkGeek item I posted to my Facebook wall. Self restraint is a good thing; it teaches me spiritual discipline, to reject the life of shallow materialism, and on a practical note, I don’t end up with a basement full of TaunTaun sleeping bags. This Christmas, Thinkgeek offered up an item that was eminently affordable, amusing yet practical, and as a bonus, it offered up a surprising life lesson at the end of the day– at no extra charge.

ThinkGeek Puzzle Gift Card Vault: Highly Recommended

I’m talking about the ThinkGeek Puzzle Gift Card Vault, of course. Only 4.99 for sheer deviltry in a plastic box. The concept is quite simple. The vault is shipped in an “Open” state. One simple opens the vault, slides in up to three pristine gift cards into the vault, and then slides the plastic toggle to “closed” state. This releases a tiny metal bb into a clear plastic maze that is over the card itself. One has to simply follow the maze until the ball drops into the “Unlock” position, and slide the toggle back to “Open”. Sound easy? Well, it is, if you are patient enough. The puzzle is slightly more challenging then a standard crackerjack toy in that the sides of the box add a second layer for the ball to drop into, then back up again, which can insert the ball beyond a barrier in the main puzzle. A nice three dimensional add-on, as it were.

My intentions were serene when I gave the kids gift cards in the card vaults– to add a little humor and a soupçon of challenge to what has become an otherwise routine, almost banal pastime: exchanging gifts at Christmas-time. Instead of the pro-forma “what did Santa leave you in the toe of your stockings?”, I now had a REAL CHALLENGE!! The results were interesting. ONE child took the puzzle apart with contemptuous ease– patiently looking at the puzzle, deducing the path that needed to be followed and consequently solved it in about 7 minutes max. The OTHER child, by contrast, rapidly lost patience (even though there were 3, count ’em, THREE gift cards contained inside). The ball shakily moved through the maze, the recipient got increasingly impatient and frustrated.. shook it furiously, and threatened a teenaged tantrum. “Oh well, I’m done.. I just won’t use it then!” followed by “This…. is soooo mean!” Then, dare I say it, a little snuffling. Well, both myself and the other child present felt a little bad about that, and an offer of assistance was granted. As you might guess, the puzzle was solved in point-blimfark.

And what did we learn here today, kids? Later, I was complimenting spawn number 2 in abstentia for rapid puzzle solving ability and gently chiding spawn number 1 for a perceived lack of patience. Spawn number 1 interjected and said:

“But I solved it too, you know”
“No you didn’t! It had you reduced to tears!”
“Exactly. I solved it by crying until Spawn #2 felt bad enough to solve it for me!”
“WHAT!? You did that on purpose?”

I was a little floored by that, but realized this spawn was correct. That was a solution. Perhaps not one I would follow or even think of– I’d take a hammer to it before I’d admit defeat. Yet, it was, in its own peculiar way, a method of solving a puzzle. When I mentioned this method to Spawn 2, the response was red-faced embarrassment and anger: “Dad, we got used faster than one ply toilet paper!” The suggestion was made to take all three cards back and lock them in the vault and force Spawn 1 to solve it without assistance of any sort this time, but I refrained from resorting to the Code of Solomon. Spawn 1 had, after all, arrived at a solution. Such a Machiavellian maneuver from one so young!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Help some disadvantaged families have a warm Winter this year…

Garrett Hard at work

Garrett Hard at Work. We've filled up one of those trailers in the back of the lot already.

I don’t normally focus on my family in this blog because, frankly, it’s a privacy thing. However, Gar (aka, my son Garrett) is brewing up something big, really, really BIG for his Boy Scout Eagle project, and there might be some time for community involvement, at least locally.   As some of you might know, the Boy Scouts require a community based project as a way of demonstrating your commitment to the community.  A critical element is NOT to do it yourself, but to rally the fellow scouts, organize it, and lead it.  Garrett’s project was unique, at least in my personal experience, which isn’t authoritative.  Rather than paint something or build a bench somewhere, Garrett came up with this idea:  Let’s collect coats (later amended to warm clothing in general) for poor and disadvantaged people in Appalachia and the Blue Ridge area.   I liked this, so we pitched it to the local troop and governing council for the boy scouts, National Capital Area Council.   A distribution point has been found in the Romney, West Virginia area at a Baptist church.  My son’s sponsoring organization, Franconia Moose Lodge (1076) in Springfield, has overwhelmingly committed to the project, with a generous outpouring of contributions and support– not just clothing, but space, facilities, encouragement and volunteer services.  So far, we have had a fantastic turnout.  140 assorted bags, bails, boxes and assorted bundles of clothing have been collected.  We are well on our way to filling up our giant (donated) trailer we will be using for transporting the clothing.  I’m quite proud of how this little idea has blossomed into a major operation with many contributors, both scouting age and adult, pitching in to do the right thing.  Garrett’s initial read on this was right on the mark.. the Baptist church in Romney reports that many families are in dire economic need this Winter and this clothing drive will help out many, many families.

Obviously, Gar’s done a lot so far.  If you’d like to contribute a bag or two of clothing, there’s still time.  Our departure date is 10 December 2011.  If you would like to drop off a donation, our collection point is in the Franconia Moose Lodge, Northern Virginia, near the intersection of Beulah and Telegraph Roads, in Springfield.  Location:  If you think you can drop it by before departure date, we can use ANYTHING you’d care to donate in the clothing line.

 Thank you so much in advance, and happy holidays. 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Mountain Dew Throwback — Hillbilly Demon Juice

In case you haven’t noticed it, the competition for consumption of HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) has increased in the last five years.  Conversely, the price of regular cane sugar has taken a dip.  Starting back in the 1990s, Coke started swapping out corn syrup for sugar in specially marketed production runs aimed at the Latin-American immigrant market.   These proved to be be the origin of a “sugar Coke boom” as many consumers who swore they prefered the taste of sugared Coke over HFCS Coke.  In the last five years or thereabouts, producers of ethanol fuels are making ever-increasing demands on corn production.  The decline in the once-cheap and plentiful corn syrup resource prompted Pepsi to jump on the Sugar drink bandwagon and release limited production runs of their “Throwback line” of drinks.  Pepsi throwback drinks started in 2008 in limited quantities with Pepsi Throwback and Mountain Dew Throwback.  I hadn’t paid much attention to this phenomenon, myself, as I’m not much of a sugared soda drinker these days.  I drink diet or nothing most days.  However, back in the day, Mountain Dew had a peculiar stranglehold on my soul.  The Mountain Dew monkey on my back kept me awake through a long series of late night paper writing sessions in college as well as awake in class the next day.  I stopped drinking Dew when they changed the formula, some time in the late 80s– the resulting (non-diet) Mountain Dew tasted like industrial slurry.  So I haven’t paid much attention to Dew since those days.  That is, until today, at the potluck lunch being held upstairs.  And there it was.. a whole case of glistening white cans of Hillbilly Demon juice.. the sugared, “throwback” to an earlier age, Mountain Dew Throwback.

Mountain Dew Throwback.. get back, you hillbilly mutants!

I had one with lunch, because A) there wasn’t anything diet except water, and B) the old retro style hillbilly art theme from the original 1941 production run really intrigued me. Almost immediately, I was reliving a taste of nostalgia from my college days.. Mountain Dew throwback is sweet, tastes like the original.. and went down so smooth I snuck another down to my desk for later, and there it sits, half consumed. Laughing at me with a hillbilly accent. Check out the calories in ONE CAN! And the effects!  It’s two HOURS later and I’m still furiously tapping one leg on the floor, shaking off the effects of caffeine and sugar.

Get behind me, you Hillbilly Devil Juice… I shall not drink of you again!!!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Farewell, Little Grumbler

I lost my little friend today. Gabby, our little rescue pug, gave up this mortal coil this afternoon. She might have been 12, she might have been 16. The folks at the shelter really weren’t sure of how old she was when she came to the shelter.

Gabby the Grumbler

Gabby the Grumbler

I called her “The Grumbler” because her snorty, raspy breathing always sounded like she was pissed off and complaining about something. She wasn’t conventionally affectionate, just demanded to know I was there– she would come into a room I was in, walk over, stare at me, then grumble a bit and tuck in next to my feet and snore. I’ll miss that.

She used to sit by my feet when I painted miniatures, or on the couch next to me when I was watching TV. There wont’ be another like her. I wish she had lasted longer, but I realize that pugs don’t last forever. Farewell, little Grumbler. May you always have a comfortable couch in Heaven.

Has the Sun set on the Friendly Little Game Store?

I’ve grown up with modern gaming, you might say.  I was a youngster when D&D was new.  I played SPI Games with my dad when we could get them shipped to us at whatever APO address we were living at.  I bought the original Squad Leader in a Hallmark store.  I was not alone– there were tons of us kids looking for the latest and greatest back when I was growing up, and it was usually not to be found, until an actual Friendly Little Gaming Store (FLGS), the first in the area, hit town when I was in high school.  By “hit town” I mean, started up about 20 miles away, an easy drive for anyone who had a license.  It was an astonishing experience, to see and feel and touch the latest and greatest thing.. the latest module or expansion or whatever.  Maybe you read about it in the Dragon, or the White Dwarf, or something.  There was no internet in those days.  Information passed around as best it could, from mouth to mouth and person to person.  Having all that stuff in one place.. one store.. was amazing.  I spent hours and hours there.  Gradually, I went away to college to discover another FLGS, also nearby, which became almost like  a clubhouse of sorts.  For at least a decade, during the formative years of the gaming industry we know and love today, the way we found out about the Cool New Thing was to visit a FLGS store.  If the owner was on the ball, he was talking to the distributor representatives each and every week, and had a good idea of what was coming down the pike and he would do the job of building up the audience for the Cool New Thing so that we were there, eager to buy it when the UPS man showed up with the first shipment.

Myriad Games, in Manchester, NH

Myriad Games, in Manchester, NH

Remember, we are still in those halcyon pre-Internet days.  Gamers had no notions of a larger world outside their hobby shops, or even outside of their town.  Sure, we knew there were other people who liked D&D and wargames and miniatures… but they might have been on the other side of the moon.  The local FLGS was the bomb, the center of the gaming universe, the place where the larger games that couldn’t fit in people’s basements happened. At one FLGS that was near and dear to my heart, the Little Soldier in Alexandria, the owner, Dennis Largess, kept a game of Empires in Arms set up and laid out for a small group of players for what seemed like a year or more. And it was totally cool and almost expected that he would do so. That was what a FLGS was like in that era– not as productized, much more friendly and the customers had a personal attachment to the place that you only see a glimmer of these days. The more modern phrase “man-cave” applies, for the younger set.

And then, two things happened.  The Internet happened, and the number of hobby distributors dropped off the face of the earth, from 20 or so, to 3, to 2, and now maybe one.  What had been an easy and responsive ad-hoc system to allow rapid movement of product into stores has become increasingly more difficult to work with– distributors, which used to do business on competitive terms, became more restrictive and harder to get either credit or stock from.  Thus stores went from a “buying one of everything and seeing if it works out” approach to a much more cautious buying strategy.   Stores didn’t have the luxury of keeping failed product lines on the shelves forever and ever… shelf space is an expensive commodity.

Concurrently, the conventions (at least the miniature conventions– I can’t really speak for board game trade shows) were a conduit for those small shop owners to talk to manufacturers and see what the latest and greatest figure lines were coming down the pike. At the recent Historicon 2011 convention, there were only five companies present who actually cast new figure lines in the 2010-11 timeframe. Everyone else was selling someone else’s product. If there were small shop owners here and there in the crowd, they certainly kept a low profile. I can’t imagine the situation in boardgaming and RPG conventions is much different. I didn’t attend Origins 2011, but I heard on the recent Dice Tower Origins wrap up podcast that the show appeared “sparse” and that major boardgame publishers were not there in force. If an acknowledged boardgaming enthusiast like Tom Vasel is noticing a downward trend for one of the anchors of the gaming world (Origins), then likely this downward trend is noticeable. What role would a show like Origins play for a FLGS owner today? I don’t think many of them could afford to attend for starters. There’s the GAMA Trade Show, of course, but is a tiny FLGS owner actually going to go to Vegas to attend it? I rather doubt that. A Distributor would, for certain. A gaming store chain (and yes, there a few of those left) might. Again, I don’t know, I’ve never been to that show– but how relevant is it in the age of the Internet?

Aye, the Internet is the 300 lb. gorilla in this discussion, isn’t it? Internet, and in a broader sense, technological change, is a fast track that few store owners have the capital to keep up with.  Our local gaming store was once heralded nationally as being revolutionary– boasting tons of table space, a clean, uncluttered look, friendly staffers who knew what they were talking about, and a constantly rotating stock of new items as well as “classics” that the owner had picked up here and there from collections.  Sound familiar?  That’s the kind of fustian that we were spouting about the emergence of the large mega-bookstores Borders, Brentanos and Barnes and Noble in the early 90s.  And as we sadly bid farewell to Borders this week (more on this later), Brentanos being long gone, and as Barnes and Noble also lost 38 million last month, it seems like the outlook is bleak for companies catering to a leisure product that aren’t nimble enough to respond to change.  The example of the bookstore industry is almost identical to the game retail industry, only larger by a few orders of magnitude.  Bookshops that weren’t farsighted enough to adjust to new technologies (internet distribution of electronic books, reading machines, digital music, Amazon, etc.) were left high and dry, holding lots and lots of real estate, expensive inventories of CDs, DVDs, bulky items and books, coffee bars and a greatly diminished revenue stream to keep it all afloat.  Game stores had similar problems with large inventories, only they didn’t have the same relationship with publishers and manufacturers that book corporations did.  They couldn’t return for credit (for the most part) to a distributor who would give them something off for the next big buy.  So anything that didn’t’ sell in a gaming shop either ended up in the discount bin at a huge loss so that SOME income could be generated for an order for next month, or the store would just sit on old inventory, year in and year out.  Both of these approaches lead to inevitably diminishing cash receipts.  In the meantime, potential customers are presented with the triple threat of Ebay, and hobby liquidator/vendors like Troll and Toad or Miniatures Market, and especially hobby online stores that provide pictures, links to blogs and YouTubes and other social media to show you how great a product is– and of course they’ll ship it to you in three days, no sweat, paid for electronically by credit card or handy paypal.  In the face of all that, brick and mortar FLGSs have had a very difficult time competing.  Some of them have adopted some pretty innovative programs, like Myriad Games‘ try before you buy program (for a fee) and creating “memberships” which are essentially free extra income (not unlike major bookstore retailers do).  Certainly that will help, but the FLGS store owner, now more than ever, has to rotate his stock constantly, keep abreast of the trending items, and cater to his clientele.  After all, what a FLGS has to sell is instant gratification and a sense of community.   If the store can’t deliver on that promise, then people will shop online, which is in most cases, just as quick if not a whole lot quicker than getting a store to order it for you.  What will keep the customers ordering from the store?  Loyalty?  Ha!  Remember that showcase game store that opened up near me in the 90s?   Back in the day, Special orders, a “gamer’s atmosphere” and personal service were what they had to sell. You know, the same edge Borders had over Mall bookstores like B.Dalton and Waldens, right?  Nowadays, it’s as if we have to beg them to special order anything, and they wait until they have a critical threshold of units before they place an order with a distributor– so it takes weeks, if ever.  When I recently wanted to order some more ironclad stuff in 1:600, I didn’t bother going to the store. I knew they wouldn’t carry it, of course, but special ordering was also right out.  I placed my order with Bay Area Yards at a very reasonable price, and it showed up in three days.  There’s no way my local store could compete with that level of service.  To be fair to them in turn, I may be one guy out of 200 that might be interested in buying and collecting 1:600 ironclad miniatures, so I wasn’t expecting them to carry it.   One other relevant item– I would not have jumped into the ironclads thing if I hadn’t found a bunch of “Hammerin Iron” resin boats by Peter Pig, at the Brookhurst hobby booth, at HISTORICON 2011.. you know, a booth, manned by human beings, showing product.

The fact is, I love FLGS and have spent hundreds of dollars in them over the years, not to mention countless hours.  Nowadays, the primary feature of a FLGS is that there are people like me in them.  Any given night my FLGS is full of people playing games, as it features several gaming tables.  They have taken to charging for the privilege of using their tables… and I have no objection if that’s keeping them in business.  Maybe they could focus on selling primarily the experience of playing games instead of the retail business of selling them.. not that I imagine it’s raking in huge dollars for two dollar table fees per person.

In conclusion, I’m not trying to be a doomsayer; I love FLGSs and grew up with them, but the old model has suffered from the economic contraction of the past four years as well as the complete and total dominance of Internet vendors.  We may have reached a place where they are no longer AS relevant to the hobby as they once were.  There are fewer and fewer gaming and hobby shops that specialize in tabletop gaming in the United States.  The ones that are left are struggling, and the outlook is somewhat bleak if they don’t change with the times.  I suspect gaming in the future will focus on a lot of grass-roots efforts, such as clubs,, gaming in FLGS, buying stuff primarily online but maybe sometimes in a store, and gaming everywhere– coffee houses, pizza shops, libraries and yes, FLGSs.   Not as centralized as gaming was when I was a kid, but it will still be here.  I hope.

Lunch at the new job..

The More Things Change, er…. The More Things Change

I ate lunch at the only place I could find handy today, on my first day of work at the new job site– McDonalds. Not my first choice, but there’s no diner handy. Anyhow, as I was rapidly consuming my rather bland lunch faire… it occurred to me, I had been in this spot before.

This was the spot where SKYLINERS, a grubby pool hall/bar combination, used to be. I had no idea when this conversion took place, but the room’s layout was essentially the same from days gone by. The picture above was where the bar was located…

Mind you, none of the pastels and nauseatingly bright tile was in evidence back in the day. This was where a row of rather dingy booths were.. we used to repair here after movie shoots, I remember it well.

I mentally cringed at the lame attempt at faux art deco fifties crap…

And here were the pool tables. Back in 86 I was struck across the back of the head and shoulders by a pool cue in a regretable incident. Today’s it’s the kid’s play area. Funny, huh?

McDs 1

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not waxing nostalgic here. It was just a bar, and bars come and go. I’ve been in better establishments. I am merely musing on the how I recognized where I was by the pattern of the surroundings, it was almost eerie.

Legend of the Shadow Box

shadow box

We present a lot of these in my day job, and I’ve rarely thought much about what they are and where they come from. I got a little bit of lore from a Naval officer today that explains “the shadow box”, and I thought I’d pass it along.

The presenting of a shadow box to a retiring sailor is born of superstition from the earliest days of sail… and has endured throughout the centuries. In the old days, it was considered extremely bad luck for a retiring sailor… upon his departure from his ship… to see his shadow fall upon the pier before he himself actually set foot on land.

In order to ensure no such misfortune would befall their revered shipmate, the crew would construct a box of the finest woods, often with gold and silver inlays befitting the prestige and mysticism associated with life at sea. Within the box would be placed all the things, which reflected the sailor’s many accomplishments throughout his arduous career. This often consisted of ranks attained, medals received, and the other trinkets sailors are prone to collect in their worldly travels.

Only then would the retiring sailor have a complete “shadow” of his life at sea… his real life …secured safely and forever in a box. With this beautiful box of memories, the retiring sailor was assured of always seeing a true reflection of his life after moving ashore with those ever-curious land lubbers. Knowing that his shadow… his true spirit and soul… was contained within his box, the retiree could step smartly ashore without fear of what ill fate might befall him in his new and uncertain world ashore… even if his shadow was cast upon the pier before him.

File that one under “you learn something new every day”

Get in line, kids!

Say, are these people waiting for Eminem tickets? NO!

Garth Brooks reunion tour? Jimmy Buffett Parrotheads?? NO!!

Nope, this is only PART of the line stretching around the BEST BUY in Northern Virginia the other night, as people waited in line to purchase the new 360 XBox, due to hit that store the following morning… yes, they stayed out in the cold all night to get a video game system.

These are crappy pix, for which I apologize, taken from my Palm Pilot out of our van window. So you can’t make out that MOST of these people are parents!!!

Never, not in a million years, would I stay out in a sleeping bag at the Best Buy to purchase a video game for my kids. Some people amaze me.