Back in the Saddle

I haven’t written in a while, so it’s time to do something, anything, to get back into it.

 

I guess first a few excuses as to why I didn’t write for so long.

 

First, I was sick. At the end of May I caught a cold. Fair enough, I catch colds about three or four times a year. I went to the doctor, got some medicine, and thought that it would figure itself out in a few days. A couple of nights later, I woke up in chills. I took my temperature and it was 39 degrees C. The cold had migrated south and become pneumonia. Ugh.

 

So, I went to the wife’s hospital, where I was told the medicine I had would be enough to see me through. I guess the doctor didn’t take into account my size or weight. Still, I took a couple of days off school and tried to sleep it off. I felt a little better by the time the next week rolled around, so I tried going back.

 

I felt like I was getting better until the following Wednesday, almost exactly a week later. However, just like the old yellow cat, it came back. The very next day. I was back in the hospital, worried that I might have to stay there a few days. I had a CT scan (CAT scan?) of my chest, which was cool, and I saw a different doctor, who I think prescribes more to the “kill it with fire” school of thought. I got some much stronger medicine and a little stricter orders.

The pneumonia went away, but while I was sick I started having arthritis, which we think was caused by another virus. So even after I was better, I was was wracked with joint pain.

So, June was not such a great month.

July has been much better but a little busier. The rush to get stuff done before summer vacation is on. Unlike in North America, summer vacation in Japanese schools is in the middle of the year.

 

Summer vacation is going to be busy as well! We’re going to Canada! It’s been six years since the last time I’ve been back home, so I’m pretty excited. The kids are looking forward to it a well. The only thing I’m not looking forward to is the plane ride, and train ride, and car ride, and ferry ride. Actually I’m cool with the ferry, it’s nice.

 

Anyhow, since I’ve managed to get back on this horse, I’ll end this ride and saddle up again soon.

 

Off into the sunset…

The State of British hockey, written by someone who knows.

This is a post that it hurts to write.

The Great Britain national ice hockey team currently ranks just outside the top 20 in the world. Over the past few years it’s solidly established itself at the second tier of international hockey-that twilight world of teams who aren’t quite good enough to join the really good nations, but good enough to think that one day, they might.

This is quite impressive. However, it’s nowhere near where the team could be. And it’s nothing to do with the fault of the players proudly wearing the GB shirt.

British ice hockey off-ice is a murky world. It’s populated by a mix of dedicated and proud people genuinely working for the better of the sport and those who seem to see the whole thing as some sort of personal pride project.

It’s a world seemingly driven by ego as much as pure pride…

View original post 669 more words

That time of year…

So, if you’re a hockey fan like me, this time of year is the most exciting. It’s playoff time in the National Hockey League!

But as the second season starts in the NHL, I find myself without a team to root for. My favourite team historically is the Montreal Canadiens. Unfortunately, this year they have been dismally bad, finishing next to the hated Toronto Maple Leafs.

I have also started supporting the Winnipeg Jets. Winnipeg is, after all, my hometown and while the Jets have always played second fiddle to the Habs, I couldn’t help but be pleased with the heart-warming story of their return and the outpouring of support for the team by the people of the city and the province. The team, however, failed to qualify for the post-season (which was to be expected, really.)

So, I haven’t decided who to cheer for this year!

There are a few teams I will not be getting behind, like the Canadiens’ rivals, the Boston Bruins, even though one of the teachers I talk to the most is an avid Bruins fan. Sorry, George!

I do like the looks of the St. Louis Blues, who have made it to the top tier in a tough Western Conference without having any real superstars. It’s been a real team effort, and I would love to see them rewarded for it.

Any opinions? Leave a comment and I’ll weigh them carefully. In the meantime, I’m going to just sit back and enjoy the show!

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Call it fortuitous timing, but there is another hockey league starting its playoff tournament this week as well. This one, however, doesn’t involve millions of dollars in overpriced talent, or even a single plane ride.

I’m talking about my favourite Internet simulation hockey league, the ISHL!

A few posts earlier, I mentioned the Full 90 Soccer League. The ISHL is the inspiration and the model for the F90, and like the F90 the participants run every aspect of the league. They are the players, coaches, managers and owners of the league.

The league was formed by a young man named Randy Geralt and is currently in its fifth season. It is a fast-paced league with games almost every day. The game is simulated on a game similar to the Football Manager used by the F90, specifically Eastside Hockey Manager.

The ISHL boasts ten teams, including my own Munich Reign. The Reign was started by my fellow blogger Alexander “Ursu” Jakobi. Alex (or Papa Bear as he is sometimes known) and our team has won the Championship the last two seasons.

Many of my Internet friends (and many of the names on my Blog Roll) I met through the ISHL. It’s been a good place (virtually) to meet some genuinely good people with similar interests to me. And the regular types of Internet Drama have been few and far between.

This week, the battle for the Remes Cup, the ultimate prize in Internet hockey, begins. If roleplaying or sports are interests of yours, take a look! Lurk around and if you like it, sign up!

And again, tell ’em Ken sent you.

Blog Baton II

So, in this post, I answered questions I got from my pal and fellow blogger Ursu about a variety of things in something called the Blog Baton.

I sent my questions to five people, one of whom was Becky at If All the World were Apple Pie. She, in turn sent more questions back to me. I didn’t know that was allowed, but I’m going to answer her questions anyways.

(and then send more questions back to her, as well as her hubby Matt who is starting his own blog Skylines and Bluelines

So anyhow, Becky queries:

1. You can only eat one meal for the rest of your life – what is it and why?

I’m assuming that this is one specific food, and not one type of food. I would have to choose a food that I like to eat yet provides enough nourishment to keep me going forever. I think I would probably pick spaghetti with meat sauce, especially how I make it, as it contains more vegetables than actual meat.

2. Tell me about the last film you watched. Did you like it? Why/why not?

The last movie I saw in the theatre was Mononoke-jima no Naki. Loosely translated it means “The Crybaby of Monster Island.”

As you might have guessed, it’s a Japanese movie. It’s animated in and was projected in 3D. I’m not a big fan of 3D movies, and would have prefered to have seen it in 2D, but I really liked it.

The story is about a pair of monsters who capture and have to take care of a human boy. One of the monsters (the title character Naki) gets attached to the child and wants to return him to his home while remaining friends with him. It comes from a Japanese fairy tale. Unlike Disney movies, the outcome is never certain as many Japanese fairy tales have tragic endings. I won’t spoil it, but I was very touched by how the film finished.

3. What’s your favourite book of all time? Why do you like it?

Undoubtedly my favourite book of all time in Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. I first read it when I was in high school, and didn’t really understand all of it, but enough to know that it was a brilliant story about what it means to be human. I saw Michael, the main character, as an allegory for the Christ, which impressed my English teacher Mr. Summerfield very much. With each re-reading, I discovered more and more about the context and philosophy of the book and its characters. I think it’s a perfect example of how science fiction uses unreal events and situations to uncover the human condition.

4. What do you value most in a person? Is there something that makes you think less of people regardless of other good characteristics?

The thing I value most in people is intelligence. Intelligence permeates all other aspects of a person. People who show intolerance and unsubstantiated anger are simply showing a lack of understanding. One thing I find very frustrating is when people won’t reconsider their views in the face of contradictory evidence. The most public example, I suppose is bigotry, and how some people hate (with unmitigated venom in some cases) people of another race or belief system without trying to understand them. As good as someone might be in every other aspect of their personality, I just can’t get past that.

5. You win a very large amount of money, enough that you’d never need to work again, but not so much you could buy the planet! What do you do with it?

I think I would devote much more time to creative outlets. I would love to be able to write, draw, paint and other things. I would love to learn some of the Japanese creative arts like shodo and Japanese painting. I would also start playing hockey again, and take up karate with my son.

 

Okay, those are the answers. Now to think up some good questions…

 

1. They are making a movie of your life. What type of movie would it be? Would it be realistic, or fantasy? How much of it would be true, and how much fiction? 

2. What are three pieces of music on the Soundtrack?

3. Who plays you? Why? (Remember, there might also need to be you in different stages of your life)

4. If you could watch one event from history, what would it be? Why? From what point of view would you see it?

5. What’s your favourite joke? Dirty or clean.

 

This time, the recipients are:

The aforementioned Becky and Matt.

The guys at the HappyFace Podcast, again.

Julien at these blu eyes

Shaheen at Recession Dodge to Victory

Walking Songs

On the way to school today I was listening to music on my phone.

(Yes, The Betamax Man listens to music on his phone. It’s not that far removed from my old Sony Walkman, though. I actually miss that little hiss of background noise from music on tape.)

Anyhow, one song came up, Eye of the Tiger by Survivor, followed by Come on Eileen, by… (looks up the artist on Wikipedia) Dexys Midnight Runners.

Both songs are excellent walking songs, songs that just seem to fit the rhythm of my feet. It was perfect.

It got me to wondering what songs are the best songs to walk to. I would also add Michael Jackson’s Billy Jean to that list.

That reminds me of a silly little thing that happened to me about a year ago. I was waiting for the train at the station, and that song started playing (on my phone, naturally). Just then a fat old pigeon waddled around the corner, head bobbing perfectly in time with the song. It was serendipitous, and I couldn’t help but snicker out loud.

Anyhow, I ask you, gentle reader, what are the best walking songs in your music library?

Be a Soccer Superstar!

In this post a little while ago, I mentioned being a member of some sim sports leagues.

 

One of those leagues is a football (soccer) sim league called the Full 90 Premiership (F90). I am the owner/General Manager of one team in the league, Riverdi Yamanashi. I’m also the team’s goalkeeper.

 

The league is part role-playing, part fanatsy, and lots of fun.

 

We’re in the middle of our inaugural season, so we’re looking for new members to expand our league for our second season. It doesn’t take a lot of time, and you can be as active as you can or want. I’m lucky enough to have a little time every day to commit to league activities, mostly writing and running my team’s website. Yes, we have a website. It’s simple, and I haven’t been keeping it up to date, but it’s there. Take a look.

 

If you’re interested, click the link below to learn more. Take a lurk around and see if it’s to your liking. If you sign up, let them know I sent you.

 

The Full 90 Premiership

 

and if you like the F90 I’m sure you’ll get a kick out of the other sim leagues on the site, like the International Sim Hockey League or the Breakaway Hockey League.

Blog Baton

This is the Blog Baton.

The idea is simple. You receive five questions from someone’s blog. You answer the questions, then send five more on to other people’s blogs.

I received mine from Alex Jakobi. Thanks, Alex!

1. What was the last book you read? Did you read the last page before you finished it – and if you did, why do you do this? Do you like Spoilers?

The last book I read was… Dune by Frank Herbert. It was my fourth or fifth time reading it, so I didn’t need any spoilers. There are some books I will periodically pick up and reread, Lord of the Rings, Stranger in a Strange Land.

I will eventually read all the Wheel of Time books again, if and when the series ever finishes. I’ve made a promise to myself not to read any series that hasn’t finished yet.

2. There is a blue and a red pillow available to you – you can’t feel nor touch them. Which one do you choose? Why?

Blue. I like blue. It’s a soothing colour. I can’t understand why anyone would have red in their sleeping place. It’s such and angry colour. I could never relax.

3. A good friend of yours asks you to choose the music for his/her wedding party. You style of music do you get them?

For the most part I would pick things that would make them happy on their special day, then at some point I would throw in the Chicken Dance.

4. You can see a young guy harrassing some kids in the subway. At first you think they’re just fooling around, but then a kid gets hurt. Do you step in personally to prevent further harm? If not, why?

If the kid gets hurt you kind of have to step in, don’t you? Seems like a no-brainer. Still, I do that about once a week at my school…

5. It’s a cold, dark monday morning and you don’t feel alright, but normally well enough to go to work. Do you skip work or do you push yourself over to work?

Must… go… to… work….

I usually feel a little better once I get there and start interacting with the people. If I worked in an office or by myself I would probably just go back to bed.

Okay, those are my answers.

Now questions:

1. Keeping with the book theme: When we read a book, we create the mental images of what’s happening and the characters, etc. When we write, we do the same thing. My question is: if you could enter a writer’s mind and see what he or she is thinking when creating that work, which writer and which book would you choose to see from the writer’s perspective?

2. Hot sandwich or hot pizza?

3. What would it take to get you to eat something you absolutely hate? It would take a lot for me to eat natto, Japanese fermented beans. Name your food and your price.

4. What is something good and something bad about the religion practiced in your local area. If there are more than one, please choose the one practiced by your closest relatives.

5.What is something you like and something you dislike about me? Don’t worry, I won’t take it personally.

And last, the recipients!

Dave and Judy at the Crowpath Blog

Becky and Matt at If All the World were Apple Pie

Shaheen at Recession Dodge to Victory

Paul at Songs of Fire and Ice

Thomas and the boys at The Happy Face Podcast

and last, Julien at these blu eyes.

And I thought they smelled bad on the outside

So, Star Wars is coming out in 3D.

Okay, they probably have already come out in other parts of the world, but Japan is sometimes behind the times when it comes to movie releases. Here, Episode One comes out March 16th.

 

Wake me up for Episode Four.

 

I don’t really have anything against the Prequels, in fact I see them in a much better light than I did when they were first released. I think they’ve grown on me. I don’t hate Jar Jar anymore.

I don’t really have much for them either, though. They are the weakest movies of the bunch, minus the last half of Revenge of the Sith. There have been scathing reviews by fans and critics alike, and I can find little to disagree with.

 

For me it’s a matter of time. I don’t like the Prequels as much as the Original films because I can never be five years old again.

 

I first saw Star Wars when my parents packed us in the car and took us to the drive-in (pre-Betamax!) My sisters and I were in our pajamas in the car as we watched the movie. To be honest, I don’t remember much else about that event, other than for the next while I lived in that world a lot of the time. That Christmas we got the first line of action figures, and we spent countless hours playing. I think most of that time was spent choosing who was going to play which characters. We would lay the toys out on a big blanket and draft them like picking sides for a game of shinny.

 

Anyhow, back to the movies. I remember The Empire Strikes Back era better, as I mentioned in an earlier post. I also remember spending the next three years wondering if Darth Vader was really Luke’s father, and how they were going to rescue Han Solo from the bounty hunter. While I now view Empire as the best movie of the trilogy, at the time I didn’t like it as much because it left me rather traumatized.

 

The end of the Original Star Wars was, of course, Return of the Jedi. I stand in the minority among fans in liking Jedi. Liking it a lot. It had the best set pieces. The final battle was a frantic adventure, and at times the outcome was actually in doubt (at least to me at the time.) I went crazy over the scenes in space. The effects one-upped the rest and at the time it was state-of-the-art. I’ll even accept Ewoks.

On the subject of Ewoks, I actually think they get a bit of a raw deal. In fact, while they were cute and cuddly, there was an underlying danger. These were creatures who were able to capture our heroes and were one Jedi trick away from roasting Han Solo on a spit. That puts them on about the same level as the overrated Boba Fett, who never really does anything but act as a glorified stool-pigeon and delivery-boy.

 

But I digress.

 

There is a fantastic book on the subject of Star Wars called The Secret History of Star Wars, by Michael Kaminsky that goes very deeply into the creation of the films, and uncovers the truth behind some of the things all fans have heard at one point or another, but never knew for certain. For instance, most people of my generation have heard that there were originally supposed to be nine Star Wars movies, a trilogy of trilogies, and the Original Trilogy are the middle set of stories. This comes from something that George Lucas said in an interview. He did, at one point, actually plan to make nine or even twelve movies. However, he changed his mind, as is his right as a creator. For the details, I recommend you pick up Kaminsky’s book.

 

On to the Prequel Trilogy. The Phantom Menace came out after I came to Japan. When I heard they were making more Star Wars movies, I was excited, but I knew I wouldn’t feel the same about them. The child had grown into a bigger, slightly more cynical, child. I knew the movies could never live up to my expectations. There was absolutely no way. Like I said, I could never be five years old again. Menace also came out in Japan a good three months after it did in Canada, and I heard some bad reports about the film from my friends back home.

And my disappointment didn’t disappoint. I felt Menace was a rather bland film, despite some very exciting scenes. The lightsaber fights were even better than what I expected from Jedi at the height of their art. I was particularly impressed with the abilities of Ray Park’s Darth Maul. Still, it was well-produced action tacked onto a sub-standard story.

Menace was followed by Attack of the Clones, which I had hoped would restore my weakened faith in the franchise. Again, there were parts I liked, but as a whole it did little to improve my feelings towards the series. I liked Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi and his detective story. However, the story was left unexplained and subsequently unresolved in the next movie.

When I saw the venerable Jedi Master Yoda finally fight, in a battle with the evil Count Dooku, I was rather pleased. While I thought it was a little out of character for the Yoda of the Original movies to use a lightsaber, it showed the over-confidence of the Jedi, and I felt it added a little bit more to their eventual downfall. I choose to see it as a reason we don’t see Yoda perform any acrobatics in Empire.

The last Star Wars movie was Revenge of the Sith. I came out of the movie thinking this should have been Episode Two! I felt that there was too much in the last half of Revenge, and there was a wasted opportunity to show more of the background of the Original Trilogy that I wanted from the Prequels. I’ve heard that there is a TV series in development that will show some stuff from the period between Episode Three and Episode Four, but I felt that at least some of it should have been in Episode Three.

 

The last subject I want to touch on is the whole Special Edition debate. I think that as an artist, Lucas should be able to do whatever he wants with the movies. They are, after all, his films. He’s devoted most of his adult life to them, and no fan should feel the right to tell him what he can or can’t do. As well, it is not unheard of in science fiction. How many versions of Blade Runner are there? As well, some of the changes have been vast improvements. The things that I haven’t liked have been things that changed the story or the characters (see: shoots first, Han)

What I disagree with is that fans should only be able to see one version. I think the previous versions of the films should be available for people to watch.  I think in the future this will be an option. We may be able to pick and choose which bits we want to keep. It would be possible with the current level of digital technology (I think.)

 

So in conclusion, I love the Star Wars films, especially the Original Trilogy. I enjoy the technical improvements to a point, but I won’t be dropping my cash to see Star Wars in 3D until they get to Episode Four.

 

And that’s my Star Wars post. I will probably think of something else I wanted to say about five minutes after I hit “publish.” I usually do.

 

May the forc– nah…

Role-playing through my ages II

So, when I left my story last time, I mentioned playing role-playing video games.

The first RPGs I remember were for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). I don’t remember exactly which one I played first, but my friends and I would often rent games and play them over at my friend Mark’s house. We played a lot, including some of the early Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest games. While they are one-player games, we usually played together, taking turns controlling the game. I enjoyed that style of playing because I found (and still find) it more entertaining being able to share the experience with someone. I think it’s the same reason people still go to the theatre to watch a movie even when they can get a similar experience at home.

The game I played the most of all was undoubtedly Final Fantasy VII (FFVII). For a lot of RPG players, it was the most important video game of its time and undoubtedly changed the way games were played and developed. It was one of the reasons I bought a Playstation (that and sports games, but more on that later.) I easily spent two hundred hours playing FFVII, much of it with my friend Mike. I played it by myself as well, but it was mostly the building levels (walking around the same parcel of land for hours on end looking for monsters to trounce in order to gain experience) that I did by myself. I saved the story parts and big battles for when I was playing with someone.

The other games I played most were sports games, more specifically hockey and soccer. I’ve been a player of the EA Sports NHL and FIFA series since they came out. My favorites were probably NHL 94 (Sega), 95 (SNES) and FIFA 98 (PS1) I also dabbled in the Street Fighter games, but was never any good.

In 1998 I moved to Japan. I bought a Japanese Playstation and a few games to play, but mostly played alone, as my days off didn’t really coincide with my friends’. They were also into different things than games, so my social activities changed.

It was also a while until I had a computer of my own to play games on. The first PC game I had was NHL 2001, but my computer was too underpowered to run it well, so I saved my gaming for when I bought a Playstation 2 later.

The PS2 also revived my RPG playing like a dose of Phoenix Down with Final Fantasy X. I enjoyed the next generation of graphics and the renewed complexity of the game. However, I missed the social aspect I loved about previous games. In other words, I had nobody to play with.

I thought my wishes might be fulfilled when I first tried online games. I played a couple of online fantasy games, but was severely disappointed by what I found. To put it bluntly, online gamers were no fun to play with. How much fun is it to play when the other players are immature, foul-mouthed and all suffer from what I like to call Internet Badass Syndrome. In fact, this comic from theoatmeal.com sums up my experience nicely. I tried meeting up with my friends back home online, but the time difference and new-found familial and occupational responsibility made it impossible.

Then, in 2006 I got a new computer. The first game I got for it was NHL 07. (coincidently, I still haven’t figured out why the game “07” came out in 2006 and with player attributes and rosters from 2005)

I also discovered that it was possible to modify the PC game’s files to change team names, uniforms, players, and so on. It was possible for me to recreate my own hockey teams from my past and (at the time) present. I made virtual versions of the Wild Cards and the Kofu Monkeys to face off with the teams in the game.

These “mods” led me to the web sites NHL Depot and NHL Downloads, where I came across other like-minded hockey and hockey game enthusiasts.

It turned out that the NHL Downloads site was part of a larger site known as thebreakaway.net (TBN) and it would eventually merge with its parent site.

Little would I know that this would lead me to my current RPG hobby, simulation sports.

The idea of a sim league takes a bit of explaining. I think it is a bit of a rare activity and hasn’t caught on just yet.

A sim league is, in its essence, a mass RPG. People join up to participate in the league through the web site, in this case TBN. They take the role of players and go through the process of playing as prospects and later get drafted onto teams in the league. You create your own player, so you also get to control what type of player you are and his or her attributes.

But wait, you might ask, how does one play?

That where the simulating comes in. All the games in the league are simulated using a video game with the computer controlling the outcome of the match. The leagues I am currently involved in use the NHL series and SI Sports’ Eastside Hockey Manager, and the soccer simulator Football Manager. These games take the place of the pencils, paper and dice of the old table-top RPG.

A few of the players also take the roles of General Manager and coach for the teams in the league. The coaches input their tactics and strategies into the games, and the GMs trade, encourage and occasionally negotiate with their players. Team reloactions and changes of identity are commonplace, as when the people in charge of the teams change, the team itself sometimes also changes with them.

Many people play some version of themselves in these sim leagues, but others choose to take on characters much different than their real life personality. There is room for both.

For the time being I play as myself, and just react the way my real self would, though with a little more prescience (and presence) than I might normally have. It’s also handy to be able to take a little time to think of witty things to say.

As the leagues go through their seasons, players who are more active and contribute more to their teams are rewarded with the ability to improve their player characters. Thus the most active members are often the best in the game as well. These rewards encourage everyone to contribute to making the league better.

The main reason I like sim leagues is the sense of community and team (and league) camaraderie that I love about playing team sports in general. I count amongst my virtual friends people from all over the world, including the US, the UK, Sweden, Finland, Spain and Latvia, just to name a few.

The people involved in these games tend to be younger than me, which I think has given me a bit of Elder Statesman status, which is also nice, but occasionally leaves me stranded in a Betamax moment. I’m lucky that I can get by, and leave most of the technical stuff to minds more suited to the tasks.

Who can say where the future of RPGs will take us, whether it be in the real world, such as Live-Action Role-Playing or through the virtual world. For me, I’m happy to continue my career as a simulated sports star as long as they’ll let me.

And if you ever want to join, tell ’em I sent you.

Hey, listen to this:

A friend of mine, and generally cool Brit, Thomas James, has a podcast.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/HappyFacePodcast/154424354643551

He and two other young gents talk about various video game, science and technology topics. I usually listen to this on the bus to and from work, or while catching up on my chores on the weekend.

I have to admit to occasionally having Betamax Moments while listening to these guys discussing the newest things, but I like how they never talk down to their audience, not to mention that their Britishness never ceases to entertain.

Also, Tom has promised to mention me in a future episode, so I have that to look forward to as well.

So, give it a try and if you like it, send them a message.

And tell ’em I sent you.