Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Christmas All Year

"We should remember to show the spirit of Christmas every day."

That's not an unusual or rare sentiment. Many people, I'd imagine, wish we as a collective human race would treat people with the kindness and friendliness that we reserve for the Holiday Season(TM) year-round instead. And everyone usually agrees with the thought: Peace on Earth, every day. But nobody seems willing to follow up on that.


No, seriously, why? Is it apathy? Is it an eventual lack of interest in doing good deeds?

I find myself at this time of year thinking in more charitable terms: wanting to do more, to help people more, to - for example - donate to things that will help people have a "Merry Christmas" when they otherwise would not.

Why don't I do this year-round? Why should one day matter? Wouldn't I be doing more good if I was willing to give of myself at all times?

The thing is, for many of us, the Holidays remind us that there's more to this life than just living, and we try and balance our spiritual checkbooks (for lack of a better term). I'm guilty of this too... since we associate this time of year with good feelings and (for Christians) the birth of the Savior of mankind, we think we should go out of our way at this time of year to show love to our fellow man.

I say we're wrong.

I say it shouldn't matter what time of year it is; we should constantly go out of our way each and every chance we get to show love to our fellow man, regardless of his or her's beliefs, race, sexuality, whatever. We don't have to agree with them; we just have to love them.

This is something I feel Christians are failing to notice, and is a reason why some don't feel comfortable choosing to believe. After all, Jesus didn't only do good works on His birthday (which Christmas may or may not be, but that's when we choose to celebrate it, so drop the issue). He did them non-stop, and ordered His followers to do so... can you imagine what people would accomplish if the Church (not buildings or organizations, but the entire group of believers) would actually do that?

So this Christmas, I challenge you to, indeed, live as if every day is Christmas. Because if we can do so, if we can show love and peace to everyone else every day, who knows what may happen?

Maybe through such actions we can convince others that He whom we believe in really is who He says He is. Maybe they'll see that He really can change lives, and that He is real... because the best way to tell if something's real is to see what it does, not hear about what it says it can do. And maybe believer and non-believer alike can find a common ground, so each doesn't have to worry about what to say around the other without fear of being misunderstood or judged.

Peace on Earth? Maybe not too crazy a concept after all.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Six Months Later

So today was definitely one for reflection. Six months ago an EF-5 tornado tore through Joplin and nearby Duquesne, leaving thousands suddenly homeless and killing 161 (somehow, only that many died). As I look around Joplin as it is today, it's still obvious something came through, but the devastation is hidden by progress now. Stores have re-opened, homes have been rebuilt and are in the process of being rebuilt, and the community has moved from reacting to looking ahead.

There are still those who dwell on the devastation, and I can't say that I blame them. There are those who see themselves as more of a victim than others; you can see one of my previous posts about those kind of people. But the majority of them are optimistic, even though rebuilding will take another year or so.

What happened on May 22nd, 2011 was a tragedy that I hope will never be reproduced. What happened in the days that followed were a miracle that I wish I could see more of, with strangers looking out for each other and neighbors coming together.

I'm not sure just how to feel about this 6-month mark. Perhaps I'm too close to the story; I've become somewhat callused toward it, but I would imagine you'd have to to keep from going insane. One thing I am sure of, though: I'm proud of the people here, of their spirit, and their dedication to both each other and their community.

I've only been here just under 8 months, but I feel like I'm a part of it too. They are Joplin, and so am I.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Survivor's Greed

I've been noticing a disturbing trend recently on Facebook. I'll see a good story posted about a Joplin tornado victim getting a donation, or a similar blessing, there will be several "likes" and such, maybe a positive comment here and there, but then a certain type of person shows up.

You know this person, although it's not just one or two people. It's the "but... but... but..." type of person. The comments are immediately noticeable:

"That's fine, but what about the other families?"
"So how about that donation be put (insert their place of choice) instead of (actual place) because (reason)?"
"I can think of many other people that deserve this over (name of family this poster doesn't like)."

But usually it starts with "but what about X?" "What about Y?"

Let's be honest, people. We're all adults here. What you MEAN is "But what about ME?"

You see, I've been working in, around, and with the public long enough to know when someone's just jealous, and jealousy is seemingly rampant online, as the not-picked get all uppity about the "chosen" while at the same time trying to sound like they're only interested in the greater good.

"I lost my place in the tornado too, and it'd be nice to have some of that money, but don't worry about me, I'm more interested in (random special interest group even Satan wouldn't say anything bad about)."

Let's edit the above phrase into what the poster really means:

"I lost my place in the tornado too, and it'd be nice to have some of that money, but don't worry about me, I'm more interested in (random special interest group even Satan wouldn't say anything bad about)."

Ah, there we go.

Now, maybe it's just the cynical side of me acting up, but NEWS FLASH: these people were chosen. They didn't do anything special to get whatever special honor/donation they're getting, and I'd be willing to bet they'd rather have NOT lost a home/family member in order to get it. Heck, chances are, they'd be more than happy having not been affected by a friggin' tornado, and let someone else get the blessing.

I lost MY home in a tornado, too. You don't see me crying about it every time someone else has something nice happen to them.

Bottom line: stop whining. Someone else got something you didn't. If you're jealous, be jealous, but don't drag these people down in the process. You're the equivalent of a child whining because someone got a lollipop but you didn't.

Grow up. Joplin's survivors deserve better than that, and survivors that get jealous over someone else's good fortune are a disgrace to how the people of this city have represented themselves.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Problem with Christian Games

As many of my friends know, I'm a gamer. As all of them (I hope) also know, I'm a Christian.

One should not have to be separated from the other, yet plenty of times I've heard criticisms from both sides... gamers who think Christians are "stuffy, narrow-minded, ignorant, weak-minded, delusional, etc.", and Christians who believe games are "of the world, full of temptation, cause laziness, too violent, a waste of time, childish, etc.", you get the idea. And I know I won't change the minds of members of these two extremes.

That's not why you're here today. You're here to engage in a discussion with me about so-called "Christian Games" and why they, frankly, suck. And don't worry, the paragraph above will come back into play soon.

Let's start by looking at some of the most recent releases in the "Christian" gaming market: Guitar Praise, Left Behind, and The Bible Game. These are the three most well-known and highest-profile releases from strictly Christian developers. All three also share one crucial detail: they're pretty bad.

Guitar Praise, probably the best of the bunch, is a Guitar Hero clone featuring all Christian music. Not a bad idea, and it was actually pulled off rather well, with one glaring exception: most of the gamers the developer was trying to reach prefer consoles to PCs when it comes to rhythm games, while this was strictly a PC/MAC release. Perhaps they were unsure they'd get permission to release on the consoles, what with the "controversial" messages of peace and love and hope? Doubtful, since Rock Band actually features Christian music as downloadable content. It was also apparently much easier than the secular games, and lacked the polish they had, but not bad, overall. In fact, the type of game GP is actually makes it the best "Christian" game out there; it's not trying to turn a real-time strategy game into a witnessing tool, it's not trying to force religious learning experiences into being fun. It's just a game, with a fake guitar, playing Christian music. The simplicity in the idea really helps its cause.

Not so for the other two of my examples.

The Bible Game (which I think should've just been named "The Old Testament Trivia Experience" since the New Testament is nowhere to be found and this just barely resembles anything that's an actual GAME) suffers on several fronts, but the biggest is the fact that it seems the developers actually forgot why they were making the game. Many of the mini-games that pop up between trivia questions actually have very little, if any, to do with the actual biblical content they're based on. It's a disconnect that doesn't help their already bland presentation and the fact that many of the questions are actually what I'd consider to be too hard for anyone except a full-on biblical scholar. And the fact that they never touched the New Testament, which in my opinion, actually makes the Bible... well, THE BIBLE. The Old Testament, or at least a large amount of it, is made up of the Torah, which is the Holy Book for Jews.

And finally, the worst for last.

Left Behind: Eternal Forces is a real-time strategy game in the vein of Civilization, Command and Conquer, etc, where you face off against the armies of the Antichrist. It's based off the Left Behind novels, which I love. But I cannot stand this game... the pacing is way too slow at the start, frustrating scenarios (protect a church without firing back at a tank that's... you know... attacking the church), one of the enemy types is "rock musician" (because surely, someone such as myself who enjoys rock music must be evil), the ability to kill people who won't convert (very Christ-like, you know) -- and I'm not talking about violent enemies on that last one, but neutral folks too.

So we've got three vastly different games... you'd think the only link would be their affiliation with my faith. Nope. The other link? None of them were willing to truly be like Christ... they're far too exclusionary, not nearly bold enough. I'd go as far as saying these games (Guitar Praise largely excluded) are videogames' equivalent of the Pharisees.

Let's look at Jesus for a second. Who'd he hang out with? Sinners. Prostitutes. Liars. Cheats. The general scumbags of society... and He didn't get corrupted, didn't forget who He was.

Who were the Pharisees? Religious folk who didn't want to associate with anyone else... they wanted to do nothing more than stand at a distance from the non-believers and simply shout at them that they were going down the wrong path, without being bold enough to walk WITH those people and bring them the understanding that they apparently so lacked.

Now let's look back at these games: made exclusive for a religious audience, to the point that they can feel judgmental to non-believers (especially Left Behind). When you want to learn more about something or get into something you're new at, do you want the people who know about it to welcome you or let you know right from the start that you're an outsider?

A lot of Christians -- especially talking heads in conservative circles -- believe that those who enjoy secular games are wicked, depraved, and surrounding themselves with sin and violence. They believe that the only way Christians can enjoy a video game is if it's "family friendly." NEWS FLASH: THE BIBLE IS NOT FAMILY FRIENDLY. It features murders, wars, sex (go ahead, read Song of Songs), and, oh, yeah, executions via torture. And as I said before, Jesus HIMSELF, who is to be Christians' example, was willing to surround himself with sinners so He might reach them, just as the Apostles did after His resurrection. Last time I checked, the best way to get people to learn about Christ? GOING WHERE THEY ARE AND TALKING TO THEM. You can't do that when you're in an exclusive club, or playing games that are only geared toward believers.

Let's look at some games that are doing it right: Dante's Inferno, Darksiders, and El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron. All three made by secular publishers, for the general gaming crowd. All three feature (gasp!) violence, but also stories with spiritual references and themes. Heck, with the exception of Darksiders (which features a more general apocalypse story than a Biblical one except for the names of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse), they all feature content directly referencing or pulled from THE BIBLE. This is GREAT... it opens discussion between believer and non-believer alike, it plants a seed (you know, something Some Guy once talked about), and they're all good. I mean, really, really, good. Even Mass Effect, especially Mass Effect 1, dealt with discussions about such hot topics as God and abortion in a mature, responsible manner, and somehow also managed to have awesome combat and an epic story. IN SPACE.

The big difference between the first three games and the second three? The latter group is willing to let everyone experience their message, willing to take chances, and willing to deviate a bit into fiction while still containing messages that Christians wish to get across: that God is real, that Jesus saves (seriously, Dante's Inferno is a great example of having Christ in a game without ever referencing Him by name) and that these are themes that everyone can understand and process. Christian game developers need to be willing to come out of their shells and take some risks -- including possibly making games that aren't completely squeaky clean, and Christian leaders need to understand that believers can be trusted to play these so-called "wicked" games; if they're really believers, then fictional experiences won't shatter or shake their faith, and if a believer loses faith after playing a video game, then there should be questions over the legitimacy of their belief in the first place.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

October 18 is Batman Day

At least, that seems to be what DC Entertainment may be framing 10/18 up to be. While Batman: Year One is available now on iTunes and Amazon on-demand, the physical release of the DVD/Blu-Ray is 10/18. Same day as Batman: Arkham City for the PS3 and Xbox 360, which is the followup to one of (if not the) best superhero games of all time. Apparently Game Informer, the magazine belonging to GameStop, is pretty high on the game.

Let's just assume that, while DC Universe Online's Free-to-Play model hasn't launched yet, it may happen on 10/18 as well. After all, DCUO features Batman pretty prominently. You know. Because he's Batman.

I also wouldn't be surprised if we got a new Dark Knight Rises trailer.

So, I encourage you, celebrate Batman Day with someone you love. Or, if you want to go the extra mile, celebrate it while desiring vengeance for someone you love who was wronged while completely ignoring the possible physical and psychological ramifications that show up when you dedicate your life to terrifying criminals.

As for myself, I plan on playing Arkham City while propping my feet up on a Batman ottoman. While wearing one of these.

Friday, September 9, 2011

I Smell T-R-O-U-B-L-E

Some of you will recognize the title of this post. It's the name of a Travis Tritt song.

Hopefully, you've seen this. If not, go read it now. I'll wait.

OK, ready? And for those of you who didn't read it after all, I'll sum up events. Travis Tritt was scheduled to perform a concert in Joplin this Sunday (the tenth anniversary of 9/11), partially as a morale booster for tornado victims, and the concert was to be "free." I say "free" because, let's face it, nothing's free. Everything has a cost, especially throwing a concert for a country music superstar.

Mr. Tritt just happened to find out where that money's coming from: donations to help with Tornado Relief efforts. And he did what any honorable person would've done: he backed out. Good for him.

Bad for whoever the "City Official" is that offered this money for Tritt to come in the first place.

I understand that there was the hope/expectation that through sponsorships, the cost of bringing Tritt to town would've balanced out. But as he said himself, that "hope" isn't good enough, especially to those who lost their homes/loved ones in the storm.

I've only been in Joplin 5 months or so, and I'm ready to come down on someone like a Georgia thunderstorm. I can't IMAGINE how angry longtime Joplin residents must be right about now.

Let's face facts: I'm a reporter, so it's a duty of mine to be as clear and unbiased as I possibly can. It also behooves me to try and keep up a friendly rapport with officials. However, I'm also a citizen of Joplin, and I wish to express the following as a member of the public:

I'm outraged. 

Donations to tornado victims are supposed to go to -- wait for it -- TORNADO VICTIMS. Not for entertainment. Necessities. Food. Clothing. Shelter. Things that, almost four months later, people are still doing without.

Would a concert have been nice? Of course. I planned on taking my wife to it. But not under these circumstances. This is at best a mistake that misuses these funds and at worst flat-out disrespectful to the survivors of the May 22nd EF-5.

Now, the City has responded to this whole mess: “Money from Community Fdn (Foundation) of the Ozarks was used as investment & necessary to secure entertainment for the event. Community members have been seeking sponsorships & it’s anticipated these donations will cover 100% of concert cost. In addition, Text to Give program will be associated with event and proceeds will go directly to the Fdn (Foundation). This event is meant to bring community together as a positive force in moving forward. Our efforts remain solidly focused on rebuilding this community and helping our citizens.”

While I get what they're saying, I still don't think that makes it right. Secure the money BEFORE spending donated dollars, and you won't have this kind of problem.

There are even some criticizing Tritt for making this call, saying if he were a "Real American" he'd come and do it for free regardless. I've got news for those people: a REAL American does things legit. They don't participate in things they don't believe in, and don't take advantage of others. Travis Tritt is a REAL American, and I applaud his showcase of morality and wisdom in an age where many performers and "artists" would just turn a blind eye to it.

If you want to be angry, be angry at whoever made the call to try and pay for the event using DONATED FUNDS.

God knows I am.

**EDIT** The City of Joplin's Facebook page is ON FIRE right now with upset people.

**EDIT 2: THE SEQUEL** The City's announced that while they did request a loan from the fund, they already had $85,000 to put back into it. Which makes me wonder why they didn't just plan on using that money and not even bother with the loan.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Sweatin' To The Graphics

OK, this may come as a shock, but I'm a bit overweight.

Really? Nobody's surprised? Huh.

Anyway, when Lori and I saw EA Sports: Active 2 on sale at Wal-Mart for $25 last week, we figured what the heck, it's $25. If it doesn't work, at least we'll have a nifty strap-on heart monitor to show for it. So later that week, I finally got around to setting up a workout program, putting on the three motion sensors (one for each arm and one for your right thigh) and fired it up.

Oh, man. I was almost dead by the end of the first workout.

The game provides some specific workout programs, or you can custom-build your own. I went with the 9-week strength builder at first (have since gone with custom workouts for a reason I'll go into later), and I gotta say, I'm impressed. Of course, even Wii Fit has the ability to make one sweat, but the difference here is fun. I was sweating, I was sore, and I was having a good time in the process. The workouts are predictable but move quickly, and the activities (workout games such as basketball, boxing, etc) are varied enough to not get repetitive quickly (unlike Wii Fit Plus's boxing program, which I could practically do blindfolded by the time I gave up on that game).

Another big selling point is that the game doesn't force you to be humiliated daily by a piece of plastic. Weighing yourself daily is the only way to get a mark for your progress in Wii Fit; that means every time you workout, you stand on the Wii Fit board, it tells you you're fat, you eventually get discouraged at your lack of progress, and you give up. Active, however, pretty much ignores that part. You can enter your weight on a weekly basis, if you choose. You can also ignore it completely, and still get credit for actually using the product.

Custom workouts are another plus. Yes, this is technically possible in Fit Plus, but it seems to work better in Active 2, at least for me. As I said earlier, I went to building a custom workout after trying the strength building program. Mostly it was because the program wants me to run and jump; two things I'm not necessarily allowed to do since I live on the second floor of an apartment building (and my neighbors wouldn't appreciate a lot of thumping on their ceiling). The variety is very nice, and the fact that you can use music stored on your hard drive (for PS3 and Xbox 360 users) is a big plus... especially when you have hard metal playing during warm-up and cool-down workouts; it just feels MORE AWESOME.

So as a whole, I like what I see. I'm only a little over a week in, so of course this could just be the honeymoon phase, but I can see myself sticking to this more than Wii Fit, partially because we lost our board, and partially because I don't remember enjoying myself as much with that game.

Score: B+. Only way this could've been good enough for an A would be if it supported the PS Move for PS3 users; the game does support the Kinect for those Xbox fans out there (again, uncertain on the Wii version's features).

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Geek Cave Podcast #11: Captain America, GameStop, and DC's "New 52"

So... the latest Geek Cave podcast is live. Listen to it now.


You can always download on iTunes using this link right here. (link may not be active yet; give it a day or so if it's not)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Turning 29 and How to Not Fear 30

So I turn 29 tomorrow. Yippee. Truth be told, 28 can go right to Hell. I had an unbelievable amount of stress during my 28th year on Earth, some of which you know of, some I won't get into, so I'm more happy than usual to see my birthday approach.

I mean, who doesn't like their birthday? People who dislike presents, that's who. Also communists.

Now, that's not to say I'm particularly thrilled about turning 29. My wife won't be celebrating with me as she's over 5 hours away on a business trip (we celebrated a couple of days ago, but of course it's not the same as having fun on the actual day). I'll be working on my birthday (I know, cry me a river, almost everyone has to). And last but not least, I'll be one year closer to 30, and even further into the supposed threshold of adulthood.

But I'm not worried about 30. Heck, 30 should be worried about me.

You see, someone wise once said -- or wrote in a webcomic, I forget -- that now that we're the adults, we get to decide what adulthood means... and for me, maybe adulthood means not taking adulthood so seriously.

C.S. Lewis once said "When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up," and you know what, he's right. We want to be grownups when we're kids, until we find out what that means. And true, being an adult means several things: paying your bills; taking responsibility for yourself, your actions, and those who depend on you; getting a job that allows you to support yourself at least a little; etc.

But adulthood doesn't have to be all work and no play. Heck, it doesn't even have to be boring. If there's something from your childhood you still enjoy -- be it cartoons, comic books, board games, whatever -- I say keep enjoying it. You're an adult. YOU can decide if you're too old to do this or that (within reason... I'm pretty sure adulthood means no longer sucking your thumb or wearing diapers... unless you're pretty far into adulthood, that is).

Sometimes people have told me I'm childish or even called me a "man-child" for enjoying comics and video games. Heck, Kathie Lee Gifford says I should stop playing video games by this time next year or I'm a freak. And you know what?

I don't care. Because I'm an adult and above name calling. You doodie head.

So 30 doesn't bother me. It's a number that will soon define how many years I've been providing a daily supply of AWESOME to the world.

May there be many more.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The 3DS is in Trouble 2: Price Drop Boogaloo

So apparently those 3DS sales are troubling Nintendo more than I originally thought, because they just dropped the system's price by $80.

This also includes 20 free games (10 NES, 5 Virtual Console, and 5 Game Boy Advance) for those who bought the system before August 12th (price cut takes effect then), so early adopters don't feel quite so ripped off. Though they still should, since this shows Nintendo was gouging those most loyal to the company (and thus bought the system when it launched).

So the question is: why? Well, a couple of reasons...

Obviously, sales are not what Nintendo wanted to see. They were hoping by now to see the 3DS setting the world on fire, while the actual results are a little more lukewarm. This price drop, coupled with November and December releases for Super Mario 3DS, Mario Kart 7, and Kid Icarus, could give Nintendo the sales boost they're looking for.

Secondly, the PS Vita is coming out this holiday season, (then) matching the 3DS' price at $250 and offering a PS3-like experience on the go. Nintendo's move means their system is cheaper than Sony's, and we all know how that worked out last time.

Thirdly, the drop off of third-party support the 3DS has suddenly been seeing (see my last blog) means Nintendo needs to not only revitalize interest from a consumer perspective, but give other companies reason to want their software on the 3DS. A possible sales surge could do just that, as some developers could be jumping ship because of the current size of the customer base.

I don't know if it'll work out, but they certainly got my attention (I'll be getting the 20 free games since I bought this bloody thing at launch), and they've gotten the attention of a lot of other people. Only time will tell if the house that Mario built can continue the success they've had in the handheld market since the first Game Boy, or if the 3DS will become the next Virtual Boy.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The 3DS is in Trouble

OK, let's look at a few things:

1) Most expensive handheld Nintendo's ever released? Check.
2) A launch described as "lukewarm" at best and "botched" at ... well not worst, but on average? Check.
3) A series of big-name games suddenly being cancelled? Check, Check, and Check.

So... just what's happening to the Nintendo 3DS? The little handheld system with the guts of a Gamecube that all those game makers were gaga over just a half-year ago? True, systems go through low spots all the time, but this is rivaling what happened to the PSP: developers are excited about it, then promptly forget about it once they realize making games for handhelds aren't as easy as they originally thought it'd be. What's left behind were a relatively small collection of great games, and a mountain of crap. The PSP was supposed to beat the DS.

Looking at the 3DS, I think the PS Vita has a legitimate shot, unless Nintendo turns the tides quickly. Public opinion is the machine's too expensive, many people (including my insurance agent) confuse the 3DS for just another DS (it's not. It's at least twice as powerful), and most people just aren't compelled by the software available and coming up (except for Zelda, Starfox, and Super Mario, two of which are remakes).

Do I regret my 3DS purchase? No. Mostly because it also plays DS games... but I'm hoping the strong third-party support that WAS promised actually shows up.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Geek Cave Episode 10: New Sound, DC Relaunch, and Green Lantern

Podcast Powered By Podbean

The new Geek Cave podcast is up. Hey! Listen!!

Download links:


iTunes (may not be immediately available, but you can subscribe to the rest while you wait!)

THIS is How to Get Nintendo's Attention


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Netflix's Gain, Your Loss

Go read this post.

Done? OK then. Let me explain why this is a bad thing, no matter how Netflix justifies it.

I get that companies need to make money. Fine. It's called capitalism, it's something that's a part of doing good business.

I also understand that sometimes costs go up for businesses. Again, fine.

I don't get, however, how a company that has been able to provide such services, with few changes and massive profits, can decide to suddenly slap existing customers in the face by not grandfathering in their most popular plans and instead forcing people to pay more for the exact same service as before.

Would I be this upset if I weren't already a customer? Probably not. But then, if I weren't already a customer, this would influence my decision on what plans to get.

Can't I just change my current plan? Based on my tastes, no. A lot of stuff I like isn't available to stream.

Based on my internet situation, also no. I do enjoy me some streaming. However, I now have a bandwidth cap of 50gb per month, which would be obliterated quickly if I went to streaming-only.

It's bad enough my utility company continues to do outrageous things (like raising electric rates right after a devastating tornado. And thinking about doing it again.)

It's bad enough that cable and satellite TV just cost too damned much.for little payoff (I'd maybe watch four, five channels. So $50 or more per month for my area, for just basic service, is a little nuts.)

Now what was one of the best values for entertainment is about to get a little less awesome. I highly doubt their bottom line will suffer much, but I know there are many already considering canceling.

I wish I could afford to be one of them.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Joplin Tornado, Us, and You

[The following blog was written by both Darrin and Lori, and originally appeared on Darrin's facebook page. Darrin's thoughts are in blue, while Lori's are in red. When we're both speaking, it's in plain text.]

What a difference a month makes, right?

Never in our lives would we have thought we'd be a part of one of the biggest national stories of the year. And truly, though 158 now have died from the deadliest US storm in 60 years, the aftermath has been nothing short of inspiring. If it's not a story about a miraculous survival, or thousands of people (representing 24 states!) showing up to adopt the hundreds of animals that were left homeless (and they all found new homes, way to go, people!) it's an offer of help, an offer of prayer, an offer of comfort, whether it be from a stranger or a friend. Here we are over a month after a devastating EF-5 tornado that changed everything for a lot of people, including us.

The night of the storm, we were on our way home from seeing our friends Mel, Justin, Chad, and Elizabeth at Mel and Justin's home in Jefferson City, MO. We were about an hour away from Joplin when we turned on the radio, expecting to hear some of the typical programming, and instead heard News Director (and all-around good guy) Josh Marsh talking about catastrophic damage caused by a tornado. Naturally, we listened more intently.

Then he mentioned Joplin. We got worried.

Then he mentioned the intersection where we lived, and how it had been wiped out. THAT hit us. Imagine being kicked in the gut, then forced to run a mile uphill. We sped the whole way home, forced to take a 15-mile detour that cut through some police barricades, avoided others, until we got about two blocks from home and were forced to walk the rest of the way due to the sheer destruction all over. We parked by the School District's offices, which were standing but severely damaged.

Once we got out of the car, all remaining breath was taken away.

It was like a bomb had gone off. The sky was red, and angry. Fires smoldered in the distance, and a landscape that just three hours earlier had been filled with beautiful homes, businesses, and landscaping was now leveled. Nothing left. No stone stood upon another. 

We trudged up Connecticut Street, moving through what was left of people's homes, over downed power lines, past the odor of gas escaping into the air. When we reached our apartment building, we broke down. It was all gone; the brick base still holding, but two floors above having been torn to shreds and collapsing onto our floor. We knew our home was a total loss, but we had a bigger priority: our cat was still inside.

After frantically calling for her, searching each side of the building, finding that one corner of the apartment had completely caved in upon itself, Darrin dove headfirst through a shattered window into what was left of our bedroom and somehow made it into the living room, where Kairi was hiding behind a chair, in a soft "cube" we had gotten her. She was dirty, terrified, and completely unharmed. 

Darrin shouted to me "I've got her!" I was shocked and managed to yell "You've GOT her?!?" and began to sob as I ran around to the busted out kitchen window. Darrin handed Kairi out the window to me and made his way out. We hugged and had a good cry. Our family was still whole. Darrin soon went straight to work at KZRG, getting information out to those who were in more need than us, doing whatever possible to help, not stopping for a moment to contemplate all that had happened until much later. 

That's when the help arrived. 

Mel, Justin, Elizabeth and Chad offered to come down to Joplin instantly... the night of the storm, once hearing we were OK, they had bags packed and were ready to come. They hit town the next day, flanked by Justin's amazing dad J.D. With their help, we were able to save a few items from our home, got temporary shelter for Lori and Kairi, and had the first assurances that it would be OK. They even had a care package prepared for me, with comic books and Superman DVDs (the essentials, of course). 

Co-workers I had barely known before were now united, standing side-by-side with me, offering whatever they had to spare. 

News organizations from across the world - from NYC to England, from New Zealand to Canada - reached out to me as well as several others on our staff. Yes, they wanted the story, but they also wanted to know two things: 1) "Are you OK?" and 2) "How can I help?"

There is no easy answer for the destruction and lives that were lost. We don't always understand why God allows terrible things to happen. But when asked where God is we can answer that God is here and His hand can be seen through the many miraculous stories of survival, sacrifice, help, and love that is being shown to us and numerous others who were impacted by the tornado. Seeing God's hand when we experience good times is easy. When faced with loss and destruction it takes faith to keep seeing Him.

We have received generous gifts from friends, former co-workers, and complete strangers. We have felt the power of tons of people praying for us. A nationally syndicated radio show that our group of stations carries personally sent each staffer who had lost a home cash. They didn't know us; yet they showed us love anyway. Friends organized efforts to donate to Joplin rebuilding, as well as our personal replacement of all we had lost. Chad's church collected a LOT of stuff to donate, and I know many of you also did the same. They - YOU - didn't have to help, yet did anyway.

This is the definition of hope. This is the definition of love. This is the definition of humanity. When tragedy strikes, we prove that deep down, it's not about politics. It's not about who has more and who has less. It's about us. It's about helping one another. Loving your neighbor. Doing unto them as you would have done unto you.

It's love. It's hope.

And it's all because of you.

From the bottom of our hearts, you have done more for us than we ever thought possible. More than we could ever repay. Whether you prayed, donated to the relief efforts, or gave to us personally, you are eternally in our thoughts and prayers, and we will NEVER stop being thankful for you.

You're the reason we can move on with our lives. And you're the very first thing we thank God for every day.

Thank you.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Sometimes, Whining Works

Was gonna save this for a Geek Cave recording this weekend, but can't help myself... I HAVE to go into more detail here.

As you were probably aware, the PlayStation Network was taken down by hackers a while back. Once Sony restored everything, they threw out some free perks for customers that were (rightfully so) miffed over the loss of online play for around a month. Those free perks included a free month of PlayStation Plus and your choice of up to 4 free games (two for PS3, two for PSP).

The only catch? You had to claim these within 30 days. Heck, they even reiterated the date. Surely, that was enough time, right? Who'd be stupid enough to wait until after the deadline passed to claim so much free stuff?

Oh. Right.

So after gamers who were paying NOTHING to play online complained about their OWN failure to download FREE content, Sony extended the deadline, catering to those slothful, wimpering few who didn't have ten free minutes over the past 30 days to at least log in and claim the rewards (they could be officially downloaded later).

Sony, I think that was a mistake. Like a cranky two-year-old in a grocery store that finally does get that candy after making a scene, those gamers have received the same message that kid's parents send to it:

"Make a big enough stink, and we'll give you whatever you want so you'll shut up."

Mark my words, this will come back to bite you, Sony.

Monday, July 4, 2011

New Podcast Incoming!!

You may or may not be familiar with my podcast, The Geek Cave. If not, the latest one is here

That being said, the next episode will have an entirely different sound. With Episode 10, we'll have been doing this long enough to know how to make things sound... well, good

That's why there will be all-new music beds, all-new voicers recorded by the incomparable Kent Harris, and all-new equipment (so we don't have to worry about tricky echo sounds or messed-up settings). 

In all, it's gonna be new, it's gonna be awesome, and it's gonna be geeky.

Join us in a couple of weeks, won't you? You can subscribe via iTunes right now at THIS LINK.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Nintendo: Failing North American Fans?

I know what you're thinking:

"But Nintendo just released Ocarina of Time 3D!"

"But Nintendo's WiiU will focus on the 'hardcore' gamer!"

"But... Super Mario for the 3DS this ChristmaHanukkahWanzaa!"

Yes, yes, yes... but that's for people all over the world. Look at NA, though, these past few days.

First, gamers cry out for localizations (and therefore official North America releases) of three of the biggest unreleased games for the Wii. Nintendo's response? "... nah."

Second, Nintendo announced today the Club Nintendo rewards for North American gamers. Of course, as is what's happened in years past, "Gold" members get a calendar. Which, while boring, is the usual gift. But in years past, Platinum gamers have gotten stuff that is - in a two-word definition - really cool.

Except this year, they get ... pins. Just... pins. No sweet statue. No Mario hat.


                                                         (Not pictured: NERD RAGE.)

Of course, fans have not responded well to this. The West is where Nintendo makes a lot... A LOT of their money. But while the East gets stuff like THIS (go on, just look through the catalogue) for Club Nintendo, and let's not forget about all of the exclusive titles, the West gets (seemingly) left in another castle.

I'll be watching the Wii U launch with great interest. Of course, I'll get another "Zelda Player." But I don't think I'll be too happy about it.

Oh, hey, Internet

I've been getting the writing bug lately, and with my monthly podcast The Geek Cave actually lasting longer than a couple of months, figured it was time to resurrect the ol' blog (previously found here).

So stay tuned, because in the days to come, you'll be able to find my thoughts here on the state of the Video Game, Movie, and Comic industries in easy-to-read, yet hard-to-understand posts!

It'll be fun! I think.