On the Southern Front in #FFXIV

In my latest round of adventuring in Eorzea, I have spent most of my time in Final Fantasy XIV’s Bozjan Southern Front (or Bozjan for short). Bozjan is home to the Blades of Gunnhildr questline where players battle to make and upgrade their Resistance weapon. Resistance weapons are this expansion’s answer to the relic weapons of prior expansions: powerful artifacts upgraded through much effort with unique looks and lots of sparkle.

My Paladin with Excalibur and Aegis, Zodiac Weapons from A Realm Reborn.

Bozjan is essentially a 72-person instance. While there, you progress up the ranks by earning mettle and unlock new areas to adventure. There are exclusive rewards you can purchase via Bozjan Clusters which drop from enemies in the area. You can also participate in FATES (FFXIV’s answer to Public Quests) with other players or queue for special boss fights called Critical Engagements (CE). CEs come in two flavors – 24 and 48-person – and almost always put up a challenge with their intense movement. There are other things too, like one-on-one duels, or completing Castrum Lacus Litore which requires up to 48 people to coordinate an assault on an imperial base.

Castrum Licus Litore looms large over the entire zone.

The Bozjan Southern Front has been a blast. There were some issues with getting people doing Castrum, but that issue was addressed in a recent patch. However, the remainder of the zone has been and continues to entertain me. Owing to its scaling design, I was able to finish leveling three jobs (you can start at level 71) to the game’s current cap at 80 in my pursuit of Rank 15, Bozjan’s current max rank.

There is an entire subsystem called Lost Actions where you unlock and use charge-based actions. I have spent some time with it and I know there is much more I could do. That said, the items used to unlock these actions can be sold on the Market and I am very, very broke. I ship all that I acquire out of Bozjan to turn a quick gil.

The thing about Bozjan that works best to me is how it feels like a MMO. With the instanced nature of the zone, despite being open and large, it rarely feels empty. People actively chat and ask for groups. FATES and Critical Engagements almost always have plenty of people doing them. It feels alive in a way that other parts of the game don’t always share. And, yes, that feeling will be fleeting as the content cycles through its peak relevance, but for now, it feels fresh and fun.

A group of resistance fighters preparing for a Critical Engagement to begin.

More than that, I love that you can actually see players play in Bozjan. When not participating in a Critical Engagement, you can still watch it from the outside of the ring that keeps only those eligible to fight out. In modern MMOs, too often is everything instanced. It makes for a convenient way of experiencing content as a player, but it largely destroys the experience of seeing content as an onlooker. In EverQuest, I used to sit in a tree outside the Crushbone Castle Throne Room long before I could group with players camping there just to watch and chat. In comparison, modern MMOs are always go-go-go and they rarely leave room to just socialize.

Even more exciting, Bozjan features unique content called duels. With these, players successful at not getting hit in a Critical Engagement can be randomly selected to participate in a special one-on-one fight with a unique enemy. Whilst in a duel, like in CEs, other players can watch, but it is only one person dueling at a time. Most players, including myself, gather around the perimeter when possible to watch and cheer on the participant in chat. I have not dueled myself, but I always enjoy the camaraderie that comes with it.

Some may complain about the grind associated with Bozjan and the Resistance weapon questline, but I think it is the best yet relic weapon implementation. Each step requires a special item to act as currency. Those items can be earned in a number of ways including by random chance from FATES while in Bozjan or a guaranteed chance elsewhere. The guaranteed chance requires players to cycle through older content which has kept older zones often stocked with people grinding for their weapons. It is something FFXIV does best: it keeps older content from ever going away for those experiencing it for the first time. It is a remarkable feat given that every other MMO suffers from similar issues.

My Black Mage with the Final Fantasy judge-inspired armor (sans glove and helmet because I need another week) from recent Bozjan content.

My time in the Southern Front as-is is becoming more limited. I capped my White Mage, Black Mage, and Samurai there, but I have nothing else close enough to 71 to grind out. I have reached the max rank and purchased all of the gear you can earn with Bozjan coins. I still need to farm for Bozjan Clusters to get a mount I’d like to have, but I am feeling less and less pressure to do it. I am considering boosting Astrologian to 70 to grind out since I hate leveling healers solo, but that might wait for another tour in Eorzea.

For now, I am content with all I have accomplished and glad to have done so. The Bozjan Southern Front is, strictly-speaking, optional content. Its sole purpose is to keep people playing whilst the expansion winds down and the path to a new expansion winds up. At that, it succeeds in expert fashion. While I skipped similar content before, this is exactly what I want to see in my MMOs on a broader, more permanent basis. Getting it here, even for a limited time, is most rewarding.

A Year Away

My last post here is dated March 6th. It was about a game called Wolcen, a Diablo-like that I have entirely forgotten – save for the strangeness of me, someone who does not like Diablo, enjoying it. We have all had a same or similar year: terrible. Though mine was less worse than most and I feel a strange guilt for it.

In this last year, I have paid off many debts. The combination of less time spent outside our two bedroom apartment, along with the freezing of student loan payments, helped tremendously. It is amazing what forced frugality and the temporary hiding of a loan can do to your financial well-being.

Many of us, including some of you, perhaps were not as lucky. Maybe you lost your job. I did not. In fact, not only did I not lose it, but working from home has made work better than ever for me. My ability to work from home is still temporary though, so one day soon I will have to put on pants and socks on the regular again.

The wife bought a car. She had been using a used vehicle, well-worn and past its shelf life. We probably did not need a new car in the middle of not going anywhere, but her job too was stable and the moment seemed right. I am happy to copilot a vehicle that does not rattle.

I have been happy as her copilot in life too. 2020 was our first year of marriage together. We spent most of it watching movies, shows, playing videogames, etc. We also both began to work from home and setup our guest/computer/cat-room as our new office. Working side by side, every day, and “partying” every night together, I realized that I married the right woman. I hope she feels the same. I added this paragraph just to read to her the parts of this post that mention her. She is looking at me now with a mix of love and annoyance. Alas, that married look!

I kept active on Twitter but not here. I should have posted here more. I hope to start again. There is a strange solace in sending these posts as letters to the void.

That is not to say I do not appreciate any who might read, or that I expect the many friends I have made over the years here and via social media to ignore me completely. Long ago, when I first started to blog, I had dreams of grandeur. A great, talented, and famous writer! They were silly then and I chuckle reminiscing. You should write for the writing. Nothing else is guaranteed. Then again, in 2020, nothing is guaranteed.

My year could have used more writing, but I focused most of my creativity on Dungeons & Dragons. There, for the entire year, I have run my first ever campaign as a Dungeon Master. Each weekend, my sister-in-law and her boyfriend come over to play. I cook; we play. It is all very normal. And, sure, we all wear masks outside our homes where we work 99% of our days. Each meeting was still a risk. Each time seeing family in person is more than some of you have been able – or willing – to do.

None of this pandemic is over. It still rages on, especially here in Florida. We are still taking it seriously. We are still impacted directly or indirectly by those who do not. We have been lucky to avoid COVID in my immediate bubble. My father too has taken it mostly serious. We will be seeing him again soon.

Why share this? Absolution? A call for commiseration and forgiveness? No, just writing for writing. I need to do at least that much again. I have missed it.

Arthur, Ratburn, & A Less Sweet Home

I don’t normally do these kinds of “angry letters”, but this one hit close to home and by close, I mean it hit my actual house. Without redaction, I present to you the email I just sent to the director of programmer at Alabama Public Television regarding his station’s refusal to air a gay rat wedding:

Dear Mr. McKenzie,

It has gotten harder to admit as of late, but I am a native Alabamian. I was born and raised in Abbeville. I completed my basics at Troy University in Troy and finished my degree at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. I am not outsider with an outside opinion.

As a child, I rushed home to turn on Alabama Public Television (APT) and watch Arthur. When the show debuted in 1996, I was just eight years old. Looking back now, I know they were just cartoon animals, but at the time, those characters were much more to me. Arthur’s friends were my friends too. They didn’t look like anyone I knew, but having a diverse group of friends, with different backgrounds, beliefs, and ideals, was not something I really had at the time.

Growing up, my parents decided I would attend a nearby private school. This school was founded around the same time schools in Alabama were forced to desegregate. As such, it provided a more expensive option for white families to keep their children away from non-white families. I doubt that was the conscious decision of many parents, including my own, but because that is where I went and that is where I remained, diversity was only something I saw on Arthur.

I no longer live in Alabama, though I do occasionally see APT when visiting my dad. When I heard what you had decided, I wasn’t shocked. These days, few things shock anymore. I wasn’t horrified either. Unfortunately, that too is too common to have meaning.

I was simply disappointed.

I believe you did what you felt was right. I respect your decision, despite my disagreement, and I understand what a difficult position it must have been. Still, I find your decision cowardly and your reasoning unreasonable. It is the responsibility of parents to parent. If Alabama moms and dads want to continue teaching hate, bigotry, or other evils, then fine. That does not mean APT should avoid the question altogether. You have a duty, as a public entity, to represent the public. To show the world as it is, rather than how a few parents think it ought to be. Ignorance will not put the genie back in the bottle and no amount of wishing will change the fact that gay people exist, and gay children need to know they have as much right to be happy as anyone else.

You could have thrown up warnings or provided some outreach to stem the tide of hate you would have gotten from the hateful. You could have shown it any number of ways, but you chose to not even do that much. In 1996, when kids like me needed something like Arthur in their lives, would you have seen that diverse cast of characters and decided they should all look and act alike?

Perhaps not. Perhaps even asking that of you is wrong. But I see no difference between doing that and doing what you have done. Either way, Alabama is where ignorance triumphs most.

Congratulations on aiding its victory.

Sincerely,

C. T. Murphy

arthur

How Google Stadia Could Have Won Me Over

For this opinion piece, let’s start with the necessary disclosures:

  • I consider myself a Google fanboy: I have owned/continue to own multiple Pixel devices, I am exclusively an Android user when it comes to phones, I have a Google Home product in every room of my apartment, and I even recently added Google Wi-Fi.
  • I think Chrome OS is superior to Windows 10 and would use it exclusively if I had access to the same games and gaming platforms as I do on my PC.
  • I am not concerned with privacy and user data outside of bad actors using said data to steal my identity or cause similar harms. You are welcome to all my Google Cloud recordings of me drunkenly yelling at Google Assistant.
  • I admit Google is probably evil and that my affection for their products is a real blind spot.
  • I also admit that Google should be broken up, if only so that each piece can truly focus on only a handful of products, rather than their whole machine reinvent things they already do (and, in the case of Hangouts, do well) over and over again.
  • Google has been on a downward trend for me and I am less gung-ho about their products than I once was, but at least they aren’t Facebook.

If you haven’t heard, Google Stadia is a new gaming platform that promises AAA titles streaming over a network to any supported device. At this point, details are sparse, but Google is promising a functional, stream-only platform and does not appear to be launching any kind of set-top box to accompany it or make it work better. Like many, I have been less than impressed with the roll-out overall, and I wanted to share what would have made it a more appealing product to me.

Yet Another Platform

One of my biggest problems with Google is their willingness to start over repeatedly. This is most evident when it comes to their various messaging platforms. “Back in the day”, there was GoogleTalk, sometimes called Google Chat or Gchat, which I used frequently within the Gmail interface as an alternative to sending lengthy emails.

From there, Google created Google Huddle, which I did not use, and Google Hangouts, which I still love despite using it less-and-less. Both were associated with Google+, a new defunct social network, but I used Hangouts exclusively for its own sake. I preferred Hangouts over things like Skype because it always seemed to work better, and the interface was cleaner.

For a while, I used Google Fi as my mobile phone carrier, and with that, I was able to use Hangouts as my primary messaging service for online gaming friends who also shared my appreciation for it in addition to using it as my primary texting app for everyone else. I also used (and continue to do so) off-and-on Google Voice, which is a whole other animal that I primarily maintain now for access to a free local phone number for Craigslist transactions.

Google Hangouts began to lose some of its features and moved back to Verizon. On their network, Hangouts no longer did text messaging (I believe this was/is a Google Fi exclusive feature), so I moved onto Android Messenger and briefly flirted with Google Allo (it mostly sucked) and never used Google Duo. None of these work as well as Hangouts used to and they all do different things for different reasons despite not having to.

That is four paragraphs dedicated to one line of products Google keeps failing at. Admittedly, it is one of their most referred to failures, but that does not include all the other splintering they force. A new Android phone comes pre-installed with apps for Google Play, Google Play Music, Google Play Movies, Google Play Games, and Google Play Books. Except for Google Play Music, all these apps are really wrapped up in Google Play itself. Of course, Google Play Music is another can of worms since there is also YouTube Music, which itself is separate from YouTube, with neither being YouTube TV if you happen to also have an Android TV linked somewhere on your Google account.

Google Play: Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere

With that in mind, adding Google Stadia makes sense to differentiate the product. Yet, with so much differentiation, fragmentation, and forking, I feel like adding yet another line further undercuts the lack of trust in Google to follow through with anything. If anything, announcing Google Stadia as another extension of Google Play or in conjunction with a philosophical shift in how the company treats Google Play would have gone a lot further.

For example, imagine if this new product was called, wait for it, Google Play. Along with the announcement, Google revealed a complete overhaul to their digital marketplace and promised to end segregating their services. In turn, they would be able to put the focus on every device and platform within the Google family having access to the same marketplace in a way that I do not think is currently clear enough.

Android, Android TV, & Chrome OS First

Likewise, I would have promised this new Google Play with this new game streaming feature, and soft-launched it as an alternative platform for game publishing across the Google platform spectrum. One of the big issues with Google Play for gaming is the ease in which games can be pirated and distributed on black markets. Despite having a larger global market share, mobile exclusives almost always go to Apple products first because of their superior walled garden.

With Google Play Stadia, Google could leverage their cloud services to provide a gaming platform to all their products that is more secure, more user friendly, and is device agnostic. Anyone with any Android, Android TV, or Chrome OS could play any game on the service and have their sessions and saves carry over.

Google Stadia will likely already be doing this, but I think focusing on Google products first would help get the kinks out of the platform first before launching a premium service option. Plus, it would help shore up the gaming weaknesses of their three major operating systems and give users the impression that Google is in it for the long haul with all three and wants to find even more innovative ways to unify them.

Streaming Reimagined

Beyond finding ways to get around Google’s less than sterling reputation, I also felt Google Stadia was boring. Ten years ago, I was an early adopter of OnLive, a service which mostly worked, but failed to catch on. More recently, I have had success with Sony’s Playstation Now service as well, though I never hear anyone talk about it. For Stadia to standout, Google needs to do much, much more. My idea is simple: leverage playing games in the crowd to recreate couch co-op for a new generation.

For many of us, services like Discord, Hangouts, and Vent before them function as social spaces. Though I did sometimes use them to play games together or coordinate in-game activities, I mostly use these services to sit around and chill with online friends, whether we play the same game or not. When I was a kid, things were different. To play games together, you had to be in the same room. Google Stadia could easily bridge the gap between the two.

Imagine an online-only game streaming service that promises the ability to play single-player and multiplayer games “alone with friends”. Video and voice chat could be directly integrated. Whether you are all playing multiplayer simultaneously or not, such a service would help recreate that “everyone on a couch” feel that is sorely missed in an internet-driven age of socialization.

For example, imagine you are playing a brand-new Assassin’s Creed game and your friend wants to watch AND talk to you at the same time, without any latency issues or worrying about hearing their own voice echoing back at them. He could do this whether he owns the game or even has Stadia downloaded because you are leveraging your broad messaging platforms to let Google users go anywhere in the Google ecosystem. If he is on the Stadia platform and wants to play, you could seamlessly give him control and then be the one watching and chatting while he plays.

You could make these gaming hangouts private or public. They would work on all games, even those pesky ones with local-only multiplayer, and even single-player games that lack multiplayer. The focus would then be on leveraging game streaming to synchronize gameplay, inputs, and video chat across multiple users.

Apply the same features and logic to all the other products on Google Play, and suddenly you can go from watching a movie with friends to showing them a cool part of your favorite single-player game, to playing co-op game while a few others log on to hangout with all of you. Make that work on phones, televisions, and literally any other device, and suddenly the internet can bring people together to do things together in a way that just makes sense.

Conclusion

I doubt Google Stadia will be great though I am sure it will work. I imagine it will get support for a couple of years before falling out of favor. Google will always be doomed to repeat itself because that is the thing they do best.

Sorry For the Break

I apologize for the lack of posts over the last month. I know, I know! “You don’t owe us anything” and, in truth, views since returning were never that high anyway. Still, when life carries you in one direction, sometimes things like hobbies get tabled, but that does not mean your intent goes away. I have felt bad about not posting (and, by extension, not writing), so it is time to get back to it!

Let’s start with a personal update:

  • We moved! Diane and I went from a third floor apartment to … a third floor apartment. It was two days of heavy climbing (~125 floors each day according to my Garmin).
  • The new place is really swank and a huge upgrade. When we first moved in solo together a couple years ago, neither of us were particularly well-paid. After a new job for her and four promotions/laterals for myself, we are in a much better position for something nicer.
  • I finally have a wall-mounted television! It was an adventure getting it up, but I really love my living room setup now.
  • I have been playing Final Fantasy XIV again. More on that another time.
  • We haven’t gotten back into the movie reviews just yet, but I have one I need to post for a film we both loved.
  • Our D&D group should be starting up again soon. I am happy to talk about my new character, a Kobold Detective!
  • I went on a small buying spree and now have better equipment for streaming. No promises, but I would like to do some casually “just because.” My current dream is a weekly/biweekly ~hour of talking to friends while we/I play a MMORPG in the background called “MMOs are Boring”. Not seriously but that’s my default online activity these days so more likely than not!

That is all for now. I hope you look forward to more regular posts again. Thank you all for sticking around!

Thoughts On My New OnePlus 6T

After much back and forth arguing with myself over whether to get a OnePlus 6T or something else, I finally gave in and purchased the phone direct from OnePlus. Twitter friend Marc asked what I thought so far:

 

After less than a week of using the the OnePlus 6T, here is a rundown of my good and bad so far.

Let’s Begin With the Bad

Fingerprint Reader

Without a doubt, my biggest issue with the OnePlus 6T is the in-screen fingerprint reader. I have tried redoing my fingerprints several times, but I cannot get it to consistently work. Compared to the Pixel XL I upgraded from and the Nexus 6P I had before that, I was happy with having a physical reader on the back of the device. Its a cool idea in theory, but the OnePlus 6T’s approach doesn’t seem ready just yet.

A worse fingerprint reader doesn’t make the device unusable, however, but it does change my workflow. Thanks to more consistent Bluetooth, Android’s Smart Unlock features works every time for me on the OnePlus 6T. I have set my fitness watch, which is always paired with my phone and always on my wrist, to unlock the phone while it is near. In other words, I never lock my phone.

For the situations where I continue to use the fingerprint reader (mostly getting into financial apps), it works well enough for me not to complain too much.

No IP Certification

Most flagship phones are IP certified for water resistance these days. The OnePlus 6T is an exception. While I have read that OnePlus made the phone water resistant, but didn’t want to pass along the increased cost of getting the certification to consumers, I cannot know that for sure and without certification, I have no guarantees. Far from being a deal breaker, I just dislike the unease.

Odd Rounding

The OnePlus 6T likes its curves. While I love the teardrop notch, the top and bottom ends of the screen taper off oddly. On some apps, the edges are cutoff from the tapering, but never to the extent that it makes anything unreadable or unusable. It is just weird and when I notice it I cannot unsee it.

The Speaker

This one is probably a bigger negative for those without dual, front-facing speakers on their current phones, but I really miss the speakers on my HTC One M8 sometimes. It’s not that I like to listen to music without headphones like an asshole or that I always use speakerphone like an asshole or even that the speakers on the OnePlus 6T are bad. I just hate paying for a new phone and getting a downgrade.

Considering I was already used to a poor quality speaker again from the more recent Pixel XL, I knew I could live with whatever OnePlus 6T had. For the record, I do think this monospeaker is genuinely better though downward facing speakers on the bottom of a phone are stupid.

Now the Good

The Screen

I was worried about having another 1080p screen, but I have no complaints. It is a beautiful panel. It is also AMOLED, which I absolutely love since I favor dark/night modes whenever possible anyway and almost always have a predominantly black wallpaper.

I would’ve liked to have gotten an upgrade here (something like the 120hz on a Razer phone or a more pixel-dense, luxurious screen like on Samsung devices). At the same time, I wasn’t unhappy with my Pixel XL’s screen and this one is better, so I can’t complain.

The Camera

I am not a photographer. Outside of pictures of my dog and cat or grabbing a photo of an item I want to sell on Craigslist, I rarely use my phone. I allowed myself to be suckered into the original Pixel for its camera and, as much as I appreciate a great camera, a good one is all I really need. Paying a premium for just the camera made no sense to me.

And the Great

Oxygen OS

The OnePlus 6T arrives with Android Pie, which I was already using it. For my last two phones, I went with as close to a stock experience as possible. I love the Android OS and I hate seeing it re-skinned or overrun with bloatware. The biggest reason I have avoided Samsung products is because of my disdain for their additions.

OxygenOS (the name for OnePlus’s version of Android Pie) is complimentary to stock Android Pie. It doesn’t lock you down to proprietary updates that rarely get updated. It also doesn’t burden your system with a ton of extra, useless features.

Even better, OxygenOS has its own approach to gesture controls which are far superior to classic Android (back, home, recent) and the controls Google is forcing with the Pixel 3. The Oxygen OS controls are closer to what you see on Apple devices, so you get to free up the real estate from where the navigation bar normally sits. Plus, if you don’t like it, you still have the two other options to switch to.

Battery Life

So far, I have been unable to get the OnePlus 6T’s battery below 30%. I am sure I could if I deliberately tried, but considering its huge capacity and the efficiency of Android Pie, I would have to go out of my way to drain this thing. Even better, the quick charge system OnePlus uses for their phones has my phone back to full or near full in twenty minutes.

The Cost & Performance

I wanted to upgrade my phone last year, but I held off for the Pixel 3. After seeing the specs for the Pixel 3 and its cost, I had serious doubts. My doubts were briefly assuaged when I first held a Pixel 3 – it felt perfect – but before I could give in, the OnePlus 6T was announced with Verizon support and I never looked back.

If the Pixel 3 and the OnePlus 6T were the same price, I would’ve purchased the Pixel 3 only because I could go touch one in a store and it was a known quantity. The OnePlus 6T was a bigger risk. Every person who has seen my phone asks me who makes it and not a single one of them has heard of OnePlus.

That said, after using a OnePlus 6T, the Pixel 3 could be a hundred dollars less and I would still go with the OnePlus over it. Spending less, I got twice the RAM (8 GB) and twice the storage (128 GB) with the same processor. For my money, I also got a bigger battery and more screen real estate.

I haven’t tested my OnePlus 6T with gaming too much yet, but I have no doubt that it will play everything I throw at it. I was surprised to learn that OxygenOS has something called Gaming mode. You can enable it on a per app basis to answer all calls on speakerphone, block notifications so your game isn’t interrupted, turn off automatic brightness so you can crank it up and kill your battery faster, or limit other apps from taking up your precious network speed if playing online. In theory, it is a great idea and if I were more serious about Android gaming, I think it would be something I would really appreciate.


All in all, I couldn’t be happier with my purchase. The OnePlus 6T continues the trend of being a better phone than the last one I bought. With the extra RAM and current processor, I know I can get several years out of this phone. With the price, I know I will have it paid off in the next six months. I absolutely recommend it for anyone looking to upgrade in late 2018.

Questions or comments? Let me know in the comments below!

N-O-L-A NOLA, No No No No NOLA

Apologies for my delay in a new post! After posting every day for Blaugust and my recent change in positions at work, I needed a vacation from everything. That said, let’s talk about my vacation to New Orleans.

Neither Diane nor I had ever been the New Orleans, despite not living very far away. I don’t think we knew what to expect either. We planned very little in advance, preferring instead to go in whichever direction our adventure took us. We had a few things we wanted to do though: we both wanted to eat something good and Diane wanted to take us on a ghost tour.

On our way to Louisiana, we stayed overnight with Diane’s cousin in Alabama. Nothing noteworthy happened, though it was a pleasure seeing family. I like her cousin a lot. She has a gigantic POP! Figure and movie collection, which was fun to peruse. She also made us a delicious rice dish which I gratefully ate two bowls of before taking a few more bites out of Diane’s.

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Did you know about Jefferson Davis’s dog, Traveler? He was later reborn as a giant sphere in the hit game Destiny.

Driving into Louisiana the next day, we knew we were heading in the right direction when we spotted an alligator dead on the highway. Talk about roadkill! In the South, we worry about hitting deer since they are numerous, roads are especially dark, and most of the state is un(der)developed wilderness. I cannot imagine what it would be like to hit something as low and heavy as an alligator.

We arrived too early to check into our hotel, so I drove down toward the French Quarter instead. That was a mistake. I wanted to visit the hat store (spoiler, I didn’t buy a hat) right away, but the streets there are narrow, there is no parking available, and people were constantly walking back and forth across those narrow streets. I hate driving in that kind of environment, especially when I do not know where I am going, so we quickly turned around and found the first paid parking lot ($15!) and just walked.

The first big surprise for me was the number of people walking around with an alcoholic beverage in hand. I suppose I am far more conservative than I realize because the sight was quite shocking. I am used to drinking being limited to socially-acceptable drinking spaces; not drinking as you wander from bar to bar or kitsch shop to kitsch shop. The number of places advertising “cocktails to go” in absurd sizes (fishbowls, as an example) made me immediately think that New Orleans is Disney World for alcoholics.

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Mmm, hurricanes!

Beyond the free flow of inebriants, the French Quarter was quite beautiful. I loved the Old World architecture, especially as it was blended in with new stores and store fronts. I have never been to Europe (or France specifically), but I still got that vibe from the images/movies I have seen.

After parking, we wandered around on foot until we found the hat store. All weekend long I had trouble using Google Maps for walking. The internal compass of my phone always seemed askew and every time I thought we were going the right way, we weren’t. When we finally found the place, I was first elated with the selection and then I became disenchanted with how everything looked on my head. For years I wanted a beard but it never “looked right” and now that I do and it does, I remain hopeful that my same want for a proper hat and my similar inability to get one that works will one day be a thing of the past. For now, I range anywhere from douche, to old man, to cheesy tourist depending on the hat. Never do I look cool.

After our sneak peak, we went to our hotel to check in and get ready for dinner. The hotel was nice, which was a plus, because we mostly got it for a) free parking and b) its proximity to where we wanted to go. I was a little concerned when we first got there because it is immediately next to/behind a small hospital, but it was quiet.

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I am a sucker for a good soft-shell crab and this one was delicious!

Our first meal was at Gabrielle’s, a restaurant resurrected after its destruction by Hurricane Katrina. It was a small but intimate place not too far from the hotel. The meal came with free bread. Each time they brought us a loaf, we’d devour it and each time the waitress would ask if we wanted more. The couple next to us barely touched theirs but it was too delicious not to keep getting more. I kept giving them a side-eye for being bread-ignoring weirdos.

Overall, the meal was good, but I doubt I would go back or recommend it to anyone else. Of all the places we would eat, it was easily the most “frou-frou”. As such, it came with small portions and big price tags. We were both disappointed in the bread pudding. It had enough alcohol left in it to still burn as it went down your throat. It tasted more bitter from the booze than sweet from anything else. I am sure some people enjoy their desserts the same as they like their shots of bourbon, but I have always avoided those kinds of desserts. It reminded me of my Aunt’s rum balls she brought for Christmas: pleasant only if you like the challenge of eating enough of them to get a buzz.

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From there, we walked back to the more fun parts of town. Most of the weekend, we opted to walk at least to where we were going and Uber back to the hotel when we were done. That way, we avoided going down unknown streets late at night. My dad, who admits to being a New Orleans fan who lived nearby for many years, made it clear to me that we should be very, very careful late at night. I felt less worried when we arrived, couldn’t remember where we parked, remembered it was near a police station, googled for the nearest station, and found at least six. There were police everywhere we went including some on horses, some on bikes, and some in SUVs.

Despite doing a ton of walking (we hit 25,000 steps one of the days), it was a lowkey weekend. We enjoyed wandering around all day and night. On Sunday, we got trapped in by a gay pride parade, which was great because we eventually found a place to stand and watch. With that going on, it was easily one of the gayer weekends of my life. I always thought of New Orleans as a place to see lots of boobs. We walked by Coyote Ugly and there was a white girl poorly dancing on the bar top to an empty room. Instead, we saw a lot of butts and, if the butt wasn’t exposed, then it was a bear in short-shorts.

And it was so much fun! A gay man hit on me, err, hit at me. He told Diane, “Honey, you better keep him close”. I was exhilarated. No one ever hits on me and I have never had a man hit on me. Sure, it was a little scary to be checked out by a hairy, shirtless man drinking on a stoop late at night in a strange city. Still flattering. I think the world would be a better place if unsolicited flirtation was more equitable for both sexes (and any other persuasions). In a single moment, my straight white male self gained a much better understanding of the paradox of how a compliment can be both welcome and unwelcome.

The parade itself was, to be cliched, fabulous. There were belly dancers and gay luchadores and Elvises and elves and other costumes I cannot explain. For the S&M portion, I felt like I was watching Beast Master only on a broken television where blacks and grays were turned to all the colors of the rainbow. I loved watching Beast Master as a kid and I imagine some of those fellas did too, albeit for slightly different reasons.

There was an anti-homosexuality group marching as well, but they were small. They also got booed like heels at a wrestling event. There was another hate group with a bullhorn on a different day, but we let them be and kept going our own way.

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I have to hand it to hate-mongering bigots, they are comfortable being outnumbered.

Later the same night, we did our one and only walking ghost tour. Diane was most excited for it, but I was less so. The big draw for me were the BOGO hurricanes for going. I have to say though, after having done it once, I would go again. Less a “haunted hay ride” with jump scares and more a history/folk lore lesson, it was a ton of fun. Our tour guide was very nice and informative, but the biggest highlights for me were all the drunken crazies that kept interrupting us.

For instance:

  • When she was explaining she could lose her tour guide license if we didn’t stand on the side walk, a fake fight broke out across the street where one drunkard broke a bottle and brandished it at another drunkard. Our tour guide let us know not to do that as it would be an easy way to get arrested.
  • We were twerked at by a very drunk man.
  • Another individual called us a bunch of fags as he rode by on his bicycle.
  • A drag queen interrupted us to talk about a famous man who lived across the street from where we were standing. I hadn’t heard of him and do not recall his name.

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LaLaurie Mansion

I learned a lot about voodoo and vampirism and how they relate to New Orleans. I snapped a few photos to see if I could get any “orbs” (I am not too up to speed on the ghost hunting thing) but no luck. At the end, the tour guide advised us to remove our wristbands since they were clear indicators that we should be mugged so we did.

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As wholesome as New Orleans gets!

Beyond the walking and discovering my bicuriosity, we also ate great food. Diane is less familiar with Cajun and Creole cuisine – I more or less grew up eating this kind of stuff – so we stuck to the staples. We got a debris po’boy from Mothers, a popular spot that had a long line. It was delicious. Think roast beef but more intense and served on fresh bread. We also tried New Orleans coffee (a crushed ice, milk, coffee, and chicory blend that was pretty tasty). Finally, we sampled several gumbos at several places, as well as an etouffee and a jambalaya. The weather was drizzling off-and-on, so all the warm rice dishes were welcome despite it being a hotter/more humid time of year.

As much as I will forever treasure the experiences we had, I don’t think New Orleans is the place for us. I’d love to stop by again, but I doubt we ever directly go there. I would do more ghost tours and other walking tours, but the city’s focus on drinking and nightlife is less what I want in a vacation. I never was a big partier, not even in college, and it was hard finding some of the quieter, calmer spots to relax. I loved a lot about the city and am grateful it exists, but visiting once is all most people will ever want to do when it comes to New Orleans.

New Orleans Bound

The last day of Blaugust and the first day of vacation. For the first time ever, Diane and I are visiting the Big Easy, New Orleans. And I am excited! My father always fashioned himself as something of a Cajun, so growing up I ate a lot of gumbo and similar faire. This is our chance to taste the real thing.

I also have intentions of purchasing a hat. Diane won’t allow me a fedora, (no m’ladying for me) but I am hoping to find something else that isn’t a baseball and/or trucker hat. We will see. There’s a fine line between old man and douchebag …

Stay tuned for more about our travels!


This post is part of a series of everyday posts for Blaugust. If you’d like to know more, click here.

Writing on a phone

We are at dad’s this weekend for his birthday. No internet here, so I am writing this on my phone as it switches back and forth between LTE and 3G. I feel like I am texting the internet.

It is fun going home on occasion. Dad decided he still wanted to cook instead of going out (first decent restaurant is 45 minutes away). We are having a low country boil, Diane’s first.

Thankfully online streaming technology has advanced enough to allow some downloading. Internet be dammed, I am prepared. If that fails, then it is back to basic cable on one of two televisions in the entire four bedroom house.

Nothing really changes in my hometown. Well, other than Alabama’s richest citizen buying more real estate. Everytime I come home, Dad points out something else that Jimmy bought.

On the positive front, Dad is finally starting to think about selling the house. I know it is hard for him keeping up such a big space after Mom. He is typically the sentimental type so its a big step.

Dinner’s ready! Time to stop texting everyone.

Blaugust Regrets

My biggest regret of this Blaugust so far has been my inability to participate beyond my own posts. In past blogging events, whether Blaugust or otherwise, I was able to make a real effort to read and comment more. This time, I have been lucky to get anything posted at all some days.

I miss it too. I miss how many of us would link to one another’s posts and comment in our own. I miss the debates about MMO mechanics or other things. I wish my job and other duties didn’t take me so far away.

Not that I have the same energy either. Writing about MMOs bores me. They do not change and no one wants to make them anyway. It would be nice to write about other things that many of you share a passion about but other things inspire less “blogospheric pressure” to reply.

If you would be so kind, please help me out. In the comments below, feel free to link a post from this event you are particularly proud of or, if you are a new blogger looking for someone to read everything, share a link to your blog overall.

I promise I will read everything that is shared!


This post is part of a series of everyday posts for Blaugust. If you’d like to know more, click here.