Friday, November 24, 2017

Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp Review

Anyone who has followed my blogging since I began will know that reviews are not my thing. I find them difficult to write, but a new app has caught my attention and when I first heard about it, I knew I had to play it. Nintendo has finally released their new mobile app, this time based on their popular Animal Crossing series, for iOS and Android. This is a franchise of games that I thoroughly enjoyed over the years.

Animal Crossing is a franchise for Nintendo systems (4 games for four systems) where your character moves into a village and buys a house, does favors for the animal neighbors, like gets them things back from other neighbors, plant flowers, go fishing, catch bugs, buy furniture for your house, and even trade on the "stalk market" to make more Bells (the money in Animal Crossing). Yes, the way I've described it makes it sound very mundane, but there is a charm and fun to this series that people have enjoyed for quite a while. It's more of a daily hangout type of game rather than an action-driven one. There are different special characters who visit periodically (to sell unique in game items, and offer gifts and services), and the holidays (in the original Gamecube version) are marked by visits from other characters (Jingle the reindeer and Franklin the turkey, among others). It's a fun playing experience, and when I heard they were planning an iOS and Android version of this game I couldn't wait to see what they had planned.

And then it came out...

Nintendo released Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp for iOS and Android. It looks and feels, on the surface, like another game in the franchise. It contains many of the familiar characters and objects and sounds. There are some marked differences between the console versions and this new version. This time, the game takes place in a campground where the player takes on the role of campground manager. The player makes friends with the different characters, builds up friendships with them, and invites them to the campsite. The campsite has a big area for characters to sit, sleep, or play with stuff. The player also has a camper that he/she can customize and furnish (more on this later). I had high hopes for this game.

First of all, I was not at all surprised to see that Nintendo would make it "free to play", which basically means that you can download it and install it and play the game just fine. In order to move the game along quicker, though, the player can opt to purchase in-game currency, Leaf Tickets, for real currency. Yes, there are two different currencies in the game. Bells are the money used to buy items in the game itself. They are earned by selling items or by doing favors for the animals in the game. The other currency is Leaf Tickets. These are earned by achieving goals in the game or by leveling up. These are used to speed up the gameplay. Where an item of furniture purchased might take eight hours (real time) to complete, the player could opt to spend a number of Leaf Tickets to forgo the time and get the item immediately. They are also used to get special items that are only around for a limited time, like two different chairs to attract two different very popular characters. These cost 250 Leaf Tickets each, which is hard to get and they're also expensive (600 Leaf Tickets will cost you $20.99). Again though, I understand Nintendo wanting to make money, so I won't fault them for this.

This game, going back to the original Gamecube version, there was a social aspect to the game. While it wasn't online, a player could have as many villages as he/she had memory cards for the system. When a new village was created it had only one kind of fruit tree and a small shop run by the friendly Tom Nook. There was an ingenious system where the player could travel to the town on another memory card. That town would most likely have a different fruit, the player could leave a note or gift for the player on the other memory card, and there was different stuff in the store to purchase. Also, the player could interact with the animals in the other town and then they would send letters and gifts and maybe even move to the player's village. It was a brilliant system that got better and better with each iteration. In the Wii version, the players could interact and even talk to each other if they had the microphone.

This new mobile version of the game contains exactly none of that. The player can visit another player's campsite and give kudos and that's it. No interaction with the player or with the animal characters. There's no shop to visit when visiting another campsite and there's nothing else to do either. Players can't even leave each other messages or give each other gifts. Players do have a market box, but they can only sell fruit, fish, bugs, and shells. Furniture and clothing are not allowed to be sold. By the way, there is no difference at all if players become friends within the game.
As the player makes his/her way through the game, they meet new animal characters and bring them stuff that they want (fruit, fish, bugs, and shells) and the player is rewarded with materials to build furniture or amenities. There is a friendship meter which is a good addition to the game, and once they hit a certain friendship level, they can be invited to the player's campsite. Before they will come, the player has to buy certain furniture because the animal characters are picky, have certain demands, or have a thing about feng shui (this is a common thing in Animal Crossing games). There are also "amenities" like tents and sets that are built, but they appear to only be used to increase the maximum friendship level of the animal characters. It's a common app trope it seems that in order to buy one thing, the player must pay to upgrade another thing to a specific level. It gets tired.

This is the part of the game that really takes me out of it. In the original games, furniture was purchased for the player's taste. There was a contest each week and the player would win Bells or other gifts for the design of his/her house design. Now it's nothing more than a "collect everything" type of game. Collect all the furniture, friends, fruit, fish, bugs, and shells (or so it seems). In the originals, the animal characters would reward the player with items of furniture that he/she could trade or sell. In this game, rewards are building materials for more furniture.

There is a market place with one of the Nook kids and the seamstress who sells clothes (and there is a shoe salesman who replaces her for a day). The Nook shopping area is very much like the original games in that there only specific items available for a period of time (I'm not sure if it's each day, or if they change every six hours or so). The Able Sisters' shop is a cut back version of the original. There are only three items available for the same period of time as Nook's. In the original, the Able Sisters offered shirts, hats, umbrellas, and flags that could be hung outside the player's house.
The player also has a camper that he/she apparently uses to get from place to place. It's very much like the house in the original games except that it's pointless. The house was where the player saved the game, and was rewarded for good design, and also where items were stored (there were eventually three stories to the house including a basement). The camper is sort of that, but there's no real reason for it. The animal characters gather at the campsite and don't even pay attention to the camper. I will suppose that it's simply a way to replicate the center point of the original games.

The campground is split up into different areas for different purposes. In the original games, the entire village was the playground. There was a lake, a river, trees, rocks, and a sea coast. There the player could fish, catch bugs, gather and plant fruit and flowers, cut down trees, and meet all of the characters. In the app, there is a beach area for fishing for sea fish and pick up seashells, there is a river area for river fish (there is no lake), there is an orchard to gather fruit, and an island to catch bugs. There is no planting of fruit or flowers here, and no chopping down trees (the axe is at the campsite and not usable). Fruit trees grow back in three hours after shaking them clean of fruit, or the player can spend Leaf Tickets on fertilizer to make them grow back immediately. In the original game, the trees took a couple days to replenish fruit, but there were way more of them. Then there's the quarry where the shovel comes into play. The player either needs five friends or twenty Leaf Tickets to enter the quarry to break rocks for treasure that are then exchanged for Bells. Also, I think the player earns some building material to buy more furniture.

The Good:
The game scratches that itch of Animal Crossing and makes me want to reconnect my Wii and play one of the console versions of the game. As Scott Johnson mentioned on Twitter, it feels more like a mini game. The touch control of mobile devices feels perfectly natural to the game, and it is cross platform. I have an iPad and an Android phone and I can play on both devices, but Leaf Tickets do not transfer between devices unless they are not removed the player's mailbox.

The Bad:
Nintendo found everything in the original Animal Crossing games that made them fun and charming and stripped them away in order to make a typical world builder (Simpsons Tapped Out, Futurama whatever-it's-called). The actual improvement of the friendship meter is totally negated by the need to buy furnishings to please the animal characters and bribe them to the campsite.. Frankly, if I have to buy new furniture for every friend I make, I don't think I want those friends. When it comes to real-life friends in the game, the inability to have interactions beyond a seemingly hollow gesture of kudos removes the social aspect of the game. If Nintendo is using this app as a vehicle to bring people to the console version of the game, then I think people who have never played an Animal Crossing game before will be scared off by this app.

The Unknown:
The game has only been out for a few days as I write this review. So far, as mentioned above, there has already been one new character introduced (the shoe salesman), so I'm guessing there will be more (possibly Sahara and Redd). There might be room for expansion and updating, but I feel that the core game as described will remain intact. I can't see them adding the post office or allowing players to interact when they're online at the same time.

My advice is, if you like Animal Crossing already, you'll get a bit of enjoyment out of this game. If you've never played any game in this franchise, do not use this app as the basis of your judgement, there is so much more in the console versions. I also advise to play it as is and don't spend your real life currency to buy in-game currency. Let's all hope that there is a new game coming soon for the Nintendo Switch in the near future.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Frustration of Unemployment

I fear I've become jaded and bitter in my unemployment. It is, after all, the third time I've been in this position, so I suppose it might be understood. I've noticed that this time around especially, there are a lot more "recruiters" and cold calls this time around. It's like somebody figured out how to make money off of the unemployed. On top of that, a lot more insurance companies have attempted to make me a's a hint...not gonna happen.

The latest company to call me might be legitimate, but I'm too suspicious to find out. I get a call from this recruiting company based not in my state and from what I believe to be an overseas call center. I am not making this judgement based on the ethnicity of the caller, but the fact that an hour later I got a call from another person claiming to be from the same company and offering the same job, but from a different phone number (same area code). Prior to the second call, I decided to look up reviews for this company. This is where my spidey-senses start to tingle.

I belong to Glassdoor, which is a pretty decent job search site. They do company reviews there and I looked up this particular company. They had positive reviews and negative reviews as one might expect, but the positive ones made me do a double-take. All of the reviews were in the same format, The header was a job title in quotes, under pros it was one sentence to the effect of, "they are a good company to work for" and under cons it was something like "no complaints so far." The negative reviews are something else entirely and they go beyond a dissatisfied worker.

Most of the time, a complaint about a placement service would involve misrepresenting the job that was offered, the pay was not what they said it would be, the contract was too short, or something else that could fall under the "live and learn" banner. No big deal. Reading reviews for this company, it appears that people have been harassed late in the evening, called in the early morning hours (there are laws against that). Complaints that they don't call back once they get your information (apparently they sell it), and people who have apparently stated that they filed complaints with the FTC. Now, children, I have been upset with recruiters and placement services in the past, but I have never even thought about bringing in a three-letter government agency into the discussion. That was about the biggest thing, but there were some other small things that set me off as well.

When a person does the job of a recruiter, they are normally paid a commission, so it would make sense that even if they work for a company, they would have a presence on LinkedIn. At the very least they come up in a name/company search on Google. These folks don't. They appear to be nameless, faceless cogs in a bureaucratic machine...or they make up fake names and call people based on job board searches.

I suppose that the moment I grew suspicious was when I realized that this seemed too good to be true. When I said what I was looking to make, the actual amount was higher that that. They just needed my updated resume and the reason I was no longer working at my previous job and they could get me applied to this job. Seemed a little too...I don't know...easy?

Anyway, I think I'm going to stick with companies that I have either worked with in the past and are actually local to me. I will also apply to jobs that I find on my own and not take phone calls offering me everything I want.

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Robo-pocalypse

They're not even good-humored
like Bender...
Wait for's coming. The robot uprising that is feared by many and written about in dystopian stories is clearly on the way. It won't be a violent takeover, though. We won't even suspect anything, but before we know it, we will be enslaved. And it all starts with the phone.

A call to the State Department for Unemployment confirms this. They make unsuspecting human callers jump through hoops and navigate an automated phone tree that always ends up in the same place..."Visit our website." But people keep calling back and trying different combinations trying to get in touch with a human being, even trying that oh-so-predictable zero trick. Press "0" and get a human? They're onto us and they will take over soon.

People, heed this warning. Don't try using the phone. It's how they get into your head. You will end up in an infinite loop of a phone tree. Don't do it--

Wait...I was wrong. Continue using the phone. Keep calling. I assure you a human will answer. I was being silly.

--Definitely the author and not a robot.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Misconceptions About Unemployment

Unemployment is not all hockey trophies...
Alright! Unemployment again. Time to live it up and party like I have no responsibility since I’m getting free money on the taxpayers’ dime. I’m just gonna sit around, eat Doritos, and play video games for the next six months. My bum ticket has been punched. This is how some folks look at the unemployed. We’re sitting around, collecting free money, and going on vacations while they toil away in the salt mines for sixty hours a week. Can I help dispel some of these misconceptions?

First and foremost, it’s not “free money”, but a fund paid into by virtue of working for at least 18 months (in the state of Ohio, that is). Also, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve worked 18 months or 18 years, you get the same amount of money based on your income for the past year and a half. That is, 50% of your average for six months. Essentially, three months pay. Also, the bills don’t magically disappear when you lose your job. They become magnified and loom larger than life. Expenses have to be cut in other areas.

I’m not eating DoritosTM, though I might be eating the off-brand equivalent, but those are still a luxury. While I was looking for the sales and specials while I was working, now it becomes a necessity. I have begun shopping at Aldi more often, because they have far lower prices than anywhere else I shop. I’m not eating lobster and filet mignon (more like hot dogs and fish sticks, and not even good fish sticks, the ones made with the eyes and gills). I am, however, playing video games. That’s because I still need to be entertained and maintain my sanity. I already own my video games, or I traded in games in order to get a game I want.

Job hunting is not what it used to be. No longer do you get dressed up in a suit, or khakis and a polo, and hit the pavement and hand out your resumes business-to-business. I know, there are some people reading this who aren’t old enough to remember this method. If you did this today, you would be told to go online and fill out an application. That can also go by the name, “SOLICITATION,” for which there are city ordinances written about it. So my mornings are spent with coffee and the internet looking through job postings and the rest of my day is trying to stay busy (the house can only get so clean). Also, there’s the matter of the unemployment website.

...and reuben sandwiches.
The Unemployment website is a gauntlet of probing questions and frustration. When I was collecting unemployment the last time, I had to keep a record of the jobs I applied for. Now they ask for the names and addresses of two companies that you applied to in the past week. Finding two jobs to apply to that you actually want to do is not as easy as it seems, especially if you’re only in one field of work. Luckily for me, I have two avenues I can apply to, but even then, it gets pretty late in the week before I see something I might be interested in. I am not going to apply for any and every job I see, because I want to do something that I will like to do.

Whether or not I was required to look for a job while collecting UC, I would still be looking for a job. That’s because the money is finite and the bills keep coming.

I am signed up for five different websites for job searching. You might think that I am five times more likely to find a job. Well, not quite. You see, the same jobs appear on every website. Also, there are plenty of other listings. These listings are called “come-on ads” and they’re used to get you into a temp agency office and into their database where they can offer you work for not-quite-the-amount that was stated in the original ad (most likely, considerably less). Also, they will add your name to several other databases as well and you will be offered all sorts of jobs doing what you don’t want to do for far less money than you can survive on.

No, unemployment is not a party and I’m not “living it up” in any way. Personally, I would much rather get out of the house more than I do and do something that will earn me money. If it wasn’t for having a girlfriend, I would have no personal interactions outside of my own family. That’s part of the reason why I didn’t normally take a week off from work at a time. I got bored. I preferred long weekends. So here’s to hoping that I find a job soon, so I can start taking long weekends again.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Well, That Took An Unexpected Turn

"Life!? Don't talk to me about life." --Marvin, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

It's peaceful shade of blue. Cerulean blue.
Three days after my last blog post, we had a staff meeting at work. Needless to say, it's now former work and myself and four others received a spiffy, blue folder with things to sign in order to end our employment. Yes, I am now laid off, currently waiting to file my first unemployment claim for the third time since only July 2001. I'm really hoping this doesn't go too far and I find myself collecting a real paycheck soon. I have plenty of applications out already.

I removed everything to clean.
During this unexpected period of downtime, I had a chance to do my big fall cleaning (I keep the house clean, but I don't always scrub walls and move large piece of furniture). I did the downstairs first, then the office, and finished with what is supposed to be the easiest space, the basement. Well, it turns out that my sump backed up and I have some water coming up from the floor. It ruined a section of carpet, two end tables, and has rendered my basement somewhat unusable for social occasions. Even though the work wasn't under warranty, I am paying back warranty payments and getting the work taken care of at no additional charge.

Wet and dirty carpet.
I'm probably going to participate in NaNoWriMo again this year since I have a few ideas all bubbling up at one time, but I have to figure out which ideas to actually use. Or maybe I could take this mess of vastly contradicting ideas and turn it into one completely nonsensical novel. We'll see. It works for some authors out there.

Finally, I went to see Pixies on Tuesday night and it was fantastic. I know, you're wondering how somebody who just lost his job and is preparing to collect unemployment can afford to go see a concert. Well, the ticket was purchased many months in advance and there was no way I was giving it up. The band played for a solid hour and forty-five minutes with no breaks and no banter. I went with regular commenter on this blog, Veronica, because her husband didn't want to go. She was also responsible for getting the tickets.

So, that's life for now. I will keep you updated on my job hunt and my basement ordeal. You know where to find me on the internet, so follow me.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Update on Life, the Universe, and Everything

If you read the latest post on Jason Writes Here, you will have already found out that he will be taking a sabbatical from Smooth Sailing. That doesn't mean that the podcast is going away, but that there will be a focus on non-Yacht Rock until May. We may do an episode here and there dealing with yacht rock songs, but for the most part, it will be me and guests discussing favorite songs of all genres. There will be a special Christmas episode coming up where we will discuss some truly awful yacht rock songs. Stay tuned for that.

Odo and me (I'm the tall one)
Since I started dating Stephanie, I have been going with her to dog training pack walks with her and her two dogs. I've never been what you would call a "dog person" since I was never raised around dogs and have always been nervous around any dogs bigger than my foot. Since I've been going, I have a new found confidence around not only her dogs, but all dogs, which makes me feel good. Also, the pack walks are a good source of exercise and they teach some valuable lessons in pet handling.

The year has been going really quickly. It's almost mid-September, which means hockey season is coming soon (preseason starts in a few days as I write this), baseball season is winding up (and I have postseason baseball to watch), and I have my first ever fantasy football team (no money, just some trash talk with Steph's family). It's also time for some fall couple bullshit, as we call it, like hay rides and apple picking, and all that silly stuff.

One final bit of podcasting news, Oliver Rockside, Steve Cloutier, and I are doing the In Search Of... podcast series over on The Illuminati Social Club feed. Because you might find it interesting, we record two episodes per week which is why we are waiting until all episodes have been released to answer questions and comments. We will wrap-up the episodes of season one in early November and probably take at least a few weeks off before starting season two. I am also doing "regular" ISC episodes in there, including two that I did with Brent (only one has been released so far). We will be doing The Showhole, whether anyone likes it or not. Anyway, that's what's going on in my life.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Wrapping Up Eclipse 2017

I went down to Lebanon, Tennessee knowing exactly what to expect. I've seen the photos and videos on TV for many, many years. I've listened to astronomers describe eclipses in full detail. So there was nothing to be surprised by, right?


I can see why ancient people would have been freaked out by the eclipse. While the way the surroundings are lit appears to change some during the partial stages, it's subtle to the eye and happens gradually, over a period of an hour and a half. It's only in the span of four minutes or so that everything changes drastically. It goes from daylight to twilight in a matter of a minute. Streetlights come on, bugs and birds freak out, and it appears to be sunrise or sunset all around you. To witness it in person is definitely a treat.

I have heard people say, "Science takes the awe and wonder out of things by explaining them."

Flowers are still beautiful even though we know the processes that make them grow. When it comes to eclipses, I'm glad to know that they are not signs from gods in order to register their disappointment. If they were, I might have hid my face and cowered in a corner instead of taking photos, or I wouldn't have even known about it and certainly wouldn't have traveled 500 miles to see it. That's the beauty of science. I know that I don't have to leave town for the next one, since it will be in my backyard (it's up to weather if I actually see it). I know the place, the date, the time, and the duration of totality thanks to physics.
Duration: 2 hours, 29 minutes, 34 seconds
Duration of totality: 3 minutes, 51 seconds
Partial begins: Apr 8, 2024 at 1:59:17 pm
Full begins: Apr 8, 2024 at 3:13:38 pm
Maximum: Apr 8, 2024 at 3:15:35 pm
Full ends: Apr 8, 2024 at 3:17:29 pm
Partial ends: Apr 8, 2024 at 4:28:51 pm
This is the solar eclipse information for Cleveland, OH. All times EDT. The times are NOT subject to change unless there is some catastrophic event that affect the sun, moon, or earth. So write these in stone because they are not changing.

If you have a chance to see a solar eclipse in person, go see it. It is worth it. It was worth a 1000 mile round trip by car, and two vacation days from work.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Self-Driving Cars

"I'm a damn good driver and I'll be damned if I'm putting my life in the hands of a computer!" This rant has probably been texted from the driver's seat of a vehicle doing 65 MPH down the highway. Or it was uttered an hour after the person uttering it rear-ended a police car while watching a cat video on YouTube.

This is not a self-driving car.
Human beings, for all of our successes, are still clumsy, slow-to-react, and easily distractible monkeys who have no business being on the roads behind the wheel of a two thousand pound rolling battering ram. Cars have served us well for the most part, but with the growing number of them on the road and adding the complication of "go anywhere computing" known as the cell phone, this is a dangerous combination. Sadly, asking people to put down the latter is a lot harder than giving up the former. So, we need self-driving cars.

No, not for some of the people who want them, for EVERYONE. That's the way it has to work. People are dangerous in cars and if there's an accident between a human-driven car and a self-drving car, my money is on the human being at fault. Computers can react a lot more quickly and they don't care about checking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any other social network to see how many people liked that picture of their cat eating a peanut butter sandwich. Cars are better drivers than humans because all they do is drive.

Humans don't just drive. This post was conceived in my mind as I drove to work this morning which isn't necessarily a good thing. We look around, we think about what we have to do when we get to where we're going, we adjust the radio, check our speed, check our phones, talk to our passenger, complain about that guy trying to cut us off. WE ARE DISTRACTED! and we suck at dealing with distraction.

Self-driving cars operating on a mesh network would eliminate the need for traffic lights and stop signs. There is an excellent video by CGP Grey that looks at the fundamental problem of traffic and the possible solution. SPOILER: We're the problem. Self-driving cars are the solution.

I'm not calling humans dumb by any means. Humans have come up with some amazing inventions, and are currently working on self-driving cars. Here's the thing, humans as a collective do everything marginally well, but a computer can do one thing exceptionally well. That's what we want. We want a car that can monitor traffic around it, it's speed, and alter its course on the fly to get its destination in the shortest time possible. That's what all of the cars on the road are doing too. For a self-driving car, that's the extent of its ability. It won't make small talk, change the radio station, or yell at other drivers on the road.

There are plenty of concerns to go along with this idea. There's security and safety, and there's a matter of morality built into the AI. I will get into these in a future post.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Blog and Podcast Separation

I've started a new blog for blogging and kept the original blog for podcasting. This is because if I decide to write a blog post on the same day I post a podcast, some people may not get the podcast and miss out on my dulcet tones in their earholes. So, here is AlienCG's SGMR Blog. I really wish there was a way to separate them on the same site, but that doesn't appear possible. Luckily, Blogger is free and I can start as many blogs as I want. So I now have three (Podcast, Blog, and ISC). I have moved the main blog posts off of the podcast site and moved them here, along with all comments that have been made so far. Hopefully this will not be an inconvenience to anyone. Thanks for your understanding.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Eclipse and Prophecy

The eclipse of 2017 is nearly upon us, and like all eclipses prior, there are the usual “End of the World” crackpots to go along with it. There are some who point to the “fact” that the eclipse will only be visible in the United States, which is true, but it’s arbitrary. The eclipse would be visible from this continent whether or not the US had been founded or not. This eclipse didn’t just pop up in the past few months, either. I’e known about it since the early 90’s personally, and astronomers have known about it for far longer. Eclipses are not omens, they are calculable occurrences and we know when they will occur for the next thousand or so years.

A couple years ago ended a period of the “four blood moons” or, less ominously, four total lunar eclipses in succession (no partial eclipses between). This was known about and has happened a few times times in the fairly recent past (1967/68, 1985/86, 2003/04, 2014/15) and it will happen again in most of our lifetimes. Eclipses are quite common, with solar eclipses occurring more frequently (although they last a much shorter period of time). The end times nuts were around this last time, at least, and I’m going to bet they were around for all of the previous ones, too. They seem to pop up for every time a celestial event happens.

Eclipses, alignments, retrogrades, and other celestial occurrences have zero effect on people’s personalities, their love lives, career, or anything else, especially not our planet. These things happen and we know when they’re gonna happen down to the minute and second (although, the further into the future we go, the timing will have to be revised). How could these be seen as omens or portents if they can be predicted well into the future? If a solar eclipse occurs on the full moon, then I might take it to be a bad sign if some other explanation cannot. The eclipse coming up on August 21 is taking place on the new moon, which is exactly what should happen.

Nothing earth-shattering is going to happen because of this or any other eclipse. Maybe something will happen on earth that could be considered earth-shattering, but it will not be because of the moon passing in front of the sun from the point of view of the earth. Nothing would happen if all of the planets lined up in a perfectly straight line because the combined gravitational effects of all of the planets and their moons as well as our own moon are totally dwarfed by the gravity of the sun. Rest assured, nothing will happen because of the eclipse.

Also, eclipses are not a sign of things to come either. They are not omens or portents because they don’t just “pop up” unexpectedly. I have been looking forward to this upcoming eclipse since I was in grade school and thinking about how old I would be when it happens. 2017 seemed an eternity away. Here I am now, and I find myself thinking about how much has changed since 1985 when I was 11 years old. That will be another post. My advice is simple, enjoy the eclipse wherever you are. If you can’t make it to the path of totality, you will still see an amazing show.

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Nostradamus Effect

There was a time when I thought that the Prophecies of Nostradamus were something to be revered and respected. Whenever there was a war or a disaster, or 9/11, a quatrain from the seer would be dragged out and analyzed and it would be determined by guys in capes with bad haircuts talking on the "History" Channel, that it had been foreseen. Wow. Amazing. This guy who lived many centuries ago saw the collapse of the Twin Towers, the rise and fall of Hitler (even missing his name by one letter), and the first Iraq war (or was it the second?). Yes, whenever something major happens in the world, it turns out that Nostradamus had already seen it coming.

WAIT! Hold on just a cotton-pickin' minute!

The major thing happens AND THEN we see the prophecy? That's not how it's supposed to work. A prophecy is supposed to be a prediction of future events, not a reporting of what has already happened. That's called news. And actually, reading some of the "prophet's" quatrains, they don't necessarily describe future events as much as past and current events can be shoehorned into them to make them look like prophecy. That is precisely what has been happening all along.

Somehow, after a major thing happens, a quatrain is referenced and shown how it precisely manages to describe every part of the event with laser-precise accuracy, down to the date and time of the event. However, when one of these "scholars" is asked about future predictions out of these quatrains, it becomes quite vague and murky. Suddenly, the precision is completely lost and it suddenly becomes a range of five to twenty years, and the location is somewhere on a continent.

Shouldn't a prediction of future events actually be a prediction? What good is it if we're told that "bad thing" will happen between now and 2025 somewhere in western hemisphere? So, I have a challenge for the Nostradamus believers out there. If you're truly a scholar on Nostradamus, then make a prediction of a future event with the same precision as he supposedly predicted events that have already happened. I will be generous and give you a window of a week and geographical precision within a region of a country.

Nostradamus was either a fraud for money (a prophet for profit, if you will), a political writer who got a sweet gig acting like a seer or scryer, or just insane. My money is on the second (if I actually gambled). I personally think his writing were a sort of political blog written in a coded language that spoke to the proletariat and was meant to look like prophecy to the upper class.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Cryptolocker (Repost from Nov. 2013)

I originally posted this back in November 2013. Unfortunately, when I closed down the old site, I lost the original post. Fortunately, I backed up the database of posts I had made and reconstructed the post as it was.

By now, most people have heard of CryptoLocker, a nasty piece of "Ransomware" that encrypts the document and jpeg files on your hard drive and then gives you a period of four days (up from three, I believe), to pay a ransom of $300 US or 300 EUR, or 2 Bitcoins (there are reports saying it is down to a half) to obtain the private key required to decrypt the files.

All I've known about it to this point was what I read in accounts by others, and listening to Security Now! on the TWiT Network. That is, until episode #431 of Security Now! when the host, Steve Gibson of, announced that he had obtained a copy of the malware (it wasn't CryptoLocker, but then he did get it) and asked if anybody wanted to "play with it" he would send them the file. I decided to take a chance and he sent me a link to the file. I have an old netbook that was doing nothing but collecting dust, so I installed Windows 7 on it and then I added some photos and documents to the drive so it would have something to work with since I wasn't sure if it only targeted the Documents folder. Then, nervously, I extracted the .exe file and double-clicked it. I was expecting something immediate, but nothing happened.

Image 1
(Image 1) The top two processes are CryptoLocker, and the CPU usage will pin at 100% during the initial process. These processes cannot be stopped.

I had to leave the house for a few hours, so I left the computer running while I was gone. When I returned home there was a message on the screen...
(Image 2) The Netbook has a small screen, but there is a "Next >>" button at the bottom of the window.

Image 2
I originally tried the test in Sandboxie, but when I ran it and nothing happened immediately, I decided to run it in the clear. The first successful test took place in the open, unprotected right on the hard drive. In order to get the computer back to normal, I reinstalled Windows 7 and insured that there was no sign of the malware. Then I installed 7-zip (to extract the file) and Sandboxie, and ran the malware in the default sandbox. Doing a quick calculation from when I left the house and the time remaining on the countdown when I came home, I figured it would take 15 to 20 minutes. Sure enough, the window above pops up. Also, a sandbox window pops up telling me that there files ready to recover. It appears that CryptoLocker copied the files from my entire hard drive and encrypted them within the default sandbox. I closed the Sandboxie window without recovering and went into the sandboxed Documents folder. There I found all of the same .xls, .rtf and .doc filenames (I've read that it's upward of 60 different file types affected), but upon opening, were nothing but gibberish. Back outside of the sandbox, my files were in perfect shape. I then went the main CryptoLocker screen and clicked the Next >> button (not seen in the picture), and checked out the "Convenient Payment Methods". MoneyPak (USA only), Ukash, cashU, and Bitcoin (most cheap option). According to Steve Gibson, the payment options are hardwired into the program and this is an old copy of CryptoLocker.

(Image 3) The Bitcoin screen. Needless to say, the CryptoLocker folks will not be getting any money out of me.

Then I tried one last test on this infection, I emptied the default sandbox. I kept the Task Manager running when I hit delete and the two processes that were CryptoLocker went away. There was no sign of it anywhere. I let the computer sit for a while, I ran system updates, opened files, and surfed the internet. It was gone.

I shut the computer down overnight while CryptoLocker was still running in the sandbox, but when I started the computer in the morning, CryptoLocker wouldn't run. So, I emptied the sandbox and ran it again.

This is not an ad for Sandboxie, but it is the best known free sandbox program available. As I have demonstrated here, it can protect your files from CryptoLocker and can be cleared out quickly and easily. Would I run this experiment on my main PC which contains tons of at-risk, work-related documents using Sandboxie? If I had to, sure. Will I? No.

I would not recommend running this experiment at all unless you are willing to take the risk or are a professional (I am not the latter at all). The only reason I did it is because I happened to have a computer laying around doing nothing. I also kept careful watch on my main computer's Task Manager, but it does not wander around the network apparently.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Leave a Comment

I can't do anything about this screen
It appears that some people have had a bit of trouble commenting. I allow Anonymous comments, although I may not take them as seriously unless I can figure out who you are. Your best bet would be to use the Name/URL selection from the drop-down menu. If you don't have a URL, use since it links back to this website (or use a random Wikipedia page for added fun).

I turned off word verification, but I can't turn off the "I'm not a robot" check thing, so you're on your own there. I would prefer if you used some sort of name so that I can reply to you personally.

Thank you,

The Management

Monday, July 17, 2017

Where's That Kiss Episode?

OK, so one casualty in the move to the new blog is the SGMR Special #1: The Good Side of Kiss that Oliver and I recorded back in April. Well, it is still alive and now appears on The Smooth Sailing website, thanks to Jason. I have posted the link below to the new page for it as well as Special #2: The Not-So-Good Side of Kiss.

I was not willing to take any chances and have that podcast get DMCA'd on, so I asked Jason to post it on Smooth Sailing. Anyway, if you haven't listened to both of these, this is a good time to catch up.

SGMR Special #1: The Good Side of Kiss

SGMR Special #2: The Not-So-Good Side of Kiss