I haven’t checked in with my faithful readers in a while. I apologize for that. It’s been a long couple of months, with job hunting and household chores taking up a lot of my time.
So…I’ll quickly review Final Fantasy XIII, like I promised I would. The game is beautiful. The first thing you will notice is just how fantastic the graphics are. We are nearing an age where video game visuals are near photographic in quality, and FF XIII is yet another huge step in that direction.
The game’s story is fantastic and a lot more character-driven than previous iterations. The characters grow on you, even ones that start off being somewhat annoying like the ever-perky Vanille. The gameplay is the weakest aspect, but the battles are still fun and fast-paced enough that only controlling one character in combat is still enough to keep you on your toes.
Overall, I’d give the game an 8/10. It is below average for a Final Fantasy game, and the game’s changes will continue to polarize the fandom for years to come, but it’s still a great game that I would recommend to any JRPG fan.
Now, as for Firefly…you don’t really want to torture me with more of this crap, do you? Well, I’ll torture myself for your benefit. Because I like you so huggy-muggy much. The next few episodes will be done this week. I think. I’m sorry, it’s just that looking forward to these torture sessions is next to impossible. Whenever I sit down and get ready to watch one, I always find something I’d rather be doing or should be doing. The show is terrible, and it isn’t showing any signs of getting better.
Frontier Elementary School here in Payson, Arizona, is a performing plus school. It is one of three elementary schools serving the Town of Payson. It’s a rather unique school in terms of layout. The school is divided into domes that double as both classrooms and all-weather PE halls. My mother-in-law volunteers there and sometimes I join her, eager to obtain some classroom experience before I test the waters of a degree in education. The children here are remarkable, and the school has some of the lowest class sizes I’ve ever seen. The class I serve in, a small room full of bright third graders, has only eighteen students. Even this small amount is enough to keep the teacher, myself, and my mother-in-law on our feet most of the day.
As most of you might know, public education in Arizona has seen brighter days. From kindergarten all the way up to the state universities, budget cuts handed down by the Republican-dominated state legislature have sent administrators scattering to fill the gaps. Here in our small town of about 18,000, the result has been enormous layoffs. The school district no longer has any librarians. The vice-principal of Payson High School was laid off less than one year before his scheduled retirement day. Even with a budget override of $1.2 million passed by the town, the schools have been told that all of them will have to make do with shared principals, reduced staff, fewer teachers, and larger class sizes. Nine faculty and staff were laid off last month. Had the override failed at the ballot box, the result would have been close to 30. Worse yet, there is no word from the local school board on whether or not these positions will ever return.
Arizona Prop 100, a temporary one-cent sales tax increase sent to the ballot by the Arizona legislature and Governor Jan Brewer, is a needed measure to help balance the budget without resting the brunt of it on the backs of our educators and public safety officers. Education is a fundamental part of a successful economy, moreso than just about anything else. Should this measure fail, the coming onslaught of cuts would decimate the system beyond repair. The cost of doing nothing would be a lot worse than one penny on every dollar spent. Frontier Elementary, a school that has become rather dear to me in the short time I’ve been in Payson, would be on the chopping block permanently. Its 200+ students would be uprooted from the school they enjoy and forced to go across town to Payson or Julia Randall Elementary, bloating the class sizes there by perhaps as much as 35%. The hardworking staff would be out of a job. I can’t imagine the prospects would be much brighter in other parts of Arizona.
Do I think hiking sales tax is the right answer to solving our budget woes over the long term? NO. Arizona needs to get serious about corporate and property tax rates and ending its over-reliance on a shaky, regressive form of revenue. Sadly, the right-wing extremists who’ve controlled the state legislature since 1993 are not inclined to get tough with their pals in corporate boardrooms across our state. Hell, most of the state legislature didn’t even have the testicular abundance to pass the sales-tax hike themselves despite seeing the trouble the state is in financially. Instead, they were too busy passing bills prohibiting centaurs, dehumanizing people and denying them basic rights, and revoking sensible concealed carry laws. These robots have never seen a spending cut or deregulation they didn’t fall in love with, and they’ve never seen a tax they didn’t want to end forever. They are the root of the problem.
That’s why I present this appeal to you, readers in Arizona, to preserve our schools, our highway patrolmen, our streets and our social safety net. Get out to the polls on Tuesday, May 18, and vote YES on 100. And then, on November 2nd, kick out the bums who didn’t have the nerve to pass this themselves.
In order to be awesome, I have decided to write out this blog post using the fine piece of technology I am reviewing. This is made possible through the very effective and efficient WordPress app.
As a rather strident Apple skeptic, the only reason I even entertained the idea of getting an iPad was because the University of Arizona bookstore decided to be generous and allow interested customers to come in and charge the device to their bursar’s account. As a lover of technology and a curious party to this device, I decided to go ahead and try it out. At $499.99, the machine is far from an impulse buy, but what the hey, I thought? I was leaving the University later this week anyways. Might as well get myself a going away present as well as something I might be able to use for my upcoming tenure at University of Phoenix.
If you want the short and sweet of it, here it is: The iPad is going to change the way a lot of people look at computing, possibly forever. And that may or may not be a bad thing. This device does just about everything. It is more than an oversized iPhone, and I cannot recommend it enough to just about anyone who wants to do more with their computing and has the discretionary income to do so. You may not be able to figure out a use for it before it is already in your hands, but trust me: you will eventually. And then you will wonder how you ever did without it. While I must stop short of calling it a fully-functional computer, it is so close to one that many PC users will not be able to tell the difference.
Unboxing an iPad is an experience in itself. You tear the shrink-wrap off the cream-colored box, open it up, and there it is in all its glory. One pull-tab later, the device is in your hands and (almost) ready for use. The sly devils at Apple have made iTunes, a service I am very mixed about, a mandatory part of having an iPad, and you cannot even get to the home page without going through the iTunes rabbit hole when you boot it up for the first time. The iTunes asks if you would be so kind as to let it sync all your music, movies, and pictures to the iPad, but at a mere 16GB and already being the owner of another device devoted to multimedia, I took a pass on that.
iPad then whisks you away to the home page, which looks exactly as advertised on the box and a lot like that of the iPhone. You’ve got your image of choice in the background, and a bunch of little square icons in the forefront for all kinds of exciting tools. Notes, Calendar, Safari, Contacts, and so on make up your factory-loaded apps, but the real strength of this beauty lies in the tantalizing offerings in Apple’s own App Store. The programs in the App Store allow you to customize the iPad to do anything you want, from being a gaming system to a work tool to a New York Times digest. Or all of the above. While I have yet to download any paid apps, I am very satisfied with several of the free offerings. These personal apps show up on a second page you can access by sliding your home page left with the touch screen.
And before you ask, yes: The iPad has one of the most sleek, functional, responsive, and polished touch screens you will find. Everything just feels right and it makes for a truly pleasurable experience. I have not touched my laptop since I got this, and it’s not because it does anything that my old machine couldn’t. It’s because using iPad is exciting and fun, and it could not be either of those things without a solid interface. Typing can be on the sluggish side, but it’s forgivable.
The screen on this thing is HD, high-resolution, and beautiful to behold. The Netflix Instant app allows me to stream movies in HD, which is fantastic. The colors look good, the pixels are crisp, the zooming utility is very sharp, and it is clear that Apple went out of their way to perfect this aesthetic. It’s also not a pain to stare at the screen for hours at a time the way doing so with a laptop or desktop monitor is.
Now, on to my criticisms. This device is lacking one of the most important tools for multimedia in today’s Internet, and that is Adobe Flash. Without it, a great deal of the things that I personally do on the Internet (watch That Guy With the Glasses, Spoony Experiment, play Armor Games etc.) have to be done on my laptop. It has been said that this is because Apple distrusts Flash’s rather considerable CPU intensity, but to completely remove it from the device seems a little harsh. Also, you’ll need to download the Facebook app to use it, because loading the site in Safari creates trouble for Facebook chat and generally slows down the entire device.
Another problem is the lack of multitasking capability. You can have apps keep multiple things going, but you can only look at one at a time. The iPod app allows you to play music while performing other tasks, but that’s the limit of this thing’s ability to really keep up with strenuous use.
Are these marks against it enough to outweigh the benefits? No. The iPad is fantastic at serving as a bridge between computer and smartphone. I firmly believe that Apple will carve out another market niche that imitators will only be able to vaguely mimic. And I believe that anyone who peruses the Internet and consumes multimedia like I do owe it to themselves to try out an iPad.
October 31, 2006 was 41 months ago. Think about that. The number one rock song in the country was “When You Were Young” by The Killers. I was a single 17-year-old kid addicted to watching Naruto and working for $5.15 an hour at a Sonic Drive-In on the far east side of town. It was also the last time a Final Fantasy game had seen the light of day. Final Fantasy XII for the PlayStation 2 came out that day to generally positive reviews. It took them over three years to release the next chapter in the venerable franchise, which comes out March 9. I’ll be holed up in my dorm room playing it until I’ve beat it. Then, I’ll review it right here for you. Because I like you a lot.
I realize I haven’t been as diligent in updating as I should be, and I sincerely apologize. College is crunching me on one side, work on the other, and the biggest day of my life is less than three weeks away! It’s easy to see why I haven’t had a whole lot of chances to get this thing updated.
I gave Borderlands a 7/10. It’s a good game, but single-player it just seems so bland. It doesn’t help that the entire planet of Pandora is ugly to look at and there’s not a whole lot of interesting stuff going on in it. Just fetch quests and the occasional boss.
Anyway, Final Fantasy XIII is less than a week away. You have no idea how much I’ve been looking forward to sinking my teeth into the world of Cocoon. So far, reviews have been reasonably positive, but they were also pretty positive for Final Fantasy XII. I did not like FFXII much at all, so it remains to be seen if FFXIII is better.
I went and saw James Cameron’s Avatar yesterday evening with Jennifer. That movie is quite the visual odyssey, and it shows exactly how far movies and special effects have come from just a few years ago. In 2005, Star Wars Episode III was raved about as the pinnacle of CG achievement. Avatar blows that right out of the water. And despite the similarities to other movies like Dances With Wolves and Pocahontas, it stands on its own as a marvelous and beautiful piece of cinema. I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone. If you don’t go and see it in theatres, you’re missing out. This was a movie meant to be enjoyed in the darkness of a theatre with 3D glasses and a tub of popcorn (or in my case, a box of M&Ms).
I’ll try to squeeze in time between football and homework to get the Discovery review done. Don’t be too razzed if it doesn’t happen, though.
“I was standing on a wall, feeling ten feet tall…”
As you can probably plainly see, I’ve made a few changes around here. The blog has a new look and feel to it, a new name and a new purpose.
After much deliberation and thought over the course of the last several months…I’ve decided to request a discharge from the Delayed Entry Program of the United States Navy. I was hinting at the possibility when I discussed the DEP meeting yesterday. I really didn’t want to go. I walked into my only class today, American National Government, and walked out with my mind made up: I want to finish college before I begin to build a career. I realized that if I joined the Navy the chances that I’ll be able to come back to college with the same amount of financial aid would be slim. Even the GI Bill might not be enough to offset the loss in financial aid and the boost in tuition costs that would occur after six years.
I’ll be sending the DEP discharge request to the recruiting station tomorrow. Before anyone retorts: yes, I understand that I should have been absolutely sure I wanted to be a Sailor before I signed on the dotted line. At the time, I thought I was. Then my habits and personality caught up with me, and I realized that not even the promise of a military career could help me shake them. I’m still a geek at heart, one that loves having lots of free time and has good prospects on the horizon. If I play my cards right, I should graduate with a below-average level of debt. I don’t really need the military and, with so many other people sorely wanting to get in that have no other great options, the military doesn’t really need me. It’s a fair exchange, I think.
I won’t say I’m not embarrassed or regretful that I’m not going to see this through. That would be a lie. I’m definitely not looking forward to meeting with the (probably rightfully angry) recruiters, but what can I say? I’m doing what I think is right for me and my fiancee. I’m not entirely sure I would have survived the top secret clearance check because my father fled the country five years ago. Having family members outside of the United States can put the brakes on a TS clearance approval.
The first person I told the news to (besides Jennifer, of course) was my friend Aaron. He wasn’t dismayed at all. He thought I was making the right choice. In his own words: “You are a smart, smart man.” It’s the best reaction I could have hoped for. I’m not entirely sure he’s right.
So, I now turn my attention to the next order of business: what do I do with this blog, now that the “Sailor” part has been removed? I guess we’ll find out as we go. I intend to move forward with my dominion over this little corner of the internet. I hope you’ll continue to follow me as I weave through life. I’ve got the biggest day of my life coming in less than two months. I can hardly believe it. If you’d have told me in March of 2008 that I’d be married two years later, I’d have thought you were nuts. That’s something to look forward to around here. I’m still reviewing games, as well! The Assassin’s Creed II: Discovery review is my project for this weekend, I promise!
On with the show. Oh, and if you have any better names for the new incarnation of the blog…by all means, please share them. I think we can do better than “Full-Time Gamer,” don’t you?