Apr 30, 2015

Rob's World! CampaignRob's World! D&D Campaign - Character Flaws:
I run a Face-To-Face D&D campaign, and I spend plenty of time working on the campaign. Recently (During the month of Apr, 2015) I generated two unique/new character flaws (ref Unearthed Arcana rule book, pages 91-92) for one of the players in my campaign. In this case, I worked very closely with the player in order to craft some very specific 'Character Flaws' to fit his character. The two flaws in question were: Bipolar Disorder and Spontaneous Undead Visitation.

Flaws are like the flip side of feats. Whereas a feat enables a character to be better than normal at performing a task (or even to do something that normal characters can’t), a flaw restricts a character’s capabilities or imposes a penalty of some sort. A player may select up to two flaws when creating a character. Each flaw a player selects entitles his character to a bonus feat. In other words, when you create a character, if you select two flaws, you can also take two bonus feats beyond those your character would be normally entitled to. See the referenced PDF for the campaign specific rules regarding these flaws.

Wilkerson PassWilkerson Pass - Road Trip:
A 'Photo Gallery' update. Recently (in April of 2015), I made some photos available on F*book. Two of those photos were 'Postcards' (see links below) that I created using source photos I took back in August of 2013. The postcards, and several other photos used to be published on my website using a 'Photo Gallery' application that I have since abandoned. Why did I give up on that software? Well, that's a long story, and you can read about it on a different web page. The important/relevant news is that I've recovered those photos, and they are now available on my website - once again. After making thos photos available (for the third time (not just on F*book anymore)), I've decided to repost the original 'Wilkerson Pass' information (under the April 2015 blog), because that's when I made them available on F*book - after I published two 'Postcards' that I produced from the original photos. I hope you enjoy the photos and the 'Postcards' - Now for the original article about Wilkerson Pass...

What a great day for a road trip. Warm temps, clear skies, and gas prices have dropped a bit recently. This weekend Kim and decided to take a little day trip. Here are photos from that recent outing (on the 11th of Aug, 2013). We took a short drive out to Wilkerson Pass, Colorado. Wilkerson Pass is (elevation 9,504 ft) located appx 50 miles west of Colorado Springs, CO (along U.S. Highway 24). Pikes Peak of the Front Range is located to the east, and the Collegiate peaks of the Sawatch Range are located to the west, just beyond South Park (a region of Park County in Colorado).

We embarked on this day trip in order to get some photos of an aspen stand for a big photo/painting project that I'm working on. I managed to get a lot of photos and we had a good time on this short day trip (left home around 0900 - returned by 1600). You can check out the photos at my Gallery Page, or see some of the finished photos below.

Colorado's Crazy weatherWacky Colorado Weather:
And the weird weather just keeps on coming... While I was toiling away in the dungeon they call 'work', Colorado's weather was misbehavin'. On Tuesday (the 14th of April), the temperatures got all the way up to 74 degrees (that's Farenheit in case you're wondering). On Wednesday, not quite so warm - only up into the mid 60s. Then blammo! On Thursday (the 15th), the temperatures plummeted down to freezing. Hoovering in the low 30s, we got rain, freezing rain and snow. It snowed all day on Thursday. While the snow accumulated, most of it just melted because the ground was still warm from the last few days of warm weather. By Friday morning we had a huge mess. A lot of sloppy, melting snow to contend with. By afternoon on the 16th, the termperatures got up into the mid 40s. So much for the snow. It didn't stick around too long. This was your typical mid to late April snow storm in Colorado. Nothing too unusual. We've seen this before. We're likely to see it again next year. Perhaps you/some of us remember that one we got back in 2007? It was the first time I recorded it with a few photos. The first one we encountered in our new home.

Apr 15, 2015

Rob's World! CampaignMagic Items for my 3.5 D&D Campaign:
I run a Face-To-Face D&D campaign, and I spend plenty of time generating unique magic items for that campaign. Recently (During the month of Apr, 2015) I've generated eight unique/new magic items for one character. Below is a link to a document that describes the magic items. One of the magic items (the potion of direction) comes from another DM (I've lost track of the actual source). This particular magic item is actually available at a couple of different places online. Another item is based upon other source material. The remaining seven magic items are copyrighted/created by me (as far as I can remember - some of the items date from way back (I started playing D&D in 1976), and some are newer)) There's a total of 9 magic items described in the linked pdf:

  1. +3 Non-encumbering studded leather armor
  2. Potion of direction (not my original item)
  3. There not there cookie
  4. Instant Pit
  5. Quetozyll's crown of flying fangs
  6. Mace of undead disruption (based upon various magic items/including the 'Mace of Undead Disruption' from the "Baldur's Gate" computer based D&D rpg game/program)
  7. +2 Never Missing Bow
  8. Mantle of Black Flames
  9. a scroll of 5 cleric spells

While these magic items were specifically created for characters in my D&D campaign, you may find them useful for your D&D campaign. You are free to use them in your D&D campaign, but you must obtain my permission if you wish to post my original/copyrighted items (Items 1, 3-5, 7-9) anywhere online (or use them for any other purpose). I do not claim copyright ownership on the 'Potion of direction' and it is used here without permission. The 'Mace of Undead Disruption' is not entirely unique, as it is based upon other magic items I've read about. If you're interested in descriptions of the actual magic items, you'll need to read the linked document. Magic items for Mot (10th level Elven Cleric (with Radiant Servant of Pelor prestige class)).

Rob's World! CampaignToshiba Canvio AeroCast is a fail for this Mac user:
Here's what I had to say about Toshiba's Canvio AeroCast wireless hard drive today (review posted on Amazon): Not OS 10.10.3/Mac compatible - This review comes after I evaluated/tried to get two units working with my iMac (Mac OS 10.10.2/10.10.3) and two iOS devices (an iPad Air 2 and an iPhone 5s / Both running iOS 8.2/8.3. FYI: The device included wording on the package/and in the description posted online (on Amazon), which indicated that the device could be used with/was compatible with the Mac.

The included Tuxera NTFS software/drivers could not be installed on my desktop computer. Mac OS 10.10.3 cannot read/mount the included .dmg file (error message when attempting to mount the disk image: The following disk images couldn't be opened: Image - Tuxera NTFS for Mac.dmg, Reason - image not recognized). I had to install NTFS-3G and MacFUSE in order to enable read/write (from the desktop) to the NTFS formatted WHDD (wireless hard disk drive). The wireless network created by the device is unstable. It constantly drops out, can't be seen during wireless scans, rejects known passwords and appears to 'turn off' when idle. This 'Mac Compatible' product is not worth the 20+ hours I've spent troubleshooting it. I've spent numerous hours trying to get it to work (two different WHDD units over five days worth of troubleshooting) with my iMac, my iPad and iPhone (and an Airport Timecapsule running version 7.6.4 for internet bridging). The software for the iOS devices is difficult to use/non-intuitive and the instructions are not helpful. I couldn't figure out how to copy the photos from an SDHC (Secure Digital High-Capacity) card (32gb, class 10) to the wireless hard drive. They transferred to the iOS device (my iPad), but that's not useful if you're trying to make room for numerous photos. All in all - This wireless portable hard-drive needs considerable work before it's 'compatible' with Mac/iOS devices. Calling Toshiba for 'technical support' resulted in numerous (three) hang-ups, a promised call back that never happened, numerous communications/language issues, a statement that technical support is not available for this product and a total lack of support. Thankfully Amazon allows/allowed me to return the device. Perhaps I can find something that is more compatible with my Mac. PS: I paid ~$139.99 for the product, returned one unit, received a second, couldn't get it to work either, then returned that one for a refund - Thank you Amazon.

Apr 10, 2015

USAAUSAA gives more money back:
<rave>When it comes to American companies, it's sometimes difficult to find much to be thankful for. Thankfully, there's one company that restores my confidence in American excellence. USAA is an insurance company and a bank (United Services Automobile Association). It is 'NOT' a publicly traded company. It's an 'Association', the members are the 'owners'. It doesn't answer to 'stockholders', it answers to it's members - You don't have to speculate in the stock market or understand the intricacies of 'the Market' in order to benefit from the excellence of this outstanding company. Military members, veterans and their families constitute the membership. The company suggests products and services, but the members get to vote on all the big changes and decisions. They're focused on products and services which help members meet their financial needs, not services that generate the most revenue for the company. It's about the common members not the board and the majority stockholders. This year I received, as I do every year, the annual 'Report To Members' - According to that report, USAA was able to return more than $1.6 billion to eligible members and customers in the form of dividends, distributions, bank rebates and rewards. It's another year of rewards for the members - Not 'Stockholders' and executives, but the people who use USAA services. As usual, I remain skeptical about the seemingly outstanding services and products. One of my coworkers constantly warns me against USAA, relaying claims that things aren't as rosy as I presume. The somehow USAA is screwing people. I just don't see it. Recently, he relayed how some of those claims are insiders who have abused members trust. It can happen anywhere. I for one have never been wronged by the company or its employees. With expensive home repairs in the recent past, I know that I've been treated fairly, without undue pressure or suspicious contempt by the agents, appraisers and customer service personnel that I had to deal with. Insurance shouldn't be harmful to the members, and so far, USAA has always done right by me. I can't imagine another company which treats it's members like owners, always looks out for the interests of it's members, and doesn't seek to screw those it serves. If you know a company as forthright, honest, and responsive, please share it with me.</rave>

Music CollectionA Plethora of new music in April:
Here's a list of some of the music I recently acquired. Where do I get all this stuff? For the long story on my music discovery efforts, see my music page. After rdio was shut down (in Dec of 2015 (yes this post was written in the 'future')), I searched for an alternative streaming service, but the only thing that made sense (given price, catalog, service, support and my existing preferences) was Apple Music. I signed up for a 3 month free trial in December of 2015, and I've been a $9.99/month subscriber ever since - Thank you for not raising your prices (as of Mar, 2019). For now, eMusic is my primary download service (even though it's catalog is severely shrunken - no major labels, and the minor labels seem to be disappearing on a daily basis), and Apple Music streaming is my primary music discovery service, but I certainly can't afford to buy my music from them, and the other major players - Amazon and Google both think that the outrageous prices that Apple charges are o.k. Really? - $1.29 for a single track!

Artists want you to Hear their music - If you like it, you'll buy it; or maybe you'll buy some concert tickets - That's where bands really make their money. The major labels of the music industry want you to pay for their product. - letting you hear it for free is contrary to their business model. Well, guess what? I won't buy the music if I can't listen to it first, and no one listens to the radio anymore (I don't because of all the advertising, interruptions, lack of new music and lack of information - you can never figure out who/what is being played) The major labels are killing themselves with their restrictive distribution and dissemination policies. If you like new music, you can do a web search to find your favorite artist's web site, a new music web site, or an archive of free music. Free music is available - Legally! Don't believe the propaganda of the major labels - Not all free music is illegal. You can legally download and listen to all sorts of music for free (Have you heard of Pandora, Presto, MySpace, SoundCloud or DashRadio?). I download (purchase) most of my music from a couple of commercial sources (eMusic and iTunes), but I occasionally download tracks (legally) from various websites, newsgroups and blogs in order to satisfy my craving for music.

Here's a listing of some of the music I legally downloaded - and paid for!

eMusic monthly downloads:
Every month I download ~50 tracks from eMusic.com. This month (Apr of 2015) I downloaded 56 tracks (from eMusic) at the low cost of $22.76. Despite the published standard member cost of $22.76, I only pay a $19.99 monthly fee. This makes the tracks extremely cheap - That's right I didn't actually pay $22.76, that would have been the price if I purchased individual tracks at the standard member's price (still cheaper than iTunes). If you're on a monthly plan you get a discount over the non-member prices (which average $0.89 per track). When you purchase an entire album you get an additional discount. Plus I get a discount for being on a special plan (as a member) - I've been 'Grandfathered' with additional credits since I'm a long-time loyal member (since 2006). As a subscriber/member, you save plenty over the likes of iTunes, Amazon and Google. I only paid $19.99 for my $22.76 worth of downloads. The price for these tracks came out at ~$0.36 per track - Way less than the cost on iTunes or Amazon. If you bought these tracks on iTunes you might have paid approximate $72.00! An eMusic non-subscriber/non-member would have paid nearly $50.00! - That's approximately 30% less than iTunes, and I saved approximately 73% over the iTunes cost!

* Purity of Essence - Hoodoo Gururs: (16 songs) I've been listening to the Hoodoo Gurus since the 80s. They're a favorite of mine. This is my fourth album from this particular band. Unfortunately, this is the only Hoodoo Guru album available on eMusic. Actually, I'm surprised they even have this one. Grab it if you can. It actually contains some good songs. The best album (in my opinion) is Stoneage Romeos - So get that one if you find it.
* Medicine - Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors: (12 songs) A new music recommendation, courtesy of eMusic. Wow! Excellent dramatic ballads and American music with an analog sound from a Nashville based singer/songwriter. I'm glad I managed to get this album while it was still available on eMusic. The good news? There's still one other album available (by this artist), so I added it to my wish list. I just wish eMusic was healthier.
* Vampire on Titus - Guided by Voices: (18 songs) A favorite band since the 80s. Unfortunately - Yes you guessed it. They're no longer available on eMusic. With more than 40 albums, the three that I own barely scratches the surface. So much music, so little time - To listen to it all. I guess I better get crackin'.
* Psykosonik - Psykosonik: (10 songs) A new discovery recommended by eMusic. Guess what? Yup - No longer available on eMusic. A powerful opening act. Kicking electronic music with a groovy, gravely voice. I'm diggin' it. Hopefully they'll release some additional music.

Unlike some music outlets, eMusic doesn't have any DRM and they don't insert unique track id's into the ID3 tags. Their terms of service are consumer friendly. eMusic allows you to burn as many CDs as you like and copy downloads to an unlimited number of your computers and portable MP3 players. At less than $.50 a track (I'm currently paying $19.99 for $22.99 worth of downloads per month - I'm on a grandfathered plan that new members cannot get) you can't really go wrong. You don't have to be a member/monthly subscriber to access the site or buy music, and the membership prices (per album) are compared to the non-member prices right up front, so you can see how much you save as a monthly member. eMusic offers a really good value for your download dollar. iTunes and Amazon still charge more. eMusic offers more music for your money, and the variable bit rate recordings make for exceptionally high quality recordings. If you still want your own copies of the music, check out eMusic.

These are some of the items I added to my music collection during this month. Since revamping my music collection back in September of 2005, I've been slowly adding, revising and updating the collection. If you have a comment, question or correction regarding my music collection, please don't hesitate to send me an email. Please keep in mind that my collection isn't for sale, and I'm not interested in giving you any copyrighted materials. I'd rather not go to jail for music piracy. :-)