Damn It, PETA

Stop making environmentalists, animal activists, conservationists, ecologists, vegetarians, and vegans look bad. Yes, know that they’re not all the same, but most people don’t. We’re all one big, pot-addicted, tree-hugging, save the whales, kumbaya collective. And we all get judged by whoever is making the most noise or saying the most obnoxious thing.

I know this because I do it all the time whenever I decide to blame the entire Republican Party for whatever stupid thing their most fringe Tea Party candidate decides to do or say. The reality is that the Republican Party is a vast organism with many different competing aspects, individuals, and motivations. But it’s much more emotionally satisfying the blame the entire crowd for the most egregious behavior of the distant fringe.

That’s not to say that I like or even respect the Republican Party. I’m just being emotionally disingenous.

PETA actually does a lot of good in the world. Most people like animals and think that being kind to them is a good idea, even if they make those choices based entirely on which ones are fuzzy and cute. But people also tend to hate PETA and go completely deaf whenever PETA (or another animal activist) tries to raise legitimate concerns or discussion.

Shit like this? This isn’t helping. There is such a thing as bad publicity.

How To Succeed As An Auto Mechanic: A Practical Guide

Hello, prospective mechanic. If you’re reading this post, there’s a minuscule chance that you’re actually considering a career spent repairing and maintaining that most of wondrous of machines, the automobile. If you’re not that person, please feel free to continue reading; I imagine this information will be useful to you as well. Somehow.

I’m your friendly(ish), average potential customer. I know a little bit about my vehicles. I know enough to install a new radiator on my own. I know to keep my oil checked and changed regularly. I can change my oil myself on my motorcycle.

I know that my 2001 Isuzu Rodeo is getting on in years. She’s about to hit 180,000 miles and I have to tell you, those have been some hard miles. I’m not her first owner (I’m probably the third or fourth, having picked her up for cheap when she was at about 120,000 miles). I haven’t always been the best owner, but I try.

With that said, please allow me to educate you on what I feel are a few basic tips that will help you to transform me from a potential customer to a paying customer and maybe, just maybe, into a returning customer. Here are a few simple steps for you to follow, aspiring auto mechanic:

  1. Don’t nag. Don’t scold me for the shit that I didn’t do. Yeah, it sucks that most of your job is going to be cleaning up the messes of people who don’t realize that car engines prefer to have oil in them and that sometimes you have to change that oil, or whatever. But scolding me for not getting a transmission flush at 100,000 miles? That’s not going to endear you in my heart, even if you’re entirely correct. (Although in my case, I didn’t own my vehicle when I passed that milestone). At this point, I’m willing to take my business to a mechanic specifically if he or she doesn’t guilt trip me about all the things I’m failing to do. I get enough of that from my doctor and my dentist, thanks.
  2. Try not to miss the forest for the trees. I went a little poetic here, so let me explain. If I bring my aging, slowly dying, fourteen-year-old, high-mileage car to you because my transmission is acting up, try to keep that in perspective as we’re conducting our business. Do I really look like I’m in a position to drop 3.5 grand into getting the transmission replaced? I didn’t pay that much when I bought the vehicle, and it sure as hell isn’t worth that much now! Consider the possibility that this sort of thing is wildly unlikely to happen. I’m more likely to respect and like you (and thus become a loyal customer) if you give me some realistic options or if you’re just flat-out honest with me about it. And no, telling me that I’m getting a good deal because the transmission is used and has “only” 100,000 miles on it doesn’t make it better.
  3. Don’t hard sell. Here’s a tip and it’s one that’s true whether you’re running an auto repair shop or a video game store or a restaurant.

    Don’t. Fucking. Hard. Sell. Me.

    The first time you do that is the last time you get my business. Don’t tell me that I need to replace my sticking shifter lever RIGHT AWAY BEFORE IT BLOWS UP ON ME, because you know what? It’s been doing that for over five years. It’s been doing that since I bought the car. It’s not high on my priority list. All that this particular warning does is set off my bullshit detector that you’re trying to hard sell me. And once that happens, I’m moving on.

    Don’t hard sell. Realize that there are many people like myself who just want to conduct our transaction as painlessly and with as little hassle as possible. Don’t push the warranty deal. Don’t push the extended plan. Don’t try to push for something I obviously don’t want. Yes, I realize that for many of these things and many businesses, the corporate overlords are forcing you to do them. Sometimes it’s not your fault. But sometimes it is.

With these simple tips, I think you’ll find the loss of revenue from that initial repair job is more than compensated from the loyal business I’ll bring to your establishment over the next several years. The initial loss will further be offset by the fact that I’ll tell everyone I know about how much I like working with you, thus driving more business in your direction. Everyone is happy.

On an unrelated note, does anyone know a good mechanic in the Tucson area? I’m looking. Thanks.

D&D Fifth Edition

I’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons in one form or another since the late 90s. Granted, this doesn’t give me the lengthy pedigree of a truly veteran grognard (look it up) but I’ve seen a few editions come and go. More importantly. I was playing regularly at a time when one edition (3.5) went out the door and the new one (4th) came in. And I played that new edition for the majority of its life cycle.

Many words have been written about why 4th edition isn’t good. It was deeply polarizing in the player base. It was too video game-esque, too much like World of WarCraft. On and on, the forum arguments go. I’ve come to realize that none of it matters.

The truth is that learning how to play 3.5 and earlier editions of D&D was a nightmare. I remember pouring over the books I had for hours, trying to reverse engineer how all the math worked out to understand how characters worked. Even after I created my own characters, it was a constant struggle to remember “okay, so I add this and this to that, and this condition applies so I get that, so I do . . . how much damage again?” It wasn’t until I’d played for a while, with an experienced group, that I finally saw how it all worked out.

To be honest, 4th edition isn’t that much easier to figure out, but at least they have a nifty program that does all the math for you and just tells you “roll this and add this number.”

But even that isn’t the real problem. The real problem is that the structure  of the tabletop RPG can’t do what everyone is trying to make it do. There will never be “one system to rule them all.” And even if there was, you know what? It has an incredibly finite lifespan.

Here’s how it works. The core books that you need to run the game are released. So you buy those. The first supplement books come out and add neat stuff like new classes, new archetypes, or whatever. Some more books come out, and those are cool too. But there’s a tipping point. There’s a peak level of purchase-interest in any game system and once you’ve passed it, new books become less appealing. Maybe it’s because you’re starting to resent the amount of money it’s costing or maybe you just have everything that you need.

My personal theory is that eventually, the books just start getting too weird. 4th edition had this problem in spades. You needed the first player’s handbook to play the game and it contained the basic classes. Okay, great. Players Handbook 2 contained a lot of well-liked stuff that was left out from the first one; classes like the barbarian, bad, druid, and sorcerer. Even the new classes still made sense and fit into the traditional swords-and-sorcery fantasy archetypes. Okay, cool.

But by the time the Player’s Handbook 3 rolled around, you’ve got a book filled with classes like the ardent and the battlemind. There is no one who can tell you what those are supposed to look like without refering to the book. There’s no fantasy archetype that’s being fulfilled here, which is what classes are supposed to do.

What happens from here? Honestly, I have three different sets of RPG on the bookshelf behind me that are some variation of the “Player’s Handbook, Gamemaster’s Guide, and Monster Manuel” trio. (D&D 3.5, D&D 4, and Pathfinder, if you’re curious). How many more times am I going to buy a Player’s Handbook and a Monster Manuel? It’s starting to feel a little old.

Let’s just say I don’t envy this particular business model too much.

Maybe when the books are finally released, I’ll be blown away and rush out and buy them. I remember when the 4th edition books were so new and shiny and I couldn’t wait to play them. That was a good feeling. I’d like to recapture it again . . . but at this point, I’m starting to think it’s all same dance, different song. Or maybe it’s the same sing, different dance. Whatever. You get my meaning.

Adventures In Customer Service

Names will not be mentioned in this point to protect the identities of the unreasonable.

I work for a small public library branch. I’m not concerned about mentioning this fact, as there are 28 library branches in my county and even if you take out all the branches that are too big to fit the previous description, the odds of guessing which one I work at are very slight. And even if you’re right, it’s not like I’m going to tell you.

For the most part, mine is a wonderful job. I love the duality of my life; I suit up in my motorcycle leathers every day, put on my helmet that’s emblazoned with skulls, climb onto my motorcycle and ride to my job where I then read picture books to children and sing songs with them for story times.

But everyone who has ever worked in public service for more than five minutes knows that sometimes things don’t go smoothly. Sometimes, working with the public is a little, well, . . . strange.

I had a few of those this week. These weren’t the scary kinds of incident, the ones that end with my calling the police. They were just the kinds of things that make you scratch your head and really wonder about people.

First scenario:

A man comes into the library and asks for a study room. We’re a small library, so we only have the one study room and it’s occupied. The man points to a staff work room (which actually happens to be my office).

Man: What about that room? It looks empty.

Me: That’s a staff work room.

Man: So I can use it?

Me: You’re not a staff member.

Man: But nobody else is using it.

Me (thinking about the carefully organized stacks of paperwork, the stacked crafting supplies I’m in the process of organizing, and the calendar with all my various engagements and other business for the month, all neatly organized on the desk): It’s really only for staff use.

Man: I think that’s pretty selfish.

Me: I don’t really know how to answer that.

Second scenario:

A man comes up to the information desk carrying a few pieces of paper. He stops near the same staff office and peers inside for a few seconds.

Me: Is there anything I can help you with?

Man: I noticed you have a paper slicer in that room.

Me (warily): Yeah . . . ?

Man: Can I use it?

Me: I’m afraid not.

Man: Why not?

Me (thinking): Because I don’t know you, I don’t know who you are, I don’t know if you’re a crazy person, so I’m not going to let you near what is basically a scimitar loosely attached to a piece of wood. At best, you’ll manage to cut your own finger off. At worse, you’ll decapitate someone. You’re not getting near this paper slicer.

Me (what I actually say): I think I’d get fired if I let a non-staff member use it.

Man: Why?

Me: Liability.

Man: That doesn’t seem right.

Me: Yeah.

And scene.

I think the lesson here is that I really need to start closing the door to that office.

Various Thoughts

Are we halfway through May already? How did that happen? The time, where does it go?

I’ve been busy over the past few weeks, as my lack of presence here on the old blog can attest. In no particular order, here are a few of the various and sundry things that I’ve gotten myself up to:

  • I took a backpacking trip through Aravaipa Canyon. This is my third trip to the canyon in the past four years. This is, without a doubt, my favorite place in all of Arizona. The Grand Canyon might be larger, but it’s also busy. Aravaipa is remote; really, really remote. We counted how long it took us to get from the canyon entrance to the first gas station: nearly two hours.
  •  My Challenge mode group finally earned all gold ratings, so now my night elf druid has a bad-ass looking set of armor. This is a World of WarCraft thing, so worry not if you understand what all of these words mean individually, just not in this particular configuration.
  • I completed my first oil change on my Z1000. I would have taken pictures of the event to commemorate baby’s first oil change, but my hands were covered in gross oil that I didn’t want to get all over my smartphone. You’ll just have to imagine how it went.
  • I managed to contract some particularly virulent plague. I had to stay home from work on two separate occasions within the same week, but even so, I managed to infect almost everyone I came into contact with. If I’d written anything during that time, it likely would have infected all who read it, so be glad I stayed away.
  • I’ve been trying to catch up on my reading. I like to set a reading goal for the year, which Goodreads then tracks and helpfully informs you of how far ahead or behind you are on that goal. For most of 2014, I’ve had a comfortable eight book lead but it shrank considerably over the past few weeks as I grappled with some particularly challenging philosophy reading. At last glance, my lead was down to four books. I’m hoping to build that back up with some lighter fiction reading soon.
  • No word from the agent that I queried. It hasn’t been four weeks yet, but I’ve got my list of who to send to next. In the meanwhile, I’ve been thinking about what novel I want to finish writing next. I’ve got a sequel to my current work that’s half-done, but there was also that cyber-punk novel that I started and am actually kind of proud of. Hmm, decisions, decisions.
  • The freelance writing thing is going pretty well! I can’t talk about it too much due to respect for client privacy, but I just finished working on a draft for a technical guide that I’m really proud of. I actually rather enjoy technical writing. I worry what this enjoyment indicates about my level of mental health.

That’s all I can think of at the moment. Usually I check my own Twitter feed for reminders (I look at my Twitter account as a little archive of my life), but I haven’t been tweeting all that much, so there are no helpful reminders. So it goes.

What have you been up to? Anything fun?