Monday, July 21, 2014

DON'T MISS LEG DAY

DAILY SCHEDULE

I've not been doing a lot recently that warrants a lot of blog posts.

Going on long sweaty and often painful walks, eating, drinking, playing my video games.  This is not newsworthy stuff, though I'm guessing Fox News could still make it fill several hours.  "And is there a chance he is talking with aliens?  Does he know where the Malaysian plane could be?  Was he some sort of "Jame Bond-esque" super villain who stole it?"



THE OTHER OTHER WHITE MEAT

Tam is one of my friends from Macedonia.  With her permission, here is one of her statements:

"I, for example don`t eat meat, and am born here, raised here, forced to eat meat when I was small and refused it as I got older and older.

I never understood why people in Macedonia in Serbia also eat that amount of meat. I don`t have anything against it, I just cant discover why.

And not that I don`t eat meat, I don`t eat fish (which is considered as sin especially in Ohrid), and don`t eat food that is touched or prepared together with meat.

The most common question that I get here is "what do you live from?"

At first, I tried to explain that you can eat pasta and a lot of vegetables and fruits + mushrooms.

They looked at me and asked me again "what do you live from?"

Now I just answer "I am a cannibal".

Usually, they go away."



FEELING EUROPEAN

Order some olives (not pitted) and a beer.  Sit around eating and drinking those and watching the people.

Note, in the states they may yell "Wot chew lookin' at?"  Followed by gunfire.



DANGER IN BEING NICE

When I've been to a restaurant more than once, there is a huge danger of them sometimes being too nice.  Extra food, special dishes and all of that.  I don't get charged for them but it does cause some guilt which I try to absolve through tipping.  This creates a dangerous cycle.



LEG TIME

Some people were asking about my legs.  Apparently, them being big through edema and now trying to shrink has caused me to begin to turn in to a lizard.

They are very dry and as painful as if I'd gotten very stupid with too much sun.

The following pictures may horrify and mortify you.  This is to be expected.

Before anyone asks, yes I am consulting a very nice doctor about it and she has prescribed medicine and such.






Someone asked "How does it feel?"  Answer, no where as bad as


Saturday, July 12, 2014

THE GREAT FLOOD

[Author's note:  The blog was named after the video at the bottom of this blog.  See link below.]


PANORAMA RESTAURANT

The Panorama is a famous restaurant in Ohrid.  The prices are cheap, the food is good, the portions are big and the staff is friendly.

I've made friends with the wait staff and current manager, Risto.  He is working there while his brother the owner is tending to his broken leg.

Risto is quite an interesting fellow and we've had some good conversations.  Here's one:


Risto:  "Where are you from?  Which ethnic background?"
Logan:  "Don't know.  Adopted."
Risto:  "Your name?  Where is 'Horsford' from?
Logan:  "Might be Norwegian, not sure."
Risto:  "You don't know your family history?"
Logan:  "In America, most people don't.  They might have some memories of their grandparents, but usually..."  (shrug)
Risto:  "I know eight generations back!"
Logan:  "Most people in the USA would find that surprising.  We have no sense of history."

I didn't have the heart to tell him that when people outlive their perceived usefulness, we like to stick them in old people's homes and usually they have little to do with the families.  Here, the grandparents always live with the family and help raise the kids.

It's a different culture.

(Disclaimer:  Yes, I know of at least one person who has traced their family back to the Mayflower but that is - in the USA - an anomaly.)

As a side note, I think the culture of the USA may be slowly changing within my own lifetime.  Because of the poverty induced by the corporations.  Kids now have to live with their parents much longer (often into their 30's).  Poverty will continue to change things.  Whether this is better or worse, I cannot say.


Some cooks and wait staff freak out if you try this but it worked here:  I told them "I don't want anything that has ever lived in the water and keep the bill under 500d ($10).  Bring whatever."

Rather than doing the cowardly thing of thinking "What if he doesn't like it!" they just brought food.

Some of the best meals I've had in Macedonia.

If you visit Ohrid, Panorama is a must go to restaurant.  It will be about 120d (less than $3) by taxi to get there from the tourist area.



ALCOHOL

Somewhere, I'd made a comment that "in Macedonia I hadn't been drinking".  This isn't quite true.  Meals generally have a beer or two with them.

While in the 'we were founded by Puritans (later muddled by 'Victorian thinking') and still have all that baggage" USA, it might be seen as alcoholism, here it is 'just another drink'.

When I get beer with my food is is generally because:
a) only an idiot would drink tap water of a different country (even if it is deemed 'safe')
b) you get a half liter for the same price as you get a quarter liter of soda.  I've no idea why.



MACEDONIAN CUSTOM

"Let's go for coffee" could mean any kind of drink, including alcohol.

It is probable it will involve sitting around a cafe for a long time.



DAILY SCHEDULE

There may be a couple people who are curious as to what my daily schedule looks like.  For them as well as posterity I have taken the time to write it down.  In several hundred years, my hope is that a teacher will come across it and force their students to learn it in order to bore the shit out of them.  This, teachers, is your payback.  Note, if apes have mastered the world by then, be sure to put in several 'groom myself and others' parts.


7:00-10:00 Depending on the amount of pain I am in, I wake up somewhere between these times.

10:00-11:00  Play my video games until somewhere within these times.  In most of the world, there is really no point to go out before this time unless you like looking at closed shops.  If a male asks another male to 'wake up early to see the sunrise', he should expect to be punched in the nose.  If a boy asks a girl to 'wake up early to see the sunrise', it is a seduction thing.  If a girl asks a boy, it's because  she doesn't want to go by herself.  If the boy accepts, it is because he wants to sleep with her.  If he responds "Are you fucking nuts?" it means he thinks he has no chance of having sex with the female.  Just so you know.

10:00-14:00  Wander around for one to three hours.  The actual length of time is heightened by interest and decreased by pain and or hunger.  Or diarrhea.   The last will cut the time way down.  Leaving a brown trail around the city is not generally smiled upon by the people living in that city.

12:00-14:00  Stagger back to flat and shower.  Possibly take a nap ranging from :15 to 2:00.  The time is dependent upon the amount of fatigue vs the amount of pain I'm in.  After this, it is a combination of wandering around the flat muttering to myself (I talk to myself when I require an expert opinion), playing video games and writing blogs.

22:00-02:00  Bed time for Bonzo.  The actual bed time depends on the amount of pain, fatigue, insomnia or drunkenness.



VIDEOS

Hills of Macedonia
The Great Flood

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

MACEDONIA, A FRIENDLY NATION

This blog is dedicated to Robert Price who gently reminded me that people want me to write more stuff.  (Disclaimer:  Please note that I only make these when something is happening but in this case, I am moving around a bit...)



FRIENDLY FOLK

I have met pretty much nothing except friendly people here.  I wanted to illustrate that with a story.

Trying to find an apartment to stay in Bitola, I'd gone down to the real estate office.  There was a guy in his thirties with an elderly couple I judged to be his parents.

Because I'm a foreigner, the man working there wanted to know what I needed.

Honestly, this always is a bit awkward.  I really don't mind waiting my turn - but in this case it turned out to be fortuitous.   I explained I was looking for a place to stay long term.  The other customer in his thirties kindly helped translate.

After awhile, the elderly couple took off and the broker discovered he had nothing for me.  I thanked them both and left.

The guy in his thirties (Nikola) caught up with me after I'd gone a block or two and offered to take me to a different real estate agent.  Thinking it would just be a block or two I accepted his generous offer.  It was - to his car.  Then, we drove to the other real estate agent.  Who also didn't have anything.

But this story illustrates just how kind the Macedonian people really are.  Heck, if he'd just tracked me down to give me the name of a different real estate agent and vague directions to it, that would have been really nice of him - but to drive me there?

I offered (repeatedly, just in case any Islamic custom had taken root here) to buy him breakfast but he steadfastly refused as he had other stuff to do.  Stuff he put off doing to try to help me out.  In addition, he even reached out to his contacts.  Though they came up dry, it was extremely friendly and I felt very good about having come to Macedonia.

Whether they know it or not, people like Nikola are ambassadors for their nation - and they are doing a great job of it.

A side note for my American readers:  I'm sure many of you read that I got into a strangers car and went with him through parts unknown.  Yeah.  I do that quite a bit.  Given that I've an excellent sense for people and a pretty decent ability to read faces, my chances of getting hurt doing that are about half what I judge getting run over on the sidewalk.  Regardless, people are generally neutral with more being friendly than out to hurt someone.  Here in Macedonia, they seem to lean heavily toward the friendly side of the scale.  In fact, if you were to say "American people are paranoid" you could say "Macedonian people are friendly" and it would be at least as true.  Turn off the news - you are only hurting yourself by 'trying to keep informed'.



MACEDONIAN CLIMATE

I've lived in at least five different deserts.  Honestly, I've lost count at this point.  But the heat is between 30 and 40 degrees (C.  If stuck on an antiquated system the rest of the world has abandoned, please read as 'damned hot').

Why anyone would choose to come here on vacation during this degree of heat - other than to go to say a beach - is a mystery.

Starting to form the belief that south eastern Europe is best during the 'shoulder seasons' - spring and fall.  You don't want to be here during winter.  Apparently, it use to be much more mild but for no apparent reason (read as 'global warming') the temperatures have plummeted.



COFFEE

Macedonian.  Greek.  Turkish.  They all taste pretty much the same to me.  I asked someone about it and the difference turns out to be the way it is prepared - not the ingredients.  One you heat the coffee first, then add water.  Different  one you heat the water then add the coffee.  Third one you...  I'm not sure.  Blow a squirrel, toss everything into the pot and boil it?  I can't remember but you get the point.



WAITERS

Most people complain they have trouble with waiters, especially in countries where if you don't tip them they don't get paid.

Try being funny, outrageous, shameless and over the top.  I've never had bad service.  Oh, and treating them like humans who are stuck doing a kind of shitty job doesn't hurt either.   But they shall be freed from their shitty jobs when we build small robots to do this work (or trained pigeons) and then they shall have no jobs and rejoice!



BITOLA

Not sure why Bitola has only one decent/affordable hostel.  It's OK, but nothing I'd travel there to stay in.  For tourists, I'd recommend staying in Ohrid and making Bitola a day trip.  You can see all the major sites in a day.

One odd thing they have is a kilometer or two (or more?) of nothing but restaurants and cafes.  No clue why it is set up like that but they're all along the same street, pretty much in a straight line.

Skip the 'bazaar'.  It's not.  Nothing but a bunch of small huts selling stuff, closed on Sundays.  None of the wonder, romance and chaos of an actual bazaar.

It's a nice town but not really that noteworthy to tourists.



OHRID

Though I was told there would be 'lots', there was only one woman waiting around at the bus station hoping to rent out a room in her house to tourists.  She was kind enough to point out I'd left my plastic bag with my water behind.

If you're wanting a 'home' experience, go with one of these women but as always make sure to first take a look at the place then find out what is actually included.  If they have noisy pets and noisy kids, find that out.  Food may or may not be included.  Haggle!

After lying to the nice lady and telling her I already had a reservation, I walked the kilometer to the place I'm staying.  It's called "Valentin Hostel".  It's extremely basic and not all that clean.

The owner is one of those 'really happy to help you initially' kind of people but by my fourth request he was losing steam fast.

He strongly cautioned me to turn off the boiler before having a shower so that I don't die.  Really.  I missed seeing his copy of "So your hostel's a death trap" book lying around but got the hint anyway.  Since I'm use to some element of danger (though usually self inflicted) this doesn't bother me overly much.



GOOD MACEDONIAN QUOTE

"You are a vegetarian?  What the hell are you doing in the Balkans?" - unknown.

Good food here begins and ends with meat.



LOGAN EXCHANGES

Personally, I think a lot of them are funnier than the stuff in "An Idiot Abroad", but I don't have famous friends who make movies.

Logan:  "The chicken ceasar salad please."
Waiter:  (pause)  "That is all?"
Logan:  "Your salads here are big, right?"
Waiter:  (eyeing me dubiously) "For one person."
Logan:  (patting belly) "I know I am two people but..."


Logan:  "Cheeseburger, please."
Waitress:  "You should try the double cheeseburger - it's very big!"
Logan:  "I don't need very big - besides, I just woke up!"
Waitress:  (looking pointedly at Logan's huge belly)  "For you, I think it's OK."

I managed to resist.  Doing the 'just eat when you're hungry' crap doesn't work when you've been raised to 'clean your plate!'.  Fucking starving children in China.  Later, having the "Eat fast, we may be attacked at any second!" training from the military doesn't help.  Parents, if you want your kid to be chubby (ie fat) remind them to always 'clean your plate, there are starving children in China!'  Of course, you could have said "There are starving children down the street" but that might give the kids ideas about just bringing them the unwanted portion and we don't want that kind of social responsibility cropping up.



TRAVEL SKILL

It would be nice to say that after several years of travel, I've gotten slick at it.  The truth, however, is that I am still fumbling around letting luck sort out several important details.

A friend of mine (the evil TJ) put up this video of Indian Jones explaining how Logan thinks he is (Marcus Brody) vs reality.

Fortunately, the truth is somewhere in the middle.  Probably way toward the last part of the video, but still.



QUEEN'S PUB

I ate breakfast (well, OK a shitty cheeseburger) at 'The Queen's Pub'.  This brought up images of the Queen of England.  Then, my friend Matt Lunn, who is British.  Then, Matt Lunn dressed as the Queen.  Then, Matt dressed as the Queen being forced by his nation to knight me.

Then, my brain put him into this video.  Matt is the guy in gold wings, and calls me 'Gordon'.

For those that know both Matt and I, that is fucking hilarious.  If I had 'big money', I'd do a video of it.  Which a couple dozen people would think is great.  Everyone else would be confused.



PRICES

'Deniro' salad (fucking big) and two Turkish coffees, 220d

Cheap meal (generally, with a couple beers), 300-500d

Friday, July 4, 2014

MACEDONIA, INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

FROM BULGARIA TO MACEDONIA


Despite "Hostel Mostel" being the 'top rated hostel in Bulgaria', I only got a couple hours of alcohol induced sleep there.  The hostel qualifies as what I term a 'high density feedlot' type of place.  Lots of tourists in and out.
A great place to meet up with other travelers, not so much for languid relaxing.

I'd gone with some nice people I'd met to the first bar on their nightly pub crawl and ended up hanging out with three Bulgarians discussing the history of the region as well as Macedonia.

Every patron was outside of the bar - whether they smoked or not.  Due to the rather silly law of 'no smoking inside buildings'.  This is a law which has failed.  How would Logan do it?  Every bar would get to choose whether they wanted to be a smoking or non-smoking bar.  This must be advertised large outside of the bar.  If a bar wanted to change from smoking to non-smoking, a group of non-smokers would be sent in to make sure it smelled fine.  A bar could change only every set period of time (quarterly, bi-yearly, yearly, whatever).  This would allow both groups to get their way.  As the laws now stand they do not seem to have the interest of the actual patrons in mind.

Despite sleeping in my clothing, I nearly left my security pouch behind.  Better to be lucky than good, as they say.

The person who checked me in to the room forgot to mark me as paid so the person checking me out wanted more money.  Fortunately, my fanatical devotion toward getting a receipt any time I hand over money paid off.

Since their wifi was out (at the 'top rated hostel in Bulgaria') I went to the bus station a couple hours early.  Not a recommended hostel for more than a night unless you are wanting to party.



SKOPJE

This is one of those countries where the capital city is more expensive than the villages.  Rather than competition driving down the prices, they charge more.  Why, I cannot say.

After my usual period of bumbling around, I lucked out and found a nice private room for 15 euros per night (Lounge Hostel).  Even more luckily, I made friends with the owners.  In the 'bonus round' of luck, the owners mother has some property I will rent out on a later part of my journey through Macedonia.

Unfortunately, I had to hike 5.5 KM with everything I own to get there.  Well, that's stubbornness for you.  It nearly killed me but I made it.

Skopje seemed find but was more expensive than I'd thought it would be.

On the city itself; a lot of people are making fun of it saying they are trying to make it into a sort of 'Disneyland for tourists' by putting up a lot of statues and other tourist crack.  Personally, I think they are 'making an effort' as the British would say.  It will look great in a hundred years when everything has gotten to age some.

I liked Skopje just fine.  Considering it is the largest city in Macedonia, it really didn't feel that crowded.



COFFEE?

Like much of the Eastern Europe, it is a 'cafe culture' here.  People enjoy sitting around outdoors under umbrellas, sipping drinks and discussing things.  Much as many Americans believe it is.

It was time for coffee.  Because they are large, I ordered a coffee 'Americano'.

Owner:  "No Americano!  This is Macedonia!"
Logan:  "Ah.  What kind of coffee do you have?"
Owner:  "Turkish!"
Logan:  "...okie dokie then..."

A quick note on coffees.  If you stir the coffee for any reason, don't get close to the bottom at all.  There is a layer of sediment you don't want.  If you stir it into your coffee, it will be gross.  Leave it alone.

Within Eastern Europe, I've seen people having beer and wine (though not at the same time) for breakfast.  Without the Puritanical views America got stuck with, these are seen as just something different to drink.



SKOPJE TO BITOLA

Because I wanted the romance of the train...  I screwed myself.  (Yes, I was warned but I'd already bought the train tickets).

You would think a metal tube with open windows would get some air.  You would be wrong.  Sweated all the way here.

Rather than the compartments it was one long seating thing.  Blerg.  Nothing I'd want to repeat.  Take the bus instead.  Trust me on this.

Because the train had stopped for awhile and I decided to risk a cigarette outside, I discovered I'd reached my destination.  There were no announcements.



BITOLA

My first impressions were very positive.  The narrow, medieval streets (known as 'crack for tourists') called to me as did the crumbling buildings.  It looks like quite an interesting place to explore.

Unfortunately, the prices are such that I'm eating once or twice in a day and sitting around sucking on a warm two liter of cola the rest of the time.



MACEDONIA

Some extremely friendly people here.  These are the "I will drive you to somewhere you need to be" or "I will walk with you to your destination".  Not because they want anything from you - they are just that damned nice.  

Less German is spoken here than Bulgaria but about the same amount of English in the couple towns I've been thus far.



LIST OF PLACES TO CHECK IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR A LONG TERM RENTAL

For folks who ask 'where do you even get started finding a place', here are some suggestions:

1)  The hostel/hotel you are staying at.  They may know someone or they may offer you a lower extended rate on a room.  If no luck there, all other hostels/hotels/guest houses.

2)  Real estate agencies.  These places often rent property.

3)  Travel agencies.  Bit more of a long shot here.

4)  Other.  You don't have to directly ask your waiter if he knows of anyone renting a room but you can mention to him that you are looking for a place to rent long term and are not sure where to start.  Shrug and go back to doing something else like looking at the menu or smoking.  (If you don't smoke, this is a great time to start a new hobby!)  Don't just stare at him like you want him to suddenly solve your problems - but he might.



'MERICA?

Like much of the rest of the world, people want to know where you are from.  If you tell them America (I always do now) they will always ask where.

The reason why is they have relatives in America and or have visited.



COSTS

Excellent salad and two Turkish coffees, 220 dinars.
Private room, 900 dinars.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

LOCK ON SHOPPING

SHOPPING

My friend who owns the grocery store I always go to had a bunch of ice cream stolen out of his external locked cooler.

Since the only locks protecting it are the usual cheap 'outside of westernized country piece of shit locks a grade schooler can defeat with a screwdriver' variety, he wanted new locks.

Since I know a little about locks, I went with him back to "Praktisch".  Translated from German, the store name is 'Practical'.  Think 'Home Depot'.

Since one of my particular beliefs/stereotypes/prejudices toward Germans is that they can build great stuff, we agreed that any German made locks would be much better than the OOWCPOSLAGSCDWAS variety most people get.

Like most shoppers, the store owner wanted to roam the vast wilderness of crap you don't need in hopes you stumble across what you came for before finding something you didn't  know you can't live without.

Because I am the kind of person I am (a Logan) I headed for the information desk.  Over riding his objections of "I don't think they can speak English" with "I am Logan!", I went and consulted the girls.

When you first start to talk with people in English, you can run into the "Oh, you expect everyone to speak English but you won't learn our language?" thing.  This is to be avoided as it goes nowhere good.

I do this by asking my question then immediately miming what I need in as funny of manner as possible.

If you come across as funny, friendly and maybe a bit insane, indignity comes hard.  Soon, friendly smiles and helpful directions were given.

They even sent a service guy to help us who spoke excellent English.  I complimented him a couple times on it and thanked him for his help.

The equipment was bought.  On the way out, I again thanked the information desk ladies and bid them adieu.



IS THERE A POINT?

Perhaps the biggest difference is that I'm thinking about how they must perceive me rather than paying attention to my internal monologue.  This could be because I don't find myself particularly important to listen to all the time.

Other people are very interesting to me.  I've always said I already know what I am thinking and feeling.  Hence, I try to be more outward looking.  If I'm mad or flustered this comes harder but when other people can tell you are actually paying attention to them and interested in them, they are happy to at least give you directions.

This did backfire a bit at the cafeteria I normally eat at.  Because I've taken the time to learn the girls names who work there and am always asking how they are and such, they tend to pile on my food a bit much.

And I've not the willpower to resist food...

Sunday, June 15, 2014

MMORPG OVERVIEW

AND NOW, A NOTE FROM THE WRITER

Some of you are thinking "I thought this guy was traveling?"

Well, it can't all be poling down a jungle river.  Sometimes, it's just sitting around a city in Bulgaria for a couple months playing video games.

Fear not, in two weeks I will be again changing where I'm at.  I've no idea where I will be or what dates but I do know my destination is Mesopotamia and I'll have a month left in Bulgaria and the EU in general.

When I travel, I will write about travel.  In the meantime, you have the opportunity to learn about...



MASSIVELY MULTIPLAYER GAMES (MMO)


What is an MMO?

This is a game which can support hundreds of people playing simultaneously within the same world.  The world is usually persistent - in other words, when you log off, it is still going.  If you don't have an internet connection, you can't play them.  Or read this blog.  Best to have an internet connection.


A short history of MMO's.

I'd like to note that this is in no way intended to be a complete or even factual history of MMO's.  This is what I saw happen and have interviewed more people who have made the games than I can actually remember.

Back before some of my readers were born, in 1997, a game called Ultima Online came out.  It had a lot of good things that were oddly missing from later MMO's such as the ability to dye gear, build castles, etc.  Sadly, it was most famous for the horrible people who played it.  Because UO was PVP (player vs player) pretty much everywhere, murder ran rampant.  Had there been a command to sexually violate your corpse after killing you, players would have demanded it be scripted in to make it automatic.  Within UO the most atrocities of any game I've heard of were committed.  Fortunately, just two years later something that sucked less in some ways - and more in others was released.

Everquest was released in 1999.  I have vivid memories of playing it on the last day of the year wondering if the Y2K bug would interrupt the game and send me out to loot and pillage with everyone else.   Sadly, the Y2K bug failed to shut down the world and allow us to slide violently back into the middle ages.  Fortunately, this allowed me to keep playing the game.  For another decade.  One of the things which thrilled many people about Everquest was that only a few servers were PVP - the majority were PVE (player vs environment).  On these servers, you couldn't kill the other players but instead concentrate on the monsters.  Well, that was the theory anyway, but the violent sociopaths who chose to spend time playing while planning their next killing spree found ways to kill other players anyway.  But it was still better than UO.

After Everquest briefly held a monopoly on MMO's, other ones such as Dark Age of Camelot came out.  People either left Everquest completely or tried these new games then returned to EQ.  And so it went until just a couple years later when the new gorilla on the block came out.

World of Warcraft (WOW) launched in 2004 and pretty much killed creativity for the next decade.  Because WOW was so overwhelmingly successful, every game wanted to be just like them.  These games became known as 'WOW clones'.  WOW did pretty much everything right and remains an addictive game to this day for millions of people.


What is going on today?

Currently, in 2014, people are beginning to think "If we make a WOW clone, we will be competing with lots of other WOW clones - and WOW itself.  We need to do something different."

Just three years ago (2011) Minecraft was released.  This game can either be played as a single player game (no internet required) or as a MMO.  What the game does right, and perhaps makes it the first well known 'sandbox game'.  Within 'sandbox games' the user decides where to go and what to do.  The opposite to this are the so called 'theme park' games - an example being World of Warcraft.  You go to this zone for these levels then get to upgrade to this zone for the next few levels and so on.

It is my belief that we will see a lot more sandbox games come out in the future.  This is heading toward what developers seem to have had a long held fear of - player made content within a persistent world.  While it would not surprise me to see more pornographic buildings and such, most player made stuff seems to tend toward the very interesting.


Cash Shop Games

Free game with a cash shop.  Because there are a limited number of potential customers out there and most of them are playing WOW, developers had to come up with another way to pay for the game.  There are many different styles of cash shops.  The least hated are those that offer only cosmetic changes to the character or gear.  The middle ranking ones give things which could be normally tediously earned within the game as soon as payment is made.  The most despised offer things which could not be gotten at all within the game but only with cash.

I'm a big fan of the cash shop.  The game needs to be paid for.  When computer games first came out, people would rush out to the stores and buy computer games.  They would take them home and install them to discover the games were buggy pieces of shit which were no fun and sometimes even broke the computer.  Upon returning to the store, they would discover there were no returns on open software.  This gave rise to the sale of personal shrink wrap machines.  With no charge for the game, buggy inferior products can be deleted without expending funds.


Platforms

Platforms are programs you load in to get games.  These usually tend to be crap bearing bloatware intent on smuggling bad shit onto my computer, like Steam.  I've yet to have any of the computer experts I know tell me platforms are benign.   This is a pity because the majority of games downloaded now come through platforms.   Until told otherwise, I will view them with the same suspicion as Skynet.


Graphics

Personally, I prefer realistic as opposed to 'cartoony' graphics.   Despise anime.  But this comes down to personal preference.


Complexity

The game complexity ranges from amazingly simple to Eve Online - a space game which has its own stock market.  The best MMO's tend to start simply and layer in more complexity as the game goes along.  Learn as you play.  The worst ones leave the user so frustrated and confused at the beginning they soon quit.


Point of View (POV)

Games are either first or third person point of view.  Although the majority of people seem to prefer third person, where you look down upon your character as they make their way through the world, I don't find it as immersive as looking through the characters eyes.



MMO'S LOGAN HAS PLAYED AND HIS THOUGHTS

Note that the years listed are publish dates.

Everquest 1 (1999):  Played for about a decade.  It's extra torture!  Tried going back to just take a look around the old worlds and get a bit of nostalgia.  Apparently, they didn't think it was complicated and fucked up enough - they've added new layers of pain and suffering.  At the time, it was the best available.  I'm just convinced the company who made it kills puppies for Satan.

Dark Age of Camelot (2001):  Played this back in the old days, it was fine for awhile and when it first came out gave people one of the first options other than the evil of Everquest.  Got old within a couple months.  Many people praised it for the three realm PVP (also now found in ESO) but I still remember people being 'one shotted' (killed in one hit, very unusual for normal MMO's) by rogues with bows.  Fortunately, the PVE and PVP areas were separate.

Anarchy Online (2001):  At first, I was excited about a science fiction release.  However, my suspension of disbelief didn't hold up with the combat.  For some odd reason, it seems totally reasonable that people can cast a lot of spells at a foe or bang them with swords and such before they die.  This is completely untrue at least with the swords.  Pretty much if someone gets hit with one they're going to either die or be in the hospital.  However, people can accept someone getting beaten several times with a sword - especially if their opponent is armored.  This doesn't work with guns.  If I shoot a squirrel with a shotgun, there will be blood and bits of fur left.  I certainly won't need to hit it with five to twenty shotgun blasts to dispatch it.  You do in AO!

World War 2 Online (2001):  The developers said "It's not ready to release."  The publishers said "Release it.  Fuck you, we want our money."  All MMO's have bugs, gliches and problems when they are released.  This game had them in epic proportions.  Not only was it horribly buggy, nearly impossible to get on to play, several hours to patch, etc - but it was poorly thought out.   My memories of this game involve sitting in a truck getting driven to a battle.  For over half an hour.  Seriously.  Imagine sitting in a truck for half an hour just waiting.  In real life, not a big thing but for a video game?  When we got to the battle area, I caught a bullet while getting off the truck and died screaming.  Realistic?  Sure.  Fun?  Hell no.  Even uninstalling this game was hazardous.  This may have been one of the games that screwed up your computer.  I remember thinking "Why did we ever do away with public hangings?"

Asheron's Call 2 (2002):  This one actually got me kicked off of writing for some of the publications on the internet.  I proclaimed the game a big steaming pile of shit.  Microsoft (the publisher) freaked out.  Time proved me correct.  Fuck the weak spines that stopped publishing me.  Besides, they didn't pay me.

Final Fantasy IX (2002):  Levels 1-10, kind and sweet.  Then you found out that if you didn't group, you wouldn't be getting any XP.  Really stupid looking monsters to kill that made me doubt the sanity of the artists.

World of Warcraft (2004):  Mentioned above, this is the standard by which all others are judged.  Not by me, I weigh them mostly against Everquest but this is the big daddy MMO.  I thought it was fine but pretty standardized.  Played it up to what at that time was max level then moved on.

Everquest 2 (2004):  This was a whole lot of 'what the fuck is this shit'.  Think I had that going for an hour or two before uninstall.  Considering it came out the same year  WOW did, I'm guessing some of the people who made it thought things like "So this is the taste of 'fail'..."

Dungeons and Dragons Online (2006):  This game did one thing very right and many other things poorly.  Their huge bright spark was a built in voice communication combined with a good looking for group tool.  If you wanted to find someone for the group, you'd just ask if they had a mic.  This allowed you to disregard all of the children and wildly inept people.  For a time, I had the largest guild in the game.  Eventually, I got bored of it.  Everything is instanced and they didn't have nearly enough 'viable' dungeons to keep people busy for all that long.

Wurm Online (2006):  Danger of installing this game is you have to manually uninstall it.  It just doesn't want to let go.  How this piece of crap has a couple hundred people playing it is a mystery to Logan.  Didn't last on my computer for an entire hour.  Horribly crude and user unfriendly.
Lord of the Rings Online (2007):  A rather bland WOW clone.  Played through it until they ran out of content.

Face of Mankind (2009):  Don't remember much about this other than it didn't stay on the computer for long.

Runes of Magic (2009):  Decent theme park game.  Smallish world.  The best thing about this game was they had interesting daily quests.  At one time, they allowed people to sell the currency bought with real money on the auction house to get gold.  Everyone was happy.  Unfortunately, people with fake credit cards were also happy.  This caused them to stop allowing this.  Their cash shop was a combination cosmetic and things needed to do well in the game.  Hence, Logan gave up playing.  It's basically another WOW clone but it gave me some fun while I was playing and has kept some people playing to this date - five years later.

Star Wars, The Old Republic (2011):  Honestly, if it didn't have the Star Wars logo and story on it, I'm not sure people would stand for the clunky 'what kind of crap is this' interface.  Hell, the Unreal controls (released over a decade earlier) were a lot more smooth and customizable.  This didn't last long on my computer.  It's hard to believe this only came out three years ago - I'd expect better programming.

Star Trek Online (2011):  In my view, an amazingly lame game.  Rather than being able to wander around and explore a working spaceship, you and everyone else become the spaceships.  Also, clunky controls for those rare times you are on foot.  Didn't last on my computer long which is a pity because I've been a big fan of Star Trek for most of my life.

Elder Scrolls Online (2014):  Most MMO's, you have to stand still and slug it out with your opponents.  This is one of the first games where movement is actually encouraged.  They have a decent crafting system.  Sadly, it is a theme park style game.  Due to incompetence, they didn't start with the programming to prevent bots (the computer playing with itself) and gold farmers (people who illegally sell in game gold for real money) so they've tried to implement preventatives post release.  Because these preventative programs are badly written, they often flag people who play legally as cheats and automatically ban them.  In over a decade of playing MMO's, this is the only game I've ever been banned from.  Twice.  Because I am currently banned I spent some time writing a MMO article. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

THIS IS ACTUALLY THAT PROJECT YOUR BOSS WANTED DONE

THE LITTLE THINGS

When you are travelling for a long time, you learn to appreciate the little things more.  Not every day is white water rafting in Nepal or exploring a souk in Morocco.  If you are not travelling solo, chances of your experiencing these things dwindles rapidly.

Some examples of things that have made me happy in Bulgaria:

+The lady who knows how to say 'cheers' in English and her entire table raising their glasses to you just to be nice.

+The waitress who laughs at your pantomime while you are trying to explain 'cheese' with pantomime.

+The cashier who is very excited when you say 'hi' because she knows how to say 'goodbye' in English and is just waiting to use it.

+People who think being from the USA is a 'cool exotic place'.

The Bulgarians have been extremely hospitable to me and I am enjoying living here.  After just a couple weeks I'd become pretty ensconced in the neighborhood.  People know me by sight and smile, wave or say hello ("dobry den") when they see me.



PLOVDIV

For just sitting and hanging out, it is fine.  I've no idea why (despite the glowing reviews things like wikitravel have given it) a tourist would come here.  One or two days maximum in the old town is enough to see everything.

I've been told that the local mafia controlled beaches are fine and the mountains are splendid to see but I've seen more than enough beach front property and fuck walking up and down mountains.  I enjoy cigarettes, food and alcohol far too much.



FUTURE POSSIBLE

The current plan after Bulgaria is Macedonia then Albania.  As I'm still addicted to playing my video game, renting an apartment and burrowing into the local scene like a tick is a very strong possibility.  Were I to spend three months in each of those non-EU countries,  that would take me well into winter.  I've no desire to see cold weather again for several years.  Tunisia is a strong possibility for spending part of the winter.  Perhaps Egypt will have stabilized by the time my Tunisian visa runs out and the rest of the winter could be spent there.  After that is a complete mystery.



QUEST FOR CLOTHING

After taking a repeated tour of a street in a taxi looking for a place not actually on that street, I got out and asked around until it was found.  Naturally, this was a high end athletic shop.  Athletes here don't seem to come in XXXL so I was referred to the local mall.   This was a surprise - no idea they had a mall here.  Found some t-shirts there in XXL size which fit like a surgical glove and are about as thick.  Not the colors I'd have chosen either but at a decent price of 10 lev each, I grabbed four.

To celebrate buying clothing which didn't really fit had a helping of McDonald's and self loathing for 12 lev.

As in all of Eastern Europe, your chances of having tomatoes added to a burger normally not containing such is impossible.  Offering extra money, threatening to kidnap their family and torch their house are insufficient inducements to 'have it your way'.  You will have it their way and deal with it.



TIP OR STAY HOME?

For some reason beyond my understanding, in the USA it is alright for employers to pay their waiters and waitresses well below the minimum wage.  They are expected to make enough in tips to increase their wage to a reasonable amount.  I have no idea how this 'culture of tipping' started.  Alone in the USA, you often get service showing the wait person cares about your happiness.

This is all well and fine but the wait staff regularly complain about people not tipping.  Having managed to stay out of that line of work  all my life, I can only imagine the frustration of doing a good job and not getting what you regard as your fair due.

Now, the reverse should also be true.  If the waiter or waitress does a bad job and receives no tip, this should be fine - right?  The tip is suppose to be for doing a good job?  Or is it just an 'entitled' thing?  The patrons of the restaurant paying what the management has managed to dodge due to the USA becoming a 'culture of tipping'?

Nearly every other country in the world does not tip or their tip is rounding up to the next even amount.  In the USA that would mean if your bill is $15.45, you leave $16 and everyone is happy.  Well, actually some wait staff would chase you down and attempt to shame you into giving more - but that's another story.  In the countries that have no tipping, the service is typically indifferent at best, horrible at worst.  The wait staff (yes, I'm sticking to gender neutral as both men and women are working at this job) in most countries typically stand around talking to each other, ignoring the customers.  They are paid just their standard (substandard) wage - that's it.

In the USA, if the wait staff stood around ignoring the customers, many - but not all - people would feel validated in not leaving a tip.  Others would tip a reduced amount, others would leave a full tip.

If the tip is 'to insure promptness', why do people give one for lackluster service?  Why is there an entire movement which states 'if you can't afford to tip 20%, don't eat out'?

Is it another symptom of our entitlement society?  It does seem a bit 'self serving' (pun intended).

Of course, if people who could not afford the 20% tip didn't eat out at all, would the restaurant be able to remain open?  If not, would that cause the wait person to have to find a different job?  This does not seem to have been adequately considered.

Some restaurants have even gone so far as to make tipping mandatory - thus ridding the entire reason for tipping.  You can get horrible service and still be forced to tip.

It is an interesting question for people who live in the USA but I don't think the answer will be difficult to determine - depending on the person's occupation...



COSTS

An entire lamb (guts extra) ready for the oven, feeds fifteen to twenty people or one American, 150 lev.

Friday, May 16, 2014

VOICE OF AUTHORITY

STATISTICS

Something people agonize about with sporting events and such but they never think about their personal statistics.

Since I'm a weird fucker, I've thought about some of mine.

Hopefully, this will inspire other people to put up interesting ones about themselves.

Current age, approximately 48.  Though arguably my brain stopped maturing long ago.

From least amount to most:

About 2 years:  Working for the US Government in intelligence.

4 years:  Military service, intelligence.  Yes, we all know the joke.

6 years:  International travel and living abroad (including my time in the military spent in Korea and Germany).

10 years:  LARP'ing.  Primarily NERO though I have done a couple other LARP's (they were lame) whose names elude me at present.

20 years:  Working at various jobs ranging from corporate purchasing to temp work (go, America!) with a few cool people and the rest I'd gladly set on fire if I thought I could escape prosecution.

26 years:  Computer games, including FPS, MMORPG's (16 years in just those), strategy.  Does not include many years doing arcade games which pretty much don't exist any more due to the rise of the personal computer.

33 years:  Table top roleplaying games.

What are YOUR statistics?



VOICE OF AUTHORITY

In Eastern Europe, they have something called "the Voice of Authority" (VOA).  Not sure if this is a real term or just one the Evil Cat used once and it became a standard term.  This is usually the person who is either in or seems themselves in a position of authority.  They tell other people what to do.  Because a couple generations of  people got their heads fucked up by the USSR, they usually listen unquestioningly.

Since I was raised in the 'be an individual' rather than 'obey or off to Siberia for you' country, the VOA is usually ineffectual on me.

My headphones died.  Apparently life sitting on the table was too hard for them and they gave up the ghost.  The backup pair had been previously broken and stuffed into a bag to rot.  Time to get new headphones.  Unlike many other people I've been with, I prefer to keep my stuff to myself even when living in my own apartment.  No noise pollution.  Besides, people hearing ESO sounds of combat may get the wrong idea.

After walking a few blocks to an electronics store and finding some amazingly shitty 5 lev headphones that appear to have been made during a really off decade in China, it was off to the largest electronic store in the city.  My friend Tito called a cab and set things up for it to take me there, wait and return.

They didn't have the exact headphones I wanted so I grabbed three.  At the counter, I set two off to one side.  I slapped the money down on the counter and with the cashier's box cutter went to work on the packaging so I could try out the headphones while waiting my turn in line.

At this point, an older lady attempted to use the VOA on me.  It was in Bulgarian but I got the message.  You can't open that till you've paid for it.  I gestured at the money on the counter and replied with a big smile "I don't know what you're saying, but I also don't care."

One of the customers in line started laughing.

After wrenching out the headphones and trying them on, I got back in line, bought the other two and jumped in to the cab.

Going to stock up on my normal brand next time I'm in Asia.

As a side note, in the USA I've taken this up a notch.  Sometimes, I grab things off the counter and eat them as I shop.  Shopping is hungry work.  At the register, they ring up the wrappers.  Although it gets some looks as long as you pay for it, who cares?  That is so far out of the ordinary for most countries that I don't do it.  They would think I'm trying to steal stuff and freak out.



THE VOICES IN MY HEAD

I was wandering around up and down side streets as I am wont to do.  Passing a couple old men sitting on a park bench, I politely said "Dobry den" (formal, 'good day').  No response but they eyed me warily.

At this point, my brain kicked in and immediately gave them names (Ivan and Georgi) and supplied their conversation.

Ivan:  "Isn't that an imperialist running dog Americanski that our old Soviet masters warned us of?"
Georgi:  "Look at his stomach!  He may have eaten our old Soviet masters!"



HOW TO IRRITATE THE AMERICAN POLICE

A simple plan to irritate, annoy and baffle the police.

Lock all of the doors and windows to your house. Go into a room. (Note, if you say you can't because the house is all locked up, you are doing it wrong.) Barricade the door. If possible, nail up the windows.

Put a chair in the center of the room with a small table and a telephone.

Dress bizarrely. Scuba fins, clown pants, suit jacket with a Mohawk wig all together is a good start.

From the center of the room, sprinkle a fine lair of talcum powder in a circle at least three meters wide that goes right up to the chair. Be sure not to touch or disturb the powder in any way.

Have a cryptic note on the table next to you saying something like "The person who is about to murder me says that the police are stupid and will probably arrest the wrong person if they even make an arrest. You will never stop me from my current lucrative counterfeiting operation which shall be used to finance terrorism and the slaying of the US president who I like but want to kill anyway. Bwahahaa."

That note will bring in the ATF, Secret Service, Homeland Security and others. This will be a nightmare in jurisdictional issues for the police. They will hate you for it.

Call emergency, tell them your address in a clear voice and that you are in the process of being murdered.  "Please send help."

Set the phone on the table, leave it on. Say "Do your worst, you piece of shit!"

Die of a sudden brain aneurysm.

I can personally guarantee that if you can pull this off (it only have one complicated part, after all. And you have to assemble a costume) it will annoy the shit out of the police.

 Before you are too hard on the prankster, remember, he is dead.

For an advanced prank, return to life just before the autopsy and run off naked. Show up in a picture with Snowden for good measure later.

This will irritate the police and doctors as well.



ERRONEOUS ASSUMPTIONS

When I first started to travel, there was a lot of talk about 'should I claim to be Canadian, eh?'  Nobody is pissed at the Canadians and if they've bombed anyone it is only in the most polite way.

In the last three years, I've not found one person who was angry that I was from the USA.  In fact, most people seem very pleased and want to discuss their friends or relatives who have moved there.

If someone is dubious, you can always say "I am from the USA but honestly, I'm not too happy with some of the things the government is doing."

And everything is fine.



BULGARIAN FRIENDLINESS RANKING

Friendly and hospitable.  In the top five for that of any country I've been to thus far.  For the record, in no particular order the top four countries thus far have been:

Georgia, Indonesia, Bulgaria, Ecuador and unknown.

I'm thinking I'm missing one country so am leaving one slot as 'unknown'.  If you're extremely nationalistic, you can mentally put your country in there.

Also, I'm not counting the USA simply because when I am fortunate enough to stay with friends.



COSTS

Crossing Plovdiv in a methane powered (really) taxi, 5 lev

Sunday, May 11, 2014

ELDER SCROLLS ONLINE

WHAT LOGAN DOES EVERY DAY

What does Logan do during the average day in Bulgaria?

Not much - but I'm enjoying that.

To be more specific,

I wake up at some point during the day.  Usually it is late as I like to stay up late.  Sometimes it is pretty early as my medical condition has insomnia as one of the many side effects.  That and pain.  So whenever my insomnia and pain tell me it is time to get out of bed, I do.

I have a couple cups of coffee and some cigarettes to punish my body for waking me.

Then, I wander over to  a nearby grocery.  There, I get to talk to my new friend.  He use to work in the UK and his English is excellent.  He and his girlfriend co-own the grocery store.  There we smoke and talk about anything from recent Bulgarian politics to MMO's.  I think we'll be good friends.

After this is "Logan's fat ass exercise time".  This is  a futile attempt to burn some of the calories I've taken in.  I wander around, maybe snap some photos.

On the way home, grab food for my night meal at one of the restaurants and any other supplies I need at my friend's grocery store.

Shower and tell myself I am a sexy beast in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Play MMO's until I get hungry.

Eat food.  Continue to play MMO's until I become too tired or drunk to continue.

Maybe watch a movie.

Work on them pearly whites!

Either go to sleep or pass out, depending on the alcohol content.

Get up several times during the night to make sure nobody has stolen my toilet.  Curse old age every time.

Repeat.



READING MATERIAL

Good Article on travel scams.  Also read through wiki travel of the country, city you are going to find out what current scams they are using on the unwary, unlucky and tediously stupid.



ELDER SCROLLS ONLINE (ESO) - my initial impressions

If you have no interest in MMORPG's (AKA MMO's), skip this section.

I've been playing MMO's since 1998.  That's sixteen years.  Holy crap, I've had conversations with people who are younger than that.

Many people won't play a game unless it looks pretty.  I'm playing on low settings, this still looks amazing.


After installing the game

Go here and get this addon.  There are easy to follow instructions there on how to do it.  I'm not even going to go into why to do it but apparently this is a legal addon, as well as the only one I seem to be able to get to work.  Once you start playing the game and figuring out what is going on, you will call my name 'blessed' for having you get it.  My thanks go to my old friend TJ for telling me to get it.  Also, go here and follow these instructions.  They remove the four or five 'splash screens' that only the game developers give a crap about.


Starting out

Not a huge learning curve.  You only have three factions.  Find out which one your friends are playing and join that.  If you pick unwisely, you can still have characters in the other two factions.  You get eight characters per server and they all share one bank account.  Note that there are two different servers, 'American' and 'European'.  Hence, if you really wanted, you can have sixteen total characters.

You heard that right - all of your characters are secret traitors to their factions.  Heck, you can even mail stuff to people in different factions.

Once you've got your faction, there are three races within each.  Pick the one that seems best for whatever class you're going to play.  Or don't - it's not a huge deal.  Some races are more fit for some of the classes but if you want to play a dark elf (who are good at magic) as a tank, you can without being crippled.

Once you get your faction and race, you choose your class.  With all of these things, simply hovering your cursor over it will give you the basic information.

For your first character, there is a bondage tutorial.  For your first character, I recommend it.  Because the people who made ESO like naughty prison movies, once again you start out in a cage.  This is something you are pretty much on your own with.  There may be other confused newbies around running into walls and getting violated with toilet brushes but overall, you're on your own.

As soon as possible within the tutorial, you'll want to go into your controls and game play options.  There is an autoloot box in there.  Clicking yes to that will make you a happy camper - trust me on this.

Once you've gotten out of that, you are in the real world with all the other PC's.

The tutorial is moderately interesting the first time but fortunately subsequent characters have the option of opting out of it.


Character development

When you level up, you get a statistic point.  Just one and you get to pick one of three different easy to figure out statistics to put it in.  Again, you can't really cripple your character by the wrong choice.  If you consistently pick the wrong stat, yes but until you learn about the game (say the first five or ten levels out of fifty) it is not going to kill you.

After putting a point into a statistic, the game will automatically open your skills screen.  This is where you get to read and ponder.

Within each character class are three different ways to play that class.  Find the one that suits you.  Put points into that stuff.  Note that unless you want to put lots and lots of your character's skill points into crafting, you will be stuck on the newbie stuff.  Personally, I love that.  It means that not everyone will be a crafter.  You can gather and sell resources but to get above the newbie level of crafting requires a lot of valuable character points.


Questing

The questing system is fairly standard.  You go to someone and they have stuff for you to do.  "You go fight the hordes of evil, I'll go home!"  Unlike many MMO's, these are much more story based.  Should you feel like reading (I usually don't) you find that you are going through various stories.  They don't seem to have "go fetch me a dozen wolf legs" type quests.

There is a huge drawback for the 'casual player' in the quests.  The quests you do change the world for your character.  If you are solo'ing, this is awesome.  Watch as your actions have an actual impact upon the world!  However, if you group with someone who has already done the quest, it might not work.  Those guys you need to kill?  Not there for him.  He can't see nor interact with them.  Of course you can still get with your buddies and go into 'public dungeons' and have a killing spree or just wander around the amazing world together.  For people who have 'significant others' or buddies they want to adventure with, my advice is for both to make a character who only adventures with that character - that way you are on the same proverbial page.


Fighting and looting

They did it right in this game.  In many MMO's, the person who did either the most damage or final blow to the character gets the loot.  This leads to 'assholeism' of the highest order.  In this game, if you kill something solo, you have about a one in two or one in three chance of getting some sort of loot.  If thirty people all unleash hell upon a hapless critter in the wild, they all still have the same loot chance.  This leads to people 'drive by assisting' you, leading to happy feelings toward other adventurers rather than extreme hatred.  Aside from the harvesting.

Also, very few experience points are to be gained by killing monsters - most comes from questing.  Hence, you never feel as though you are 'grinding'.

Fighting itself is a lot more interesting than standing there and pressing buttons.  There is some 'twitch' to it, but not a lot.  I think they did a good job balancing it to make it more interesting.


Harvesting

This is where it gets competitive.  There is a lot of shit lying around the world waiting for you to grab.  Some acts like the critters - everyone gets a go.  That includes all of the backpacks, sacks, dressers, bookcases (read as potential free skill point in some random skill), urns, barrels and so on.  Other stuff you get to compete for such as herbs, special chests, wood (Got Wood?), ore and so on.  Hunt for these well away from the roads.  The world is big enough that if you go off of the well beaten paths you can feel completely alone.

Getting back to the addon you will hopefully download, those are 'sky shards'.  Using three gives you a free skill point.  The addon simply adds the locations of them to your normal map.


Player vs player (PVP)

I'm not a huge fan of PVP so don't know much about it but here's what I have discovered.

I've not participated in any PVP but once I went with my buddy to the PVP lands.  They are huge.  There are a bunch of castles and forts to capture.  There are a bunch of sky shards to get.  Using points gained in PVP, players can buy siege weapons they keep in their backpack to pull out for use in war.  These help destroy walls and such but have an amazingly short range.

Everyone gets boosted to a very weak level fifty for PVP.  The people who are much stronger are the ones who have hit level fifty are stronger.  The ones who have kept adventuring after level fifty are even stronger.

Since my friend TJ knows a lot more about the PVP area, here's what he says:

"I for one need New things to explore and for some one like me who really enjoys adventuring and exploration ESO Is great. Full voice narration for all quests. Issues and bugs are replied to and worked on within 24 hours. Massive DAOC inspired PVP region thats so large it reminds me of what it must have felt like to be an early explorer in the medieval days. Massive rolling plains and mountains doted by small towns and castles. You may see no one for a hour or so while exploring then you may have a small army of mounted knights with a long tail of squires following behind suddenly ride up over the top of a hill near you causing your heart to skip a beat until you hopefully notice they are friendly and just heading off to siege an enemy fortification in some far off location. Yes there are quests and caves to be explored and found in the PVP area too."

Other activities

In addition to a robust crafting system, there is a ton of exploring to be done.  The world is cool enough to warrant it.  There seems to be a lot of little interesting things but I'm still new to the game.


Guilds

They did them right.  Rather than your character joining a guild, your account does.  So much better.  You can join up to five guilds at once.  This is necessary because the only 'auction house' is the 'guild store'.  You can only sell up to thirty items at one time.  Hence, belonging to one 'adventuring guild' and four 'trading guilds' seems a good way to do it.  This probably also keeps down the number of annoying small guilds.  For a trading guild, it wouldn't make sense to join a small one - less bought and sold.


End game

After a week or two of intensive play I'm no where close to any sort of 'end game', hence know nothing about it.


Summary

If you liked any of the Elder Scrolls games or are a fan of MMO's, I'd recommend picking up this game.  It will cost between $40 and $60 (maybe less by the time you read this).  You get a free month of game play with that.  If you decide you like it, each month is $15 or less.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

PEACE AURA

PLOVDIV, BULGARIA

The old town is a world UNESCO Heritage site.  That means that some committee thought "Hey - this is alright.  We should probably give it some fame so the locals don't destroy it."

The old town, however, is tiny.  Very tiny.  It is so tiny that a fat man who isn't in any real hurry can plod over all of it in a day, two at most.

Since it is such a special place, the prices within are jacked up two or three times.  Locals and tourists usually only have a beer or tea there because nobody wants to pay those sorts of food prices.

Of the stuff I saw only the amphitheater struck me as 'pretty nifty'.  The rest is alright but even for the nifty Roman stuff (and I do like me some Roman ruins) you're still done after a day.  So it was either time to move on or get an apartment.

Found a 'tourist information agency'.  These are run by the government and make no money.  As a result, they are usually closed or staffed by people who only speak a rare dialect of the local language spoken by a handful of people carefully kept in hiding by the government.  To my great surprise, this was neither.  Both English and German were spoken - not with fluency but certainly enough to have a basic conversation and find some things out.  They also had useful maps.  Contrast this to the usual 'we are out of maps' or the maps people are given which are corporate sponsored and of use only to find the business which sponsored the maps.

Feeling saucy, I inquired within if they knew of a place I could rent an apartment for a month.  The very nice lady had the junior member of the staff take me to the rental agency.  From there, the renter and I viewed the property and it was perfect for my simple needs.  I confess I took the first place I viewed - but it was perfect.  You can actually view the property on the video link below.

It should be noted that there was pretty much no paperwork other than a 'could you write down the name you'd like to be called' sort.  Cash was handed over and apartment keys given.  For someone wanting to lay low who somehow found themselves in Bulgaria, this would be preferable to a hostel as they want to see your passport.

Or what's in your bags.
This is not what is in my bags.



ADVENTURES IN BULGARIA

Logan Vs the Cafeteria of Doom!

Logan wanders into one of those cafeteria style restaurants where they charge per hundred grams of food.

Staff lady:  "Can I help you?"
Logan:  "Ah, I'm just looking to see what all you have.  I ate a couple hours ago and am looking for somewhere to eat tonight."
Staff lady:  "OK, we close at eight."

This is suspicious to me as there is a sign on my downstairs door in Bulgarian that says "After 8:30PM lock the door."  I'm guessing that's what it says as nobody will give me Google Glasses with the translating function.  This makes me think that the CHUD's come out around eight or nine in the evening.

After about five minutes after Logan left the cafeteria, he bursts back in startling the Staff Lady.

Logan:  "I just remembered!  I have a microwave!"  Note, the oven is not something Logan wants any part of.

Logan:  "I want two of those!"

The staff lady wraps it up and begins to ring it up.

Logan:  "What are you doing?"

Staff Lady (surprised):  "You...wanted something else?"

Logan:  (pointing at huge gut):  "You see this?  It is called 'Ongoing bad judgement!"

The staff lady dissolved into laughter.



STREET TALK

After just a couple days here, I got stopped by a group of old men hanging around drinking coffee outside of a bar.  One spoke to me at length (German, thank you old USSR!) about who I was, what I was up to and so on.  He may be a friend of my landlord - same age range.

I'm also getting to know the names of various shop keepers and such I deal with.

The Bulgarians seem to span the entire range between those that are very friendly and those that laugh at my wrap pants.



LANDLORD

The landlord has quite a clever set up going.  He and his wife are the grandparents.  Not sure if all of their kids or just some of them live in the same building.  It could either be reduced rent or everyone chips in to pay for things.  Either way, as a grandparent, you have easy daily access to the grand kids - something American grandparents would shiv people for.  On the ground floor of the building they have a small store.  The store doesn't seem to sell much but stocks beer and coffee - giving their friends a rally point.

For those wanting to settle down, this seems pretty darned idyllic.



PEACE AURA - a story from Logan's distant past.

I'd started training in martial arts when I was in my early teens.  It was something my parents had gotten me into, probably to teach me some discipline.  The discipline part didn't hold but it did have the bonus of making me slightly less clumsy.  When I got into the military, I trained under a guy named Bob Spears in Hapkido.  Only after I'd left Germany and the military did I find out this guy was a famous practitioner of that art.

We didn't have the internet in those days.

But at the time I was about twenty and pretty violent - and decently skilled at violence.  Quite a change from now where I am moderately mellow, fat, cripply and old.  The problem at that time was I didn't get into fights.

Not for lack of wanting to get into fights.

I'm not a superstitious man.  If someone tells me they've seen a ghost, my immediate thought is they suffered a delusion or are telling me a 'tall tale'.  But some of my friends were.  They came up with the idea that I was surrounded by a 'peace aura'.

If tensions were starting to ratchet up in the bar and some horrible comment about someone's mother's sexual preferences had just been dropped, me walking in would suddenly have people apologizing to each other.  Not from anything I did.  Hell, I might be completely unaware of it.  Not from any 'charisma' or 'presence'.  I've never walked into a room and had everyone suddenly stop what they were doing and look at me other than to say things like "What is he wearing" and "Why can't he hit his mouth with his food?"

No.  Just some weird "Logan's in the area, we'll kill each other later."

Naturally, this frustrated the hell out of my twenty year old "let's kick some ass" self.

There was a bar called "Richies" in Munich, Germany.  Owned by an English couple, three different groups frequented the place.  US soldiers from the nearby base, American college students and Germans.  At that time, all three groups absolutely hated each other.  With the exception of me.  I was a soldier, hung out and did table top gaming with many of the students and spoke German.  Yes, I've always been a social person.

Anyway, tension started to ratchet up and up in Richies.

I started going nightly, hoping that there would be a big brawl and at last, I'd get to participate.

Up and up the tension went.

My special forces soldier friends began to plot.  Eventually, I think they drew lots.  The loser was instructed to take me and some other friends out to some different German clubs and keep me out of Richies for one night.

When the soldier initially proposed this, I was against it.  A brawl might happen any night in Richies!  He offered to pay for my drinks.  Reluctant acceptance.

The next day before they opened, I stopped by to visit with the owner, Richie.

The bar was trashed.  Broken furniture.  Blood on the walls.  Shards of glass embedded in the walls.  My face fell.

"I've never seen anything like it before." said the pale faced Richie.  "Everyone just snapped."

To the soldiers, this 'proved' the theory of the peace aura.  Personally, I still think it's bunk.  And, naturally as soon as I left, things started to heat up in Odessa...

WTF.



VIDEOS

Where am I?



NOTE TO SELF

My address for the next month is

Street Polk. Sava Mutkurov # 20, 2nd floor Chunchurovi family Plovdiv, Bulgaria 4003

What?  You crazy?  You can't just put your address up on the internet!

Who the fuck is going to come here, break into a secured building just to fucking steal my alcohol?  Hell, if any of my friends or fans visit, I'll buy extra and drink it with them!

Monday, April 28, 2014

VARNA TO PLOVDIV BULGARIA

VARNA, BULGARIA

Flag Hostel could have been somewhere I stayed for quite some time but - as often happens - the people running it caused me to move on.

Anyone who knows me well can tell you "If you want Logan to leave the room, turn on the TV."  Double that with 'foreign TV' and 'awful dubbed shit'.  Naturally, the guy running the hostel was interested in watching a good deal of TV in the tiny common area.  The only area with a table for the computer.

I'd checked out "Yo Ho Ho Hostel" which Adam had mentioned.  They're a party hostel with a chummy hostel vibe.  Nearly full compared with the nearly empty of Flag Hostel.  Noisier as well - people who believe music should always be on.

I prefer silence.  And headphones.

Varna itself was 'nice'.  Not thrilling, but nice.  Really nothing all that interesting aside from the amazing Alba Restaurant.  One restaurant isn't really enough to make me stay.  There are also various day trips one can make from there but it really wasn't of interest to me.  I just wasn't 'feeling it'.

So I left my keys and lock on my pillow and ninja'ed out early in the morning to catch a morning train...

Because train station restrooms are such a joy, I availed myself.  Four of the six cubicals were blocked off because cleaning is hard - despite they charge you for using them.  The remaining two had been frequently fouled by their inaccurate loathsome clientele.  Used my bags to barricade myself into the squat toilet as the door locks had long ago been destroyed.  The six squares of toilet paper they give you are never enough, be sure to pack your own.

To celebrate not getting a fatal disease from the bio-hazard bathroom, had a couple espressos and smoked some cigarettes then escaped by train.  I am a leaf on the wind!



ARRIVAL IN PLOVDIV

Even if you knew where to go, it's too far to walk from the train station to the old town.  The good news is it's only 3.50 lev by taxi.  Because the guy was chatty and nice, I just gave him five.

The first place I checked out was "Hiker's Hostel".  This was a dirty, nasty "What the hell" place for seven euros.  "Would you like it?"   Er, gosh, I might be back later.  Or slit my wrists and die in a fire.  The next place I checked out was a huge marble building for nine euros a night.  Gosh.  Much better.  And I have a dorm room to myself.  Yeah.  I can live with this.  Glad I walked the extra ten meters to 'Plovdiv Guesthouse'.  The downside is the owners were pretty nitpicky in their pricing.  An extra euro for this, an extra euro for that.  Silly.

Did a little exploration of the town - it seems interesting.  More scrutiny tomorrow.



MAKING RAKIA

In England obtaining things from a 'fellow you met down at the pub' is a normal way of doing business.  Especially for Hagrid.
It's where I obtain information.  When talking to a couple guys in a Varna bar (Bulgaria), they told me about home made rakia.  It's a big deal here.  You can make up to 10-12 liters per year for 'personal use'.  After that, a heavy tax of a euro or two is charged per liter.  This is an old law that's been enforced for quite awhile.  As a result, many secret stills and hidden brewing lairs are set up by 'hicks' around the country.  People will have their drink!



FOOD IN BULGARIA

Thus far, my ranking of restaurant food for three of the countries in Eastern Europe:

Bulgaria - I've only had great food here and look forward to eating more.
Republic of Georgia - Good, but the selection is limited.
Ukraine - McDonald's tastes better and is cheaper.



LANGUAGES

I often marvel at how many languages I go through in one day.  This is not to say "Oh, I am cool, I can speak lots of languages."  Anyone who has heard me speak various languages knows that my vocabulary is severely limited.  Mostly this is a combination of such a bad memory things leave after a couple minutes and laziness.  I've never sat down and studied any language other than German.

Even with an extremely slipshod 'learn as you go' program you can still pick up a lot of stuff - and it is all useful.

If I actually spoke a few languages fluently, I'd probably not even think it worth mentioning that I was talking to someone in Russian, etc.



RUSSIAN TERRORISTS

Bulgarian's attitude toward Russians.

Unlike in Ukraine where it could be kindly summarized as 'mixed feelings', here it seems to be neutral or against.

At a corner store, I made the mistake of speaking in Russian and was told, "я не хочу россиянам".  ('Yanie ha choo Ruscianam', aka 'I don't want Russians').  Since it rhymes, I countered with 'yanie ha choo Pikachu!'

Fortunately they knew who Pikachu was, thought it was hilarious and I was forgiven for speaking in the language of what they called 'terrorists'.

Does this mean all languages from this part of the world sound the same to Logan?  Yes.  Hence, I'm going to stick with English and German.  So far, about 60% of my conversations have been in English, 40% in German and 5% in Russian.  Note, this study has a 5% margin of error.

German just keeps on being useful.  Unless I speak to Germans who all speak flawless English.  Also, unlike foreigners who have learned German, natives tend to say "Ah, you speak decent German, not a bad accent - you must be totally fluent.  Into the deep end with you!"  Where I drown.  Not with other foreigners.  There is no deep end!   Much easier.



LOGAN'S TRAVEL MENTOR
Folks, the normally camera shy (he's a private person) Adam allowed me to get a couple photos for posting on Facebook with him. In addition to showcasing my extraordinarily large Ukrainian given (well, OK, self inflicted) gut they are the only photos of Adam. He channels the Evil Cat many of you have come to know. This guy has had several extremely interesting careers. I won't mention them because he is a private person. I will say they are outside the 'norm' enough that they would make an interesting book. He's been traveling seasonally for close to three decades, has a couple of masters degrees, is contemplating a doctorate and a teaching position. He's been approached by various newspapers who wanted deep background on different shit - which he doesn't like to give them. Possibly because he knows they're just looking for a sound bite. Yes, he is wearing a 'Blackwater' tshirt. Why no, we won't go in to how he got it but I will say he didn't have to pay for it. This guy has been my travel mentor for about three years and knows a lot of shit. I appreciate learning from him, making his life hell and occasionally breaking his toilet seats. Shitting all over and destroying your property is how Logan shows affection.



KEEP YOUR SHIT TIGHT
Beyond this you are inconveniencing other guests, making the hostel look messy etc. When people see your stuff like this, you get a 'neutral' mark. Nobody will ever say "Hey - thanks for keeping your gear tight". They will think dark thoughts about you if it is 'looser' than this. Because I keep my gear tight it doesn't count against me like so many other things I do and say.  One of the things I learned from Adam I'd have never thought of on my own.

If someone says "But I didn't sign up for the military!"  If you did you'd be cleaning.  And doing push ups.  Communal living means respect.  If even a couple people get sloppy with their gear, the room goes to hell quick.

You should be able to access everything in the dark.  Only the biggest dickheads turn on the light "just for a second" to get stuff.  If you have to use a flashlight that's OK but a pro knows where all of their stuff is by touch.



VIDEOS

Train in Bulgaria



COSTS

Train Varna to Plovdiv, first class 26 lev
Espressos at train station, 1-2 lev
Cigarettes, 5 lev/pack

Saturday, April 26, 2014

BUS, BUS, MAGIC BUS!

ODESSA TO VARNA

Because long time readers of the blog enjoy Logan's pain like a vampire does blood, here is a recounting of the trip.

The mortar shells of the rebels had still failed to be launched as I boarded the bus.  The paint on the side proclaimed it to be a 'first class bus'.  They adhere to rigid truth in advertising all over the world.

Toward Moldova the bus plodded, picking its way carefully through roads already prepared for the next post apocalyptic "Fall Out" game.  Swerving down the one lane road the driver decided the grass was continuously greener anywhere but his assigned lane.  Many smaller cars and a couple other buses were ruthlessly bullied onto the shoulder or worse.  Any bus calling itself a 'sleeper' was turned into a lair on these roads.

Along the sides of the road, various stone crosses had been set up in spots where the drunk, unlucky or careless had met their end.  Like a ship offloading floating mines to honor sailors lost at sea, these will not only see but cause more death.

The hamlets in both Ukraine and Moldova were alike in that the traffic passing through received a lingering look as though this would be the day's entertainment.  Gray sullen buildings surrounded by unremarkable fields, as exciting as a drive through Kansas.

Felt sorry for the Ukrainians at the Moldovan border.  This is a quiet dull border with little traffic.  The offices are made from three shipping containers so that you know what living in a freezer is like.  A zombie outbreak would probably be a welcome change of pace.

In the past, I've fired pistols, shotguns, sub machine guns, assault rifles, machine guns, grenade launcher and so on.  Today was the first day I'd ever been 'felt up' by a sub machine gun.  It was on the guard's back and the bus was pretty narrow when he turned.  Felt like he then bobbed up and down a few times.  Afterward, I wanted a cigarette and a cuddle with the SMG but he was gone.  Heartbreaking.

A class of young, chattering, enthusiastic and drunk naval academy students took up most of the bus.  At a border, one of the girls checked out the outhouses.  Simple wooden buildings with a hole cut in the floor and twenty male visitors with bad aim.  "So sorry!"  she shouted.  "This is Ukraine!"

I laughed politely though this wasn't the first time I'd heard that phrase.

All of the currency exchanges were either closed or lied about not having dollars and euros - despite being able to see them in the drawer.  Rather than add to my mini 'Jason Bourne money collection' I exchanged with the professor leading the maritime class at a very favorable rate.  For him.

The bus ride started at 1 PM and arrived at 8 AM the next day.  We'd passed through Ukraine, Moldova, Romania and into Bulgaria.  These borders were all lightly trafficked.  A border guard would board the bus, collect the passports, leave with them and they'd return from a bus worker stamped later.  The seat of the first class was uncomfortable enough I feel as though I'd received a spanking.  Not that perverted 'please spank me' British thing but an American 'go pick a switch'.



BUS PROTOCOLS

Taking long distance buses within the USA is a fairly rare occurrence.  Generally, the people using something like Greyhound are either extremely poor, foreigners, people without a license or convicts just released from/broke out of jail.  The toilets generally work, regular breaks are made and the only thing you have to remember to do from time to time is jump up brandishing a shiv and yelling "Don't touch my stuff!"

1)  Watch the driver carefully.  Not to see if he will snap or drive you into oncoming traffic though this is always a possibility.
If the driver gets out for a smoke, you may have time to dash to the bathroom.  Should he sit down to eat, chow down.  When the driver is climbing back into the bus you should be right behind him.  People often get left behind thinking the bus will wait for them.  Sometimes it does.  Those incompetent and inconsiderate enough to hold up an entire bus rightly receive the hatred of everyone else on the bus.

2)  Use the restroom whenever possible.  Finding out when the next stop is can be tricky.  You should always carry toilet paper and water with you - don't expect to find either en-route.  Even when you are assured the bus comes equipped with a toilet they are usually locked because nobody wants to clean them.  Or broken.  Or so disgusting and cramped that using them would leave you in worse shape than just wearing an adult diaper.
The night before traveling on a long trip is not the time to try a new restaurant or 'interesting' food.  The less you eat and drink before leaving and while on the road the happier you'll be.

3)  Guard your gear!  Tourists love to leave iPads and other electronic gizmos worth three months of someone's gross pay on the seat when they go to the bathroom or fall asleep then are indignant when they wake up without it.
Valuables such as computers go in a small backpack that goes everywhere with you.  Passports and credit cards are often put into this pack but a security pouch worn under the clothing is much safer.  Losing those important things while overseas can mean a week of fighting with bureaucracy rather than enjoying your vacation.

4)  Talk to your fellow passengers - especially the natives!
It requires being outgoing.  People traveling with others generally only speak with their companions.  They miss out on meeting interesting foreigners.  On the most recent bus trip, I met up with a physicist who was a teacher at a naval academy and who spoke six languages fluently.  Putting yourself out there and talking to people also garners goodwill with other passengers.  They will happily point out important information you would have missed not speaking the language - this break is only five minutes, there is something interesting/historical/significant, this is your stop and so on.

5)  On long trips going to different countries, always exchange local currency before boarding the bus.
  Although most border crossings have currency exchanges, your bus may not go anywhere near it or have time for you to use it.  The currency exchange may not have dollars or euros for you.  They may lie about this.  Take care of it before you board the bus.


Prices (Bulgaria)

Fine dining; main course, appetizer, two beers - 22 lev
Wine, from wine store - 10 lev
Bag repair, 4 lev
Bag re-repair, 2 lev (it was my fault on this one)


PICTURES

{{2011}} London, GB | Rail N Sail | Amsterdam, Netherlands | Prague, Czech Republic | Budapest, Hungary | Sarajevo, Bosnia | Romania | Chisinau, Moldova | Ukraine: Odessa - Sevastopol | Crossed Black Sea by ship | Georgia: Batumi - Tbilisi - Telavi - Sighnaghi - Chabukiani | Turkey: Kars - Lost City of Ani - Goreme - Istanbul | Jordan: Amman - Wadi Rum | Israel | Egypt: Neweiba - Luxor - Karnak - Cairo | Thailand: Bangkok - Pattaya - Chaing Mai - Chaing Rei | Laos: Luang Prabang - Pakse | Cambodia: Phnom Penh | Vietnam: Vung Tau - Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City

{{2012}} Cambodia: Kampot - Sihanoukville - Siem Reap - Angkor Wat | Thailand: Bangkok | India: Rishikesh - Ajmer - Pushkar - Bundi - Udaipur - Jodhpur - Jasalmer - Bikaner - Jaipur - Agra - Varanasi | Nepal: Kathmandu - Chitwan - Pokhara - Bhaktapur - (Rafting) - Dharan | India: Darjeeling - Calcutta Panaji | Thailand: Bangkok - again - Krabi Town | Malaysia, Malaka | Indonesia: Dumas - Bukittinggi - Kuta - Ubud - 'Full Throttle' - Gili Islands - Senggigi | Cambodia: Siem Reap | Thailand: Trat | Turkey: Istanbul | Georgia: Tbilisi

{{2013}} Latvia: Riga | Germany: Berlin | Spain: Malaga - Grenada | Morocco: Marrakech - Essauira - Casablanca - Chefchawen - Fes | Germany: Frankfurt | Logan's Home Invasion USA: Virginia - Michigan - Indiana - Illinois - Illinois - Colorado | Guatemala: Antigua - San Pedro | Honduras: Copan Ruinas - Utila | Nicaragua: Granada | Colombia: Cartagena | Ecuador: Otavalo - Quito - Banos - Samari (a spa outside of Banos) - Puyo - Mera

{{2014}} Peru: Lima - Nasca - Cusco | Dominican Republic | Ukraine: Odessa Odessa | Bulgaria: Varna - Plovdiv | Macedonia: Skopje Bitola Ohrid

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