If You’ve Done it, There’s a Code

This week I take a break from A Time of Isolation, and do a post that is kind of fun , unless, of course, one of these codes applies to you personally. I’m sure every country in the world that have medical facilities have their own sets of codes that must be used for patients – shortcuts to keep diagnoses organized. This one, of course, is a set of International Diagnosis Codes (ICD-10 to be exact).  Part of the problem with any of these code systems is they change, and most of the time when the changes takes place there isn’t a general announcement stating anything about the changes, the announcements go out late, or the information never reaches the ones responsible for submitting the paperwork. Still for the ones who deal with these codes and if the codes they are using have been changed, then any paperwork submitted under the old codes will be rejected, and at that point the claims must be resubmitted with the corrected or new code.

Most of the time, as a layman, one would think these codes would cover all the known diseases, and probably the common accidents that brings one into the emergency room, hospital, or the doctor’s office. Yet the list presented here, which is way short of all that there is, will show you how far these codes actually go. And as the title says: If you’ve done it, there is an ICD-10 code for it. Again, what is here is used internationally. Still I suspect there’d be a similar code set used, even if it’s not this one, no matter where you live and it might be fun looking them up:

Y93.D            Activities involved arts and handcrafts

Z99.89          Depending on enabling machines and devices, not elsewhere classified

W55.41XD   Bitten by a pig, initial encounter (Lucky here, since pigs or hogs will eat you.)

W61.62XD   Struck by a duck, subsequent encounter (Retaliation by ducks against duck hunters?)

W55.29XA   Other contact with a cow, subsequent encounter (Obviously from this there must be multiple ways a cow can make contact, other than by phone.)

V00.01XD   Pedestrian on foot injured in collision with roller skater, subsequent encounter (So whose not paying attention?)

Z63.1            Problems in relationship with in-laws (I suspect this can cover a multitude of situations or sins.)

V91.07XD   Burn due to water skis on fire, subsequent encounter (Really? I’d personally not expect this, especially since one normally skis on water or snow. After all fire and water don’t mix very well.)

W22.02XD  Walked into a lamppost, subsequent encounter (I suspect this one is on the rise with the use of smart phones.)

V95.43XS   Spacecraft collision injuring occupant, sequela (A traffic jam in space, or is it something else? Anyway who’d have thought?)

V97.33XD   Sucked into a jet engine, subsequent encounter (This really does make it seem that the victim doesn’t have an elevator that goes to the top floor.)

As you can see from this very short list it covers a multitude of situations that one would never consider, or maybe with some of the codes there is proof of the stupidity of man. I suspect there are many bazaar injuries that could be added to this sample list, and some I’m sure could make us laugh. Still if it has happened to someone there is a code for it. God Bless! (www.fdbrant.com)

Published in: on July 23, 2016 at 7:10 am  Leave a Comment  
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Family Traditions

Other than blood and the fact that every family member must live, albeit imperfectly, with each other through the years of growing up, what is it that makes us wax nostalgically in the remembrances of our past within the family? One of the things, I would say, is family traditions. And some of these traditions are developed long after the children have gone their separate ways and to their own families.

It’s not that there aren’t any developed or observed during the time of growing up, because there are. Yet, because of the very fact that everything is up close and personal, and it is where you’ve always lived, one doesn’t necessarily consider how the family lives as different, or that something that we do is a tradition. It is only after the time where one is able to spend those nights at a friend’s home that we begin to realize that there are other ways of doing things, other ways of dealing with issues within a family, and different views and thoughts out there. And for the first time one is shown that the way that they have always did, observed, and thought about things are not necessarily the only way it can be done.

Our horizons are expanded, and from here they continue to expand. Out into the world we begin to explore beyond the narrowness that we always knew. It’s not that any of this early time is bad, in fact it is just the opposite. We all need a place where things are consistent, a place to test our position in the order of things, a place to begin to develop that confidence that allows us to tackle the world outside of home, a place that allows us to grow and become us. In other words, a place with boundaries, or borders that give us the limits that must be there for our personal growth. And, of course, during those early years of life, protection.

Yet, it isn’t the day-to-day things that we remember. It’s those family get-togethers, the holidays, the birthday parties, the trips to places we’ve never been. Even though we were bored to tears on those trips because there was very little to do while our parents drove to that special destination. The phrase, “Are we there yet?”, comes to mind immediately. And there has been many skits, cartoons, and such reflecting that very question and situation. And while the routes to these special places are the same for everyone, what transpires within those many vehicles while similar are unique to each family.

Even summer vacations can become a family tradition if they are performed each and every year until you are no longer a part of the immediate family. And many times we find that after becoming part of our own family that we have a tendency to carry on those same traditions that we were surrounded by in our youth. Again, is such a bad thing? No not at all. Many times one can look back and see that a particular tradition goes far back into the family history. Others were brought into the family from members who joined bringing their family traditions with them. And  when combining these traditions from the different families into a cohesive whole it makes them appear to have always been there.

In a sense this is what transpired with my family, and became a family tradition while originally not being such (At least on my side. I do not know if my siblings carry this one on or not.). And, in truth, what was brought in wasn’t part of my wife’s family traditions either. She saw something that triggered an idea. And that idea has become a tradition within this family. For you adults out there, can you remember when your parents turned 40? I know that 40 seemed to be quite old. Of course for me it was almost 25 years ago when I reached that milestone (Where did the time go?). I know that I was 16 at the time it happened to my parents.

With the help of my parents, who whole heartily joined in, thusly starting the tradition, they set out to create a surprise party celebrating reaching the ripe old age of 40. Only it wasn’t along the lines of “congratulations you made it”, but more towards the “over the hill”, direction. It consisted of black balloons, and everything aimed towards the grave. Including an open grave placed on the cake. They had buzzards all around and each member of the family had cardboard buzzard beaks that they wore as they read from a series of statements aimed at roasting the individual who happened to reach this milestone. Included in this was an album of funny and insulting birthday cards just to rub it in.

As stated, it was all done in fun, and we all did have a great time. And with such a success for the first one (yes, I’m the oldest child in my family), the rest knew that it would continue. Now came a problem. How could one successfully pull such a surprise off, once again, when it was known that it would happen? And in many ways this problem made it fun. The game became not only the celebration of reaching 40, but the sneaky factor of successfully pulling it off so it would remain a surprise to the roastee.  And I have to admit that overall the family was successful.

These were so much fun that we decided to continue them in our own family. And on the weekend of the 23rd in August we pulled off the first. Our oldest daughter and her husband both turns 40 this year and we could honestly say, “gotcha”. And all of us enjoyed the day together. I do have to say that it was easier to pull off because of another family tradition. And that tradition is of family coming together once a year to celebrate all the birthdays – and this one does go back to my family. Here we celebrated, twice a year, combined birthdays instead of individual ones. And while I could honestly say we weren’t the largest family out there, we were large enough that these celebrations made more sense to us.

Now we have 4 years in which to surprise the next in line to reach 40. 4 Years of planning, and figuring out ways to make it a surprise. And, I have to admit, this is something that I’ve always been good at – figuring out ways to keep vital information away from the children. And what I mean by this isn’t the important or critical stuff, but the fun stuff. Like trips to Disneyland, or Knots Berry Farm when they were growing up. Most of the time, if we had such planned, I could do it in such a way that they wouldn’t figure out what was happening until we were pulling into those parking lots. Creating an atmosphere of surprise, anticipation, and fun, and giving the whole family fun time together as a family, and creating those special memories that we all cherish.

And I guess I can say that in a way, that even doing this became a family tradition. The game of trying to stay ahead of the children when we had planned a trip that was more for them than us. So I am left asking, what are yours, your family traditions? Have some died along the way, or are they going strong? Anyway that you look at them, they are part of what made you, well, you. And finally, Here’s to those family traditions, part of what binds us together, part of that joyful, and happy nostalgia when we look back.

* * *

The end of another week and here we are looking at Saturday, the first day of those very short weekends. I know personally that for many years I worked those weekends and envied my friends who had them off. So whether you must work, or have the weekend, I hope to see you back here next week. And as always have a good week and God Bless. (fdbrant.com)


Words, a Humorous View

While in a past blog, I’ve looked at the shortest word in the english language, this time I thought that by looking at words and their structure that we could get an alternate view. I’ve also written a blog on comparing words that sound or are spelled the same way, but have different meanings. So to continue in that vein, I thought that taking words apart and looking at each part and their meanings or definitions, would be fun. Most of these words are compound words, and when one looks at them it becomes obvious as to why translation programs fail more often than succeed. All of this, of course, is tongue in cheek, so enjoy.

I’ll start simply with the word, cell. This word could refer to the microscopic, such as one-celled animal, a place in a prison, a jail cell, a group of individuals, usually 3, working in a cell, used commonly in espionage, or a certain geographical area that is bounded by towers to create cells for use of the cell phone. Well, I guess cell isn’t that simple after all. Now most of the others I will be looking at will have these added to the base word changing its meaning and direction: re, de, a, dis, un. The word “bate”, means to reduce the force or intensity of, or to take away. So if we rebate, are we repeating? Or if we debate are we increasing the intensity, and giving back, or if  we abate,  are we reconsidering the situation?

We all are aware of what an ass is – either a four-legged animal, or a description of an individual. So does the word asset mean a small ass? And then there is the word aware in the previous sentence. Ware meaning  manufactured articles or products, so by adding that “a”, does it now reduce it to a single article or product? This moves on to the word move, which simply means to change a location. So if we now add “re”, does this new word, remove, now mean to move something a second time? Then we hit one of my favorites, cease. Cease is defined as; to come or bring to an end. So now we add “de”, and make the word decease, and the “de” is usually a change in the opposite. So now are we saying, to continue on, or don’t stop? And what about pair? We see that word defined generally as, two of something, a pair. So if we repair, have we found that missing sock and now have repaired them? How about lay? This is a small word that has tons of definitions, look it up and see. But what comes to my mind is this one; to put or set against something. Translated, if you lay down in a bed, or place a book on a table for example. So if you delay, does that mean you picked up the book, or gotten out of bed? And as an author one looks at either fiction or nonfiction, but from regular structure and understanding of words, the assumption would be that fiction is true, and nonfiction is fabricated.

In slang, if you “dis” someone you are putting them down in a negative fashion. And when you “cover” something, it usually refers to putting something over an object or person. So does the words discover, and recover mean that we take the covers away, and then place them back again, respectively? Yet sometimes when something is added, it means exactly that. Take “un”.  If we take words such as known, or done, and add the “un” to both, then the words unknown, and undone are exactly the opposite of the base words. And once one’s mind begins to go in this direction, we begin to see all sorts of alternate views and definitions to words, and these alternate views and definitions have no reality at all, other than the words themselves suggesting them.

We have words like insist, and desist, that appear to be similar, but “sist” by itself is not a word, so once again just because a word might be preceded by a “de” or an “in” does not mean these were added. So once again another one of those many exceptions in languages. And if this does not prove that there is no logic to the spoken or written word, and that this type of word exercise can become both fun and confusing, then I’ve failed in my job.

Published in: on April 21, 2012 at 8:25 am  Leave a Comment  
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This is a subject that makes many shudder. But why? Unlike language the rules of math have no exceptions, so once the rule is learned it never changes. Whereas language always has an exception to the rule – I before E, except after C, and words like neighbor and weigh, as an example. So why is it not language that is the issue instead? “Ah, but we use language every day, but not that dreaded math.” One could say. And if they did, they would be totally wrong. In fact we probably use math in its simplest form almost as much as language.

Don’t believe me? Okay then, here we go. When you buy that cup of coffee in the morning, you are unconsciously comparing what you have in your pocket, if you are not using either a debit or credit card, to see if indeed you have enough for maybe adding that donut. Or do I have enough gas to make this trip? Hmmm, let’s see. . . I get about this many miles to a gallon so I should be able to cover this distance before I need gas. Or, you have to shop for groceries for the week and is there enough money in the budget to get what I need, and maybe a little left over to get want I want? Then you go to the grocery store with that coupon in hand giving you $1 off if you purchase 2 – 16oz items. Looking you see that by using the coupon your final price for the 2 items would be $4. Then you happen to glance over and see that a single 32oz product is $3.69 saving you an additional 31 cents over the coupon. So you take the deal and put the coupon away for a later time. And of course I could continue on with examples, but there probably is no need. After all we look at spread sheets at work all the time, and what are they doing for us? Let me guess, results from math problems so we can make intelligent decisions.

So this is all in the perspective, and like language we really never think about how much we use such tools. And if you think about it, both math and language are tools. And both have their place and importance. And we in this modern society could not live without either. So I guess that when one looks at it from this point of view, then math is not so dreaded after all. So now that we have that out of the way, it is time to have some fun, and maybe learn a couple of things. Now, I’m the first to admit that I was never any math wiz, and never did very well with higher math. Yet, can I blame it on me, or can I blame it on the way math is taught? It matters not for me but as time has passed me by I learned a few things that makes everyday math easier.

Now, I don’t know about you, but multiplying by 9’s were always a problem. Yet, why? It is almost as easy as 10’s, and easy to check. 9*1=9. 9+0=9. 9*2=18. 1+8=9. 9*3=27. 2+7=9. Now what I am presenting for the 9’s is just that a way to make it easier and has nothing to do with the rules of math. Still there seems to be a pattern developing here. Actually there are 2 patterns. Fist the number to the left of the last number increases by one, and is one less than the number you are multiplying nine by. Second the result of adding the two numbers together is 9, and each time you go up the last number in the answer is one less. So for example if someone said the answer is 45 you would know by the first number that the number that is multiplied by nine is five, and that 4+5=9 confirms that it is a correct answer, and that the next multiple of nine would be what? Why it is 54, because the left goes up one, and the right goes down one. Ah but there appears to be one change to this and the answer is 11*9 giving us an answer of 99. When you add these together you get 18, but it is two numbers and we need only one. So again, if we add 18 we get 9, proving the answer. And that would cover 9’s all the way through the tens and then the last 2 – the elevens and twelves are easy, and this was all we were  required to memorize back in school. To repeat, it would be easy to determine what 9 has been multiplied by,  if one just looked at the first number. An example would this, 6 – that tells us that the number is 7, since 6 is one less that the actual number that was multiplied by 9, then we would know that we would have to add 3 since the total would have to equal 9 giving us 63. See how easy that was?

Now the next number manipulation I want to pass on has to do with what I call the rules of 5’s and 10’s. If you think about it, we can add and subtract easily anything that deals with fives and tens. This applies very well to the handling of money. I taught my children this, and when you first start doing it, it appears to be just too complicated. Yet, if you stick with it, in a short time, your mind will do it instantly without having to think about it at all. Okay, are you ready to stretch your mind? Mentally you  have to begin to look at differences and relationships of the numbers you are dealing with. For example, the position and difference of any number that falls between 10 and 15. How close is this number to either 10 or 15? And once you determine that, this is the number you will work with. Say that number is 13. 13 is 2 away from 15 and 3 away from ten. So we would use 15. We know for example, that to reach 20 is only 5 more away from 15, and it is easy to add 5 if our ultimate goal is 20. Say for example that it is, and you are wanting to know the difference or what you need to reach twenty. First we now know that it is 2 to reach 5 which reflects 15 to 20, and then 2+5=7. this is what we need to reach 20 from 13. I show you this to give you the concept of what we are doing. Okay, you are working a cash register and when the total is presented it states that you need to collect $13.27. The customer gives you a $20, instantly you know that the change would be $6.73, giving you a quick check on what the register says the change should be. And no, I did not grab a calculator to get the change amount shown here. I had the answer instantly, thank you. Here’s the mental manipulation involved: First I view the dollars, 13 to 15, which is 2, and 15 to 20, which is 5, giving me a total of 7. But that does not take the change into account. Since the change takes it above $13, then I now know that the dollar portion of this will be 1 less than the 7 or 6. This allows me to look at the change, and what is due, which is 27 cents. It takes 3 cents to make it 30 cents, and it takes 70 cents to make it $1. So 70+3= 73 cents. Thusly the change to the customer is $6.73. While I know that this is a simple example it works quite well for more complicated transactions or number groups. It just takes a little practice and after a while your mind will do all the manipulations automatically and you will instantly have the correct answer. And there are others, but that is for another blog. And you can have fun with this last one since you see the answer even before the cashier,or you if you are the cashier, sees what the register says you need  to make change.

Published in: on March 24, 2012 at 11:20 am  Comments (2)  
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Hmmm, why three’s? After all we are bipedal – two feet, two legs, two hands and arms, two ears and eyes, so why is three coming up so often? One would think that it would be either two or since we have one mouth that it would be one. Ah, then someone would say, but that is not true. We have 10 fingers, and 10 toes after all. But then while the statement is true, it is not really the correct answer. The correct answer would be we had 2 fives in each case. Five on the right, five on the left whether you want to talk about hands, or feet. So it is 2 pairs of fives.

There are the three laws of scientific prophecy, the three laws of robotics, the three sides to create fire, the three basic rules of relationships, and of course, the most important the Trinity. The three laws of science say: 1. If I am conservative in my predictions of the advancements of science and the time line, then when this time is reached these predictions will fall way short of the actual advancements. 2. If I predict accurately both the advances, and timeline, then this will be ignored as fantasy. 3. If a culture is advanced enough, then a primitive culture would consider those advancements as magic. (These 3 laws are from Author C Clark.)

Isaac Asimov is responsible for the three laws of robotics. 1. A robot may not allow a human to come to harm either through action or inaction. 2. A robot must obey a command from a human as long as it does not conflict with the first law. 3. A robot must protect itself, unless it conflicts with the first two laws.

Fire – a rapid oxidation of materials. Fire can be created if these three things are present – fuel, oxygen, and a heat source great enough to cause ignition. The three basic rules of a relationship from an unpublished pamphlet that I created, titled “Relationships 101”. The three sides are: 1. Communication. 2. Trust. 3. Intimacy. If any of these disappear then eventually the relationship will end. In a relationship each hold a greater importance at different times.

Then we have the Trinity: Father, the great I Am. Son, Jesus Christ, and The Holy Spirit that indwells all Christians. And when we look at us from this perspective again we are two – the physical, and the spiritual.

But why stop there? After all we see threes in other things too. Take the english (american) language for example. We can look at words like “good”, and know that it is the first of three, followed by “better”, and then “best”, representing different levels. Or how about “great, greater, greatest”, or “small, smaller, smallest”.  So again as we become aware of this oddity, why threes, and not two’s or five’s or ten’s? I myself have no answer, and if I’ve left you thinking, then I’ve done my job.

Published in: on February 25, 2012 at 9:05 am  Leave a Comment  
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A Short Story – The Soldier

The Soldier

Here I present a short story that I wrote a couple of years ago for one of the many contests out there. I have always enjoyed coming back and re-reading the story. It is written in first person. I hope that as I have, that you will enjoy it also.

I don’t know when these doubts started entering my mind. This war seemed endless, with no definite victory or defeat – just one battle after another, or small skirmishes or individual firefights and then nothing but boredom. Soldiers would arrive and die and then were replaced. Where they even came from was an unknown. As one would die the replacements would just appear and join our unit. There seemed to be an endless supply. What was going on, I mean really, what was happening here?

There had never been statements as to why this war or why we were fighting. We just fought with only the thoughts of surviving. I think I began to wonder when I realized that no one would ever speak of home, of loved ones, of the one they hoped to return to when the fighting ended. I started to think about this myself and realized that I could remember no past, only being here. No home . . . how could that be? I mean I am here, I am alive, and so I had to come from somewhere. Was I becoming crazy, and was I the only one that noticed these irregularities?

Not only were we fighting an unknown enemy, but also there were wild dogs and such that could kill just as easily as an enemy bullet or knife. So attrition was not just from enemy fire. I think it was during one of the attacks from those wild dogs that the first doubts started entering my mind. There were four of us when the pack attacked, and while we were able to finally kill the pack they had taken down one of our team. I bent down over the body to see if he was still alive and noticed to my surprise that the other two members of the team just walked off and continued their patrol. It was like they didn’t even care . . . no that wasn’t accurate . . . it was like once this one died he had never existed and the two just continued on their patrol like nothing happened.

Yes our comrade was dead, but why such a reaction from the rest of the squad? I was now far behind them, and yelled for them to wait. But either they ignored what I had asked or never heard. They just continued their patrol as if it was all they were to do, and nothing else mattered. So, rising from the body, I started following the remainder of the squad although they were barely in sight. I could do nothing for our dead comrade other than report his loss when we got back to our base. But I suspected that somehow they were already aware of the loss and a new replacement would soon be there. How was this so? Again, was I imagining all of this, or truly was I going insane? Yet if I was asking myself these questions I felt that I could not be. Would someone who was insane ask himself or herself if they were? I did not think so, so I thought I then couldn’t be crazy. But what was going on? I hurried to try and catch the squad, which seemed much too distant. I knew most likely that if I caught them at all it would be at the end of our patrol. I suspected that I would hear about it from our officers when I got back. You know, abandoning the squad over a dead member and not keeping up with the remainder of the squad to help keep them alive . . . or something to that effect.

The route of our patrol took us through the fields among the oaks mixed with scattered pines, down a hill where there was a minor road. Once we reached the road we then would head back into our base, have a meal, and relax before repeating some other patrol. When I finally reached the road I saw that the squad was still well ahead of me and was not too far from entering back into the base. I tried to call out to them again, but again there was no response, just a continuation of the patrol. I looked around to make sure I was alone and when I looked back they were gone – disappeared, vanished like they never had been. I thought, no that couldn’t be the way of it. They were not that far ahead and there was nothing where I last seen them that they could disappear behind. The road at this point was open; the surrounding lands were bare other than the grasses. There was no place to hide no place to be able to disappear like they just had. Where did they go? One cannot just disappear like that, yet . . . yes they did. I remember running down that road to the point where I thought they had disappeared, but in truth do not remember reaching it. The next memory I had, was being back in camp, and the other two being there also, and yes there was a new soldier there, a replacement for the one we had lost on the patrol. How had they known so quickly? And why no reprimand from the officers about being separated from the squad? Had I imagined it all? All I could do was write this in my journal. It was comforting to me as it confirmed that I had not dreamed it. Or was the journal part of a dream?

I found myself second-guessing everything as to my sanity. Looking around to my comrades, they just did not appear to have the worries or fears that I did. So I kept all this to myself. At this point I had nothing I could prove, and as such I knew that if I tried to explain what I felt, and had viewed I would get a good laugh and be told that I had a great imagination. After all were we not at war? Were we not going to have casualties, were there not be replacements brought in to replace those losses? Their questions were valid. It was just that how things were working just did not make any sense to me. Yet, the rest around me seemed to remain unconcerned.

Then something happened while out on one of those patrols – I cannot quite explain it. I guess it was something like an earthquake, well that is the best I can explain it. Again I had been a member of a squad of four, but the other three just disappeared right in front of me. I panicked so severely that I ran away from our assigned patrol area. I found myself completely outside of anything I was familiar with. I looked back at those solid buildings and I found that I was looking through them. Looking through them, how was that possible? I mean I had leaned against those walls and they supported me. Yet I swore that from here they were invisible with the roofs floating in the air. At first it shook me to my core. But when the world and my life did not end, I calmed down and then curious started walking around this new area. It seemed to be vacant, and yet the grass and trees were there. The weather continued with the wind blowing and the clouds scooting across the sky. Yet from here, while all of this was real, the buildings continued to go from visible to invisible all according to my perspective and position.

I decided that since there appeared to be no danger, and I had travel rations that I would continue to search out this new area. After all the officers would probably like to know about this. But would they in the end believe it? If one was not here, and as far as I knew I was the only one, then how could it be proven? I did not even know if there was a way to get back here where I presently was. I did not know how it happened in the first place. Somehow I had to find proof. I had no camera, and any description that I might give would be laughed off as some joke. I searched desperately around for anything that would prove what I was seeing here. There was nothing, just nothing. I was becoming desperate. Was I the only one who had come across this? No there would have to have been others. I had to believe that.

I wasn’t due back to base for a while so I decided to continue to explore this unknown area continuing to walk away from the base area deeper into the fields. Off in the distance something did not look right. I mean off in the distance something really did not look right! I ran towards it to find out what it might be, and had to stop quickly. Breathing hard from the running and having chills run up and down my spine I stood on the edge of a cliff. Did I say cliff . . . no cliff was inaccurate. I stood on an abyss. It was as if the lands just ended here. In the distance I could still see the blue sky and white clouds. But at the edge looking straight across and down all was just gray. Not gray like when a fog is covering the land, but gray like there was nothing there.

After catching my breath I started following this edge around to see if anything changed. Where I was I climbed hills walked down into small valleys but the gray never changed over that edge. Eventually I reached a road and like the land the road just ended at the edge. Just like it was cut off. I saw wild dogs running up and down the road chasing some wild boars. For them all was normal, but for me nothing would be normal ever again.

Then I noticed someone approaching, and to my surprise it was the general. Standing at attention when he arrived, he waved me off.”

The general then said, “Now you know.”

“Sir . . . know what? What I am seeing here I just do not understand.”

“Believe me, it is something that is very difficult to understand, but I will try to explain. And oh by the way, when you return back to camp, and you will, you now will be an officer.”

“An officer, why? I’ve always been an enlisted.”

“True, but once this has been discovered then it is automatic.” Then waving me off he continued, “You see we have been watching you. And believe it or not every officer has discovered what you have. They including myself were enlisted also.” Then sighing he said, “How do I say this? This world, the world that we live in is not real. We are not real. That is why none of us seems to have any history other than the base. That is why when one of us dies that he is immediately replaced. That is why there are no families or loved ones. This is a game world created by someone, and we live and die here. But since we are not real we cannot really die. I think that when we cease to exist as this person that we come back as another. This is what is called a map and as you can see has an end, and you are now standing there. I have to assume that there are other such maps but we will always be here at the calling of this game world and there is nothing we can do about it at all . . .”

“I then followed the general back to base in shock. We then crossed some type of threshold and I looked at myself and indeed I was now an officer, a leader of men who were safe in their ignorance.”

Published in: on February 4, 2012 at 10:25 am  Leave a Comment  
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Gaming, A Layman’s View Part 3

Fist off before I look at the history, I must apologize to those who are console gamers, since I am not. Much of what I am writing here has to do with PC gaming. So if you are wanting to see something on consoles you must look elsewhere.

While gaming on computers can be traced back to a lab where Pong was invented and played, followed by small computers that you could build and personally program, to include games, it wasn’t until IBM started releasing the first Personal Computers, running on DOS (Disk Operating System), with a small hard drive, that gaming truly began. These machines were wimpy, and quite expensive, but for the first time anyone who had the money, time, and a willingness to learn the DOS commands, could own a computer. Most originally were purchased for businesses, and business software dominated, as expected. Yet most of this software did not push the systems, and even though as time passed, and the PC’s became more popular, there had been little or no reason to upgrade.

Then games began to proliferate, mostly through the channel of “share ware”. Share ware meaning that you got a chance to try the software before purchasing. These small games usually were on 5 1/4 inch disks originally, but then moved to the 3 1/2 inch disks later. When you consider the size of a modern game, these early games wouldn’t even make up a single file, since these disks held respectively 1.2 megs, and 1.44 megs, and the whole game rested there, albite compressed. Most computers at the time only had a tiny speaker that was part of the unit, and sound cards were nonexistent, RAM sat at 2 megs, and hard drives were around 40 megs or less. RAM at this time sat directly on the Motherboard, and while modern computers place RAM directly on the motherboard the method then and now were completely different. To increase the RAM on those early systems, you had to buy an above-board card, then purchase RAM in 256 bit chips, set the jumpers so that both the motherboard and DOS knew what type of RAM it was seeing, and hope it all worked. Later as PC’s improved the standard configuration included 4 megs of RAM. Very rarely would you find a system with more. RAM was prohibitively expensive, and hard drives also fell into this category of expensive, thusly even a bottom of the line system would run into the $1000’s.

Duke Nukem, Jill of the Jungle, Commander Keen, Cosmos. all got their start at this time, all as share ware, and all were side scrollers. Apogee software was distributing much of this early stuff. They distributed games from Id software, which is still operating today, and this company was the creator of the FPS. Eventually a company called Origin, that operated out of Texas created a space combat game called Wing Commander. This series ended up with 5 separate games in the Wing Commander Universe, plus expansions. This company was also responsible for the first game that started the MMO revolution. This game was Ultima, and was as popular as Wing Commander, and was an RPG. Alas Origin is no more, and the innovative games they created are gone.

Wing Commander was important if for no other reason, that when another game was released, it required the gamers to upgrade their systems. Each game pushed the capabilities of the Computers, bring forth improved Sound Cards, faster CPU’s, and better Graphic Cards. Yet if you look at the full size of Wing Commander 2, it took up less than 30 megs of space on your hard drive. Compare that with some of the modern games that take upwards of 16 gigs. When you played these games you had to learn how to manipulate your operating system. And this required creating a boot disk which included the autoexec.bat, and config.sys. Because DOS allocated RAM in certain ways, games such as Wing Commander required all the RAM that DOS allocated. So the boot disk was necessary so you could squeeze every bit out of it for use of the game. Wing Commander became so popular that it showed up in a couple of commercials on TV for PC’s. Wing Commander also used branching trees in their game, while almost all games, other than RPG’s, are linear, meaning go from point “A” to point “B”, and so on and so on. Branching allowed the actions the player performed to change direction, like in life, and the outcome at the end of the game could be different each time one played. The other big game they produced started another revolution in gaming. Ultimate introduced a dynamic game world. Up until this time most game worlds were static, meaning that if you left an area of the map, and then returned later nothing would have changed. This dynamic world would continue to operate even when the player was not at any certain point on the map. It functioned more like the real world. This type of world eventually existed in the Wing Commander Universe also. Just a sidenote here, most console games had static environments until the consoles themselves became powerful enough to sustain dynamic worlds.

Another company that began a very successful franchise was Westwood. They were the original creators of The Command and Conquer Universe, and like Origin are no longer around. They were one of the early adopters of RTS, and up until that time most of the Strategy games were turn based. (Oh just a fact, EA was responsible for closing both of these successful companies down.) One last thing to mention, gaming at the beginning was all single player. Networks only existed in business, and college, and dial-up only connected to message boards where you could post messages. The World Wide Web did not exist, as well as email. With modems running at 12 baud one could not expect a game to run very well, if at all. It wasn’t until the internet, and broadband that finally multiplayer gaming could become a reality, and as time passed eventually the true MMO’s emerged.

In 1995 Windows became available. It was originally built on top of DOS, and had its problems, which many may say that it still does. But it brought a stable platform for gaming to build from, and now with gaming being a multi-billion dollar industry world-wide, with continual growth, it probably will be with us in one form or another, until the Holodeck from Star Trek becomes a reality and like this article is considering the world of DOS, then today and today’s systems will be looked at as the bad old days of early, primitive gaming.

Published in: on January 28, 2012 at 8:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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Gaming, A Layman’s View Part 2

This week I want to look at the basic genres within the hard-core gaming world. There are others out there, and I am sure that there are those who might complain a little because their favorite may be missing from this list. As in life there are no 2 people alike, and there are no 2 gamers that are alike either. This led to the development over time of different styles of games and game play, and as time passed with gaming becoming more popular, different categories were developed.

Like every other medium out there, gaming was attacked as the work of evil, that leads our children astray. It is responsible for crime, murder, and all sorts of mayhem. If this sounds familiar, look back in your history and check out comic books, and you will see a familiar pattern develop. Then the cry was comic books were corrupting our children leading them away from what is right and good! In all of these cases, with no true facts to back them, and only riding on the roller coaster of emotion the cry was, “There needs to be a law to ban, to control . . .” And in all of these mentioned examples the media that was under attack, came before congress for congress to do just that. Of course comic books were not the only media to face these attacks in the past, but is one that is easy to research. Fortunately cooler heads prevailed and we still have our graphic novels, comic books, and digital gaming.

Now if you are new to gaming then what I state below may help you in deciding what to try. But remember this, if you enter a multiplayer game where you have no experience, then expect to lose heavily, and be called all sorts of things. “Noob!”, is probably one of the least offensive terms you will hear. But don’t let it bother you, as in all things there are people (peeps), and more so on the net, that seem to want to make it difficult for any and all who want to try their hand at something new. Mostly they forget, and many times they are around 12 years old, that at one time they were “noobs” also. “Noob”, is a shortened version of “newby”, or new to the game and one who doesn’t know anything. Now let’s get to it.

Action: As the name suggests, any action you perform in the world has direct consequences. And as the genre has matured, the environment has become destructible, so one can see more results from the actions you, as your avatar, do. Here there are two main sub-genres, FPS, and Third Person. FPS stands for First Person Shooter, and is set up to make it appear that you are the one walking through the environment, just as you do in life. An example of this is the one that in the end defined the genre, and that was Half Life. Third person is an over the shoulder view, and an example of this would be Gears of War. In this genre hand-eye coordination is critical. Just a thought here, and I feel an important one – I have found that by playing these games that in real life you can recognize things developing much quicker, thusly responding much faster. An example for me, I was driving home on a 2-lane backcountry road, and some one passed into me. I saw it developing and reacted very fast, and avoided a possible collision.

Adventure: Many hard-core gamers do not consider this to be worthy. It is less frantic, and more casual in its approach. These games usually deal with some kind of mystery or horror that must be solved. The action is based on finding clues within the scenes and solving puzzles to move the story along. The Syberia series is an example of this genre.

MMO: Massive Multiplayer Online. WOW (World of Warcraft), and Everquest are the 2 biggies out there. Based on the RPG genre (which I define further down), they allow players from all over the world the interact, battle, form guilds, and such. While it is about gaming, it is also about social interaction between the players. It is one of the influences that has helped in shrinking the real world. Instantly one can talk and game with anybody from almost anywhere in the world.

RPG: Role Playing Game. Almost all MMO’s are role-playing games. Unlike an Action game, you choose at the beginning what your character will be. Many allow you to even create the way your avatar will look to everyone else within the game world. Most often they are based on fantasy, and are in the 3rd person. In this genre, you are playing a role. And while it appears that damage is being done to an enemy with the actions being presented, if one looks at the time of the strike, whether it is a cast spell, or a weapon strike, you see negative numbers roll off of the target. These represent hit points, and are determined by the level, experience, and the power of the weapon being used. Experience points are called XP. As an avatar in the game you have a health bar which allows you to see what condition you are in. Then there is a power bar which in some games requires mana to recharge, others it will slowly recharge over time. This bar provides the energy necessary to cast a spell, or to add power to a strike. Through a complicated system within the engine that runs the game, this back and forth will eventually kill either the enemy, or you. The game thrives on quests, and is usually an open world. Meaning that you can go almost anywhere you want to explore. In RPG’s you have real-time, and turn based games. An example of real-time would be Elder Scrolls, and an example of turn based would be the Final Fantasy series.

Simulation: This is where the real truly hard-core gamers exist. They demand realism in their games, and usually have the peripheral equipment that simulates the real thing. Most often found in military style games, and especially flight games, the only thing missing is the feel of the “G’s”, as they take their fighter into a tight turn to face an enemy. A couple of games that fit this category is Janes, and MS Flight Simulator. Although most of the MS Flight Simulators deal with private aircraft, and only the expansions have the military fighters.

Sports: This genre covers all the popular sports out there giving sports fans a chance to either play as a member of a team, or to manage a team.

Strategy: This genre is an over the top view. In these games you must build, collect resources, manage and protect your bases, build your defensive and offensive weapons, seek out the enemy and use your strategy to defeat them. Here you control all your forces as a general might, but unlike a general, you have the view of the battle field. Although the enemy can enter the map from beyond what you can see, they as you are limited by what they control, how much resources they can gather, and then the manufacture and deployment of the weapons. Again in this genre there are two types, RTS, Real Time Strategy, and Turn Based. Turn Based simply means you take a turn, and I take a turn – very popular when computers were underpowered. Turn Based strategy is almost dead and gone, for obvious reasons, and the RTS has become king. The Command and Conquer Series is one of the best known and is a RTS.

The last I am talking about this week has to do with the blending of certain genres which may lead to a creation of a new genre. What we are beginning to see is the blending of the FPS, and the RPG, taking elements from both and creating a fresh view and play. Examples of games that are doing this are: Borderlands, and Fallout 3.

In the last part of this article we will look back at a bit of history, returning to the bad old days of DOS.

Published in: on January 21, 2012 at 8:38 am  Leave a Comment  
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Gaming, A Layman’s View Part 1

For many out there, understanding gaming is very difficult. In this multi-part article I want to first look at games from what transpires on the screen, and how it comes about, followed by part 2 where we look at the genres within the gaming world. Here I will be using and defining terms so that a basic understanding will emerge. Remember that the ones who create these worlds are always trying to balance game play, the environment within the game world, with the computing power available in both the CPU, and Video Card, and insuring that the gamers can have a great experience within these fictional worlds. So in this first of three parts, we will look at maps.

When you look at the world that the gamer is participating in, this present area is called a map. These maps can be large or small, and usually when a loading screen is reached, then the player is being moved from one map to another. Within the map exists all the terrain, buildings, trees, plants, and whatever will remain consistent within that world. To make this map work, there is a number of things that has to happen. First off let me say, that one cannot depend on what you know about the real world to create the maps within the games. After all a computer doesn’t have any idea what laws dictate the real world. The computer will only do as it is told. So if the program says that trees must grow from the sky, then that is what it will present. So here is the basic list.

Let’s look at collision. Now when most of us think of collision it is traffic accidents, running into something or someone, or having something fall on us. In the game world collision has to do with anything the avatar (your in-game character) makes contact with. If collision is not there, this in-game character will be able to walk through a solid wall, and fall through the floor or ground. If this has been programmed poorly, then falling through the ground, which has happened to me in the multiplayer maps in Halo, or getting stuck in an object and not being able to get out can easily be the result, as in the game Gears of War.

Remembering that each area that one inhabits within a game is a separate map, then the programmer has to make sure that the player stays within the map boundaries, but at times there are places within the map that are also blocked. This task is normally handled by walls. These walls are usually set up along the perimeter so that one cannot get outside of the map world. Some companies do a great job of blocking and others leave gaps that can be found. The nice thing about the software used to create these walls, is that they  start out visible, and then are made invisible after the walls have been checked. In the first STALKER game, the company did not do a very good job, and I have been able to get outside of 50% of the maps. I was also able to get outside of one map in Fallout 3, and the demonstration map Lost Coast.

Now why would leaving  the map world be so important? A very good question, and the answer for me is simple. From there you can see how the map was created, and once outside you can normally walk around the whole map and view it from the outside in. One of my favorite things in these games is exploring. I love to find what the creators have placed in their fictional worlds. But once outside you can see the shortcuts that the programmers took, more to conserve CPU power than shortcuts to speed the process. After explaining the next subject I will revisit this.

Eye candy! What the heck is eye candy? Simply stated it is the visuals that one sees within the game environment. But just because you can see it or touch it, does not mean you can interact with it. This item or object can be there to help make the scene as real as it needs to be, and this includes areas that are off the official map playing area. After all, if you are in a forest and looking out into the distance, then you expect to see it continue even beyond the playing area. If it just ended at that point then there would be an obvious end, and break the immersion within this world. Eye candy is what makes the world “sweet” to the eye, just like candy is to one’s taste.

Now I will revisit exiting the official area of the map. Here you can see much of what is used to create the map world. One of the first things you find is that collision is turned off. So if you were to try to walk across an obvious bridge you would simply fall. You then find that many objects out in this area are 2 dimensional sprites, and many times are not even anchored to the ground. But from within the game world you cannot see this. The buildings that may sit out in these areas only have walls that are visible from the game world itself. If you look at them from an angle that would not be visible from there, they simply disappear, cease to exist, and yes, they are 2 dimensional, with collision turned off. And those large piles of rubble of a collapsed building – from the other side is just a hollow area, like when you used clay as a child to make an impression of something. Again all of this is done for efficiency and keeping the frame rate up. After all, no one wants a slide show. “Got to conserve wherever one can.” Then when get beyond what could be seen from the map world you run into the mesh that the map is built upon. A flat plain, that in some maps has collision, and in others none. Here you can see where water areas just end, or in others a gray area leaving one feel that they are standing on the edge of a great abyss. Yet the weather effects, time passing, and even the NPC’s (Non Playing Character), continue to roll in from beyond this map world. And according to where you are standing outside of the map, as an example, you can see a solid hill with houses built on it, and then by moving the hill completely disappears, and the houses are now floating in the sky with nothing supporting them.

So if you look at it, when a map has problems, then the game will have problems. Of course you can say that for any portion of a game. Yet the map is the world, and everything within the game must use that map, and it is from here that all things within the game happen. Of course there is much more that goes into maps, but here I am just wanting to give an overview, and a brief understanding of a game world map. I have no plans on getting into the actual programming of games, since each genre has its own set of problems. Next week we will move on to part 2, and look at the different types of game play that is out there.

Published in: on January 7, 2012 at 8:31 am  Leave a Comment  
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Thoughts on Writing

Again like the earlier blogs, I am wrapping up on the loss of a family member. He has been laid to rest, and most of the family members who were able to attend are now heading back home, and to their daily lives. For a short time all of the immediate family, and most of the extended family met, renewed our family ties, and brought each other up to date as to what has been happening in each other’s lives and attended the funeral. It is a sad statement that it takes something like this to bring the family together, yet it is a statement of our times.

When one writes, one is usually told that editing, editing, and editing is the way to a good story. Well if that is the case, then “The Woman in the Snow” should be a hit. As I have edited it completely, going through the book 8 times. I do hope that in the end, that this work has been worth it. A famous author stated (and sorry I cannot recall his name), that when you edit you must murder your characters. Simply stated, that if the character or situation that you have developed within your story does not advance the plot, then they should be eliminated. Also, as one edits, the story should become efficient, eliminating any fat or tangent that leads one away from the story line.

So. . . I thought that it would be fun to look at this from a minimalist point of view. So here goes: John was born into a poor family, and because of this had to work hard in his youth. He grew up and left home, married, had a family, grew old and died. As his parents were, so was he. The end.

Here, absolutely everything that could be taken out was, leaving us with the life of the main protagonist. It covered all points – his birth, him growing up, leaving home, finding someone, raising a family, and in the end dying. And it meets the criteria that everything that could take one from the story was eliminated. Of course, if one really wrote this way, and tried to make a living, then you would starve to death in a short time. When I edit I find that generally some portions are changed, made leaner, but mostly I find that I end of adding instead. Adding because there needs to be a better understanding of what is happening, or that the incident is cloudy and vague, and further explanation is needed, and by the time that I finish, there easily could be another 1000 to 5000 words added.

So editing must be applied to the need at the time. While what was stated above is true, it is important to remember that they are just guidelines, and as such are not true in every circumstance.  It is not like math where the rule once stated, never changes. With language there is always “an exception to the rule”.

Published in: on November 25, 2011 at 2:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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