It's been quite a busy time for me since my last update. I started the day after my return from Japan by waking up early to finish cleaning my apartment for company. I also made a trip to the next town to pick up the new pair of eyeglasses I ordered. That afternoon, Jenn, her friend, and [ profile] mangaroo came over for an Avatar marathon. We took a break in the evening to have a takoyaki supper. Jenn and her friend stayed the night, and we got up early the next day to continue watching, making it partway through the third season.

I started work on Tuesday the 25th, beginning nine consecutive days at the airport. (That's what happens when the scheduled days off are Sunday/Monday one week and Thursday/Friday the next.) It's rough to go that long without a break, particularly when new bosses are coming out in Warcraft and I have stacks and stacks of new books to read.

One bright spot is that my guild finally defeated the boss Yogg-Saron in the 25-man Ulduar raid. We had been working on that one for a long time.

Now that I've had my Thursday/Friday off, I'm feeling much better. I'm starting to make some headway on my stacks of books. I'm hoping my future work schedules are finalized soon, because I'm hoping to take a weekend off in October to fly back to Michigan.

WoW Weekend

Jul. 7th, 2009 06:44 am
This past week at work went about the same as usual. Friday was a holiday, which meant we couldn't do our training, so all of the trainees spent the day back in passenger baggage.

Immediately after work on Friday, I caught a plane to Seattle for a gathering of the members of my World of Warcraft guild. Over twenty of us attended. Friday night we went to a restaurant that's famous for its large omelets--your choice of 6 or 12 eggs. One of the guys there actually finished the 12-egg omelet complete with a pizza-sized plate of hash browns and toast. (He didn't feel so great afterward....)

On Saturday we all headed to our hosts' house, where we spent the entire afternoon (and well into the night) talking about mostly Warcraft. We did have one activity: a Loot Piñata with our guild leader's character's face glued onto it. It was all in good fun, of course, and he got first crack at bashing the piñata. ...Then the piñata got its revenge...

I got back on Sunday afternoon, just in time to do laundry.
I had intended to post earlier with a picture of me wearing my new uniform. Unfortunately, my camera is malfunctioning. Something is wrong with its ability to perceive light, because all of the pictures appear either completely washed out or bathed in shadow.

Classes are proceeding as usual. We're learning various manual procedures now, which mainly involves looking items up on lists and tables to see whether they are allowed into the country. Everyone asks, "Why can't we just look this stuff up online instead of flipping through this six-inch manual?" The answer is that the government is slowly accumulating the information into databases for us to access. The first chapter of the manual (the one handling fruits and vegetables for consumption) is currently online at FAVIR. (If you want to try out this site, note that the public does not have access to all of the special exceptions, such as seasonal exemptions.) Even when they get the whole manual online, though, they aren't sure whether they will teach classes using the online version...because if they did, they would have to provide the entire class with laptops to study outside of class time, and that gets expensive. Then what happens if the server goes down, or the connection, or there's a power outage? So we'll be flipping pages for quite a while.

Otherwise, things are going pretty well. The weather has turned quite cold, so it's hard to pry myself out of my room to go anywhere. I tried using the hotel's grocery shopping service, but it didn't live up to expectations. Though I wrote all the specifications of the grapefruit juice I wanted, they bought 30% juice instead of the 100% juice that I had requested. I guess I'll be doing my own grocery shopping from now on.

I did go out yesterday when a couple of classmates invited me to join them perusing the Frederick Christmas craft fair. It was pretty nice. Not as large as the Ann Arbor Art Fair, of course, but it did take up a number of warehouse-sized buildings. I made a few small purchases, though I had to limit myself to things that I could carry back to California.

My Warcraft characters are leveling slowly. What with my poor connection and the time I have to spend on training-related affairs, I'm not getting as much gaming done as I would otherwise. I'll get there eventually, though.
I'll start out with a little story that goes all the way back to the beginning of training. Our first day, no one brought any lunch, so we all went out to eat at local restaurants. That evening, foreseeing many days of bringing my own lunch, I went down to the grocery store and picked up a set of disposable plates and forks.

When lunchtime rolled around the next day, I happily whipped out my supplies and settled in for a leisurely meal. As it turned out, a number of other people had brought lunches as well...but not all of them remembered to bring utensils. I wound up handing out about four forks to those in need. I figured they had learned a good lesson, and everyone would remember to bring their utensils after that.

Of course, things rarely go so smoothly. Since that time, I've gotten one or two requests for forks every week, the most recent being just this past Friday. One of the other class members dubbed me the "Fork Fairy."

Our class has finished up the pest identification section, and now we're learning the rules about what our authority is and which forms we need to fill out to cover any conceivable incident. The trend of giving us WAY more study time than necessary has, unfortunately, continued. Even giving us extended lunch and bathroom breaks and letting us leave a half hour early, one of the instructors has had to resort to playing games with us to keep us occupied after we've finished everything on the schedule.

We still can't wear our uniforms because we're waiting on two last people to get their shirts. Hopefully we'll be able to make the switch by Thursday or Friday. Next Monday at the latest.

I got a bit ticked off at my roommate last weekend. While I was in my bedroom using my computer, she invited some classmates over and cooked a meal for them. That part was all well and good. After they finished and left, though, I went out into the kitchen to find that my frying pan, which I had bought in California and brought all the way over here in my suitcase, had developed a number of scratches in the non-stick surface. Clearly my roommate used it in preparing the meal, but didn't know how to take proper care of it. I was ready to bawl her out for it, but she didn't come back that day until after I had gone to bed. Instead, I decided that I would just keep all of my cooking supplies in my closet and only bring them out to the kitchen when I was using them.

I'm also frustrated with the hotel's housekeeping staff. Not only do they come on days they aren't supposed to (my roommate and I signed up, in writing, for Monday/Thursday service, and I've reminded the front desk THREE TIMES since then), they do all kinds of things that range from weird (such as occasionally leaving my sink and bathtub drains closed) to downright annoying (such as washing the bathroom sink soap dishes by putting them in the dishwasher) and even slightly dangerous (such as jostling the electric heating elements on the stove out of their slots when cleaning and not putting them back). The worst thing they've done is that, while cleaning my room on one of the days they weren't supposed to be doing it, they took my personal hand towel. As soon as I came back from training and realized it was missing, I reported it to the front desk, with a full description to distinguish it from the hotel towels. (Aside from being somewhat white, it doesn't even look the same. It's half the thickness, for one thing.) That was a week ago, and they still haven't found it. I'm just afraid someone on the housekeeping staff thought it was "defective" and threw it away, and now they don't want to admit it.

On the bright side, the new Warcraft expansion comes out this Thursday. My guild has been making a last effort at clearing the current raid instances, and we had an exciting weekend of progress. We got as far as killing Brutallus, the second boss in Sunwell Plateau, the hardest 25-person raid in the current game. (Granted it is far easier now than when it was first released, but still, not everyone can do it.) I'm just sorry that the hotel wireless connection is laggy and unreliable. (I disconnected three times during our successful attempt on Brutallus, so I wasn't much help.) A group of us here that play Warcraft are planning on going out together to purchase our copies of the expansion. It's kind of a shame that we can't take any days off to play, but I'm sure the first couple days will have a lot of lag and server crashes anyway, so we won't be too far behind.
I arrived in San Francisco Friday afternoon without incident (though the security officers were suspicious that I had two laptops) where I was picked up by [ profile] mangaroo. During the drive back to her apartment in Berkeley, I was incredibly glad I wouldn't be commuting to work by car.

Saturday, she took me for a walk around the neighborhood to show me where the nearest BART station was located. It's right in the middle of a convenient cluster of such things as a post office, library, and half a dozen different ethnic restaurants. I'll be using the public transportation system for commuting to work while I'm here. On Monday I'll be going to a special orientation day at the customs office in downtown SF, so I bought my ticket in advance.

Note for [ profile] megory: My new pajamas are sooooo comfortable, I want to wear them all the time.

The rest of the day I spent either reading or playing my Death Knight in between beta server restarts. Just before I went to bed last night, I finally got to level 68, which is when I should be able to start questing in the new expansion area, Northrend.
My big news this week is that I received word from CBP that I passed my interview. Yay! Now I'm just waiting on Homeland Security to finish the background check. Goodness knows how long that will take.

Aside from that, I've been playing a lot of Warcraft. For one thing, my guild finally defeated the main boss of Mount Hyjal, Archimonde, a couple weeks ago. That was quite thrilling. We're hoping to keep making progress in Black Temple while we still can.

You see, there will soon be another Warcraft expansion, called Wrath of the Lich King. The expansion will introduce a lot of new content, making most of the old stuff obsolete. Most people estimate that the expansion will be released in late November, though a firm date hasn't been given.

One of my brothers was lucky enough to have been randomly selected to participate in beta testing the expansion, and he has been letting me try out some of the new content. I made a new type of character called a Death Knight. The Death Knight characters start out having been corrupted by the Lich King to be evil, but they are eventually redeemed and welcomed back by their race leaders as heroes.

So far I've mainly done the introductory quests, but I'm starting to get a feel for the playstyle. Unlike some classes that only need to push buttons for one or two abilities, the Death Knight has a lot of different abilities to juggle.
After waiting about a week for a response, I finally heard that my Chicago interview will be scheduled for this coming Wednesday afternoon. A location wasn't specified (not even "in my office"), but when I wrote back to ask, I received a form email that the person will be out of town and not answering anything until Tuesday. The Chicago position has a considerably lower salary than the SF one, though I don't know how the cost of living compares between the two cities.

My video interview for the SF position was scheduled for August 22 in Detroit. They will show me a video and note my response. The instructions say that no specialized knowledge is necessary; I guess they are simply rating personality for things like positive attitude.

I'm assuming that the university will want someone who can begin immediately for the start of the school year, whereas the federal position is still pending the background check until probably late fall. This now makes me torn, because though the SF position seems more favorable (higher salary, promotion potential), I won't find out for a long time whether I will actually get it. If they offer me the Chicago position, I would hate to turn down something better for it, yet on the other hand if I don't take the Chicago position and later get rejected for the SF job, then I'm back where I started. Ugh. Of course, it all depends on how the interview goes, so...

In Warcraft news, my guild has progressed to the fourth boss in Black Temple. We're confident that we'll be able to get the fifth after a bit of practice. We've been throwing ourselves at the final boss of Mount Hyjal as well, and our best attempt so far has whittled him down to 64% life. It's an improvement, but we need to do better.
I had a great time at [ profile] wednesday_10_00's birthday party this weekend. Both [ profile] photoash and [ profile] mereflair attended, and we sat around chatting and eating more food than was good for us and playing with kitties. It's too bad the weekend couldn't have lasted longer.

Today I was surprised to receive a request for an interview for a position at the Chicago campus of the University of Illinois. I applied for the position nearly two months ago, so I hadn't expected to hear anything this late. My parents like that it's a lot closer to Michigan than California, particularly since I already have a brother living in Chicago. They think my main concern should be for how well the salary compares, though.

On Sunday night, my guild did a "timed" run of the 10-person raid instance Zul'Aman. The way this instance works, the first four bosses each drop one piece of loot just for killing them. If you kill them within a certain time limit, you get an extra reward for each one. They get progressively harder, so while it is fairly easy to get the first timed reward, the third is quite challenging, and the fourth is attainable only with high levels of skill, coordination, practice, and gear. We have been able to get the third reward most attempts, but Sunday night was the first time we successfully attained the fourth.

The fourth reward is a special mount called the Amani War Bear, and I was lucky enough to win the random roll for it. It was an exciting occasion, and I hope we win more bears on future attempts.
Last week I went to the Ann Arbor Art Fair with [ profile] megory. I spent way too much on clothes being sold there, but they were just so pretty. I also picked up bunches of books at Borders, nearly more than the two of us could carry.

This week I was scheduled for my official Homeland Security drug test. They told me the name of the clinic and the day. All I had to do was show up with some form of government-issued ID, provide a sample, and leave. They handled all the paperwork and payment. I'd never had an official drug test before, so I found it quite interesting to observe the various precautions they took to avoid falsification of the results. For example, the sample cup had a heat sensor on it to be sure it was fresh.

The fact that they contacted me so quickly about proceeding with the drug test seems to be a positive sign. It shows that they are actually working on my application.

My Warcraft guild, after having success in Mount Hyjal, has started to tackle another 25-person raid zone, the Black Temple. Last night we took down the first three bosses. They're going to attempt the fourth tonight, though I won't be there. I'm off to visit [ profile] wednesday_10_00 for her birthday party.
My trip to DC went reasonably well, though there were a couple of disappointments. We started by driving there last Monday, arriving at our hotel, the Washington Hilton (where Ronald Reagan was shot) in the early evening. The first thing we noticed about our room was that it was far--and I mean FAR--from the elevators. The hotel has two wings, shaped vaguely like one of those stylized V birds that show up in drawings. The elevators are in the "body" of the V. Our room was near the tip of one wing, literally half a block away ([ profile] megory paced out the distance).

The next thing we noticed was that our room was small...and this is an assessment coming from a person used to Japanese hotel room sizes. It also had no refrigerator. (Friends of [ profile] megory's, both with diabetes, complained to the hotel that they needed a refrigerator for medical reasons, to no avail.) Before coming, we had been told that we would have free internet, but it turned out that they charged $13/day for service to the guest rooms (which is more than the $10 we were charged in Tokyo, for comparison). The wireless service in the hotel lounge charged by the hour. I decided to boycott such "service" and just go without for the week.

We noticed upon entering the room that they had left a letter informing the guests that they would be testing the fire alarm system the next day. That night, at about 2am, the fire alarm went off. We found out later that someone had pulled the alarm falsely, but at the time, no one evacuated because everyone thought it was part of the drill. What was worse than the alarm, though, was the hissing, crackling intercom system that was left on for about ten minutes while the hotel tried to figure out if it was a real fire or not.

The one nice thing about the hotel was its location. It was within easy walking distance of a number of good ethnic restaurants. We had Thai the first night and tried Indian, Japanese, Mediterranean, and Ethiopian at various times during the week.

[ profile] megory had to spend all day at the NEA convention (our reason for going), but my dad and I wandered around, seeing various museums and embassies and even the zoo. It was extremely hot, but still interesting. Chinatown was the one real consisted of a gate and some signs with Chinese translations under them and that's about it. It made Sydney's Chinatown look good.

I wrote out a whole rant in my head about the DC Metro and how poorly it compares to Japan's subways, with its non-functional escalators, ticket machines that spit your tickets on the floor, bad lighting, and stained carpets, among other problems...but at least there IS a subway system.

We got back to Michigan on Monday, where I've mostly been reading and catching up on more TV. I did venture out to pick raspberries in the backyard, though I was eaten alive by mosquitoes.

Finally, in Warcraft news, my guild has been progressing in the 25-person raid instance Mount Hyjal. Last night we took down the fourth boss, Azgalor, for the first time. We made a few attempts on the fifth boss, but we were slaughtered pretty quickly. That's going to take a bit of practice.
I have totally dropped the ball on keeping my journal updated. For not really having anything to do, I seem to be always doing something.

On April 5th I went up to Chicago for a birthday party, where I saw quite a few of my relatives and played with my brother's beagle. On the 12th, my family had a birthday party for me, where I got numerous DVDs as well as a Nintendo DS from [ profile] wednesday_10_00. Wow!

This past weekend, I went to visit [ profile] wednesday_10_00 at her place, where I also got to hang out with [ profile] mereflair and sleep with cats and eat Robert Redford cake and play golf on my knees.

On weekdays, I've been catching up on several series that I missed over the past 3+ years, notably Doctor Who, Torchwood, and StarGate Atlantis. In addition, I've been sending out a few job applications, though I haven't heard anything yet. As always, I continue to spend time reading the books and comics that I brought with me and those I mail ordered from Japan.

The boxes that I mailed from Moriyama are estimated to arrive in Toledo any day now. I'm looking forward to being reunited with my things again, though goodness knows where I will put it all.

I've spent a significant amount of time playing Warcraft. My guild currently has an alliance with another small guild, and we've been tackling 25-person raids. We started by taking down Hydross and The Lurker Below, and recently we've been venturing into Mount Hyjal, now that the attunements have been lifted. This past weekend we beat the first two bosses there.

I'm planning to keep looking for jobs until something works out. Currently I'm applying for positions at colleges and universities. If I do find something, I'll be sure to report about it.
Fancy you should ask.

I'm currently working on packing up clothes I won't need during the next month and more books. The boxes are starting to make a small wall across my hobby room. I may need to run to the post office to buy some more boxes tomorrow.

I'm also buying last-minute DVDs and other items, such as converters for the electrical appliances I'll be taking with me.

I was a bit shocked yesterday when I got a phone call from the travel agency saying they hadn't received payment for my plane ticket back to Michigan. Oddly, during the time it took me to run to my purse and locate the receipt, the travel agent was like, "Oh, wait a minute, here's your payment. Never mind." Huh? You wait until AFTER calling me to look for it, what?

The package of information for my trip to Australia arrived the other day. Apparently everyone on the tour has to wear a hunking big ball pen on a cord so the tour guide can identify them. Anyway, at least now I know the hotels where I'll be staying while I'm there.

I'm still working on trying out new recipes while I can. It's hard when each one makes enough for 2-4 meals, and I'm just one person. I have to finish the old stuff before I can make something new, or else I won't have enough room in the refrigerator. A side effect is that it keeps me busy constantly washing dishes. At the same time, I'm trying to whittle away at my reserves of canned/dried/frozen foods before I wind up having to toss things.

I've also been spending a lot of time with [ profile] megory playing Warcraft. We finally got our characters to level 70, the current highest level.
As I mentioned earlier, I took several photos to go along with my holiday report, and I just got around to uploading them today.

First is a picture of sunrise over Animate on the morning of January 1st. ...Er, well, not exactly. You see, we had glorious plans of waking up early to watch the sunrise over Animate, and our hotel room windows were conveniently facing Animate. The catch is that Animate is actually WEST of the hotel. Thus, all we could see was the sunrise being reflected in the windows of the building next to Animate.

Close enough.

Japanese people traditionally go to a shrine on New Year's Day. This shrine visit is called hatsumoude, the first shrine visit of the year. We had thought about going to Tokyo's famous shrine for the occasion, though it would surely be packed with other people doing the same. As it happened, we were saved the trip, because Animate decorated its front door as an Otome Road Shrine. Hatsumoude and manga shopping at the same time--what could be better?

While we were wandering around Kyoto with [ profile] gnine, we stumbled across a brand new parfait shop. Now, many Japanese restaurants will serve a few kinds of parfaits, usually five or so, and they have lovely displays of plastic models of their food in a showcase at the front of the restaurant. This parfait shop had a display as well. What set this shop apart was the sheer size of the selection. (Note that this photo only has one of the shop's two showcases.) The shop itself is huge, with multiple floors. They kept the heat blasting, presumably so the patrons wouldn't get too cold while eating ice cream, though this did cause the ice cream to melt fairly rapidly. We each ordered a different type of parfait so we could get a good sample. Here is a shot of three parfaits that we ordered.

Now for a Warcraft update, which I haven't done in a while. [ profile] megory and I enjoyed the Feast of Winter Veil holiday in December by running various quests, making our mounts look like reindeer, and various other activities. Our characters have reached level 62 so far. Only 8 more levels to go! Meanwhile, my guild made several attempts at the major 25-person raid instances, but we couldn't get more than about 22 people online at the same time, so we weren't able to make much progress on that front. We have, however, been running the new 10-person raid instance Zul'Aman every week, and today I was there for our second successful kill of Zul'Jin (the final boss).
As the temperature has started dropping, it suddenly struck me that if I don't start cleaning my apartment now (to prepare for my year-end guests), I will wind up having to do it in the cold. So this weekend I made some time to straighten up in the laundry room and hobby room. I managed to pack up two boxes of summer clothes to mail back to Michigan, which gave me enough space to put away all the laundry that has been languishing on the tatami for lack of anywhere better to put it.

I think I buy too many clothes...

I also managed to sort through some of the old school supplies (some left by my predecessors) that had piled up in the hobby room. I threw out a bunch that I will clearly never use. The place isn't what I'd call clean yet, but at least it is now possible to walk across the floor to the recycling can.

After that, I treated myself to lunch at Olive Kitchen. (They have added a second flavor of coffee creamer to their selection!)

At school, the students are starting to prepare for the Exhibition that will be held Friday. We have a shortened schedule Wednesday and a half day Thursday. Originally, the Exhibition was scheduled to be on Saturday (with Monday off in compensation), as it has been every previous year. I don't know why they decided to move it back to Friday, but oh well. At least this way I won't miss this week's Gruul raid...

In other news, there is a new bulk food store called Amika opening up down the street from my apartment, on my commute route. The advertising says it has "gourmet food of the world." I'm not holding my breath hoping that it will have anything other than Chinese for foreign food, but you never know.

There's not much else to report. I suppose I could mention that Kraft finally changed its grated parmesan cans. Up until now, they were made with a plastic cap, a cardboard tube body, and a metal base. Considering that plastic, cardboard, and metal all have to be separated into different trash containers, this was a real pain. (Personally, I just tossed the whole thing in the non-burnable trash, but I felt guilty about it.) The new parmesan can is made entirely of plastic, so I can put it in the plastic recycling bin with a clear conscience.

In Warcraft news, patch 2.3 is scheduled to be released on Tuesday. It has bunches of improvements that I'm really looking forward to, including faster leveling of alts, tracking for fishing pools, cooking quests, reputation-based ammunition vendors in Shattrath, and a new (albeit expensive) hippogryph mount. The main feature of this patch is a new 10-player dungeon, which my guild is hoping to raid this weekend.
A lot has been going on this month, and I've been bad about keeping updated. (I blame Brewfest...too much ram racing...)

On October 1st, the Japanese postal system officially became privatized. I haven't gone to the post office since the change, so I don't know how much it will affect me. I haven't checked into whether postal rates will be changing or anything. I imagine I'll find out eventually.

On the same day, my local bookstore started a 1% cash back program for all of their books and comics. It's not much, but hey, it's certainly better than nothing--especially considering how much money I spend there.

The supermarket next to the bookstore gained a new bakery, a branch of a large bakery on the other side of town that I rarely visit because it's out of my way for pretty much everything. The new branch didn't have a huge selection when I peeked in the window, but that may be because it just opened.

The school festival went well this year, though it was slightly different from previous years in that only the upperclassmen were allowed to do stage presentations. I've given detailed reports on the school festival in previous years, so here I'll just do a general overview.

The first two days of the festival were the "cultural" part. The first-year students mostly had prepared short films that they aired in their classrooms, though one class made an elaborate 3D representation of the four seasons that visitors could walk through. As an example, here is the model of spring, showing a hanami (cherry blossom viewing party).

The second- and third-year students gave various stage presentations. Some put on skits, either original or adapted from other sources, such as this performance of Grease [video file]. Others did more traditional performances, such as this class, which played taiko drums [video file] and danced the souran-bushi [video file].

Student clubs put up displays or demonstrations of their club activities, such as this display by the calligraphy (shodou) club or this demonstration by the tea ceremony (sadou) club.

Sports teams and the PTA had booths where they sold various snacks, such as yakisoba (fried noodles) or onigiri (rice balls). The students then ate their purchases while sitting on the grass in front of a platform where various students gave volunteer performances of singing and music.

The third day was the sports day portion of the event. Students were divided up into five teams, each assigned a different color. (My English major students were part of the Red Team.) They held a number of different sports events. One example was a kind of relay race in which the students had to run while doing various tasks, such as bouncing a ping-pong ball or linking elbows with a friend. Another event was the ball toss in which each team tried to toss as many of its color beanbags into a basket as possible during a certain time interval.

The central feature of the sports competition was the "cheer." Each team was given about ten minutes to give a performance showing their spirit. The teams had been practicing their performances for days. Each "cheer" began with the students bowing to the spectators (teachers, parents, and other students). They then usually did several dances, though some teams found ways to make their performances unique. The green team, for example, had the students all carry colored squares that they flipped in a synchronized fashion to spell out messages. The cheers were too long for me to record all the performances, but here is an excerpt of the red team cheer [video file].

In unrelated news, the sun has been setting earlier and earlier. At the moment, it's setting at around the same time I go home every day, so I get to see sights like this.

In even more unrelated news, as I mentioned at the beginning of the post, for the past two weeks I've been spending most of my evenings participating in the Brewfest (based on Oktoberfest) event in World of Warcraft. You had to do certain tasks (like ram racing) every day to win tickets, and the tickets could then be used to purchase prizes. I managed to get the grand prize (a ram mount) for four of my characters (counting [ profile] megory's paladin Guapoton), plus other random prizes for several other characters.

This week the Hallow's End event begins...
I think I'm spoiled after having two 3-day holidays in a row. It's definitely much easier to get things done. I was able to get some extra loads of laundry and dishes done, which helps make the place seem not quite such a disaster area.

Now I just have to wait for the weather to cool down a little more so I can devote some time to cleaning out the hobby room.

This week at school (what's left of it) will be a semi-normal schedule. Tuesday is a half day, but the rest of the week is as usual. Next week, though, is back on the half-day schedule as the students prepare for the fall festival.

I designed two more Warcraft UIs this week: Heian UI and Sakura UI. I still have more ideas, but I think that's gotten most of it out of my system for the time being.
This week started off with a national holiday on Monday, Respect for the Aged Day. All this week, my students only have classes in the morning because the underclassmen are taking their final exams. They're using their afternoon time to prepare for the school festival coming up in October.

Supposedly fall is least, all of the stores have their fall season foods on display, among other indications. However, the weather just isn't cooperating, and the temperature is staying at midsummer levels. I spent most of the weekend holed up in my living room to keep cool. I did break out briefly yesterday to take a trip to Kyoto to visit Animate. I was in for quite a surprise when I set my purchases on the counter and looked up to see that the cashier was one of my students who graduated this spring.

Today, after I finished grading my quota of papers, I used my afternoon free time to think cool with this: Snowbunny UI.

I didn't have enough time to give it all the frills that I intended, but I think it's reasonably cute enough as it is.
School continues to go as usual. The one big change is that the workshop on American Culture that I do Wednesday afternoons is only a semester-long class, so I have a new batch of students this term.

If you recall, the previous class (of two students) were watching Supernatural. This time I got four students, and they had heard what the first pair had done in class, so they were kind of expecting to watch videos right off the bat. Instead, I started the way that I had the first time, by having them brainstorm as many aspects of culture as they could. When they went through the list, they decided that they would prefer to study the history of American music.

I thought that was great--they were actively showing an interest in an educational topic. The main problem is that I only have a superficial knowledge of the subject, so I had to do some websurfing for ideas.

Today I started with two songs: "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "Follow the Drinking Gourd." I downloaded mp3s to play in class, along with a few images (like a picture of the Big Dipper). I gave some general background of the social issues of the times, played the songs, explained what they were about, and then asked them some simple questions about their thoughts. At the end of the class they seemed to have enjoyed it, though one commented that some of the issues were depressing to think about.

In Warcraft news, my guild alliance took down Gruul over the weekend, and I got the leg armor to match my shoulder armor. (Seekrit gamer code: The winning strat was to bring in a tree druid to keep HoTs up on the tanks during reverbs.) Our guild is now ranked #15 on our server, and is among the top 5000 nationwide.

Also, I finished my second custom interface: Crane UI. (The area in the bottom right corner is for the minimap, which is invisible in the screenshot.) I'm still fiddling around with where to place things, but I'm liking this one even better than the first.
This post is all about Warcraft, so if that doesn't interest you, feel free to move right along.

I enjoy playing Warcraft as a hobby, trying to kill big monsters both on my own and as part of a team. I also enjoy exploring the imaginary world in the game and seeing the scenery it has to offer. Last week, however, I discovered a new way to interact with it: how to import original art into the game. If you recall my Photoshop obsession from...last year, I may see where this is going.

Warcraft has what is called a "user interface" (UI), which is essentially a collection of buttons and panels on the screen that allows the player to gather information about the game world and interact with it by causing the character to perform actions. The standard UI has "action bars" (the buttons on the bottom and right sides of the screen) that make the character use spells and abilities, a "minimap" (upper right corner) that shows the character's position, "unit frames" (the picture of the character and her pet in the upper left) that give information about the health status of the characters, and a "chat log" (the text in the lower left) through which players can communicate.

This standard UI has pretty much everything a beginning player needs in order to enjoy the game. However, it also has drawbacks that become apparent when you play for a long time. For example, because the action bars are both on the bottom and side of the screen, your mouse has to move quite a long distance to go from one button to another, depending on what skills you are using. If you happen to need to click many buttons quickly, such as during a hectic boss fight, this leads to inconvenient delay. A fraction of a second can literally be the difference between life and death for the characters, particularly when it comes to, say, healing.

Also notice that your eyes have to be constantly moving all around the screen to take in all the information. You need to watch the action bars for information on using your skills (many skills have a "cooldown" period after use, so you have to know when that expires, and the buttons also tell whether you're even in range to use the skill), the chat log for crucial instructions in a group, the map for knowing where other players or enemies are located, and your unit frame to make sure your health is okay. In other words, your eyes have to be traveling to all parts of the screen, and quickly. If you're watching your cooldowns, you may miss that your health is low. If you're watching your health, you may miss that your group leader gave instructions. If you're watching the chat log, you may miss that the enemy is sneaking up behind you. ...And so on. All of these things can lead to your character's death in a crisis.

Thus many players use a "custom" UI. They download "mods" (simple programs that "modify" things in the game) to move the various UI components around. These mods can also change the size, shape, and color of the various components. There are even, as I mentioned above, mods that allow you to import your own graphic art to decorate the screen. When I learned about them, something clicked, and I decided I wanted to design my own custom UI.

Here's what I came up with for my first try: Autumn in Japan UI. Note that the action bars, minimap, unit frames, and chat log are all collected together at the bottom of the screen so that my eyes and mouse can stay focused in the same spot. The "wall scroll" art in the upper left corner isn't really necessary, but I added it because I felt it contributed to the atmosphere. (The round buttons on the wall scroll open up menus for the various mods that I use. Ordinarily they would be attached to the minimap, as in the standard UI.)

Anyway, this is what I've been obsessing over during my free time all week. I spent hours making sketches of different arrangements for all the UI parts, not to mention potential art ideas. For example, I considered making graphics of Japanese castles or shrines to frame the map or other objects on the screen. I could make different designs for each season...a "snow bunny" winter design would be adorable, not to mention cherry and plum blossoms for spring. Calligraphy-style art would be an interesting touch. I even considered making a "pirates versus ninjas" theme. So many ideas, so little time. (After all, the more time I spend designing in Photoshop, the less time I'm actually playing...)
Classes resume at my school starting today. The last week of summer vacation went by rather quickly, as I spent most of my time reading and watching TV. Autumn rains moved in several days ago, bringing cooler temperatures, so it has been much more comfortable recently.

The fall schedule at school is always a jumble of strange hours as we have several national holidays plus the school festival and sports day on top of the switch from first to second semester. I'm interested in seeing what the school festival will be like this year. In previous years, when it was just the girls' school, the students were divided based on their homerooms. That is, all the "homeroom 3" students (1-3, 2-3, and 3-3, the English majors) were together on a team competing against the other teams. Last year, though, with the introduction of the Ritsumeikan students, they mixed up the homerooms, putting students in completely different majors together on the same team. I wonder if they plan on doing the same this year.

In Warcraft news, my guild has formed a partnership with another small guild to attempt killing bosses that require 25 people. Last week we took down a boss called High King Maulgar for the first time, and I won a piece of fancy shoulder armor. The next goal is to get Gruul the Dragonkiller. We've tried him for two weeks now, but haven't managed to get him below 5%. It shouldn't be much longer, though.
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