Cantrip: D&D Beyond boosts the game to new levels

DDBeyondi love D&D Beyond.

Let’s get that out right away. The digital toolset from Curse working in close conjunction with Wizards of the Coast puts the entire fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons experience at your fingertips. i’ve got the Legendary Bundle and proudly subscribe at the Master tier. Continue reading

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Pokemon Go a great chance to explore Cleveland and other cities

By Long Shot contributor Tim Simko

For the past few days, children and adults alike have gone crazy over the long-anticipated release of Pokémon Go.

pokemon go logo

For the first time, The Pokémon Company has provided Android and iOS users the chance to have a classic Pokémon adventure through the use of a free app. While the app has had it’s expected bugs following the release, it has brought a lot of good for Cleveland and other cities nationwide.

The app is simple to use once it is downloaded. After creating an account and customizing a character, the user is immediately taken to a screen showing a map – but the map is much more unique than those in Pokémon Go’s Nintendo console counterparts.

Rather than a pre-made map, this app utilizes the same technology used in Google Maps or the Tom Tom GPS system to recreate the real world and surrounding areas.

pokemon screen shot

Utilizing this technology, the Pokémon Go app has created an adventure that is based in reality.

Lake Erie features a plethora of water Pokémon, walking to local churches and parks can provide a user with supplies and libraries double as gyms where a user can leave a Pokémon and defend it. While providing a unique experience, the Pokémon Company has successfully created a new phenomenon.

Since the app’s launch, many people – myself included – have walked the streets in hopes of capturing their favorite Pokémon. Friendships were formed and people began documenting their experiences through the use of social media.

While some may see it as funny or strange that people of all ages are walking around trying to collect Pokémon with a smartphone, I see it as a new way to promote the city and its businesses.

Businesses and universities that provide Wi-Fi can give Pokémon fans an even more unique experience. When I was in college, I would’ve enjoyed seeing a Vulpix pop up at my table as I sipped on my coffee. It would’ve also been great to search for a Pikachu on the Cleveland State University campus between classes.

While some see this new mobile game as a waste of time or silly, I see it as a way to explore the world. I’ve seen my friends explore places they would never normally go to, I walked to the library just for a chance to catch Pokémon I couldn’t find anywhere else, I’ve even seen people bond on social media in a time where the nation has been divided on social issues.

There will be issues with the app: there are still bugs in the system at times, users have been warned to pay attention to surroundings and not to trespass, and some of the gym locations – such as the White House – are not ideal.

After working out the kinks, this could be a great way to bring togetherness in the community and build friendships and bonds between those who seek the nostalgia of Pokémon and those who are just joining this unique world for the first time.

From four eyes to sore eyes: The story behind my LASIK procedure

By Long Shot contributor Tim Simko

From the age of 5, I always had trouble with my vision. When I had my glasses on, I could see everything clear as day. However, when I took them off it was a different story. I could see shapes and stumble around the house a little, but I couldn’t read much. Seeing objects from a distance was near impossible. I remember when I was 12, I heard about a procedure that could correct my vision. It sounded like something that was too good to be true. I wondered if one day I’d be lucky enough to get this procedure.

Fast forward 11 years later, I’m 23 and still hoping to one day get this procedure. Over the past year, I’ve scheduled multiple consultations and canceled them at the last minute.

“I don’t know if I can ever afford this,” I would tell myself.

There were always so many seeds of doubt. I can’t even get a contact lens in my eyes, I can barely do eyedrops. I’ve never had a lot of money, and the money I do have in my savings I’ve had to work for many years to acquire. Would it be right to throw this all away? Would I be able to justify spending the same amount on this procedure that I could spend on a used car? I had to take time to think about it.

In January, I took the first step in changing my life. I started a weight loss program and slowly started to shed pounds. As the weeks went on, I grew happier with what I saw in the mirror. But there was one thing that still bothered me…my glasses.

My glasses have always hindered my ability to do things. During the winter they would fog up nonstop, when I would wrestle against my brother (something that just about everybody with a brother does) they would fall off of my face and I’d have to frequently pause to throw them aside. It even became a pain to find a decent pair of clip on lenses to fit over my glasses, and even those never fit right.

I was very open with my family over the years about wanting to get this procedure, and being on my own with some money saved and a good credit score I was wondering if it was the right time to pull the trigger on something that could truly change my life. My brother’s best friend’s sister’s boyfriend (I know, that’s a mouthful) had just gotten the surgery and loved it. I had always been wary of LASIK simply because the results are a mixed bag. But at the same time, there always seemed to be a rhyme or a reason to why some LASIK operations were better than others. Some people got the procedure when it was still relatively new, others were almost twice my age, and some didn’t properly follow the aftercare procedures. Seeing someone who was my age and in a situation like mine getting this procedure was the nail in the coffin. I finally made the call and scheduled the consultation.

070501-N-5319A-007 BETHESDA, Md. (May 1, 2007) - Capt. Joseph Pasternak, an ophthalmology surgeon at National Naval Medical Center Bethesda, lines up the laser on Marine Corps Lt. Col. Lawrence RyderÕs eye before beginning LASIK IntraLase surgery. The actual procedure can take only seconds, while most of the patientÕs time is spent preparing for the procedure. The new IntraLase procedure only takes days for service memberÕs to recover, versus months like the old PRK procedure. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brien Aho (RELEASED)

BETHESDA, Md. (May 1, 2007) – Capt. Joseph Pasternak, an ophthalmology surgeon at National Naval Medical Center Bethesda, lines up the laser on Marine Corps Lt. Col. Lawrence Ryder’s eye before beginning LASIK IntraLase surgery. The actual procedure can take only seconds, while most of the patient’s time is spent preparing for the procedure. The new IntraLase procedure only takes days for service member’s to recover, versus months like the old PRK procedure. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brien Aho

I was excited about scheduling the appointment and I promised myself that I wouldn’t cancel this time. I made sure not to tell anyone outside of my immediate family about this procedure. I was scared. If my corneas were not thick enough, I couldn’t get it done. If my vision was too bad, I couldn’t get it done. There were so many unknown variables and I didn’t want to get my own hopes up only to have them crushed.

In April, I finally made it to a LASIK appointment that I scheduled. From the moment I walked into the door, I felt like I was at home. The staff was understanding of my fears, they were considerate, and they treated me like an adult. They told me the realities, and the risks. They told me financially what type of burden I would have and because of my credit score it became something I could afford. All that remained was the tests…

I went into multiple rooms, and went through multiple exams. I took every type of vision test imaginable and all that remained was a scan of my corneas. If they were thick, I’d qualify for the procedure. If they were not thick, my fear would be realized.

I anxiously sat in a chair as both of my eyes were being scanned. It felt like something out of a bad spy movie, as a beam of light circled around my eyeballs. After a few minutes, the staff told me the news that would define my future…

I qualified for the surgery.

Words couldn’t describe how happy I was. Something that held me back for so long would become a thing of the past. Over the next few weeks, I prepared by buying medications, making arrangements to take a short three-day weekend off of work, and staying at my parents house until I was recovered. Each day seemed shorter than the one before as I felt my time coming closer and closer.

Finally the day came, and I was completely nervous. I don’t remember the last time I felt so much anxiety about something. After filling out a mountain of paperwork, I was called back and sat in a small room. They asked me if I wanted a Valium to help me relax and I immediately took the pill. I put a surgery cap over my head and similar material over my shoes. As I waited for the Valium to kick in, the doctor walked in and introduced himself to me.

“You ready Tim,” he asked me.

I slowly nodded my head.

“Let’s do it,” he said as he led me to the surgery room.

I want to preface this part by saying that while I am not going to try to get too disgusting with this post, I will be describing what surgery was like from my end. If this is something that makes you uncomfortable, this may be the time to click off of this post.

I was told to lay on my back and lift my knees up and over what looked like a small pillow.

“Just like pilates class Tim,” the doctor joked with me.

I appreciated the jokes but I was still a bit nervous. The doctor put numbing drops into my eyes and the procedure was ready to start. They asked me to raise my eyebrows and they put what looked like masking tape over them to hold them in place. They proceeded to do the same with my lower eyelid and my eyes were wide open.

“This is really happening,” I thought to myself.

A laser device came over my head and I started to feel scared. They asked me to look up toward a green light. I made sure to stare right at it at all times. That’s when one of the scariest experiences of my life came.

“You’re going to have some blurry vision for a few seconds but it is normal Tim,” the doctor said.

My vision started to blur as he said it and then a few seconds later everything went black…

My eye was wide open, but I couldn’t see a thing. I was momentarily blind. I don’t know if anything ever scared me as much as that. They repeated the same process with my left eye and then gave me a minute to breathe after it was over. Despite the fear, I was amazed at how fast it all happened. I didn’t time it, but if I did I’d bet it was no more than 10 minutes.

“Come with me Tim,” the doctor said.

He took me into an exam room and turned on an exam chart. He asked me to read the chart. In that moment, the blurriness in my eyes went away and I read the entire chart top to bottom. The doctor looked at me and my jaw dropped.

“Oh my God,” I mouthed to him as he smiled. The surgery was a complete success, in less than 10 minutes my entire life had changed.

I went from four eyes to sore eyes. The aftercare has been a bit of a chore but for the enhanced quality of life I’ve experienced since then, it is something I am willing to put up with. A procedure I’ve been so scared of getting has changed so much already. I don’t remember the last time I’ve felt so excited.

As I drive places now, I read things out loud just because I can. I feel like a child that just learned how to read and is showing it off. I don’t squint whatsoever, I can go from watching TV to looking at my phone in a millisecond with no adjustment. I can wear brand new Oakley sunglasses instead of a cheap pair of clip-ons that never fit my glasses. So many little things that the average person takes for granted, I am experiencing for the first time and enjoying every second of it.

There are some set backs. I have to use multiple medicated eye drops for the next month, I have to wear sunglasses outdoors every day for the foreseeable future, I have to wear goofy looking goggles when I go to bed so I don’t rub my eyes in my sleep, and I’ll be paying on this 10 minute surgery for the next two years. But all in all, this was worth every single penny.

In the words of Johnny Nash: “I can see clearly now the rain is gone. I can see all obstacles in my way.”

An exposed nerve, part three: living in the “capital of cockroaches”

In the last installment of this series, i made it to Austin unscathed, signed the paperwork for my humble studio apartment in what i believe is called the North Austin neighborhood, and did a little settling in.

Then my anxiety started rising considerably due to self-doubt, questioning if i’d made the right decision and my personal favorite, worrying about money. None of these things are new territory for me, but it was certainly intensified by being in a new place by myself, quite a long distance from my comfort zone in Cleveland.

Nevertheless, the familiarity of falling into these thinking traps makes them somewhat manageable. Again, i told myself the worst thing that could happen is i’d have to shuffle on back to Ohio, to the safety net of friends and family, and start things over…again.

But then i was set upon by the skittering of creepy crawlies once the sun went down, and a whole new level of panic was reached. i mean, i was positively freaking out. It’s not like i’ve never seen bugs in any apartment or house i’ve lived in. They’re just a part of life.

But roaches? In numbers? No.

The big ol’ cockroach i’d slain in the motel the previous night was one thing. First of all it was a crummy motel i was staying one night in. And second, from what i understand those big ones typically enter singly from the outside.

In my new Austin apartment however, there are what i’ve since learned are brown-banded cockroaches, and it is far from comfortable to see one, two, five or more on the walls around your dinky inflatable airbed, imagining them crawling over you while you sleep. Do they bite? Will they investigate my ears, nose, mouth? Would my cat be safe?

i was absolutely disgusted and panicked by this unforeseen turn of events.

On a side note, i would learn later through Internet research that, at least at one time, Austin had a reputation as the “capital of cockroaches.” But the Texas Monthly article that discussed the matter is from June 1976 i noticed, so there was hope that the situation had changed. Unfortunately, the ignominious title was supported elsewhere by the “fun fact” that Texas is the cockroach capital of the U.S. – home to 32 different species.

Terrific!

Based on my phone log, panic-stricken calls and texts were made first to my mom, my two closest friends, my dad, my brother and my ex. They each began with me explaining that i just did not feel right about being here and that the following morning i was very much considering turning right back around and driving home.

All of them were generally supportive, of course, and agreed it was gross and that something needed to be done about it on the landlord’s end. My mom and friends were sympathetic to my strong desire at that moment to cut out right away. In between calls i’d actually put most of my stuff back into my car, if only to avoid these awful insectoids from finding new homes in my meager possessions.

My dad, with whom i haven’t had much of a relationship with in the last…30 years?…was also sensitive to the situation. He told me about the early years of his marriage to my mom (they’ve been divorced since i was in kindergarten) when they lived in Virginia where he was stationed with the Navy. They, too, had a roach problem in the little apartment they were able to afford, and he joked that they used to set an extra place at the dinner table for them. He suggested i try to stick it out for at least a week and see how i felt after that. He also advised me to talk with my brother, who he said was a pretty smart guy (which i’m certain my brother would agree with). Before i’d left for Texas, we went out for dinner and had a really good time. i am happy since then, we’ve been talking a lot more and building some kind of relationship – better late than never right?

My brother lives in Florida, where he moved about 8 years ago. Over the intervening years, he’s mentioned a couple of times that he’d considered moving back to Ohio because he hadn’t made many friends down there or basically put down much in the way of roots. He most recently came to visit in January, after my grandma had died. Coming to Cleveland from Florida in the dead of winter was quite a shock for him, and he was appalled by the bitter cold and rundown appearance of the eastside suburbs we’d grown up in. Once back in Florida, he said he’d realized that the Sunshine State was his home now, and he felt more comfortable there than in Ohio. His visit was a net positive for his life down there. He took it as a sign to try and get out more and connect with people more, and is now even considering becoming a first-time homeowner down there. (i guess it’s more “over there” from where i am now in Texas.)

Anyway, he told me about how he was nervous and scared when he first got to Florida, too. Coming from him, a tough guy if there ever was one, that was somewhat of a relief to hear if only because it made the problem feel more relatable. When he moved there, he was wife his wife (they’ve since divorced) and he said i had some big balls to make this move all on my own to begin with. In his place, there are plenty of bugs too, including things like millipedes that he’s woken up to them crawling across his face or in his beard. He described various uncomfortable places and situations he’s been in, that it’s just a part of life and seconded what my dad said about sticking it out at least for a little while to see if things get better. After all, i would just be going back to a situation i wasn’t happy with in Ohio either, where it is also very cold – the weather being one of the major deciding factors in potential places to relocate to in the first place.

Perhaps the most poignant thing he said though, was to put it this way: if someone from Austin moved to Eastlake, Ohio and got an apartment on Vine Street – what would they be thinking on their first night? Apologies if you’re unfamiliar with those points of reference but, that made a lot of sense to put it that way.

There was still one more conversation i’d been hoping to have, and that was with my ex. We have remained in friendly contact over the last three years since parting ways in our relationship, even though a lot of people have advised me of the foolishness of that. Regardless, i still value her perspective and was hoping to hear from her. But i wasn’t holding out too much hope though, because frankly i hear back less and less from her. i guess that’s just moving forward, and i’m admittedly behind in that regard but it is what it is.

She did call me back though, and in her forthright way basically said it would be a mistake to turn around and leave so quickly, or at all. She is quite familiar with my anxieties and longtime desire to establish myself in someplace other than where i grew up, and like my brother, told me she was scared when she moved away to go and start a fresh chapter of life in California, where she stays with her sister, sister’s partner, mom and a menagerie of various animals. She also said that if i was ever in dire financial straits she would be happy to help, but if i’m honest i hope to avoid that circumstance – with anyone. i really would like to get by on my own, and if things get tight i’ll do my best to deal with it.

So, eventually, i got to sleep. Essentially, i was just so exhausted that i could no longer stay awake and my tired body did not have a chance to lay there thinking about the potential of bugs any more that night. It had been a very long three day stretch with a lot of driving, staying in crappy motels, stressing out about money and insects and second-guessing myself, feeling homesick.

The next morning, i marched directly down to the management office and let them know about the roach problem and that they had to do something about it right away. They explained that pest control comes every Monday to inspect empty apartments, and they’d have him check mine out when they came. They were surprised to hear about it, because not only had the previous tenant never mentioned anything about bugs, but the place had been treated as a routine matter the Monday of that very week.

In the meantime, i headed out and got not only a bunch of roach traps to put all over the apartment, but also a bag of food grade Diatomaceous earth, a powdery substance that is supposed to help against crawling bugs like roaches. All along the baseboards throughout the apartment, i spread the stuff and hoped for the best. i also make it a point to eliminate any bugs i see at any time, having since become accustomed to the distinctive *pop* of their chitinous bodies when squished inside a tissue.

i vacuum twice a day, Swiffer daily, Clorox wipe surfaces, put all my food in containers, never leave dishes out and empty the trash fastidiously. i got that foam crack-sealer stuff and used that in a couple of places, too.

The Friday after i moved in (a week and one day later) they had a more advanced pest control person come and treat the place again.

It’s now the Monday after that treatment, and i do continue to see them at night, but in less numbers overall. It’s my understanding that for a little while after treatment, they can become more active.

Hopefully, this problem will go away completely soon. If it persists, i’ll just keep the office informed and maybe they’ll have to treat it again. At least they are not dismissive about the issue, and doing what they can to correct it. i’m not happy about it, but i am happy to be here in Austin and i like the new job i started last week. So, i’m making the best of things.

*****

Are you totally grossed out? Ever dealt with bug infestations in your home or apartment? This is a first for me, and although i am dealing with it and it is getting better, it’s still icky and of course i never want to see another bug inside my home! When my lease is up in March 2017, i hope to be much more familiar with Austin and in a better position to find a different place to live. Until then, i’ll keep adjusting and finding the positives about my life here, and don’t get me wrong – there are many!

My apologies for the lack of photos, videos and stuff on this post. i’m pressed for time today and wanted to get this posted, and also did not want to share gross images of bugs and creep people out (including myself!).

This exposed nerve series will be wrapping up pretty soon, with just a few more things to address. Next time, i’ll share my experiences getting rid of baggage both physical and emotional, then tell you about gaining my footing my footing here on several fronts and finally how the new job here is going.

As always, thanks to everyone for reading my longform posts all the way to the end, leaving comments and likes, sharing and letting me know when you find things relatable.

 

An exposed nerve, part two: panic! at the disco, sans disco

The first part of this series, taking a long shot of myself as regards relocating from Cleveland, Ohio to Austin, Texas, got me almost all the way through the 1,388-mile road trip.

This part finds me arriving in town and then proceeding to begin a total meltdown.

i went to sleep happy and awoke the same way. Not another crapshoot motel stay! A relatively short three hour drive! At the end of it, the swanky studio apartment discovered and arranged for through grand master-level Google-fu, accessible only after signing a couple of forms and it would be all mine!

GoogleFu

It was during this leg of the journey, the last one, that i began taking note of all the cars whizzing past me on the highway. Every one of them was much nicer than mine. Not a hard feat, mind you – i’ve never been one to invest in a solid automobile, instead prescribing to the philosophy that they’re just a means to get around. Also, i’m cheap, already in debt thanks to school and years of irresponsibility, and of a mind that i’d rather buy used, drive until beyond reasonable repair and repeat. i mention this only to help illustrate that, amongst other emotional instabilities, self-consciousness over my social status is one of them.

Nevertheless, i made it without incident and headed inside the apartment management office, Cosby’s carrier in tow, to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. We did a walkthrough and the place looked nearly identical to the photos and 3-D tour i’d looked at online about a million times. Disappointingly though, it does not have faux hardwood floors throughout – there is carpeting in the half-wall cordoned off bedroom area. That was a bummer.

After unloading all my stuff (a few duffle bags, armfuls of clothes on hangers and a bicycle), i set about putting unpacking. During this process i noticed, as is inevitable in these situations, that online photo galleries and even first looks often mask all the little defects and faults in a space like cracks around the windowsills, shoddy caulk jobs in the bathroom, jangly water faucets and the like. Also, the stove did not work.

In other words, not the perfect pristine palace my hopeful imagination informed me the place would be. Took a quick walk over to the office to tell them about the stove, but they were out for 30 minutes.

Still, i had my lists: “How i’d like to decorate,” “What i want my living space to look like,” and so on. Before getting too deep into interior decorating though, there were plenty of practical items to pick up like a shower curtain, cleaning supplies, some groceries and who knows, maybe get crazy and get a chair to sit on.

Off to Target! Ah, Target, the bastion of consumers everywhere. Fun fact: the poverty line is the line beneath which you shop at Walmart instead of Target. i’m kidding of course. Why would i shop at Walmart when i’ve got a Target Redcard?!

Before heading out i shot a quick email to the HR contact at my new job to let her know i’d arrived in one piece and was enthusiastic about starting work in a few days. It was late in the afternoon, and it was a pleasant surprise to get a quick reply from her welcoming me to Austin and recommending a couple of places to check out. Her quick, friendly and personable communication throughout the whole process is one of the things that most impressed me and made me feel good about this endeavor.

It’s worth noting that, back in Cleveland, it was around 20 degrees and snowing while i set about my move-in day errands in sunny 70-degree weather, my Northeast Ohio winter-thickened blood escalating what back home would be a perfect day to borderline uncomfortable. Not that i’m complaining – i’ll take feeling warm over bone-shivering cold any day.

Back at my modest studio apartment with non-list worthy decor (although i did find a teal, fabric-covered padded chair for $12 – a much better option the the WWE-style folding chair i might otherwise have wound up with), i felt pretty good overall. Pizza was in the oven, Newcastle was chilling in the freezer and i wasn’t sitting on the floor in a completely empty apartment.

This general satisfaction was not to last.

For a bit, i was preoccupied putting my bicycle back together in riding shape. A minor setback of some piece of the front brake line snapping off was a drag not only because i had no idea how to fix it, but also because it meant i’d have to finagle the bike back into my car, this time without taking the front wheel off, in order to get it to a bike shop for a repair. It would not have been difficult to fit without the tire, but then i’d have the same problem back at home trying to put the brakes back together.

The downward spiral began in earnest while partaking in what to me is the quintessential move-in day dinner (the aforementioned pizza and Newcastle). i was doing some figuring for the umpteenth time on my budget, what all my bills were and what my income would be.

My chest tightened up like Bigby’s Crushing Hand had been malevolently cast on me and i rolled a 1 on my save.

bigby

Bigby’s Crushing Hand is a D&D spell. Imagine me in place of that umber hulk there.

What if i can’t make ends meet? What if i fall behind on my bills? What if i get deeper in debt? Fail miserably at this endeavor? Wind up with nothing? Was this a big mistake? Maybe this whole job offer was bogus, some sort of cruel prank – and i’d just signed a year lease. Did i jump the gun? Take the first offer that came along too readily? These and many, many other insecurities, worries and concern gripped me with icy desperation.

Before leaving Cleveland, i’d told myself and others plenty of times that the worst that could happen is things wouldn’t work out and i’d end up back there. Certainly not new territory for me – i’ve done that quite a few times already.

i took a few deep breaths. Still, panic had it’s tendrils around me.

i cradled Cosby for security, hoping his easy purr would settle my rapidly-fraying nerves. i felt more anxiety – here i was dragging this poor kitty into a potentially tough situation.

i began to pace around the apartment – not a big undertaking at 396-square-feet – and that’s when i noticed them. Just one at first, skittering along the carpet. And the windowsill.

The wall.

The doorframe.

The bathroom counter.

This place has a bug problem.

panic

*****

On the edge of your seat yet? i know i sure was, uncomfortable to relax even a little when there are creepy crawlies both seen and, terrifyingly due to unknown numbers unseen, all about.

Yep, i had a full-on panic attack the likes of which i have never experienced. Doesn’t that sound like a fun reason to come back for the next part of this series?

What sorts of things instill anxiety and panic in you? Or do you have nerves of steel?

i certainly do not, and just about everyone i’m close to was about to find out just how much, which begs the question – why didn’t i ever get into acting? Because apparently i mask what’s going on inside pretty well.