End of an Era–My XM Radio

So yesterday marked the end of an era for me.  I cancelled my SiriusXM subscription.  In doing so I realized I was only 4 months away from having subscribed to it for 10 years.  I really enjoyed my time with satellite radio and wouldn’t have a problem recommending it to others if it meets their needs.  More and more, it wasn’t meeting my needs.

I think satellite radio is falling behind the times.  I can get a much better tailored music listening experience with my Xbox Music Pass, which I’ve been using for years since it was called a Zune Pass. 

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FYI, the Xbox Music Pass is finally platform agnostic.  Before it was limited to Zune devices, PCs and Windows Phones.  Now you can get an Xbox Music Pass on Android and iOS, too.  Finally!

The only things I’ll miss from SiriusXM would be the unique talk content (Opie & Anthony) and Dan Patrick in the mornings.  But Dan Patrick is actually available on AM Radio and, more importantly, same or next day podcast.  O&A also have a weekly podcast which covers recent and classic breaks of their show. 

More and more I’m ending up listening to podcasts during my daily commute.  So, ultimately, that’s how my listening habits have been naturally changing over the past year.  Several times in the car when I could be listening to SiriusXM I was actually listening to a podcast or streaming music over Xbox Music. 

So, it’s with a heavy heart but not a heavy conscious that I cancelled yesterday.  They really drew first blood when they cancelled On the Rocks a year after I joined the service. Sad smile  (Footnote:  When I was trying to initially decide between Sirius and XM (clearly, this was pre-merger) it was the fact that XM Radio had a Lounge music station.  I was in the middle of a big Lounge kick at the time.  That was the sign I needed to make my decision.)

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Goodbye satellite radio – I’ll miss you.

Big Action Movies Coming Soon

So I haven’t been really looking forward to any movies coming soon between now and, say, Star Wars Episode 7.  That’s not entirely true, I’m looking forward to Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America Winter Soldier.  But in my mind, I don’t even know when those are coming out, I don’t have firm dates or even vague ones in my mind. 

So I thought I’d sit down here and check out this Transformers 4 trailer.  I’d punched out Transformers half way through #2.  There was a #3 right?  Haven’t seen it.  Anyway, I broke down and watched the official trailer for #4 and it has Marky Mark in it.  I might be all in on this one.

Dinobots, huh? Okay.

So, since I just watched that I guess I need to check out the Godzilla trailer now.  Glad I did, I’m actually a lot more interested in seeing this now.

Oh no, there goes

So, okay, I feel better now.  I’ve seen this trailers and I’m pretty excited about both (one slightly more than the other).

How about you?

Dungeons and Dragons Game Day Recap

I’ve been planning on writing up this recap of our local gaming store’s participation in the June 15th D&D Game Day event “Vault of the Dracolich” and I had a big post in my head but due to the involvement in running the event and it backing right up on Father’s Day here in the US and a forthcoming vacation that I have to get ready for I need to just post this to give my thanks and appreciation before it’s no longer relevant. So here goes…

Saturday we ran the D&D Game Day event “Vault of the Dracolich”. It was a multiple table event where separate groups of players all participated in the same story but from different areas. Basically, there was a large dungeon and each party of adventurers entered from a different area within the dungeon – all with the same purpose: Find the idols, lower the magical field and defeat the Dracolich (a big, undead dragon).

I’d never played a multi-table role playing game event before much less coordinated it but I was working with a couple of great people who were going to run the tables for me and I’d intended to be the coordinator and just run between the tables and keep all the groups up to date with what the others were doing.

As it turned out, we had 15 players signed up and ready to before “Go” time and we all had to make a decision to split the group up onto three tables. We were pushing maximum capacity as there was another event going on at the store that day. Two more players showed up shortly thereafter so it was the right decision but it forced me to sit down in the gamemaster’s seat and try and figure out how to both run a game and the event at the same time.

As luck and fate would have it, one of our mutual friends who’d sworn off D&D for Pathfinder was with us at the store and he graciously volunteered to play the part of the coordinator and he kept track of the parties, our mutual interactions, and kept up with this pesky Dracolich which was prone to wander about trying to eat the characters.

I’m going to cut out a lot of the details to wrap this thing up sooner than later but I want to say this. This was probably the best game of Dungeons & Dragons I have ever played.
I was running a great group of 7 players who thought up creative solutions to problems, made their characters do things that were creative and believable, they spoke over each other and realized they were doing it and kept going back to “let’s let everyone share their ideas”, and they made our table’s experience unique from the other two tables – just like different groups would function in the real world trying to tackle a common goal.

And with all that going on I ran back and forth between other tables to let the other gamemasters know what just happened at my table, what kind of messes we left behind the rooms we just left, and what their players would find if they followed us. My players left traps unsprung, large piles of gold and gems hidden behind illusionary walls, and had their way with the dragon’s massive vault of coins, artifacts, weapons and armor. They really had their pick of the crop with regards to the Dracolich’s cache. It was a sight to see.

So let me close out with some “thank you”s. Thanks to the folks who designed this game and wrote the encounters and the adventure, playtested it and packaged it up for us. Thanks to my FLGS, Swords and Superheroes for hosting us and making room for our group as it expanded. Thanks to the players familiar and new who came out to participate – you guys made the game fun for me, too. Thanks to David and Deryk for DM’ing the other two tables and helped keep this story moving while being completely off the rails at the same time. And thanks to Matt who stepped up and coordinated the three tables for us. It was a very collaborative event to run between us all and I really enjoyed that as much as I enjoyed rolling the dice.

A quick word about the D&D Next rules which we used. They felt fun and fluid. I didn’t feel constrained by them nor did I feel like I was “doing it wrong” when I had to make a few rulings along the way. We played the big bulk of the adventure with not minis or 1″ square play mats. We all enjoyed the theater of the mind elements but did use dice as markers a few times just to line up where everyone was located- nothing to scale, but great to help visualize. The final battle WAS on a playmat, but we really handwaved a lot of that anyway. So, I feel optimistic about D&D Next and hope you give it a try whatever side of the “Version Wars” you side on or if you’re a die-hard Pathfinder fan. And if you’re very new to the game, as one of our participants was, I hope you come in and just have some fun with it.

I sure did.

Surface Surprise

One thing that I’ve been looking for in the Windows Store was a good news app- like Flipboard on the iPad. Sure, there’s the built in News app in Windows 8 and I’ve been using it a little here and there during the multiple customer previews but it never really connected with me.

That changed earlier this morning when I was reading a news item using this app and I swiped down from the top of the screen. It was when I did this I noticed the buttons you’ll see below. Sources? Featured? What is this?

Clicking the sources, I found something quite unexpected and pleasant. There are A LOT of news sources here at my fingertips among several categories including “National & World News”, “Business”, “Technology”, “Entertainment” and more. I remember reading a few months ago when the Microsoft/NBC news joint venture split was made official that Microsoft was going to bring their own news business in-house – this is the obvious and impressive result of that decision. They even hired one of the news directors from the Houston Chronicle to work on this.

Each category has multiple sources – some I usually visit on my own or through an RSS reader but others I almost never read. Now that I’ve discovered them, I’m going to take advantage of them.

There’s even a category for regional news sources and I’m lucky enough to see the aforementioned Chronicle, my local paper, in the list of choices.

So there you have it, Windows 8 users. You can stop searching in the Store for that app. You’ve already got a great one pre-loaded. I’m sure we’ll have a great developer come out with a comparable one in the future but this app is the high water mark in my book.

BONUS: Okay, as I’m typing this blog post (in Word 2013 on my Surface) and switched from the news app into Word and ended up actually docking the two side-by-side. This is how multitasking really rocks on the Surface. When you dock this news app to the side it nicely resizes and arranges each of the news sources into a nice usable pane.

And the side pane is fully clickable making this app fully usable off to the side of a larger app.

Explore and enjoy this News app. The same is true for the Finance and Sports app. (Actually, I think they’re just stubs for this main app. I would be interesting to see if you could spawn off a Technology news icon on the Start menu.)

If you’re a new owner of a Surface or recently upgraded to Windows 8, I’d love to hear your opinions of this app of any other new feature you’ve discovered.