John McDonald

Blogging about politics, life, and the web

John J. McDonald in Jacksonville

January 25th, 2015

John McDonald

I am currently unable to make full time commitments, but depending on the opportunity I may be available for temporary and contract work.

john@johnmcdonald.info

WORK EXPERIENCE

Web Publishing and Marketing – Owner

August 2007 – present
Owner/Self Employed
Jacksonville, FL & Greenville, NC

Web owner and publisher: Responsible for all aspects of the internet business cycle from development to content production and traffic growth.

Publishing websites through use of the following content management systems and server scripts: WordPress, Blogger, Simple Machine Forums, and Pligg. Publishing online content integrated with pay-per-click and affiliate marketing with a focus on maximizing leads and generating immediate sales.

Proficiency in PHP web develpment, SQL database management, technical writing, blogging, on-page and off-page search engine optimization, social media marketing, advertising, and revenue-sharing agreements.

Linux, Apache, PHP, MySQL, SEO, HTML/CSS, PPC, Affiliate, Content/Writing, Social Media/Marketing

Research and Content Analyst
September 2009 – Present
ScholarshipExperts.com & Unigo (Under Contract)
Jacksonville/Telecommute

Create, review, edit, and promote web content to maximize search engine presence. Maintain standards of accuracy, spelling, and grammar for web content before publication. Code all entries based on user eligibility criteria for advanced sorting to take advantage of personalized content matching algorithms.

Manage workflow and assignment of incoming provider requests with an emphasis on pre-sales and establishing mutually beneficial inter-business relationships.

Testing new web interfaces and development projects for functionality, bugs, and ease of use.

Advise on best practices for SEO, opportunities for content development, leads for revenue generation.

Develop social media following, promote brands across multiple social media platforms including Twitter and Google+

Content, Writing, B2B sales, Branded Promotion, Social Media, Marketing

Data Research Analyst
July 2006 – February 2008
www.ScholarshipExperts.com | Jacksonville, FL
Internet Services

Discovery and research of scholarships, grants, and similar financial aid programs. Appropriate awards would then be added to an online database and coded so that a user’s results could be filtered to match specific eligibility variables.

Web marketing such as content writing, search engine keyword research, and backlink building campaigns.

Research and data analysis, Technical Writing, Internet Research, internet marketing

EDUCATION

Bachelor’s Degree,
August 2000 – May 2005
University of North Florida | Jacksonville, FL
Political Science, Economics Focus
History, Literature, International Studies minors
Senator UNF Student Government 2001-2003

Vice Chair (6 mo.) and Chair (1 year), Constitution and Statutes Committee 2003: Legislative & regulatory compliance, creation and enforcement of policies and procedures, Florida Student Association representative (lobbying and leadership representative)

SKILLS

SEO – Intermediate
Online Content Management Systems – Intermediate
Web ownership experience – Intermediate
Economic, political, institutional analysis – Intermediate
Server Development and Maintenance – Intermediate
Web security – Intermediate

LANGUAGES
English
PHP, HTML, SQL – Basic

Diablo III has its moments, but feels unfinished

July 16th, 2012

I wasn’t the only one to be excited about this sequel, and unfortunately, I’m not the only one who has been fairly disappointed in it as well.  While Diablo III has some great features and cinematics, the game feels a little hollow from a general lack of content and challenge.

Always online, a.k.a. lag in one-player mode

Online games are great.  I love ’em.  I’ve been playing them for 16 years.

But when the hell did developers decide that single-player games should also rely on a connection to a remote server across the web?   Diablo III connects you to the Battle.net server every single time you try to play the game, so it isn’t something you can do for distraction when the internet is down or when Blizzard takes their servers down for weekly maintenance on Tuesday mornings.  If you have a laggy connection or you’re trying to stream too much video at the same time, you can see some significant latency between 100 and 300 ms.

The annoyance of lag is one thing, but for some players it has led to an outright ban from the servers – and a loss of their game.  It turns out that Blizzard is taking a hard stance on what they mean by supported operating systems, and a whole bunch of Linux users just found out the hard way.  Since there is no offline mode, those who Blizzard decides to blacklist from Battle.net will just be left empty handed – and $60 poorer.

Flashes of light and color distract from the ease with which monsters fall

Diablo III plays steadily – even on my PC. The graphics are toned down a bit, but battle is mostly a chaotic clash of colors and lights anyway.

What about the actual game?

Oh yeah… Diablo is a pretty standard hack-n-slash style of dungeon crawler.  There are some elements of the roguelike gaming style like randomized dungeons, but hardcore mode’s permanent death is always optional.   The graphics are a little bit updated and the environments are a tiny bit more interactive, but there isn’t a lot that is remarkable about the game play.  You kill the monster, you take the loot, you sell the loot, and you use the money to buy some loot that you would actually want to use (which is about 1% of the magical drops in the game, from what I can tell so far.)

In between trips to sell loot, some unremarkable NPCs will tell you about the various quests you are working on.  The plots and characters are incredibly generic and transparent, and questing mostly fails to convey the epic scope and urgency of the story they’re trying to build up.

Fun, but without the challenge

The first time through the game is incredibly easy.  Powerful armor and weapons are available at relatively low prices for low level characters.  Grab a few rare items and watch as entire waves of mobs crumble from your single right click.  Quite often, a boss fight would come and go – and the only way I realized I’d killed something with a name was the pile of rare gear and the notification to my quest log.  There was one boss fight that involved running around frantically on a surface of blasting flames, but the rest were pretty forgettable.

Playing multiplayer mode is quite convenient, and the game definitely gets some points for that.  It is VERY easy to join a game with someone, share quests, trade loot, and teleport to the other character’s location.  If you and a friend or two want to log in for some quick hunting, it is a great game to go to.

The end!  Sort of.

After casually playing through for a few hours, maybe ten or fifteen, you’ll realize that you just killed Diablo and beat the game.  Sort of.  Just as soon as that last epilogue video stops playing, your character will be booted right back to where you started at level one.  Except this time, everything is a little bit harder.

In that fashion, Diablo III recycles about 10-15 hours of actual game content three or four times.  After “normal mode” you will be about level 30 and entering “nightmare” mode.  When you conquer that, you’ll be about level 50 and entering “hell” mode.  If you beat hell, you might actually get to max level and unlock the “inferno” difficulty setting.  I’m just not sure why I’d want to bother since I’ve already seen all of the levels and plot in the game…

At one end of the spectrum, normal mode is ridiculously easy.  You pretty much have to go afk to die.  By inferno, two hits in a row will kill you and there isn’t much you can do about it but try again or buy some better armor from the real-money auction house.

The barbarian watches some ghosts do some stuff

Lachdanan’s Ghost – another unremarkable quest

Diablo III Rules – as a Movie Trailer

The best part of the game is probably the few minutes of animated cinematics that play in between Acts and after defeating Diablo.  I tend to click through cut scenes on most video games, but these were actually done very well.  I won’t give out too much information here, because that would be the best part of playing through the game and I’d hate to spoil it.  On the other hand, you could find them all collected on Youtube and save yourself the $60 and ten hours.

Now… if those 15 minutes of animation were clips and trailers for a Diablo movie, it might be one of the coolest fantasy/action movies in years.  Otherwise, it is a very generic game with very little unique content and an elaborate system of tempting you in to playing it over and over again.  Overall, I kind of wish I had saved the $60 and put it toward an SSD drive or a new phone.

Springtime in Greenville NC

May 17th, 2012

Between playing Starcraft and working on contract projects, there hasn’t been much to write about lately. However, the weather in Greenville has been so nice this spring that I’ve been trying to make more time to just get outside and enjoy the sights and fresh air.

Purple springtime flowers These purple flowers bloomed in late March, and while they didn’t last very long they did produce an extremely strong and pleasant scent.  So nice, in fact, that the neighbor came over and requested a few clippings on behalf of her daughter.  I’m not exactly sure what kind of flowers these are, but they nice to have around for the brief while they were in bloom.

Mosquito hawk feasting on scallion nectar

We haven’t had much time to start a vegetable garden this year, but I did manage to get a few scallion roots potted in time for a springtime bloom.  I also managed to get one good shot of a mosquito hawk feasting on the nectar of its flowers before my battery started failing and the camera’s auto-focus got confused.  Apparently, despite the carnivorous name, adult mosquito hawks don’t eat other bugs – just nectar.  The larvae will eat other bugs’ young, but the grownups seem to have a sweet tooth.  On rare occassions, adult females will drink blood to aid in egg development, but their poor flight skills and easily-spotted size makes this a pretty risky strategy.

ECU's campus green at dawn

The last shot I have today is from the campus of East Carolina University, located about half a mile from our new house.  The air at dawn is a bit brisk, but the view is gorgeous and it makes for a nice bike ride.  At this hour, the campus is quiet and the green space is empty, so it makes a perfect setup for tranquil shots.


Greenville might be lacking in some of the urban conveniences I’ve become accustomed to, but it is a great place when it comes to clean air, the beauty of nature, and friendly neighbors. For now, it is a nice place to call home while Aisling works on her graduate degree, but I don’t think we’ll be settling down just yet…

Too busy playing StarCraft II to review it

January 8th, 2012

So I’m pretty late to the game but I finally picked up a copy of StarCraft II. While the game is very similar to the original Starcraft real-time-strategy game that was released about ten years ago, it is a welcome update and expansion on the series. Now that I’ve been playing it way too much for the last two weeks, I’ve finally convinced myself it was time to break away for a few moments and write a review.

Introduction to Starcraft

Starcraft is a fast-paced game of strategy that pits you against online opponents. Well, there’s a single player campaign mode as well, where you can fight against the computer and watch a story unfold, but I’ve pretty much skipped that and gone straight to the real challenge: other Starcraft players.

As you play, you control one of three alien races: Protoss, an ancient technological race; Terrans, the human team; or the Zerg, a bug-like critters that swarm and corrupt the land. Each race has its own set of buildings and units, so although the general gameplay is the same for each player, there are unique strategies and combinations of units that will win for each race. Knowing how to play one doesn’t necessarily mean you can switch over to the other!

Starcraft 2 Overview

Buildings are at the heart of your military encampment.  You’ll start off with a command center, Nexus, or hatchery depending on which race you select.  You’ll also have some worker-type units that can collect resources and build new buildings.  As you gather those mineral and vespene gas resources, you’ll be able to construct the buildings that create new military units, allow you to build upgrades to existing units, or perform special functions on the map like sensor sweeps.

Military units come in many varieties, from the individual infantry to massive flying fortresses and oversized bugs.  Some units fly, and some burrow.  Some can only attack other ground units from close up, and others can fire at flying units from a range.  Each unit’s particular capabilities and strengths is set, so it is important to know their abilities, weaknesses, and adjust your own strategy according to what you see of your enemy’s.

SC2 Combat

Many wars are determined simply by who can build the most units first.  A good opponent will strike early and strike often, and if they’ve collected more resources and built structures more efficiently they will eventually just overwhelm your defenses.  However, that isn’t to say that all combat is won purely by the size of an army!

The terrain also plays a pretty big role in SC2.  Many areas are separated by ramps and differing altitudes.  From up top, you can usually get a better view and better range on units you’re attacking below.  And unless the invader has some troops on top of the cliffs (or a flying unit who can see over them) they won’t even be able to tell what is shooting at them!

Further, some units have natural advantages against others.  The Protoss Immortal has powerful shields that can protect it from Terran units like the Siege Tank or Thor, and it also has specialized guns that rip right through armored enemies.  However, if surrounded by a horde of cheap zerglings, it will have a hard time shooting them all down before those shields collapse.

In many cases, an inability to hit flying units can result in a massive defeat. Some troops like Zerg roaches can deliver a lot of damage to ground-based units, but just a few Void Rays or Wraiths can rain down damage from above.

Unit speed and mobility is another factor that comes in to play here. Mutalisks fly and they fly fast, so it is pretty easy to circumvent a player’s defenses and attack the weak side of their base. By the time your troops come around from the front gate, the mutalisks might have already gone and left nothing but destruction.

Multi-player Ladder

If you’re playing online against other human players, you’ll have to play some ranking matches so Blizzard can determine exactly where to put you on the ranking ladder. From there, you’ll automatically be matched to face up against folks who are roughly in your same range of skill. Of course, sometimes you’ll still get to play against those who are significantly better or worse than you are, but the amount of points won or lost in those matches is also offset a bit to balance out the expectations. Think of it like having a bit of a buffer against a bad run!

Like Chess, on Speed

Starcraft 2 is pretty much the perfect game for those enjoy strategy at high speeds. If you like chess, but wish you had a factory mass-producing pawns for your onslaught, then don’t make the mistake I did and miss out on any more time without this title. I have to give it a solid 4 and a half out of five stars, and my only complaint is that a game can take a little while to get going just to be decided in about a minute or two of actual combat. Other than that, it is well-balanced and I’m still shocked by new strategies and twists that surprise me after playing for nearly two months. As I get better at the game, my ladder ranking automatically adjusts and puts me up against new challenges I’ve never encountered before. And just as soon as I master that, I am introduced to yet another level of competition…

Ok, there is a lot more that could be said about this game, but right now I really just want to get back to playing! See you online at Battle.net!

Standing desk update

December 22nd, 2011

So it has been about two months since I got my standing desk built and installed, and I have to say… this is one of the best work-related decisions I’ve ever made.

I won’t lie – there was quite a bit of pain in the transition. My leg muscles were not used to any kind of exertion, and suddenly they were in use for 10 or 12 hours a day. There was a good week of outright burning, and stiffness for another week after that. After the pain comes gain, and I am definitely feeling some muscle growth in the legs. Heck, they’re probably the firmest muscles on my body now!

This muscle growth is translating to a practical advantage too – I can now walk up hill all the way down town without feeling the slightest sting or shortness of breath (yeah, I guess I was pretty out of shape, but in my defense I’ve never really lived next to a hill! Florida really is that flat.)

I think I’ve even lost a little bit of body fat. Standing burns about 40 more calories per hour than sitting, so I’ve watched my gut flatten out without actually going out of my way to change my diet or exercise. Of course, my diet was already pretty good and I really do need to get to that exercise, but this is some great multitasking on that front. Now, instead of just playing video games, I’m playing video games while burning a bit of extra calories and building a bit of muscle.

Then again, you don’t just have to stand still, either! Sometimes a great song will come on and I can’t help but dance a little bit in my own awkward, uncoordinated way.

My feet weren’t so happy at first, either, but I’ve learned to stand a bit more on the wider ball of my foot instead of the heel. A comfortable pair of shoes goes a long way, too.

I’ve got a tall stool for those all-nighters (like tonight!) but it seems a little bit too short to be an ideal seat. If you and your desk are a little shorter than six feet tall, the 29″ stool would probably be a perfect fit. I might need another one but the few I’ve seen in the 33″-36″ range are incredibly expensive.

So, other than being very easy to find, what were the advantages of a traditional sitting desk again? I really can’t remember… but I do cringe a bit when I remember the lower back pain I was starting to feel the first hints of after 29 sedentary years of school and jobs that required sitting at an old-fashioned desk.

ECU lockdown updates – “gunman spotted!”

November 17th, 2011

6:49 pm

By now, the panic and frenzy of yesterday’s campus lockdown at ECU has turned to laughter and jokes about the wild over-reaction to what turned out to be an umbrella.

Here the student can be seen crossing an intersection where the ECU campus and downtown Greenville meet:

The traffic cam picture that sparked a campus wide lockdown

And another picture from that intersection, displaying exactly what the focus of attention was:

Student with umbrella spotted near down town Greenville - sparks panic

In addition, Youtube has the actual video footage these pictures were taken from:

And finally, here’s a picture of the police surrounding a bus in downtown Greenville, near the ECU campus. Some witnesses in the area and internet rumors had suggested a gunman had taken hostages aboard public transport. These leads, as well as those pointing to hostage situations inside campus buildings, turned out to be nothing but fabrications crafted of fear.

Greenville police surround a bus after internet rumors that a gunman had taken hostages on public transport

If there had actually been a threat, there wouldn’t have been much of a chance to escape. Within minutes, police from three jurisdictions had swarmed the area and locked down all movement. Luckily, there was no actual threat this time.

***Apologies to any news outlets who feel their images are being used inappropriately. This website has no monetary purpose or marketing plan. It exists as a digital scrap book I can access from anywhere, and these events are the mile markers by which we remember our lives. If you still have a problem, deal with it.

Police lock down ECU campus – over an umbrella

November 16th, 2011

3:35 PM

A tense morning turns to disbelief and groans as officials announced the individual who sparked the lockdown was carrying an umbrella.

Around 10:15 AM on November 16, 2011, police received a call about a man carrying what appeared to be a gun at an intersection between downtown Greenville and the main campus of East Carolina University.

After inspecting local traffic cameras, the police ordered an immediate lockdown of campus, sending students hiding for cover and locking up classrooms. A tense three hours followed with very little official update.

However, speculation on the web ran rampant. The rumors of a gunman on campus turned in to rumors of four gunmen on campus. Someone reported that he was seen getting on a bus and several officers swarmed all of the buses in downtown. As three police helicopters swarmed overhead, the lockdown was expanded to nearby elementary schools and rumors escalated to talk of a hostage situation.

Meanwhile, pictures and reports from students locked up on campus started to leak out as well. At one point this picture was posted to Twitter and people were claiming that the suspect(s) had been caught.

Police officers stop and search ECU students during a lockdown

Around 12:30 PM, the police were apparently listening in on Twitter for information because they began to evacuate and search several buildings named in the online rumors of a hostage situation. After a half hour of playing whack-a-mole with Twitter leads, the search stood down, the lockdown was lifted, and students were sent on their way back home (or to their next class!)

The massive over-reaction to a non-event is emblematic of the mood in our society today. Paranoia runs strong despite the fact that we are relatively safe when compared to historical standards of even just a few decades ago. There isn’t actually more crime, yet we’re bombarded with the worst of the horror stories and thrown in to panic over an umbrella.

Will anyone flinch by the time there actually is a wolf?

Had a great morning, stuck in a classroom for several hours with nothing to do while the campus police, the city police, and the state troopers with assault rifles, helicopters, dogs, shut down the city with swat teams surrounding a house, a small business, and several buses, all searching for a white male with a bookbag and an assault umbrella.

-Eyewitness Account

My Custom Standing Desk

November 10th, 2011

Sitting down all day was literally turning in to pain in my ass, so I decided my new desk at my new house would be designed for standing.

Unfortunately, you can’t really just go up to the furniture store and pick up a standing desk. There were a few decent desks that might have been convertable, but Aisling decided that the easiest way to create one would be to start from scratch.

I didn’t have a whole lot of demands other than getting the height of the keyboard and monitors right, so about $35 worth of wood, paint, and screws from Lowe’s was enough to get the project rolling.

Now instead of sitting around all day on the internet… I can stand around.

Practical Concerns

In general, it is probably healthier to stand than sit. You’re burning more calories throughout the day, and there’s less pressure on the spine and hip bones.

However, there’s a lot more pressure on the feet. So you’ll need some really comfy mats, or as I’m improvising now a lot of pillows and blankets. The downside to that, of course, is that my dog thinks I’ve made her a new bed next to my feet. Then again, the dog always seems to think that my feet are her bed.

For the first day, I felt a lot of strain in my leg muscles and pain in my feet. I wasn’t so sure it was a good idea.

On the second and third days, things got even worse. I was pretty tempted to sit down with my laptop on the kitchen table and give up on the whole experiment.

But on the fourth day I was starting to feel pretty good about it again. Sitting down felt a little… weird… like my legs wanted something constructive to do with themselves.

After a couple weeks, I’m definitely glad to be standing. I’ve still got the laptop for whenever I’m feeling lazy or sick, but for the most part I’m writing and working from an upright position. It is like years of bad posture have started melting away!

A Day in the Life

September 19th, 2011

With so few schedules to keep, I often find myself wondering exactly what I do all day.

Today, I’m going to actually write it all down so I can remember what takes up the time – and how I can be more efficient with what needs to be done.

Monday Morning, 9/19/11

Morning might not be the exact right word because I didn’t roll out of bed until about half past noon.

The house smells like sausages but there’s no sign of Aisling. Her computer hasn’t gone to sleep yet so I must have just missed her. Damn.

First order of business is to start up the coffee. When the beans are ground and the water is poured, I flip the switch and head outside for a cigarette. I haven’t managed to quit, but so far I’ve done pretty good at cutting back on the nicotine so I just smoke half of the thing. (A few months ago I managed to switch from analog cigarettes to electronic ones, but at some point during the move I lost track of all the parts and chargers so I switched back.)

A few minutes later the coffee is done and I settle down to check my emails.

Ah, a letter from Aisling: it seems like she headed to campus early to make copies of our drivers’ licenses for GEICO, sort out some financial aid stuff, and get a head start on her welding for the day. Damn, I did just miss her, but she left me some (gluten-free) pancake batter in the fridge.

Accounting for sleep

Looks like I got another important email too: an affiliate sale notification from Hostgator. When all of the morning’s income is counted, it looks like I made about $60 while I was asleep from 6 am to 12:30 pm. Not a bad payscale for dreaming – especially since most people don’t get paid almost $10 an hour to snore.

Then from about 1 to 1:30, I went through my most popular websites to sort real comments from spam. Guess what? 100% spam this morning. Oh well, real comments are nice but ad clicks and affiliate sales are even better.

The Black Hole

1:30 to 2:30 pm kind of just disappears in to the black hole known as Reddit. This used to be my fix for the hard news of the day, but lately the site has been overrun by a new culture of lulz and irreverence. Looks like the markets are down again today and everyone still hates everyone else in politics. Nothing really changes, so maybe the switch to lulz and irreverence is more useful to me than hard news after all.

Work? I’ll give it a shot

At about 2:30 I’m starting to feel too lazy and unproductive to enjoy myself, so I clock in to my contract job and start checking out the to do list.

Looks like there are about 28 database entries that need a review before going live, and another 161 that I need to update myself. The work load definitely piled up over the last month as my typical 15 hour weeks turned in to about 3 – when I was lucky! It really was a crazy summer, after all. Taking inventory of the work to be done, it looks like the editing might get finished this week but the updates will take a good while to see completion.

“The Grind”

By about 4:30 I passed $100 for the day. Not bad when I’d only been awake for four hours. In that four hours, I also managed to clean a load of laundry, fry up those pancakes, fix an issue with my desktop computer, edit a few entries, make a few phone calls, and respond to a few emails.

Around 5 I get a text message from Aisling. She’s working on a last minute paper and she has ceramics until late but I’m glad to hear from her. It is also my favorite time of day: Now that people start to get off work I can start to think of other things, myself. It has been a tough four and a half hours today, after all!

An Evening Stroll

By six, I was feeling a little restless. I was also running out of cigarettes so I took a quick walk around the block and up to the neighborhood convenience store. Traffic in Greenville near ECU is almost non-existant compared to what I’m used to for this time of day. Things get a little congested to the south of us, but the college corner of town is pretty sleepy between early afternoon and until the sun goes down.

After stopping to chat a bit with the neighbor, I came back in to make a second pot of coffee and check out any web developments that might have happened in the short half hour I was walking. Surprise surprise, I made another big hosting sale in that time frame and my daily income had just passed $240. Definitely not bad for what amounts to four hours of actual work (and I absolutely count laundry and cooking as work!)

At this point, I haven’t gotten any texts or calls from the usual suspects, so I feed Caoimhe (our dog) and take her out for the second leg of the walk. I tried to run a little bit, but Caoimhe wouldn’t have anything to do with that.

Recovery and Conquests

Now for the fun part: by the time we came in from walking around 8, there’s a message from Josh about wanting to play a game of Civilization. We fire up Civ 4 – the Colonization version – and race to revolution.

Found a new nation and lead it to independence

And not long after, Aisling came home from class. We sat down to watch some Star Trek while I worked on dinner and took turns in our Civ game. On the menu: chuck eye steaks, lima (butter) beans, and some steak fries.

Around 1, we saved up the game and Aisling headed to bed. I came back to finish up this post and count my final earnings for the day. As of 1:30 am, I’m up to about $260. Very excellent considering there were only about four and a half hours of anything that could be considered “work” in the day. Now at about 2 am, I’m starting to think of some sleep myself.

Not bad at all for a boring Monday. These are the tough days, after all!

A chance to write… (summer 2011)

September 18th, 2011

In school, writing often seemed a dreaded chore.  Today, it is a sign that life has granted a moment of respite from the frenzy of work, change, and crisis.

And indeed, it is the summer months that provide no shortage of things to be done, new beginnings, and terrible calamity.

A Nervous Excitement

Shortly after the UNF iron pour, the summer started in a big way with a life-altering decision.  Aisling was accepted to a few graduate programs for sculpture, and after a bit of travel all along the east coast we decided on a school we could both appreciate.  She committed to attend East Carolina University for her MFA and I committed to living in a strange and tiny town.  Not only would it be her chance to take her life’s work to the highest academic level, it would be my excuse to finally get out of Jacksonville, FL.  Greenville North Carolina isn’t exactly the kind of place I imagined leaving for, but there was something peaceful and calming about this tiny college town.

For a while, the excitement of a new adventure was bliss, but as summer arrives so do the storms – and in this case, the storms were actually more literal than figurative.

In June, a powerful storm ripped through Jacksonville, and several downdraft tornadoes were reported in our neighborhood.  While the house was spared any damage, the yard was devastated.




A tree goes down in the back yard, taking parts of the fence and smaller trees with it.

At least no one was hurt, but it certainly began a hot and hectic summer. The next few weeks were crammed with chopping wood, calculus exams, summer camps, and packing. Unfortunately, the brief but intense storms didn’t do much to put out the fires that had swept across the region. A heavy black smoke sat over Jacksonville on the hot, drier days, and I was definitely ready to get away.

A few of the fires burning around the Jacksonville area in summer 2011

And a Vacation?

Perhaps unintentionally, I met this chaos with some more of my own. I thought a day trip to St Augustine would be better as a weekend escape, so I began planning it out. By that Saturday night in August, I had surprised Aisling with a claddagh ring and a proposal of marriage. She said yes! (And no, we don’t have a date for the wedding)

To Greenville

And no, not the Greenville you’ve heard of in South Carolina. This is the smaller one surrounded by even smaller towns.

We filled a U-haul truck with as much as we could take, and hit the road in the last half of August. The trip itself was exhausting but relatively uneventful. It was the first major move of my life since age 4, so there were definitely some strong emotions and worry attached, but I’m mostly glad to open a new chapter in this adventure of life.

Another interesting phenomenon was even there to welcome our arrival: we felt the shocks from a rare mid-Atlantic earthquake. Again, we were lucky that no one or no thing was hurt, but it was definitely a first for Aisling and I.

The next storm

One thing I feared I’d miss from Jacksonville was the storms – but North Carolina has not dissapointed in the least. Less than two weeks after pulling in to town, Hurricane Irene decided to pay us a visit.

The storm didn’t seem so bad on its own, but it managed to take down so many trees that we were left without power for about three and a half days. Luckily, the new house has a gas powered stove and water heater so we still had hot food and hot showers, but half a week without electricity is still quite the recipe for boredom and restlessness.

Back to Florida

You’d think the engagement, moving across three states, a hurricane, tornadoes, an earthquake, and fires would be enough excitement for the summer, but our work wasn’t done.

On September 3rd, 2011 my cousin Donald Lee got married in Tampa at the city aquarium. It was a beautiful ceremony and there was quite a view while waiting for and during the event:

Shark in the Tampa Aquarium

Unfortunately, we didn’t have long to hang out in Tampa before we had to drive back though Jacksonville to pick up the remainder of our stuff. With two more small trucks packed up with pieces of art, supplies, and the last of our furniture, we made the final uneventful trip back up to Greenville, NC.

By now the weather has started to turn colder and the crazy pace of the summer has slowed down just a bit: Aisling is back to classes and I seem to have found a few moments to write.