Sunday, July 27

On The Road to Aspen...

Aspen was never a place I dreamed of going. I've heard of it, but winter sports aren't really my thing. Prior to this year, I never even considered the place. This summer, however, I found myself all over highway 82 on the road to Aspen, Colorado, camping and sampling legal marijuana.

Rocky Mountain High and Hot Springs

There are a lot of towns in the Rockies based on tourism. People from the surrounding areas commute 30 minutes to an hour to Aspen for work. The closest Wal-Mart or Target is up north along I-70 in Glenwood Springs, named for the famous Hot Springs that attract tourists throughout the cold winter months.

Redstone, Carbondale, and the rest of the outlying towns are mostly residential. It's a much different place than east of the Rockies in metropolitan areas like Denver. It reminds me of where I grew up in southeastern, AZ, where old western towns like Tombstone, Bisbee, and Wilcox are scattered throughout the mountainous desert. It's nice to know such places still exist in the fast-paced digital world.

My first stop was for a night. The next morning I decided to purchase some marijuana at the first recreational dispensary I came across, which happened to be on the other side of the parking lot I slept in. Purchasing recreational marijuana in Denver this past April was a high in itself. It's a much different experience on the Western Slope.

Medicinal vs Local Discount Pricing

Having lived in a touristy small town area, you learn growing up that prices can fluctuate, depending on whether or not you're a local. Recreational pot dispensaries are no different than those places along the highway offering to show you "The Mysterious Thing." If you can convince them you're a local, you'll get much lower pricing than advertised. You can also purchase more, as tourist purchases are capped at a quarter ounce.

The first time I went in, I only purchased a quarter of Strawberry Cough flower and paid a higher price (although I was friendly, so the guy behind the counter did give me a slight discount). I hadn't been stoned in nearly two months, so I needed to lay out and get back into the habit.

Walking back to my car, which was parked at McDonald's, a homeless man on a bench asked, "Has anyone wished you well today?"

"No," I lied. "Would you like to come sit in my van and get high?"

I ended up spending the day with the man, enjoying the Rocky Mountain high with anyone who walked by. They all told me their favorite spots, hikes, and hideouts. I learned of a spot above the hot springs, known affectionately by the locals as Pervert's Peak, as some of the older gentleman enjoy hanging out behind the bushes to watch tourists have sex in the hot springs.

Wonky Purchases

With my next few cannabis purchases, I decided to try out the product variety. I purchased some edibles, oils, and hash. Returning with experience and my bag from the previous purchases, I'm now getting local pricing at a few dispensaries. The pricing is lower, but still not what I'd get as a medicinal patient.

A friend of mine in Colorado City has a caregiver who can get him $33 grams of oil. Even with the discount, I paid $15 for 150 mg, so I'm definitely still paying retail. Even worse, the edibles do nothing, and I only have a week left to smoke all this stuff before I'm due in Salt Lake City. Thankfully, there are plenty of places in the woods to get high.

Camping Out in the Wild

You meet a lot of crazy people living on the road. The ones that'll stop to talk to you are normally the eccentrics. Most good family people are too busy taking their family on the road to bother having friendly conversations with random strangers.

I've met more buses full of hippies than I ever thought I'd see. Occasionally, I would wake up in the middle of the night and go wandering or step out for a stretch, and I'd be approached by a car full of younger people on some sort of late night adventure. Each time I'd smoke them out, and have a friendly chat for a day or evening before moving on.

Camping in the van has definitely been an experience. I've been living in this particular van for the better part of four months now. Bringing my van dwelling out into the mountains, rivers, and forests of Colorado reminded me why it is I do what I do.

Brian Penny is a former Operations Manager and Business Analyst at Bank of America turned whistleblower. He's a frequent contributor to The Street, Huffington Post, Cannabis Now, and Fast Company.

Wednesday, July 23

Hash Oil: The Other White Weed

With recreational cannabis now available in both Washington and Colorado and medical marijuana being acceptable throughout the majority of the country, the cannabis industry is blooming.

Extracts, once only known from Weeds references, are breaking ground as the du jour method of ingesting marijuana. These ingredients can be used to create edibles, but my personal favorite is the hash oil for vaping.

The eJuice Market

eJuice and eCigarettes already face scrutiny around the globe, but those laws are much more lenient than marijuana laws. Being able to disguise your stash as any other eJuice is a huge benefit when you juana feed your vices on the road.

I've met homegrowers who can produce eJuice at $30 a gram, whereas the recreational tourist price in surburbia can be upwards of $50 for a 150 mg pre-filled eJuice cartridge.

The buzz you get off these pure extracts, however, is much more potent than the nicotine content in smoke shop eJuice. Even my homemade kief-infused eJuice, Blind Melon, can't hold a candle to the flavor and buzz you get off vaporizing pure cannabis oil.

Tips and Tricks

If you need to dilute your pot oil, it can be safely mixed with vegetable glycerin. The current standard on the road in rural Colorado seems to be the 10 thread, with the female-ended cartomizer. These are the size of a cigarette, but are incompatible with the smoke shop equipment (male/female thing).

Although these starter kits are great to dip your toe into the hobby, huge rigs are being built everywhere. In addition dabbing is blowing up, as butane is restricted, and oils become more pure. Marijuana is more than a gateway; it's the destination...

Brian Penny is a former Business Analyst at Bank of America turned whistleblower, freelance consultant, and troll. He's a frequent contributor to The Street, Huffington Post, Cannabis Now, and Fast Company.

Monday, July 7

Experiencing That Rocky Mountain High

Independence Day Sunset in Moab, UT 2014...

On July fourth, I woke up in Flagstaff, AZ and decided to spend the evening in Colorado's Rocky Mountains. I gassed up the van, headed out, and have been hanging out here since.

I stopped at a head shop along the 82 on the way to Aspen.

"Where you from," asked the man at the counter.


"What are you doing out here?"

"Escaping the heat," I admitted to myself.

"You plan on staying?"

"Till the snow comes..."

"I'm trying to get you a discount."
Mormon Country on the road to that Rocky Mountain High...

"I love Colorado. I'll stay."

I liked the rocky mountain high of the Strawberry Cough that I had to stay a little longer. Now approaching my fourth day in the area, I'm prepping for the next adventure.

I'm spending the next month exploring the road to Aspen, killing time until I'm due to cover the Outdoor Retail Summer Market in SLC for Cramer and Urken in August. It gives me plenty of time to acclimate to the outdoors and figure out what gear appeals to my demographic.

Until then, I'm recharging and relaxing, awaiting the lawyer's payment to go solar. The fifth of July was spent sitting in front of McDonald's on a park bench, talking to an old homeless local and learning the area. I turned in a few outstanding assignments and got my plate cleared for some more high profile jobs.

It's been a rocky road, but this will be a summer vacation to remember...

Tuesday, June 10

The 10 Coolest Video Games Showcased at E3 2014

E3 is in full swing this week at the LA Convention Center, with the gaming industry's heavy hitters showcasing the latest and greatest tech and software. Here are some highlights from the massive collection of games on display at the show:

10.  Mortal Kombat X

Warner Bros Interactive unveiled a trailer for the latest Mortal Kombat installment, which promises to provide everything we expect from the series – blood, gore, and brutally creative fatalities.

9. Super Smash Bros

In order to compete with Disney Infinity and Skylanders, Nintendo created amiibo, with Super Smash Bros being the first game that will utilize the technology. In addition, to powering up characters using these, you can also use Mii's in game. This means not only can you join the fray against your favorite Nintendo characters, but you can pretty much create whoever you want.

8. PlayStation TV

Although not technically a game, at $99 Sony's PlayStation TV can stream games from the PlayStation Now service, which will include a variety of games from the vast PS library. You can also play games on a Sony TV (if the service is available in your area) with just a controller. In addition, Sony is providing original programming, announcing a live-action adaptation of the police procedural comic "Powers" as their first show.

7. Batman: Arkham Knight

The Arkham series is easily the best Batman series in existence, and Knight looks to continue this tradition. Although it won't be released until 2015, early footage shows batman gliding through the city, blowing things up in the Batmobile, and kicking ass, until he's interrupted by ominous threats from a disturbing Scarecrow.

6. Halo: Master Chief Collection

One of the biggest announcements from Microsoft came in the form of the Master Chief Collection, which allows you to play all the original multiplayer maps from previous Halo installments in both their original form and an updated HD version. Each is on its own dedicated server, a feature Sony still struggles to provide on their PlayStation Network.

5. Mario Maker

Nintendo previously introduced level editing capabilities starting with Super Smash Bros Brawl on the Wii. With Mario Maker, players will be able to create their own Mario-themed levels using their stylus and 3DS. Combining the popularity of Mario with Little Big Planet/Minecraft capabilities is a homerun combination that will keep Nintendo on much-needed life support.

4. Assassin's Creed Unity

Set during the French Revolution, Assassin's Creed Unity is everything you'd expect from the Assassin's Creed franchise, but adds 4-player multiplayer…enough said…

3. Little Big Planet 3

In addition to fan favorite Sackboy, three new characters have been added to the LBP roster, each with their own unique abilities. Oddsock runs on all fours and can wall jump, Swoop is a birdlike character that can fly (and carry other characters), and Toggle can switch between being the largest and smallest character, allowing puzzles to be solved in a variety of creative ways. LBP 3 also promises to allow players to access all user-created content from previous franchises.

2. Battlefield Hardline

Moving from actual battlefields to feature cops and robbers in Los Angeles, Hardline takes the Battlefield series in a bold new direction. A closed beta was opened yesterday to Battlefield 4 owners immediately following the announcement, with a rooftop play area set up in L.A. for gamers. This game looks to be this generation's multiplayer FPS to beat.

1. Sunset Overdrive

Sunset Overdrive, Insomniac's Xbox One-exclusive is one of the best new IP's on display at E3. With 90's grunge themed animations that were bright and detailed, this mutant shooter looks like it a mixture of Jet Set Radio, Devil May Cry, and Zombies Ate My Neighbors. Promising large boss battles, fast-paced action, and expansive worlds, Sunset Overdrive is almost reason enough to buy an Xbox One.

Brian Penny is a former Bank of America business analyst turned force-placed insurance whistleblower, ghostwriter, blogger, and freelance SEO consultant. He's a frequent contributor to HuffPost, Main Street, Hardcore Droid, Fast Company, and Cannabis Now.

Monday, June 9

The Difference Between Good and Bad Freemium Content

Freemium has become the preferred business model for mobile apps and gaming. The model itself is actually a fantastic idea; being able to play a game for free, but pay for premium features or to skip a grind is a great way to lure gamers in.

On the PC, Defense of the Ancients, League of Legends, and Smite do a great job of providing an immersive experience for free, while offering premium purchases that simply provide a little more freedom in the grind. Although purchases are available, the free game itself is both playable and enjoyable.

Most times, however, game companies ruin the experience using freemium as an avenue to tempt impulse purchases. This would be simply annoying if it were happening on games and apps geared toward adults, but, more often than not, these tactics are used on children, as seen in games like Subway Surfers, Candy Crush, and pretty much anything by Zynga.

The Freemium Blitz

It's not just the casual game developers getting into the mix - gaming giant Electronic Arts, which was one of the first American companies to utilize this freemium model, has multiple freemium games on the market, displaying varying levels of playability and morality. One of the more annoying examples of freemium impulse tempting from EA is found in Tetris Blitz.

Tetris Blitz offers a variety of in-game purchases, which, in itself, wouldn't be an issue. The problem comes after a game when you don't use a finisher. This is when you're presented with a splash screen offering an impulse buy at an emotional time. Yes, you may wish you had used a finisher, but it's not right to make you emotional and then pressure you for money...especially in a game a child can (and likely will) play.

Live Freemium or Die Hard

Freemium software originally gained popularity in Korea and China. EA noticed the profitability and brought it stateside, and soon after, mobile app stores became flooded with these offerings, as developers realized it could be profitable. Although multiple companies are pursuing the freemium model, it's not without pushback.

Italy's Antitrust and Competition Authority is currently pursuing action against Apple and other app stores, noting that labeling a game or app as free deceives customers. Proven profits made the freemium model prolific much quicker than regulations have been able to keep up. As we've seen in the financial industry (along with the emerging marijuana and ecigarette industries), lack of regulation means profit is put over people.

Boycott Freemium Ripoffs

Overall freemium isn't a bad thing - it's a powerful business model that allows companies to attract customers without implementing a high price point. Providing users with a quality product, however, should be the main focus. Nobody would play Super Mario Brothers if you were presented with an ad every time you hit a question block or traveled down a pipe.

As freemium games become the new standard, it's up to us as consumers to make our voices heard. Al Jackson at HardcoreDroid is leading the charge, offering a boycott site, where you can add and track dubious freemium games, and join in the boycott against them.

In the meantime, keep me off your Mafia Wars, Candy Crush, and Flappy Bird invite lists. I'm a real
gamer, and I prefer to play real games.

Brian Penny is a former Bank of America business analyst turned force-placed insurance whistleblower, ghostwriter, blogger, and freelance SEO consultant. He's a frequent contributor to HuffPost, Main Street, Hardcore Droid, Fast Company, and Cannabis Now.