Things I miss, Part 27

  • My beard. I sort of have a stubbly version going right now, because when it’s really short the white doesn’t stand out. The reason I don’t have a full beard is because it would be white and I don’t fancy the “distinguished gentleman” look. Yes, I’ve thought of growing a beard and dying it. I think it would be weird, but I’m more open to weird these days.
  • 10 cent candy bars. This is the lowest price I can remember, circa 1970 when I was six or seven years old. This is not a bad thing, though, because if they were still 10 cents apiece, I would weigh 300 pounds.
  • A full head of hair. I shaved my head seven years ago, and I’ve made peace with never having a proper head of hair again, but I still kind of miss having hair on my head.
  • That section of my National Novel Writing Month novel that got eaten when Scrivener didn’t sync properly. My fault, I’m sure, but I’ve never experienced that “afraid to lose stuff” with software before and it is always in the back of my mind now when I use Scrivener.
  • My original copy of The Ever-continuing Saga of the Round Balls comic I wrote back around 1984 or so. I did 11 issues of varying length and at some point tragically lost them, probably left in a box under the stairs of a townhouse I used to live in.
  • Not completing my swimming lessons in 2007. Technically I can swim, but it’s more accurate to describe it as “not drowning.” Living on the coast it always seemed like a good skill to have. But water kind of terrifies me. Probably because I can’t swim.
  • That childhood sense of time, where the summer stretched on forever. Now it goes by in a blink. There’s actual science behind this.
  • World peace.

Rejected blog ideas

Because sometimes I’m lazy, sometimes I’m not timely enough, and sometimes my ideas stink.

  • Depends squirmy legs ad and Meta user Michael Strahan’s poo dance
    • Reason for rejection: I used to see these two commercials a lot and wanted to riff on them, then they stopped airing them.
  • Video games of yore (home)
    • Reason for rejection: I actually mean to get around to this one. You can read the arcade version here.
  • Reality TV shows I actually like
    • Reason for rejection: There aren’t that many and it just didn’t seem that interesting. For the record, a few I enjoy are Forged in Fire and The Curse of Oak Island.
  • Apple Watch revised review with pictures and stuff
    • Reason for rejection: Lazy, waited too long. Who wants to read a review of a watch that is two generations behind? Not me!
  • Google maps, now with melancholy
    • Reason for rejection: I actually quite like this idea. I’d use Google Maps’ Street View to “visit” my hometown and lament the loss of old corner stores I went to as a kid and so on. I felt there wasn’t enough there to work with, but I may revisit this.
  • Amusing photos from my phone camera
    • Reason for rejection: It turns out I have very few amusing pictures on my phone
  • Best and worst super powers
    • Reason for rejection: This seems like such an obvious thing. Maybe too obvious. Every time I thought about it, I found my mind wandering on to other things. Kind of weird.
  • Internet of Things comic: standing at the fridge saying “Open the fridge door, HAL.”
    • Reason for rejection: Too much effort for a pretty lame joke
  • Bad design: glossy keyboards
    • Reason for rejection: Pretty think subject for a blog post, but for the record, glossy keyboard are bad because they reflect light back at you, and are fingerprint magnets
  • Places I’ve lived
    • Reason for rejection: After some thought, I didn’t find it interesting enough to pursue, but I was thinking too literally. I may come back to this someday, because I’ve lived in a few places that might be worth talking about.

Run 601: On the run again

Run 601
Average pace: 6:08/km
Location: Burnaby Lake (CW)
Start: 1:16 pm
Distance: 5:03 km
Time: 29:43
Weather: Sunny
Temp: 7ºC
Humidity: 76%
Wind: nil
BPM: 177
Weight: 169.2 pounds
Total distance to date: 4585 km
Devices: Apple Watch, iPhone 8

Nearly three months after my last outdoor run, I finally returned to Burnaby Lake, eager (?) to see how the long layoff would affect my effort.

And it did affect my effort. But there was good news and bad news.

Good news: I finished the full 5K without any difficulty. I never felt like I was pushing too hard, never had any cramps (one on the abdomen threatened at one point, but never materialized) and my first km was a reasonably zippy 5:41/km. It was also cool, but sunny and with no wind at all. Once I got underway, it actually was quite comfortable. Best of all, my knees behaved. The left knee did start to twinge a little about two-thirds of the way through, but this was more of a “not used to running like this” thing and not related to the sore knee tragedy of 2018. I also picked up steam, with the last two km being faster than the first three.

Bad news: My BPM was up to 177. Yikes. That is a lot higher than I’d like to see. By comparison, my run on October 20, 2018 had a BPM of 167. I am also nearly four pounds heavier than that run, too (working on it). My overall pace was a sloth-like 6:08/km, a full 14 seconds off the October run, but about what I expected.

As noted, conditions were good, though I was heading into the sun at the start and the Avalon Trail was covered with a glistening mud that was shining so brightly I actually had to shield my eyes. Once I got onto the main part of the loop, it was fine, and the trail overall was in good shape,. with only a bit of a muddy stretch leading up to the athletic fields.

After, the knees still seem to be holding together. though I’ll see how everything feels tomorrow. It could be a thousand agonies, or one agony or maybe no agony at all. I really can’t say. But I am pooped. It’s a lot (when you also add the 14 km or so of walking) after only a handful of treadmill runs leading up to it.

Still, I am pleased that I managed the full 5 km without any difficulties. I kept a more deliberate pace and it seemed to work. As I get in more runs, I expect my BPM to drop, but it’s definitely the thing I’ll be watching closest over the new few runs.

Book review: The Oracle Years

The Oracle YearThe Oracle Year by Charles Soule
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Once again Goodreads 5-star system fails me, as this is a solid 3.5 star effort for me. But if I have to choose between 3 or 4 stars, I’ll go with 3, because while I enjoyed the ride, there are some flaws in The Oracle Year that bring down the overall experience.

First, I love the premise. An unremarkable bassist in New York named Will Dando has a dream in which 108 predictions over the next year are revealed to him and he uses these predictions to create the persona of The Oracle. He enlists his business and security-savvy friend full-time to create a website that allows people to see a subset of the predictions, along with providing an email address for people to inundate The Oracle with requests for winning lottery numbers and such.

Will Dando’s friend, Hamza, starts orchestrating selling certain predictions by offering 10-minute chunks of time to corporate interests looking to get a leg up on the competition. Soon the pair of friends has amassed literally billions of dollars. But Hamza presses on, saying they need more before they can reach a point where they will be completely secure.

This didn’t strike me as particularly believable, but even if it is, the morality of what Will and Mamza are doing is only treated in a weird, offhand manner. Will is unhappy, but doesn’t stop the pointless accumulation of more money than he could ever use. His friend, Hamza, seems to have no reason to be best friends with an ordinary, struggling musician, but at least has a convincingly obsessive, detail-oriented personality.

This also touches on another issue–Will Dando is not a very interesting person. He is a loner (apart from Hamza and Miko, his wife) and spends most of the story trying to avoid people and relationships. He has no real arc, no growth. He starts out bland and unremarkable, and ends the same, albeit richer and happier. He does create an elaborate system to track and correlate the 108 predictions, to try to see the big picture that binds them all together, but there is nothing to suggest how he has this ability. Most of the novel shows him making bad decisions and treating others poorly, because he can’t keep his inner voice from being an outer one.

The opening of the book also suggests a lighter tone and it bubbles up occasionally, but overall the story is dark, world-ending stuff, and I can’t help but wonder if the cipher-like quality of Will would have been better-served with a more deliberately humorous approach similar to what David Wong uses in John Dies at the End (and related novels).

Also, almost all of the supporting characters are unlikable. The subplot featuring the evangelist Hosiah Branson doesn’t really pay off, except as a late punchline, and could have been cut entirely. The liberal use of fictional countries also undercuts some of the drama, because it starts to feel manufactured for the plot.

And, though this is not something author Charles Soules has any control over, it’s hard to imagine a president acting in a mature manner (the fictional President Green and various staff and associates play key roles as the story unfolds), given the destruction of the office by its present occupant.

On the positive side, I was invested enough to keep going and the effects on the world of predictions destined to come true is played out in interesting, if ultimately bleak, ways. For me, this is an almost irresistible premise, story-wise, a kind of ultimate “What if?” scenario. Overall, then, The Oracle Year is recommended, with some reservations.

View all my reviews

The internet is getting old

I don’t mean old as in tired and passe–though others might make that argument, with some justification–but rather, it’s actually been around a good long while now.

I recall articles in computer magazines (almost as quaint now as the pre-internet days) in 1994 were touting two major developments in the tech world: the forthcoming release of Windows 95 (originally known only as “Windows 4”) and the rise of this new form of online communication known as the Internet.

I was already a regular participant on some BBSes (my roommate in the late 80s had a BBS running off four Commodore 64s) and participated in early forums that were part of FidoNet. Looking back it seems hilariously primitive. You connected to the host, downloaded all of the new messages on the forum, made your replies, then uploaded them and…waited. The conversations were not only not real-time, they weren’t even same-day. It would typically take two to three days for the turnaround. It didn’t prevent people from hurling insults and contributing little, of course, but it helped.

By comparison, my first cable modem and the actual internet–first introduced to me as a separate “premium” service by my ISP–was like stepping into the future. Your connection was always on (!) and you could visit multiple sites at the same time. There were multiple sites!

A big part of the early days for me revolved around gaming and one of the first games I got into online was Tribes, released in December 1998 (I bought it a month later). It got me into a gaming group and I still regularly converse with members of that group twenty years later. Back then I had the reflexes of a thirty-something, so I was already behind the curve, but I held my own. I read a bunch of gaming sites, many of which are either gone now after living on in a zombie state for awhile, like Voodoo Extreme, or have been abandoned after the parent company vanished, like PlanetQuake, which is still up, but hasn’t been updated since 2012 (its parent company, GameSpy, was shuttered the next year).

And then you have something like Blue’s News. Not only is the site still being updated regularly (by the same person, no less), but visually it is unchanged. Yes, the site looks pretty much exactly like it did 20 years ago. It was my home page for a long time, but I haven’t regularly visited any dedicated gaming site since consoles entrenched themselves as the primary way to game. There’s something both admirable and awful about not changing your website design for 20 years (for the record, I find the look today to be pretty ugly. Dense, small text on a dark background is not my idea of readability. On the plus side, the layout is about as straightforward as you can get).

The internet is an inescapable part of our lives now, and much of it is a terrible place. Facebook and Twitter serve as staging platforms for hate, enabling the spread of misery, violence and death. The wealth of information is vast and impossible for any single person to even begin to sift through. You choose your interests, put your faith in Google (or Bing, or DuckDuckGo if you really want to go full rebel) and hope for the best. Sure, you can find stuff through the recommendations of friends, but most of those will come via Facebook, anyway. And there’s always the echo chamber effect, too.

In the olden days the array of content was exponentially smaller. Sites themselves were smaller and updated less frequently. Messages downloaded as pure text at a rate slow enough to read as it downloaded. It wasn’t better, per se, but it was simpler. And in a way, that made it better. Or it created the illusion.

Fun Fact: this site turns 14 years old (!) on February 4th. In my first post I ranted about sites using white backgrounds. How things change. :P

End of the “executive” era (computer desk)

I got a new computer desk from IKEA. It is fairly simple–just a big plank of wood with four legs. It replaces an L-shaped desk that fit the nook I have the computer in, but it was kind of awkward, otherwise. It was too shallow, too narrow and too faux executive office-looking, with a fake dark wood surface.

The new desk comes with a fake light wood surface, which is brighter, happier and will inspire me to previously unforeseen levels of stuff and junk.

What you can’t see in the mediocre shot below is the printer has moved from the left side of the desk to a pseudo-printer stand to the left. I say pseudo because it’s really the old end table from the living room temporarily repurposed to hold the printer. It has two shelves which handily hold all the junk I had scattered across the old desk but did not need quick access to.

Also helping to inspire me is Edvard Munch’s The Scream, as seen on the all behind the desk.

The gear, from top-left, clockwise: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, Blue Yeti microphone (hidden partly by the monitor), Asus P248 24″ monitor (on the monitor stand are Tic Tacs and a WASD 6-key Cherry switch tester), two escapees from a Robax commercial, a Seagate 4TB backup drive, my gateway/router, Logitech G703 wireless gaming mouse, CTRL mechanical keyboard (Halo Clear switches), Sony MDR-7506 headphones with absurdly long cable, and iPad mini 4, which has a battery life similar to whatever bug dies after about four days.

(Don’t) Go Solo

I watched Solo tonight on Netflix so you don’t have to.

Haha, no. It wasn’t that bad. But it really wasn’t very good, either. Here are my thoughts in list form:

  • I’m glad I didn’t pay full price to see this in a theater
  • Aiden Ehrenreich was okay, but really didn’t have much to work with, and didn’t feel at all like the same character Harrison Ford played
  • Not enough Lando
  • Lando’s emotional attachment to L3 (a droid) was kind of weird
  • Never have a character talk about how predictable everyone is in a movie that is predictable
  • Competent special effects but few that had any real “wow” factor
  • The fan service bits weren’t as overbearing as in the prequels, but they were still bad
  • We get it, any band in a Star Wars movie needs to be really weird and alien
  • The movie started out slow, almost dull
  • Han is supposed to be a great pilot, but we are literally never shown this until he is suddenly forced to fly the Falcon
  • The tone was way too dark for a character who is a lovable rogue
  • We don’t need a backstory on the name Solo
  • Bring back the opening title crawl
  • If they still go ahead and make a Boba Fett movie, I will be very cross
  • It ends hinting at a sequel. Ha, fat chance.

Slow-burning ADHD

I not infrequently fall down the rabbit hole when I sit at the computer. What happens is I’ll read something (The original iPod Shuffle came out 14 years ago), then see something specific to latch onto (a mention of a SanDisk MP3 player, of which I bought one some years back when I first started running), which further prompts me to investigate further (looking at current SanDisk offerings, then what Sony and other companies are offering for MP3 players) and in the course of this, moving onto other things that pop into my head and checking them out.

Hours pass and I look back and I don’t regret the time spent, per se, but it does seem a bit of a waste in that I’ve not accomplished anything other than scratching a faint nostalgic urge (I never had a Shuffle, though I still have two iPod nanos) and confirming things I already knew (the current MP3 player market is pretty bad, filled with brands you’ve never heard of selling products that look suspiciously like Apple’s discontinued designs).

Somehow tonight I ended up on the Wacom site, looking at their Intuos tablets (I have one). And I was thinking, I should draw more. I could draw here at the computer using the Intuos, but I’d have to dig it out of a drawer, plug it in and neither requires any great or special effort, but I just can’t be bothered. So I see on their site that there is a model that uses Bluetooth, so you don’t need to plug it in. That takes away a step, making it 50% easier to use! Is it enough for me to go for it? I think and honestly, it would probably make no difference. I don’t need more convenience, I need more discipline.

Which gets me back to the rabbit hole. I am distracted and allow myself to get pulled into these little online expeditions too easily. I don’t think I have ADHD, though my brain does perhaps spin a little faster than I’d like (this is where learning meditation might be handy), but maybe I have some low-grade variety of it, where I don’t flit from one thing to another, I just flit from something and in the end have little to show for the time spent having flitted.

Anyway, that’s enough pop pysch self-analysis for tonight. But hey, I wrote again.

I want a tiny computer

If I thought I wouldn’t game at all, I’m pretty sure my next PC would be a NUC, simply because they are so small and adorable. And you can get a full PC without any real compromises–you can have fast storage, lots of memory, a good port selection. And it can sit silently and adorably on the desk, where those ports are easy to get to.

I will likely build a new, bigger PC with a full-size video card in the near-future to replace my current, aging machine. But I might go ahead and then build a NUC as a secondary/experimental PC. I might even try a zany Hackintosh build, so I can have that Mac experience, but with a good keyboard.

I bought a tiny nightstand

My previous nightstand was six cardboard banker boxes with a towel draped over the top. Height-wise it was nearly perfect next to the bed, and it did what it needed to, providing room for my alarm clock, phone and tablet.

It was, as you might suspect, not overly stylish, and the tops of the boxes got a bit lumpy over the years. Yes, years. I’m not sure why, but I kept this setup far longer than would seem reasonable for something that was intended to be makeshift and temporary.

No more! As part of my Big De-Clutter, I am starting to replace boxes-posing-as-furniture with actual furniture. I started with the nightstand because, well, it’s the only boxes-posing-as-furniture that I actually have. But I’m still replacing other real furniture for various reasons, as I’ll cover in a future post (hint: some of it has to do with what I like to call “granny styling.”)

I picked a suitable replacement from IKEA, a handsome baby Malm that would fit in perfectly next to the big brother Malm already there and serving as my new, improved clothes dresser. But somehow I had measured something wrong (math is hard) and the baby Malm is maybe too much of a baby. It sits significantly lower than the bed (admittedly, we have a massive uber-Queen size that is something like three meters tall. You have to take a running leap to get into bed at night). It’s not unmanageable, but in the end it isn’t what I wanted. I was sad, briefly. Then the cogs in my brain started turning, as they do from time to time.

The tiny Malm could replace the kind-of ugly end table in the living room, as its diminutive stature would not be an issue next to the couch. Voila, nightstand re-purposed, buyer’s regret vanquished (mostly)!. I then began looking for other nightstands that were actually height-compatible with the bed and may have found one at one of the 1,000 furniture stores on United Boulevard in Coquitlam. We will be checking it out on Saturday.

I’m also turfing my L-shaped computer desk because the L-shape ended up annoying me and the desk is too shallow, and the fake woodgrain looks a tad tacky. But that will also be another post.

For now, Furniture Quest 2019, part of the Big De-Clutter and general life improvement stuff, is well underway.

Bye bye books

This past weekend I gathered up nearly all of my paperback books–four cloth bags and a cardboard storage box in all–and dumped them into a book donation bin.

The majority of books I had already read–in some cases decades ago–while others were bought on a whim and then forgotten, unread and still in pristine condition. Most of the books were in near-perfect condition, actually, only the ones I loaned to friends were worn. My 43-year old copy of The Exorcist was definitely showing its age, though, with the cover taped on and the pages yellowing and getting a bit foul [devil/possession joke here].

On the other hand, some other books nearly as old almost looked brand new, because I was a very careful reader. Why, I cannot say. Looking at my bedroom, you would never have said I was a neat kid. And yet my books were treated like treasures. I suppose in a way they were. I read all the time when I was younger and the last few years I’ve rekindled [Kindle joke here] my love for both novels and non-fiction.

So why did I toss nearly all of my books away, keeping only a precious few, like signed copies or reference guides that are still relevant? Because I am determined to strip away the clutter in my life, and the books hold no sentimental value for me, though some had pretty snazzy covers. Most of these books I’d read long ago and were stuffed away in boxes and bags. It’s been many years since I had a bookshelf, and given the, shall we say, uneven quality of the books I indulge in, I feel no great need to hang onto them or display them for all to see.

And so off they went, to find homes elsewhere. I don’t know if someone will want to read my 1980 paperback copy of Salem’s Lot (I finally read the eBook version in October 2011), but it’s in darn good shape if they do.

In the meantime, I have less clutter, both in the condo and in my mental space. It feels good. The de-clutterfest will continue this coming weekend.