Stuffs

  • Got a huge section of the fence rebuilt. Shortened the front & gate to 3′ from the 6′ we had before, and will be trimming the hedge in front down to the same height, mostly just to open up the front space a bit. We’d originally had it at 6′ because that was what was recommended for if you had a larger dog. But Mobi isn’t jumping over a 3′ fence anymore.
  • Been working on assembling models for Palladium Books’ game, Robotech RPG Tactics. Why? I don’t know. I don’t have anyone I’m likely going to carve out time to play this game with – you’d have to be a pretty hardcore Robotech fan to want to bother, but there’s something zen-like about it. Reminds me of building 40K minis over a summer in college. Having cuts on my hands from X-acto knives & fingertips Krazy-Glued together has a weirdly comforting glow about it. And Robotech is still pretty rad.
  • 3D printed a handful of Hot Wheels track joints last night, to set up a side-by-side ramp for the kids. Who then promptly totally lost interest in it after having been super excited about it for a day. J would send cars down and then jump (as far as I could tell, inadvertently) out of excitement as the cars ran down the ramp, through the loop, and jumped over obstacles he set up.
  • Just finished Mark Webber’s book. I was a fan of his over the last handful of years in F1 – was one of the few people who I thought was always a straight shooter. His book is sort of what you might expect. Not flashy, but fairly straightforward. I enjoyed it a lot, though I think if you’re not a fan of his, specifically, and expecting it, it’ll be kinda a dry read otherwise.
  • Recently added a backup camera to the M3, which required disassembling a good chunk of the dashboard and then running a cable back to the trunk. I need to do one final thing to tidy it up properly (and fish out a plastic connector that I dropped into the battery well), but it went pretty smoothly. Not long after that, I replaced a bit of steering wheel trim that had started to peel. Not huge jobs or anything, but nice to do some hands-on repair.
  • Speaking of which, I also replaced my iPhone 6+’s battery with a kit from iFixit. I’d also replaced my old old 3rd gen iPod’s battery with a kit from there, and it’s great that a company’s making sure older tech doesn’t all just get junked the moment it’s not perfect. I find the process of taking things apart, fixing something, and putting it back together very satisfying. Maybe sort of like the model building.
  • I need to do more to get back in shape. More weightlifting, more core. I did something fairly unpleasant to my lower back at the beginning of summer when I was running around trying to take care of my dad’s office stuff, and it’s never quite gotten better. As what appears to be a result of that, I also borked my left shoulder – appears to me like compensating for the back somehow puts a lot of stress on my shoulder. So I need to spend more time exercising and getting stronger.
  • Been also doing a little bit more cooking than we had been before, which has been a real positive. Still not doing well re: weight loss. Sad thing is I know what I need to do (cut carbs/sugar), I just lack the will to do it. But at the same time, I think the current setup, where we’ve been eating more home-cooked food may lend itself to an improvement there. One step at a time.

Yeah.

Looking Forward, Not Backward

There were a few things in 2016 that were good.

  • Ei-Nyung & I started working with a therapist, Michael Schimek. Look, I know it’s weird to talk about, if you haven’t seen a therapist. But the weird thing for me is that I reached out randomly on Facebook asking if anyone knew a good therapist, and I got dozens of responses, often from people I didn’t expect, with recommendations. I don’t remember why we went to see Michael, but he was someone Ei-Nyung had found, and I was still reluctant at first. But it’s been life-changing, and I see so many people around me who’d benefit from this process that I feel like not talking about it is a disservice to the people who feel like seeing a therapist is a cop-out or somehow an indication of an internal failing on their part or whatever.

    He’s helped us communicate better. He’s helped us understand our respective baggage better. He’s helped me get over work trauma that dominated my life for years, and not spend every waking moment consumed with frustration and anger. I can’t recommend him, specifically, highly enough, but more I really hope that for my friends, when they find themselves in over their head in their relationships, or when they’re depressed or consumed by something, that they’d reach out to someone and get help. We learn to read. We learn math. We learn about how the world works. But we don’t get a lot of education about how we interact with each other, and how we understand our own feelings. We don’t get practice understanding why we feel the way we do, and why we react the way we do. Instead of falling into a pattern and just saying, “Well, this is who I am,” therapy has helped me improve who I am. Understand who I am. Understand who I want to be, and how to get there. If you’re reading this and thinking, “Yeah, that would be good,” find someone. If you’re local, talk to Michael. You don’t have to be resigned to misery. You can make it better. And if you need help to do it, it doesn’t make you weak.

  • I love my job. I love the people I’m working with. Sure, it’s not always easy. But it remains a fascinating, educational, often inspirational experience. I wish certain elements were going better, and early 2017 will be a make-or-break period for us. But I’m proud of the work we’ve done, and I’m proud of how far we’ve come. Let’s see if we can get to where we need to be.
  • The kids are amazing. I know, they’re always amazing, but in the last few weeks, they’ve gotten to a point where they can really play together, and not need a lot of supervision. K’s really growing fast, and becoming super expressive. Sometimes a little tricky to understand – where with J, we could take the time to tease out what he meant while trying to articulate complicated thoughts, with K we don’t always have that luxury. But he tells funny jokes. He observes interesting things and loves to tell us about them. He’s an astonishingly generous kid, and deeply thoughtful in some interesting ways. J’s in 1st grade now, and just starting to really hit his stride reading, where he can read aloud at nearly “full-speed”, which is pretty awesome. He reads sometimes to K, and it’s just ridiculously adorable.

In most other ways, though, 2016 was a total rat-fuck of a year. There’s the obvious stuff going on on the national front. No sense in rehashing that here, but I thought W was clearly going to be the worst president of my lifetime, but I think we’re gonna find out in 2017 that we weren’t even close. I’ve basically removed myself from Twitter and Facebook ever since Election Day, and I think it’s been a really positive change in my life. I’m definitely less connected to news. I’m also somewhat less connected to distant family, which sucks, and peripheral/distant friends. I think for close friends, though, not having that drip-feed of their life will make face-to-face interactions more interesting, not less. I’m also wasting less time and mostly paying more attention to reality, which is an obvious plus.

I miss some of the passive observer elements of FB/Twitter – I essentially had “access” to a lot of perspectives I can’t get in my day-to-day life. So I think finding some happy medium where I dramatically cut out almost everyone & everything on Twitter except things that really, genuinely matter to me on a moment-to-moment basis is in my future somewhere, and even then, my participation on social media will probably still be radically reduced. I often feel a moment where I want to have a “take” on something. To announce to the world that I’ve picked up the clarinet today, or that I wired a new outlet in the wall. Or whatever. But why the fuck would you care about that? You wouldn’t. It’s just noise.

Instead, if I write something, I’ll sit down & write something. Got an idea for a board game I really want to make someday. Might dive into that in the evenings. Got some house repair that needs doing – painting over a place where paint blistered. Patching a wall. Small stuff like that, but there’s a lot of it, since the house has settled over the last 10 years. We’ve got a bit of stuff on the exterior that’s getting done as well. Just had the back of the house re-stuccoed, since the previous job (done in 2001) was garbage. Still need to get the trim on the windows re-done, but that’s fine. Gonna also get a deck built in the back, and the fence around the left & front sides of the house re-built, since it’s completely collapsed on the side. So maybe 2017 has some elements of literal rebuilding.

But between my dad’s accident, the results of work being quite difficult, and national events, I’ll be happy to see 2016 out the door. 2017 brings some massive challenges. Do or die for work. Nationally, a new administration that will need to be fought – and not just on social media, but through positive action. Figuring out what my role in that will be interesting.

For 2017, my goals are:

  • Wonderspark survives the year and is on the path to growth.
  • Family remains healthy (given the circumstances) and happy.
  • Get my parents out to CA in a house they’ll be happy in ASAP.
  • Get enough sleep to be patient with the kids, motivated, creative, and productive.
  • Lose 15 lbs, initially through a 5-2 diet, and build strength through weight training.
  • Play more music.
  • Create something interesting. Board game, novel, whatever. Who knows. But something significant & finished by the end of 2017.

NY

The last time we were in NY was the summer. We went to the Natural History museum, did a one-day trip to Philly. We’re here for longer this time, but I suspect we’ll actually do less. The intention isn’t to do anything exciting, it’s just to try to take a little bit of stress off my parents & give them a little breathing room. Will they breathe? Who knows. But it’s a thing we can do and we’re doing it.

The King and I

We got season passes to SHN in order to get Hamilton tickets, and as a result, we ended up at The King & I last night. It was interesting.

The performances were good, and it was an interestingly put together thing, but the story was never engaging, and while I understood what was going on, I really didn’t get why it was supposed to matter to me. I think one thing might be that with this revival of the show, they changed certain things to make it less… old. But I think that maybe an inadvertent change of making it less “exotic” and “Oriental” meant that now the characters should be less “inscrutable”, but while their motivations work on the surface, they never seem to have any consistent driving force.

One of the turning points of the show, the King cries “DISHONOR” as he’s about to do this thing, and you’re supposed to (I think?) feel this tension between his desires to move Siam into more Western-friendly “modernity”, but he’s pulled to feeling this sense of honor when someone wrongs him, and that honor is so valuable that he’s willing to potentially destroy all the progress he’s made to this point.

But it’s meaningless.

In the context of the show, there’s no explanation of why honor matters. Or what it is about that that should pull him in multiple directions. Instead, it looks like he’s just … lost it, and is the barbarian that the West is supposedly accusing him of being. I can kind of piece together what I should be understanding out of the scene, but it doesn’t actually click, and it doesn’t actually feel meaningful.

And I feel like a lot of the show suffers from the same problem.

That moment of tension (the one that didn’t work) is basically about Westernizing in order to potentially save Siam from colonization. They put on an elaborate dinner for British envoy to convince the West that the King isn’t a “barbarian”, but the whole time there’s this other plot that one of his (many) wives is going to run away with her lover, and they set up this conflict where either he’s going to need to deal with her in a “modern” way or a “traditional” one.

But the dinner goes off (mostly) without a hitch, and *after*, there’s the revelation of the wife’s infidelity, at which point the King goes berserk. But the problem is that the dinner went fine. The stakes that matter (the future of Siam) are off the table. Maybe the idea is that the relationship between Anna and the King is as important, but that doesn’t work at all. So you have this tension (will the dinner work?), you resolve it (yes), and then introduce the conflict? It’s really, really weird.

But again – the whole show felt that way. Things played for comedic value (etc., etc.) that happen not just too often, but in ways that undercut emotionally charged scenes. The King is essentially trying to fight for the future of his country, but he’s often played for laughs (the laughs work, but it makes the character a joke).

I dunno. It’s odd – Ei-Nyung & I were talking on the way home about how season tickets were like getting a prix fixe meal at a restaurant – you don’t get necessarily what you want, but you’re forced to try some new stuff. And in that way, this was super enjoyable. I didn’t necessarily like the show, but I liked experience of it all, and it’s not something I’d necessarily have chosen independently.

 

House Projects

On top of looking for a place for my parents, we’re also doing some tidying up around our place. We’ve been planning on a deck in the back for ages, but we’ve gotta get the rear of the house re-stuccoed before getting the deck built, or we’re putting the cart before the horse in some sense. Our old neighbor Ron’s a painter, and he’s going to be patching & repainting a couple things – the kitchen ceiling, which developed a big crack, and had never been refinished when we got the rest of the kitchen remodeled, a wall in the kids’ room, whose paint started peeling, and the exterior trim, which has faded really badly over the last five years. Gotta also get the fence between our house & our neighbors’ rebuilt, because it just completely collapsed a month or so ago. 😛

We’ve got a bunch of other stuff – exterior hardscaping, etc. that needs to get done, but because we’re looking for a place for the ‘rents, it makes sense to hold off on stuff that isn’t necessarily a big impact in at the moment.

VR: Stick a Fork In It.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that for games, VR is toast.

I had pretty low expectations for my experience with PSVR, but one bout of serious VR-induced nausea, and I’m 100% convinced that there’s no place for this as a mainstream technology any time in the near future. Even as a “display” for non-game-related things, it’s so isolating that for most applications it simply feels wrong.

I think in terms of usage, for something like airplanes, or for “attractions” – dedicated spaces designed around VR experiences – they might have a future. But for couch or desk-based interactions for amusement? Not a chance. It’ll be a niche market for a few years as all the VC-backed VR hype finally hits the wall of no-customers, but once all those companies die off, it’ll basically be relegated to hobbyist usage, and the only content available will be hobbyist content.

The setup is too clunky. VR Nausea is *fatal* to the experience. There’s no killer app, despite billions of dollars of investment. The problems of “virtual movement without real movement” aren’t even close to being solved, and until they are, the limits on usage of VR are so bananas that there’s no practical reason for anyone to make the investment to jump in.

AR? That’s a different story entirely, and, I believe, the inevitable future.

So Your Kid’s Into Pokemon… Now What?

A while back, a friend of mine asked me about Pokemon. Her kids were obsessed with it, but what could she turn that into a good thing? I gave her some (valid) advice at the time, but now that my kids are into it, there’s a bit more to add.

Super-basic, mostly obvious:

  • Reading – if your kids aren’t reading yet, there’s a bunch of stuff on the cards, from the rules to the flavortext that they can read. Ask them questions about the various creatures, and see if they can figure things out by reading the text.
  • Numbers – maybe they’re not reading yet. There’s a ton of numbers. Can they figure out which has more health or does more damage? These are in consistent places on all the cards, so just get them to compare.

Somewhat less obvious:

  • Pokemon are often based off of real-world creatures or things. Can you figure out what they are?
  • Most of the names are puns. What’s a pun? What’s *this* name referring to?
  • Many Pokemon “evolve” or have multiple “evolutions”. Spot the differences. The different evolutions’ names are often related, and are often plays on words. Why are they funny or weird?

More effort:

The game itself is actually pretty solid & requires some interesting thinking. While building a deck is both complex and expensive, there are “theme decks” and “starter decks” that are complete, and can be played straight out of the box (just make sure you’re getting the right thing. If you want a theme deck, get two. If you’re getting a starter, you can usually play two players with one deck).

From there, you’re now using the rules & the information on the cards to try to make strategic decisions. Why do you set an “Active” Pokemon vs. a benched one? When do you decide to retreat? If you’re winning or losing, why?

Other things to do:

  • Create your own Pokemon
  • Create your own evolutions of existing or original Pokemon, trying to capture the sense of humor in the naming & design
  • Create your own “moves” for the game
  • Draw Pokemon doing random things

I guess the thing is, while we tried to delay the onslaught of Pokemon in our house, once J was in school, it was largely inevitable. We could fight it, and have him miss out on this big social “hub” of activity at school, or we could get the most out of it we could. While the cards can be $$$, they’re also great as incentives – at $0.40/card, roughly, as an incentive they have a value that far exceeds their cost. 😀

Anyway. I know this isn’t likely to get read by anyone ever, but if it does, and you got here because your kid is obsessed with Pokemon, I hope this helps.

Games!

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Why yes, of course these are totally real pictures of the kids playing games.

Okay, they’re actually *kind of* real. J is legitimately constantly wanting to actually play the real Pokemon game, and K did actually ask me to set up the chess board, even though he lost interest five seconds after it was set up. His friend E was interested in playing, but I don’t think either of them understood the finer points of opening moves.

It’s weird, though, how everything basically ends up in one room. J’s playing Pokemon in the space between the couches and the front door, because no one ever does anything in separate rooms, even though we have oodles of space. *shrugs*

Oh! Go see Moana. It’s great.

Recent Rando Stuff

Started watching Star Trek Beyond, and they managed to create spectacle, which is something I honestly didn’t expect. Great stuff. Also picked up a handful of games on Black Friday sales – Gears of War 4, Far Cry: Primal, Battlefield 1, Hitman: The First Season, and Mad Max. So far only spent any reasonable time with Gears and Battlefield, but both are interesting – Gears because it’s reliably Gears-y, and Battlefield 1 because it’s kind of shockingly well done re: how it handles war & death & the horror & senselessness of it.

Also started watching a PBS series called Soundbreaking, and it’s FANTASTIC. Really amazing show about recorded music, what producers do, the history of hiphop, etc. It’s kind of bonkers how good the show is.