Organizing Closets

February 13th, 2017 by helava

This weekend, I organized our downstairs closet of boardgames-and-random shit, and then later organized one of the closets in the kids’ room.

There’s something really satisfying about cleaning out spots of in-home entropy – places where stuff’s gotten lost for a few years due to business & oversight. One thing I’ve found is that we’re very much an “out of sight, out of mind” family, where one of the reasons things are out all over the place is that when they get put away, they vanish for a long period of time.

I wonder if that is, in part, because when we moved in, we were constantly moving things around from room to room as construction happened, and so it took 10 years before things finally started settling down into “their place” – whereas if you move in and can plan things out from the start, those things get placed according to some better-conceived plan than the chaos of “wherever whatever now”.

It also feels satisfying to do some organization because so much is out of my control right now. We’re still looking for a house for my parents. Every day something in the news is misery. Doing something to clean up around the house feels like being able to organize my mind and exert some influence on my day to day life at a time when I feel like I have less control than usual.

Kitchen Nightmares

February 7th, 2017 by helava

Mid-last week, our dishwasher’s latch got stuck in the “closed” position, even though it was open. We cracked open the dishwasher (which has had its fair share of gremlins – I wouldn’t recommend a Jenn-Aire dishwasher) and checked it out. Seemed like a simple fix – the latch somehow got closed, and we just needed to pop it open.

Replaced the latch, screwed everything shut. After closing things up, the dishwasher refused to respond to button presses… about 3/4 of the time. Opened everything up, reseated various connections, same thing. Great. Ordered a new control panel for the dishwasher.

Sometime late last week, there was a sale on a small under-sink water heater. I thought, “Hey, that’d be great for our kitchen,” because our kitchen is all the way across the house from the tankless heater, which means that one specific faucet takes forever to heat up. And so for the dishwasher, or for washing up or whatever, you’d always end up wasting a ton of water waiting for it to warm up.

So I got the small water heater. When it arrived, I went to install it, and as I was pulling thing out from under the sink, I realized things were wet. That wasn’t great. Fortunately, the wood bottom of the cabinet hadn’t warped, which meant we must have caught the problem at the exact right time (well, close to it).

I looked under the sink, and lo and behold – a cracked fitting on the disposal drain pipe. Went to Ace, got some connectors for the water heater and a replacement drain pipe. Got home, realized I’d made a mistake on the sizing of the connectors. Also realized… there was stuff still dripping from somewhere.

I reached up to rotate the disposal, since its drain pipe was in the way of the water valve, and realized my right hand was gunky – that wasn’t right. Turned out the disposal casing had cracked at some point, and it was also leaking. Great.

Back to Ace for new fittings, and a new disposal. Installed the disposal (really, really easy as long as you’ve got the drain flange installed already), replaced the drain pipes, and secured that all so it wasn’t leaking. Great!

Then hooked up the heater. Realized I’d bought the wrong kind of cap for one of the pipes I was capping off, and that the splitter I needed to put on the heater (faucet & dishwasher) was leaking. Great. Back to Ace. Found the right cap, and realized the kind of pipe thread needed teflon tape. Got home, put the cap on, taped the thread, and … still leaking everywhere. The cap was leaking like crazy.

Turns out, if you have a compression fit connection, and you have a compression fit cap, you *still* need a brass ferrule under the cap or it won’t seal. Fortunately, I had one. Cap problem solved. The other one was an NPT connection that needed the teflon tape. Turns out that just needed to be cranked down until it stopped leaking, which it finally did.

So four and a half hours later, and something like five trips to Ace (I think I missed one or two in the description), I finally had it all together.

The next day, I realized I’d put the dishwasher and heater on a cheap power strip, and I couldn’t run one without tripping the breaker on the strip. And the dishwasher leaked on the kitchen floor, because I’d failed to attach the door exactly right.

So finally, almost a whole weekend of kitchen fixing came to a close. We’ve now got a new disposal, a new water heater, and well-functioning plumbing. Hooray!

Also last week, I tried grilling a steak. When I turned on the gas, FWOOSH – huge fireball. Why, I wondered. The flames were totally irregular. After letting it cool off, I popped off the grates & realized that the grill was just toast. The burners had all rusted through, which is why the gas was coming out in a fireball. I’d done some previous part replacement on the grill, but I knew it was wearing out. Turns out, a.) the burners rusted through, b.) the “flame protector” holders had rusted through, c.) the burner attachment points were rusted through, and d.) the edges of the firebox were completely rusted all the way through.

We kept the grill covered, mostly, during the rainy season, but I never really gave it a good solid internal cleaning, which is probably what it really needed. Still, the Char-Broil did a solid job, giving us something like 10 years of wonderful service. But it was dead. Repairing it would have cost as much or more than a replacement of similar quality.

I started looking into grills, and boy – grills are like bicycles. You can really go down the rabbit hole & spend tons of $. And like bikes, options that you start out not caring about suddenly feel necessary as you’re shopping.

I decided that I’d stick with something on the low end. The Char-Broil had been great, and I’d never used a different grill that I thought was so much better. I realized I should check Craigslist. There’s probably someone who bought a grill thinking they’d use it & never did, and if so, they’d probably be among the nicer grills, right?

Sure enough. Found a nice Weber Genesis S320. Used to retail for about a grand. Got it for $300. It’s a lot beefier than the previous grill in almost every respect. Things that were folded sheetmetal on the Char-Broil were cast pieces on the Weber. The frame was square welded tubestock. The charbroil was folded sheetmetal.

The igniter on the Weber was busted (the seller was totally up front about it, so it wasn’t a surprise), so I poked around to see if I could fix it. I took off the button, and realized even if I put a battery in the igniter, there was only one side contacting anything. Huh? I looked up images of the button online, and sure enough, there was a metal bit that went on the underside of the button that wasn’t there. Folded up a piece of aluminum foil, shoved it in where the previous clip would have been, and voila. Works great.

So aside from some minor cosmetic blemishes (a discolored top side burner plate) and obvious previous use, it’s perfect. Fired it up today with the tiny tiny bit of propane that was left post-giant-fireball, and it worked like a champ.

So a weekend spent on fixing, repairing, and replacing various kitchen-related things. End product? Huge success! The process sucked, but compared to having to hire professionals or buy new stuff, it was way cheaper and way more satisfying.

Your Friends

February 7th, 2017 by helava

I think in the future, one of the criteria I’ll have for a person in power is, “Who are your friends?” If your friends are uniformly rich businesspeople, focused on getting ever richer, then you see regulations, unions, etc. as a problem because they want to do X to increase their wealth, and are frustrated by it. If they’re your friends, you empathize with their frustration, and trying to fix those frustrations makes sense.

On the other hand, if your friends are working class people, whose problems are paying the bills on a day-to-day basis – who work hard and barely get by, who strive and strive and the door of opportunity is repeatedly slammed in their face, then you empathize with those problems and want to fix them.

When I see the current power players going for deregulation, undermining labor and environmental laws, etc. – on a personal level, I suppose I get it. Your friends don’t like those things. They don’t live in the environment they’re poisoning. They aren’t being exploited by management , etc. You see the effects of these things through the lens of their lives, and they’re not a problem. The people who are choking on smog, who are working 16+ hour days to survive – you don’t know any of them, even if you’re employing hundreds of them. And it seems evil. But I get it. It’s invisible. Your friends are what you’re worried about first and foremost. That’s true of everyone, to varying degrees.

So if you want a position of power, show me who your friends are. You may be a great person, but if the only people you know are millionaires and billionaires, I can say with certainty that in my eyes, you’re not qualified for the job, because you can’t understand what the job is.

If you’re in public service, you have to know what pain the public feels. You have to be friends with at least something like a representative sample of the public.


February 6th, 2017 by helava

I dunno what it is, but there are times when some small thing just sucks the wind out of your sails. It’s something that’s clearly not important, but still… sometimes a small detail just takes a day that was going fine & turns it all around.


January 31st, 2017 by helava

Some images from the recent past.

Not a lot else to say. We’re working hard on the new app, and a lot of it is coming together nicely.

Recently did some things that needed to get done on the house. Re-stuccoed the back exterior wall. Had the side fence rebuilt after it collapsed, and also shortened the front & redid the gate. Likely going to get a deck in the back in Feb, which has been years in the making, and continually pushed off for various reasons. Thinking about getting some sort of climbing structure for the backyard. Still looking at houses for the parents. I thought the market had cooled, but apparently not.

I need to find something I enjoy doing that will get me back in better health, and some time to actually do it. Eating habits have improved somewhat, but not made a really tangible difference. Partly because I’m eating less, but I’m eating more carbs. If I can eat as much as I am now, and shift to a low-carb diet, I think that’ll make a huge difference. But it also makes cooking more difficult, and cooking has been a recently-revived pleasure.

I’m finding one of my favorite meals to have company at is Sunday morning breakfast. I made pancakes the other day…

…and they turned out awesome. They were a “Japanese Fluffy Pancakes” recipe, and basically yeah, that’s what they are. Pancakes that are 3-4x thicker than normal, but fluffy and light. Still taste like pancakes, with a pancake-like consistency.


Been reading The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History and it’s fantastic. It shows what goes into making something that was consistently great, and something new that didn’t exist before. As someone who watched it consistently for 10+ years, it’s a really wonderful read. Highly recommended.

Also been working through Three Parts Dead, which is the kind of book I wish I could write. Takes a neat premise, and then blows it out and builds a whole world & characters around a core conceit. Works beautifully, with interesting characters & a really interesting core idea. Sort of a murder mystery, in a world where magic and gods exist, but are governed by contracts. Weird but good.


The kids are good. Basically like before, but moreso. They’re making little books, and they’re continually delightful and surprising. K’s starting to be able to read words, and is definitely putting a lot of letters together. Personally, I need to try to devote more time to spend on teaching him stuff. With J, he had the luxury of being the sole focus, and it’s harder with two, but something I need to really be conscious of and work at. Funny little guy. He’s in a “mom” phase at the moment, where basically I might as well be chopped liver, but he’s still such a joy to be around.

J lost his first top front tooth about a month ago, so he’s kinda funny-looking at the moment. He and his friends at school are continually making up games, and it’s great to hear about all the weird ideas they have. Mostly around monsters, different types of monsters, etc. He’s also been making up a lot of jokes. Funnily enough, K got in a good one the other day. “What does the rock say when it goes bowling? Rock and roll!” He apparently made that up on his own! J’s also making up a lot of jokes, and some of ’em have been really great.


I’ve taken a few months off of Twitter and Facebook – ever since the election. Recently, I’ve gotten to reading through them both again, and it’s just depressing. It’s not surprising, per se, it’s just depressing. Eh, that’s not actually true. It is surprising how completely free of any hint of integrity the GOP has been. History will judge them poorly. As for me, I know it’s not the right approach, and it’s not the effective approach, but here’s my perspective. If you voted third-party, I think you’re an idiot. No, really. I think you have no ability to make coherent judgments about argument, you were fundamentally unaware of the world & the plight non-majority groups were facing, and whatever hissyfit you had about Clinton, you voted like an asshole, and I think you’re an idiot. IF you voted for the GOP candidate, I will never forgive you and you are not welcome in my life in any capacity. I will not work with you. You are not welcome in my house. We are not friends, and cannot be friends. Yes, I realize that is ineffective at bridging the divide or whatever bullshit. Oh well. I don’t care what you think of me – I sincerely do not. History will judge you poorly, and you deserve every bit of it.


Since the election, I’ve found myself a lot less interested in playing most games. I’m sick of shooting man-children yelling homophobic slurs online. I’m bored of stories where everything is shoot everybody. But I’m also bored of stories where I walk from place to place and watch things happen. If I want a story, I’ve found more interesting content in movies and TV. If I want interaction, with extraordinarily little exception, the kinds of interaction I find in games is unsatisfying now. I like some strategy, I like word games. I still like the game we’re making, and a lot of it’s coming together in interesting ways. But most console stuff? Eh. I dunno. Titanfall 2 was excellent. Clever, inventive, and tight as a drum. I still need to finish Uncharted 4, which is something I didn’t expect I’d need to say. It had some really wonderful moments. But then I got to some “shoot everyone” section, and … eh.

I wonder what my future holds, in that regard. If Wonderspark doesn’t work out (and sadly, we’re getting close to the end of the runway), I don’t know what I’d do next. I don’t like most of what’s being made in my industry. Most of what people are making is just … boring. And I don’t think I could do something like Wonderspark again. If we don’t make it, it’s because… well, reasons. I’ll do some sort of post-mortem if we get to that point. In the meantime, we still have one more swing at the plate, and we’re devoting everything we’ve got to it.


Yeah, I think that’s the bulk of it at the moment. Mostly just a sort of state-of-the-world-induced malaise. It doesn’t bother me most of the time, because work and the kids demand my attention. But in the quiet moments… yeah.



January 30th, 2017 by helava

I love Oakland.

The fact that Uber is going to be a mainstay of downtown Oakland’s tech scene, and probably one of Oakland’s biggest employers, disgusts me. I don’t want them in my city. They don’t stand for what Oakland stands for.

Companies are, in a way, expressions of who their leaders are. Uber didn’t make a solid statement against the Muslim Ban because Travis Kalanick is a piece of shit. Uber, as a company, behaves like garbage because it’s leadership is garbage. Character matters because there are so many pressures to grow in a situation like this – to put money and growth over everything. Some companies do exactly that – they scramble for every dollar without any concern for their role in a larger world.

Other companies actually stand for something. And if you look, simply, at the difference between Uber and Lyft, there’s a clear difference in character between the two companies that isn’t situationally-dependent. You can tell because those differences are consistent, and because they make the companies’ behavior predictable. I’m not a fan of the “gig economy” in its current form. I think in practice, it’s exploitative across the board, though some do it better than others. But if you look a the difference between Lyft and Uber, you can see the difference character in leadership makes. One company might figure out how to make the “gig economy” work, because fundamentally, they believe in something that isn’t garbage. The other is Uber.

Off to a start.

January 30th, 2017 by helava

I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that if you’re not out of your mind, 2017 is off to a worse start than say, any other year in my lifetime. I’d taken a break from Facebook and Twitter after the election because I felt like that moment was as insane as things could possibly get. That enough people in the country voted for this guy was crazy, but at least it would get better because once he was in power, he’d have to moderate himself to get things done. Guess not. The theory was that at least the GOP would push him a little centrist, but I have no idea why anyone would have thought that, because in practice, the GOP has now completely revealed itself to be utterly spineless, and to stand for nothing other than power and self-aggrandizement.

Sure, you get posturing – Marco Rubio saying he was maybe not gonna approve Tillerson, for instance – but when the chips come down, every single time, everyone in the GOP reveals themselves to be a spineless, gutless sycophant. Surprise. So you’ll forgive me if I don’t think that McCain and Graham’s announcement about their opposition to the Muslim Ban means a hill of beans until they actually do something, which I fully expect they won’t.

And this all ties into something that’s been bugging me for the last few years, but has come into focus over the last few months.

It really doesn’t mean shit what anyone says. The only thing that matters is what someone does when it means something.

I can talk about my ideals all day. If I betray them in the heat of the moment, my ideals are worthless. I can claim to be someone’s friend. Whether I am or not depends on what I do when they’re suffering. Values without action don’t mean shit. What you actually value is what you do. That’s the only meaningful expression of what you value, and there’s no way to go back to your values being what you say if what you do when it counts is different.

That’s character. That’s who you are. You either put up, and act like you say you will, or shut the fuck up, you hypocrite.

There are, unfortunately, still a lot of people who will choose to believe what you say, which means people are rarely held to account for their actions. And this applies to both personal lives and to politics. It’s a shame. I get it, people don’t like to be confronted with the fact that some people are gutless. It happens. You get to know someone based on what they say they believe, and those beliefs are in practice, rarely actually put to the test.

So yeah – both in politics and in personal lives… don’t listen to the words. Look at the actions.

That’s all that matters.


The Crisp

January 23rd, 2017 by helava

K eats his pizza from the “crisp”. Which means he eats it crust-first. I think he refers to “crust” generically as “the crisp”, and I just wanted to get that down for posterity ’cause it’s adorable.


January 19th, 2017 by helava
  • 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.


Looking Forward, Not Backward

December 28th, 2016 by helava

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.