Friday, November 21, 2014

Daily Dose of Cuddling

A puppy has joined our lives. His name is Shadow. He is adorable and if you are nice I might post some pictures. My recollection of days does not lend itself to segmenting the passage of time into seven day units, but after throwing the question into Excel I've discovered that today he will complete his 77th day of life and thus stands on the cusp of his 12th week.
Stare deep into his eyes and realize that resistance is futile. You will pet him. You will pay special attention to the tricky spot behind the ears. Puppy kisses will be your reward.
Thanks to Shadow I now know that one of my neighbors does their laundry on Thursday nights. The wafting smell of dryer sheets is unavoidable as we meander through my yard sniffing for the next spot to defile.
Havanese puppies are said to be one of the hardier breeds in the 'toy' category. Shadow took to the snow like a champ and hasn't shied away from trotting around outside even on the coldest of mornings.

Just wanted to pop in to share this news and touch base. There are several ideas that are percolating for another creative writing submission, but we'll see how things go.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Easing back in

I took a bit of a break. I loaded the new post screen a few times, but realized I needed to just be silent for a while. That last post was a bit of a brain dump and I needed to let it sit for a while. A month has passed and we are still healing. There are good days and there are bad days. We had a bad day here recently. Tempers were high and voices were raised. A kind person helped me describe the awful feeling sitting at my desk after a session like that: hollow. A gnawing, radiating emptiness. It was a stupid fight about, of all things, communication. Tone and phrasing had raised our respective hackles and both of us are pretty stubborn when we know we're right. That was the thing. I don't think there was a 'wrong' in that altercation. Only a 'could have been better.' So we vented at each other, had a few hours to stew while we sat at work, and then talked it out that evening. Marriage.

Unless a major hurdle pops up it looks like we will be bringing home a puppy this Sunday. I have been reading a book my mother bought me on that subject: The Art of Raising a Puppy (I think... EBook, so checking is more effort than I am willing to exert right now. Lots of excellent info and it is definitely instilling in me the desire to do this 'puppy' thing right. We will see. More soon, gentle readers of the future!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Dealing with Disappointment

It is a cold, wet Monday morning and my wife is at home recovering from surgery. In the grand scheme of things it was a minor surgery. The removal of some tissue for diagnosis. I was out of town when she went under. If ever she feels the need to divorce me that fact alone would be valid enough in my mind. She encouraged me to go. She told me everything would be okay. It was rational. It made sense. It still felt wrong. It is possible that this was a good thing. It still feels wrong. In that moment, in that place, her mother may have been the greater source of comfort. I couldn't say what shape I would be in. Being over a hundred miles from something makes the process of dealing with it different. Maybe easier.
I wore contact lenses that day. To give my red, watery eyes an alibi. Dealing with dozens and dozens of people and wearing a smile is easier with an alibi.
The problem is that we started giving in to the excitement. Getting carried away by how well things were going. Loosening our guard and letting friends and family in on our secret joy. Now comes the brutal task of slowly rolling out this new development. To watch their eyes turn puzzled and their smiles slipping when my cold eyes show no excitement. No relish in presenting the latest news. Enough people knew that we had been due to get an update to casually ask "how did it go?" If I'm lucky a slow sad shake of my head is enough. If I'm unlucky they need me to elaborate.
My wife knew exactly what she needed to see. To me the screen was filled with graphs and numbers and acronyms and a shifting landscape of greys. I watched the small form fade in and out of focus, but the room was silent except for the radio playing softly in the corner. The nurse, to her credit, stayed stoic, until my wife whispered "there's no heartbeat." The critical line, the sole focus of her attention, stayed still. And then the dam broke loose.
I hugged her as best I could on the table and stroked her hair as the nurse confirmed our fears again and again. There was no mistake. No malfunction. Only a quiet form. The room was a whirl. My wife was sobbing. At some point the doctor and another technician came in to confirm again. They asked a question. I couldn't speak. I couldn't control my breath or mouth or eyes. I stood there in mute desperation trying to rein in my body enough to gasp out an answer. My mind screamed at me that it was a stupid question, but I knew they had to ask it. Perform a procedure to take the tissue to test for what might have gone wrong, or wait for it to purge naturally and maybe lose that opportunity. My wife's eyes turned up to look at me and that questioning look was a dagger to my chest. A mixture of pain, fear, and what might have been a plea for a decision... "Data." I finally managed to say, breaking the gaze with my wife and turning to the doctor. "Get the data."

Is this too personal for a blog that no one reads? Probably. It certainly has a "Dear Diary" quality to it. I can leave it as a draft, or share it elsewhere, or just click Publish and deal with any ramifications as they come.
If I'm posting this then I need to add the capstone: In my nightmares I can see this play out a dozen different ways. My hesitation in binding myself to anyone has always been the inscrutable nature of how we will react under pressure. I know without a doubt that I married the right woman. Unfazed. Determined. Lady, you make me proud to be your husband. I love you.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Dealing with Fame

My picture was published in the local paper. Hold your applause. No, please. Sit. Thank you. Thank you! Luckily I wasn't the person wearing the Oculus at the time, but not only do you have a clear shot of my hairline and beard, you can see my personal computer's desktop in the background. None of the work-machines were beefy enough for us to be comfortable demoing the headsets, so I volunteered my own machine. One of the fringe benefits of being a gamer is that my tolerance for outdated hardware has a much lower threshold than normal humans.
It's a little hard to tell with the program windows that are up, but I'm rocking a Minecraft 1.8 screenshot as my background. I've probably mentioned this before, but Minecraft is fantastic.

Yesterday I decided to allow myself to be taken to a pumpkin patch thing. It was insane. Okay, so there's this place called Vala's or something like that. They will most likely have a website. I knew a little bit about it, but the actual scale of this place is hard to grasp. We went pretty early in the day, and there were hundreds of cars already in the lot with helpful police officers guiding us into place in a field. When we left that afternoon there were thousands of cars filling every field in sight. Not too shabby considering the entrance fee is fifteen bucks a head. The attractions inside were... I've deleted a few attempts at describing them. A lot of it seems like a disorganized jumble of concepts. We went through a Pirate themed maze and our first time through ended up finding the 'treasure,' literally two steps inside of one of the five starting doors. Later we found out that the maze has multiple areas once could enter, and some of them would guide you through with trivia questions, but it was never consistent. Some turns were marked, others were bare. Much like the corn-maze. It seemed that intrepid humans had seen fit to trample unofficial passageways, interspersed with what seemed like the planned paths, so our trip through, while enjoyable, was spent wondering if we had just cheated. It's a corn-maze. Cut into a field of corn. I can't really criticize, but it did seem a little slapdash. The park is interspersed with lots of low-budget animatronics, voiced by tinny loudspeakers. Quaint and charming in one light. The stuff of nightmares in another. So for a 'spooky' Halloween/Fall attraction: Mission Accomplished?

Regardless, a good time was had. The family pedal carts, and bean-bag horse-shoes, and kettle-corn, and camel, and pig-races, and being surrounded by kids and families having a great time made it all worthwhile. Well done Vala's!

A kind coworker gifted me a big shopping bag full of apples a few days ago. They are giant, delicious, and a half-dozen of them have been cored, sliced, and baked into a pan full of Apple Crisp. I followed an online recipe with minor alterations and it was a shocking realization about just how much sugar goes into that stuff. Delicious stuff! I also did the math, I will run out of sugar long before I run out of apples!

More soon!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Riding the waves

I spent far too much time thinking of an appropriate title for the maelstrom of stuff swirling around me at the moment. At the moment I still seem to be above the chaos and not in it, but some of those waves are looking pretty tall.
Long Term Projects: I have fleshed out several story tiers for my creative ventures. Maybe I'm the product of my environment. My parents visited us this weekend and I spent an hour or so describing the background and high-level story to my mother. Then, the next day, the book I'm currently reading flipped narrative directions and took the exact same approach I was describing, and there is an interview online of a guy heavily invested in the space-program espousing the exact philosophy I was planning to embed in my story. Equally disheartening and exciting.

As for the actual program. There were a few epiphany moments once I started breaking down some of the core concepts into actual processes and algorithms. Basically, the thing I want to begin with can be treated as a Board-Game with a twist. It sounds obvious, but somewhere in my head had been a voice saying "Well how the hell do you iterate through all the various options and keep the interactions straight?" Answer: Approach the logic as if it was a board-game with physical pieces. Once I started translating the things I wanted to happen into that space it helped me narrow down where I would need to limit abilities and how to define the 'rules' that will affect the 'board.'

 Exciting Technology: For the last few days I have had the opportunity to play with Virtual Reality equipment. An Oculus Rift DK2 paired with a Leap Motion Controller. It is extremely difficult for me to provide objective commentary. I've wanted something like this for as long as I can remember. Now that it is within striking distance I am recognizing just how far we still need to go before this will become 'better' than what we have now. Let me elaborate... What we're missing is a centralized, intelligent, low latency concierge of our various devices. Some kind of device or interface that recognizes the interfaces I have access to and binds them together seamlessly. If I start a game, and pick up a controller, the concierge should enable controller mode. If I start a program while wearing the Rift, the concierge should ensure that the program is started with the options and parameters necessary to display it on the display. Instead, what I have now is a situation where I have to manually add, drop, reorder, reconfigure my various input and output devices to trick the computer into treating the Rift as just another screen that just happens to be displaying content that looks 3D when viewed through the lenses. It's part of the fun of new technology for me, and to be 100% clear, the DK in DK2 stands for Developer Kit. What I am saying is that the Oculus will suffer along with all the other custom interfaces that PC users have had access to through the years. Some of them work great right out of the box, while others require some tuning, scripting, driver juggling, etc etc before it will be recognized by the program that maybe it was never intended to support. A low latency concierge could subvert that by simply mapping the input generated by the device the user is touching to the codes the program is expecting. The concierge would also be content aware. If I'm looking at a screen and a notification or other program wants to pop up a message it should pop up at the periphery of the screen I'm looking at, not smack in the center. Now I'm just daydreaming. The Rift, once it is running and humming along is fantastic. The sense of presence in a scene is shocking, and after showing it off to a few people around the office and at home the response has been overwhelmingly positive, despite the limited calibration and customizing for individuals I was able to do. More on this once I've had a chance to digest and process. But if this is where the future is going... sign me up.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Sinking in

There are certain events in life that are difficult to appreciate properly in the moment. Our existence is spent on the brink of disaster and it is hard to step back far enough from trivialities to take stop and just exist. There's a part of my brain that knows that my wife is pregnant. There are pictures on our living room table of the tiny bean that has the potential to one day demand equal access to my toys.

Back in college there was an essay project... if you could do any job for one year, what would it be? My answer was 'parent.' From the outside it looks like such a mix of joy, gratification, and abject terror. I do think of it as a job, but I'm going to guess that after a while it just becomes who you are. That worried me. Not in the sense that it diminishes what I am now, but in the sense that the brain-chemicals that shape your responses to the world are superseded by this invasive presence. It sounds more hostile than I want it to, but I'm still processing this thing that's happening. In the mental to-do list I haven't created any spaces for an existential crisis.

The danger at this stage is getting too invested. Too caught up in the emotion. It took us over a year to get this far, and while the hope is that it is smooth sailing from here on out... Nature can be cruel and unrelenting.

In tangentially related news I have been informed that there is now an IKEA in Kansas City. It might be time to look at investing in some new furniture. I've had a few IKEA pieces courtesy of sending a wish-list with my parents when they made the trek to Chicago, and you can't argue with the price and function they provide.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Big Picture is hard to keep in focus

Many minor annoyances today. Took yesterday off from work for a few appointments and two of them ended up canceling at the last minute. Now there will need to be some shuffling and juggling and additional time off taken and much hassle all around. But the Big Picture, at arms length, is actually looking pretty good.

The PROJECT is being slowed down a bit. During the phase three drive wipes one of the core drives decided to reveal a large batch of bad blocks and has started losing the ability to speak with my computer. While that drive would have been the first to be retired at the end of the PROJECT, during the process it was supposed to provide some crucial maneuvering space. With that gone I need to be a lot more conservative about how much I move at once so that there is always a second copy of my data.

The easy solution would be to just buy another drive, but living on a budget has imposed many restrictions on my impulse purchases. The PROJECT does not rate dipping into one of the buffer funds.

At this point I am almost ready to give up any pretense of the deck drying out enough to be painted before winter.

Big Picture. Maybe if I squint...

Monday, September 8, 2014

Coping Mechanisms

We each have our own ways of dealing with things. Comforting routines, distractions, mental shelters that we can turn to when things get to be too much.
For the last few years one of my favorite games to relax to has been Minecraft. There's a certain zen to visualizing, discovering, and shaping the world. I've spoken about it here before, but it has been a great help in getting through these last few days. The beauty of Minecraft is also that it is 'light' enough that I can play it while having my computer perform other tasks in the background.

I've started what I will call the "PROJECT." The PROJECT is to finally overhaul the terabytes of storage attached to my machine. Various drives and backups and dusty data that has been copied, transferred, or transplanted from way back when. I have save-game states from games I haven't played in over a decade. I have a lot of junk. Outdated driver packs. Game-patches from back when that was still a manual process. ISOs for obsolete tools. A lot of stuff that's easier to just keep copying than to abandon it.
The PROJECT will force me to consolidate to a single location. The PROJECT will condense my multiple photo, funny picture, infographic, ebook, pdf, TXT notes, RTF notes, DOC notes, ODF notes, into one sustainable folder structure. The PROJECT will use several root folders to consolidate this data onto dedicated disks that can then be mirrored to paired external disks for backups.

That is what has been running in the background on my computer for the last few nights. Copying files around to empty various drives so that I can start those locations fresh and slowly feed in the data and build up the new hierarchy. Phase 1 was weeding out old backups and redundant copies to create space. Phase 2 was backing up key locations to external drives. Phase 3 is half-way complete and involves wiping the internal drives. The end of Phase 3 is pretty brutal but feeds into Phase 4. A complete, fresh, reinstall of the Operating System. That's a little scary. I've collected so many little tools and modifications to my system that I've usually just copied or restored back to my fresh installs that I'm worried that I'll overlook a key feature that won't find out about until I'm missing it... but that worry is evenly matched with the dozens and dozens of things that have been installed, uninstalled, reinstalled, and left various components of themselves resident in my system. Ghost folders and DLLs that are long obsolete but still getting loaded because the Registry is a convoluted mess.

So while my system is copying 850 gigabytes of stuff from location A to location B I dive into Minecraft (running on location C) and try to wrap my head around integrating IndustryCraft2 power production with the Forestry mod machines utilizing BuildCraft power. As an added bonus I've discovered that the IC2 version this pack is running is considered experimental and there are some things that haven't been really documented anywhere. For instance, I created a canning machine to 'normalize' the various stacks of food items I'm creating. Roasted chicken, beef, pork. Carrots, bread, berries, cake... each use precious inventory space when exploring. A canning machine sticks the nutrients into a can and lets you carry a stack of them without having to worry about what's inside. Fun, right? Right?! Anyway, I built the machine, hooked it up to power, and then it turned out that the cans I had created to put my food into weren't compatible. They were from a different mod. Unbeknownst to me, at the time, the recipe for the food cans had been changed. Instead of utilizing three tin ingots in an upside-down bucket formation, it now requires a single ingot to be flattened into a sheet, flattened again into a panel, and then fed through an extruder to create two cans. Or at least that's what my research last night seems to indicate. I'll be trying it tonight, while the next victim of Phase 3 formats and scans in the background.
The next challenge is exploring the various power generation cycles to begin self-sustaining loops. I have a stack of wind-turbines to keep entropy at bay, but some of these machines need more oompf to get rolling. 
There's an interesting Apple-Tree farm -> Squeezer -> Fermenter -> Still -> Biofuel that I'm exploring that will hopefully power all the machines to produce the fuel and hopefully some excess for my electric jetpack. Because flitting around the world with an electric jetpack is a lot of fun.
And all this is just to distract me from worrying about tomorrow. I hope tomorrow goes well. I really hope it goes well.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014


The weather hates me. We've finished the sanding despite the weather. But now we need enough sunlight to dry out the wood, and then enough sunlight to cure the two coats of paint required to finish the deck. For the last few weeks and the foreseeable future we get maybe enough for one but not the other. Right now the deck is dry, but there is rain and storms in the forecast for the next three days. Then there are two days with sunshine... and then more rain. Worst case we'll rip the darn deck out and set up a stepladder. So that's gnawing at the back of my mind.

Then there's the cryptic good news from last post. The news shall remain cryptic for now, but steps are being taken. Steps that should help confirm that the news is actually good news and not just good news because of its potential (and our hopes) that it is good.

When we first got the house we took one of those "What Breed is Right for You?" Quizzes online. We're both pretty sure that we want a dog in our lives. The quiz came up with a breed called the Wire-haired Pointing Griffon. Which was great up until we started seeing more and more Corgi pics and videos. They are freaking adorable dogs. Now it looks like one of the local kennels has a Corgi puppy and is testing our willpower.

Why did I label this post "Anxiety?" Because I'm feeling it. There's so much in flux right now. Global politics are a mess. Global economies are rebalancing and shifting. The environment seems on the cusp of... something. Stress is high. Desperation is high. It seems more and more likely that someone is going to push for an endgame rather than coasting along until the future happens. I'll grant that this seems to be a repeating theme these last few decades, but it feels so much more immediate in this world with near instant communication. And that's just the faint background noise for my own personal issues.

Possibly more on that as I get time. For the moment though? Minecraft just launched version 1.8, and I've been spending time with a modpack version called Direwolf20 which is running on a much older version. I'm enjoying the mods a lot, but it makes it a much different game. In hindsight I kind of regret picking such an ambitious package of changes. There are hundreds of new recipes for conflicting, duplicating, parallel devices. So far I've encountered three different 'power' models that are not directly compatible with each other. I won't embarrass myself by trying to list them here, but basically a lot of my confusion with the various added items was alleviated when I focused on two or three core packs. This makes me think that maybe I should just start a new server with just those packs installed so I don't have to fight the clutter of all the extra stuff that I'll probably never touch. The mods I'm actively trying to work with: BuildCraft, Ars Magica 2, Thaumcraft (not as much though since I've explored that one independent of this pack), Forestry, and IndustrialCraft2.
I also found a PortalGun in a dungeon chest it is my new favorite thing. It works just like the portal device in the game Portal. Which means it breaks the game a little but in a great way! Point the gun at a wall and right-click to create a red portal. Then point the gun at a wall anywhere else and left-click to create a yellow portal. Going through one instantly teleports you to the other. It took me a while to recognize the full potential of this. Going on exploration runs is hard. Limited inventory space means that you're constantly balancing picking up something new and dropping something you might need. With the portal gun you can pop one portal in your base, and then just pop the exit portal wherever you happen to be! No more spending the twilight rushing together a hasty shelter in the dirt to huddle in for the 9 minute night cycle. Portal. Sleep in your base. Empty your backpack, top off your food and torches and portal right back to where you left off! Like I said, it breaks the game a bit, but now I also don't have to commit several gaming sessions to finding the biomes that spawn the materials I need to progress. Something as simple as a chicken or carrot can take in-game weeks to locate if the random generator gods are not smiling.

I'm having fun, and using the 'down' time to keep building my own world and catch up on podcasts.

I've set myself a bit of a coding challenge and I want to see if I can follow through with it. But more on that later.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Stop me if you've heard this one

Owning a home is rough. The House that the bank bought for me in exchange for a few decades of my life has a deck. A deck that has been roughed up by a few hail-storms and was probably long-overdue for some TLC before we decided to move in. So, in blinding flash of optimism, we've taken it upon ourselves to refinish the deck. Stripping off the remains of the current covering, cleaning, sanding, and then repainting the wood. We are now at phase three... the sanding. That's what I'll be doing tonight. I hate it already. In my mind I am calculating numbers. What number of moneys would I pay to not have to do that tonight, tomorrow, and weather permitting, the next few days. But that's defeatist talk! Despite the difficulties with the weather things have gone relatively smoothly. The stripping of existing covering was a little messier and involved than expected. With determination and elbow grease we've gotten the wood to a state I would call "Good Enough." Whatever the detergents and oxidizers didn't dissolve shall surely succumb to the abrasive charms of my new orbital sander. For the detail work around the bannisters (of which there is more than I consciously realized when planning this work) I have a smaller sander that, I believe, will be able to fit into the narrower concave ares with a smaller sanding surface. If not... I have a sanding block and hands that can grip. Woe is me.

In other news... We've started watching Heroes again starting at season one. Hiro's enthusiasm is quite infectious.

In other other news. We had great news yesterday. If things keep going this well there may be more great news sometime down the line but at this point we're going one step at a time. Cryptic. You're welcome.

More soon!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Interrogation Logs: Resistance Subject 00342

Listen, the mind is a terrible thing. It can betray you. These words are hitting your consciousness and you're already discarding them as 'silly.' That's your mind protecting itself from the truth. My name is Michael and my mind betrayed me.
I don't know how I am speaking to you. My body hasn't been my own for so long, my senses bludgeoning my awareness with data I have no way to respond to... maybe I'm finally insane. Maybe you're my delusion. A spark of comfort imagined from this sea of torment. I was never this eloquent in my body. I had the words. I was educated, damn it. But my vocal cords would stumble and blunder while enunciating, so I keep things simple. When you're a cop in a big city big words come from the people that make your day hell. Nosey detectives. Supervisors. The Governor's office. Any number of alphabet-goons looking down their noses at the local 'talent' they are saddled with. So you keep it to yourself. Internalize. And slowly it atrophies. That itch between your eyes when someone says 'irregardless.' That sigh when you're reading barely legible memos from your superiors. You trade it all in for the occasional slap on the back and the invitation to the neighborhood barbeque. The alternative is lonely.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not some suffering genius. I'd say I'm comfortably above the median of the bellcurve. Hell, I'm dumb enough to spend 25 years on the same beat, when I know damn well the asses that needed kissing for me to move up the chain of... Don't go! Wait! It's been so long. I can feel you there. I know you want something from me. This part of me. Otherwise I wouldn't be here.
My memories? Memories are strange here. Out there they seemed like fleeting mists. Distractions. In here... I wish I had better memories. I wish I could bear to face her without... You want the beginning.

I remember being afraid. I am sitting at my desk at the station. My keyboard under my fingers, my eyes on the pages of my pocket notepad propped under the screen. My eyes are on the words, but I don't see them. I feel my pulse pounding in my ears. Sweat beading on my skin. The constant drone of the big room filled with people is a muted hum in my ears. I can hear the electronic whine of my monitor, I can see the film of dust forming around the pictures of my family under the screen. My legs are shaking. I can feel the panic forming behind my eyes. I know that it is panic. I know what my body wants to do. I know that I'm losing control. My hands shake as I lift them from the keyboard and slowly reach for the foam globe my shrink gave me during our last session. Destroy enough office equipment and they send you to a shrink. I close my eyes and my hand tightens around the foam. Knuckles cracking. Tendons stretching and contracting. Skin white from the pressure. I don't scream. I don't wail. I keep it inside. I don't scream. I don't scream. My chest hurts. Hurts bad. Like I've been running. I hunch forward, eyes closed, fist pulsing, and try to breathe. A phone rings. It won't stop. Stop! STOP!
The room is silent except for the whine from dozens of screens and the traffic outside.
I keep my eyes closed. I know what's coming next. The muttering. The anxious laughs. The concerned coworkers. The meeting with the supervisor. I take deep breaths while wondering if I managed to kick my chair away when I lunged forward. The room stays silent. I smell gunpowder. I SMELL GUNPOWDER! My hand is holding something. I know it's my pistol. I KNOW it's my pistol. Why am I holding my pistol? When did I... My eyes are still closed. I can't. Why? I'm shaking but my shoulder and arm don't. I can't feel them. What did I do? What have I done! I don't want to see this. I don't want to see the fear in their eyes. The doubt. The disgust... I can't. I picture the gun under my chin. The flash of heat. I open my eyes and see my arm holding my smoking pistol. It is gripped in fingers I can't feel. Can't twitch. The arm held forward rigidly while the rest of me shakes like a leaf. I see the others in the periphery. I see my fellow officers, secretaries, perps, persons of interest... and none of them are looking at me their eyes fixed on the floor in front of my desk. I can hear the screams now. Screams that don't matter because there's something laying in front of my desk, out of my sight. I'm panting. I can't catch my breath. I picture a child. I can see enough of the floor to know it couldn't hide a man or woman unless they were small. WHY WON'T ANYONE MOVE TO HELP!? Suddenly my arm drops and the pistol rattles off my keyboard and onto the floor. I can move again and I stumble sideways to see what I have done.

That was the first time we saw one. One of them.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Taking a break

Happy Tuesday!
Thanks to an extended network outage at one of the offices I serve I got to work late yesterday. This means that the deck sat idle for one more day. The project started last weekend and at this point 75% of the wood surface has been stripped and is ready for cleaning and sanding. I am hoping to finish the harsh chemical phase either tonight or tomorrow, weather permitting, and move to the sanding and possibly starting the painting this weekend. I can't tell you how much I didn't miss working with harsh chemicals again. The nostalgic sting of chemical burns on my arms brought back ghosts of crappy jobs left long behind. The tightness around the chest when you get a faceful of fumes. Good times...
I've finished book seven of the Dresden Files and now I face a dilemma. I purchased those seven books as e-books at a huge discount. "Huge discount" is also known as "a rational price for e-books" in my world. 
The odds of the remaining books being discounted any time soon is pretty slim, and for as much as I'm enjoying the books while I'm reading them, the odds of me revisiting the stories are also pretty slim. It might be time for me to venture out and see if I can suffer through visits to my local library without damaging my anti-social persona.
Until then I'm digging into some titles that have been sitting on my to-do pile for a while now. More on them if they tickle my fancy.
Reading through the Dresden books did give me some food for thought. I am back to sketching out my story ideas and was struck by the effect of a forced first person narrative. Since the universe I am imagining has many moving parts I am considering pulling together a few first person narratives in essay or short story form to help me flesh out the rules of the world. A day in the life of a mining-crew engineer. A day in the life of a trading-base vendor. How do people inhabit these scenarios. What is their motivation for maintaining the infrastructure I'm forcing them into... sounds fun and something that may provide content for my larger narratives.

I really need to find those writer-workshop podcasts I keep hearing about.
Time to prep for work!

Monday, July 21, 2014

The worst part is the waiting

This week is shaping up for a crazy mix of emotions for me.
On the one hand... fantastic news on the family front and we are a) relieved that nature hasn't thrown an insurmountable roadblock in front of us and b) anxiously waiting for the outcome of said nature's processing of our efforts. But even if it doesn't work out this time we are on the right track and there is a track to follow.
On the other hand... crunch time at work. It's that lovely time of year where everyone has the same deadline and I'm pulled a dozen directions simultaneously. So I can't spend too much time editing this post or I'll be pulled away again.
On the gripping hand... Another thread has been nailed to the ground. I now own a grill. And a grill cover. And a propane tank has been purchased. And this weekend we grilled on our deck. And it was delicious. And nothing feels weirder than that possessive feeling you get when you start planning out a major project like refinishing your deck. Long-term we want to alter it into half deck, half patio, but for now we just need to refinish the wood we have. I've ordered a sander and paper. We've scouted the stains and cleaners. The In-Laws have a powerwasher they've agreed to loan me once we're ready to proceed. It's kind of weird. I hope I like it. There are a lot of little projects I have churning in my head, but snapping out of a decade plus of apartment thinking is tricky.
The CD has finished. Taking a pause to keep the plates spinning.
I took a break from Drox Operative this weekend. I felt the need for something a little more hands-on and was actually debating finding my Sniper Elite installation again, but then I ran across Just Cause 2. Just Cause 2 is a fantastically fun game. You play as Scorpio, a physics defying acrobatic assassin demolitions expert one man army bullet sponge ragdoll science experiment, and are dropped on the island nation of Panau to destabilize the despotic leader before he can do... I honestly forget what he was going to do, but it is bad, I'm sure. The savegame I loaded was dated 2011, so it has been a few years since I played this for any real amount of time, but after a few stumbles and a lot of cursing I'm back in the groove. The cursing is because the game has some buttons mapped to unconventional keys. For instance... in 99.9% of driving games the hand-brake is mapped to the space-bar. So you're running from a literal herd of enforcers, or in a hard-contested race, or flying down a mountain pass way too fast and approaching a hairpin turn in front of a giant cliff.... the gamer instinct is to whip the steering into the turn and lock up the wheels with the handbrake to the power into the following straight. In this game, the space-bar activates your parachute. Think James-Bond Ejector seat. So now you are floating thirty feet above the ground while your vehicle barrels on and you slowly drift to the ground. It's fantastic if you meant to do it. Remember that cliff scenario? It makes for some fantastic escapes. But if you were actually trying to keep the vehicle, plane, helicopter, etc and accidentally hammer the space-bar it can elicit some acidic language. The helicopters and planes have a similar issue.... 99.9% of the flying games use the keys to the left and right of WASD for rudder control. In this game E exits the vehicle. Regardless of how high off the ground you are (physics defying, remember?). To alleviate the pain this causes the game does give you a hilariously fun button. If you press it Scorpio will jump out of the vehicle and balance on top. So now you're standing on top of a garbage truck being chased by police jeeps and motorcycles barreling towards a cliff... epic.
Panau is huge and the terrain is varied. From tropical beaches, to vast deserts, to jungle valleys, to swampy plains, snow-capped mountains... and lots of things to do. Find an airstrip and snag a little prop puddle jumper. Buzz some military bases and play chicken with their anti-aircraft defenses. Find a military airport and snag once of their fighter jets and do bombing runs on oilrigs out on the ocean. Grab an ATV and see how far you can make it through some of the jungle terrain. Find an elevated position and go base jumping with your instantly-replenishing parachute back-pack. And I haven't even mentioned your Spider-man grappling hook! Snag an armored APC, attach a Tuk-Tuk to the back with your unbreakable cable and go driving through a military checkpoint at high speed. It's fun.
As with most games I turn off the in-game music after a while and supply my own soundtrack. The Starbound music worked very well with the gorgeous scenery and an interesting counterpoint to the sometimes Michael Bayesque explosions and action sequences. Scorpio, powered up, can stand his ground against an armored attack chopper for much longer than you would think. (and then snag it with his grapple. Swing to the nose of the chopper. Take out the passenger gunner with his smg. Swing over to the pilot and fight him for control. Throwing the pilot out of the chopper and then fly it to the party blimp circling the islands.)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Moving Parts

A little plastic tab broke. Less than a penny worth of plastic gave up structural integrity, and now this expensive device is no longer able to operate properly. The plastic tab is hinged and sandwiched between complicated...
 BREAK! Once again things got busy and I got distracted and the blog post withered and died on the vine.
The plastic tab has been a) replaced by a whole new device for official use and b) scavenged from another differently broken device to create one cobbled together working device for use in my ragtag collection of stuff I've managed to fix. Once the official use criteria has been met voiding the warranty by breaking the device into its component pieces isn't a concern anymore.

My writing project has been sidelined for the last few weeks. The mind is seeking distractions and luckily work and gaming and literature are more than happy to oblige.
Reading: I picked up the first several books in the Dresden files a while ago and finally dove in. The style feels a little ham-fisted at times but I'm having a good time. I'm on the third or fourth book and am looking forward to continuing reading during my lunch break.
Gaming: I've sunk quite a few hours into Drox Operative while listening to my vast and growing backlog of Podcasts. I recently added Welcome to Night Vale to my queue and am enjoying the strangeness of it all.
Drox Operative is a fantastic little rogue/diablo/civ mashup of a game. You play a persistent character that gains experience and equipment running through a series of sectors (dungeons) that are randomly generated. Each sector has the same available win/lose conditions, and once you win/lose you generate a new sector.
The sectors are populated with several race factions that you can align with or fight or do missions for or trade with etc etc, and to 'win' you must either build up your status with the last remaining faction to the point where you can be allied with them (military win), work to be allied with all remaining factions and have them be allied with each other (diplomatic win), generate enough tribute and mission rewards to reach a specific amount of currency (economic win), rampage through the system like the wrath of an angry god (fear win), be a general do-gooder and take on epic quests (legend win).
Each faction has different traits and the systems seem to employ an aggressive 'monster' system where enemy ships will spawn and if left unchecked will generate boss-level creatures or spawn maladies to harass the factions, sometimes wiping them out.
There are enough wheels turning so that even a bad game will have lots of ways for you to pull yourself out of the fire if you pay attention.
At the higher levels the sectors can have additional modifiers, making monsters more aggressive, or more plentiful, fiery asteroids zipping through the systems, anomalies and gravity wells all over the place... it's fun!

Last weekend we had a friend over for gaming and movies and the next day we went to the Durham Museum Train Days. But I'd better get moving again. More soon, I hope!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Happy Functional Friday

Staring at the blinking cursor.
I have a lot that I could say, but the last post was long enough ago that I'm struggling to find a coherent diving-in point. I'm also self-consciously culling items that are on my mind but either deserve a more focused treatment or have no place on a public blog. Now I'm self-conscious about having started both sentences with "I." No turning back now, there's a paragraph in the little box. Onwards, typing fingers. Onwards!
Long pause. Too long.
Months ago I started creating a space-commerce-research-mining infrastructure in my head that I was hoping to populate with entities and stories that have been floating in my head for years. I have folders filled with drafts, planning documents, sketches. Nothing ever really materializes because I never took the time to compile or go past the surface before the brain starts getting bogged down in minutia. For instance... One of the things I want to put together is an inter-solar-system trading system based on standardized cargo containers. An interlocking system that can be customized and reconnected to suit multiple transportation methods individually or in groups. I landed on rounded, triangular wedges with tracks along the edges to slot them into various frameworks. My reasoning was that a modular approach could accommodate a simple progressions system. At first you're dealing with single wedges. A plucky startup sourcing materials or providing transport for single containers. As you expand and thrive and gain the resources you could upgrade your facilities to handle multiple containers, or even super-containers made up of many of the smaller containers. Basically working your way up the food-chain until you're operating a multi-solar orbital base routing cargo from dozens of plucky startups operating on the planets below you.
That's the stuff my brain gets hooked up on. Not characters. Not backstories. Not social dynamics... that stuff feels 'unimportant' compared to having the 'sandbox' be clearly defined. I want to build the framework, flesh it out, put it on a timeline, let it grow a bit, develop some conflicts and 'history' in broad strokes.... and then dive in at various points to let characters live in that world.
Coming of age stories. Redemption stories. Classic heroics and cowardice. Greed, anger, hate, love, indifference. But first I have to get the details right.
And then I happened to click into an e-mail telling me about a Kindle-book sale (Sorry Mom!). Now I'm reading a book that parallels a lot of the ideas I had for my universe and am getting more and more self-conscious about the various influences that I have absorbed and the very real possibility that my stories about humans (primary focus for other people) won't carry the effort I'm putting into the framework they'll exist in (my primary focus). Irrational worry is irrational.
So apparently that's the stuff on my mind at the moment.
One of the puzzles I'm trying to find a graceful solution for is the trope of secret knowledge. In a universe where you aren't the strongest, the smartest, the quickest, or the most popular... you need to have some sort of leverage to twist the world in your favor. A revelation, a skill, an earned piece of insight into the higher level workings of the world... something that makes that person the protagonist instead of the dozens of other people they interact with.
My thinking is that my first attempt will utilize luck. Right place, right time. It's easy, it explains why this is unique, and it gives me some leeway for developing that ancillary components of my universe: the necessity of embedded representatives of a central authority in any long-range excursion.
Uh oh. I'm starting to type out high-level thoughts for my universe... can't do that! Not here. Like I said this stuff has been swirling around for quite some time and I finally feel like maybe I can begin locking it into reality. Trapping the mists of invention with words and images and pinning them to a board. At least until I get bored. :)
Have a wonderful and safe 4th of July!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Utterly Useless

The reality of it hasn't hit home yet.
In a few short hours I will be on vacation. In a few short days I will be on a plane. In a few hours after that I will be on the balcony of my hotel room, puzzling over how to work the jacuzzi, and wondering how hard it will be to get refills for my drink from said jacuzzi. After a few days of that I will be celebrating one year married to a person I love. Which also hasn't quite hit home yet. Time flies when you're having fun and fruit flies like bananas.
The point is that with the realization comes a kind of mental fog. A dilation of perception. I'm pretty sure I've lived in this minute for the last hour. The minute before that was an eternity. I've been at work for days and only an hour has passed. It doesn't help that the work I'm doing this morning involves a lot of passive waiting for processes to complete before continuing to the next steps and continuing to wait.
So maybe a quick status update. Things I've been playing. I've been spending a lot of time in games that allow me to multi-task easily. For my birthday I received an audiobook from my mother (Redshirts, fantastic!), and so I finally decided to put my usual podcast rotation on hold and give focused narrative a try. I'm sold. I wasn't sure if I would be, the thing I like about podcasts is that with most of them I can drift in and out without feeling like I missed anything. I've let interviews run while I leisurely head upstairs to refill my coffee. I've pulled up forums to read and let the sounds drone in my ears like background noise... but Redshirts pulled me in. So I played Minecraft and listened. And then it was over. Where would I get my fix now? Well it turns out that a few months ago I donated to a charity through HumbleBundle and received a few audiobooks as a reward. I was only familiar with one of the works so I chose at random from the file names. I have now listened to a book called Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean. That is a thing I have done. To be honest, towards the end I had to switch games. It was too easy to pay attention while playing Minecraft and I was getting annoyed with the main characters. Sure, they were supposed to be 14 year olds in a future where oceans overtake much of the world... actually, that's really all you need to know about why this story didn't resonate with me. It bludgeoned you with their mythos. It made the characters go through chapter after chapter slowly decoding the literal meaning of the song they were taught early on which they actually used as the reasoning for escaping their mundane lot in life after being orphaned. My point is, I could have stopped listening. I could have gone to a different book. But I decided to let it spin on and simply switch to a game where I am required to pay a little more attention. Terraria. 
Terraria is a bit of a different beast, with rules and goals and a progression system that I still haven't wrapped my head around. It let me get through Vampirates with my sanity intact. I will be honest, I have no memory of how that story ended, but probably something like: And that's when the real adventure started!
I then picked another of the filenames at random. This time it was a book called Stolen. I didn't know anything about it, so I was a little shocked when a few minutes in the story-teller is drugged, abducted, and imprisoned. Enough years have passed for me to know what I can tolerate. I have a hard time with realistic depictions of suffering. Violence, pain, brutality... I won't say I'm fine with it, but I will say that the context it is placed in is important for me. Maybe the recent violence in the news has tainted the context of that story, or maybe I'm just not at a place in my life where I can enjoy the narrative... but I've left the story paused and went back to listening to a few podcasts. The scene it was setting was disturbing enough that I looked for a short synopsis, preferring a potential spoiler to the emotional torture I may have been setting myself up for. In many ways a good book with an overactive imagination is still more powerful than any virtual reality we will ever come up with. The human mind is terribly efficient at filling in significant blanks, something I am hoping to take advantage of in my own attempt at creative writings. But this isn't the time nor the place.
Hours have passed since I started this, believe it or not I actually do work! The computers around me are churning away and my video conferencing session is idle waiting for the next session to start.

Did I leave any loose threads? Absolutely. The alternative is not posting. If I restrict myself to only writing when I have a clear message then I will run into the same issue that I have with personal correspondences: absolute silence. I can't believe that anyone other then myself could be interested in the minutia of my life, even when abstracted into grand strokes. I lead a boring, comfortable life in relative idleness. A luxury considering the world we live in. And while I am slowly twisting and turning to start shaping some of the world into the thoughts and fancies I have swirling inside my skull it will be quite a while before any of that will seem worthy of presenting. Until next time... thanks for taking the time!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Sharing a Secret

Yesterday I attended the dance recital of one of my nieces. Growing up in small towns I wasn't quite prepared for the spectacle that is a large 'dance-studio' recital. It was a two-and-a-half hour show, give or take, and there was a seemingly endless stream of kids. Lots of entertaining performances, but my main takeaway was the fun realization that the 'car-alarm' electronic music I've been listening to whenever I could get my hands on it is steadily creeping into the mainstream. My lizard-brain tickle-treats are taking over the studio dance scene!
As a youngster I was utterly baffled about how people found new music. I would tape hours of radio and spend more hours editing out the filler and fluff and find the songs that tickled my brain. Growing up where I did there wasn't much out there for me, but every now and then a gem would pop out of stuff like the Doctor Demento show, or some alternative DJ throwing me a bone. I didn't have a name for what I liked. Didn't know what to call it, couldn't really describe it, and sometimes the artist made me listen to utter crap for one single 15 second snippet that woke something that lives deep in the brain-stem. And then I hit college. I felt like a caveman walking into a Best Buy. Utterly intimidated and shamefully ignorant of what was out there. One of my prized possessions was the Mortal Kombat Movie Soundtrack. I wouldn't actually see the movie until years later, but what I learned early on was that the stores I had access to only stock what was on the radio. Stuff I had already discarded as mostly crap. So I would cruise the Soundtracks. We didn't go to the movies often, but there is a certain type of movie. A category of films that operate around a visual aesthetic that carries with it the necessity of a certain tone. Action movies are hit-and-miss, but the right kind of action movie requires throbbing bass, thrashing guitars, electronic squeals, big dramatic builds and climaxes. I consciously deleted the adjective audiorgasmic in the last sentence. This isn't that sort of blog. I would consider the album cover. I would study the track list. Basically I would try to judge the book by its cover. Lots of misses, but between the Hackers Soundtracks and MK 1 and 2 I have no regrets about my methods.
It took longer than I care to admit to realize that most of the music on Soundtracks hadn't been created specifically for that movie. That the tracks were just snippets from albums that an artist had released independent of the movie. I blame being raised on Disney movies. Shortly afterwards I realized that many artists really only have that one song from the album that tickles the right parts of my brain.
I was still a teenager when someone handed me a DJ mix-tape. The shameful secret is that I did not know it was a mix-tape nor had any concept of what a DJ does. It was a combination of big beats, electro pop, dance, and rap. I listened through it and I was amazed at how seamlessly the music transitioned. When, in an awkward attempt to engage in social dialog with humans, I tried describing my amazement at a flourish in a particular track and wondered aloud how this DJ had accomplished it. I was met with a blank stare. It took me longer than I care to admit to learn that the DJ doesn't actually perform the tracks but merely finds, mixes and fades several tracks together. I say merely only in comparison to actually creating a piece of music.
But in summation:
As a fond tourist in the electronic music world I was amused to see a stage full of kids dancing to the same rhythms I was blasting from my Plymouth Fury's tape-deck half a lifetime ago.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Just give in, it might be fun

Vacation planning took a bit of a turn today. We'd been exploring options in Savannah and figuring out how to get there, and sleep in relative comfort while hitting a few key locations to make the trip worthwhile and stay under budget. It turns out that Savannah is a very expensive city to visit unless you stay at the outskirts and commute in. So as a sanity check we considered options in Chicago. There are a few exhibits and an aquarium that are on our list and we ran into the exact same issue: You could be within walking distance of the things you're planning to visit and blow all your budget on the place you'll be sleeping, or you can commute in and blow all your budget and time dealing with parking and gas and traffic.
After a couple of hours I did a spur of the moment tropical sanity check.
For half of the Savannah trip, and two thirds of the Chicago trip, we could book a five night stay in an Ocean View room with Jacuzzi at an all-inclusive, private-beach resort in Cancun.

Museums and history... or cheap alcohol (included) and beach-side grills (included).

Decisions. Decisions.

Monday, April 28, 2014


In a little over a month wife and I will have been married one year. To celebrate, and burn some vacation days, we are planning a trip to Georgia. Initially we looked into some Bed and Breakfast options, but the longer we let that idea stew the more we're shying away from it. Social anxiety is a pain and there is something to be said about the convenience of dealing with an establish Hotel with set protocols instead of worrying about learning how to deal with a situation where you are essentially a paying guest in someone's home. "Don't worry about it! That's what you pay them for." Uhm... too late? We're worrying about it and are rapidly coming to the conclusion that we'll most likely find a hotel with a pool and maybe a spa that, if needed, we can just spend a day or two decompressing in our own way without failing to meet someone's expectations of a 'guest.' As you can probably tell... we aren't adventurous types.
My sister gifted us a little lilac bush for our wedding and we planted it outside of our kitchen window. With the warmer weather it has started leafing out and it looks like it is growing a new stem and seems pretty happy. Apparently the critters in our neighborhood have taken notice and something or other nipped the tips of the branches. I had a few stakes and some fishnet plastic webbing, so we created a fence around the bush. We didn't pin it into the ground, thinking that it was probably the deer that roam through the woods around us, and hoping that it would provide enough disincentive for the deer to seek easier grazing. Then it started raining. I happened to glance out of the window while refilling my coffee and noticed an odd little lump right up against the mesh. It was a grey little ball of something. It didn't move and it was hard to tell on which side of the mesh it was. I put a towel down on the floor (the deck was soaking wet) and took a look outside. Slipped between two layers of mesh and not moving a muscle was a little baby rabbit. Not a quiver, not a shake, not a twitch. Not until I tried lifting the mesh off of it did it jump. It was inside the fence and jumped at the far wall. Apparently the bottom border was loose enough that it just pushed right through. Then, just to emphasize how poorly I had fastened the webbing, it jumped right back into the enclosure. After a few dodges back and forth it disappeared under our neighbor's deck and I repositioned the webbing to hug a bit closer to the ground. Time to look for some tent-pegs to pin the webbing down a bit more solid.
If the weather holds I want to take my bike out tonight. I was riding pretty regularly a few years ago but then between some surgery and new medication and a bout of nosebleeds and general lazy I stopped. Must remember to pick up some chain lubrication and maybe look up if there are any bolts that need to be tightened before I venture out too far. I don't trust the traffic and my bike skills on the long (gradual, but long) uphill section I would have to pedal on the way back, so I have a new bike-carrier that I can strap to the hatch of my SUV. Council Bluffs is slowly but surely becoming more bike-friendly, but there are still some key gaps. My plan is to head down to Manawa lake and see if the old ticker can do a circuit without blowing up in my chest. Woohoo!
Occasionally Tina and I play Minecraft together and this weekend I managed to set up a Thaumcraft 4.1 server for us to play on. We've played Minecraft long enough that the early game has become pretty rote for us. Get tools. Get materials. Plant food. Find ores. Get better tools. Mine gems. Explore for more exotic materials. Establish base-stations etc etc. It is fun enough that we start new worlds pretty frequently (generally after each major update) because while Minecraft can get pretty deep at the higher levels, a lot of the content is locked behind resource scarcity and exploration. Thaumcraft gives you more hooks to go exploring and discover those resources. It also throws more things into the world that make it feel more rewarding to explore. There are tombs scattered around. Magic forests. Giant trees that may have treasures buried at the base. Patches of virulent taint that twist and infect the world, making normally passive creatures attack you, sprouting deadly plants, and constantly growing and spreading unless you research the tools to contain the evil. It's fun.
We are still using YNAB (You Need A Budget). It's a testament to the usability of that application. We've tried other financial software in the past and usually gave up after a few months. We're still wrapping our heads around how it displays debt and what should be considered on-budget and off-budget debt. Since YNAB knows that we have a mortgage it shows our cumulative worth as negative a hundred and some thousand dollars. That's a little sobering. On the plus side it does seem like we're slowly gaining ground. A little too slowly. One of our easiest places to cut is on our restaurant bills. Tina and I have gotten used to buying our lunches while at work. It turns out that we spend almost as much on that as our grocery bills. So we are going to chip away at that by starting to pack some lunches. Today I'm having a smoked beef and cream-cheese pita with lettuce and some carrot sticks. Have you ever had the sliced smoked beef at Fareway? It's fantastic. I usually ask them to slice it super thin because if it is too thick of a slab the flavor doesn't jump out. But with thin slices it almost melts in your mouth. Really good! I also packed up a small tupper of snacks. Some peanuts. Some almonds. And some cheesy pretzels.
Okay, well if this is devolving into describing my snacks then maybe I'm done for now.
Google tells me that at least a few people are at least looking at these... Hi! How are you?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Rainy Season

Maybe it's the weather. Maybe it's the season. Maybe it's just me. I've been in a bit of a funk and so I've dug deep into some comfort gaming rather than do the things I probably should be doing. The previous owner of our house chose to use these narrow rounded red brick 'fences' around the perimeter of the house and rounding the trees in the back and the longer they exist the more I don't like them. On one side they are actively channeling runoff and carving a small ravine down the hill. But I don't want to pull them up until I have an alternative. Which means choosing an alternative and buying it. Then storing it until it can be installed. Figuring out what needs to be installed to install it properly. Or just rough it in and deal with any potential consequences until we figure out what we need to do to 'nail' it down properly.
We're planning a vacation, but we've hit a bit of a snag where we're trying to figure out how ambitiously we can plan. Travel costs are still pretty outrageous and with both of us working flying is really the only option if we don't want to burn half of our days on just getting to the relaxation.
Then there has been the nagging knowledge that I need to call the dentist and reschedule the appointment I missed months ago. Part of me wants to say 'hold on' and just make the call now. That sounds like a better and better idea the more I think about it. "Hold on."
Earlier this month I was on a bit of a streak and forced myself to play and complete a few games. Max Payne 3, Psychonauts, and the main story of Costume Quest. Max Payne 3 was a little painful for me. Max is a flawed 'hero' that places himself or is drawn to situations where dishing out brute violence in life or death situations is the order of the day. The early game takes place in an alcoholic haze as Max medicates himself to suppress a painful past that was partially his fault and partially forced upon him... and then in a self-deluded mist as Max quits drinking and starts tugging at the situations he never questioned before... and then in a self-destructive rampage as he chooses to throw himself into the meat-grinder to dish out his version of justice in a system that would otherwise ignore those too powerful to prosecute. It's grim. It's dark. It's self-aware. Max narrates the story in a sort of hind-sight telling of his journey through the twisty maze that is his past. Until ultimately the story arrives back at the place you first met Max. The details don't really matter. The actors are caricatures of excess and manipulation. I 'enjoyed' it despite of myself. The 'game' is fun mechanically. An arcade third person shooter with trappings of score-chase (and I believe the multiplayer modes accentuate that, but I didn't play those). Max is a bullet sponge. A raging ball of fury that soaks up damage and refuses to die. As real and as gritty as the story wants to be, it all fades away when Max takes multiple AK47 bursts to the chest, leaps across the room and in slow motion caps a half-dozen assailants, ducking behind a counter, popping a pill, and then doing it again. And again. And again. Militant kidnappers. Gangs. Drug dealers. Human traffickers. Mercenaries. Crooked cops. More gangs. More mercenaries. Mercenaries in cars. Gangmembers on boats. The bodycount is obscene and in many places the gritty story being told felt at odds with the sections where I was given control of the player. Moments of high tension and drama were negated by the designers hiding collectible gun bits in odd places that you would never find without scouring every nook and cranny instead of chasing after the bad guys that will wait for you to cross the next magic threshold. The thresholds annoyed me early on because I wasn't prepared for them. I didn't realize that doors were locking behind me. The game funnels you along a preset path and there's no turning back. So you either check all the hallways and ledges before you open any doors or approach the flashing button... or you lock yourself away from something you missed and will have to play that level again in its entirety if you want to collect all the nuggets.
I learned to exploit that system and never ever worried about rushing through a level again. This broke many encounters (and is probably why the multiplayer modes have a 'fastest time' score). A bunch of enemies rushing towards cover is exciting if you're also rushing towards cover. But if you're approaching from a wide angle and have an accurate weapon (and years of hand-eye-mouse training) you can generally drop all of them with critical hits before they ever hunker down. Add to that Max's time-freeze ability that builds up as you play through and entire rooms devolve into headshot, headshot, knock the helmet off then headshot. Fun for me, but not how the gamedesigners probably intended that encounter to proceed. Any 'win' for Max Payne is one of hard attrition. He gets the 'bad' guy because the bad guy has no more goons to throw in front of Max. Wave after wave after wave have crashed against him and the relentless pain sponge just keeps rolling towards its goal. I can't recommend this game for the story except if you happen to enjoy these kinds of dark, darker, darkest descents into the pits of humanity to seek a form of vengeance or justice. The game-play was enjoyable enough, but the scripting and pathing was easily exploitable... but it seems to be almost by design. The game encourages you to find the most efficient route through the levels. To discover the sequence of ballet steps and hits that will let you speed through an encounter... but that trial and error stuff is not my bag and there are other games that place more focus on that and don't force you to sit through multiple minutes-long cutscenes to get to the action. If you know what to expect going in and go in anyway... it's fun. I can recommend it. If you're easily affected by realistic portrayals of the horrible things human beings are capable of doing to each other... stay far far away from this one. I paid less than three dollars for this game. I got my money's worth.

Psychonauts is a gem. It's an old game that I first played back on the Playstation 2, but, because it is also a flawed game, was never able to finish. There is a platforming element that was always a little sketchy, and in one of the final levels there was a sequence of jumps that were performed under duress and with a rotating point of reference. A large number of gamers were all stopped at more or less the same place. Google Meat Circus and you will find the majority of comments lamenting how terrible this level is. I've finally finished it. It took over a dozen attempts at the same jumping puzzle, but I finally sussed out the 'trick.' In case anyone here is wondering. I played on the PC with the Xbox controller. The trick is 1) Turn off all sound. The constant taunting and the ghostly moans are infuriating. Play it with sound once or twice, but after that just turn everything down. It's more of the same. Again and again. 2) Ignore what you think you see. If you were stuck in the section where you are climbing the burning circular mesh while your figment-father is floating in the middle throwing bombs at you... stop paying attention to the camera. The mesh is NOT curved. Repeat after me. The mesh is NOT curved. The camera will swing around as you move around the circular mesh and you will feel the need to compensate. Do not. The mesh is NOT curved. Press left to jump the gap, and then when you have cleared the gap press up to grab the mesh again. Do NOT compensate for the curve. Ignore what your eyes are telling you. The mesh is NOT curved. Good luck!

More later...

Friday, April 4, 2014

Counting Down

As per usual I've had a few false starts to this post. I'm struggling to focus. Too many distractions and the subtle suggestions from an achy head and body that I might be coming down with something. Also whoever made the coffee at the office didn't add enough coffee. A grumpy start to a busy morning.
My wife has been very good to me in the last few days. She brought home three boxes of cookies, so I'm not allowed to divorce her for a while. And I haven't received any grief over my self indulgent technology purchases. I've been chipping away at my computer, gearing up for a bit of an update to tide me over for another year or so. For the last... really long time I've been using Dell Ultrasharp monitors. I spent a ridiculous amount of money to get a 24 inch screen when they became available. And then an only slightly less ridiculous amount of money to get a newer 24 inch screen a few years later. (I decided to dig into my old e-mails and found the order confirmation for that second purchase. January of 2009. Only five years. And to be fair that monitor is still going strong. It predates the LED craze so it kicks out quite a bit of heat, but it hasn't given me any trouble. Dell Ultrasharps are expensive because they used LCD panels that are manufactured to provide better color reproduction than the panels made for most consumer devices. Crisp, clean, photo-realistic colors on a high definition display. Well worth all the money I spent. But now technology is going in different directions. On the one side we have super-high resolution displays. On the other side we have super-high refresh rate displays.
There was some controversy over picture quality when the first 3D TVs were released. Most 3D TVs rely on high refresh rates to create the illusion of depth, so when those higher refresh rates were used to display normal content the result was disconcerting to some people. The picture seemed too crisp. Too clear. People looked plastic and moved too smoothly. Many TVs now have an option to limit their refresh rates when displaying regular content. Well that's the kind of clarity I want when I'm playing video games. I now have a relatively 'cheap' Asus monitor that is capable of displaying images at 144hz. So far I'm pretty impressed. It definitely has a much narrower 'sweet spot' than my Dell IPS panels, and I'm still fiddling with the color temperatures, contrast, and backlight settings to mitigate some of the loss in color clarity... but wow. When playing a game that can take advantage of the higher frame-rate the other issues just fade into the background.
I tried a few games that I have spent quite a bit of time with... I saw things I've never seen before. In Borderlands, when fighting up close and personal I could make out individual details that were usually just a blur of motion. It's interesting to think about how much I was compensating for the input lag inherent in IPS displays. Slowing down my actions and delaying trigger pulls to make sure what I saw was actually where I was aiming/jumping, steering. It's the same issue gamers encounter when playing timed games like Rockband or high speed driving games. Most TVs use scaling circuitry to enhance and translate inputs so that they look better on the screen. That processing causes a delay. If you're lucky it's imperceptible. If you're unlucky it means that by the time you see the prompt to press the button on the screen you've already missed your cue and failed. An easy test is to connect speakers directly to the console instead of going through the TV audio. If the audio and video isn't synched up then your video signal is being delayed by the screen.
But I'm rambling. If multi-display setups were a little more friendly I would hook up two displays to my system. One for photos and static screens and one for rapid action.
More soon!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Fiscal Insanity

A year ago today I proposed to Tina.
"You proposed on April Fool's Day? That's stupid!" *shrug* She said 'Yes' so it kinda worked out. A marriage proposal from me required my brain to add a hook. With an April Fool's Day proposal I had several: 1) The tag line: "She would be a fool not to!" 2) The secure knowledge that 30 years from now I'll still remember the date I formalized my intention to link my future with hers in a contractual way. 3) Friends and Family would either realize immediately that I/We aren't the sort to kid about this sort of thing even on an auspicious day like April Fool's, or they wouldn't and that would be good to know about them. 4) There are more, but most of them involve improving April Fool's day in my head. I'm not very fond of it in general. But yesterday I searched online for cookie bouquets so that I could send one to her work with the note: "I want a divorce...
... or a cookie. Your choice." This amuses me. But not enough to actually follow through. They only let you write up to 25 characters on a cookie. I did share the thought with Tina and she laughed. Yup. A keeper.
On the 5th of this month will be our one year anniversary as Home Owners. It also signifies the beginning of a huge financial sinkhole that makes me appreciate better the stress and worry that this kind of commitment can introduce into a relationship. It is deceptively easy to overextend yourself when the numbers get big enough. Shopping for a mortgage shows you only a fraction of the costs you will ultimately pay. When we started the process we had a pretty firm handle on the costs. We made pessimistic guesstimates for utilities, services, repairs, added in some emergency expenses for good measure and then went shopping. It turns out we were STILL lowballing the costs as responsible adult homeowners. Insurance, taxes, maintenance, upkeep, furniture... Luckily both of us are pretty low maintenance (I said it before, I'll keep saying it. A keeper.) Our guesstimate for the monthly mortgage payment jumped by over 30%. A small part of that is mortgage insurance because we decided that we'd rather lose a few hours of work every month to that than drain our safety net further than necessary with a full down-payment. So far that financial buffer has eased the transition from tenant to 'property manager' and we haven't really felt any sting... yet. But we are trying this whole 'responsible adult' facade. Life insurance. Lawn care and fertilization. Blinds and shades in the windows instead of bed sheets. That stuff's expensive, yo! And they are all disguised in bite-sized little payments just nibbling away at our take-home pay.
So I bought a license for a program called You Need A Budget (YNAB). We are entering month three using this software and it has been an eye-opening experience. Our various debts and pools of resources all visualized and in neat columns and rows. I love data. I had been operating from gut feelings and impressions and a forced cautious pessimism and it is reassuring to see the chaos of two relatively irresponsible adult children resolve into a relatively stable image that is surprisingly sustainable. We've had a pretty indulgent start to our year. But all of our spending has been successfully off-set with self imposed austerity and unexpected incomes. We're even on-track for our super-ambitious plan for paying down our mortgage a bit every six months. Yay!
Why do I feel compelled to share all this? Probably because I feel guilty. I bought some stuff for my computer yesterday. And some new clothes a few days ago. And Tina bought me some computer stuff. And we're about to contact a guy that will do some weed-treatments and pest control and grub control and fertilize our lawn for the year if we give him money. A little less money than we just spent on my computer stuff and clothes. Guilt. Maybe I really should have sent a bouquet of something to Tina... but that would cost money again. It's a vicious circle!
I finally decided to play Starbound and promptly lost a few dozen hours to it. I hit a point where the systemic progression stopped and any further upgrades depended on exploration... that's a good cooling down point for me. I look forward to diving back in after the next update. While exploration can be fun I usually prefer to 'own' a territory. Building up defenses, harvesting resources, generating self sustaining industries to feed whatever engines I'm given access to. Sadly this part of Starbound is still lacking and short of skyrails and some basic circuits it seems more like this phase is all about sampling lots of different environments rather than building up infrastructure. So I booted up Terraria again since that gives me a little more of that systemic progression towards industry, but in that one you can't ever really be in full control. The environment will hunt you down one way or the other and it depends on boss battles to drive progression. My only real other alternative is Minecraft and unless I dive back into mods like Thaumcraft I will most likely need to play some of my more story driven games soon. Or I could play Carmageddon. Since I Kickstartered the reboot I have Pre-Alpha access to builds of the game and even as rough as it currently stands it is just as fun as the original games were. Irreverent. Silly. Over the top. A racing game for the chemically imbalanced.
More soon!

Thursday, March 20, 2014


There are many ups and downs associated with my thought process. On the one hand I can usually distill a problem down to the core issue. Years of troubleshooting technology has given me lots of practice. On the other hand if the problem is intermittent, random, or seemingly unrelated to the visible variables then my mind tends to spend too much time weighing probabilities. There are some components so integral to the process that to properly diagnose them they need to be removed from the equation. If you cannot prove a problem you indulge the possibility of one and act accordingly.
This meandering point was made mostly because I felt I needed to create a consistent pattern of posts here, despite having no idea of what I should write here. It feels like a trust exercise. I've shared some things that are so deep in my convoluted awareness that I'm somewhat concerned that it may have consequences someday down the line. Like my introspective musings regarding my mental state may become evidence or form the basis of some benefit rejection many years down the road. "If you were aware of your disassociation with 'normality' why did you neglect to seek treatment?" Well, your honor, since for the many years before the incident that brought me before you I was essentially performing the Internet equivalent of muttering to myself on a bus, I felt that if no one was listening I may as well allow my insecurities a voice. And knowing that I feel most fragile under the scrutiny of others, a page open to the public, no matter how obscure, would be an interesting mental exercise. Can I force myself to inscribe an 'honest' representation of my internal dialog in a space that almost anyone could review. How many filters would I create? How much editing do I feel compelled to do? Can I look at the words a year from now and recognize the mind that selected them? "'Normal' people use a diary for the self-indulgent monologs in their life." Ah. Well. Shut up. And then I go to jail for contempt or something like that.
I guess what I'm saying is that good troubleshooting techniques don't really translate to human mind problems. Internal or external. There are very few instances where you get consistent false positives when testing technology. An unplugged monitor won't turn on sometimes. But we humans are all operating at arm's length. Different visual cues. Different 'tells.' Wildly variable emotional responses that color our reaction to input. Without extremely close interaction, or rigidly enforced social protocols, people problems are hard to troubleshoot. And yet we try. We seek answers in mental states. Body language. Read meaning into glances and expressions. Significant pauses. Double-language. There are countless 'experts' that will definitively proclaim the state of mind of world leaders from press-conference photos. That amuses me. A recent episode of The Daily Show mentioned body-language experts analyzing Putin and I have to wonder what those experts 'know' about the people in their lives. Or what they must assume about the strangers around them. Amusing.
In a few hours I will be standing in front of a group of people and trying to teach them about using Cloud based tools to their benefit. I suppose it goes without saying that I will be useless to them if I fixate on my body-language instead of the content. I pay very little attention to my posture, which probably explains why I am not more concerned with my general health. A lazy slouch does not impair my ability to do my work, but it probably speaks volumes about other aspects in my life. But it's hard. I indulge. Let's watch Netflix for the next two hours. Let's make Sloppy Joes for dinner. Breakfast? Coffee and PB+J. But we're idling up to our faults. Being sneaky. Sugar Free Jelly. Pitas and Wraps instead of bread. 93% lean meat and sugar-snap peas and carrots as the side. Reduced fat. Low sodium. Sugar free. Whole grain. Low carb. We're indulging our bad habits but changing the parameters a little. That's frustrating in those self-aware moments when the belt sits a little too tight or the back aches a bit hunched over a keyboard, or the face breaks out in an angry pimple or three.
Time to put the game-face on.

Monday, March 17, 2014


My parents visited us this weekend and brought a bunch of early birthday presents. Dad has been digging deep into his wood-turning hobby and came with a stack of show-and-tell pieces. It's really fantastic what he can coax out of a piece of 'trash' from a tree that fell ages ago. He also had some turned pen, stylus, carpentry pencils, etc that he put together from some kits and allowed us to pick through them. I have new pen/tablet stylus in my pocket! It's a lovely deep brown with a wobbly etched grain that gets more intricate the closer you look. Really pretty! Mom brought a stack of ARCs and gardening books and a cooking magazine and some ebook vouchers and an AudioBook (Red Shirts as read by Wil Wheaton) so basically more fantastic media than I have free waking hours to deal with.
Also, a couple of bottles of wine and I used the excuse to pick up some beer.
The first evening had a moment of tension when Tina and Mom ganged up on me because of my (dismissive) opinion of a series they enjoy. I tried reading the first book. Got to the point where the story started setting up for the second book and realized that I just didn't care. The characters didn't engage me. Their peril felt contrived, their conflicts conveniently introspective while not one of the surrounding characters did anything that would prevent channeling the story along its intended path.

I'm more than willing to concede that I gave the book short shrift, but it felt so reminiscent of any one of a dozen similar configurations... a character, the most powerful character, is locked away from their powers. But machinations were set into motion that ensure that at the appropriate time the powers would manifest. Oh and forbidden love. Clans and tribes. Traditional boundaries to lock groups into eternal struggles. At every turn I saw a trope of the genre and while they may have come together to form an elaborate tapestry... for me, once I had reached the point where the first book tried to lead into the second story I was done. I just couldn't bring myself to finish the last few page and force the decision to either stop there or slog through the next book.
But apparently that makes me a bad person. :)

All in all a good time was had.

An update was released for Carmageddon. Only a few days into the Early Access and already things are improving. The game runs much more consistently good for me now, and the damage model for fixed so some of the wonkiness of the really hard hits that would sometimes result in more damage to you than your target. I'm really looking forward to see how this will evolve with the input of a broader community.

I've been catching up on some podcasts recently. There are a few shows that I enjoy and many many more that I would probably enjoy, but I only have so much time that I can sit and listen without feeling that itch that I should be doing something... so I play a game. A surprisingly fun and relaxing 'game' that Tina bought for me. Euro Truck Simulator 2. That's right. A trucking simulator. It uses a compressed model of Europe, so it isn't real-time, and cities are really just a small cluster of intersections, but there's something enchanting about driving through the mountains at night during a thunderstorm. Catching glimpses of the landscape between thunderclaps and the rhythmic thwap-thwap of the wipers as your 750 hp motor drags a bulldozer to its destination in France, Austria, Italy, Hungary, Britain, wherever they pay you to go. As you build up money you can buy garages, hire drivers and equip them with their own trucks... all fully customizable. I don't think there's a 'win' state, but you and your drivers earn experience that can be applied to unlocking specific cargo missions and boosting the pay for those missions. It's surprisingly fun.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Establishing a Pattern

Contextual shifts. They are tricky things to wrap your head around, especially when dealing with computers. Copy something from here, paste it into something over there. As I was passing an open office door earlier today I caught a glimpse of utter frustration bordering on anger. It looked like a Computer Problem in action. So I paused and waited for eye-contact. A few minutes later we had managed to resolve an issue that had been plaguing this person ever since we started using a different product to generate our publications. Apparently the tried and true method no longer worked because it involved a context shift. When you highlight and copy a piece of content from one program and paste it into another the results may not necessarily be what you expect. In this case links that worked fine pasted into every other context available resolved correctly, but when pasted into this new program they suddenly stopped working once the document was exported for publication.
The fix was a variation on the technique which I have just decided to call the "Old-School Bounce."

Many of us are familiar with methods for stripping out unwanted, often invisible, clutter around content.
Like keeping a link to Notepad handy to quickly strip out formatting marks, font flourishes, and other clutter from content copied from websites.
But in this instance the 'fix' was actually implemented in the context menu for the item. Right-Click, Copy Destination URL vs highlighting the interactive element and expecting the destination program to figure out which property of that element you actually wanted to paste.

And I just helped another person with a very similar issue. Linking a streaming web video into a PowerPoint presentation. Context, people! It's very important and Computers/Applications are currently really bad at communication their limitations to users. How would anyone suss out that a Web embed link won't work in a regular offline document if our regular offline documents now also live in the cloud? We live in interesting times.

As a Kickstarter backer of the new Carmageddon I was given access to the Pre-Alpha Early Access release of the game yesterday. It is good. Broken, rough edged, crashy (pun intended), but gloriously irreverent and ultimately a blast to play. I have spent countless hours with the games in that series and while it is most assuredly over the top violent, gory, obscene... it is also ridiculous and so obviously cartoony that it is also deliciously silly. In this newest iteration it is (currently) entirely possible to hit something hard enough to forcibly eject the driver (yourself) from the vehicle through the windshield. The game then completely ignores that you are no longer at the wheel and just lets you keep playing. Only one wheel left? Crumpled into a tiny ball? Flattened beyond recognition? Mere trifles. Mash the accelerator and have at them!
(I'm the 'car' underneath the officer. It's a fair cop.) Even in this early pre-alpha stage with only a single partially finished level (notice the checkerboard reference textures?) there is so much fun that I am giddy about what the future updates will add.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Why are you still here?


I took a few moments to orient myself. Many things have happened. It has been over three years since an actual update and that's a terrible amount of time to recap in this format.

My girlfriend is now my wife.
My apartment is now my house.
My job is still my job.
Her job is still her job (but she is slowly moving up the corporate ladder! For better or worse.)
I'm still a gamer, but the strains of Too Much Content and Not Enough Free Time have started showing. The Gaming space has exploded with each platform being a veritable treasure trove of experiences, and then Sony and Microsoft decided to launch their next versions of their consoles while their previous versions are still viable entertainment sources.
And that's not even looking at the Android and iOS gaming options. Too much. There's too much.

To retain a shred of sanity I have pruned a bit and limited my exposure to the latest and greatest. I no longer own dedicated portable gaming machines. No PSP. No Vita. No DS. My iPad and Nexus 7 have swallowed those roles. At this point I have not invested in a PS4 or XBox One and my 360 and PS3 are connected in different rooms of the house.  90% of my PS3 use in the last few years has been for Netflix and Amazon Prime videos. This forced austerity is partly an attempt at 'financial responsibility' and partly a realization that I have at my fingertips a hoard of gems to appreciate, and all I've done is throw them onto a pile. This was exacerbated by Sony and Microsoft deciding to add 'perks' to their paid memberships. For under $50 a year each Xbox Gold and PS+ give you access to 'free' content every month. PS+ picks newer titles but limits access to current memberships while Xbox Gold picks older titles but you actually own them even if your membership lapses. Between the two of them I have access to more quality gaming than time.
My only major 'gaming' spending concession was a recent upgrade of my graphics card. I have used dual cards in my last two machines but have grown tired of the issues that causes for certain older games and the noise of two sets of fans trying to keep the things from melting. I lucked into a comparable single-card purchase at a near impulse-buy price right before the Crypto-Currency explosion that has managed to drive up the prices of linkable GPUs.

Oh yeah, and I'm married now.

I'm usually not a big fan of jewelry... I have a tendency to fidget with it. Knowing this (and knowing that my mind was eventually going to let me propose to the woman that has been putting up with me for the past few years) I purchased a watch. For many years I didn't wear a watch. They tend to annoy me. I fidget with them. If it has modes I play with them. I time things. I watch the readout. I figure out how many clicks to cycle through the different modes and click through them... So I bought an analog watch. And I wear it. I've grown to like wearing it. It winds itself through motion so now there is a little wrist-flick I do from time to time so I can hear the mechanism ticking as it ratchets up the little spring that keeps it alive. I generally don't wear it around the house but if I'm heading out I feel kind of naked without it on. And then I added the ring. I have a few fidgets for this ring. I turn it. Sometimes I flick it. I've learned that I tap things with my palms a lot and now that I'm wearing a tungsten band that tapping produces new tones! But I like wearing the ring. I'm not sure that I necessarily needed to soften the tactile experience with a watchband first, but I also didn't want to be annoyed by the thing I'm wearing because I love my wife. I forgot to put my ring on one day and didn't 'notice.' When I went to lunch I was extra careful with the burrito I had because I didn't want it to drip sauce on my hand and get under the ring because the napkins at the place suck (but the burritos are pretty darned tasty). I remember thinking that. I actively adjusted my grip on the burrito to protect a ring that I wasn't wearing. When Tina pointed out that I wasn't wearing it later that day I was... I'm not sure what to call it. Dumbfounded. Shocked. Surprised. Confused. A mix of those. As I get older I seriously suspect that I have brain worms.

Among other things I'm slowly dealing with the realization that I have psychological issues. These are probably pretty common and other people deal with similar things all the time, but since I don't have a lot of extra-workular social contacts to even out the statistical averages of my social anxiety blips, they stand like pillars in the fog of my recollection. I missed a dental appointment. I meant to go, planned to leave work a little early, told my supervisor, had it on my calendar, and then shit blew up and it was past closing time before the dust settled enough for me to realize that even the time to call and explain had come and gone. I felt bad. I felt horrible. I felt that my 'work needed me to the point where I lost track of time' reason was inadequate. I felt that I couldn't explain myself adequately. A few days passed. They sent me a letter. The letter said that missing an appointment was unusual for me and asked if I was okay. Now it was a thing. I bring it up because we are now right around the time when my NEXT appointment would have been scheduled and I still haven't called them. I KNOW it isn't a major thing. I KNOW it needs doing. I actively dread the small talk. The questions. Sitting in a chair with those faces staring down at me while the assistant that doesn't stop talking and asks questions and has opinions all while elbows deep in my face actively suppresses the need to be short with me for missing an appointment. I don't deal well with that.

A restaurant I like has a new host. A really nice guy. He makes small talk. He has decided to like me. Asks me about my holidays, weekends, how I am, and one time when paying he offered me a VIP discount card. He is extremely pleasant and good at his job. I KNOW that it's his job. Identify the regular customers and make them feel welcome. But if you single me out that it's a thing. I dread it. I don't know small talk. I don't relate. And when I do I'm utterly unable to identify the protocol for where we cross idle chit-chat and into actually having dialog. I don't know the steps to that dance. Throw me a social curveball and I stumble. I give the wrong replies. I stare too long as I'm parsing the question. I stare way too long as I evaluate the sincerity of my reply with regard to the time allowed and attempt to gauge the sincerity of the initial comment all while wishing you would hand me back my change so I can say Thank you and head to my car that is parked as close as possible to my usual parking spot. After he gave me that discount card I stopped going to that restaurant for a few weeks. I couldn't bring myself to go. I knew it was stupid. I knew it was all in my head. I wasn't even quite sure what it was in my head, but the closest I could come was a sense of dread that I would screw up the protocol. That I would somehow fail to satisfy my end of that social exchange.

I have dozens of draft e-mails to my parents. To my grandmother. Just like my last post they are steeped in the guilt and shame of allowing too much time to pass. Of screwing up that social exchange and having no idea of how to properly pick up those threads. Of the protocol involved.

If I step far enough outside I realize that it's stupid to let those threads wither just because I might be afraid or too awkward to do it properly... but to feel sincere I have to step back into my head and fall right back into the trap.
I deactivated my Facebook account a few days ago. There has to be a better way.