Monthly Archives: September 2014

Have ALL The Fun!

Although it may not seem like it, I have a lot of hobbies.  I read.  I write.  I play video games.  I watch the occasional show on Netflix or (very rarely) TV.  Plus all the stuff I do as part of the SCA: heavy fighting, fencing, archery, costuming, camping, et cetera.  I have all these things calling out for a small fraction of my free time, and that’s without taking into account working for a living and the basic upkeep required to live like a proper human being.

I bring this all up because I’ve had something of an epiphany lately.  In the past, I would look around at other people in my life, be they family or friends, coworker or acquaintances, and reflexively start comparing my accomplishments to theirs.  I would look at friends who seem to do a bunch more with their time, who seem to be much more accomplished than I’ve managed to be.  Whether I’ve wanted to or not, I’ve been worried about keeping up with the metaphorical Joneses.

This has been exacerbated throughout the years in that I’ve often surrounded myself with friends and other people that are older than me.  Sure, age differences matter less and less as you age, but after a certain point you can’t get past the fact that more time means more done.  I tend to forget this, much to my detriment.

But I’m getting sidetracked from the point I wanted to make.  And that’s this: sure, I may not be as “productive” (whatever that actually means is left as an exercise to the reader) as some of my friends.  But while we may have some hobbies and interests that overlap, I don’t know what else they have going on in their life.  I don’t know if they’re focusing exclusively on one activity above all others.  I don’t know if they’re using skills that just come naturally to them.  I don’t know, and I can’t know.

But I do know this: I have a lot of interests, a lot of things that make me happy.  I shouldn’t feel guilty spending time doing something that I don’t see my friends doing.  And since there’s a finite amount of time during the day, of course I’m going to have to invest less time in each activity if I want to keep up with them all.

I suppose that this is yet another way of me coming to terms with the fact that yes, it’s okay to play video games.  Growing up, my video game time was limited; like I’ve said before, I don’t begrudge that.  But there was still a background opinion that video games didn’t have many redeeming qualities, that playing them was just a way to pass the time.  It was never outright stated, but somehow I ended up internalizing this philosophy.  And I’d really like to move past that.  I’m tired of feeling guilty about enjoying my time with video games.  I don’t like the fact that it makes me feel like I’ve wasted time.  I shouldn’t resent my own hobbies!

But I think I’m managing to make my first few shaky, timid steps towards that point.  That epiphany that I had earlier?  It was that I do have a lot of hobbies, along with the realization that I do enjoy them all.  And that enjoyment makes them valid.  And as a result, I shouldn’t feel bad if I’m not as “productive” as someone else as long as I had fun along the way.  After all, beating a video game is still an accomplishment.

So screw you, dark internal voices overly concerned with outward appearance and the accomplishments of others.  I’m an adult, and will do what I want!

So Long And Thanks For All The Creepers

So, apparently Microsoft has bought Mojang, the creators of Minecraft. I’ll let that sink in for a bit.

Back? Good. Now, I’m just as surprised as everyone else, and while I’m sure I won’t have too much new to add to things, I want to take a minute to sort through my thoughts.

For those of you who don’t know what Minecraft is, you’re really missing out. It’s like a world made out of virtual LEGO that has taken the Internet by storm over the last few years. It started out as a small project by a single developer, and has since managed to sell over 16 billion copies on the PC alone (it’s also been ported to consoles and smartphones). It’s the ultimate indie gaming success story. And the company founded by the creator of Minecraft just got purchased for $2.5 billion.

That’s a lot of Sagans.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you who Microsoft is. If you use Windows, then you know. If you use Mac or Linux, you still know. Chances are if you grew up even remotely techy around the turn of the century, you may even think of Microsoft as the Great Satan, defiler of all that is pure and holy on the digital frontier. You may think that Microsoft’s purchase signals the death knell of a wondrous ecosystem of creativity and community that has sprung up around one man’s labor of love.

I’ll admit it, my knee-jerk reaction to the news was much the same. I even went so far as to dismiss the rumors that started to surface last week, as something out of a bad dream. And when I saw those rumors confirmed today, my heart sank. “Great,” I thought. “Another unique gem of the Internet subsumed into the monolithic gray mass of Microsoft. A light has gone out in the universe.”

And while a part of me is still worried, my opinion started to change the more I read about the deal. While it can be hard to parse through the inevitable marketing gobbledygook, it may be possible that this Microsoft is not the same one that we had in the 90’s and 00’s. After all, Microsoft Office is available on a wide variety of platforms, including Mac OS X, iOS, and Android (sure, you need a subscription for the last few, but let’s leave that aside for now).

But what really made me stop and reconsider was the letter from Notch, Minecraft’s original creator. I’d urge you to go read the note. It’s the words of an individual who only wanted to make games, and found himself thrust onto a world stage he didn’t expect, let alone want. Add to the unwanted limelight the fact that the Internet is not the kindest of places on the best of days, and you’ve got a recipe for disillusionment and burnout. As an introvert myself, that’s something I can relate to all too well. I hate being the center of attention at something as small as a local birthday party; I can’t imagine being an actual celebrity.

And while I may feel leery of the change a large corporation may bring to the indiest of indie games, I can really relate on a personal level to Notch’s feelings. I don’t begrudge him his decision; in fact, if this sale lets him pursue his passions (as I’m sure Minecraft has made him fairly wealthy), then I can only be happy for him. It’s sad that it’s come to this, and while I fear change as much as the rest of you, it is an inescapable part of life.

So while you may worry, don’t despair. Maybe I’m being overly naive; maybe I’m letting my optimism get the better of me. But if the only alternative is throwing a tantrum and burning the proverbial house down around me, I’ll take hope any day.

Good luck, Mr. Persson. May you find the quiet, happy life you so desire. And thank you.

It’s Been A Day

I’ve had quite the day. And as often happens when I have quite the day, I don’t feel much like writing.

Why not? Well, several reasons. I’ve been cold pretty much all day. I didn’t get a lunch break at work today. I had to work on a project that took a lot more time and mental effort than it should have. I haven’t been getting enough sleep. And it was all gray today, which often puts me in a mood.

Oh, and to top it all off, I’m not feeling very excited for what ostensibly sounds like an awesome SCA event tomorrow, with guest instructors from around the Known World. Right now, all I want to do is crawl into bed and go to sleep.

Blargh.

Holy Cow It’s Been A Month?!?

I realize earlier that today marks one month since I started my new job, one month since I had to get up and toil in the salt minds that is retail merchandising.  One month since I actually started using my degree.

And it’s been pretty good so far.

It hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows, of course.  The learning curve can at times been challenging, but I think I’ve started getting a handle on things.  But I’ve started to settle in, and while it’s still annoying when people talk about things like I’m expected to know what they’re referencing (I had a similar complaint about grad school; maybe it’s an architect thing), I am starting to get more comfortable doing things on my own.

Sure, it still often feels like I’m just parroting previous people’s work.  And sure, I still feel weird asking for help on things that I “should” know about (even, no, especially when I would have no way of finding things out on my own).  But the sense of panic I felt during the first week or so is starting to fade.  Even if it did flare up yesterday when everyone else was out of the office and I was left to fend for myself.

Don’t worry, nothing burned down.

The biggest changes for me so far have been how much time I’m spending in front of computers each day, and how much brain power I’m having to use throughout the day.

The screen time ting really amuses me, since it’s less of an increase and more of a return to normal.  When I worked in the computer lab or as an A/V technician, I spent a lot of time at my computer.  It wasn’t uncommon for me to spend all day sitting at my desk, breaking up stretches of work with liberal recreational activities (mostly surfing blogs and playing games; get your mind out of the gutter), and then go home for more of the same.  It wasn’t until I started at Costco that I ended up off the computer for extended periods; it’s kind of hard to wrangle carts with one hand and keep your laptop’s Wi-Fi connection with the other.  And for as much as this might be a return to “normal,” it still feels weird.

Of course, for as much as time I was spending on the computer back in the day, I wasn’t having to expend much mental effort.  Now, though, I spend my days either poring over drawings and redline comments or massaging the aforementioned documents in AutoCAD.  While working off a base of half-understood precedents and previous work other people in my office have completed.  Needless to say, this tends to take a lot of energy on my part.

I also haven’t had much of a chance to do much physical book reading; I’ve got a lot of interesting-sounding ebooks on my tablet, and I’m trying to work my way through those as well.  But something about me misses the physical sensation of turning a page, of having to remember to turn on the light while in bed.

But I digress.

Long story short, I think my first month at the new job has been going well.  I’m learning, practicing, and (hopefully) improving every day.  Plus, I’m really enjoying having my evenings and weekends free on a regular basis.  Like, really enjoying it; having a normal schedule is one of those things you take for granted until it’s too late.

The Joys Of High Mileage

Since we’ve brought up the subject of spending money, let’s look at a less fun example!  Namely, my car.

I have a Subaru Outback.  I’ve had it for the past seven(!) years, ever since my ex-girlfriend totaled my other car on a road trip (but that’s a different story).  It’s treated me well so far, but it’s admittedly getting up there in terms of mileage.  And although I got it used, it now has over 100,000 miles on the odometer.  In fact, it’s probably closer to 128,000.

Now, you put that many miles on a car, and it’s going to start to have a few… issues.  So far, I’ve been pretty lucky, especially given how much I keep up with the suggested routine maintenance (I don’t).  That being said, it does get quite annoying when after one flat tire you have to pay to get all four replaced.  Thanks, all-wheel drive!

But recently I’ve been having a few more serious issues, ones that can’t be easily ignored.  For instance: one of the rear tires started making an oscillating sound, which then progressed to a periodic grinding on cold or wet days, which progressed to a constant unpleasant grinding.  Hey, maybe I just have a piece of gravel or something stuck somewhere and it’ll work itself out, right?

Nope!  Turns out I was due for a really, really expensive oil change.  I took the car in to the mechanic, and apparently the rear brake pad was pretty much gone, and the wheel bearing was also shot.  Now, even I know that breaks are one of the things you really don’t want to mess with.  So I hiked up my big boy britches and, knowing it wasn’t going to get better on its own, prepared my wallet for ritual sacrifice.

“But wait,” the guy at the shop said (I’m paraphrasing), “There’s more!  Do you realize your check engine light is blinking?”

Yes I did, thank you very much.  But it’s only intermittent, so I was hoping to ignore it a little while longer and hope the problem works itself out.  You know, the same way I approach dentistry.  But if you want to take a look while it’s there in the shop, go ahead.

“Yeah, about that check engine light…  Turns out about half your cylinders are misfiring due to an oil leak.”

…Za?  That’s… not good.  Decidedly not good.  I kinda need my car to get places, after all; I don’t know that I’d like having to make the 10-mile bike ride to work every day, especially in the winter.

So long story short, I am now significantly poorer than I was earlier today.  About as much poorer as I planned to be after I built a new gaming PC, actually.  So yay me, I guess.

Sometimes I hate being a responsible adult.

Steamy Analytics

I often wonder how much money I’ve sunk into Steam.  After all, I’ve picked up far more games than I’ve played at various levels of discount over the years.  How horrific would it be to see all that time and money added up in one place?  Luckily, I came across a website called Steam Gauge that makes this sort of thing really easy.  So let’s plug in my Steam info and find out.  Prepare to be horrified!

Member since: 2005.  So for starters, it looks like I’ve been a member for 9 years.  That makes sense; I picked up Half-Life 2 about a year after it released, and all the launch bugs had a chance to smooth out.  A quick aside: I’ll admit to being nervous about Steam when I first signed up.  I didn’t like the idea of paying real-world money for digital-only goods.  After all, what if Valve went out of business, or took their servers down?  I still worry about this a bit, but deal with it mostly by picking up games at steep discounts I couldn’t get at retail.  I’m trading convenience and price for the outside chance I might lose it all.  Yay, DRM.

Hours played: 1,480.  Huh, that looks like a big chunk of time to spend gaming.  But once you do the math, it works out to be only a little over two months.  So that’s 6.85 full days every year, or only about 27 minutes a day.  Not too bad!  Another aside: when I was a kid, my parents limited my video game time to two 30-minute sessions or one 45-minute session a day.  I’m amused to see that my daily average is still close to that.

Total Space: 1,011.2 GB.  Useful info for when I’m looking so size a hard drive for a gaming PC build.

Worth: $4,040.  …Za?  You mean to tell me that I’ve spent over four thousand dollars on video games?  In only the last nine years?  That’s almost $450 a year, without counting other platforms like consoles!  I… I might have a problem.

But wait.  How did they calculate that?  Hmm, it looks like they took the current retail cost of all the games in my account.  Now, I know I didn’t pay full retail price for all of those.  Luckily, it looks like they have a tool to help you calculate what you’ve actually spent.  Please be better…

Money Spent: $456.  So, if I’m reading this correctly, I’ve saved nearly 90% off of full retail price for my collection.  That’s pretty awesome.  But something still isn’t adding up.  I tend to start getting tempted by a game when it reaches somewhere between $5 and $10, or about 75% off.  So those numbers don’t add up.

But wait!  I’ve also recently been picking up a few (read: a lot) of games through various Humble Bundles.  Those are often redeemable on Steam; maybe I need to take those into account as well.  Gimme a sec to do some math…

Humble Bundles: $200.  Not too shabby.  Average price paid seems to be about $10.55, which matches up with what I remember.  I rounded up slightly, in case there was a bundle or two that I missed.

So, let’s add the last two numbers together.  Drumroll please…

Total Steam Investment: $656.  Looking at that in a lump sum, I kinda gotta say ouch.  But I have to remember, that’s been over the past 9 years.  And it’s 84% less than I could have spent if I got everything at full price.  So that ends up being about $73 a year, or… only $6 a month?!  I spend more than that on Netflix!

So apparently I was all worried about how much I was spending on Steam for nothing.  $6 a month is pretty negligible, but as you can see does add up over time.  And compared to what I would have spent if I had paid full price, I’m pretty happy.  In fact, I might do a little “happy frugal gamer dance.”

Today's part will be played by Dancing Baby Grootling

Today’s part will be played by Dancing Grootling.  When asked about the role, Grootling replied in a high-pitched rumble: “I am Groot.”

Now, if only I could channel some of that money saved into a new computer, so I could actually play some of the newer games…

What Wonderful Weekend!

This past weekend was the first time in a while I had an actual, well, weekend.  And I have to admit, it was pretty nice.

For the past couple years, weekends off have been few and far between.   Mostly, it had to do with me working retail; if I didn’t specifically request it off, I was pretty likely to have to work Saturday and Sunday.  The caveat of course being that if I did request a weekend off, it was because I had something to do, most likely an SCA event.

But even before that I was in grad school, and weekends were a time to catch up on homework; even if I wasn’t doing anything, I probably should have been.  But even then I tried very hard to give myself at least one day to relax, both to decompress and spend time with my girlfriend.

And even before that was college and working as an A/V technician, where I often had to be on call for weekend events.  Nowhere near the stress an horrible hours of working at Costco, but definitely an occasional thing.

And even before that was high school and living at home and– well, you get the idea.  When you get down to it the concept of a “weekend off” has been largely theoretical for me for far too long.

But this past weekend was different.  I’m no longer working at Costco, so having the weekend off was a given.  We’re also past Battlemoor, which means no more camping events until next spring, which means no more getting ready for camping events until next spring as well.  I’m no longer in school, so there’s no feeling guilty about not doing homework.  And my girlfriend and I have been living together for a while now, so there’s no pressure to spend every spare waking hour with each other.

So what did I do with my newly-rediscovered free time?  I pretty much surfed the Internet and played video games all day in my own office while my girlfriend did similar in hers.

And it was wonderful.

Sure, I did some stuff that was “productive,” like Battlemoor laundry and picking up some of the messes in the common area.  I even invited my brother over to hang out (and play more video games, but that’s beside the point).  But for the most part I completely slacked off, and even managed to not feel guilty about it.  And I can’t remember the last time I managed to do both of those things together.

But it’s definitely a feeling I could get used to.

Through The Cracks

A while back, I switched to RSS feed for collating and consuming content from my regular Internet haunts. IN fact, it probably took me longer to do so than it should have. But I will say this: checking individual websites sequentially, sometimes several times throughout the day, is a great way to pass time. And when I was in school or working in a computer lab, I had a ton of time on my hand. These days, not so much. For one, when I was at Costco I couldn’t exactly wander around the sales floor with my face buried in my smartphone. And now that I have a Real Job(tm), I actually have work to do while I’m on the clock.

Using an RSS reader, it’s especially apparent which feeds I’m reading and which ones are piling up. Luckily, I’ve kind of made my peace with that. In fact, I’ve even removed certain feeds from my reader because they’ve lain stagnant for so long. I may not always remember, but I’m trying to get used to the idea that there is no way I’m going to ever read all the content that I might be interested in.

But one place I’ve noticed this to be problematic is with webcomics, especially story-driven ones. Every once in a while a webcomic’s feed will change and I’ll stop receiving updates. Maybe the address changes, maybe the formatting goes all wonky; I don’t know. All I know is that my RSS reader has made it really simple (see what I did there?) to keep track of content, and if for whatever reason it doesn’t show up there, then it very quickly becomes a case of “out of sight, out of mind.”

And I’m kind of okay with that. My free time, for better or for worse, isn’t what it used to be. Maybe that’s part of being an adult: accepting that it’s okay to be a bit more choosy about your interests. Maybe it’s just the first inklings of the dread mortality that stalks us all. And maybe I’m being over-dramatic. But I just thought that was interesting, and since I didn’t have anything else pressing to write about, you get to bear witness to my ramblings.

The Stars Are Not Right

I was talking with my girlfriend recently about how I approach food, leftovers in particular.  She commented on the fact that I tend to eat the same boring thing for lunch over and over, so why wouldn’t I be interested in the change of pace that leftovers would provide?  Wouldn’t I be eager to have something other than the same sandwich day after day?

At the time I didn’t have an answer for her.  I agreed that it was weird; after all, one would think that the excitement of unusual (or at least un-habitual) food would be welcome.  Surely I wasn’t just getting caught up in the comfort of routine?  Because that would be a depressing thought.  “Yes, I’m not yet 30 and I’m already so set in my ways that I have to have the same meal over and over.  Now you kids get off my lawn!”

But I thought about it, and I think I’ve come up with a solution.  See, it’s not the mundanity of routine that keeps me from getting through leftovers.  Rather, it’s their uniqueness that drives me to save them!

Don’t get it?  Well, think of it like this: when you were a kid, what did you do with your Halloween candy?  Were you the kind to gorge yourself into a diabetic coma later that same night?  Or were you the kind to carefully tend to your hoard, squirreling it away and only pulling choice morsels out for special occasions?

I, in case you couldn’t guess, was the latter type.  So much so, in fact, that it wasn’t uncommon for me to have candy left over when Halloween rolled around again the next year.  Don’t get me wrong, I definitely enjoyed the candy; I was just waiting for the “right time” to enjoy my “special treat.”  Such is it with leftovers, maybe, as an adult.  Leftovers serve as a break from the routine, and are thus to be cherished, not wasted on some frivolous whim.

But deciding the right time to partake is more challenging than one might think, especially with my… unique relationship with decision-making.  The irony, of course, is when these things get wasted by inaction.  Leftovers, and even candy, do indeed go bad.  Apparently I fear making a decision more than I fear missing my chance to do/eat something special.

And other times, I eat the leftovers as soon as possible because I’m lazy and/or ran out of time/food.  There’s no accounting for taste, I guess.

(pun intended)

Ch-ch-changes

I haven’t been wanting to write much lately.  At first I was willing to chalk it up to Battlemoor leaving me more tired than I expected, and while that’s true, my writing malaise started even before then.

If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say it started around the time I started my new job.  A lot of things changed (for the better, I believe) because of that.  I haven’t had nearly the issues with depression since I left Costco.  My schedule has stabilized, approaching something that resembles a normal office routine.  I’m no longer having to get up at ungodly hours in the morning just to stock shelves and move pallets around.

And yet, I find myself without the drive to write.

I really don’t think that it’s my relative lack of suffering that’s killed my drive; believing you have to suffer for art is a dangerous, self-destructive path to go down.  No, I think the main problem is my schedule change.

Before, when I was working at Costco, I had most of the afternoon to myself.  I could surf the Internet, play the occasional video game, and still have time to write before my girlfriend got home and/or I had to go to practice.  But now, I don’t have that huge chunk of time to myself.  I’ve tried writing in the morning before I leave for work, but I’m not always fully awake yet, and the past few days have been tougher than usual.  I’ve tried writing at lunch time, but I often forget (whether I forget to write or forget to take lunch is a different debate).

It’s funny: it doesn’t feel like my schedule has shifted much, but I suddenly have much less free time than I used to.  I can’t just write when I feel like it any more.  Maybe that’s what I need to do: write at a specific time every morning, whether or not I feel like I have anything to say, and post it regardless.  Because I really don’t want to stop writing.  But my current setup isn’t working, and I’m going to have to change something going forward.

Does that mean the quality of entries will diminish?  I don’t know.  I think it does mean that I’ll have to really think about what’s important: quality or consistency?  Is the act of blogging an end itself, or is it merely practice for writing?  And if it is practice, I should be doing it whether I want to or not.  In fact, I should be doing it more especially when I don’t want to.

It’s interesting food for thought.  It doesn’t help that part of me feels that entries like this are a fancy way of wasting time, but I really must remember that whether or not something is a “waste” depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.  Did I want to talk about Battlemoor?  Then maybe this post was a failure.  But what if I wanted to talk to myself, hashing out ideas so that I could better understand myself?  Then I think I may have accomplished something.