Category Archives: Entertainment

Hot Sulphur Springs

So why wasn’t there a post on Friday? Well, because my girlfriend and I were out of town. We had somehow ended up in the possession of a free weekend, one where I didn’t have to work and where there wasn’t a local SCA event. So what did we do? We went to enjoy some hot water!

We ended up spending the weekend at Hot Sulphur Springs, a natural hot spring about two hours away from Denver. We drove up Friday afternoon, and came back late Sunday morning. In between, we didn’t do a whole lot of anything aside from soaking in one of the resort’s wide selection of pools in varying temperatures.

The resort is set up as a series of small pools, ranging in temperature from 98°F to 112°F, with most hanging in the 106°-107° range. The water is quite mineral-enriched, and ranges from clear to cloudy. The pools are generally small enough (and there are enough of them) so that, even though they are open to the air and boardwalk access, they can feel quite private. We very rarely had to share anything but the largest pools, and even then, the other people were friendly. It was relatively uncrowded except for Saturday afternoon, which we guessed was a result of hikers and mountain bikers coming in off the trail for a quick soak.

When I first started researching this spring, I was a little concerned by the mixed reviews on sites like Yelp. But after my experience there, I can’t help but wonder if the reviewers just didn’t understand what “natural hot spring” entailed. No, it wasn’t a day spa at the Hilton. No, it wasn’t Ten Thousand Waves. The water was cloudy, and there were the occasional sulfurous floaty bits in the pools. There was algae, and an infernal stink permeated the air. But that’s what you get when you take a source of hot mineral water and pump it into pools.

The rooms we stayed in were also quite enjoyable. Sure, the “queen” bed was more like a double, but the room was clean, warm, and even had its own bathroom. There is an active train line that runs through town, so the night was punctuated with the occasional loud horn, but it was easy enough to roll over and go back to sleep. There also isn’t much in the way of services in the nearby town; while the milkshakes from the shack down the road were indeed tasty, we ended up driving the 10 or so miles into Granby for dinner both nights.

If I had one complaint (aside from the aforementioned trains), it would be the mosquitoes. This may be a personal problem, but mosquitoes love me. In fact, if there are any in the area, my getting bitten is pretty much a foregone conclusion. I concede that they probably do try to keep the population down with spraying, but however inevitable this sort of thing is around standing water, it was rather annoying. After dinner Friday night, we headed back out to the water, and actually had to go inside after an hour of attempting to fend off the little buggers.

But overall, I can heartily recommend Hot Sulphur Springs. The water was warm, the prices were reasonable, and the facilities provided quite the beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. We may try to head back later in the year, as I can only imagine how enjoyable it would be to soak in hot water up to your chin while snow gently falls from above.

Happy Birthday To Me

So today is my birthday. I am now 29 years old. I had planned to do a neat “Where have I come in a year” post, but I feel more like slacking off instead. In other words, when I sat down to write that post, I got distracted and before I knew it it was time to go to work.

Anyway, thank you for all the birthday wishes today. Here’s to another year of dodging the reaper. I’ll leave you with some Arrogant Worms:

Where Do I Begin?

Social media is a funny thing. Facebook feeds and Tumblr dashboards are like an endless supply of channels to surf; there’s always new entertainment, and it’s an easy way to pass huge chunks of time. But this ease of entertainment access can come at a price.

I don’t know about you, but once I start keeping up with something, I feel compelled to keep on keeping up with things. I start to worry about missing some ever-so-slight quantum of information. True, most of it is forgettable filler that won’t be remembered for more than a few seconds, but the compulsion is surprisingly strong. I’ve wasted entire days catching up on my feeds. I’ve gotten annoyed when a browser crash makes me lose my spot in an infinitely-scrolling cornucopia of information. I’ve become, in essence, trapped by my obligation to READ ALL THE THINGS.

But an interesting thing happened to me recently. One that may have made this compulsion work for me rather than against me.

Last week, as I was trying to get several projects finished before the weekend, I found myself spending less and less time at my computer. It so happened that after a while of this I had gone an entire day without checking Facebook or Tumblr. And while this isn’t that notable in and of itself, what happened next was really intriguing: I began to feel guilty about missing out on my feed.

More specifically, I started to feel that so much time had passed that I wouldn’t be able to catch up on my feeds before they overwhelmed me again. As a result, I did what has worked so well for me in the past when it comes to issues like postponed responses: I ignored it. I ended up not checking Facebook or Tumblr for days, just because I was worried about the futility of catching back up.

Luckily I’ve since had something of an epiphany: I don’t necessarily need to be caught up on anything. Just because something is there doesn’t mean I’m obligated to read it. In fact, it’s likely downright impossible (and I don’t like using that word as a general rule) to read/watch/play all the books/movies/games in the world. It just can’t be done. So why should I worry that I missed an infinitesimal part of humanity’s greater cultural output? In other words: if I’m inevitably going to fail in the long run, why worry about it?

With that in mind, I dipped my toes back into Facebook. And I successfully controlled myself, scrolling for a few minutes rather than the hours (days) it would have taken me to “catch back up.” I just created a new starting point for myself. I haven’t been back to Tumblr yet, but hopefully I can achieve similar results. The Skinner Box that is social media can be broken, without throwing it away completely.

99% Invisible

Despite having gone to school for architecture, I don’t get many chances to indulge the design skills and passion I paid so much money to hone. For whatever reason, moving products around on retail shelves just doesn’t hold the same cachet. But I recently discovered a podcast that allows me to feel engaged in the world of design, however fleetingly: 99% Invisible.

99% Invisible is an independent radio show/podcast about design. Not just architecture, but about everything that is designed, and how it affects in ways we may not realize. Topics can vary from the importance of reading building plaques to stories about statues that are no longer there; from how engineers reversed the Chicago River to how Warsaw almost-but-not-quite recreated their historic Old Town after World War Two. It potentially covers anything in our world with some designed aspect; that is to say, everything.

The first few episodes are short (under five minutes), but later ones, as the producers become more familiar with the podcast format, can last 15 or even 30 minutes. The wide variety of topics covered keeps things interesting, and the people working on the show obviously love what they do. I get easily annoyed by people having “high concept” conversations where they read too much into simple decisions (it seems like just so much intellectual masturbation to me), but this show manages to be educational without being preachy or out of touch with reality

So if the philosophy of design interests you, or you just want to hear some of the stories behind things we take for granted, I can highly recommend this podcast. The one piece of criticism I would offer is that it’s discouraging to listen to intelligent discourse about design while stocking shelves and moving pallets, but that’s likely a personal problem. It just throws the contrast into too sharp of a relief to be comfortable.

Sorry, didn’t mean to be a downer, there. 99% Invisible: check it out. It’s fun and educational!

Bad ADD Day And OOO SHINY BUNDLES!

So today kinda got away from me. I was planning to write a post about pets I’ve had (full disclosure: I’ve been looking at pics of cute dogs, and it’s making me want one), but I’m going to take the easy way out and write about whatever. My brain is fried, I have a headache, and it’s only Monday. It’s going to be a great week!

I got home from work and decided that rather than feeling guilty about not wanting to do anything, I’d just give in to the inevitable and watch an episode of Eureka before I tried to do anything productive. That part of the plan went off without a hitch. Where it derailed (yay, mixing metaphors!) is when I went upstairs and sat down at my computer. I decided to check my email, maybe Facebook and Tumblr, drop my girlfriend an IM, then get to writing.

Obviously, that didn’t happen.

Before I knew it, it was 4h30 and I was thoroughly zoned out. Browser tabs were popping up like mushrooms after a rainstorm. My computer was slowing down under the crushing weight of Firefox and processing/unzipping some bundles I picked up.

Oh yeah, I spent money today! There’s been two media bundles I’ve had my eye on, from Story Bundle and Vodo, and today I decided to say “Screw it!” and purchased both. Sure, they were both a little bit of an impulse buy; I didn’t exactly need any of the books/games/movies/music present (did that sound like the Borders tagline, or is it just me?). But the selection looked interesting enough, and I’m trying to feel less guilty about spending money on myself. The best way to do that? Frivolous cash tossing!

Also, I might be having a bad ADD day. Can you tell?

But back to the bundles, since that seems to be what this blog post has become about. There’s some cool stuff in that Vodo bundle; Ghosts With Shit Jobs looks especially interesting (China, ascendant after the West’s financial collapse, uses us as a menial labor pool. Irony!), as do the Surrogates graphic novels (remember that movie with Bruce Willis?).

Anyway, that aforementioned headache is bothering me again. I’m guessing it’s from staring at tiny things on a bright screen for too long. You know how that goes, right. I probably need to update my glasses prescription, but that sounds like work.

Winter Soldier: Food For Thought

So I got the chance to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier over the weekend. Long story short, it was awesome. Great character banter, great action, and HUGE changes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It got me thinking on a few things, which I’d like to talk about today. Obviously that means spoilers. If you haven’t seen it, and you’ve been keeping up with the MCU, you should definitely do so before reading further.

I repeat: SPOILERS AHEAD.

SPOILERS.

AHEAD.

Continue reading

Run Run Run, As Competently As You Can

One thing I like about old-school video games is how demanding they are. Now, to me that doesn’t mean the same thing as “hard,” although many of them are also that. Old-school games, especially platformers, can be unforgiving, requiring pixel-perfect timing and execution. But there’s something about that level of intensity that appeals to me. The fact that these games demand so much of my attention means that I can actually focus in on the task at hand, instead of my mind flitting every which way as it usually does. These games demand much, but the return is worth it.

Why do I bring this up? Well, at the risk of sounding like a crotchety old gamer, they don’t make many games like they used to any more. Save points, quick reloads, and generally less challenging level design have seemed to take over most of the medium. Don’t get me wrong, I can see why: I definitely don’t have the free time to dedicate to mastering a game like I did when I was younger. But part of me still yearns for that challenge.

Luckily, I’ve been playing BIT.TRIP Presents… Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien.

Yes, I know that’s a mouthful of a title, but bear with me. Runner 2 is a platformer, but with a strong rhythm component. Your character automatically moves from left to right, and it’s your job to jump, duck, kick, and otherwise dodge obstacles while collecting as many piles of gold as you can. It requires precision timing, as one wrong move will send you plummeting back to the start of the level.

This may not sound very complicated, but it does a good job of scratching that “old-school demanding” itch of mine. When you fail (and you will fail), the game lets you quickly try again, and the obstacles are in the same location every time. So as time goes on you will inevitably improve, if through nothing else than rote memorization and muscle memory. I’ve been playing it on my laptop with an Xbox 360 controller, and while the d-pad still sucks, it feels true to the experience in a way that using a keyboard probably wouldn’t.

Runner 2 isn’t completely without issues for me, however. It doesn’t seem to like my computer much, and after a level or two I’ll start to experience horrendous lag spikes. On a platformer that relies on such precision timing, this is more than a minor inconvenience. Luckily the problem is fixed by restarting the game (or just alt-tabbing back and forth), but it’s annoying to be reminded that my computer is getting up in years.

The other issue I have is more personal: because it takes so much concentration, I can only play Runner 2 for so long before my reflexes start betraying me. When I start mis-timing jumps repeatedly, or ducking when I’m supposed to kick, I know that it’s time to take a break. After this next level, of course…

So if you’re looking for an old-school fix and aren’t too rhythmically inept, I can heartily recommend Runner 2. It’s available on most platforms, although I may have an extra PC copy floating around if you’d like to try it out.

The Gems Haunt My Dreams

You’ve played Tetris, right? I sure hope so, because while it’s not the game I want to talk about today, it is integral to the point I want to make. If you haven’t played it, you are dead to me here’s a link. Go ahead, I’ll wait. This blog post will still be here in a day or two.

So, you know that feeling you get when you play Tetris too much, and you start seeing falling tetronimoes even when you close you’re eyes? Well, I’ve found another game that has a very similar effect, and it’s kinda taking over every spare waking moment: Puzzle Quest 2.

What is Puzzle Quest, you may ask? Well, it’s a fantasy RPG, kinda. It’s also a match-3 puzzle game, kinda. It’s a turn-based strategy, kinda. In other words, it’s a weird, unique gamethat has somehow convinced me to take out my Nintendo DS for the first time in a while, and made it really hard to put it down/sleep/be productive.

Here’s how it works: You have a character, one of a selection of fantasy gaming archetypes. You have a board of gems, in a variety of different colors. Matching three of the same color and removes them from the board, à la Bejeweled (no link this time; I’d like someone to be able to finish this post some time this week). This gets you a certain number of points, which are added to a mana pool based on the colors matched. Once you get a certain amount of mana points, you can spend them to perform special attacks and do damage. Because oh yeah: you’re playing against the computer. Did I forget to mention that?

Anyway, these simple additions to the basic “Match Three” formula add a surprising amount of depth. The biggest differences I’ve noticed is that it adds a deeper layer of strategy to the game; sometimes the biggest combo isn’t always the best move if it’s not the color you need. Also, playing against an opponent makes it really hard to set up chains of moves and plan out moves ahead in any sort of manner. Just set up a nice five-piece combo? Too bad, it’s the end of your turn! Now the enemy is going to steal that mana! And it just started a chain reaction that got them five more turns in a row! MWAHAHA!!!1!

Oh yeah, that’s one thing that annoys me: seemingly infinite “extra turns” for the enemy. I have no problem when they happen for me, of course. But to see the goblin rake in mana it can’t even use and take away what seems like half my health bar in the process is aggravating. But I love it when I do it to them…

Anyway, I’m a hypocrite. Let’s move on.

I haven’t gotten very far in the game yet, but it is nothing if not intriguing. If you like Match 3’s, like Hexic or Bejeweled, but want something with a little more variety, I can heartily recommend it. And what’s great about playing it on the DS, is you can pick it up for a few minutes of play time and not feel bad when your time is up. Because you know you’ll be back.

Oh, yes.

You’ll be back.

We Are Star Stuff

Hey, have you guys heard about the new Cosmos? The sequel to the original Carl Sagan PBS special, but this time hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson and airing on Fox of all places? No? Well then what are you doing reading random blog posts? Go watch it now! I’ll wait.

Now I’ll admit I never watched the original series, as it was a little bit before my time. But the idea was one I can totally get behind: making science and astronomy accessible for the masses. And who doesn’t love Carl Sagan?

In that sense, the new series is a worth successor. Tyson does a good job explaining the mind-boggling scale of space and time. Although I have to wonder if I’m the true target audience. After all, there hasn’t been much presented so far that I have not been exposed to some time in the past. But then again, I suppose I’m not the “typical” average TV viewer: I’ve had training in physics and astronomy, and it’s been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember. One of my greatest regrets is that I never got to see a Space Shuttle launch.

So if I’m not learning anything new, am I watching the show for anything more than the pretty visuals? Yes, actually. I absolutely love how unapologetic they are about science. The second episode, “Some of the Things That Molecules Do,” touched on the role evolution has played in the history of our planet, both through natural and artificial selection. In this day and age, when creationism is still sadly being trotted out as “science,” it’s quite refreshing to hear someone on a major network say “The theory of evolution, like the theory of gravity, is a scientific fact.”

And it saddens me that science is still so misunderstood and denigrated, even in the 21st century. We’re seriously still debating this? Maybe the producers were on to something when they defended their choice to air the new Cosmos on Fox, saying that (for better or for worse) the kinds of people that needed to see Cosmos weren’t the kinds to watch PBS.

So why do I watch Cosmos? Because it gives me hope, promising a more rational and scientifically-minded world. It illustrates that learning can be fun and enjoyable. It reminds us that even though we may be extremely small and insignificant on the grand scale of things, we are still a way for the universe to know itself.

And that, in all senses of the word, is awesome.

Music I Listen To: The Rest?

And the weeklong slog through my musical tastes draws to a close. Don’t forget about Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Today I’ll talk about all the other stuff I listen to that didn’t fit in the broader categories mentioned earlier. Some of these genres take themselves seriously, but most of them don’t.

And that’s okay.

Classical

Mentioned way back at the beginning along with Disco. There’s a lot here, and no way I could really do it justice. I’ll often put it on in the background when I need to relax. In fact, for several years I would regularly fall asleep to Pachelbel’s Canon.  I also had a André Gagnon CD that was a staple of my study time throughout school

Folk

You may have guessed from my mention of Mumford & Sons a while back that I do have a taste for some of the softer stuff out there. Well, I do. In fact, I really like some of the “Celtic” inspired folk music, like Gaelic Storm, The Chieftains, and some of the other artists you hear on radio stations like KBCO. After all, one can’t be angsty and or dancing to the beat all the time. Sometimes you just have to relax…

Comedy

…and sometimes you want to laugh. A lot of these bands are still folksy, but if you take a moment to listen to the lyrics, you can’t help but smile. Jonathan Coulton. The Arrogant Worms. Flight of the Conchords. The Lonely Island. Tim Minchin. And of course, Weird Al.

Nerdcore

If you’re looking for a genre that doesn’t take itself too seriously, look no further than Nerdcore Rap. Now I’m generally not a big fan of rap, but I find this subgenre hilarious. It’s exactly what it sounds like: nerds rapping, and it’s as fun as it is amusing. Remember Zork? MC Frontalot will hook you up. Surge? YT Cracker. MC Lars can even get political. Like I said, fun. And I must say, it kinda confused my coworkers that I would listen to “that kind of music” (until they listened more closely).

* * *

So there you go. A wholly incomplete and limited view at my musical tastes. Of course, as I’ve continued writing this, there are artists I forgot. Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly (Gaelic Punk). Rammstein (German Tanzmetal ). Voltaire (kinda required after the last link). I Fight Dragons (Alternative fused with Chiptunes). Stemage (Heavy Metal covers of songs from the Metroid games). Vernian Process (Steampunk!). Tiësto (I’m amused, because I had a professor with a very similar name in grad school). Trans-Siberian Orchestra (I especially like their album Beethoven’s Last Night). And I’m sure there will be more.

But like anything, it is time to draw this list to a close. I hope you enjoyed it, and don’t think I’m too much of a poser; music is one of those things people tend to get very passionate about, for better or for worse. If you discovered something new, great! If you have something you enjoy that I haven’t mentioned, feel free to let me know about it.