Monthly Archives: December 2013

Knowing Your Worth

I often say I’m “too nice for my own good.” But what does that mean? I’ve touched briefly on what it means for my martial arts, but it also affects me in my day-to-day life. For me, it means that I tend to put other people’s concerns and needs well above my own, no matter how much it might inconvenience me or cause me to miss an opportunity. I’ll make sure someone else is happy before even considering my own needs. And while part of being a productive member of society is maintaining harmony, there is such thing as too much of a good thing.

Case in point: I recently had a friend call me with some computer troubleshooting issues. Now, being fairly tech-savvy and having worked in IT and A/V support, I have a pretty good working knowledge of computers. I couldn’t make sense of his problem over the phone, so I offered to make a house call. My friend was thankful of course, and we managed to fix the problem. But while in the car I started thinking: if I did this sort of thing for a living, would I be giving my skills away for free? And if not, does it make sense to do so?

One thing I learned going to school to study design (architecture in my case, but it holds for any creative field) is that the skill and talent it takes to “be creative” often goes unappreciated. You hear horror stories of young freelancers who are asked for samples or to do “spec work” without pay or any sort of contract. These people often end up sinking hours into projects that never end up paying. So one of the things our professors stressed to us is to never give our skills away for free. This has several purposes: it gets you paid for your expertise, and it makes sure your clients value your contribution.

So in that light, why was I on my way over to a friend’s house, taking time out of my schedule, to do something that didn’t really benefit me that much? Why wasn’t I charging even a nominal fee to do what other people do professionally? Is it because I think I’m worthless? That last question may seem a bit hyperbolic, but it really is the central issue. If I don’t value myself and my own fields of expertise, how can I expect anyone else to?

All these thoughts went through my head, at a time when I’m finally feeling ready to consider looking for a better job. Since architecture doesn’t seem to be panning out, I need to look at other skills I possess, other ways I could make a market for myself, rather than trying to break into one that seems to be out of my reach. And the idea of freelance IT service is one I’ve toyed with in the past; even if people with my skills seem to be a dime a dozed from my point of view, clearly not everyone feels that way. Otherwise we’d all be solving our own computer problems.

So yeah. I guess improving my sense of self-worth is something to work on for the coming year. Maybe if I can value myself enough I can get other people to do the same. With money, even!

Halfway Out of the Dark

I know it’s a few days past Christmas at this point (thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster), but the holiday is still on my mind, especially given the lack of excitement it gave me this year.

I, like a lot of people I know, seemed to be burned out on Christmas this year. Whether that’s because of stress, over-commercialization, or general disillusionment, the holiday came and went with a resounding “meh.” My girlfriend and I didn’t even bother setting up any decorations, let alone a tree. For all intents and purposes, Christmas seemed like just one more day, but with the added stress of giving (and receiving) presents.

In fact, my only source of anything resembling holiday cheer was, somewhat embarrassingly, Doctor Who. I’ve been working my way through the new series, and once I made it up to the Christmas special “A Christmas Carol,” something resonated with me.

This time of year isn’t about giving and receiving gifts. It’s not about rampant commercialism. It’s not even about a dominant world religion’s origin myth. It’s about celebrating the passage of time, as the depths of winter begin to recede in favor of the renewal of spring. At it’s heart, it’s about being halfway out of the dark.

I don’t have much to say, I just wanted to note how that one simple line from a British science fiction television show managed to put things into perspective for me. It’s a bittersweet realization, but is also somehow fitting. Time marches on, and the only meaning it has is that which we assign to it. If we can’t find joy in basic natural phenomena, then we might as well be inanimate objects. Making it through another year on this planet can be a cause for celebration, to remember to appreciate that which has made the trip with us, and that which has gotten left behind.

Halfway out of the dark: it’s all up from here.

Just One More Go…

Tell me if this sounds familiar: you come across a new source of entertainment (book, movie, game, television series, music album, etc). It’s the holidays, and you have quite a few new things to experience, but you pick up this particular one to just “try out for a few minutes.”


The next thing you know, you’ve lost hours (if not days) to this new activity, and you have no idea how. Somehow, it scratches some deep itch inside you, compels you to return again and again and again. You finally wrench yourself away to sleep, probably due to sheer exhaustion. But the next day you come back for more, and you lose even more time.

In other news, I may have a problem with roguelikes

What is a roguelike, you may ask? Well, it’s a genre of video games which share a number of attributes with an old 1980 ASCII game called Rogue. These features include random level generation (infinitely replayable) and permanent character death (don’t screw up). For some reason, this combination is like crack for me; I am compelled to keep trying over and over, repeatedly exploring, screwing up, starting over, and largely losing huge blocks of time.

My current fix is Rogue Legacy*, a game where you control a series of adventurers, each with a set of unique and humorous traits (like alektorophobia or nearsightedness) as they explore a haunted castle. When you inevitably die, the quest is taken up by your heir. You have the chance to spend gold found in the ever-shifting fortress to permanently upgrade you characters and equipment, giving your future selves a slightly less slim chance of success.

There are a few tweaks to the roguelike formula, some that I like, others that I don’t. One of the unlockables is the option to freeze the castle layout, so you can explore the same dungeon multiple times. This can be useful for practicing against bosses or finding treasure chests, but you get a penalty to gold. The one tweak that I don’t like (even though I can see that it makes sense for balance) is the inability to save your gold: each time you re-enter the castle, you lose whatever gold you haven’t spent on upgrades. Admittedly, this forces you to be more careful and get better, as later upgrades cost more.

What’s funny is I’m not that good at the game. Health pickups are rare, and I tend to forget that, making me careless. I’ll die repeatedly as I flail about, but I’ll be right back moments later to try again with the next heir. I’ve seriously lost at least a day and a half to this game.But don’t let that deter you. If random chance and blind luck sound like fun to you, you should totally try this game. I think I’ve definitely gotten my money’s worth (it was on sale, but that’s a different/known issue). It’s on sale, and there’s a demo! I can also suggest Spelunky, if you prefer your masochism with a dose of bullwhips and fedoras instead of swords and wizard hats.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to make a run or two before dinner. Ha, I crack myself up!

EDIT: Almost 3 hours later (I think), I am finally getting up from the computer.


Christmas Wasteland.

Did you know that a ton of stuff is closed on Christmas? I know, it’s news to me, too! It’s like people actually stay home and spend time with friends/family/pets instead of going out into the world. It’s like the entire population needs a rest after the consumerist orgy leading up to the date itself.

But enough sarcasm. I was driving around yesterday, getting together with friends for breakfast and a movie (don’t worry, the family got Christmas Eve), when I was struck at how empty everything seemed. Entire parking lots of shopping malls and big box stores were completely devoid of automobile or pedestrian traffic. Not just a small crowd, like you’d get at 2am on a work day, but completely and utterly empty. I think that may have been the first time I had seen all of those lots empty at the same time. To be honest, it looked post-apocalyptic; empty parking lots, offices locked up with the lots out, and no more than a handful of other cars driving on the roads.

I suppose this shouldn’t come as a surprise, though. But I’m so used to at least Walmart being open, that remembering that everything closes for Christmas can be tough. My girlfriend and I ran afoul of this a few years ago. We had both met up with our friends and their breakfast party, but by the time the movie got done we were ravenous. So we drove around, looking for something, anything that was open for lunch on Christmas day. Heck, even the Chinese restaurants were closed!

Finally, we ended up at Denny’s, and they served us food. And while I do feel sorry when people have to work on Christmas, I’m thankful that they do. That seemed to be about the only thing that was open: diners and movie theaters.

If this is disjointed, it’s because it’s well past my bedtime as I write this. I meant to do it earlier, but a little game called Rogue Legacy ended up stealing my day. Plus, my mind keeps wandiering to weird places, often with no anchor in reality.

So yeah, happy holidays. I may revisit this later, with more sleep, but now I must go.

Vice Krispie Tragedies

Merry Christmas/Solstice/Saturnalia/Festivus/etc! That’s right, I decied to share my Secret Krispie Shame with you. What? No, of course the entry wasn’t just split off from yesterday’s to pad out my buffer. I assure you, this was a completely sep–HEY LOOK, IS THAT A DISTRACTION?

It’s not all fun and games and insulin comas, though. Did you know it’s possible to mess up something as simple as Rice Krispie Treats? Well, it is, and yours truly has done it. It was when I was in late high school or early college. I had been tasked with cooking the pan of Treats for dinner that night, but had somehow gotten sidetracked and run out of time. So I had the bright idea that “Hey, the object is to melt the marshmallows, so wouldn’t they melt faster at a higher temperature?” So I turned up the burner, and lo and behold things started melting. They also started turning a wonderfully rich golden color. Thinking nothing of it at the time, I continued on my way, adding the cereal and putting the pan in the fridge.

Things didn’t go so well once I went to serve them, however. It turns out that nice golden color had been the sugar in the marshmallows caramelizing, and once they set they were anything but gooey. In fact, they were rock solid. So solid, in fact, that it was easier to pry one big hunk out of the pan than it was to slice it with a butter knife. We dutifully tried them anyway, but stopped after one (attempted) bit made us fear for the structural integrity of our teeth.

Truly, it was on of my darkest hours.

Even to this day I’m paranoid. I start getting nervous at the first sign of caramel gold in the marshmallows as they melt, then start stirring mercilessly. It hasn’t happened since, so I must be doing something right. But I live in fear that the ugly specter will one day rear its head again, at the most inopportune time.

Nice Krispie Thoughts

Cooking up a batch of Rice Krispie Treats last night got me thinking about the Treats, and how they’ve been a part of my life for a long time. The joys of gluttony shared with friends and family. So read on; the anecdotes are in no particular order. If you’re nice, maybe I’ll reveal my (not-so) secret Rice Krispie Shame as a Christmas gift!

Rice Krispie Treats are something of a tradition in my family. They’re pretty much our go-to choice for a sweet dessert treat; after all, growing up with a bunch of lactards (i.e., people who aren’t freakish mutants who can digest dairy after infancy) and later those who went gluten free does tend to limit one’s options. As such, making them became something of an art. But like any family tradition, our Rice Krispie Treats have picked up a few quirks along the way.

I never did care for the pre-made treats, whether foil wrapped and individually packaged or purchased over the counter at a cafe; they never tasted right, and were often far too dry. We tend to make our treats with a whole pound of marshmallows. This makes them extra gooey, barely solid enough to hold their shape. Some might be concerned about the extra sugar added, to which I would say: if you’re worried about sugar, why are you eating Rice Krispie Treats in the first place? And just to make those people cringe some more, when I was in college (and still living at home), someone had the bright idea to slather frosting on top of the tray. It was not uncommon for me, my brother, and my dad to eat half a pan after dinner, put on a movie, and finish the other half by the end of the night.

This has developed into what I call my “Pancreas Destroyers.” First, I grab half a stick of butter and coat the pot and pan (the pot being the original one my family started using for Treats), then melt it over medium-low heat (about 3 out of 10). Then, I add a package of the jumbo marshmallows (24 ounces worth). Well, not the entire package; at least one marshmallow gets eaten as a sacrifice before the rest get melted down. Once the goo is properly homogenized, I take the pot off the burner and stir in about 10 cups of Rice Krispies (or suitable store brand). Before the amorphous blob congeals, I spoon it into a 9×13 pan. Wetting my hands to avoid extra sticking, I flatten out the proto-Treats. I then stick them in the fridge to (mostly) solidify. But the pièce de réistance is the entire 1-lb tub of frosting (usually chocolate, but I have been known to use lemon during the summer) that gets slathered on top.

Mmm, diabetes..

Post-Purchase Anxiety, or “AAAAAAAAAAA!!!1!”

So I’ve been enjoying my new phone. But to be honest, there’s been an undercurrent of anxiety flowing through things for the past few days, and I haven’t been sure why. My tolerance for change and decision-making has been lower than usual, and I’ve found myself oddly on edge for no apparent reason. And given the stress that comes with the holiday season (especially when working retail), this isn’t exactly the best time to be freaking out. So what was going on?

I thought about it for a bit, and realized that it might be tied to my new phone. Now, I’d be the first to tell you I’m excited to have it, but at the same time it fills me with some conflicting feelings. It’s an awfully nice thing for (irrationality alert) someone like me to have, let alone use. The little things that come with a new phone are also getting under my skin. I have to change several habits, like what pants pocket I put things in (I used to keep my flip phone in the same on as my car keys, which clearly isn’t an option anymore). There’s also the fear that something will happen to my new toy, like me dropping it or scratching or something similarly irreparable. I wasn’t experiencing anxiety or panic attacks (I’ve witnessed those, and they aren’t pretty), but it was definitely uncomfortable.

So while I was sitting outside at heavy practice this week, trying not to freak out, I realized that I had done this before. Several times, even. In fact, every time it seemed to be triggered by significant purchases or changes in my life and routine. When apartment hunting, for instance: looking at places is okay, but things take a dark turn once I finally sign a lease and put down a deposit. Or when I decided to take a voluntary severance package from my old job and focus on grad school full time.

But the worst this happened to me was when I bought my car.

My ex girlfriend had totaled my first car, a green VW earth pimple bug, while driving to an out-of-state SCA event. We were fine, and managed to get home, but I was still without a car. I was able to take the bus/light rail to work, so not having a car wasn’t an immediate issue. But seeing as my parents had bought me my first car, this was to be my first experience going to a dealership and signing on the dotted line.

And oh boy, once I did sign on that dotted line, I was a wreck. I had just spent more money in one fell swoop than I had before or even since (grad school at least was charged in semester installments), and it did a number on me. I literally couldn’t sleep that night: when I wasn’t pacing I was lying on the couch, staring at the ceiling. I was near panic, probably the closest I’ve been in my life.

The feeling eventually passed, luckily. I was able to calm down and focus on making my monthly car payments, which weren’t that bad. Just as I’m sure the anxiety will pass when it comes to my phone. The increased bill charges will become routine, and pulling a large slab of touchscreen out of whichever pocket it settles in will be second nature. But until then, even given how much I’m enjoying things so far, my psyche is feeling a bit fragile.

Maybe I need more duct tape.

Devolution of a Scrooge

For my continuing musings regarding this oh-so-wonderful holiday season, I’d like to try and figure out how I got here, fed up as I am with the whole thing. I’ve put off writing today longer than I meant to (read: as much as usual), so I may revisit this later more fully. As usual, though, no promises.

I wasn’t always so scroogy. I still remember a time when I looked forward with unbearable anticipation to Christmas. Sometimes I would sleep under the tree, in the warm glow of the lights and ornaments. Come Christmas morning, I would bound down the stairs (far earlier than any sane adult should be awake on a day off, of course) and revel in the sight of presents pile high under the tree. We weren’t allowed to open anything until everyone was awake, of course, but that didn’t stop me trying to sleuth out what was waiting under the tree (boxes of LEGO bricks make a very distinctive tinkling sound that, to this day, still makes my heart race).

Opening presents was done in an alternating fashion, cycling between me, my brother, and our parents: one at a time, then on to the next person, usually with cards being opened first. That way, everyone got to be the focus of the celebration for a short time. I can still recall spending all morning after opening gifts building the Deep Freeze Defender. If I stopped for breakfast, it was after much protest.

Leading up to Christmas, my brother and I were encouraged to make a list. We were reminded that “Santa” may not be able to bring everything on our list, but that we should put down ideas nonetheless. This encouraged us to be selective with what we asked for, and added a bit of chance and excitement to the annual wrapping paper holocaust.

I suppose things started to change for me once we moved past “Santa,” and started becoming aware of the monetary costs involved in our gifts. We were still encouraged to make a list, but to keep it under a certain amount. As time went on, crafting the Christmas became a numbers game, which only became worse as the items we wanted increased in price. Suddenly, when one video game accounts for more than half of your gift budget, it takes a lot of the mystery out of opening gifts.

This growing malaise was compounded as I became an adult with my own income and gifts to buy. The season became a source of stress, especially since I’m not too keen on spending money when it’s tight. I had to juggle my own budget, making sure I didn’t overextend myself too much during the last month of the year while trying to find meaningful, useful gifts for friends and family. Let me tell you, that was a challenge on a grad student budget, and wile less so, still is on a retail drone’s.

The list-making tradition continues, but feels as perfunctory as a grocery list at times. The really big things I don’t feel comfortable asking for, since I understand how much of a drain the holidays can be. And things I’m capable of buying for myself, I generally just go out and purchase. The unnecessary things are just that: unneeded. And it feels like people I know and love are in similar places. It’s not really much of a surprise I’m reduced to exchanging gift cards packed inside a saccharine Hallmark card with a bow and glitter.

So I guess you could say Christmas really lost its sparkle for me when it became about money and accounting. You might say I’m missing the human aspect, that the season is about giving gifts to people you love rather than receiving. And you might even be right. But that side of things is hard for me to hold on to, especially given my predisposition to Funks due to lack of sunlight and sleep. Is there an easy fix? I don’t know, but probably not. Christmas is a time of innocence, and it’s hard to hold on to that magic when the world is pressing in on you from multiple sides.

Welcome to the Future

Greetings, citizens of the Twenty-First Century! I would beg your attention a moment before I return you to your annual holiday lamentation, for I have good news! And no, it’s not that I have discovered the exclamation point key on the board of them in front of me! Nay, I call upon you to break from whatever drudgery inflicts your do hear me, for I have joined you in your wonderful silicon utopia! That’s right, I have finally cast of the shackles of mere cellular phone technology and come into possession of a smartphone! Huzzah! Felicitations! Celebration!

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