Weekly status update [0050/????]

Fifty sure is a nice, big round number, isn’t it?

  • Wrapped up Castle Rock over the weekend. It ended up being okay but not great, leaning too heavily on past Stephen King works without establishing its own identity, and with some seriously incoherent bits. (Like, what happened to the forest fire?) I’ve also gone through the first four or so episodes of Superstore, which is a perfectly fine workplace comedy with an excellent cast; it’s nothing spectacular, but sometimes you just wanna watch something pretty funny for twenty-two minutes.
  • I watched Solo: A Star Wars Story early this week. It was… fine? I paused it halfway through to watch a streamer for an hour or so, though, so clearly it didn’t completely engross me. Like Rogue One, it felt deeply inessential due to being a prequel where you know the end result, but for whatever reason I enjoyed Rogue One‘s grit more.
  • Most of Tuesday and Wednesday were spent watching poker on Twitch, as mentioned here earlier.
  • I’ve been playing Picross 3D Round 2 off and on for a long time, and went back to playing it more actively this week. The real big gaming thing is that I picked Shining in the Darkness back up after putting it aside for months; my hand-drawn graph paper maps were taunting me, and I want to play Shining Force sooner rather than later. I ended up sinking a bunch of time Thursday and Friday into SitD, and am pretty close to the end now. It’s a solid dungeon-crawler, with an impressively done difficulty curve that still keeps me on my toes without feeling insurmountable. If only the inventory system weren’t so awful.
  • Lastly, I went over to an old coworker’s house for game night Friday evening. We played a bunch of new-to-me games. Quacks of Quedlinburg felt way too random for the length of time it lasts. I also had a strong negative impression of Azul, which led me to realize that there’s a whole class of board games (namely those with a bunch of take-that involved) that I really intensely dislike unless I’m playing them two-player; I had a similar reaction to Photosynthesis, although that’s a game I enjoyed quite a bit more mechanically. On the positive side, The Fox in the Forest seems like it might be the first two-player trick-taking game that actually works, which is exciting. I need to play it more to confirm that.

It’s only two more weeks before I’ve been doing this for a year. That’s a crazy, sobering thought.

Hold’em out for a hero

I spent most of the last two days watching the end of the Main Event at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure on Twitch, thanks to some timely front-page placement. It was a fascinating look into the psychology of a deeply complicated game being played at the highest levels.

I should note that I’m nowhere near being a poker expert; I’ve played a bit over the years, but never for money, and the sum total of hours spent playing in my life could be easily counted on one hand. I also intentionally didn’t write about poker in my Guide to the Cardpocalypse, because I feel it’s much more of a game about psychological one-upsmanship than it is about the actual pieces of pasteboard, and watching the PCA in some ways confirmed and in other ways weakened that argument in my head.

Early on I was rooting for “the old guy,” Scott Wellenbach, who seemed laid-back and conversational in comparison to everyone else playing. Turns out he was the only amateur that made it to the final table, and he ended up placing a respectable third, winning over half a million dollars for charity. The winner, Chino Rheem, was ahead both days and never lost his lead, so it mostly felt like everyone else was jockeying for second. That was probably unfortunate from most people’s perspective, but it sure made the psychological side of the game shine.

In particular, Rheem effectively took the role of the “heel” in wrestling parlance, pushing around everyone at the table with big raises and keeping the pressure on even when he had garbage hands. It helps that he’s naturally a very gregarious player, and also apparently quite notorious–something of an actual bad boy in the poker circuit–which matched well with his particular persona in this tournament.

There’s a natural tendency to root for the underdog, and in particular one so natural and forthcoming as Wellenbach–the man is donating his winnings to charity, for Buddha’s sake–and that feeling grows even stronger when they’re up against an opponent who comes off as arrogant and pushy. It made for great TV (well, streaming, whatever), and I honestly couldn’t look away.

The gods’-eye view that modern poker play provides the viewers is both a blessing and a curse. You know exactly what everyone has, and the graphics automatically update with winning percentages… but of course the players don’t know the details, and so you see people make decisions that seem horrible in the view of omniscience but obviously make a lot more sense on the ground. If anything, it adds to the sense of the mind games that are clearly going on at the table. Someone raises big when they have utter garbage… but everyone else’s hands suck, so no one calls them on their bluff. How did they know? How did they know?

Wellenbach got burned not once but twice on the river; the first time he had a 95% chance of eliminating the eventual second-place player, Daniel Strelitz, and somehow the exact card Strelitz needed showed up on the flip. The second time cost him the game. Sometimes the hero you want to win doesn’t, but you have to be proud anyway.

I don’t think poker is likely to become a regular part of my media consumption diet, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy watching the gears turn behind the eyes of a bunch of high-level players–and one heroic amateur–for the better part of two days. And I was strongly reminded that I should never, ever consider playing poker for realsies. I wouldn’t be a hero or a villain; I’d be the mook bleeding out in the corner ten seconds into the first fight scene.

Weekly status update [0049/????]

I still miss watching TV with my mom, but I’m not gonna lie: I am so, so happy to be sleeping in my own bed again.

  • This past Saturday was my yearly Big Bourré Game Night, and all the usual suspects (read: mostly my old university coworkers) showed up. I had a fantastic time despite coming down with a head cold Friday that made me snotty all evening, and that fantastic time wasn’t just because I had what I’m pretty sure was my biggest night in bourré ever, nearly doubling my stake. (Yes, we play for money. No, the amounts aren’t significant.) Mostly it was a fantastic evening of hanging out with old friends, lots of trash talk, and even a little boardgaming earlier in the day.
  • Speaking of boardgaming, I managed to fit in even more before I left on Tuesday. There was a final game night at my neighbors’ house; I had the new-to-me experience of watching other people set up a complicated board game–in this case, Concordia–and it was grand. I learned on Saturday that four-player Evil High Priest is much, much harsher than the two-player experience. And just today I got to play games back here in North Carolina, including one I had never played before, Grifters. I expect to be sad for the next eleven months or so about how much less tabletop gaming I’m experiencing after the glut of the last few weeks.
  • Tuesday was my big travel day, and it suuuuuuucked. But I made it. I listened to a bunch more episodes of The Dollop, so that was nice, at least?
  • My mother and I did some last-minute TV cramming, watching all of Homecoming on Monday. It was good but not great, but it has the benefits of being short and having both an amazing cast and gorgeous cinematography. Back home, I’ve watched a few episodes of Castle Rock and am not yet sold on the show. The fact that Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Good Place are both back makes my heart warm, though.
  • The diet starts again tomorrow, promise.

I’m still settling into being back home again, and I don’t expect for it to really feel “normal” until early next week But I am glad to be back, and am looking forward to what the next few weeks and months will bring, as my one-year anniversary of Not Doing That Work Thing Any More approaches.

Home again, home again

Just a very quick note that I made it back to Lenoir safe and sound. It was a very long day, and I already miss hanging out and watching television with my Mom like I did basically every evening for the last three weeks. Sigh. But I am very, very looking forward to sleeping in my own bed tonight. Which I will be doing in about ten minutes, give or take. Woo!

Weekly status update [0048/????]

And thus ends my last full week back in Louisiana. Barring catastrophe, I’ll be back in Lenoir next Friday… and already missing the delicious food I’ll be leaving behind.

And friends and family too, of course. Mustn’t forget them.

  • The rate of boardgame play slowed down dramatically this past week, but I’ve still managed to fit in some more games of Dominion and even a round of Antike II. Tomorrow’s the yearly game night where we play bourré until the wee hours of the morning, a high point of every holiday trip back home.
  • The massive amounts of TV consumption, on the other hand, continued unabated. Watching the last season of The Americans was almost as good the second time around as it was the first; we then pivoted to two other shows which we’ve also finished. The first, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, was extraordinarily good. It’s an Amy Sherman-Palladino joint, and hoo boy is it basically everything I ever wanted in a TV show: non-stop Amy S-P comic hijinks, tons of gorgeous period detail, and copious use of the F word. Strong recommend. The other show is The Last Kingdom, one of the drops in the sea of under-advertised Netflix shows. I only learned about it thanks to a random Reddit thread, in fact. It’s basically a “real life” Game of Thrones-lite, set in the 9th Century in a pre-unification England. It’s good but not great, but the visuals are fantastic, the soundtrack is solid, and the action is engaging. Perfect holiday watching, in other words.
  • I’ve made a concerted effort on this trip to eat out less than I tend to when I’m back home, but I still have to hit up some of my favorite restaurants while I’m back in town. Honorable mention goes to the Central arm of Cafe Phoenicia, which has stepped up their game considerably over the last couple of years; it was good enough that I didn’t feel the need to go all the way across town for my usual Albasha fix. But the true winner of this past week was Fleur de Lis, my favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurant in the world. I was compelled to write a snarky 5-star review for the place on Google Maps, but can’t find a good way to link it here; I trust your ability to find it. Also, order your pizza “well done” there. Your belly will thank you.
  • Even though I’ve been sleeping late most days, I’ve also been fitting in a bunch of naps in the early afternoons. And: naps are amazing. We should all nap more.
  • Not so much on the videogame or puzzle front; it turns out that sitting at my mother’s table doing puzzles is a rapid recipe for major back pain for me now, which… sucks. And I’ve just got better things to do (or, at least, more social things) than play solo on my PS4 while I’m here. That said, what little I’ve done continues to be effectively joint: an old puzzle game or two on my DS, or Picross 3D Round 2 on my 3DS.
  • After nearly twenty years of having essentially the same webhosting solution, I’ve moved my sites (including this blog, of course). It’s with the same ISP, Pair Networks, but I’ve switched to their modern shared hosting solution, as the plan I was on hasn’t actually been offered for years. The net result is that I’m going to save ~$100 a year and am actually on newer hardware besides. Other than a short service interruption early Friday afternoon, the transition’s been smooth, and as always their customer support has been nothing but highly responsive to the minor issues I’ve had. I had never changed over before due to time-value of money arguments, but with retirement my time’s become quite a bit cheaper, and my worry about the longevity of the old platform was steadily increasing. All good now! If you see any issues with this blog, please let me know.

I’ll likely be heading out early morning Tuesday or Wednesday; one of the nice things about being retired and driving here is that I don’t really have to decide just yet. I’ll post a quick update when I make it home.

Resolving the future

I’m not a fan of New Years’ resolutions. I’ll be the first person to admit that I have trouble with follow-through when I’m not fully invested in a project–and sometimes even then–and all making resolutions seems to do is increase the guilt factor when something inevitably falls by the wayside.

That said, I do have things that I’d like to have happen in this coming calendar year. They’re not necessarily projects I’m going to start today, or when I get back from this trip, but instead stuff I want to work in in the medium term, want to be eyeing as possibilities when I’m looking for something to do.

Here’s a bulleted list of not-really-resolutions:

  • I went off the diet hard for the holidays, because that’s the only way to stay sane in Louisiana when you’re only there for a short time, but I’ll be getting back on the wagon when I make it back home. I’d like to be within shouting distance of my goal weight by the end of 2019, which should be totally feasible if I take it seriously.
  • I’ve done a bit of prose writing outside of NaNoWriMo in the last week or two, which is a genuine rarity. I’d like to continue doing so, with greater frequency, whether it’s short pieces I can post here or longer-form stuff.
  • Speaking of prose, I’d really like to start working on the rewrite of Rewind this year as well. It’s the closest thing I have to a real, “salable” story (whatever that means), and although it needs a lot of work to get it up to the sort of standard that I think it needs to meet to be shopped around, it still needs less of it than anything else I’ve ever written.
  • I’d also like to get back into recreational programming. I have DXV’s code sitting quietly over on Github, unnoticed and untouched, and I think if I could work up the enthusiasm to work on it the act of rewriting a game in another language would actually be a very interesting experience. There are other potential projects, too, of course, both open source and personal.
  • Whether I end up making a decision about moving somewhere else or not, I need to do something about my ridiculously large board game collection. Narrowing it to 100 or so “big box” games, plus a bin or two of smaller stuff, would do worlds of wonder for my sanity, never mind dramatically easing any future shipping around of the whole mess. I have at least one potential way to shed most, if not all, of the collection; I just need to take the time to do a massive, more-detailed inventory to make it happen. And, potentially, investigate alternatives if that falls through. (Anyone want to buy ~2000 board games, most still in shrink? Reasonably priced, I promise!)

It’d also be great if 2019 ended up as less of a total dumpster fire in terms of the world writ large, but on that front there’s not much more I can do other than exercising my vote and, possibly, taking up some sort of volunteering. That said, here’s to hoping all of our 2019s are better, resolutions or no.

Weekly status update [0047/????]

Sorry about the lack of a mid-week post. On the other hand: holidays.

  • Lots of time spent with family over the last week. My oldest sister and uncle stayed over at Mom’s for Christmas Eve, and we added my nephew and his SO for Christmas night, so it was a pleasantly packed house in the evenings. My younger-older sister and her spouse showed up for Christmas Day, and various other friends and extended family members drifted in and out of the house over the days. This is one of the nicest things about being “back home:” seeing everyone.
  • I’ve also played a metric ton of board games, mostly with the neighbors (and in particular their youngest son, who now works at the same place where I did as a student at LSU). He and I have played a bunch of two-player stuff, and we’ve played bigger games with more of his family. Some highlights are:
    • the new Dominion expansion (Renaissance), which I got for Christmas, and which feels like another Adventures/Empires level endeavor;
    • Evil High Priest, which came in right before I left to come home, and which is a solid take on worker placement with some take-that mechanics added in;
    • Spirit Island, a serious step up for my neighbors, but one that went over surprisingly well despite its length. (I’ve played it before, but am always happy to play it more frequently.)
  • I’ve also been watching TV with my mother, a long-standing tradition. We just finished the third season of Travelers last night, which left me really, really hoping they get renewed for a fourth season. We’re also watching the last season of The Americans together and are almost done with it as well. (If you read what I wrote before, you understand why I don’t mind watching it again.)
  • There’s been a bit of a puzzle/videogame combination thing going, in that what gaming I’ve done has been on my DS and 3DS; specifically, the Nikoli Nurikabe game on the former, where I only have ~15 puzzles (out of 300) before I’m finally done, and Picross 3D Round 2 on the latter, where I’m deep in the postgame. I’m on weirdly difficult puzzles in both, though, and have put them down for the last few days.
  • Food. So much food. A lot of it has been delicious junk food–I ordered a ton of stuff from the Tootsie company direct (link withheld so that I’m at least less responsible for your irresponsibility) and the usual Airheads and Gold-n-Chees)–but my mother is a fantastic cook and I’ve been taking heavy advantage of her culinary skills. I’ve actually only eaten out twice since I’ve been here, which has got to be a record low. There are too many tasty things to eat at the house to leave.
  • I’ve even done a bit of writing. It’s awful and private, but it’s writing nevertheless.

I’ll be hanging out mostly by myself for the next couple of days, while the family is off elsewhere, which is a surprisingly pleasant break in the middle of my visit. But I’m looking forward to them being back as well. All in all, it’s been a nice, if a bit hectic, visit, and one I look forward to continuing. There are lots more board games to play, after all.

Weekly status update [0046/????]

Nothing says “home for the holidays” like the fact that it’s going to be almost seventy degrees today. Louisiana, you do you.

  • Much of the early part of this week was spent in preparation for the trip back home. I’ve got a terrible memory for that sort of thing, so Google Keep did me a solid by letting me make a list and check it twice, helping ensure I didn’t leave anything important back in Lenoir.
  • Trip day was Wednesday. I woke up at 04:30, which the less said about the better, and hit the road a bit before 5am. To my delight, Bojangles’ was already open, so I snagged some delicious (chicken-fried) steak biscuits to get the day going. I also stopped at a couple of QTs along the way and had their spicy chicken taquitos. (I have a weakness for their roller grill.) It ended up being a 13-hour drive, putting me back in Baton Rouge at just after 5pm local time thanks to time zones. It was a long, exhausting trip, and it rained pretty bad for a short stretch near the Mississippi/Louisiana border, but was otherwise incident-free.
  • I slept for almost twelve hours, then woke up Thursday and immediately hit up Dang’s, the best local Vietnamese place. It was still as delicious as I remembered.
  • Both Wednesday and Thursday afternoon were spent watching some TV with my Mom; the third season of Travelers dropped on Netflix, and I decided that I was all right with rewatching the last season of The Americans with her (for obvious reasons).
  • I also managed to already fit some boardgames in with the neighbors on Thursday night. (One of the distinct advantages of driving: I came with a fat stack of games.) We played Antike II, which was surprisingly good for three players, along with Tumult and Lost Cities Rivals. They seemed to enjoy all three.
  • Friday was mostly spent as a family day, with my sisters, nephew, uncle, and assorted significant others. Good food, good laughs, although I did my back a disservice by sitting in a hard chair for most of it that put me in a not-great spot by the end of the night. Also, I ate like a pig.
  • I also squeezed a bit of puzzling in here and there, continuing to work both on 3D Picross Round 2 and Nikoli’s DS Nurikabe game that I’ve been playing off and on for many years, plus some paper puzzles at my mom’s expansive kitchen table.

I probably won’t be doing my usual mid-week post this coming week, other than maybe a quick blip, so: happy holidays to you and yours!

Here’s a television thing: “The Americans”

Sometimes it takes a little while for a show (or a series of books, or games) to find their footing.  I’ve recommended Parks & Recreation to many people over the years, with the proviso that they just sort of have to suffer through the blessedly short first season to get to the good stuff.

The Americans starts out strong, gets even better in the second season, and has a final hour that I’d put in the top five or so I’ve ever seen in my life.

That’s not to say the show didn’t change over time.  When you watch the first episode, you immediately get some strong impressions: intense ’80s spy theatrics–complete with amazing musical cues–and the sort of interpersonal drama that no modern prestige television show can go without.  Sweet wigs and Mission: Impossible gadgets.  And, of course, ridiculously attractive leads.

But.

The first big thing is the least surprising if you know anything about the show: the main characters are, very definitely, not The Good Guys.  Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys play deep-cover Soviet agents who, when the first episode begins, have been in the US long enough to have had two children together.  Their marriage is all part of the cover… except, as becomes painfully obvious almost immediately, that’s not really the case for Philip, Matthew Rhys’ character.

One of The Good Guys then moves in across the street: Stan Beeman (played by the always-awesome Noah Emmerich), a man who happens to work for the counter-intelligence branch of the FBI, trying to root out the very people who live across the street.  This is the sort of Dramatic Tension you expect in a drama such as The Americans.  Except: Philip and Stan become best friends.  Not, like, fake-y bullshit side-eye buddies, but genuine compadres.

And then things get more and more complicated from there.

After the first season, the show begins to concentrate more on the relationship between Philip and Keri Russell’s Elizabeth, although the spy stuff is still a major part of the plot and often drives entire episodes.  Elizabeth in particular is perhaps one of the best studies in contrast when it comes to character motivations: on the surface, she’s Felicity all grown up, a suburban businesswoman and mom who loves her kids.  Under the surface?  Hard as nails and Red as can be.  Russell plays brilliantly on the expectations of viewers who remember her ingenue turn in that first big WB hit series, somehow simultaneously evoking her previous big role while aggressively subverting it.  And Matthew Rhys knocks it out of the ballpark as the saddest man on television.

Like Game of Thrones, there are young cast members–the Jennings’ kids–who could easily make or break an entire aspect of the show.  And like Game of Thrones, the casting department lucked the hell out with the most important one.  Holly Taylor plays Paige, the older daughter, as someone who is both aware that something weird is going on and aggressively trying to believe her parents are just Normal American Parental Units.

I don’t want to say too much more about what happens in the show, because the plots are fascinating to watch unfold.  You get to see some multi-year train-wrecks unfold on the screen.  And lots and lots of fantastic wigs.  Not to mention the best robot on TV since… well, I don’t know when there was any robot more awesome than Mail Robot.

Just… watch it.  It’s one of the best television shows I’ve ever seen, it asks a lot of serious questions about purpose and truth and family, and somehow it managed to use “With or Without You” as a music cue in a way that, once it’s over, you’ll realize it never could have been any other song.  If that isn’t a miracle, I don’t know what is.

[The show is currently available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video, and is available for purchase digitally basically everywhere.]

Weekly status update [0045/????]

I could say that snow interrupted my plans, but that would require me to have plans to begin with.

  • That said, yeah, it sure did snow quite a bit.  I ended up stuck at home from Saturday afternoon until Tuesday morning.  Fortunately the power never went out, and I had procured enough supplies that it wasn’t a problem (in fact, I’m still working through said supplies–by which I mean junk food, of course–and it looks like I’ll finish just in time for my trip home next week).
  • I got the oil changed in my car Tuesday (which was honestly the only reason I left home that day; otherwise I would have waited until Wednesday… except see below).  Now my vehicle is as ready as I can get it for the long jaunt home.  I may have gotten stuck in the snow in the service station parking lot, but I won’t tell if you don’t.
  • We also had an extended game night Tuesday night, which meant I had to get rolling anyhow.  We played Terraforming Mars.  It was a fine, if underwhelming, experience.  The game is an engine builder, which is one of my favorite types, but honestly it just felt like it had way more surface complexity (and subsequently took a long time to play) without necessarily providing a lot more in the way of actual enjoyment.  I think the time would be better spent on three games of Race for the Galaxy.
  • Speaking of board games, we also had an “online game night” on Thursday.  Sadly several people didn’t actually get their setup tested beforehand, so what should have been a group of six people ended up being a group of three due to technical issues.  We played Dominion and Century: Spice Road, both of which I like a lot.
  • I finished up The Labyrinth Index, which was very good, if very dark.  I’ve intentionally not started anything new since.  I plan on bringing my Kindle home for the holidays, and probably reading several of the Wheel of Time novels on it while I’m there.
  • I’ve continued to play Tametsi off and on as, really, the only videogame I’m currently into.  It’s been scratching both the game and the puzzle itch.
  • It dawned on me Wednesday that the sixth (and final) season of The Americans might be on Amazon Prime Video at this point.  Sure enough, it was.  I ended up watching all ten episodes back-to-back, something I hadn’t done in ages.  The last episode was one of the best hours of television I’ve ever seen, and the season reaffirmed just how good the show was; I’ll be writing a “Here’s a Thing” for it sometime soon.  But, uh, just watch it if you haven’t already.

Tomorrow’s the holiday party, which I’ve thankfully managed to wrangle a ride for; I wasn’t excited about having to drive to Asheville this weekend and then an additional 13+ hours come Wednesday for the trip back home.  I’m already feeling apprehensive about all of it, but that’s pretty typical for me.  I’ll manage.  Hopefully I’ll be able to keep up my posting schedule while I’m back in Louisiana, but I make no promises.  In any event: still not bored!