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.