Twenty-six weeks and what do you get?

…half a year older, for sure; thankfully not deeper in debt.

(A quick note: I added a widget to the side that lets you subscribe to the blog via eMail; put in your address and you’ll get a message whenever I write a new article.  Several people have asked how to follow along a bit easier.  Hopefully that helps.)

My last day of work was February 2nd, 2018.  This past Friday marks twenty-six weeks since then, fully half a year of retirement.  It’s kind of crazy to think about; I remember when I was in my late twenties and thinking, “huh, maybe I can pull this off sometime in my mid-forties if I work really hard at it.”  Working in tech let me pull that off seven or eight years before my original plans, and for that I will always be grateful.

It doesn’t feel like it’s been six months, but it doesn’t feel like it’s only been a couple of weeks either.  If I had to put a number on how long it feels, I’d say something like three months… but I’m not sure that that perception of time is really any different from when I was working.  I was at my last job for just a bit over five years but it felt like three at most.

Let’s answer the most obvious question first, because it’s also the easiest: No, I don’t regret retiring.  Do I have any concrete regrets at all?  Sure.  I miss the social aspects of my workplace, playing board games at lunch and chatting with people in the halls.  I miss the food team and the delicious free food (although my waistline is rather happier now).  But I honestly hadn’t been all that happy with my day-to-day job for a couple of years when I left, and there’s no question that I enjoy what I’m doing now–even if, to the outside world, it might look like a fat lot of nothing–quite a bit more.

The money situation requires a Magic 8-Ball response: Ask again later.  The market volatility this year has completely swamped any attempt I could make at understanding whether my rate of spending is sustainable or not in the long term.  That rate of spending has actually been surprisingly constant over the year, which I discovered almost by accident last week when messing around with graphs in Gnucash; it’s quite a bit higher than I would like–looks like it’s likely to be somewhere around $36,000 for the year, when I’m aiming for something more like $30,000–but there is still a ton of superfluous spending in there, if it turns out I have to buckle down and Get Serious about my money habits.  And assuming my spending increases at the same rate as the value of my investments (a pretty ridiculous assumption, seeing as the trend is downwards, not upwards) I still have somewhere around twenty years before I have to touch the first penny of my retirement, at which point I’ll be in my late fifties.  Yeah.  It’ll almost certainly be fine, but still: ask again later.

As for longer-term plans, well, I said I’d give myself a year before I started worrying about that sort of thing, so get back to me in six months.

From one perspective, these twenty-six weeks have been profoundly unproductive.  Other than this blog, I haven’t written anything of note; other than a few tiny patches and tinkerings, I haven’t written any code either.  But that’s at least partly by design; I don’t want to force myself into those things if I’m not really feeling it, and in both cases I can feel the desire to “do something” percolating more and more inside me.  I suspect it won’t be more than a couple of weeks before I sit down and write something, be it code or prose.  I’m going to let it happen naturally.

From another perspective, though, it’s actually been quite productive.  Changing the way that I type–something I do a lot of, even if it’s not writing prose–has been a huge undertaking; I remember that first weekend, typing at 5wpm and thinking it was the worst idea I had ever had in my life.  But now I’m back to something like 75% of my old typing speed, which puts me in the top 1% or so of typists in the world, and that is Plenty Sufficient for my needs.  It’s also way less strain on my hands, something I need to be careful with if I want to be able to do this for the next thirty-plus years.  It’s the sort of “short term pain, long term gain” thing that I couldn’t really justify back when my livelihood at least partly depended on how fast I could bang on the keyboard, and my life will be better now indefinitely into the future for it.

There’s the other stuff too.  I’ve read a bunch of books I hadn’t gotten around to, played a bunch of games I never finished, completed a couple of puzzle books that have been lingering near my chair for years… basically doing things I always pushed off because I didn’t have the time.  My backlog of media is effectively infinite, so it’s hard to say that I made progress on those fronts, and it still grows at a rate greater than my ability to consume it, but there’s no question that I did something there.  And that’s satisfying.

Another thing that retirement has made easier is taking control of my weight.  There’s no question that I’m addicted to food, and being alone at my house allows me to highly regulate the food I come in contact with; the ever-present snacks at my old work place were a serious impediment to my diet, and although I overcame that for a while it is always easier to just eat all the things.  I still have quite a way to go, but the combination of calorie restriction and keto is doing its job.  (It’s also making me pretty grumpy some days, but you can’t have it all, at least if you want to drop a bunch of pounds in time for the holidays.)

In some ways this was always something of an experiment.  You can plan and plan, hypothesize that “it’s going to work out,” but until you actually do the thing it’s almost impossible to know whether or not such a long-term life shift is actually going to work out.  And it’s still very much early days yet; I won’t presume to know that my first six months are indicative of the next six, much less the (hopefully) long life ahead of me.  But: so far, so good.  So very, very good.

Thanks for coming along on this ride with me.  If you have any questions or topics you’d like me to address, whether briefly in replies or via longer-form posts, just let me know.  Thankfully I get enough comments to know I’m not just screaming into the void, but I’m happy to hear feedback of all types.

See you here again in six months!  (Also on Friday or Saturday, for the weekly rundown.  But also in six months.)

The devil in the dull

After seven years of it hanging over my head, I just “platted” Final Fantasy XIII for the PS3, and I’m here to tell you: trophies (or achievements, or whatever your favorite system calls them) are the absolute worst.

For those of you who might be unfamiliar with the idea, a brief explanation.  Achievements (or trophies; I will use the terms interchangeably from here on out) are a way of tracking and rewarding a player’s actions in the vast majority of modern games.  It all started with the Xbox 360; the PlayStation 3 followed suit a couple of years late, and both Sony and Microsoft’s modern systems continue the trend.  Steam, the juggernaut of gaming on modern PCs, also tracks achievements, and people have even reverse-engineered them into games of yore.  They act as a “scoring system” for all of their platforms; for example, as of this moment I’m Level 20 on my PlayStation Network account, with 32 platinum trophies–essentially but not precisely “games I got every achievement in”–and another 3300 or so other trophies of less valuable metals indicating progress in hundreds of games.

There are fundamentally three types of achievements:

  • Some you get for passing certain points in the game; these tend to be unmissable, assuming you play through the whole thing.
  • Others you get for doing certain challenge-y things within a given game, such as beating it on a particular difficulty level or using a weak weapon, or simply pulling off something clever or challenging that isn’t required to beat the game itself.
  • Lastly are achievements that pretend to be the second kind, above, but are secretly actually “play the game until you hate it with every fiber of your being because this stupid achievement is making you do something tedious and awful.”

Now, perhaps you can put your sleuthing hat on and figure out which of the above I abhor.  (I’m actually not a big fan of the first type of achievement, either; they feel like participation stickers.  But at least they tend to be inoffensive.)  Sometimes the second type can even shade into the third, if the challenging thing you’re asking a player to do ends up being too challenging; game designers tend to be a little too close to their games, and often don’t realize that what is easy for them and their testers can be downright devilish for players out in the real world.

The problem is that almost every game with achievements has at least one of that last type, even games I’ve otherwise really enjoyed.  For example, Axiom Verge–one of my favorite games of all time–has an achievement that requires you to “glitch” at least one of every enemy in the game.  This is quite tedious and frustrating, as some enemies only show up in one or two rooms in the game, and missing one means scouring the map for That One Thing You Didn’t Do.  Now, I happen to have collected all of the achievements in Axiom Verge on three different occasions (two different PSN accounts, plus on Steam), but I still hate that particular achievement with a passion.

I recently “platted” (short for “platinummed”, a delightful verbing of the act of getting the last trophy/achievement on a PlayStation game, which nets you a special platinum trophy on top of the copper, silver, or gold one that whatever the actual thing you did provides) Diablo III.  That game also had a couple of awful trophies; one required you to essentially beat the game with six different characters, which is a lot of one game for most people, but that wasn’t the big offender.  No.  The awful one was the “complete 500 bounties” trophy.

Bounties in Diablo III are semi-random tasks the game assigns you, five at a time.  The thing is: after you’ve done twenty bounties or so, you’ve basically seen everything that the bounty system can offer.  And yet you have to grind out another 480 of them.  480!  Even a fast bounty takes a couple of minutes to complete.  It took me hours of completing bounties while doing other things (mostly watching Twitch) to complete that trophy, none of it fun.

So, back to Final Fantasy XIII.  It, too, has a couple of awful achievements, but one of them takes the grand prize in the Garbage Design Sweepstakes.  You have to “hold” (i.e. have in your inventory) every single weapon and accessory in the game.  Many of these you can’t actually find in the game; instead, you have to upgrade other, weaker items into the missing ones.  The details of the system aren’t important.  What’s important is that getting this one trophy easily adds another ten or so hours onto the game, minimum… all of which consists of repetitive tasks where you kill enemies over and over and over and over and over to get items to sell (or use) to feed the upgrade engine.  It is awful, unfun, and you are basically forced into using a guide off the Internet to make sure you don’t miss any of the upgrade paths.

So: I beat the game back in 2011, looked at what I had to do for the last trophies–there are some other really stupid ones in the game that I won’t get into–and went “nope.”  But it’s been nagging me in the back of my head ever since then.  I platted both of FFXIII‘s sequels, and FFXV as well (for those of you wondering “why not FFXIV?”: it’s an massively multiplayer online game, and I’m not allowed to play those for a whole bunch of reasons having to do with my well-being), and still FFXIII sat there, trophy list 60% complete, mocking me.

And so this past week I decided I’d finish it off.  And finish it I did.  A tiny bit of that was fun; a couple of the bits in the game that I hadn’t done were interesting and challengin.  But mostly it was miserable and boring and tedious.

But.  By merely existing, achievements are a gamification of the act of playing games.  And a lot of people–myself included–are easily susceptible to that sort of thing.  I look at a game where I have 70% of the trophies and go: I should get the rest.  Then I have a shiny platinum!  Then people will know I beat the game.   And so I found myself listening to The Dollop for two hours tonight while tediously playing the same battle over and over and over to get enough in-game money to just be done with this.  This is not good game design.  It’s captive, sure, but it’s unhealthy.  And I don’t like it at all.  But I can’t help myself, either.

At least I can blame Bill Gates.

Leader of the plaque

(Don’t blame me, blame Little Shop of Horrors.  Also, if you have a visceral hatred of talking about dentistry, feel free to skip this one.  I don’t blame you one bit.)

My dentist appointment went fine, other than costing rather more than I would have liked.  In fact, for the first time in my adult life, I wasn’t told that I needed to floss more.  This has been a goal of mine for at least the last decade, and while I’ve been flossing regularly for years, apparently the combination of keto and overall reduced consumption was finally enough to pass muster with the dental hygienist.  Success!

Also, still no cavities, for 37ish years and counting.  (I’m not sure when my first baby tooth came in.)

Like many people, I don’t like going to the dentist at all.  Perhaps unlike most people, my problem is 100% focused on a single thing: the water-pick device that modern hygienists use for scaling the plaque off of your teeth much more efficiently than the hooked picks (although they still use those as well).  Something about the frequency the water-pick runs at makes my entire head ache with the sound when it’s in my mouth, and on top of that it inevitably zings some of the nerves in my gums as they knock off the build-up, which makes me jump… and so I spend the entire time in a state of nervous shaky tension waiting for those zings, making the whole experience indescribably worse.  It’s basically a solid fifteen to twenty minutes of my body in complete and total fight-or-flight quivering-in-my-boots fear, except that I can neither fight nor fly.  I feel deeply drained after every visit.

Imagine how bad it’d be if I had cavities and they had to break out a drill.  Uggggggggggggggh.

Anyhow, that particular obligation has been done and dusted for the next six months.  As a first semi-major “health” thing since I’ve retired, it could hardly have gone better, so for that at least I’m quite pleased.  I’m also very, very pleased that I shouldn’t have to go back for quite a while.  That water-pick.  That water-pick.

Absence of thought

I realized that it’s Wednesday and I haven’t yet done my now-pretty-regular “post that isn’t a weekly update” this week.  The thing is: I don’t have anything particularly exciting to write about, at least not that fits the loose format that I’ve established here.  No one wants to read me rail about the current political situation here in the US; there are much more cogent thinkers out there who are doing that work better than I ever will, and “screaming into the void” has never been my favorite pastime.  (I will, however, leave this here.)

So instead you get a meta-post about the act of writing these things in the first place.  Exciting!

I have to admit that sometimes (often, really) I just don’t have it in me to post something.  I think it’d be easier if I were more willing to dash off thoughts, Twitter-style, on the regular, but I feel that the blog format almost always warrants something of more substance.  And I don’t always have that substance to give.  I mean, yes, I could start going through my book and video game collection, writing reviews for everything I’ve finished, but that’s not the core concept of this blog–at least, not in my mind–and that also sounds a lot like work.

I suspect that a lot of people would have no sympathy for that argument.  I’m retired, after all; what else do I have but time?  As much as I have, though, that time is still fundamentally limited, at least until the techno-Rapture that will make us immortal.  (Immortal slaves to the machines, mind you, but immortal nevertheless.)  And as vapid as it may seem, most of the time I’d rather just play more Diablo III or watch some more Twitch than come up with a slightly-cheeky take on something that happened in my life (spoiler: nothing really happens in my life) or banging out a review of a vaguely food-related product.  Each day is still a day closer to the end, and I want to spend them doing things I genuinely enjoy.

And yet.  I think I’ve gotten a lot out of writing these blog entries, even though I’m writing for an ever-shrinking audience.  That last part doesn’t surprise me, as the number of people likely to read this was at its largest the moment I retired and will only fall off as people figure out “huh, not much going on with that Phil guy’s life, is there?” and phase out their readership.  And that’s fine; while ostensibly this exists as a way for people to keep up with what I’m doing now, it’s just as much a way for me to exercise my writing muscles on a regular basis, something I’ve always meant to do and never actually got around to in my prior life.  Well, I finally got around to it, and got around to fixing my typing with Colemak, and got around to playing at least a few games and reading a few books that have been hanging shamefully over my head for years, so this retirement thing seems to be helping me make at least some headway on years of inaction.

And, hey, look, by rambling on about my lack of material to ramble on about, I’ve managed to gin up an entire blog post worth of content!  Thanks, meta-writing!

It’s something I can’t do too often, though, or it’ll get just as tired as anything.  And while I often find it hard to find something to write about–and often don’t want to write at all–I do think that it’s the right thing to do, at least now.  I think I will appreciate being able to look back at these posts in the months and years to come and see what I was thinking about, how I felt, how early retirement was going.  So: I’m gonna keep on keeping on.  But this week you’ll have to put up with this very meta post as your additional content.

Sorry.

The reality of irreality

I recently finished reading a very good book, The Moon and the Other.  This isn’t a review; instead, I wanted to point out something it did that I found both interesting and actually a little distracting due to its rarity in science fiction.  Fair warning: very, very mild spoilers ahead.

One of the main viewpoint characters in the novel is a man who was banished from the “Society of Cousins,” a matriarchal society that made me think (at first) that the book was going to be some sort of weird inverse of The Handmaid’s Tale.  The person–another man–who convinced him to do the deed that got them both banished?  He goes by the pseudonym “Tyler Durden.”  (For those of you that don’t immediately recognize that name, it’s a character from Fight Club, played memorably in the movie by Brad Pitt.)

Later, there’s a very minor plot involving a theoretical virus that would have done damage to that self-same society, proposed by Mr. Durden.  The name of the virus?  GROSS.  (If you don’t recognize that, get yourself to a copy of The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, stat.)

Both of these references startled me when I came across them.  That’s because, for most science fiction, the authors work pretty hard at pretending that culture past, say, Mozart or Bach doesn’t really exist.  It’s very rare to see modern things referenced directly in a work.  Obviously I’m excluding borderline-fanfic stuff like Ernest Cline’s novels, which exist as an explicit love letter to ’80s pop culture; I’m talking about otherwise “normal” science fiction.  At most, they’ll occasionally do one of those sets-of-threes things where the first reference is classical, the second modern, and the third fictional, something like:

Genndy sat down at the ancient piano and plinked a few tentative notes, then launched into a whirlwind tour of the canon: Mozart, Joel, Oda-Wheeler.

That’s a made-up example, but you see such things littered across much of science fiction.  Usually the references end there, though.

When a work refers to a real-life thing, it’s often changed in some way; I’m currently in the middle of reading The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., where it’s not the Pentagon but the Trapezoid.  Sometimes that sort of thing works, but given the fact that D.O.D.O. is all about history–and a couple of sentences later it specifically refers to George Washington–this sort of off-brand filtering can be, in its own way, even more distracting than just using the real name.  (On the other hand, given the core conceit of the novel, it’s possible that the building is the Trapezoid for Reasons.  It’s a Neal Stephenson novel, so I might not find that out for another six thousand pages or so.)

Going back to The Moon and the Other, I can kind of get why this sort of thing is rare.  For one, you risk dating the novel; references to Lorena Bobbitt (as a random example I’d never actually use in a story) already risk falling off the comprehensibility cliff, so if you don’t pick your target well you risk making it completely opaque to the reader.  And given my reaction to seeing contemporary references in a modern novel, the smart money may be keeping it all the way back to Mozart.  But I actually think that “Tyler Durden” is the sort of reference that will stay relevant for a surprisingly long time, and while I sadly suspect “GROSS” will age poorly, as kids don’t grow up reading Calvin and Hobbes, it also wasn’t crucial to the plot.

Still, it makes me think how such things apply to my own writing.  In Rewind I explicitly explore a couple of close-to-our-own realities that turn out slightly different, so these types references are actually fairly important to the story, but I also carefully never placed the novel in a specific city or precise time to avoid some of those selfsame issues.  Having read The Moon and the Other, I’m going to be giving even more serious consideration to the real-world references in my own works.  A mild shock is good; pulling a reader out of the fictional world is not.

Tiny bits, late June edition

My lower back’s been killing me since last Thursday, and I exacerbated it by sitting in front of my computer for several hours last night playing through most of the original Creeper World again.  I woke up this morning with a realization that I had better move very, very carefully today, or I will be laid up for days.

I’ve been on hold with the USPS for an hour now.  They destroyed a package sent from Germany and are supposedly sending me paperwork to file a claim for insurance… but it’s been two weeks and they haven’t yet.  Their website is horribly broken, too.  Putting in my claim number causes it to have a server error.  Confidence level of me actually getting my insurance claim: near zero.

The Handmaid’s Tale is a great book, but I can only read it a chapter or so at a time.  What was meant to read as a dark parable at the time of publication comes off much more dire in today’s political clime.  I haven’t even touched the second season of the show on Hulu, partly because I want it to finish airing, partly because I’m not sure I can handle it right now.

I’m on my second day of a fast.  I had two Atkins shakes this morning (along with a multivitamin and an Advil), and I don’t plan on having calories again until Thursday.  I’m not happy with how much my appetite has grown over the last couple of months, and fasting is the best way I know to reset that… but while it’s happening I find myself occasionally thinking longingly of the taste of paper towels.

Reading back over this, it sure seems like a big bucket of negativity, but that’s just a consequence of the moment.  A positive: I placed another order for Japanese puzzle books yesterday, and it’s coming in tomorrow, because Japan has their stuff seriously together when it comes to international shipping.  I even got a dot-to-dot magazine, because apparently those are okay for adults to do now, and I’ve always secretly loved them.  My lines aren’t very straight, but there’s something deeply satisfying about connecting things in numerical order.  A tiny ordering of the universe, a pushing back of entropy.  And you get a pretty picture as a side bonus.

Cardboard pushing down on me

Tonight was an extended game night, the first we’ve had in a while.  We played The Princes of Florence, one of my favorite games of all time.  And I was so stressed out the entire game that I’m a little surprised I didn’t have an actual panic attack.

I consider Android: Netrunner to be one of the finest game designs I’ve ever experienced.  I also just flat-out can’t play the game with any seriousness; the act of play stresses me out so much that I feel completely exhausted, wrung out, useless after even a single match with someone.  I enjoy teaching the game, but playing competitively?  I just can’t do it.

What do these two games have in common?

They’re both driven by knife’s edge decisions.  Winning or losing often hinges on bidding just once more–or not–in Princes, on making that daredevil run against an unknown server–or not–in ANR.  And they both have many of these kinds of decisions over the course of a single game.  Any one of them could secretly be the one that costs you the game, and both games make you painfully aware of this fact; it tends to be in the final accounting in Princes, but you often just flat-out lose ANR if you make the wrong choice.

This sort of super-tight decision-making process does not go well with my demeanor.  Anyone who has played more than a couple of board games with me learns two things pretty quickly:

  • I’m delighted to teach you a game and help you in your first couple of plays, and
  • I am really, really competitive once you know how to play.

I manage to hide a third thing most of the time in my adulthood, but sometimes it becomes obvious too:

  • I’m a sore loser.

This is a holdover from a childhood spent for the most part as the only kid in the family, a childhood where people made the crucial mistake of letting me win games that I shouldn’t have won just to keep me happy.  I have worked hard over the years to get over this particular problem, and I’d say I’m about 60% there at best.

It doesn’t help the situation that I’m pretty damn good at most board games, even when I’ve never played them before, and so have a high winning percentage; that just makes the voice in the back of my mind think that I deserve to win more, and makes it petulant when I don’t.

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if part of why I love teaching games so much is that it is an inherently imbalanced situation: I’m more familiar with the game than the people I’m teaching, by definition, and so am all the more likely to win.  Ugh.  (Fortunately, I also enjoy teaching other things that aren’t about winning or losing, and love learning from people who know more than me, so I think I’m only somewhat horrible here, not completely so.  Still: ugh.)

So: tonight’s game of The Princes of Florence was with four other players.  Two were new to the game and two had played before.  One of the returning players got into a very good position by the second turn (of seven) in the game, and I didn’t like how the future looked from that point on until the absolute last moment of the game.  I was actually rocking on the bench where I sat the entire, a giant ball of stress-wires firing constantly in my head.  Said returning player commented that he had never seen me so freaked out at a game.  (It’s true; he and I never played competitive Android: Netrunner, or he would have seen it before.)

I ended up winning by a small handful of points, so the little voice in the back of my head says, hey, all that stress was worth it.  You won, right?  But that’s definitely wrong.  Like I told another of the players–one of the two who had never seen the game before, but who came in a strong third–I probably play at somewhere around 90% of my hypothetical “peak skill level” when I’m not stressed out and hyper-focused on the game, rather than the 99-100% when I am.   But the experience is at least ten times more enjoyable for me when I’m not buzzing in semi-terror at every move of the game.  Is performing 10% better at the cost of feeling like I need to take a two-hour cold shower afterwards worth it?  If lives were on the line, perhaps.  For an evening out with friends?  Absolutely not.

A game I love and play a lot is Dominion.  It has a large strategic depth as well, but also a lot of randomness, brought on by the shuffle of the cards.  I stopped playing Dominion at that 99% level ages ago, because the luck of the draw had a much larger effect on my wins and losses than that 10% improvement.  And because of that I can play Dominion back to back for hours, winning and losing and having a great time the whole way through.

I need to be able to play like that with every game.  And maybe, hopefully, spelling it out like this will help; the first step is admitting you have a problem, after all.

As it is, if I don’t play Princes again for another six months or so, I’m fine.  I’ve had enough of its knife’s edge for now… at least until I figure out how to blunt that blade.

Letting loose the cardboard dogs

I’m currently in conversations with a large Internet board game resale site about giving up the vast majority of my board game collection.

Those of you who know me know that I have an enormous set of games.  Somewhere north of 2000, if my logging on BoardGameGeek is to be believed.  And while there are games in there that I would be loath to give up–my copy of Princes of Florence has genuine sentimental value, for instance–they are few and far between.

I’ve gone back and forth on this a lot over the last year or two, but the facts are:

  • my house overfloweth,
  • my time at the table has dropped dramatically since retiring, and never really supported the meatier games in my collection, and
  • moving this collection to wherever I end up going after North Carolina would be… tricky doesn’t even begin to cover it.

The idea of paring that enormous collection down to less than a hundred or so “essentials” really appeals to me.  I love my board game collection, don’t get me wrong, but in the end it’s just stuff, and worse, stuff that isn’t getting used.

I have no idea if this particular stab at reducing my collection will succeed; it requires driving halfway across the country with a truck filled with board games, not to mention getting a good enough price for said games to make the trip worthwhile.  There’s an eBay consignment shop in town that I need to talk to as well, but anywhere like that is likely to have a problem with the volume… not to mention the fact that some of the games just wouldn’t sell.  If I’m shedding my collection, I want to shed it pretty much stem to stern.

Fortunately, I’m not in a rush.  I can look at different options and see what will work out best.  And, hey: if everything else fails, there’s always bonfires.

Principles of most surprise

My recent blog post about my day-to-day routine prompted a question from a few of my tech-aligned friends: why don’t I use an RSS reader, or some other form of syndication/collection service, to manage my daily reading?

First, let me say that I have no problem with RSS feeds and the like; there’s one for my blog over there to the left.  That said, I don’t use them and have no plans to do so in the future.  I’m glad they exist, because I think for a lot of people they provide a lot of value, but they’re not for me.  I think there are two fundamental reasons why I don’t use them.

The first is that I really enjoy routine and ritual.  Presumably said blog post made it clear, but I find life most comfortable when it follows a consistent trajectory.  Small day-to-day changes are fine; I’ll read a book now, play a video game tomorrow.  But no change and all the same makes Phil a happy boy.  And morning reading is a well-worn routine; think of the classic cliché of reading a newspaper at the breakfast table.  It’s a thing I’ve been doing every morning since I was a student worker at LSU almost twenty years ago.  Something about the act of making it A Thing puts me into the proper mindset for the day ahead.

The second reason is a little loosey-goosier, but I think it might actually be more important for me.  We live in an age where surprise is uncommon.  Movies used to have trailers and maybe an article in a magazine; nowadays every summer blockbuster is completely analyzed by the entertainment media from before casting even begins.  Current political climate aside, there just really isn’t that much disruption in the world any more, and most of it (current political climate not aside) is negative, not positive.  As we’ve grown older we’ve become harder to buy gifts for and find it harder to do the same, often leading us to simply asking the giftee what they want… or forgoing the process all-together.  And if you find something confusing or mysterious, a couple of well-worded Google searches are all that stand between you and understanding that St. Elmo’s fire is actually pretty much completely understood nowadays.  (Well, maybe not the movie; it was always my least favorite Brat Pack film.)

And so.  Pulling up a bunch of bookmarks each morning, particularly when several of them have very sporadic update frequencies, is a way to bring a little surprise back into one’s life.  I could be notified every time that Jimmy Maher makes a new post… but I don’t want to be.  I like that momentary flush of excitement when I pull up The Digital Antiquarian in the morning and see he’s written another 5000-word treatise.  What a treat! I think.  Time to dig in.

Perhaps these two views make me come off as something of a stodgy old man; anyone who knows me knows that isn’t the case.  And in some ways the two reasons contradict each other: I like routine, but I also like surprise?  What sort of mealy-mouthed wishy-washy mumbo-jumbo is that?  To which I can only say, hey, welcome to humanity.

 

Waking up, falling out of bed

Over the past weeks and months, various people have asked me with curiosity, incredulity, even suspicion: what do you do all day?

First, it’s important to know that I’m a creature of habit.  I enjoy it when things are much the same today as they were yesterday, and am looking forward to a tomorrow that looks a lot like now.  For many people that would be simply the worst, and I respect that even as I respectfully disagree.

Second, I don’t blame you if you fall asleep halfway through this post.  My life is simple, rote, Spartan in habit if not in clutter.  Expect no big revelations.

Times are approximations, standard rules and regulations apply, no purchase necessary.

0745-0900ish: Wake up.  Sometimes it’s as early as 0600, sometimes it’s as late as 1000, but 0800-0815 is by far the most common window for me awakening.  It doesn’t seem to correlate terribly well with when I go to bed, either; a lack of sleep here usually (but not always) portends a nap later in the day.

I break my fast with a pair of Atkins shakes and a multivitamin.

0830ish: Morning dailies.  Two of the free-to-play games I engaged with, Gems of War and Let It Die, have their 24-hour cycles pop while I’m generally asleep, so I spend time in the morning logging into them and doing the minimum daily requirements.  Occasionally I’ll actually play one for a while in the morning, particularly Let It Die, for an hour or so, but that’s actually relatively uncommon.

0900ish: Morning bookmarks.  I have a set of websites I check religiously every morning.

  • The CRPG Addict (new content several times a week): Chester Bolingbroke (likely not his real name) is playing through a bunch of old computer RPGs and writing them up.  The writing is engaging and he’s willing to put up with even more willfully (unintentionally?) terrible design than I am, so it’s enjoyable to read and has regular doses of schadenfreude.
  • The Digital Antiquarian (new content a couple of times a week): Jimmy Maher (actually his real name) is an excellent writer, and he’s been covering early computer and gaming history for a long time.  I actually came across one of his books, The Future Was Here–part of my long-time favorite Platform Studies series–well before I found his blog.  Articles tend to be long and meticulously researched; my archive binge nine months or so ago took weeks, and I’m a fast reader.  Right now he’s writing about Sid Meier’s Civilization, which also means he’s been diving into the details of Communism and the role religion has played in the development of society and other such topics that obviously come from analyzing an old computer game.  Always a fascinating read.
  • Dinosaur Comics (new content several times a week): My favorite comic for a decade plus.  Don’t let its use of the exact same panels for every single strip fool you; it’s regularly smart, clever, and funny as hell.  My avatar just about everywhere is a very light edit of T-Rex’s head from this strip.
  • Dumbing of Age (new content every day, weekends included): I never read the previous “Walkyverse” comics, and it turns out that there’s no need to; Dumbing of Age stands alone as a paean to college, adolescent naïvete, and deep questions about identity.  It’s funny and really serious, oftentimes both in the same strip.  (It’s also extremely continuity-heavy; prepare for some binge reading of the archives if you pick it up.)
  • Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal (new content several times a week): It started out as a darker, edgier The Far Side, and while those strips still happen regularly, it’s more often a nerdy  look at questions of identity, sexuality, and the future.  But, you know, funny.
  • Electoral Vote (new content daily): Run by Andrew Tenenbaum of MINIX fame, this site used to only update in the run-up to presidential elections.  In the utterly insane world we live in today, Tenenbaum decided to stick to a daily update schedule “until things calm down”.  (Spoiler alert: they haven’t.)  It provides precisely the right amount of political news and analysis I can generally handle on a daily basis, presented in a trenchant tone that makes it way more readable than most news sites.  It also provides links to all of its sources, which is way more than most political sites do.
  • A couple of Tumblrs and Twitter feeds for fannish crap that aren’t worth sharing.

1000ish: Time to head to Walmart and pick up a rotisserie chicken.  They’re $4.98 plus tax, which is way, way cheaper than I could do on my own.  Plus I’m lazy.

1030ish: Time to eat said rotisserie chicken.  This is earlier than I like eating, but they start putting the chickens out right after 0900, so they start to get a bit soggy if you don’t get there early, and they definitely don’t improve by sitting on the countertop.

1100ish: Comedy TV time.  I allow myself to watch only one episode each of the various shows I’m consuming, and noontime is when I watch the funny stuff.  Right now that’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Last Man on Earth.

1200-1900ish: The first big open window of the day.  I’ve been reading a lot lately, so that happens here; this is also when I usually loop back around to Let It Die and actually put some time into it.  If I’m in the middle of a normal, non-free-to-play game (right now it’s the original Phantasy Star for the Sega Master System), progress happens here.

I also do puzzles.  I keep a pair of stacks of puzzle books next to my recliner; I tend to only do one of a type (a Sudoku, a Slitherlink, whatever) before switching off to another puzzle type, or grabbing a book, or snagging the controller.  I don’t remember being this unfocused in my solving before retirement; not sure what that’s about.

If I’m tired due to staying up too late, not getting enough sleep, or just, y’know, feeling like it, I’ll take a short nap somewhere in here too.  It’s not usually for more than an hour or so, but sometimes it’s 2-3 hours.  That’s fine too.

Usually dinner’s just another pair of Atkins shakes somewhere in here.

1900ish: Drama TV time.  Anything serious I’m watching happens here.  Right now that’s just The Punisher, but it’s been up to three different shows at the same time.  If it’s a bit creepy, like Stranger Things, I’ll push it later to make sure it’s dark outside when I watch it.  Ambiance is important, y’ken?

2000ish: Evening dailies.  Warframe and Spelunker World have daily events that pop at night, so I do those.  I always do Spelunker World first, because Warframe often has some missions to do as well, and I like to finish off with them.

2100ish until: Evening variety time.  I watch Twitch, read, solve more puzzles, play more videogames, until I get tired and hit the bed.  Sometimes that’s as early as 2200, sometimes it’s as late as 0400.  I don’t really worry about the timing.  After all, I can always nap the next day.

As you can see, it’s super action-packed exciting times!  But I like the slow rhythm of my days quite a bit.

Now, it’s 1120, which means it’s time for some Brooklyn Nine-Nine.  If you’ll excuse me…