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.

Weekly status update [0019/????]

A pretty quiet week, overall.

  • Still very light on the TV (I watched maybe two episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine) and no puzzles at all.
  • Video games, though, I played a lot.  I spent an entire day playing Let It Die, and played a lot of it in the gaps throughout the week too.  I also made a lot of progress in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood; I’ve set aside Horizon: Zero Dawn for the moment.  I made some more progress in Shining in the Darkness as well, but didn’t play it a whole lot.
  • I also read quite a bit.  I tore through Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential for the first time; I feel that writing up an article on it is a little too much whistling past the graveyard, given his recent passing, but it’s an excellent autobiography and excoriation of the restaurant business.  I never really watched any of Bourdain’s shows, but having read the book I’m actually more interested in them now.
  • We had an extended game night Tuesday.  It gave me something of an epiphany.
  • I was more social than I usually am; along with the board games on Tuesday, I went to A Thing Saturday night, had a friend hang out most of the day Sunday, and had dinner with an old coworker just a few hours ago this Friday evening.  It was nice seeing everyone.
  • I spent a lot of time working on my music collection.  I’m still way, way behind on having it all nice and tidy, but every little bit counts.
  • Down a size on my pants: keto, woo!

Yeah; nothing terribly exciting, that’s for sure.  But I’m still very content with the slow rhythms of my retirement nineteen weeks in.  This bodes very well for the future.

Weekly status update [0018/????]

Oh, hey, I’m actually writing this on Friday for a bit of a change.

  • I’ve moved on from reading Stephen King’s crime trilogy to Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.  I’m about halfway through.  It’s excellent and dark as hell.
  • I actually beat Phantasy Star this weekend.  The game got very repetitive near the end, with mostly the same enemies in the last four or five dungeons.  I stopped mapping the game myself and switched to using online maps in my frustration, tearing through the endgame as quickly as possible.  The mid-game was a solid RPG, and the game was technically amazing; it honestly looked better than many SNES RPGs.  But was it fun all the way through?  Definitely not.
  • I’m now playing Shining in the Darkness.  It’s another “map it out on a piece of graph paper” game, but I’m enjoying it quite a bit more, at least for the time being.  The levels are huge, 30×30 each; fortunately the graph paper I bought has a smaller-scale grid on the back of each sheet, so it’s not a problem to map.
  • I finished the PS4 remaster of Assassin’s Creed II and started both AC: Brotherhood and Horizon: Zero Dawn.  They’re good games both, if a little too similar to each other.  I should pick just one to stick with for the moment.
  • While I was dealing with Linux being idiotic yesterday, I was also having to fight with the USPS.  They destroyed a package of board games from amazon.de, and apparently I’m going to have to fill out a bunch of forms to claim the insurance on the package, never mind the fact that they have a case file with a bunch of evidence that it is, indeed, destroyed.  Sigh.
  • Not a lot of TV.  I watch an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine every couple of days, but that’s it.  Same with puzzles; I don’t think I’ve solved a single one in the last week.  I have been continuing my watching of Landail play games on Twitch, although at the moment it’s mostly hate-watching due to the game he’s playing.
  • Keto continues apace.

It’s been something of an exhausting week, mainly due to the stress of dealing with USPS and my computer.  I’m actually glad that it’s the weekend now, which is honestly a bit of a strange thing to say nowadays, but there you have it.

Here’s a book thing: The Bill Hodges trilogy by Stephen King

As mentioned in my first Stephen King review, it became clear to me while reading The Outsider that one of the characters was from a previous work.  That work turned out to be an entire trilogy of gritty crime novels.  I snagged them from the library last week, and have spent much of the intervening time reading them.

Conclusion: they’re good.  Also, large print books are awesome for my aging, failing eyes, and I’ll be on the lookout for large print editions when possible in the future.

The first two novels in the series, Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers, are straight-up mystery/crime books with no supernatural elements.  Mr. Mercedes is the better book, I think, but that’s at least partly because Finders Keepers involves a J.D. Salinger-type writer and I am really tired of Stephen King having stories revolve around writers.  You’re a writer, bub.  I get it.  We all get it.  We got it in The Dark Half, and Bag of Bones, and Duma Key, and… yeah.  We get it.  I actually stopped reading King for a while because he seemed to be in a rut where every main character was a middle-aged writer.  I mean, sure, write what you know, but… c’mon.

Fortunately, the writer is offed in the opening.  This is a crime novel, after all.

By the end of the second book, there are a whole lot of pointers to the fact that the third one (End of Watch) is going to be more supernatural in nature, even if you weren’t already aware of that due to mentions in The Outsider.  And that turns out to, indeed, be the case; what was impressive was that the book still managed to be a solid mystery/crime novel despite the supernatural elements.

That said, I feel that the series had a pretty linear decline in quality.  They were all good, but Mr. Mercedes was the best, with the most captivating villain and the best “oh, if only!” moments.  That’s actually kinda nice, to be honest; if you only have time for one of them, you can read the first and be pretty content.

Are they better than The Outsider, you ask?  I think I enjoyed that book more, because the back half of it was a more traditional King novel, with the dreamlike logic those books contain.  But that book is also a very, well, King-ian work, with weird horrible magical things happening and massive confusion reigning.  I like that sort of thing, but totally understand why some people don’t.

On the other hand, Mr. Mercedes presents a perfectly human villain that does things almost as awful.  Isn’t that worse, really?

Weekly status update [0017/????]

I had a couple of conversations yesterday evening about my blog; I was at a social going-away party thing that had a lot of people I hadn’t really talked to since before I retired.  And it made me realize that in some ways, yeah, this blog is exactly the sort of obligation I’m trying not to have this year.  I’m not gonna lie.  Sometimes it’s hard to come up with something even semi-interesting to write about, and I feel that as a sort of weight around my shoulders.  But I also realized that a little obligation, a little “hey, you need to do this at least a couple of times a week” is actually a good thing.  Never mind the practical, useful side of it, the fact that writing here is good de-rusting for whatever future tippy-tappy endeavors I embark on.  A tiny bit of discomfort that results in something that others seem to enjoy?  That’s the best kind of obligation.

  • I don’t think I even cracked a puzzle book once this week.  That might be a first since retirement.
  • It’s because almost all of my time has been spent reading.  After finishing off King’s The Outsider, I immediately put his “crime trilogy” on hold at the local library.  It was a long weekend, so I couldn’t get them until Tuesday, but snag them I did.  I’ve already finished the first two and plan on spending the rest of today reading the third.
  • I got them in large print, too.  It’s nice.  I had already jacked the font size way up on my Kindle back when I read the first Wheel of Time book, and having something much like that in a physical volume is handy.  Unfortunately not a lot of my favorite genre (science fiction) gets large-print editions, so I’ll have to enjoy this luxury while I can.
  • I didn’t really watch TV either.  I did play some video games, but it’s mostly the usual free-to-play suspects.
  • Keto’s going well.  I still haven’t weighed myself, but I had the most important signifier Friday morning: the shorts I had been wearing off and on the last few weeks were loose enough I had to hitch them up repeatedly at Walmart.  Woo!
  • I saw Deadpool 2 with some good friends from work last Saturday.  It was… exactly what I wanted out of Deadpool 2.  If you saw the first, and thought of it as “a comic book movie cranked to 11,” then Deadpool 2 was the same thing cranked to 13 or 14.
  • No further movement on the “getting rid of boardgames” front to report.
  • Dove deep into reading about modern abstract boardgames again, which happens every six months or so.  The result this time was some code changes to Giles to make one particular game more flexible.  The desire to implement a whole new game or two has mostly passed, unfortunately, but even this little bit of programming felt good.
  • Still no actual prose on a page, although stuff is aggressively percolating.  Soon.  Soon.

Soon.  (Man.  That doesn’t even look like a word to me now.)

Here’s a book thing: “The Outsider” by Stephen King

[Extremely minimal spoilers ahead.  Basically, if you’ve ever read… well, anything by Stephen King, it’s spoiler-free.]

I wended my way through Stephen King’s latest novel last night, finishing it up around one in the morning.  Now, I wake up to an alarm at 0500 every Monday morning for stupid reasons involving a video game, so I should have been in bed around 9pm or so… but I just couldn’t pull myself away from the book.

It’s good.  Real good.

I used to be an enormous Stephen King fan.  My mom let me join the Stephen King Book Club when I was eleven or so; the first book I got was Needful Things, which had just come out.  (To those of you concerned about a kid reading Stephen King, let’s just say that I could handle it, and my mother was well aware of that.)  It was painfully clear to me that there was a lot more to this Castle Rock business, even before I could look up the details easily on Wikipedia, and over the next few years more and more of his earlier books would trickle into my possession from the Book Club.  I can’t remember exactly when we stopped the subscription; I think it was sometime after Dolores Claiborne and before Insomnia, but I’m not entirely sure.

Anyhow, while I was a huge King fan for years, his grasp on my imagination slackened considerably once he entered that period where it felt like every book he wrote involved a New England author having a mid-life crisis, oh and also some spooky stuff happened or whatever.  I felt like he was treading the same water over and over.  His ending to the Dark Tower series also left… a lot to be desired.  I figured I’d still read him every now and then, but my days of following every new Stephen King novel were over.

This proved to be true; I picked up the interquel Dark Tower book and Duma Key from the library at different times over the last few years, and they were pretty much precisely what I expected: a disappointment and a book about an author having a mid-life crisis, oh and also some spooky stuff happened, in that order.

I read a snippet of a review of the brand-new King novel, The Outsider, and it mentioned that the book was a “return to form.”  I figured, what the hell? and put it on hold at the local library.  Apparently I was one of the very first to do that, because I got it in my hot little hands immediately after it entered circulation.

Conclusion: It’s good.  Real good.  It is, indeed, something of a return to form.  The novel starts off like a police procedural, but things get weirder and weirder as it goes, and by the end it is definitely a Stephen King novel.  As someone who is strongly spoiler-averse I won’t go further than to say that I felt it fit together better than a lot of his later work.

A note that I would have appreciated before reading it: one of the main characters of the novel is apparently from King’s earlier crime trilogy that starts with Mr. Mercedes, a fact I didn’t know but started to suspect as I read.  The Outsider spoils the events of those novels pretty heavily, so be forewarned that if you don’t want those spoilers, you should read those books first.

That said, the book stands alone just fine.  Duma Key was something of a mediocre read, and the less said about The Wind in the Keyhole the better, but if this is how he writes nowadays, I’m ready to become a fan again.

Weekly status update [0016/????]

An even quieter week than usual, which is saying something.

  • My wrists are behaving better than they have in months.  I got new braces to wear overnight, as the old ones were literally falling apart, and I haven’t been wearing them during the day at all for the last several days.  So far so good.
  • Jessica Jones‘ second season has so far failed to grab me the way the first did, which is disappointing.  I’m still going to finish it up, but after the amazing Kilgrave arc, this is something of a letdown.  Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Last Man on Earth continue to be excellent viewing material, thankfully.
  • I got to play Transatlantic at an extended game night this past Tuesday.  It was a very solid game, if not quite up to Concordia‘s level of brilliance, and I found myself thinking about it again repeatedly over the last several days.  I want to write a post about Mac Gerdts’ designs and why I find them so compelling, but I haven’t been able to arrange my thoughts in a way that I like enough to post.
  • I still haven’t started on Rewind rewrites, but I got some excellent feedback on the zeroth draft from a friend that pushed me ever closer to getting started on them.  It’s going to take a lot of work; the story needs to be roughly twice as long, at a minimum, and there’s a lot of guff that needs to be removed and plot threads that need to be woven more tightly.  I will probably have to break down and actually do some outlining to make sure it all fits together the way I want, something I’ve avoided… well, forever, actually.  Sigh.  But it’s for the good of the story, I know.
  • I finished reading Scott Westerfeld’s Afterworlds, which was fine, if slight.  Mostly it made me wish I was rereading his Pretties series, or Leviathan (which, no joke, I got through two of the three books to finally realize that I had already read the damn series… but I was too into it to put it aside, and finished out the re-read.)  I managed to be the first person in line at the local library for the new Stephen King novel, so I look forward to reading that next; my understanding is that it’s something of a return to form for him.  I’ll report back.

The new CHVRCHES album came out today; I’ve already spun it a few times and quite enjoyed it.  Don’t be surprised if you see a review of… well, probably not it, but perhaps one or both of their earlier albums soon.

Anyhow: quiet.  Not boring, of course–you know that by now!–but not busy.  And that’s fine.

Weekly status update [0015/????]

Sorry for the late update; last night was a bit rough and I had a friend over today.

  • Keto is going well.  I fit into a couple of pairs of shorts I haven’t been able to wear in a while, just in time for the hot summer months.
  • I finished up The Punisher, which was Just Fine.  Time to start Jessica Jones season 2.
  • I actually watched a couple of movies recently; specifically, I caught up on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, watching both Black Panther and Spiderman: Homecoming.  Both of them were great in different ways.
  • Still slowly reading Scott Westerfeld’s Afterworlds, which hasn’t grabbed me the way most of his books do.  After that I’ll go back to the Wheel of Time series, at least for one more book.
  • Did a bunch of puzzles, including the single largest Kakuro I’ve completed.  It took me about six hours (!), although at least two of that was because I screwed up and had to erase over half the puzzle.  Ugh.  I persevered, though, which made me happy; a younger Phil would have scratched through the puzzle and moved on.
  • Speaking of puzzles, my latest order of Japanese magazines came in.  I also ordered a pair of books for the daughter of one of my friends, who has done a bunch of Sudoku but not much else.  It was fun walking her through some of the different puzzle types.  I gifted her one of my precious Zebra M-402s.  She’s aware that’s the only one she gets.
  • My wrists are behaving way better than they had been, which is good, because my old braces finally gave up the ghost.  I ordered some new ones just a few minutes ago, actually.

A pleasant, quiet week overall.  I’m almost done with all of the first round of the Great Value flavor enhancers; expect to see an up-to-date review/ranking sometime this coming week.

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…