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 [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.

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.)

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…

Weekly status update [0014/????]

A mostly quiet week.  That’s not a bad thing.

  • Keto’s going well.  I’ve been eating a lot of Walmart’s rotisserie chickens, as they’re low-carb and cheap besides.  And drinking tons of Atkins shakes, something I’ve been doing off and on for… a long time now, sadly.  I’m not weighing myself, because hard numbers tend to be a demotivating factor for me, but I can already see that my face has slimmed down a bit.  Just another 24 months or so to go…
  • I’m most of the way through reading Eye of the World.  It’s actually been quite a bit better than I feared, but the remaining three trillion words are still a daunting task I see ahead of me.
  • I started watching Last Man on Earth just in time for the announcement that Fox is cancelling it… along with Brooklyn Nine-Nine, where I’m most of the way through the second season.  Why, Fox?  Why?  Anyhow, Last Man is actually quite good; it’s got an interesting concept, the cast is great, and it’s shot beautifully for what amounts to a weird-as-hell sitcom.
  • Landail finished up Wild Arms, one of my old favorites and started playing Shining the Holy Ark, a dungeon crawler for the Sega Saturn.  After watching for an hour or so I realized that I really want to play the game without having it all spoiled.  But there’s a problem: I have to play games in order, which means going all the way back to the original Shining in the Darkness for the Genesis.  And… I didn’t have graph paper for mapping, so I ordered some off of Amazon and started to play the original Phantasy Star in the interim.  I had clearly forgotten that it, too, has first-person dungeon crawling segments.  Sigh.  Anyhow, the graph paper came in this morning, and I’ve already mapped several dungeons in Phantasy Star.  I’m going to finish it up before shifting back to Shining in the Darkness.  Maybe I’ll actually get to Shining the Holy Ark sometime before 2052.
  • I have a very, very extensive music collection, carefully curated and organized in digital form on my computer and an external drive.  For the first time in literally years, I spent at least a little bit each day for the last several days adding more stuff to it.  It’s all things I’ve already downloaded–from Bandcamp, mostly–but it’s got to be renamed, re-encoded, and all that jazz.  I hadn’t felt motivated to touch my music collection in a really long time, so this has been a pleasant resurgence.  We’ll see if it lasts.
  • I continue to love (most of) the Great Value drink enhancers.  Expect a followup post once I finish off the original bottles I bought, probably this coming week.  (I’ve already bought more raspberry lemonade, because, well, S-tier.)  Quite a few flavors have shifted their rankings, and I have a Certified PhilHack(tm) to “kick it up a skooch” that I want to share.

Huh.  Apparently I had a lot to say despite the quiet.  Shocking, I know, particularly if you’ve ever met me.

Weekly status update [0013/????]

Getting back into the groove of being home.  I honestly miss being around other people… but I also really like being by myself.  The eternal conflict.

  • After months of very laissez-faire eating habits, I’m back on keto.  I’m actually in the middle of a mini-fast; I had been eating many thousands of kilocalories more than I should have per day, and fasting is the… er… fastest way I know to get my body back to a more regular level of craving.  It’s miserable, of course, but it’s also almost over.  I plan on shifting to a regular ketogenic diet come Monday.
  • Did quite a few puzzles, mostly Sudoku; I’m at that point in one of my puzzle books where I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, which means I tend to focus on it rather than the fifteen others sitting next to my chair.  I think I’m going to intentionally not replace that particular book for a bit, so as to give some of the other puzzle types a bigger part of the rotation.
  • Still watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine (hilarious) and The Punisher (tolerable).
  • I actually wrote some small patches for Giles this week.  For a brief, shining moment I thought I might be diving back into coding.  Then I remembered that no one cares about Giles other than me and I have nothing to prove in re: my coding ability, so… not so much.
  • Still grinding out dailies in the same four games, although I actually put some real time into Let It Die.  I think I’m actually going to try and make some real forward progress this weekend or, at the latest, next week.
  • We had an “extended game night” this Tuesday; it was supposed to be at Fercott Fermentables, but they were closed.  One of the players stepped in at the last minute to host.  Thanks, Derrick!  It was an excellent game of Antike II, and one I’m still thinking about now.
  • I ordered board games for the first time this year while still riding high on the high from that game night.  As always, I bought way more than I should have.  Sigh.
  • Not a lot of reading, alas.  The Eye of the World is fine, but it’s not exciting me… and I feel obligated to finish at least that first book in the Wheel of Time series before moving onto something else.

All in all, pretty much the same stuff that I was doing before the trip, plus the whole diet thing.  If you find any of this surprising… you haven’t been paying attention.

The pleasures of simplicity

I’m back in North Carolina, and glad to be back.  My reaction actually surprised me; I opened the door to my house with a bit of trepidation, but it smelled like–felt like–home from the moment I stepped inside.  I’m still not fully unpacked from the trip, but I made a start of it last night, and already did the necessary errands around town this morning to get my mail, buy another clipboard after I left mine at Mom’s, and so on.

That said, it was a wonderful trip.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, this trip was pretty much designed-slash-planned to be neither designed nor planned.  Back in Baton Rouge, I saw people who put forth the effort to contact me after an initial “hey, I’m in town” blast to old friends and coworkers, and didn’t worry about the rest.  There were lots of days spent lazing around my mom’s house, solving puzzles or watching Broadchurch, and I ate out probably half as much as I typically do when I visit.

There were a lot more lunches and dinners at restaurants in Fayetteville, but the visit was still pretty low-key.  Dan and I spent a lot of time playing couch co-op Diablo III, which is just about as non-committal as you can make a videogame.  Any less thought involved (at the low levels, at least) and you may as well be “playing” Cookie Clicker.  The only really planned outing was to Crystal Bridges, and the plan for that changed several times throughout the week as other things came up.  In previous times that would have stressed me out.  But, no, we went on Sunday and it was really nice.  I could have stayed for hours and hours more; I love museums.  But it gives me something else to look forward to on the next trip to Arkansas.

All along the way, my general response to any planned outing, get-together, or choice of meal was “sure, why not.”  Back in Louisiana, the few evenings with Stuff Happening were strictly first-come, first-serve, rather than my previous attempts to satisfy as many people as possible, even if it meant shuffling a lot of things around.

And the lesson?  That old way is for chumps.  Cutting scheduling down to the barest minimum doesn’t just make things less stressful, it makes them more fun, because there’s room for spontaneity when before there was too much “oh, no, I’m meeting whoever at whenever, I can’t do that”.  Keeping it simple also kept it pleasant, and when your trip has God-awful drives all around it, you can do with as much pleasantness as possible.

(Also, no matter how much I kvetch about the drive, it’s still better than flying.  You lose a day either way, but most airlines don’t have the ability to satisfy a craving for a Blizzard, or a desire to just get out and not be moving for a few minutes, at 30,000 feet.)

So my future plan, even for the Big Holiday Visit, is to keep it low on planning and high on “yeah, sure”.  I’ll try and make sure the one big game night happens, but that’s about it, and if even that falls through I won’t be too sad.  Heck, I played Concordia four times while I was in Baton Rouge, which is roughly infinity percent more than I expected, and half of those games were spontaneous ones with the neighbors.  Who knows what other fun I’ll discover later this year?

Weekly status update [0011/????]

The majority of this week has been spent with an old coworker and his family in Fayetteville, AR, just hanging out.  It’s the last leg of my vacation before I head back to Lenoir.  As such, here’s a quick list of some stuff I’ve done:

  • Ate a bunch of tasty food.  Fayetteville has totally respectable Thai and Vietnamese, an excellent grilled cheese shop, and not one but two good frozen custard/concrete shops.  Yum.
  • Played a lot of Diablo III with said coworker via couch co-op on the PS4.  It’s good, mindless fun.
  • …not a whole lot of anything else.  A bit of puzzling, a bit of reading, even a game of Concordia, but for the most part it’s been a nice, quiet, low-key visit.  Which I’ve very much enjoyed.

As mentioned before, I plan on being back in Lenoir early next week, and hope to resume a more regular posting schedule then.  See you soon!

(P.S.  Still not bored.)

Weekly status update [0010/????]

As the number above creeps into the double digits, I’m still in Louisiana, planning to head to Arkansas this coming Tuesday.  I’m very much still taking it easy, so enjoy this (relatively) shorter synopsis.

  • Binged the first two series of Broadchurch with my mom; we’re about halfway through the third.  The first was still the best, but it’s an excellent show.
  • Finished my reread of the Culture series and decided, against my better judgment, to start reading the Wheel of Time; I have a combined eBook of all of the books in the series from when it was up for the Hugo.  My Kindle hasn’t moved from 1% on the progress bar.  It’s intimidating.
  • Took a couple of hours to reread two of my own novels, both science fiction.  They both had some clever bits, and the writing itself was actually quite a bit better than I remembered, but they’re also both woefully incomplete.
  • Ate at a local Vietnamese restaurant not once but twice.  It was the first time my mother had ever had such cuisine, and I think she’s hooked.  If you’re ever in Baton Rouge, check out Dang’s.  Their spring rolls and pho are both amazing.
  • Taught my older cousin how to solve both sudoku (at her insistence) and fill-ins (because I could).  She seemed to really like the latter.  It felt good.
  • The usual free-to-play videogame grind.
  • Managed to play card and board games with the neighbors; I’ve already played Concordia four times on this trip, which is more than any given previous six-month period in my life.  It’s so good.

Now to get some sleep.  The weather’s been amazing the entire time I’ve been here, cool and not too humid, but tomorrow’s going to be a total mess with thunderstorms.  I knew it had to happen before I left.  I’m glad it waited so long.

All the comforts

Being back home has been very nice.

Part of it is that my obligations here are pretty low-key, bordering on nonexistent.  I’ve had several meals with friends and family, played some board games with my neighbors, and watched some movies with my mother.  But I’ve also played quite a bit of Let It Die, solved a ton of puzzles, continued reading the Culture series (I’m up to the last one, The Hydrogen Sonata), and watched plenty of Twitch.  These last are, essentially, the same things I fill my days with back at my house in Lenoir.

In earlier years, I would have felt a little guilty about that.  I used to cram as many different restaurants as possible into every visit, coordinate visits with the maximum number of old friends and acquaintances, spend as much time as possible with family.  But now?  I know I’ll be back for the holidays, and then again sometime later next year.  And when I visit I know I won’t be time constrained.  So why force it?

Because of that, I’ve been enjoying it a lot more.  It was always nice to visit, but there was always an undercurrent of maximizing the efficiency of my visit–even of some of that was “spending as much time as possible watching the new season of Black Mirror with Mom”–that made it all more exhausting than it should’ve been.  Not so much this time.

I’ll be leaving Baton Rouge to visit a friend (and fellow early retiree) in Arkansas early next week.  I expect that trip to be a little more packed, a little more stressful… and that’s fine, because it’s not home.  Home should be easy.

And, for the first time in a long time, it really is.