Monday, December 26, 2016

Seasons Greetings, Solo and Steam Sales

The word of the week is joyous.

Dec 19 – Young Han Solo?

You may not have heard of Jamie Costa before now, but you should have.

He's a man who can do uncanny impressions of many starts, including a spot-on Robin Williams( he looks just like him! )and Harrison Ford. Which has led to this 13-minute gem - a high-value fan film of a young Han Solo, done right:


While the 'official' film is still in production, with a different actor, I have to say I was impressed with what I saw: it just works.

More, please?


Dec 19 – Workin' and Frankie's

This week's been rather relaxed overall, which has been great.

Work's been interesting, as more than a few people asked for vacation days this week and next, so getting things done has been challenging sometimes, if certain people aren't around in various departments. All the same, it's been about 1/3 less busy, and the people contacting us have been fairly relaxed, though there's the usual last-minute-itis requests to make the Christmas deadlines... which usually doesn't pan out.

I'd call this Plan A, myself...

My lady and I had dinner with my critique group( 7 of us total )at Frankie's Modern Diner, which has really grown on me the last few months: the place is spacious, the staff friendly( and attentive! )with an easy-to-reach downtown location, not to mention great prices-per-portion ratios - all wins in my book.

We spent a fun few hours chewing the fat with our friends, despite the distractive lure of our portable devices. It was great( as always )to be among a group of writing peers, among whom the written word is held in such high regard.

Plus, they're just lovely people, and I count myself truly fortunate to be able to count them among my friends, as well as writing comrades.


Dec 21 – Fake Giant Robots?

I thought I had some really exciting g33ky news, but now it's questionable...

A few weeks ago, I saw a video about a team of Korean engineers who are putting together a 14-ft tall robot that can walk and manipulate items with its arms, all tele-operated by a pilot riding inside! While there's no mention of the planned power source, or how it's going to self-balance reliably on anything other than a perfectly-flat surface, it's still incredibly impressive technology( a HUGE 'step forward' if you will ):


However, now the veracity of that video has been called into question, as the folks over at LiveScience make some good points about what we actually know about KFT in this article.

Darn. But as the old saying goes, if it's too good to be true...


Dec 22 – Rogue One Thoughts

A week ago, I saw the latest Star Wars film, and parts of it have stuck with me.

Spoilers below.


Mainly the ending, and how so many of the characters manage to stand out, despite the large cast. I admired the choice made at the end, to further the story in a believable way, in that the mission comes before all, that the stories of the characters have all led up to this: the most-important mission of their lives.

The movie itself also stood out for many other reasons, some of which had not occurred to me. Screenrant collects quite a few of these in a great article, which is well worth the read if you're a Star Wars fan of any level.

One of the things they mention is the lack of an opening crawl' which in general I agree works for the movie. However, some fans felt differently, and one decided to make a crawl of their own - and did a really good job:



Dec 23 – Colonial Marine Fans

Darn it, why does there have to be a STEAM SALE during the holidays?

While the Steam Winter Sale this year is different from previous years in several ways, the essence is this: there's probably not going to be a better time for a discount on PC games, at least not until next year's Winter Sale.

However, given that I have limited time and even more limited supplies of disposable funds, I held myself to one purchase one: Aliens Colonial Marines. While it's not the latest game in the Aliens franchise, it's one that I've wanted for a little while now, because it contains many CGI locations from the film that you can actually explore - cool! Also, you get to fire an M41A Pulse Rifle, which is again something that I'd like to experience, though without the deadly aliens along with.

Despite the negative reviews due to the bungled way the game was released, fans did enjoy what the game has to offer, enough to create their own trailer that is even better than the official one:

One of the things I did this evening is also replace some of the new fans in my new PC, because... well, they didn't fit. Careful spendthrift though I am, the three red LED fans I purchased for $10 total from eBay didn't show that their blades extended vertically slightly beyond their housing, thus making them useless for 2 of the 3 positions I had to install them in - though I did manage to jury-rig them with some zip-ties for a month while I waited for other standard-size fans to arrive. Thankfully, they fit perfectly when I installed them tonight, and were even quieter to boot - just goes to show that you can't be TOO careful about online purchases, inexpensive or no.

So, in the end, I wasn't a fan of the cheap ones, once I gave the new ones a spin.


Dec 24 – Lights

Victoria's a winter wonderland, even without the snow.

My family and I have a tradition( since we moved here, anyway )of driving around the city to see as many of the holiday lights as we can. There's a few light maps of the city that people prepare a few months ahead of time, and they help to find the areas that are light-dense to make for the best viewing.

Here's a few of the best pictures, some people go all-out decorating - enjoy!








This last one is the Crazy-Christmas House on Tuxedo Drive...

  
Dec 25 – Family, Ouch

I present to you: A Very Venture Christmas!


After a quiet morning, my lady and I spent the afternoon at my parent's place with my sister, watching a few seasonal shows: Prep and Landing, as well as Arthur Christmas, were great fun before dinner.

Unfortunately, I'd skipped lunch, having had a late breakfast and thinking that we'd be eating earlier than we actually did, so in combination with a BIG weather-change here, I developed a migraine headache - Merry Christmas to me. My family and lady were quite understanding, and after dinner I started to feel better( Tylenol helps! )as we watched the Mudoch Mysteries Christmas Special, which was exactly the right thing for relaxing after a big, delicious dinner( thanks to my parents and sister ). I put myself to bed early when I got home, after having some throat-care tea... as I've had a scratchy throat the last few days due to low humidity, or something else - who knows, at this point. I'm just done. :-) Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night!


It was a telling sign that I couldn't finish this week's blog entry until late this morning, feeling as I did last night. I'm about 60% better today, with a less-sore throat and a MUCH less poundy-head, which only serves to remind me to keep regular meals and think ahead instead of relaxing too much over the holidays.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Robots, Retroactivity and Rogue One

The word of the week is paraphernalia.

Dec 12 – Night Driving

While I was driving in the evening this past weekend, my eyes hurt.

The last year or so, I've noticed that I’ve become sensitive to light at night, and I’ve attributed the change to my eyes aging, along with my close-up vision deteriorating - pretty normal for someone in their 40s.

All the same, it's quite different now driving at night for me: I have to look away from oncoming headlights or suffer sharp pains in my eyes as the light stabs them - not fun. Luckily, I am rarely a driver nowadays and most often the passenger, so I can just shield my eyes and not suffer too much discomfort.

Since wearing sunglasses at night is only cool in ZZ Top songs( not safe! )I've been curious about what options there are for drivers with light sensitivity at night. There's always the cheapo amber-tinted plastic goggles, but all those do for me is intensify the light, which is the exact opposite of what I need: basically clear polarized glasses, very similar to sunglasses but without the dark tent.

After a bit of searching, I came across the Zeiss DriveSafe lenses. According to the information on their website, the lenses are exactly what I'm looking for:

It'd be scary if they made the roads look like THIS...

While I don't need the glasses anytime soon, I'll be checking out places to source them for a possible purchase in 2017, when I will probably need to get a new set of glasses anyway. Nice to know that what I need is out there; now I just have to find a decent price and be able to pay up when I need them.


Dec 13 – VR Ready!

Well, it looks like I'm ready.

According to the Steam VR-Ready app, my system is more than adequate for running virtual reality as it currently exists on the market today:

My system passed - I'm VR ready!

However, I will still need a VR headset in order to enjoy VR, and since those are running around $500 USD or more for basic units, it'll be a while before I actually get around to purchasing one. Now that my major milestone is complete( purchasing a new video-card )I can sit back and see how the rest the VR headset market develops over the next year or two - I'm in no hurry to run out and spend more money, that's for certain.

Though if this game becomes reality( see what I did there? )then I may have to scrape together some bucks somehow( 20-min. playthrough of the Playstation VR game ):



Dec 14 – Pebble Lives... sort of.

It's not as bad as I thought, but still: not great.

Today, Pebble Inc( purchased this year by FitBit, thus ending Pebble as an independent company )announced their plans for what's going to happen to their products for 2017:

FAR better than 'Sorry, your watches are all junk now'

While it's a relief to hear that my smartwatch isn't going to stop functioning anytime soon, it's a sobering reminder that no technology lasts indefinitely and, as in Pebble's case, even the best ideas can be mismanaged into the ground.

I'm hopeful that by the time( argh... )2018 shows up, the groundwork will be in place to ensure that my watch will keep working as long as I can maintain it. I'll be actively looking for a backup Pebble on eBay in the next short while, to ensure that I have one on hand should anything go wrong with my original that can't be fixed by my own hands, such as doing a manual firmware update or the like.

Considering that I use my Pebble every day for all sorts of tasks and it's really quite handy to have when paired with my smart phone, I'm somewhat despondent... but today's news makes me somewhat hopeful that I can continue to use it for another few years yet.


Dec 15   – 10 Days...

In a week and two days, it’ll be Christmas Eve.

This year, I have much to be thankful for, rising above my usual financial worries.

I have a wonderful loving family, an amazing loving girlfriend, a steady full-time job surrounded by lovely people, dozens of lovely friends and a lovely place to live - see a trend there?

With all of the above and more to guide me, I can look forward to a generous future while looking back at how I came to be in this place and the person I am.

One of the formative figures in my youth was Tom Baker, who played Dr. who from 1974-1981, when I was a young lad catching Doctor Who playing on TV Ontario( which in itself was a kind of TV miracle, quite appropriate to mention this time of year )and as I simply ate it up as often as I could catch it on TV.

It's thrilling to me to know that someone that I idolize is still around and still is lovely a person off the screen as he was on - here's a holiday message from my favorite Doctor Who, himself( NOTE - there's no YouTube video, so you have to go to Nerdist to see it ):


Dec 16 –  On my Xmas List

Sometimes I'm just a tad too much of a little kid.

While I'm no collector, on occasion something catches my eye and sticks in my brain long after I've closed the search tab or passed it by in a shop. It's rare though, as I've scaled back massively after moving to BC almost 10 years ago, as I simply don't have the room to collect much of anything besides books and very small, inexpensive items.

However... some things are just too cool to forget.

Like... a levitating Aliens dropship!!!


It's pretty darn cool, I have to admit; the only cooler thing might be a levitating X-wing,.. now that's in my head now, too. Darn it!

WARNING: if you do search for the above collectible, do NOT go to the original site Kids-Toys.com, as it's infected with a malicious virus of some kind. Idiots - I sent them a message, but who knows if they will ever get around to fixing it.


Dec 17 – Rogue One

Wow. They got it right... ( no spoilers below )

I mean, I wasn't expecting anything better than The Force Awakens.. but I was hoping it would be better, from the few snippets of rumour I've allowed myself the last few months. And for a movie whose central theme is hope, it's SO appropriate that it delivered.


Thankfully, I managed to make it into the movie this afternoon spoiler-free, unlike TFA, which last year had thousands of idiots posting spoilers maliciously all over the place beforehand.

I'm pretty satisfied, giving it a solid 9/10. There were a few plot points or character development angles I'd like to have seen explored more, but I was riveted to the screen all the way through the movie. Even the two 5-year olds sitting behind my girlfriend and I, kicking our seats every 10 minutes in boredom( too young to enjoy it? tough luck, twerps! )couldn't detract much from the experience. It was great!

Go see it, if you haven't - it's worth your money, and don't worry: Star Wars is in good hands with Disney.


Dec 18 – FU, FTL!

About 10 days ago, I purchased a Steam game on super-sale for a mere S$4.49 CDN.

Called Faster Than Light, it came out in 2012 and has garnered high praise since then. My own rule for Steam purchases is never to buy anything for more than $10, and to keep it under $5.00 if at all possible, as it's far too easy to just go crazy when Steam sales happen... and then never end up playing the games much at all.

But, after less than a dozen hours playing FTL, I deleted it today from my PC.

Why? Because it's a 'punishment' game... as in, you keep losing, then coming back over and over to improve incrementally while working yourself towards an eventual single victory that is supposed to be all the sweeter for achieving, thanks to permadeath.

I call that a giant Time Suck, one with an exponentially scaling Frustration Factor: neither of which are things that I need right now. Although it's on the recent Top 25 Space Games of All Time from PC Gamer, it's off MY list for now.


Don't get me wrong, I think the game is neat and a fresh take on space adventure games, even considering it's use of retro-pixel art. But to keep dying continuously on the easiest level, even after reading up on various strategies and doing fairly well until the end, I can't justify spending any more time playing it right now - check out the in-depth review here and decide for yourself if it's worth your time.

Maybe sometime later in 2017 once I'm done working on my first two novels and in a better place both financially and mentally... then I can metaphorically beat my head against the computer screen until I crack the game to achieve an oh-so-brief victory rush in FTL.

Right now, I really can't see how it's worth my time or energy.


I've had a pretty decent weekend, having got a lot done around the apartment: things are a lot more organized now and I'm no longer surrounded by piles of chaotic clutter everywhere that I haven't had time to get to in the last month or two. As my legs slowly heals - I haven't needed a cane all week - I can get back to focusing my energies on doing needful things, rather than just getting through each day with the feeling feeling like I've actually accomplished something.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Plasma, PC Games and Penny-Pinching

The word of the week is trepidation.

Dec 5 – Dwindling

Thank you for sticking with me.

A few years ago, there were close to 100 people in my private blog group; that numbers down to 68 now, and while I don't like to see people leave without knowing why, there's no reason to stay if what I'm saying doesn't interest them.

It still hurts a little to see the numbers drop over time, but that's life.

Every Monday, before I go to bed after my day, I check in to see who might have stopped by to read the blog, as well as to edit what I've written the night before to catch any errors I might have made if I was tired( as any good writer should ). As you can see from the stats below, I don't get a whole lot of traffic, but every person who does drop by is important to me:


You're here, you're interested, and you're listening.

For that, I'll always be grateful, for when I was first writing this blog I was doing so from a place here in BC where I knew almost no one at all; I'd left my entire world behind in Ontario for chance to start fresh. While the road since then has been just as rocky and rough at times as the road leading up to the shift from ON to BC, this blog has been a source of strength and stability for me, to tell the world how I'm doing.

Thank you for dropping by, to have a look in while I travel.


Dec 6 – Being More Creative

Where do you get your ideas?

This is a question quite often asked of creative people by those curious as to where ideas form from... and the answers are as varied as there are artists out there in the world.

In the main, however, being creative in the first place is the hardest part: how does one go from ho-hum mundane to Superstar Creative Idea Space?

John Cleese has some thoughts on the matter:


And to summarize:


It's a simple breakdown of what can be a complex and challenging thought to follow: how does one come more creative, to produce more and keep the cycle going? You can read more of the article here, and get creating on your own.


Dec 7 – Bob: Boom To Bust

It was the hottest new thing on television in the mid-1990s.

ReBoot, the wonderful CGI animated kids show was nothing like anything that had come before: every single thing we saw on screen existed only inside a computer, which was the entire conceit of the show... and that made it special.

Yet few people know the full story of how ReBoot made it onto the air, and how it failed in the end.

What could have been... concepts by Matt Rhodes

I've always wondered how such a great show could simply fall by the wayside, and the Canadian studio that spawned it go from everybody's darling to something that nobody wanted to bother with anymore, and that vanished altogether a few years later.

You can read this fascinating and detailed article about how Mainframe Entertainment made ReBoot into the darling of children's television, and how they squandered their opportunity to do more... and eventually imploded, which is a shame, as it meant there would be no more stories set in the ReBoot universe.

That makes me sad.


Dec 8   – PC Top 100?

I have many, many PC games languishing on my computer, as well as on my shelves.

Some of those will remain unplayed until they're re-released by places like G0G.com, with remastered editions for five or $10 that will work with modern operating systems like Windows10. Others will see themselves dusted off once a year or so for me to have another go at either beating them, or more likely just to have another go through to relive some of my fonder gaming memories.

But which ones belong in which category?


This week, the industry old man PC Gamer released the best 100 PC games you can still play today, which contains some interesting, and nostalgic, choices. Going over the last, I see many of my favorites, but many more are missing, and in reading the article, I get the feeling that it was written by people in their 20s who understandably grew up with console gaming systems that are just as capable as PC systems... which wasn't at all the case when I first got into video gaming.

Have a look at the list and see if you agree with what they came up with.


Dec 9 –  Dino Tails?

People find the most amazing things - under their noses sometimes!

Just this week, and incredibly well-preserved dinosaur specimen was discovered, in all places, in a market in Myanmar. The specimen is that of a dinosaur tail preserved in amber, but not just any tail: this one has feathers!


It's concrete proof that the prevailing theory of feathered dinosaurs is in fact correct, and a fascinating point to begin re-imagining what we know of these ancient giant's appearance.

Of course, someone's going to have to remake Jurassic Park with feathers now...


Dec 10 – Deal of the Decade!

WAHOOOOO!!!!

After looking for over a year, I finally got lucky this week!

For some time now, I've been looking for a plasma television locally, to hook up to my laserdisc player. Unlike LED / LCD televisions, plasma TV's are eminently suited to displaying laserdisc pictures: their black levels are a TRUE black( when the plasma pixel's OFF, it emits no light! )and the extremely bright colors of the plasma elements make the usually muted colours of the laserdisc really pop.

However, plasma TV's were never popular, due to several factors, the primary being heat and weight. Plasma screens are power-hungry and thus generate a lot of heat, and to ensure a good image the picture elements are quite substantial, such that 42-inch TV's usually weighed around 60 pounds or more.

Weight also meant that I could forget buying one on eBay: shipping costs would be insane, not to mention the high likelihood of damage to fragile components in transit.

Still, I looked. Finally, my long hunt paid off and I found a plasma TV locally... for a mere $50.00!!!!

The irony: using the HOT plasma TV as a fire, in FRONT of a fireplace!

Incredibly, the TV was in great shape, owned by a retiree in Langford who had just replaced it after years of ownership with a new, larger curved LED screen. He had a wall mount for it, plus the original remote and manual... and it was in perfect working condition, with no 'burn-in' of the pixels that early plasmas were known for. I was so happy I almost danced a jig right there in his living room... but I didn't want to have him suddenly raise the price, so I contained myself to just a silly grin. The stunningly low asking price was due to the fact that the TV didn't have a stand, due to being wall-mounted for all those years... which is likely why I was able to snag it before anyone else. As well, most of the local plasma TV's that I've seen have been listed for $200 or more, which is way above my budget right now.

My lady generously helped me a lot the ungainly TV( 84lbs!!!! )to the car, athankfully short trip that I managed with my still-somewhat-achy leg, and we carefully transported it to my parent's place for storage in a safe spot in their living room until such time I can find the space for it here. That will also give me time to source a replacement stand, though I have a feeling I'll end up going with a universal one, which I hope I can get for around $60.00 on sale sometime in the next year or so.

Ending with: Happy, happy day!!!!!!


Dec 11 – Winding Down

Finances are pretty tight right now.

My sister's hasn't been working a day job since the summer, and while this month is a three-pay month for me, it's still not all that fun to keep adding budget numbers and see the lower totals-than-usual staring at me from the page. It's a good thing that my family's not that big, nor really into the material side of Christmas, or I'd be writing out a fair number of IOU's this year.

However, you have to look at other factors than finances, to see the better things.

My sister's far, far happier than she was at her previous job, and her current endeavors will certainly lead to as-good( or better )income in the future. While the now may be somewhat unnerving day to day, it's the future that counts.

For myself, I'm pulling back( as I've already mentioned in previous blog entries )to enable me to focus on a few things to get 2017 off to a good start in a few weeks. I'm doing just three things in the next few months: completing work on the fourth draft of my first novel, putting the finishing touches on my business website details for my GlowForge, and buckling down to send out some solid resumes to apply for better( or even lateral )positions in government, on the advice of a few people in the know who are telling me that now is the best time to be doing so.

Other than that, I won't be up to much in the next while: it's all about focusing.

I'll leave you with this amazing video mashup combining super Mario with TMNT, which really tickled my girlfriend's nostalgia funny bone:


For some unknown reason, the older lady upstairs has decided that a nice quiet Sunday night is perfect for moving all sorts of stuff around.. and her footfalls are the quietest to begin with. Normally I just put on my headphones and ignore things, but after an hour straight I turned on the stereo and upped the base just enough so she would know that we're listening to music at a good volume down here, which we almost never do. After about 20 minutes, she finished doing whatever she was doing and I went back to my headphones again. Hopefully that's both the first and last time that has to happen, as she's normally a lovely and considerate lady, albeit one with extremely strong ankles from the way that she walks around, which makes it hard to edit inside my apartment sometimes.