Sunday, June 18, 2017

500th Blog Post Bonanza!

The word of the week is MILESTONE~!!!!!!

June 12 – 500 POSTS!!!!!

Here we are!

For months, I've debated about what to write for this special entry, knowing that it was coming up: a past retrospective? A guess as to the future? A summary of the present, with all its bumps layered over with a gloss of thin, shiny hope?

Well, none of those appealed to me.

Instead, I'll talk about why I started this blog in the first place: my friends and family... but mostly friends, as I tend to keep in touch with family via email or phone.

Not so with friends, and that's where this special blog entry comes into play.

One thing I've noticed over the years is that people tend to become more insular: they get set in their lives and the deviations from that centerline tend to be less as time goes on. Friendships change, some fading and some growing stronger, much the same as social circles tend to solidify based on employment: the longer you're in a job in one spot, the more roots you put down and the less likely you are to change.

For me, I've noticed my circle of friends changing, not the least because I moved away from most everyone I knew back in 2007 to try and reboot my life.

I like to think I've had some success in that area, as well as a lot of learning experiences in all aspects of my life. Which has led to change in me: mostly for the positive, I think.

What's really struck me in terms of change has been my involvement in my friend's lives: for the most part, I'm now a peripheral pal to most of the people that I grew up with and knew back in Niagara, whether I like to admit it or not.

That's not unexpected, considering the many distances between us now.

What fascinates me about change though, is what constitutes friendship, and I've given that a lot of thought over the last decade that I've been living in BC... probably more thought than I ever gave to the subject while I was living back in Ontario. I am extremely fortunate in that I can make friends easily, and the friendships I make tend to be lasting ones.

It takes all kinds...

What my friendships mean to me has changed as well, as I've aged:

- in my teens, I just wanted to finish high school and get on to university, where I could really start learning things. My friendships were with my close friends, and I had a busy social life, though not one with any sort of real depth, because I didn't know what I wanted.
- in my 20s, things changed when I went to university and afterwards, as I had a number of major life events. My social life changed as well, getting me out of the house quite often during the week to the local watering holes, but again I wasn't doing anything except hanging out with my friends, ad nauseum. I was suffering from general depression and spending time with friends helped ease the pit of empty I felt inside when I looked at my life.
- in my 30s, I was still directionless, having left university and started work at a job that I despised though the people I worked with were great. I formed new friendships online playing Neverwinter Nights, but again did little with my life. Then I decided to uproot things and move with my parents out to BC... because, why not? I wasn't doing anything important in Niagara, and deep down I knew I never would if I stayed rooted there.

Now, in my 40s, I've switched things up here in Victoria. The new friendships I've formed here are solid, if somewhat intermittent due to how busy we all are, but I believe that I'm worth their time, and they mine as well. We share common interests, have a good time together and can relax in one another's company, which is all that you can ask when turning strangers into friends. It's a talent that many possess, but too few appreciate, or cultivate in all the right ways, so that each friend becomes a part of you in ways you can't quite place...

It saddens me that distance has made my friendships with those back in Niagara less vibrant, but it hasn't ended those links and for that I'm extremely grateful to FBook for allowing me to peek in on their lives regularly. It also lets me keep up with friends I've never met, which astonishes me sometimes, but then I know that my ability to express myself through my writing grew in no small part thanks to my online friendships... so that's been a bright part of my life, when I realized it in recent years. 

Being online, blogging and writing and socializing, is just as important to me as being there in person, because I'm able to express myself fully either way.

I like to think that my blog lets my friends get to know the true me, in their own time... and that in writing it, it also lets me know myself better, too.

June 14 – About blogging...

I thought I would fear into the technical here for moment to answer a question:

What's it been like writing every Sunday night for close to 10 years?

For one, it's meant that I have to be disciplined in setting aside my time every week. When I first started out, I had tons of free time: being new to Victoria and not knowing anybody, I just worked and came home again with the occasional evening a week spent with my family for dinner. That meant I had plenty of time to think on what I wanted to blog about, and if you look at my earliest blog entries, I ended up writing quite a lot compared to entries over the later years, when my local social life had started to develop again.

Blogging is about creating a habit and developing it into something that you carry with you in between blog entries. For me, my blogging habit has developed from sitting down in front of the computer and wondering what I'm going to talk about into taking mental notes( and other notes )all week that I let my subconscious work on, so that I can build up bits of each week's entry as each days passes.

I think it's worked rather well, as I've seen the blog develop from massive infodumps about the MANY things I'm interested in to a more compact version that's chatty, warmer and gives far more insight into my life and thoughts than I ever thought I'd be comfortable with sharing. While not everything in my head makes into the blog, more things do than don't and I'm happy that I've been able to share as much as I have of myself.

Volume is another thing: I've written a lot in 10 years of blogging.

Quest Completed - Do I get to level up now?

Simple numbers bear this out: if each blog entry averages between 2000 and 3000 words( an essay a week! )then 500 of these entries mean I've written over 1 million words in the last decade for this blog, the equivalent of a novel a year! It's something that I'm quite proud of, as few people ever cracked 1 million words barrier in their lifetimes, at least when it comes to non-work-related word counts.

Here's to the next million!

June 14 – Seeking Counsel

Sometimes it helps to talk about your problems to those best equipped to advise you.

In the past, I've been reluctant to disclose any issues I might be wrestling with, because I had considered itthem to be weaknesses or character flaws if I couldn't deal with things myself. Now I know better, as I realize that one can't deal with things one's not equipped for, like having a toolbox with only a few basic tools...

Capes are toolbox-optional, but recommended!

Just to keep on track, I've been speaking to both career and financial counselors again this month, which have been helpful. In both areas, I've received solid feedback on what I've done to date to take control of my life in both areas: the professionals I've spoken to have been extremely positive regarding my insights into why I am where I am and what I'm doing to move myself forward. They've confirmed that I'm headed on the right roads, asking the right questions and doing the right things, that I'm being aggressive in chasing my dreams instead of worrying, assigning blame or otherwise wandering around the problems I face.

It does take time and effort though, but speaking again to counselors has allowed me to dial in what effects my efforts have been having my life, so that I don't get the feeling that I'm flailing around randomly in quicksand.

Learning to navigate the pitfalls of life should always add to your toolbox, with every one of them another tool against anxiety and worry.

Fill the box!

June 15 – Writing Progress

The finish line is in sight...!

However, I'm not going to make my June 30th deadline, for reasons I'll explain next week, which have to do with time.

For the last two months, I'm beginning up earlier and earlier every day to write, culminating in an average June wakeup-time of between 530 and 6 AM. Which has worked out rather nicely because of all the noise problems we've been having lately, including a guy who drives by every weekday at 6 AM with his howling dog... but that's hopefully been taking care of now by Animal Control.

My writing( editing, really )has been going well, albeit somewhat slowly, as more and more ideas present themselves I have to work them into the book and that slows the overall progress of finishing the fourth draft.

At this point, I hope to have it done in another month, and hit the finish line running: my first week of vacation is in the middle of July, so I should be able to wrap things up nicely with a full-on review of the draft at that point.

Once I had the fourth draft completed, I plan to print up a dozen copies to send out to beta readers for their thoughts to make any changes before I submit it to agents and/or publishers.

Then it's on to finishing Book 2 for the rest of 2017!

June 16 – Sic Transit, Vir

It continues...

Stephen Furst, another beloved cast member of Babylon 5, has passed on today. He was only 63.

In one of the B5 groups today, I found many touching set of tributes, and put a couple of the most touchingly true ones into the image below:

Above all, I loved this one in particular, as it came from a fan new to Babylon 5, yet he was immediately able to see the depth that Stephen Furst brought to the character of Vir... a depth that came from within the core of who he was as a person:

I can't think of a more fitting tribute for Stephen to be remembered by.

See you beyond the Rim, sir!

June 17 – Ignorance

Why are people so willing to ignore the facts about things like Climate Change and Vaccines?

Heck, why are people so willing to debate what a fact is, in many cases?

For one thing, ignorance has become a virtue, as Asimov has noted above - it's no longer looked down upon to be ignorant by a too-large number of people in modern society, something that scares the willies out of me if I dwell too long on it.

I've run into quite a few people in the last few years online who are... well, my words here would be far more eloquent than they deserve, let's just say that. 

Here's an example of one woman's beliefs that have led her down the path of... silliness. Read the last part:

Um, that's not how Scientific Theory and Scientific Laws work, ma'am...

Thankfully, science will still be science whether or not people believe in it or understand it. Actual science sites are fighting back against the waves of ignorance sweeping the internet, with sites offering things like Climate Change Fact Courses to prepare one to fight ignorance wherever you find it...

Understanding and truth are the best weapons when fighting ignorance, so arm yourselves!

June 18 – Dad Day

For Father's Day, my family and I had a nice brunch at Nourish, with my lovely girlfriend too!

It was really special: because we had to wait an hour for a table( I couldn't get reservations at all this week )we were able to relax in the spacious upstairs lounge area and just chat, which was great as we haven't done much of that this year. I'm always happy to see how well my girlfriend gets along with my family, all of whom adore her, and having us all together like today warms me immensely.

A little bit about my dad...

My father is a fantastic man: gentle, calm, kind, fair and above all: loving. I can't imagine having had a better father to grow up with, one that I respected, not feared, and knew that he was proud of me because he told me so, as well as ensuring I always knew I was loved. He is a rock, with a solid dependability that anchored us as a family; I rarely saw him angry or upset, either for very long. He's always been there, putting his family's needs first before his own, which is something that I've taken on as well, sometimes to my own detriment. I'm proud to say I possess many of his positive traits:  an open mind, deep generosity, a huge capacity for love and a warmth for everyone I meet.

I've been fortunate to have my father in my life from the day I was born, always there for me but never in my way. How could I not be proud to be this man's son?

Thanks, Dad... always.

I thought that writing my 500th blog post would be a joyous experience, but much of what I've felt this week has been stressful: anger at my financial situation, pressure to get my home business running at the same time as writing my books, and frustration at any time wasted for all of the above. 2017 is half over, and I've got a long way to go with so many things yet...

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Finances, Firearms and Frogs-In-Throats

The word of the week is remonstrate.

June 5 – Cowabunga, Animal!

The Niagara Falls ComiCon was this past weekend, and it looks like it keeps getting better every year. There's nothing like it here in Victoria, special after a few local cons close down for various reasons, which was disappointing.

One of the highlights of any convention for me at least, is the cosplay: getting to dress up like your favorite characters and wander around making other people's day is always a delight.

For that reason, I'm a member of more than a few cosplay / replica prop / costume groups on FBook, which keeps my newsfeed busy with all sorts of cosplay goodness. This weekend, five of my favorite characters of all time got together in one photo this past weekend from one of those feeds:

Creator Wayne van Alstine is on the right with Animal!!! So cool!

One of these days I'll be able to get back to my own cosplay creations, which would be greatly helped by having a semi-dedicated space( 2nd bedroom / office )to work on them in, rather than the table in the living room...

June 6 – Googly

I'm a little freaked out by Google Timeline, but not as much as I thought I'd be.

As a hyper-aware techie-g33k, I know exactly how much information I'm giving Google, and what they're doing with it. The thing about Google is that the more information you let them use, the more useful their products are... and so it goes.

Timeline Maps is one of those things that makes you wonder how much is too much.

Just the other day, I was looking through my Timeline, seeing where I've been, and what I've been up to, all courtesy of my phone, which has been tracking me. It's interesting to pop up a day from a few months ago, and see how little actual distance I've moved from home... much like people of olden times centuries ago, who rarely had occasion to travel more than a few miles from their home their entire lives.

Thing is, Timeline isn't all that easy to use, since it was released in 2015.

I can click on a particular day on my timeline, and see what I was up to... sort of. There's no location history recorded any earlier than January of 2016, so it's useless past that date to see where I was and what I was up to at the time. My photos obviously go back further than that, but they're not tied to Google Maps, and this is an oversight I believe. As photos have geo-locational coordinates embedded as of about five years ago, if they were taken by a smart phone as those devices have GPS locational data enabled.

I think what I'm getting at is that I'd love to be able to look back 10 or 20 years from now and see where I was on a certain date, if only to jog some memories. My girlfriend chides me gently whenever I take a photo 'just to remember things' as she's of the opinion that I should just experience a moment and trust to my gray matter to dredge it up when needed.

But isn't that what tech is for, to save us drudgery?

June 7 – Printer Spies!

What the hell? Did you know that your printer is spying on you?

I had no idea that modern colour printers( laser only, not inkjet )utilize special yellow stenography dots coded into every printout that allow forensic tracing of their output to the exact date and time - whoa!

Apparently, this is part of a clandestine agreement between world governments and printer manufacturers, as noted by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and it was used recently to out an NSA leaker in the USA quite effectively.

I'm rather horrified that this secret tracking technology is present in printers that people purchase and use without any knowledge of what the device contains. I think it's reprehensible that this sort of technology is present in any consumer device and the scale of its widespread use is, quite frankly, shocking.

Tiny yellow dots form a pattern to embed data in ALL colour laser printouts!

Considering that this discovery was made just after I completed the entry above about tracking technologies via Google, this is more than a little ironic. With Google, I decide how much privacy to give up, whereas with color laser printouts, there's no decision: the date/timestamp data is encoded with every printout.

Scary stuff folks, and it makes you wonder what else has been embedded in the devices that we use every day without our knowledge...

June 8 – Saving Money

I'm pretty frugal these days; I've had to become so, over the years.

It's interesting to look back at what I've spent, how I've spent it and most importantly: why I've spent the way I have.

Some years, I was making okay money and my monthly expenses were somewhat manageable, so I built up a library of books or DVD's of things I liked. Sometimes I would purchase nostalgic items on eBay, or tech items at the occasional Future Shop sale... and I was a regular there for at least a decade, though in the last few years here in BC I didn't bother as I sharply curtailed my occasional tech-spending habits.

It's all about the budget: how much you make, and how much you spend.

Housing, Transport and Food are the big three expenses

For the last five years, I've known exactly how much money is coming in every month and where it's going - to the dollar. I use my Google Calendar so that I know what bills are due and when, what intermittent expenditures are coming up( rental insurance? Dental bill? )so that I can budget accordingly. I calculate each paycheque's deductions so that I'm not caught short of cash, meaning that I don't use debit when that bank account cash is needed for bills - it's extremely rare that I use a credit card to pay a bill, as that just compounds budget issues.

Overall, I've got a pretty good handle on what I'm making versus what I'm spending. I know that in order to get ahead financially, I need to make more money this year, which is why I'm hoping my business will really take off in the fall.

If you're interested in finding out a bit about your own financial blind spots, the comments section here has a ton of good advice, much of which boils down to 'Keep Track Of Your Spending' and regularly review it, at least once a month.

It's worked well for me, and I'm glad that I've had to become as frugal as I have, so that I'm prepared for when my income rises: that money won't go to waste.

June 9 – Making Money

Am I the jealous type?

I don't mean romantically, but rather financially, and it's a good question. Looking at were am right now( in my mid-40's ) I feel that I should be making at least twice what I am, based on my skills and experience. Yet I'm treading water financially, with no major assets( house, car, etc )to my name that I can leverage to move myself ahead in life... which is understandably a frustrating situation to be in.

This can cause financial resentment, something that I've experienced and had to deal with over the years so as not to affect my relations with my friends.

It's not an easy thing.

Like most people, it's easy to do a comparative with other people's lives and economic standings( perceived, not actual )to gauge one's own spot on the ever-changing scale of success. I realize that for every friend who is married, with the typical house / car / two kids / regular vacation photos, there's often a story that's not being told of debt, sacrifice and hard choices. Since the year 2000, Canadians have added massive amounts to their household debt, so much so that we now leave the world in the ratio of income versus debt:

Wow... a 56 percent increase in 14 years!

Maybe what I should have done years ago is invest in Tesla, whose stock just keeps rising. Using a simple financial calculator, I worked out how much a $10,000 investment in Tesla would be worth as of today, had I invested when their stock went public in 2010:

I'd love to be $100K richer, 7 years from my investment date!

However, seeing as hindsight is 20/20, it's all just a shell game: I'd have had to have been both precedents and extraordinarily frugal to come up with the money seven years ago and had huge cojones to invest it all in a US technology company without any prior investment knowledge.

It's easy for me now to recognize that these 'What If?' Fantasies are merely fuel for my resentment, and to focus on making a better future for myself instead of just playing mind games... which will get me nowhere useful whatsoever.

June 10 – Guns?


As the date gets closer to when I have to travel to the US to pick up my GlowForge, the issue of guns keeps popping up in my brain, especially given the level of... discontent that's currently pervasive in the States this year.

One thing I've always wondered was: how did guns the cons so prolific in the USA?

I know that when crime was on the rise in the 1970s, guns were seen as a quick solution: Shoot The Bad Guy, ala Dirty Harry, which society at the time seem to find perfectly acceptable. Justice at the end of the barrel, in other words.

Digging deeper, I found this video from the New Yorker, which was illuminating in how it exposes the way that the gun industry reinvented itself in order to survive... and in doing so, helped keep Americans killing Americans with guns:

To put things in more about perspective, an article from The Economist neatly breaks down the numbers, which show that things have actually been getting better slowly since 1993, the peak time for gun deaths USA. One of the more interesting bits of data in the article is that the gun industry always profits from uncertain political times, such as when Barrack Obama took the presidency a few years ago: gun sales surged at the hint of any sort of national gun regulation.

Mass shootings are of course part of this conversation, and the stats are sobering:

I don't know. I'll be in the USA for week this August, vacationing with my girlfriend and her family, and picking up my GlowForge on the way home. I do tend to worry needlessly, but I also like to be prepared, so I'll be keeping an eye on the political situation for the next few months to satisfy my worry-needs.

It certainly can't hurt.

June 11 – Hoarsing Around?

I've noticed my voice has changed slightly of late.

Since I'm no longer talking all day long on the phone, to my ears my voice has weakened: it's scratchier and less vibrant, with a little hoarseness to it some days. I can go hours without speaking to anyone at my day job, given my current tasks of a) sorting mail b) opening mail and c) sending out mail  so it's no surprise that my vocal chords are little rusty compared to when they were going all day long - and to be honest I'm glad to give them a rest, as they were getting a little worn the last year.

Neigh, say it isn't so...!

It's a somewhat strange thing to notice, that your voice is change, because your voice never sounds the same when you're speaking as it does when you listen to a recording, due to the effect of bone conduction when you talk.

Given that I'm looking to do some voice work in the future, this is a bit of a concern to me, but I do have a solution:

I'll just talk to myself more often at work!

It's been a pretty good week overall: though admittedly my day job isn't requiring much mental effort, I've come to appreciate it as being like a little vacation every day, leaving me more mental energy for my creative efforts. I've also been walking better, for longer periods of time: having discovered that my work chair wasn't properly supporting my weight, I brought in a cushion from home and that's made all the difference along with getting up every 20 minutes to move around. In my perspective, I'm getting more back towards normal by the week!