Sunday, October 15, 2017

Thanksgiving, Tech Updates and Treehouses

The word of the week is obstinate.

Oct 9 – Thanksgiving

A lovely, low-key day for everyone this year.

My lady and I joined my sister and parents at their place in the early afternoon today, and we were glad to have a Monday off to spend with family.

While my sister and mom got things ready to eat, my lady and I helped with other needed tasks around the apartment, as neither my dad or mom are very mobile at the moment: he injured himself at work a few weeks ago and is off on WCB( thank-you Canada! )while my mom's muscles have become weaker with age, causing her difficulties most days. It was a delicious meal thanks to my sister, who prepared many of the veggies, and my mom who made the stuffing and bought the deliciously moist turkey breast, most of which we didn't finish and saved for Christmas - yum again in a few months!

Spending time with my family is vitally important to me; they're the major reason why I decided to move to Victoria nearly ten years ago. Neither my sister nor I have to travel to see our parents, as many families do when it comes to holidays; we're all right here within a short drive of each other.

Which means I'm quite thankful, in many ways, to live where and when I do.

Oct 10 – Climate and Fossil Fuels

Let's hope this is the start of a trend.

Victoria has joined a growing list ofcities suing the fossil fuel industry to recover costs associated with manmade climate change. Much like the health industry sued Big Tobacco for related costs, this looks positive for helping combat the problems that fossil fuel interests helped to create, and knew about for years yet kept quiet while simultaneously funding climate change denial groups to the tune of $5 million USD / year for the last two decades.

One of the difficulties is the fossilized mindset of so many people when it comes to acknowledging that climate change is happening, and humanity is the cause. Whether it's a lack of scientific understanding, trust in scientists, or other factors, there are psychological factors at play that make it extremely hard for some people to accept the evidence being presented, and indeed fight against it vehemently instead, flying in the face of logic, reason and the global scientific community.

Below is a great TED Talk about how this mindset comes about, and what can be done about it when you're faced with someone who's in denial about climate change:

Oct 11 – Amazing News!

One of my favourite shows is coming back to the airwaves!

Well, it'll be available online, but that's just semantics: Amazing Stories creator Steven Spielberg has struck a deal with Apple to create the new series to be aired on Apple's fledgling online media distribution network.

I loved Amazing Stories, the show, as well as the original magazine, and it's encouraging to see that a well-written ahead-of-its-time show like AS is going to get a new lease on life in the modern age, rescued from the obscurity of VHS tapes.

Oct 12 – Dang it, Glowforge...

An email from GlowForge arrived unexpectedly today!

In it was a thorough update on where the production is at, as well as the expected shipping dates - AT LAST! Based on when my order was placed, here's when it's most likely going to leave the Seattle factory:

I've no idea why I have two listings, but hey: it's progress!

So, the above is a bit of a bummer, as from the info in the last update, I was expecting to see the GlowForge ship by October 31st 2017. That meant the vacation I've booked for the third week of November 2017 would have let my lady and I head over the border to pick up the unit... but that's scotched now, sadly.

Meh. At least there's a high-likelihood SHIPPING date now, and for that I'm grateful, as I can now better plan getting my business started when my unit's here at last. Uncertainty means unknown priority, and now I can adjust my weekly time budget accordingly.

It means more work ahead, but that's to be expected.

Oct 13 – Comics!

One of the things I miss most about not reading the newspaper are the comics.

The daily comics were a brief pleasure, but I really lived for the Sunday Comics, when everything came to life in full colour, especially back when colour print was a luxury - hence only seeing them once a week.

I've managed to somewhat scratch that itch for the last few years, after finding a link to The Toronto Star, which is the paper I used to read for many years in Ontario. Most online comics sites push ads heavily unless you go Premium, which is why I've been reluctant to use them, but the Star is free - though its selection is somewhat limited.

Here's one of my fave comics, starring Lucky Eddy, rather appropriate given today's date:

Oct 14 – Star Wars Rebels

On to the next good show...

My downtime is limited these days, but I've been focusing it when I do have an hour or two to devote to relaxation: why not spend it wisely, instead of mindlessly?

As such, I've been watching shows and movies I've been unable to see the last few years, either because they were on TV( I don't have cable )or hard to find online( I don't do much of that anyway )and I certainly can't budget buying too much on DVD, let alone Blu-Ray, even if I try to find them used.

All the same, I've managed to source a few on my list lately, and one of them is Star Wars: Rebels, of which I caught the first couple of episodes when it debuted almost exactly 3 years ago in 2014. The story is solid, the animate excellent and I've really enjoyed following the characters along in their adventures.

Oct 15 – Treehouse Office?

Oh, what a great place to work...

Microsoft recently unveiled the first of three 'treehouse office spaces' that are designed to help their employees stat creative and happy - not hard to do, when you've got a workspace like this:

I've always loved treehouses, but never had one as a kid as none of the trees on our properties would hold one - dang. I played in a few here and there growing up, but they were always an elusive beast, and remain so in my mind to this day.

One day, with a place of my own, a treehouse-reading-writing space sounds perfect:

That's all I've got for this week; I'm moving around of a day with only some discomfort and no pain in my core muscles or legs, which is fantastic! More on that next week - busy schedule ahead for the fall!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Singer Sadness, Steam Scifi and Scarlet Pimpernels

The word of the week is eponymous.

Oct 2 – Tom Petty

Damn it 2017, stop breaking my heart... how could Tom Petty leave us today, at just 66?

Ever since I first saw the video for Running Down a Dream in 1989, I was hooked on Tom Petty: here was imagination and talent rolled into a singer whose music was more ballad than brash, and spoke to you, instead of trying to overpower you.

Tom Petty is one of the few artists whose albums I've collected over the years, instead of just a song here and there, because almost every song speaks to me in some way on many levels. No matter where I've been in my life, there's been a Tom Petty song to match me step by step, and I've loved the synchronicity of it.

And if he did have to leave us, he did it in style, having just concluded his 40th Anniversary Tour on September 23rd... which fits perfectly with his understated style.

Rest well, Gentleman Tom: we'll see you on the flipside.

Oct 3 – Gunz

The tragedy this week in Las Vegas stunned the world, but is it enough?

Time and again, the USA suffers at the hands of those who insist firearms preserve their freedom, but at the cost of tens of thousands of lives a year. How did the US go from millions owning hunting rifles to tens of millions owning handguns and assault weapons? This video below shows how the NRA decided to buy itself another century of life by cashing in on the trade of death by firearm:

Oct 4 – It Frees You

This is how writing can free you from your past.

This is something that my favourite writer, J. Michael Straczynski of Babylon 5 fame, wrote about where he came from and how he got to where he is now. It's a truly powerful read, and informative as to his depth as a writer:

Oct 5 – OGRE!

Aha! I didn't know that this game existed, and today's the release day!

Ogre, a game of futuristic scifi ground combat, first came on the scene in 1977 and centers around a giant cybernetic nuclear-armed tank called an OGRE:

Created by Steve Jackson Games( who also did Car Wars! ), Ogre always intrigued me but I was never able to get anyone interested in playing it with me back in the day, sadly. I tried out the Ogre PC game released in 1986 and it was so damned hard that I stopped, so I left it at that. However, I've had this on my wall since I first spotted it in 1988:

Now that an updated version of Ogre is out for modern PC's, I'll keep an eye on it to see if I can snag it in a Steam Sale in 2018; since it's only a curiosity for me, I don't want to blow $30 at full price, especially as it was a bonus unlock from a HUGE 2012 Kickstarter and they could have released it for $10 while still making a tidy profit:

All in all, I'm looking forward to trying it out sometime in 2018!

Oct 6 – Task Sorting and BBC

What to do with a 4-day weekend? Lots, as it turns out.

I took a few hours today to get a few tech things working around my place again, including both my little Acer 'backup box' for data redundancy as well as my 'Blue Frankenstein' media server. While both are now back in service, I'm going to be replacing the Acer's OS with a new one( like FreeNAS )once I figure out how to get all my terabytes of old data OFF the machine safely. Right now it's looking like I'll have to copy them manually, which isn't really the best solution timewise.

As well, I dived into getting some things written up for my novels, solidifying some notes into better documents and generally making good use of my time.

In the evening, my sister and I caught up on a few episodes of Hidden Houses, a show that explores some of the grand centuries-old homes of Wales in the UK. Both of us have been pretty busy lately, so it was nice to make time to hang out while enjoying a show we both liked, having grown up watching many similar BBC and PBS shows on TV when we were kids.

Plus, y'know, castles are cool!

Oct 7 – La Revolution!

Today was all about waiting for a party...

It was a friend of mine's birthday, and as she's a creative sort, she decided to have a dinner party with this as the theme at the incomparable Venus Sophia this evening:

The year is 1793, and a fête is happening at the Rue du ---. You have been invited for cards, accomplishments, social dance, and a dinner with the crême of society. However, at this party are a number of revolutionaries mixed in with the nobility. The revolutionaries are trying to tear down the old world with Mam'zelle la Guillotine, executing any nobles (or noble sympathizers) that stand in the way of their dream of a freer and more equal France. There is hope despite the Reign of Terror, as the daring Scarlet Pimpernel and his enigmatic League have been smuggling the condemned out of France and undermining the Revolutionaries' bloodlust.

Our props and prep were thorough!!!

My lady and I had a great time, and I was the center of the show, if I do say so myself! By sheer chance, I picked the role-packet of a member of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, whose mission was to save as many Innocents as possible - so I got to play an undercover hero! My lady, as I discovered at the end of the game, played the role of a Corrupt Noble, who had to escape France somehow...

It was like we were in another time and place for hours... delightful!

To my delight, I was able to slip into my role perfectly, using the cover of being a native French wine merchant. This allowed me to shape the conversations using wine as a metaphor for freedom, and kept those who were seeking to catch members of the League off-balance due to my affability and repeated affirmations that "all I was interested in was wine, so I'll sell to anyone!" and it worked! I did have one bad moment where someone stepped forward to Arrest me( no idea what tipped him off; perhaps he spotted me assembling Rescue Map parts? )but as it happened I didn't have my Passport on me, which I told him... and it worked! I made it through to the end of the game without suspicion, and through my efforts in leading the other members of the League, all but two players were saved from Execution by the Revolutionaries, with the final score 29-16 in favour of the League - success!

It was a grand evening, and while I was tired after only 2 hours of gentle verbal sparring, it was exhilarating to know that I'd played a central role in the game.

Oct 8 – The Doctor!

While out today with my lady, I found this gem at Borden Books:

When I was a kid, I loved the Mr. Men and Little Miss books by Roger Hargreaves, full of fun and colourful characters whom children could easily relate to. They lived in a world that was colourful and fun, a depiction of adults with all of the positives and few of the negatives that has stuck with me to this day.

Seeing the book above, I became curious, and discovered that there's a new series of Mr. Men and Little Miss books coming out right now, in the fall of 2017. They look hilarious:

Finding things like this feeds the child in me, and importantly does so without relying totally on nostalgia: it's important to keep moving into the future, but you're allowed to do so if you bring those things from the past that make you stronger... or happier. 

Good words to live by. 

This week was one of the most normal I've had this year: get up, go to work, come home and do what I need to, without any real health distractions. It was wonderful, and I look forward to repeating it indefinitely until I no longer have to work, but can just write and live my life as I see fit, for the future...

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Science Shamers, Skill Slights and Star Trek

The word of the week is innocuous. 

Sept 25 – Spreading Fake Science

Social media really sucks, sometimes. 

One of the worst aspects of places like Facebook, apart from sucking up too much of our time in a day, is that it's SO easy for scams and misinformation to spread: people just don't pay attention or even THINK before they click Like and move on or worse, Share articles or images that simply aren't truthful. 

The anti-science / anti-intellectuals out there know this, and use it well. Pretty pictures( memes )are easy to make to provoke emotional reactions in their viewers, and thus spread quickly as people Share them with their friends. No sources are attached to the 'facts' in these images, thus divorcing the message that these AS / AInt propagandists want to spread from any sort of verifiable evidence. This is especially galling with the topic of Climate change, where a shocking number of people don't know or, worse, don't care about the science involved, but continue to parrot misinformation spread by fossil fuel interests. 

At least Jimmy Kimmel has the guts and the brains to discuss these problems on his show, which I really should start watching on YouTube; he makes a ton of sense: 

Sep 26 – Honest Trailers: TNG! 

This is the one I've been waiting for! 

All this week, I've been listening / watching Honest Trailers, going through movies, video games and TV series as my job keeps my hands busy but my eyes and ears free to be entertained - nice, that. Conspicuously absent from the HT roster has been Star Trek: The Next Generation... but that changed today, as HT released a wonderful 'honest summary' of the show in time for its 30th anniversary this month: 

Sep 27 – Science Surety! 

It's reassuring that though there's a TON of fake science on the web today, often spread through social networks, there's still many places you can go to find the real goods on what reputable scientists are actually working on. 

Author David Brin - is one of the people who regularly makes the effort to call out bad and fake science for what it is, much like Bill Nye and Neile DeGrasse Tyson. Today he posted this updated list of where to go to find excellent science news online, without paywalls: 

Science Daily  
Real Clear Science  
Scientific American

Despite the vocal and persistent efforts of anti-intellectuals on so many social platforms today, people like Mr. Brin show that those who value facts and real science are firmly holding the ground against the conservative mouthpieces out there who are working to sow doubt in the name of profit and political game. Here's an informative video on what Hollywood's teaching us about science: 

It's wearing sometimes, but if people don't stand their ground, then the facts won't matter, because most regular folk won't know who to trust for anything. 

Which is exactly what the conservatives want to keep their power bases intact. 
Sept 28 – A little sick, to my heart?

It seems I caught a bug this week; though it wasn't bad, it still scared me a little.

I think I picked it up from an interac terminal on Tuesday, when I had pizza for the first time in over a year at The Brickyard - yum! Darned if I neglected to sanitize my hands afterwards though, since the machine didn't have the Tap feature and I had to enter my pin... careless of me, but that's all it takes to pick up a germ, and those terminals see a LOT of hands every day without being sanitized. Yesterday evening I suddenly felt hot and my heartrate jumped by 10-15 bpm over normal when resting, so I knew I'd caught something... 

Last night's sleep was pretty rough, as I found it hard to swallow without moderate discomfort, but I lucked into a decent treatment called 'Throat Coat' tea that took most of the discomfort away. A couple of those teas a day and by this evening, my throat was in decent shape, though my heartrate was still slightly elevated. 

Also, my chest ached after I had my evening tea, like it hadn't since I started taking Hawthorn supplements daily a year ago; what the heck 

Suspicious, I looked at the Throat Coat tea's herbal ingredients, and realized that three of them( Licorice, Wild Cherry Bark and Fennel Root )all had various effects on heartrate... which apparently I'm still susceptible to, still. 

And here I thought I was doing better than I had been, thanks to the Hawthorn... 

Still, lesson learned: whatever's going on inside the left-side of my chest, it's still there, and since the various tests( EKG and blood )haven't shown there's anything wrong with my heart, I've got to go with just being MORE careful about what I eat and how I go about my day. Considering that the treadmill EKG test I had back in February 2017 had my heartrate safely running at 149 bpm, it's just so damn odd to have my chest ache inside, in reaction more to what I eat than what I do in terms of strenuous activity. 

I'll have to put some pressure on my doctor to get me a CAT scan, though. Living with this uncertainty will only add to my stress levels, which won't help matters. 

At least my girlfriend doesn't seem worried, so there's that. 

Sept 29 – Job Disappointment 

This morning I received a disappointing email: I hadn't got the job I wanted. 

Specifically, I was officially notified that I'd been passed over in the competition( as government calls it )for the position of Office Manager... for the office I'm currently working in, which would have been REALLY good for me in many ways. 

The reason? I'd said that I possessed only basic, not "intermediate or advanced PowerPoint skills" which "took me out of consideration for the position." 


Thanks, Science Cat!

It really socked it to me, hearing that I'd missed out on a promotion( and a decent pay increase )because of my lacking ONE specific skill; I was in a funk for hours. All the same, I sent an email to the person managing the competition( around the corner from me )asking for feedback, which they kindly gave me, and in abundance - I think she felt bad that I'd been eliminated for such a petty reason, as I was more than qualified for every other aspect of the job. 

So, live and learn, and do better next time. 

A shame that I couldn't get the position, as it would have been great to work in the same office with the same people I get along with. Hopefully I can get a position that pays better sometime in the next few months, before my finances degrade to the point that no increase in salary will allow me to recover from. 

#$%#^%!@%^! PowerPoint.  

Add that to the skill sets I have to make time to learn, on top of my novel-writing and small-business setup time budgets in the next few months...  

Not Happy Peter Week, this is... 

Sept 30 – Star Trek: Discovery 


That was pretty much my reaction to watching the first two episodes of the new Star Trek series tonight, which kinda surprised me. No Spoilers Below. 

Maybe it's because I'm so tuned into what a good story should be, that when I see sloppy work in an otherwise big-budget production, it stands out like a sore thumb. Don't get me wrong: the special effects, sets and casting were all excellent for Discovery, but when I had to pause to stop yelling "WHAAAT?" at the screen when various characters made such DUMB decisions at no fewer than five points... 

Sure, I get it: it's a new show, and they'll have to find their legs during the first season, just like every show does. Some of them don't really get rolling smoothly until their second or even third season, but that's unusual if they've got good writers that aren't being noted to death by the studio execs as they go along. 

Apart from the main female character having a male name( Michael )that I found jarring every time it was said, the show seems dead-set on being action-oriented, by which I mean they're going to be going gung-ho into conflict-centric stories. 

That will make for a lot of pretty CGI set-pieces, but I don't think it's going to lend itself to good writing, as it's easy to find excuses to Blow Crap Up Good often. 

Anyway, the short is: disappointed, but willing to give them slack for five or so episodes, even to the end of the season, to see if the writing will shape up. At this point, I'd take The Expanse over ST:D any day of the week, so good luck, guys! 

Oct 1 – A New Month 

Fall is here, and so is change. How am I doing? Let's check in briefly...

Healthwise, I'm getting more back to a baseline normal every week, though as this week's entries above show, it's a process with both progress and pitfalls. My abdomen is almost pain-free, day to day, with some being sore and others fine; a long way from three months ago, when I was sitting and standing carefully like an old man to avoid any pain. There's still pains in my thigh muscles when I stretch them awkwardly some days, but only complaints and warnings, not anything disabling. I'm eating full meals regularly and getting in my 10K steps most days while being able to sit and move around work normally, which has been wonderful. I've not felt anxious about much of anything for months now - yay! 

Job-wise, I'm stuck( see above )and I'm continuing to just plow ahead in my search for better positions. Not much new here, save that I'm learning with each rejection, which is also good training for when I send my novel out shortly... 

Life-wise, things are all right, though as always finances are tight: getting to the end of 2017 will be doable, but there's not going to be much wriggle room. My dad injured himself at work, thankfully nothing that won't heal, but he'll be off work on WCB for six months, so that's a drain on time here and there each week as my sister and I assist as we can in getting things done for them as needed. 

Business-wise, I'm fervently hoping that my GlowForge will finally be in my hands by the end of November and I can finally start making some money on the side. Even a few hundred a month will make a BIG difference to my budget! 

Writing-wise, I'm waiting until the end of October to get back suggestions and surveys from half a dozen beta readers to finish tweaking my novel edit and get it OUT there, finally! Work's been started up again on finishing the second half of my second novel, and 2018 is looking good for getting both of them sent out to agents and publishers as polished, professional offerings to see them picked up. 

Time-wise, I'm grateful that my day job doesn't require much of me, as my energies in the next three months will be fully-occupied with all of the above in the evenings and weekends. I have few specific commitments of a week, so I'm free to balance my time between my writing, home business, family and relaxation time, which is wonderful as I slowly get my health back on track. 
It's going to be a busy fall season. 

Not much left to say after all that; it's pretty much Let's Get On With It. 

PS - pardon the odd font colours; my copy of MS Word flaked out, so I had to use the online version and it's not formatting the text correctly. One more thing to work on this week...