Sunday, 27 December 2015

Christmas, Crafting and Cool Chance

The word of the week is abstract.

Dec 21 – Traditions

What's everyone up to for the holidays this year?

As time passes and I get back to Ontario less and less, I wonder how much has stayed the same there when it comes to this time of year.

Normally, my family and I would make the rounds of are two sides of the family: the big Italian side and the much smaller British/Polish half on my mom's side. Usually we go over to my aunt's place during the day, to mix and mingle with my many cousins and aunts and uncles - upwards of 50 people on and off would drop in most years. Then it be over to my grandparent's place for the evening, where there would just be the nine of us.

It was quite a contrast, yet one that I appreciated for all the differences: big and loud versus small and intimate, both laced with the sentiments that always come with close family.

Then there's getting together with friends, which is more of a hit and miss thing when it comes to the holidays. Usually different groups of us ended up getting together at the kilt a few times in December, to simply relax and enjoy the ambiance of being in a cozy warm bar with a fireplace, good music and good friends. That's a whole different aesthetic and one that I've come to appreciate all the more for its lack most years I've been here in BC.

Maybe it's past time to start my own tradition here?

Dec 22 – Paperships

What goes around comes around.

Back when I was a young lad of five years old or so, I was given a series of small gifts that I didn't really appreciate at the time. A student in one of my mother's classes that she was teaching at the time like to make paper spaceships, amazingly detailed creations with many folds and artwork made with felt markers. According to my mother, he knew that I loved spaceships and so created about a half a dozen of these fragile masterpieces for her to bring home to me over the course of the year he was in her class.

Being a somewhat unappreciative young guy, I didn't take that great care of them and so I don't have even a single fragment of one of these unique creations today. I do remember that one of them was actually two spaceships that docked together, which at the time I thought was really cool and I hope contributed to my creative mindset in some way.

 Back to the present, and the art of papercraft.

I'm no artist: I need a ruler to draw a straight line and I'm limited to creating only the most simple of paper airplanes. All the same, I know that there's a lot of places out there where I can find instructions to create paper objects of startling complexity, should I be so inclined... though I'm not all that interested in creating a fleet of aircraft.

However, I wouldn't mind a few spacecraft to hang from my ceiling.

In one of my Babylon 5 FBook groups, a generous soul has again stepped up to impress: he's made numerous paper models of ships from the B5 universe available to anyone who wants them, free! Based on the Papercraft concept, all you have to do is download the file for a particular ship, opened up in a word processor and print it! If you use thick paper and a color printer, along with a steady hand the results can be spectacular:

I'm going to add these sorts of models to my 'Get To It in 2016 Sometime' list and see if I can get more than three or so done by the end of this coming year. It's orders of magnitude cheaper, and far easier, than trying to create models from plastic or resin kits - the painting alone would put me off such endeavors. I'm going to start small of course, with some simple designs that are available and go from there. 

I think the lad inside my head would like that.

Dec 23 – Nice And Quiet

Work's been quiet this week.

Today especially. Normally we answer hundreds of calls in a day but today we only had a few dozen: extremely quiet and it allowed us to get a fair amount of work done that we wouldn't normally manage of a day.

This time of year, that's a good thing.

Everyone's busy during the holidays, shopping galore preparing for family visits or whatever else it is that makes one's seasonal holidays special. Having worked in retail for as many years as I have, things would've built to a fever pitch right about now for many shoppers. Running around with lists of people that you have to buy for but still haven't found the perfect gift yet means you're just setting yourself up for the recipe for stress stew.

I'm really glad that my family switched over years ago to the 'less is more' philosophy for gift-giving for Christmas. Having shed so much stuff as it was to move to BC in 2007, it just seemed natural to go for a few small things and knowledge stress out about searching for a material representation of how much we cared for one another. Caring for others should never be expressed in terms of dollars spent.

Spending time with your family is what the holidays are all about, I think.

Dec 24 – Tech and Tabletz

Just in time for Christmas, my 'gift' to myself arrived.

The Pioneer Elite CLD-79 was sitting a large box in my front hall when I got home from work today - yay! I unpacked it, marveling at the incredible padding job the seller had done on it: in addition to a two-inch-thick bubblewrap player around the sides, he had actually stuffed a full-size pillow underneath and on top of the unit for ultimate protection! While I don't have any laserdiscs on hand to test out the unit, I did play the CD though the speakers and it sounded wonderful. I can hardly wait to watch a movie on it!

It's a little weird though, getting a 20-year-old piece of tech for Christmas. Fun!

On a related technological note, I've restored my ASUS TF300T tablet back to its original state with Android 4.4. The experiment with getting Android 5.1 running on it will have to wait a few more months until I can figure out why it kept boot-looping itself. I may even try to contact the creator of the ROM file to see if there are any suggestions, though I'll be browsing the forums first to try and see if anyone else has had the same problems I did.

I really would like to fix the tablet, as I could very much use its capabilities as an e-book reader as well is a generally fun platform to play games on the 10-inch screen. It's a lot easier with my new glasses to see my 5.7-inch phone, but all the same I'd rather have a larger screen to use. It's just so frustrating with the lag the performance of the tablet under Android 4.4 ...

Dec 25 – Not Home For Christmas

Occasionally, I'll wonder what Christmas would've been like nowadays, in the home I remember growing up in during the 1970s and the 80s. I certainly wouldn't have had much room in my original bedroom and would likely have had to have a bedroom built in the basement as one of my friends did years ago... though there wasn't much room down there to begin with.

There would've been a wood fire burning in the fireplace downstairs in the family room, with a tree in the corner and a piano dominating the room. I'm sure by now we would've had a larger TV on the opposite wall and there would be snow covering the slope of the backyard outside the sliding glass doors. It would have been warm and cozy and quite Christmas-y, but I don't know that my family ever would've stayed there that long as we would have outgrown the house long before today.

I know I can't go back to that home for Christmas any more, but that doesn't bother me much anymore.

This year, for Christmas dinner my family and my girlfriend and I all went out to John's Place, which was one of the few restaurants open this evening in the city.

It was also the best choice for a turkey dinner, bar none!

Unsurprisingly, the restaurant was busy but not crowded, which was nice for the serving staff I imagine as they were working to capacity as it was. It took a while to get our order in because of that but it was certainly worth the wait: a splendid serving of turkey dinner arrived for most of us( it was lasagna instead for my non-meat lady ) with excellent portions. Stuffing, spicy squash, mashed potatoes, gravy, both dark and light meat and other savories graced the perfectly proportioned plate... and every bite was delicious.

Not having to spend hours today cooking as well as cleaning up meant we could all just relax and enjoy one another's company; it's really the way to go for special family dinners these days for us. It was extra special this year being able to share it with my girlfriend, who would normally have gone over to the US to visit her parents for Christmas but instead stayed here to share the holiday with my family.

It was wonderful.

Dec 26 – Making Space

Boxing Day was a bust.

Much like Black Friday this year, there wasn't a single thing that I felt was worth my time and effort to get today - in terms of price, let alone in terms of actual need.

It's kind of sad, really, when sales aren't really sales and deals are simply 'good prices' for the most part. I've seen better bargains on eBay for new items and the Flyers this year were universally 'meh' across the board: nothing and nowhere had anything I was interested in whatsoever. Wallet safe, I popped onto Steam and bought a few $3 or $5 games that I've been waiting to see drop in price; almost all Steam games today were at least 50% off and most of the games I bought were discounted more than that.

In the early evening, my girlfriend and I set up a game of Eclipse!

In case you're not familiar with the boardgame, it's a space-strategy hybrid that perfectly mixes resource gathering with space combat: right up my alley! I managed to snag a used-once copy for $55 on eBay, which is half of what it costs new at retail - bargain of the year! 

After an initial hour of head scratching and rules-checking, we got our heads around how the play and really started enjoying ourselves. The game is limited to eight rounds total, and this mechanic means that you really have to plan out what you're going to do or risk running out of time before you can execute your strategy to the fullest. I ended up losing by a wide margin because while I was far ahead economically, I didn't actually fight any battles and so my victory point tally was only half that of my girlfriend's: oops.

All the same, it was a blast to play and I hope we can do it again on Monday!

Dec 27 – Zined

While browsing around a bookshop today, I found something magnificent.

Magazine-nificent, that is.

It's been many years since I last purchased a magazine, of which I used to collect a fair number regularly: Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, Starlog, Amazing Stories( while it lasted, far too briefly ), Computer Gaming World, PC Magazine, Omni and others. In the days before the internet, they were the best way to keep up with what I was interested in and I always look forward to getting new issues from the newsstand or in the mail.

About the time I started university, the Internet came into play and my interest in magazines dwindled. Not coincidentally, the quality of the content also changed and in my opinion, not for the better: Popular Mechanics became a shell of what it once was.

So, magazines are rarely interesting to me these days.

Which is why when my eye was drawn to one particular magazine on the rack at Munro's this morning, I was given pause by the title: The Ultimate Guide to Robots and Spaceships! Intrigued, I picked it up and flipped to a random page, only to be startled again: there was a Starfury from Babylon 5!


Taking a tea-break at Murchie's nearby with my girlfriend, we flipped through the pages and marveled at how much there was within its pages. The creators were obviously huge scifi g33ks and I can only imagine what it must have been like to be given the green-light on this kind of unique project. I've read hardcover books with less quality content then this magazine, though I definitely paid more than a magazine price for this unique 148-page issue. 

It's finding gems like these that makes me smile at how lucky I am sometimes. Considering that I found the whole bunch of book-treasures last week, finding this magazine today is just icing on top of the cake. Sweet!

BONUS: I finally located my DVD of Dragon Naturally Speaking 11, and managed to install it without a hitch on my desktop. At last, my voice recognition is working properly, so I can blog with ease!

I'm on day 3 of my 4-day extended weekend: thanks to how Christmas and Boxing Day combined this year, I get Monday the 28th off! And, if all goes well, I'll be able to work just this Tuesday, then use a banked Vacation Day to get Wednesday off... then, having my EDO early because New Year's Day is Friday, means I get the rest of the week off - with pay. It's the first time in my life I'll have worked a 1-day work week at full pay without anything weird or unfortunate going on, and I'm going to enjoy every minute of my downtime.