Sunday, 3 January 2016

Video, Victory and Viewpoints

The word of the week is pernicious.

Dec 28 – Thoughts

It's been an... odd year.

On the one hand, there's been a lot of good things going on. My job's great, my girlfriend's amazing, my family and friends are all doing well. There's a lot of good in my life now, and I'm extraordinarily grateful to be where I am compared to ten years ago, or even five.

On the flipside, I'm still worried daily about my finances. Even with my current job and stellar budgeting, I'm making little progress towards where I feel I should be now in my life. Conservatively, I'll be able to retire at age 70, given my current income and accounting for raises / changes in budget costs, which isn't acceptable. Obviously this is causing me stress, which rolls over into not being able to write, which causes more stress...

Hence the need for starting my own business in 2016, to pull ahead and close the 'gap' in my monthly budgeting. Being able to make another $500 a month would be so friggin' great, especially without having to work weekends at a second job( for minimum wage, most likely ).  Given my current health quandaries( why do my legs hurt? Why do I react so poorly to not eating on time, or having only small amounts of sugar? )I don't want to keep slogging away at my debts any long than I have to.

I'm smart, motivated and capable of making any changes needed to improve my life, as I've demonstrated many times before.

 2016 is a new year: it’s past time for new solutions to old problems.

Dec 29 – Star Wars, Twice

After work tonight, I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens again. I met a friend for pizza beforehand and we talked for a little bit, catching up and also chewing over the film. We both agreed that while it wasn't the best Star Wars film ever made, it was certainly better than any of the prequels, at least. He also said that he had managed to see the film the first time without more than one spoiler, which I think is an achievement these days.

Seeing the film for the second time was a bit of a mixed experience for me. I found myself thrilling to the nostalgia of seeing the Millennium Falcon flying again on the silver screen, along with the ageless Chewbacca, C3PO and R2-D2 all reprising their roles. The same can't be said for the human cast, all of whom definitely showed the passage of time and while it made sense for the story, it was still hard for the young boy inside me to make the adjustment that it has been some years since I saw them last in-character.

The story itself didn't improve any in this second viewing; it still ragged around the edges and focuses far too much on the action of blowing up Starkiller base instead of properly setting the audience up to tell us what's actually been going on for all these years. To be honest, I can give credence to the complaints that this film simply rehashes the very first Star Wars in some ways: blow up the Big Bad Weapon, among other things which I'll get into here.

Did I enjoy it though? Yes, most definitely. I certainly hope, as I've already mentioned, that there will be an Extended Cut released sometime later in 2016 that does a more credible job of setting up the story properly.

I'm still not sure I'll buy it, but I'll definitely watch it.

Dec 30 – What's shaking?

Well, that was a bit of a surprise!

At 11:39pm last night, a small earthquake rattled Vancouver Island, originating just offshore to the East and 42km deep. It felt like a large truck passing by very closely to my apartment, rattling everything but not long enough for things to shake off shelves or fall off walls.

It certainly woke me up, though.

My sister and I stayed up for another hour, just in case there might've been any following aftershocks, though those can happen days or even weeks later, depending on the tremor. Depending on where people were on the island, some felt it as clearly as we did, while others( like my parents )slept right through it as their homes are built right into the bedrock and didn't move much at all.

This quake also served as a reminder for emergency preparedness: to have a plan and supplies ready in case a much larger quake comes calling. In both regards, we're underprepared at home and that's worrying to us. We each have emergency plans at work, but only insofar as to evacuate the building: once were outside and accounted for, we're on our own. Having supplies ready at home for at least 72 hours on our own is vital, as is ensuring that the same can be said for my parents who live on the other side of the city.

It will cost a few hundred dollars to have food supplies, emergency kits and other gear ready at hand to be sure we're prepared in case of disaster. Here on Vancouver Island, an earthquake is the most likely natural disaster that we'll face, even beyond a tsunami, as we are protected in the lee of the curving west shore of the Island.

Dec 31 – Mini Vay-kay

I left the country today for little while.

My girlfriend and I headed over to the United States to visit her parents for New Year's. We caught the early ferry, sailing at 9am from Tsawassen on calm seas under sunny skies: perfect weather for traveling. I especially appreciated the lack of wind and wave action on the ferry, as I tend to get seasick rather easily but a single Gravol this time did the trick so that I felt perfectly fine for the hour and a half it took to cross from Vancouver Island. We cruised through the border without too much away and within a few hours we were past Bellingham WA and near her hometown.

As these sunny skies meant that there was a very high barometric pressure locally, my head was far more susceptible to sound and I had to take precautions to avoid getting a headache. Fortunately, I packed my Parrot sound-cancelling headphones and they proved extremely useful: during the drive, they cut the car's engine noise to almost nothing - yay!

We spent the afternoon visiting with her parents, joined later on by her brother and his immediate family for the evening. As it turned out, I ended up providing the entertainment tonight, as there were no set plans other than counting down the time until the new year. I decided it would be the perfect time to watch some excellent animated videos from my YouTube playlists and this was facilitated by her parents having a Roku3 internet player installed on their entertainment system, fortunately. I could simple cue up the videos on my phone while connected wirelessly to the Roku3 and voilĂ : the videos played on the big TV, like magic! Everyone enjoyed my selection and we whiled away the hours, though none of us actually made it through to the midnight countdown at the end.

It was a good way to spend the last day of the year.

Jan 1 – Hello 2016!

My lady and I decided to stay an extra day in the states today.

Getting up a little bit late, we and her parents headed out to find some breakfast. As it turns out, every open place that we went to was packed, which apparently was unusual - I blame the sunny skies for people wanting to get out and about on this day off work.

We ended up driving for about an hour to a few places and then coming back to wait at one of our first choices, which turned out just fine in the end though we were certainly hungry by the time the food arrived!

After our brunch breakfast, we did a driving tour of the area to show me some of the sights. We drove as far as Deception Pass, where we parked and walked across the bridge, which spans the gap in the coastal hills and is almost 200 feet above the water.

I didn't really enjoy walking across it, truth be told: the handrail was only a little over waist-high and that combined with the bitingly cold wind made it rather than unpleasant walk despite the sunshine. I was glad to get back into the car and just to around the picturesque landscape, admiring the mountains that were the backdrop to all of that area of Washington State. It was a lovely afternoon of being a tourist, comfortably chauffeured.

In the evening, we spent time with her parents after a generous meal. We watched a movie that they'd ordered through NetFlix: Age Of Adeline, about a woman who stops aging through a freak accident. It was well done, with a few scifi hints and while the ending was rather pedestrian, it wrapped things up nicely without getting too sappy.

Early to bed for us all, as we'd had a full day. Whew!

Jan 2 – We See Eagles!

It was a leisurely goodbye today.

Both of my girlfriend’s parents had to work, so we said our goodbyes early in the morning. We ourselves packed things up, then went in search of breakfast, ending up at the Calico Cupboard where we had spent some of our afternoon yesterday and I had some of the best biscuits and sausage gravy I've ever tasted - yum! We hit the highway well before noon and thanked our lucky stars again at being able to travel under such lovely conditions: while it was cold, it was a cloudless sunny sky, lovely...

On our way back, we spotted something incredible: bald eagles!

Not just one or even three or four, but dozens of the great birds had gathered in a flat open stretch of farmland near the highway. It seemed like it was the perfect hunting area for small animals, which the Eagles would see as prey under the sunny skies. The area was nothing but farms, with numerous small stands of trees in which the Eagles could perch while watching for lunch. We must've seen over 20 of them in the 20 min. we drove through the area, perched in trees, on rooftops and even a pair on a traffic sign in a construction zone! That's not to mention at least a dozen that we spotted in the air, soaring around with their majestic spread of wings against the azure sky.

What a trip to forget to bring my camera!

We made the afternoon ferry handily and I had another excellent crossing, without a trace of seasickness thanks again to a Gravol pill and extraordinarily smooth seas. We were back in Victoria well before dinner and after a brief pause, we spent the evening together watching the ever-enjoyable antics of Johnny Depp in The Pirates Of The Caribbean.

Hello, 2016: you made it here in leisurely style. Well done!

Jan 3 – Laserdiscs And Mechs

One of the things I brought back from my trip this week were laserdiscs.

Four large boxes of nearly 50 titles were waiting for me at my girlfriend's parents when we arrived a few days ago. Thanks to fortuitous timing on a sale I stumbled across, I was able to get them all shipped to their place for free, which saved me an incredible amount of money - huzzah! Even better, I didn't pay any duty on them whatsoever yesterday, despite declaring them at the border: apparently my luck held for that as well.

Playing a pre-Special-Editon of The Empire Strikes Back today, I was disappointed to see a fair amount of noise as well as visual garbage on-screen and my heart fell a little. I quickly opened up a sealed disc of Babylon 5 and loaded it to see how it compared. To my relief, the quality was better, especially after I tweaked the TV settings a little - while not quite up to DVD specs overall, there were no signal artifacts at all, so I am hoping that there's a solution for the other disc out there on the 'net somewhere. New( well, old... )tech, new problems, as the saying goes - I'll check out all the discs this month and see how they stack up overall, as well as change out some video cables and do other things to narrow down any issues. I'm just happy the things played, to be honest.

Speaking of playing, today I loaded up some Mechwarrior Online, a game I haven't played in over a year, ever since my Windows7 desktop decided to go quirky for gaming purposes. It was still excellent, in terms of gameplay and graphics, though I quickly realized my skills had atrophied somewhat: I got killed a lot in the first batch of matches. Once I found my feet, I held my own pretty well, and I won the last game of the day with a crippled mech by making a one-shot-kill in a 1-on-1 duel with the only other surviving opponent - yes!!!! It felt pretty good to see this score screen( see above ), one of the best I've ever had in MWO. It was especially good to know I'd made the winning shot, all on my own, with my both teams watching and yelling advice to each of us lone survivors. It was David versus a crippled Goliath( me )and I pulled it off.

That was a good note to end the weekend with.

It was a great week, full of relaxation and travel, again with only 1 day of work - sweet! It's now back to the 5-day work week for the next while, which is fine, as it's a new year with lots coming down the pipe: working on my 2nd novel, prepping for a trip to the Seattle convention in April, getting my business ready for the arrival of the Glowforge in a few months... 2016's going to be pretty full, I think!