Sunday, 17 January 2016

Hearing, Hyperventilation and Hyperloops

The word of the week is efficacy.

Jan 11 – On Blogging

On a recent FBook post about blogging, I made this comment, which more than a few people seem to like. I think it sums up well what I've been doing with this blog over the years, for those of you who may not recall the reasons why I blog:

I write, as often as I can, probably not as often as I should. Years ago, I moved away from all my lifelong friends and family to start a new life, part of which is to focus on writing for a living. And I'm achieving that goal more recently, but there's still a fair ways to go.
As part of that life change, I started a blog to keep those I left far away updated on How Things Are Going Out Here; I've hit a million words to date and plan on going for a least a million or two more. It's something that's a part of my life, now.
It's worth it, to write out things: all the things of your day, your week, your year: your life. To show to others, or not: to communicate, to everyone or just yourself. My lady prefers to text me, not to talk on the phone( despite my radio voice ): it's what she wants, and I respect that. Over the years, I have 'met' many good friends online and we keep in touch through writing, via various mediums, though we've never met IRL. My writing has allowed me to express my creativity through MMO's, where I've created characters that have resonated with myself and others deeply over the years: that alone has taught me so much.
Write. Whoever is in your life, near or far, will appreciate the time it takes to craft words from within. You might be surprised at the voice that emerges from inside you.

Jan 12 – Trekking Towards The Future

Darn it, I wish I had more time for video games these days...

I just ran across this particular game, set in the Star Trek universe, that looks absolutely gorgeous. Call Star Trek: Excalibur, it's about:

Excalibur breaks the mould of traditional space simulation games by putting the player firmly in the boots of an experienced Starfleet captain. From the outset you will be able to control your character and command your ship as if you were standing on the bridge yourself. From taking direct control of the helm, to transferring command of any ship in your task force, or even calling your senior staff to the briefing room to discuss mission tactics; Excalibur is the most immersive Star Trek experience ever. Set six months after the events in Star Trek: Nemesis, Excalibur's story mode deals with the turbulent political scene caused by a decade of war and turmoil. From the second Borg incursion in First Contact, to the fall of the Dominion and the collapse of the Romulan political system; these events resulted in huge loss of life and changed the Alpha Quadrant forever. 

If that doesn't get your attention, have a look at this mind-blowing pre-Alpha( still in heavy development, but it's stunning! )gameplay video. I haven't seen anything this exciting in Trek ship-to-ship combat since Klingon Academy, which came out back in 2000. The visuals look just like you are playing inside a Star Trek movie, or one of the ST:TNG episodes:

Advances in gaming technology like this make me hunger for what's coming down the pipe: fully immersive simulation experiences using VR that put you, the player, right in the middle of the action.

Just like being there: I can hardly wait to see what's coming next!

Jan 13 – Don't Panic

I had a panic attack today at work.

At first I didn't know what was happening, really: I lost focus on my work, my heart started racing and I felt dizzy. It happened really quickly, mid-morning and it's the first time I've ever had this happen to me, in all these years of stressful things.

Fortunately, I managed to avert it - just.

Tipped off by my suddenly racing heart, I checked my heart rate using an app on my phone( which uses the camera to detect your pulse )and realized that I was letting my problems get to me all at once, which was Not Good.

Taking some calming breaths, I focused on the simple, good things in my life, telling myself that All Was Well and there is no need to overthink things. I managed to steady out my heart rate, dropping it from high 90's to low 80's within 3 minutes or so of effort and then I just sat back to keep relaxing for the next 10 minutes or so.

Crisis avoided, and nobody at work was the wiser. This time.

As I've said in previous entries in the last few months, 2016 is a make or break year for me. Today my subconscious brain just couldn't handle that anymore and my body started freaking out, but it was all to do with what I was telling myself / focusing on: finances versus future, happiness versus despair, etc.

It's a choice, and today I chose not to panic, as I've learned the hard way that it simply doesn't do any good; the same goes for worry. I just need to buckle down and Get Things Accomplished instead of letting my brain around in circles chasing its own tail, trying to fix things backwards by overthinking them. While it was a bit of a low point for me today at work, it was also a personal victory: I didn't panic, because I recognize what was happening and did something about it.

Don't Panic, as Douglas Adams said: good advice to take to heart.

Jan 14 – Rickman and Bowie

Two big losses this week, of talented, good-hearted entertainers.

Alan Rickman was a man possessed of great skill as an actor, along with an amazing and unique voice that was instantly recognizable around the world. Of all his roles, the one I liked the most was as Dr. Lazarus in Galaxy Quest. The role allowed him to poke fun at being an actor, while still delivering a memorable performance as a character who needs to rise above his situation and embrace everything that he thought he thought he despised about himself in order to succeed. I found his performance poignant as well as humorous, a combination that always speaks of a solid match between the script and the actor.

As well, I should note that many people spoke quite highly of Alan Rickman's down-to-earth personality, in that he always behaved as a regular person and not a celebrity - this account by the actress who played Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter films sums up these sentiments perfectly and is a terrific read.

The other celebrity that we lost this week was truly unique: David Bowie.

While I can't say that I am a fan of his music, I do like many of his songs and I'm chagrined to note that I wasn't all that familiar with him as a person. However, I was pleased to find out that much like Alan Rickman, everyone who came into contact with David Bowie noted what a wonderful human being he was, in addition to how he broadcasted his talent and genius simply by being in a room.

The genius side of David Bowie extended well beyond his abilities as a performer. This short interview shows how in 1995 he managed to envision where the Internet of today would develop, all the more remarkable for being an on-the-spot answer to an interviewer's question:

Jan 15 – Hearing

I got my ears tested today, for free.

A month ago, I made an appointment to get my hearing checked, as I'm not getting any younger and I've never actually had it tested before. I was pleased to find that there is a local company here that offers comprehensive audio testing of people's hearing for free, so why not?

The test took about an hour, including the time for me to answer a fairly thorough questionnaire at the start. I was placed in an audio isolation booth, which was the size of a small closet, carpeted inside for noise attenuation but with a window on one side to avoid claustrophobia. It was hot and stuffy however and I found out afterwards that the student technician forgot to turn on the exhaust fan - oops. Fortunately, I didn't experience any claustrophobia, thanks to the window.

After listening to a series of words sent to each year separately, that I had to repeat, we moved on to tones of various pitches. As I'd suspected, my right ear has become less sensitive to certain tones over the decades, I suspect mainly from traveling with loud companions in the car while I was driving. Overall, my hearing is 'average' according to the technician and the doctor both, meaning that I don't have to worry about hearing loss quite yet. They did suggest that I get my hearing tested every two years or so, depending on situational things such as workplace noise or other factors such as a genetic propensity for hearing loss.

It was a relief to know that my hearing was normal, though I was disappointed to learn that I don't have any sort of super powers in this area and I was slightly annoyed that my right ear was indeed not so great anymore. All the same, I'll keep protecting my hearing with earplugs from life's daily noise blasts and see if I can't avoid getting bionic implants until I'm well into my 80s or 90s.

Hear what I'm saying?

Jan 16 – Hyperloops

Zoom Zoom!

There has to be a faster way to get from A to B, coming in our near future, if air travel keeps getting more expensive and fuel more scarce. But what can replace aircraft in terms of their combination of speed, convenience and routes available worldwide?

Enter Elon Musk's Hyperloop.

This is truly futuristic technology here, folks. Superficially, it's similar to a small passenger train, traveling inside a closed tube from point to point at nearly the speed of sound. It's fast, too: three times as fast as the quickest bullet train.

But that's where the similarities end. Have a look:

I find this technology fascinating, as it seems to take a leap beyond the MagLev( magnetic levitation )train concepts that have been languishing in development hell for decades: nobody can get their cost down to the point where it's economically feasible to build Loops of MagLev track across North America, let alone connect up systems globally.

With the Hyperloop, the costs are far lower for even better performance, thanks to the closed-tube design that allows much higher speed due to lower air pressure inside the tube. With air friction reduced as much as possible, the system can connect cities far more economically than air travel, with far less pollution. Not to mention not having to leave the ground more than a few feet at the time. According to Elon Musk, once the distance gets over 500-700 miles, it's more economical to use aircraft - for now.

Jan 17 – Doing It All

Given how busy I am most days, I feel I should add things in perspective as to what I hope to actually get done this year. A few years ago, I came up with an example of how one can only do so much in one's life at any given time.

Everyone's familiar with elastic bands: they stretch, up to a point, then break.

Picture your available time as elastic band, and all the things that you want to do as objects you construction and around - pretty simple, right?

Now, there's always going to be more objects than you can stretch the band around, the matter how clever you are: that's life. You can imagine the object is all being of the uniform size, or some things being bigger than others, depending on the time commitment involved - that's totally up to you.

The point is, you can only stretch the elastic around so many things before it becomes tight. After that point, if you try to add anything else to the bundle, you risk the elastic breaking, which is a metaphor for everything coming apart, really.

Sure, you can cheat a little: stretch the elastic beforehand, arrange the objects in a more compact mass or switch things out on a regular basis: again, that's up to you.

For me, I think I almost "pre-broke" my elastic this week, with the averted panic attack: in imagining all things I had to do, I was stuffing a huge number objects into an elastic of finite size and I didn't consciously realize that I was doing it.

2016 has a lot going on for me, but I need to take it one thing at a time. I'm mentally stretch enough to do it, as long as I admit that I can't do it all at once.

That's it for me this week. I've been feeling quite tired and slightly nauseous, though I think the second part is something that's been going around of late, as many people have said the same thing at work. Signing up to get some regular exercise as well as eating better while stressing less I think is the formula for the next few months, at least until the sun is up as early in the mornings as I am again.