Sunday, 26 June 2016

Filters, Fine Finds, Fun and Fools

The word of the week is execrable.

June 20 – VR Phones?

My VR headset arrived today!

Before you think I'm crazy, this isn't 'true' VR* virtual-reality costing thousands, but rather a headset designed to hold a smart phone in front of your eyes, like so:

This model even came with a remote!

By using a smart phone, one can get around( to some degree )the need for some rather expensive hardware to experience VR. Smart phones these days are powerful enough to provide a decent viewing experience and combined with the motion sensors they already possess, it's a relatively easy thing to do. And at a mere $25 for the headset( purchased after much research and good reviews ) it was time for me to get one.

Unfortunately, at the moment there's not a whole lot of good VR apps out there, and the ones that do exist don't always play nicely with different models of phones: there's no set 'standard' for this kind of VR yet, only approximations designed to work with as many models of phones as possible.

It's a distraction for me at this point, but I'm hoping that it will eventually turn into a tool I can use for my business. Being able to model parts in 3-D might come in handy, along with other tasks and I'm certainly open to discovering new things that I can do with this gear. So far, the experiment seemed to be working decently well: everything seems to run smoothly in terms of frame rate and that's key.

Hopefully the usefulness will come sooner rather than later.

June 21 –  Nose Smoke?

Smoke really bothers me, especially when I can't escape it.

Aside from the ever present stench in my building's hallway from my next-door neighbor, I run into cigarette smoke every single time I'm out walking in the city.

Every time.

It's a migraine trigger for me, unfortunately and so just as I do in my building's hallway, I've developed the habit of watching people for lit cigarettes and holding my breath as I pass them by. If at all possible, I go out of my way to avoid the clouds they exude, slowing down to let the things dissipate or even crossing the street if they're particularly voluminous in their noxious exhalations.

I won't get into the finer points of my personal rights versus theirs here; it's a free country and if they want to kill themselves slowly then that's their right. I just prefer that they don't share that mentality with me and others by exhaling.

You might ask: what if I could just filter out the smoke?

I've considered wearing masks that would do just that, but aside from looking ridiculous, they're not all that effective to wear long-term. They restrict breathing significantly by covering the nose and mouth and on top of that, most masks are expensive and need replacing regularly.

Then I discovered this product, which I'm considering getting:

The plugs are discrete, relatively inexpensive and I'd only have to wear them when I'm out walking around in relatively crowded areas, where people are puffing out fumes often enough to make it worthwhile. Nobody would know that I was wearing them and the best part is that I can continue to breathe normally through both my mouth and nose, simply closing my mouth to breathe through the filters whenever I pass through somebody's carelessly floating cloud of carcinogens.

Something to think about.

June 22 – Was I pwned?

Have you been hacked?

It's a good question to ask yourself every few months. With all the online accounts that people have nowadays, it's hard to know if you've been affected by one of the growing number of privacy breaches that keep happening.

A great resource( and free! )to have bookmarked is, which is a reliable website dedicated to letting people know if there privacy has been breached and presenting the info in a simple, easy-to-use format.

Basically, you just enter your e-mail and see if it's associated with reported breaches: if you use that account anywhere that has been compromised, the site will tell you.

I was shocked to learn that two rather ancient websites that I frequented almost 10 years ago had been breached, when associated with one of my two main long-term e-mail addresses. Fortunately, the information on those sites was rather outdated and while I'm not happy that someone out there knows my birthdate, I don't think they're going to be able to do much with it, especially if it's bundled with millions of other much juicier datasets that people left hanging around. I tend not to put more than the bare minimum of information into any sites that I won't be using on a regular basis, which helps keep my private info private.

I think that's a good policy, especially given the prevalence and sophistication of hackers these days. 

June 23 – Tanks for the memories!

Nostalgia comes in many forms, and today a little bit of mine came in the mail.

One of the best memories of my childhood is getting a HISS tank for my 10th birthday. It was an 'enemy' vehicle, belonging to the evil Cobra organization that opposed G.I. Joe and it was as solid a toy as I've ever had the pleasure of playing with: I practically wore mine out, despite it being a solid chunk of heavy plastic.

Unfortunately, that was the reason that I ended up selling it off about 10 years ago as part of paring things down before my move to BC in 2007. Ever since then, I've regretted giving away that particular piece of my childhood, as I discovered to my chagrin that the darn things are fairly expensive on eBay if they're in good shape.

As luck would have it, after a few years of looking I managed to acquire one recently for the kingly sum of $25 CAN, which was a great find! As you can see, it's in great shape, with even the easily-scratched cockpit plastic looking like new:

Key to note is that the gun barrels are elevated: almost all the HISS tanks still out there lack this ability, as the tiny little tabs underneath wear out in no time with regular play. To find a HISS tank in such great shape like this is a real coup and my inner child is feeling most satisfied with holding it in my hands again.

It's like my 10th birthday all over again, though admittedly without any 32-year-old cake.

June 24 – Don't Sleep Outside

Waking up early sucks; being woken at 4 AM sucks even more.

I wasn't feeling great this evening and wanted to go to bed early, but I couldn't follow sleep until around midnight. Which is fine, as long as I got sleep in… and this being the weekend, that's exactly what I had in mind for tomorrow.

However, I was awoken at 4am by someone who decided to park on our street while leaving their car running... whose muffler had either fallen off or had more holes in it than a politician’s promise. The metal-drums-booming racket must've woken the entire local neighborhood and I heard the lady upstairs get up at the same time as I did.

Feeling rather annoyed and still being assaulted by the pulsing beat of the idiot’s vehicle, I slipped on some clothes and headed outside with the flashlight, with the vague half-asleep idea of appearing pissed off enough to make said idiot move on.

Just as I got outside, they did just that. Grrrr.

I headed around the corner of the rear parking lot to see if I can catch a glimpse of their retreating taillights and that's when I got a bit of a surprise:

There was someone slumped over on the grass by the road.

After an initial second's shock, I noticed that it was a young man. He was seated cross-legged on the grass somewhat neatly, wearing just a T-shirt in the cool air and with a knapsack beside him. A pair of white headphones were connected to a music player and I could clearly hear the music blasting into his ears from 10 feet away.

He was also pitched face forward onto the grass, which looked really uncomfortable unless he was some sort of yoga devotee. From what I can tell, he had sat down, turned on his music and then passed out face first into the grass: classic faceplant.

I decided against trying to wake him, as I could see he was breathing. Heading back inside without catching a glimpse of the vehicle that woken me, I dialed up the police and let them know about the likely-drunk young guy outside doing silent yoga in the cold. I stayed awake for almost another hour until I heard voices outside accompanied by bright lights and knew that the cops had him taken care of, so I managed to fall asleep at last.

The next morning I checked in with the police for an update on Mr. Yoga. It was exactly as I thought: the guy had had too much to drink, picked a 'safe' spot to pass out and did exactly that. Which wasn't all that smart, as anyone could have come by to cause him grief and spending four or five hours outside in the 11C weather probably wouldn't have done him much good on top of that.

So I had done the right thing. Amusingly, when I walked out there on Saturday, I spotted $6.00 in toonies nestled in the grass exactly where he had sat. Thus in a small way, my kindness was repaid... and that brought a smile to my face.

Still didn’t get me my lost sleep back – may karma find that Muffler Idiot soon!

June 25 – Space Empires!

It was Game Day today!

On the menu: a 4-player game of Eclipse, the best( in my opinion )space-empire boardgame out there right now. Myself, my lady, my friend Chris and his pal Greg all got together around 4 PM to have a go at playing a full game of Eclipse. With 9 'rounds' to go through, none of us had any idea if that would happen.

As it turns out, it was a ton of fun finding out!

What might still be revealed under the next hex?

As you can see from the picture above, the game board is set up using a random selection of hex tiles, each representing one 'sector' of space that players can control. Each player works out from their starting hex, gaining influence over nearby sectors and deciding the path of their empire's development. Part of the beauty of the game is that victory can be attained through various different strategies and not just a rush to see who can build the most powerful armies.

As you can see from this late-game shot, there's not a lot to each of the player’s territories and none of us had more than a half-dozen ships in our 'fleets' by the time the final round of the game arrived:

I'm the red player, my lady is green...

As it turned out, my lady and Chris tied for victory( in both Victory Points and even the Economic Supply areas )and had to duke it out in a furious space battle! Unfortunately, my lady lost to Chris' tech-heavy fleet... But it was fun to watch!

Showdown in space!

The best part was that we finished the game in around four hours, which exactly matched my prediction of games lasting about one hour per player involved. So for the next game that we have, we'll know how long to budget for to allow us to finish playing... and since we are all now rather familiar with the game mechanics, it should be even more exciting than today's epic game!

June 26 – That Sinking Feeling

Back to the pond today, and the weather was beautiful!

My lady and I breakfasted at the Beacon, where I was pleasantly surprised by this bounteous meal( I think their cooks are really shaping up well lately ):

I know, I know. I took a picture of my breakfast, but I had a was quite honestly surprised not only by how it looked but how good it was, so I figured it was worth sharing. Plus, dining on their spacious patio was nigh perfect under an awning in the morning breezes from the ocean. I appreciate the wonder of living where I do: fresh air, sunshine and bevvy of beautiful things to appreciate, all at hand…

Down at the boat pond by the sea, there were a fair number of model boaters out. My lady and I set up shop under the gentle boughs of a willow that overhangs the pond... and I could get the boat to power up. Checking the battery, I saw that I had all the connections correct and so I switched to the much smaller backup that I had used with my M41A nerf rifle the month before: it worked like a charm.

So while my lady happily drove our Haulin’ Trawler around the pond, I checked in with some of the other boaters to diagnose the battery. Quite quickly it was determined that the cell was completely dead, and the cause was entirely my fault: I had let it drop below critical charge levels and apparently LiPo( Lithium Polymer )batteries can't recover from that. So, $80.00 lesson learned... *sigh*

I do love my tech, but sometimes tech doesn’t return the feelings back…

But you learn your lessons and move on. After voting was done around noon, we hung out with a half-dozen of the modelers down at a very nice Moka House coffee shop at Fisherman's Wharf, talking shop and generally enjoying ourselves. They are a relaxed and fun bunch, very knowledgeable in their hobby, so my lady and I enjoyed ourselves quite a bit in their company. We were even joined by my friend Murray, who lives nearby and happened to run into us by pure coincidence.

My lady and I spent a few more hours out and about, exploring the downtown area on foot. We wandered into Cavity Curiousity Shop on Yates, where been before and was again impressed by the quality of the merchandise that proprietor Andy has curated. He has excellent taste: there's a fine selection of old-school science fiction and fantasy books mixed in with many other treasures of every imaginable media, though admittedly I don't have a use for most of them aside from pure nostalgia.

Incredibly, he also had not one but TWO working laserdisc players( both of them solid single-side-players )tucked away under a counter! I briefly spoke to him about perhaps getting a package deal for one with some laserdiscs he had in storage, for me to see in the near future - nice! Sometimes, it pays to ask...

Back home for the evening, I was feeling a little tired and didn't do much save prep the blog. I think I'm going to have to force myself to exercise a minimum of every other day on the stationary bike just to keep my energy levels up, as it seems I can't go more than three days without feeling tired of late.

More exercise is never bad for anyone, even in moderation.

I don't know what's with my oddly-low energy levels of late, but I'm glad to know that it's not anything do with anxiety, as that's been a real pain in the ass to overcome and keep on top of. There's lots to do this summer and I don't plan on spending much of it flaked out with flagging energy levels - at a bare minimum I have to get the next draft of my first book done, so have at it, Muse!