I needed some time to process this game. It’s part of the Bioshock franchise, and I’m a big fan of the first one (never played the second).
Let’s talk about gameplay first.
The controls are a little difficult at first. Having played FPSs in the past, I’m used to squeezing the left trigger to aim down the sights. This is one of those adjustments that will cost you some mojo in due play, maybe get you killed once in a while. It’s a quibble that can be overcome with practice.
Your arsenal is combination of arms that range from normal to steampunk and special powers known as Vigors. Vigors can be used for straight up blasting, crowd control, disrupting your foes, and so forth. Personally, I happened to like the “Murder of Crows” Vigor for the sheer eeriness. Vigors replace Plasmids from the original game, but there’s nothing to replace the hacking. This is much more a straight up action game.
While you’re limited to carrying two weapons at any time, ammo tends not to be a problem unless you have a very strong preference for a type of gun when Elizabeth isn’t around. In fact Elizabeth is one of the most interesting innovations in the game — she’s someone you’re sent to rescue, but you don’t have to protect her. As you journey through the skyborne city of Colombia, Elizabeth scrounges for money, health, Salt (which powers your vigors), and ammo. The animation is keyed to the item being chucked your way, making it amusing when Elizabeth does her best to heave an RPG into your hands. Her ability to open tears in some battlefields can give you advantages like cover, ammo, health, or even an ally or decoy.
The animation and voice acting are excellent by far. This is not the claustrophobic environs of Rapture, that’s for certain. Elizabeth’s transformation from the school girl to the character on the game’s cover is gradual and believable, as are her expressions. Shortly after a violent shootout after gettting Elizabeth out of her tower, there’s a point where she won’t even look at you. I even tried moving around to get her to look at me, and after looking away twice, she walked over to another part of the room.
Now, let’s talk story.
You play Booker DeWitt, a private investigator and veteran of the massacre at Wounded Knee. It’s a literal Portal/Quest opening, with Booker in a rowboat being taken to a light house. Honestly, seeing it looming did plant a seed of dread. However, this light house takes you into the skies to the floating city of Columbia. Your mission, find Elizabeth and bring her to New York. So of course, once you find her things go sideways.
Elizabeth is a unique girl, to say the least. She has the ability to open tears in the structure of reality, creating gateways to parallel universes where things are just a little bit different. Her guardian, the mechanical monstrosity known as Songbird, harries your mission as it seeks out its charge. That’s not all: there’s this conflict between Columbia’s Founders, led by the “Prophet” Zachariah Comstock, and the Vox Populi, led by Daisy Fitzroy. This boiling dispute threatens to erupt in outright civil war, and you and Elizabeth are caught in the crossfire. Racism and zealotry play key roles, and it becomes apparent that hatred is the black fuel that powers this conflict.
I went into this game knowing of the two factions and immediately decided I wasn’t going to trust either one. Call it paranoia from the first game, but it served me well. The expected war does erupt, but through the latter half of the story it seems to get put aside in favor of the reality hopping. So does Songbird, which is a shame as I was hoping for a show down, but he’s destroyed by plot instead. There’s a couple of solid moments where I see the “You Can’t Go Home Again” trope starting to make itself known. Seeing people suffering the echoes of the tear, remembering being killed yet still being alive in a sort of Schroedinger-induced fugue, is quite unnerving. The same can be said when seeing a woman singing CCR’s “Fortunate Son” as a spiritual amidst violence and chaos.
Seeing the subtle changes from one side of a tear to the next and having Elizabeth warn you that “we might not be able to go back” was what got me thinking about that trope I mentioned earlier. If you’ve read Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War then you’ve seen one way to make it work. I was wondering if I was going to find myself shifting over to Rapture due to the divergence of realities (I did but not in the way I expected). While certain I wasn’t going to get Elizabeth to the Paris she knew, I was hopeful there’d be a good (or fair) end to all these trials.
And here’s where the big spoiler leaps in…
I couldn’t accept Booker and Comstock being the same person, even if removed by a single-life choice between two realities. The clues and the context weren’t there to support it. In fact, some of the material goes against it. For example, Booker’s a veteran of the massacre at Wounded Knee. Comstock also claimed to be a veteran, but one NPC (Cornelius Slate) denies it. Violently. You would think that Slate, having been there as well, would be able to recognize Booker and Comstock as one and the same.
As a player I found no points of reference to connect the two. We don’t get a clear look at Booker throughout the game — all that we have is on the cover and in the adverts. The voices are provided by two different actors. Not even Elizabeth can provide the necessary connection until the very end, which is more or less exposition. She can’t for the most part, as she was taken from Booker as a baby and raised in isolation without knowing Comstock at all.
I could raise the question of whether Booker is an unreliable narrator — he could be. We start our story in a rowboat with the Lutece twins, but I took this as a Portal/Quest approach. The first Bioshock game starts in a similar fashion even with the iconic lighthouse. With only one minor reality dysfunction between the game’s beginning (not counting Booker’s vision of New York burning) and finding Elizabeth, Booker comes across as too reliable to be anything else.
In the end, the game is ambitious but it fails to stick the landing. The themes of jingoism and racism are definitely unsettling — and they damn well should be — but they fade into the background in favor of reality hoping. I can’t call Infinite a failure — the game plays well and Irrational Games should be lauded for trying to expand on their story-telling. If nothing else, I hope the success the game is enjoying leads to something even better: the rebirth of System Shock.
Okay, I’ve had a slew of new followers on my Twitter feed, and after making five introduction posts, I figured I should use a better medium to convey this information. Thus I lead you here, so that you all may know a little more about me. To say “I’m a geek,” doesn’t really drill down into who I am. Like most people I have different facets, masks and social modes that Voltron together to make me… well, me.
By day, I’m an IT professional. I’m a technologist working in the UNIX environment for FedEx. I don’t touch packages and I don’t provide customer support, so any such queries will have to be directed elsewhere. It goes without saying that my opinons on my social media are my own and not that of my employer (and yes, that needs said in this day and age). I enjoy what I do. As a result, by “geek flag” doesn’t fly that high here. It used to at my last job, and I think that was more a defense mechanism from a crappy work environment.
I’m a writer — more by hobby than anything else. In 2006 I earned an MA in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University. Two of the best years of my life were spent learning the craft of writing, and I have a lot of friends from the program. I have only one sale to my name, which is in Bash Down the Door And Slice Open the Bad Guy. The two reviews I’ve seen of that short were, constructive if luke-warm, and I’m okay with that. Short stories aren’t my forte. In addition, I wrote this essay years ago, so I’m pretty good at not freaking out over people’s opinions of me. So while you could ask me for writing advice, I’d rather point you to a number of people far more successful than I.
I’m a fan. I love SF, Fantasy, Horror, and the various sub-genres therein. Love comics, even if I don’t have a gigantic collection. Seeing a hero BE a hero is my thing. Good characters in well written stories are also my thing. I can go for for hours about the virtues of Babylon Five, BSG, Supernatural and the like. I try not to though — conversation gets stagnant that way. What I won’t do is quiz someone’s dedication to a fandom or denigrate a person for liking something I don’t. That way lies the Jerk Side. There are no fake geeks (boy or girl). It is known.
I’m a critic — again not a professional, but it’s a definite side-effect of that MA program I mentioned. Once you learn the workings of a craft, it changes how you see the product. By way of example, when my folks bought their first house, my Grandfather — a Union Carpenter — pored over every detail of the place. Of course he was looking for something to fix, but the point is he could see past the first impression and look at what went into making that house. Same thing with me and books. Yes, I’ll point out the bad, but I’ll also point out the good. I don’t express an overwhelming yea or nay or rate something on a discrete numeric scale because opinions aren’t always binary.
I’m a gamer. I like to slay imaginary creatures with funny shaped dice. Sometimes I try killing heroes with them too. Blasting away at pixels can be a good time as well. You’ll see me talking and tweeting about my (mis)adventures as a Part Time Action Hero. Or course, some of these games require miniatures, photos of which you’ll find on my Tumblr page. I like to paint. Just as soothing as writing.
I’m becoming a fitness geek. Went on a Fitness Quest back in 2010. Lost 35 pounds. Gained fifteen back until I renewed my comittment to the Quest as a New Year’s Resolution. Now I’m under 190 and still working it off. It’s been a great journey, and I feel better for doing it. I can offer advice with a shaker full of salt — I only know what works for me. But the reason I renewed my Quest is…
I’m a martial artist. Don’t worry, I’m not an expert just a brown belt. I study Uechi-Ryu Karate, and I’ll no doubt get into a mood to babble about that as well. I’m working my way to earning my Black Belt. God only knows when that’ll be.
I’m an… equalitarian? I don’t believe anyone should be slighted, attacked or demeaned because of gender, gender identity, color, belief, or sexuality. If I’m a feminist, it only means I’m for women being treated as true equals — that gender does exclude someone from a career or hobby if they prove capable in all other respects. Same thing with all other points of diversity I mentioned. No one needs to be put down when we can all lift each other up. Yeah, it’s idealistic, but why not aim high?
So those topics are what you’re most likely to see discussed here and on my Twitter feed. I generally keep it light hearted on Twitter, because it’s the fun place to hang out.
You’re free to stick around, and if you stop following me I won’t worry much unless we’ve had extensive conversations. There’s really only two ways to get kicked out of my niche in the InfoSphere:
1) Tell me what I should or shouldn’t say on my site and feed.
2) Being a dick — this includes being a racist or sexist.
Got it? Cool. Welcome to the show.
First the numbers: 193 pounds with 23.8% body fat.
That’s pretty damn awesome given how things have panned out in the past. The last couple of times I’ve gone on a Fitness Quest, I’d hit a plateau at 200 pounds. Usually after a while I’d start getting frustrated and life would step in with distractions and I’d stray from the Quest.
Now I’m close to the weight I had back in college. Like I said, damn awesome.
Here’s the plot twist. Back in February I decided to try a weight loss supplement to help get the body fat down (all over the counter, nothing sinister). It took a while, but it started working. Then yesterday, acid reflux reared its ugly head.
This problem cropped up last July. I was at CONvergence at the time, and I had attributed it to something I ate at the con. Then at GenCon I paused to take a swig from a fresh bottle of Coke Zero. The pain that hit my stomach made me wonder if I needed to seek out medical attention. When it wouldn’t go away, I sought out a doctor — a story in itself given I hadn’t picked a primary care provider. I was worried it might be something serious. After getting some blood work done while seeing a specialist, it was, as I said, acid reflux. The specialist recommended I try reducing fatty foods and my caffeine intake. That did the trick, and life went on with only a cup of tea at breakfast and a can of Coke Zero at lunch.
Now back to the present. That supplement I was taking included a “metabolism enhancer.” The main ingredient? Straight up sapho, my friends. 200 mg of it. I knew this when I started taking it, being mindful of the potential problems that could arise. Sure enough, it kicked up yesterday, faded, then returned this morning when I took another dose.
My hypothesis is that as my weight dropped, so did my tolerance for caffeine. In the past I’ve experienced my tolerance for alcohol drop with my weight, so I would imagine it would be a similar effect with stimulants. Going back to GNC, I asked what would make a decent substitute. I got two options, and after doing a little research on the interwebs, I decided that the one that didn’t have all the currently trendy and unproven ingredients would make the better choice.
It’s not exactly back to square one — actually it’s not a set back at all. The workouts continue and my diet is still proving fruitful. I had my Sanchin tested Tuesday night and I was surprised. Apparently I didn’t know how much strength hds come back, and not just from muscle but form and condition.
I’m still not there yet. About two weeks ago, Dan (our Sensei) had a bunch of us do some drills focusing on our legs. It was only three sets of exercises: punches from horse stance (singles, then doubles, then triples), iterative sets of front kicks (one, then one-two, etc), and finally squats and kicks. By the end my legs were quaking, my stance faltering. Dan commented that I needed more conditioning for my legs, so guess what I added to my routine at the gym?
That got me thinking a little further. What else could I do? I need to develop better stamina in my muscles (this is, of course, before my pending leg routine at the gym). I also need to become a little more flexible. So I’m starting to add yoga to my routine. I picked up a beginner’s DVD, while Mom found one geared for martial artists, so I’ll be bouncing back and forth between the two depending on when I do the routines. I’m also considering pilates, since that’s geared towards strength. That’s for a later time, though — I need to get used to some yoga poses first.
Next step: get down to 190 and stay there in time for C2E2. Not looking to impress anybody. Just hoping to get in condition for a cheat day on the diet. Deep dish pizza awaits!
The Dead Space series grew on me. I was indifferent with the first game, and after a short bit of gamer RAEG I came to the conclusion that the sequel was actually pretty damn good. Now the series comes to its epic conclusion and I had to wait until I got back from a business trip before I could take on the Necromorphs one last time.
Dead Space 3 takes place well after the events on Titan. Isaac Clarke is living in squalor on a Lunar Colony when all hell breaks loose. EarthGov presses him back into service to follow in the path of his now ex Ellie (from Dead Space 2), who’s gone off to find the source of the Markers. Then the Unitologists — the cult that thinks the Markers are divine — pursue Isaac to punish him for his blasphemy. Seems that the cult (which merits comparisons to Scientology) now has the assets and man power to start open rebellion against Earth Gov, demanding the colonists convert or die. It’s an odd ultimatum, given the Unitologists believe death is needed for salvation.
After a Die-Hard style pursuit sequence, Isaac reaches the Earth Gov ship and they jump to Tau Volantis, site of an ice-ball planet and a 200 year old ship graveyard.
Gameplay from a mechanical perspective hasn’t changed much. Isaac now has the ability to take cover and do a
barrel roll rolling dodge. I think I may have used the roll once, and the cover mechanics only work as far as a gun wielding foe is involved. That’s only required about a third of the time at most.
The engineering portion — and with it the weaponry system — has gone through the most change. You can collect weapon parts throughout the game, but you can also find raw resources to assemble said components. The resulting variety of weapons can become quite impressive, allowing you to put together any combination of offense you might like. This is rather important considering you can only carry two weapons (as opposed to four previously). I crafted and kept a hold of a shotgun with an underbarrel assault rifle — both of which did acid damage.
The raw materials and upgrade circuits replace the power nodes for both weapons and your R.I.G. The latter hasn’t changed much, with upgrades applying to health, armor and oxygen. Upgrading the air tank right off the bat makes the deep space segments a little too easy, but it doesn’t hurt.
To aid your resource gathering beyond curb-stomping crates and corpses, the game provides you (eventually) with scavenger drones. The in-game tutorial provides poor instructions as to how to use them effectively, but the audio cue is distinct enough once you make the connection. While the drones aren’t all that quick, effective use can get you plenty of goods, including ration packs. The packs are a separate in game currency you can use to “buy” bundles of random goodies. These bundles can also be bought with real money (i.e. your wallet). I’m not sure what to make of this — you can’t necessarily “buy” your way through the game, but you can make the trip a little easier.
The story is a solid escalation from the previous two games — Tau Volantis is the source of the Markers’ ability to inflict insanity and create Necromorphs. However, due to an untimely Plot Complication, getting down to the planet’s surface becomes easier said than done. This stage of the game is quite entertaining, maintaining the claustrophobic element from the previous games without feeling monotonous.
During this stage you reunite with Ellie, who’s gotten over Isaac. Of course her new flame is Captain Norton from your recently complicated ride, so the obvious tensions rise there. Also Norton has strong doubts to continuing the mission. Either one of these is a red flag, both means you’ll be shaking your fist at some point saying “curse your sudden and inevitable betrayal!” Yeah, it’s a spoiler — if you’ve never watched horror movies.
I should have noted this previously, but the game introduces two new main characters. First there’s Carver, a soldier assigned to the mission after losing his wife and daughter to a Necromorph attack. He’s protagonist number two if you play the game in co-op mode, which makes three side missions available. Then there’s Jacob Danik, the antagonist, and leader of the Unitologists. Both characters also appeared in the graphic novel Dead Space: Liberation, released around the same time as the game. In my review of Mass Effect 3, I mention that I shouldn’t have to be required to turn to auxiliary sources to understand the core story. Fortunately this case you don’t have to. The newer characters are inserted into the story effectively enough to not require the printed prequel.
About halfway through I came to the realization that Nicole — the spectral psychosis that haunts and guides Isaac in the first two games — never shows up here. This isn’t a bad thing, the writers could have easily taken the lazier path and kept her around to harry Isaac’s sanity. They didn’t, which is good. Isaac had accepted and moved on by the end of the second game. Including Nicole would have taken away from the current plot.
Another thing I noticed was there was less attempts at scaring the player by having monsters jump up right in front of you going “booga-booga.” It happened, but not with the same frequency as before. Instead, I found the game focusing a little more on atmosphere and mood — which helps when you’re trying to build a sense of dread.
The dead alien cityscape was sufficiently eerie. Piecing together what happened to the previous expedition from 200 years ago is a dreadful matter in its own right. Yes, the prologue kind of spoils it, but it doesn’t water down the experience of poring through the wreckage and hearing the voices of the long departed. When you the reach the point where “Condition Five” is invoked, you understand why things ended the way they did. It confirms Isaac’s suspicions about what’s at stake.
At the same time, not everything about the Markers is revealed. I like that because it allows players to let their imagination run around a little and stir up that dread in the brain pan. That’s how good horror should work.
In all, I was satisfied with Dead Space 3. The ending worked well for me, and I actually hope this is the last of the series. You could carry on with Ellie, but at this point the story becomes repetitive, and the series would go the way of sucktastic horror sequels.
Getting back into karate has proven to be a solid decision. The fitness benefits are obvious, but there’s something going on at a deeper level that I haven’t experienced in a long time. Get out yer hip waders — I’m about to get philosophical.
Engaging in any type of exercise brings me a form of mental release, helping me shift from my day job to more creative (and no less exhausting) endeavors. When I’m at the gym, I focus on the weights, let the primal side take the wheel, so to speak and sweat any stress away. It’s easier for me to Do Stuff once my cranial palate is cleansed. I get the same effect when I’m training in Uechi, but the focus is more on me, and I mean that in more than one way.
Mind you, this isn’t navel gazing or meditation. I step into the dojo and sweat, enough that I toss my gi right into the wash when I get home. However, that shift in focus starts in the locker room, when I change into the gi.
A little disclaimer here: not everyone in my school has a uniform. My Sensei, Dan, doesn’t always wear one because he’s training/teaching Ju-Jitsu in the room next door. I don’t think a gi is a strict requirement these days — Dan hasn’t ordered them for students ever since the State said he needed to charge his students sales tax. I would question why a student doesn’t have a gi once they reach, say, green belt, but that’s now my call to make. All I know is that a gi is important to me when I train.
Here’s what I wear. It’s acutally a Ju-Jitsu gi, but it serves well for karate (plus once I’m “caught up” I plan on training in that art as well). While it’s considered “light weight” it’s quite heavier than a karate gi because it’s meant to be grabbed and pulled. The heavier cloth and the rigid collar make it feel like armor when I put it on, but there’s another psychological factor at work.
By changing out of my day clothes and donning this outfit, I strip away what I was:
- a technologist.
- an analyst.
- a diagnostician.
- a geek.
- worn out.
- lazy. (After a rough day at the office, I don’t want to do anything.)
As I get dressed I focus on who I am:
- a student and practictioner of karate.
When step into the dojo I work at what I’m becoming.
- better conditioned.
- compassionate. (Believe me, these last two can be hard for me).
- unbreakable. (It all comes back to Sanchin.)
That simple act of changing clothes does a lot to change my mindset. The trick is, though, is to keep in mind what I’m becoming doesn’t go away once class is over. That there are no limits save for the ones I place upon myself. That, even with teh Big Four-Oh looming on the calendar, my future is not set in stone. That I can still do — and be — more with my life.
It’s a life lesson I’ve been missing for over a decade. Glad to be back in school
I work for FedEx. Love my job. I support systems that help sort packages all across the country. As a result my job may involve some travelling — like this past weekend. I had to take a trip to our Data Center in Colorado Springs to install some tech. While I enjoy flying, entertainment options tend to be limited. Reading works, but often as not I end up sitting next to someone who sees a book as an invitation to talk about everything except what I’m reading.
However, people will leave a person alone if they’ve got earbuds on while watching something on an iPad. With that, movies have become my choice of inflight entertainment. For this trip I picked two films: End of Watch and Dredd. Here’s a brief review of each.
End of Watch
This film stars Michael Pena and Jake Gyllenhaal as two LA patrolmen who get in over their heads when they run afoul of a Mexican drug cartel. This could have been a very strong movie — Gyllenhaal and Pena put on a strong performance, as does the rest of the cast. The filming and action are crisp. The actors’ portrayal of police officers comes across as well-researched. One scene, where they bust the cartel agent with the blingout guns, Gyllenhaal makes a few simple gestures that convinced me that both actors and film makers did their homework. However, the film falls short for two reasons.
The first is pacing. The movie takes a long time to establish the plot, even as it tries to follow the three act formula. I think the reason for this stems from the second failing: the movie isn’t sure what it wants to be. It starts off as a homemade documentary, but the film makes too many POV hops to maintain that. It could have been an action cop movie (how else would you account for three guys getting a drop on two cops from an advantageous point while armed with AK-47s roll a complete miss with nearly a hundred rounds?), or it could have been a gritty police procedural. Instead, the film lost its sense of self while trying to tell a story. It reduces what could have been a great movie to “meh,” which is a shame, because the interaction between Pena and Gyllenhaal is fantastic.
In Mega-City One, the Judges are the sole force of order. Dredd takes the psychic rookie Judge Anderson into the field for her evaluation, but things get out of control quickly as the two run afoul of the drug lord MaMa in her hi-rise fortress.
I had a feeling this was going to be good, and I’m kicking myself for not having seen this in theaters. As adaptation of the comic goes, it’s light years ahead of the Stallone flick. Urban does a great job of being Dredd without being a hulked up linebacker without having to take off his helmet. However it’s Judge Andersen (Olivia Thirlby) and MaMa (Lena Headey) steal the show. Both are great characters who just happen to be women. I had heard it said, and in this case it holds very true. Andersen’s psychic abilities are well used and the film handles them without being cliche, and she is no slouch nor damsel in distress — even when she gets captured by the bad guys. MaMa is monstrously evil, and not for evil’s own sake. She grew into a monster, knowing full well the consequences of her actions.
With the location set mostly in a massive high-rise builing, one might draw some parallels to Die-Hard. It’s not quite inaccurate, but it doesn’t do the story justice either (no pun intended). It’s a straight up guns blazing action film that knows it’s source material. It does just enough to set the scene for MegaCity One without bogging things down in exposition. I’m kicking myself for not seeing this in the theater, and I hope they make another.
Don’t know when my next business trip will be, but I’ll definitely be doing this again. Until then, there’s still Supernatural to watch.
For those two or three of you reading this that don’t follow me on Twitter, I posted this picture and the accompanying thought: “I have an entire day’s food in this lunch box.”
When it comes to losing weight, you can boil it down to simple mathematics. If you burn more calories than you consume, you lose weight. If you consume more than you burn, you gain weight. Now, how one implements this basic concept depends on the individual. My Dad, for example, lost thirty pounds in a month (dropping to 160) by not having thirds at dinner and walking three to five miles a day. That was at age 60. Dad just has that kind of metabolism. The genetic dice did not roll as well for me in that regard.
So tonight, I thought I’d take a look at just what’s in my lunch box and take a guesstimate as to the calorie count.
Breakfast is 3/4 of a cup of Kashi cereal. About 160 calories with super skim milk. A cup of tea usually follows to grant me thinky powers.
Lunch will be about two cups of spicy chicken rigatoni, leftovers from lunch at Bucca di Beppo. Have to guess that with the sauce and everything it’s about 550 calories. Add an apple and Greek yogurt, and we have about 800 calories total.
Mid-afternoon snack is carrots and hummus (2 tbsp), for about 200 calories.
Second snack — for the drive to the dojo — Oatmeal raisin cookie Power Bar for 250 calories.
After karate, turkey and swiss on honey wheat bread with chipotle mustard and shredded lettuce. 360 before the condiment, so I’ll bump it up to 400 and call it a night.
The total comes to about 1800 calories. Haven’t got a clue as to how much I burn on a lazy day, let alone after two hours in the dojo.
1800 calories in one lunch box. Granted, there’s some portion control and the food is spread out thorough five smaller meals throughout the day (lunch being the big meal), but that’s all in one container. Now, a fraction of that volume is actual food going into my stomach. Can’t guess the actual volume or mass, but it does beg the question…
How much was I eating before?
It’s ironic when you think about it: during the time I was laid-off from Mellon, I joined a gym, worked with a trainer and was very well on my way to being in great shape. Then I signed on as a contractor for FedEx (August 2011) and my fitness habits went to shit. I guess you could say I was fortunate that only 15 pounds crept its way back into my waistline, but dammit that was 15 pounds I didn’t want or need.
Come December last year, I was down to one pair of pants that actually fit comfortably. I knew I had to do something about this, so I decided to make the ever obnoxious New Year’s Resolution to Get My Ass In Shape (TM). This time, I needed to have a plan. Last time I went on a Fitness Quest, I plateaued at a weight of 200 pounds on the nosey. Couldn’t get past that point without making a change to my diet that I didn’t want to make, even though I wanted to lose another 10-15 pounds.
I like to eat, but I needed to make a big change in my diet if I wanted to get down to 190. I’ve seen trainers chow down on chicken and rice with a dash of hot sauce. That works well for a quick nom, but I could see it getting tiresome fast. When it occurred to me how much I like curry…well, problem solved. I’d have a lunch consisting of a sammich, fruit & yogurt, an afternoon snack of carrots and hummus, and dinner would be a cup of rice and something curried. Believe me, curried chicken, turkey or chickpeas on rice does not get old.
Further pieces of the plan started coming together after a conversation on Twitter with writer and Lawful Badass Mike Oliveri. Mike is a martial artist, a student of Okinawan Karate. I mentioned I used to study Uechi-Ryu, leaving the school as a brown belt. Honestly, looking back on why I left, I’ve no idea why I did it. It’s been about the only regret I’ve had in life. So Mike gave some sage advice: go back and fix that regret.
And I said: why not?
So, workout routine started falling into place: Monday and Friday would be “off” days (game nights), Karate/Ju-Jitsu three nights a week, the gym for the remaining two. Since I’m in an on-call rotation, my gym workouts would focus on one set of muscle groups (like chest and back), and my week on-call would also double as my recovery time. Only thing is, how would be received back at the dojo after a twelve year absence? I didn’t leave on bad terms — I just left.
On that first night, I walked into the racquet club in Greensburg where the dojo’s been for probably 20 years or more now. The only familiar faces there were Senseis Dan and Bill. Dan took one look at me and smiled. The first thing he said to me was, “Long time no see! Welcome back!”
So much for being worried about that. My next concern was how bad was the rust gonna be? Well, in the first month, I’ve been able to recall the five kata I knew, the Yakusoku Kumite, and the Bunkai for Kanshiwa and Seisan. Granted they need a LOT of refining. The power, accuracy and conditioning isn’t there, but it’s on it’s way back. Maybe by March I’ll be picking the staff and sai katas back up again. Regardless, I had forgotten just how good it feels to train in Uechi-Ryu.
Since 1995, I’ve studied Uechi-Ryu (aka Shohei-Ryu), Northern Longfist Kung-Fu, Yong style Tai-Chi, Fencing and a little bit of Aikido. Never felt out of place in any of those schools, but Uechi-Ryu was — and still is — a great fit for me. Definitely glad to be back at it.
The results have been amazing. I’ve gone from 215 pounds to 203, body fat going down from 28% to 25% while muscle mass has gone from 36% to 38%. Now, take the percentages with a grain of salt. I’m getting those numbers from my nice nifty new bathroom scale, but if the drop in pants size is any indication, I’m doing something right.
I still have a long way to go, but I’m happier (and healthier) than I was one month ago. Now forty isn’t looming like the specter it used to be.
So, to continue the household saga…
The kitchen is an official shambles. Last weekend Dad and I got to work on the ceiling, which is acoustic tile over plaster. The loose plaster has been mostly pulled away, but the spots of glue are still going to be a problem. We’re hoping we can sand them away as we want to save as much of the plaster as possible. What gets torn down will be replaced by drywall and we’ll just paint over everything. The walls seem to be a less difficult matter. The wallpaper just peels away, and the masonite underneath is only a little more difficult to remove. Right now the ceiling is a priority, as is replacing the floor, which should begin this weekend.
In all, the project is looking less traumatic as long as we can save the ceiling. I’m likely to have an empty kitchen for a long weekend, as opposed to a week or two.
With that we move on to another home project, the refinement of what some might call the Geek Cave, but I call the Creatorium. Because the Geek Cave is in the basement, where the dice roll.
So far that refinement has been tidying things up, putting up bookshelves, and moving old LARPing garb into more compact storage. However, since I’m turning the place from a Writing Room into a full fledged workshop, I decided it was time to get the tech in place for background entertainment. Sure I need to find a place to store all them damn NERF guns, but being able to NetFlix takes precedence!
The computer in the Creatorium is a Mac Mini, one of the first generation of that breed of computer. I bought it for that room as a dedicated system shortly after grad school. I kept it off the internet because I didn’t want to deal with the Blinking Lights of Distraction. I still want to use it for such, but the two display setup had never worked out as I had hoped. I ended up replacing them with 32″ LED TV that I picked up with a Holiday gift card, and was impressed by the size of the display, if not the resolution. It would serve well enough, but I would have to get creative with things in order to be able to splat up multiple documents.
So with that in mind, I turned on the wifi and began the OS updates. Once they were done, I tried downloading Chrome. That was when I remembered a…significant detail. My Scribe was originally loaded with OSX 10.4. In order to run Chrome, or use NetFlix (regardless of the brand of browser), I needed 10.5. That version is only installed on CD. Now, as I have two Minis in the house, I had bought a CD with a site license instead of two single-use licenses (it was actually cheaper that way). That’s not the significant detail I mentioned earlier.
OSX 10.5 requires 1 GB of memory. Scribe has half that amount. Normally I wouldn’t see this as a problem. I’m an IT guy, I’m used to “popping the top” on a PC and swapping bits like this out. No big deal, right? Well…not exactly. As I said, Scribe is one of the first generations of Minis. It was designed for size and efficiency, not necessarily ease of upgrade. Here’s what you gotta do to swap out the RAM. Go ahead, scroll through it and come back. Tech professional I may be, but I’m not exactly enthused about doing major surgery to make Scribe smarter, especially if it risks turning it into a $600 paperweight.
A trip to the Mac store in Shadyside did not prove fruitful. They actually recommended I go to a place that specializes in Mac hardware. One complication is that they have a location in Warrendale (long drive, but open on weekends), and Downtown Pittsburgh (closer trip, weekdays only). Wanting this to be same day deal, I opted for the long drive. I figured I could call ahead, get a quote and then make plans for next Saturday. Then I went to their website and saw their rates: $110/hour. No, that’s not a typo.
Still, I called them up for a quote — and got the service department’s voice mail. I left my specs with my message, and here’s hoping they call back in the next couple of days. A co-worker thought they might offer a flat rate, but I somehow doubt it. Not with their hourly charge. I also doubt this is going to be a one hour job due to the intricacy and the need to test before closing the case back up. So if memory costs $50-60 for 2GB, I’m looking at about $300 once all is said and done.
So the question is, do I pay the man for the tech work, do it myself, or pull a plan C? Plan B is the least expensive route, clearly. Plan A will get the job done, but if I don’t get that call with the quote, I’m not sure if I want to go that route. Last year I called someone reputable for a quote on my air conditioner and I never got a reply. That’s a sign somebody may not want your business. I recognize I may be jumping the gun, but that hourly rate doesn’t bode well with me.
Now, this would be Plan C. It’s a slick little barebones PC, compact, powerful. Has a Blu-Ray player, which is good considering my recent movie acquisitions are in that vein. What it doesn’t have is an OS. I can get the OEM for $100 more, making this potentially the most expensive Plan, but not disastrously so. I don’t need Office — I’ve been using OpenOffice for years, and I have MS Office on my laptop if I need to do any technowizardry. Not sure what I’d do with Scribe — it might become my DM’s assistant in the gameroom — he’s small enough, and I could use the tech down there as an extra rules reference and map station.
At the same time, I’m not sure if I want to go that route. Feels like I’m giving up on Scribe, relegating a perfectly good system to obsolescence. These Minis have proven to be solid, stable systems. I’ve had them for six, almost seven years — a long time in the computer world. That makes Plan B more appealing, if the most difficult.
Still, this is something to think over — or not think over whilst I work on the kitchen. We’ll see if I step up to that particular challenge.
Let it be known for the record that I, like my Father, hate doing plumbing.
Here’s the full story: I needed to replace the fill mechanism in my toilet. Earlier, I had installed one of those water saving fillers, and it sure did save on water — after about three months it wouldn’t work about half the time! So, I got a more reliable part and got busy. Replacement successful, but wait, what’s that trickling sound? And why is my new fill valve giving short bursts of water when the reservoir is full? After a little online research, I did a little experiment. I placed my hand on the flush valve and gently pressed down. The trickling stopped. That pretty much spelled it out: bad flush valve.
Sooooo back to the hardware store to pick up that part. To change that out, I have to take the reservoir off the bowl. It’s held in place by three bolts in a triangular pattern. The top of the triangle is right behind the flush valve, so I’m constantly banging my hand against the porcelain. Honestly, my hands look like I’m southpaw boxer. On top of that these are old bolts and washers, and I’m in this odd hunched-over-while-seated pose, trying to lock vice-grips on the nut while working a screwdriver. Eventually I get the reservoir off, rip out the old mechanism — literally — and install the new one. Put everything back together and… I have a leak. In the back. Water dripping off that rear bolt. My guess is that the bolt and washer are done, so I empty the reservoir for umpty-jillionth time and get back to work.
For two hours. On one. Fucking. Bolt. It was becoming stripped right before my very eyes.
Sooooooo I go back to hardware store for new bolts and washers. Ended up buying this little kit that includes a gasket for where the reservoir goes into the bowl. Why not? Yet even with this new bolt and gasket the leak persists. So I take it all apart again and shuffle the bolts around, replace all the gaskets, reassemble and — because I’m a Schmott Guy– I pour some water from a bucket into the reservoir and check for leaks. None! Yay! Time to start the flow!
At this point I need to pull you, Dear Reader, aside to bring up some details. There’s a little valve where the water flow goes into the reservoir. That valve is wonky in that I can’t shut it off any more. Tried replacing it a few years back and the goddam thing wouldn’t budge. Since then I’ve tabled it for whenever I should do a major renovation on the bathroom that requires help. Now, because this thing is busted, I need to cut the water off elsewhere. I have no idea where the cut-off valve to the bathroom is — chalk it up to impatience and laziness — so I just cut the water off to the whole house. This is REALLY REALLY dumb, although it does provide some warped impetus to get shit done. After this recent bit of plumbing, I went down stairs and opened the main, thinking I was done.
Then I heard the sound of running water. In my house. Hopping up two flights of stairs, I see my bathroom is starting to flood. I then zoom back down kill the flow, but now there is sufficient water to drip down through the floor, and muck up the kitchen ceiling a little. Okay may a smidge more than a little. I need to redo the kitchen anyway — oddly enough the reason it needs redone is due to the LAST TIME I WORKED ON THAT FUCKING TOILET!
Once everything’s mopped up I took a look to see what went wrong. What I had not done was connect the piece of flexi-pipe to the fill valve so water could flow into the toilet reservoir and not onto the bathroom floor. I told you I was a Schmott Guy, didn’t I? Reconnect and restore the flow and — drippage again. And no amount of tightening that damn back end bolt helps. It occurs to me that something in that gasket beneath that flush valve may not be set up right. Once again I take everything apart and check the meager destructions for enlightenment. Least I could figure was there was this carboardy-gasket like thing that was not mentioned in the instructions at all. I guessed it needed to be between the plastic nut that held the flush valve in place and the reservoir, so I did my modified reassembly and… voila! I have a working non-leaky toilet again!
And it was 9 PM. I had started at 12:30…
Did I mention I hate doing plumbing?