Ninety Days

I’ve got cats now, so let’s get that out of the way. Two brothers, both black, that we’ve named Mac & Cheese. They purr pretty much instantly on human contact, and really seem to think my foot is something to attack.

Moving on.

We’ve come to the last quarter of the year, a somehow sudden and impending end. Time is a powerful thing, moving out of our control, but given the right mental state it provides a powerful source of motivation. It’s amusing that we’ve cut it up into arbitrary segments, with titles and names and numbers. Monday of this week was the 1st of a month, and the first work day of a week, which makes some of us perceive it as a more important day than if the 1st fell on, say, a Tuesday. It’s this sort of odd power we have granted our calendars and our clocks over us that creates New Years’ resolutions, and of course The List, which I’ve been tracking, and not paying quite enough attention to for the last many months.

I’ve certainly not done well at keeping up with a number of what seem like the easy ones. I’m still pretty awful at keeping up with the movements of Facebook or Twitter, but I think I attribute that to my just not finding much practical use for them. I don’t know if I particularly need to be even angrier than I already am about politics at any given moment, which seems to be the lion’s share of what I see on either (along with all of the advertising I can do without.) My lack of time spent on these things didn’t, unfortunately, translate into a lot of time spent on anything else particularly productive. For the more important things, it’s easy to look back and see nine months that, from this point, seem mostly wasted. “So much more I could have done,” one might think.

My older, younger self would have thought just as much, but I find myself of a new mind. These three months are easily the best of the year, and a time when I find my energy to be at its highest. While I’ve learned to appreciate the summers here, my need for them doesn’t quite seem to match the native Pacific North Westerner’s craving for it. These next cooler, darker months have always been the sort I’ve preferred. It’s a different sort of appreciation of warmth, where I can huddle into coats and gloves and scarves and get warmth from man-made sources, which might play to some odd survival instinct I’ve never really had the outdoors affinity to put into any sort of practice. What I do have experience with in these colder seasons is that food tastes better, coffee seems more effective, and a drink seems to provide more warmth (albeit not a practically useful sort of warmth).

A fine three months, indeed. If you’re so inclined, go out there and latch on to whatever target you can: A first, a last, a holiday, a solstice, whatever works. For me, next year will be 10 years since my self-declared “Year of the Bear,” and I’ve a feeling it’s about time for another one. There’s time enough to strike a few more things off the list before then.

A Different Two Weeks

So apparently I had forgotten that I had linked my LinkedIn account to this blog thing, and the title of my last blog post probably subverted some expectations given the time and that particular flavor of social media stream. No, I wasn’t planning to quit my job, merely noting I was hoping to aim at getting something “out there” every two weeks or so. That was four months ago, so obviously I failed that miserably.

The last six to twelve months have been fairly odd. I like to think I’m pretty good at dealing with high stress on a single front at a time. There are essentially three “fronts” in this regard: personal life, work life, and my understanding of world events. One usually expects a little bit of stress from all three of these at any given time, but if more than one of them get into high gear I run out of steam pretty fast. Things on the world events front have been pretty horrible for the last two years or so, in case you haven’t been paying attention (I’ll likely get into this in another post). My habit of wanting to know what’s happening has not gotten along well with my hating pretty much everything that’s happening. This was at least manageable in my head in early 2017, but as work became an unpredictable roller-coaster is was a bit too much. In spite of my 2018 plans to keep up with at the very least a blog, I burned out back in March, but as things calm down at work, there’s room in my head for a number of things I’d actually like to do again.

So what’s “A Different Two Weeks?” This time it’s in reference to my recent vacation. A well-timed two weeks, at that, as it accidentally coincided with a role change at work. I’ve found vacations for a company where roles and ownership of certain domains are somewhat malleable tend to lead to coming back to what feels like a new job, and this is a pretty good time for that.

Like the traditional American home owner, I spent my vacation doing house things. Gutters were hung, a disposal was installed (and then fixed the next day), a miserable pile of bamboo and fence from the neighbor’s yard was cut down (with their assistance), shelf mounts were installed, planks stained, and a rattling fan that’s been annoying me since I bought it got fixed. All of this mixed in with dealing with the kids and an absurd amount of cleaning while Shoka worked on mostly kimono-related activities. By the end of those two weeks I was pretty well destroyed, but made an attempt to go out with a bang with a get together of the old work crew, which was an expectedly cathartic experience.

Unfortunately, just two days out from that, I managed to catch something that’s decided to hit me with a fever and stomach pains for the last 24 hours. I feel like I’m coming out of it, thankfully, but this does make me want to build in some recovery time for the next one of these “vacations” I end up taking.

Two Weeks

In a world where some people seem to tweet every 45 seconds, it might seem strange that it’s hard to keep up momentum on something like this. I’m aiming to make sure I update this thing every two weeks or so.

So the last two weeks saw a few things checked off of the list:

  • Pokedex: I’ve completed the living dex, now ready to port into whatever future games are enabled for Pokemon Bank. The highlight of all this was certainly the shiny Lickitung, who finally made their way to Lickilicky.licky
  • Unstable Cube: I need to look through this again and see where I’ve apparently missed a few cards (the first attempt revealed an uneven number of packs’ worth of cards), but I’d call this done and successful. Managed to force get some friends to play a round, and while we only got to playing a single multiplayer round, things went as I hoped as far as entertainment value goes. Not every card in Unstable is a hit, as far as comedy goes, but there’s plenty of good stuff in there. Looking forward to using this thing more in the future.
  • Elves Deck: I’m actually unsure of where I want to go with this. In getting back into Magic I’ve once again found that the only format I really enjoy playing, apart from the randomness of drafts, is Commander. I think I might cross this off the list in favor of building a deck around a RG or URG commander, as those were the original colors for my old monster-of-the-day deck. The last really good time I had with elves was playing with the stock Llanowar’s Fury deck a few years back. Given that I have all the parts of that back I’m just going to call this one good and enjoy that I’m back into my old hobby.

Hopefully I’ll be back with more in less than two weeks.

Five and Thirty

So my birthday was a few weeks ago. The trip to Japan didn’t leave a lot of room for celebrating, as we spent most of our time over there being sick and taking care of each other. Shoka forced herself to muster the energy to go out and find me some cake, so that was nice.

Now that I’ve had a few weeks to settle in to my new age, as if that’s someone people actually did, and work has briefly calmed down to the point that I’m open to a few moments of reflections, it doesn’t feel too terribly different from any other year.

Thirty-five is a number of things:

  • Seven times five: “Every seven years it’s a whole new you.” Inspiring metaphor, huh? That’s probably nonsense, but on that arbitrary idea I suppose I’m now on James number six. The last one had a pretty good run.
  • Half of Seventy: I’ve often considered making it to seventy being essentially winning the lifespan game given my height. Looks like I’m half way there.
  • Early window into mid-life crisis territory: If Nick-at-Nite taught me anything about this, I’ll apparently get a sudden urge to buy a leather jacket, motorcycle, and then selfishly take a hiatus from family and work to ride around “soul searching.” Go ahead an punch me if that starts to happen.

In spite of these things, thirty-five isn’t celebrated as one of the many more important integers we reach in life. Mostly we care about things being divisible by ten, the legally important ages (sixteen, eighteen, and twenty-one), or the lexically important age of fourteen. Thirty is usually approached with dread, but by the time that year is over you should really be over your fears of being old, in spite of still being relatively young.

The most self-inflicted meaning it has for me, however, is it’s the age I always thought I was in high school. That was fully three Jameses ago, now. I was far more introverted then, full of all the teenage complexes that come from being too large too quickly, a combination of genetics and an uncurbed desire for carbohydrates and cheese. A superiority complex brought on by being a little too smart (as measured by my amazing ability to fill in the right bubbles when presented with multiple choice questions) did not help matters much. An adult of the era might have likely observed me as being mature for my age, but the reality was completely different.

There are people who say that high school is the best four years of your life, but all of my experience is to the contrary and the feeling mentally, at least as far as energy goes, is that I’ve continued getting younger since then. Seems like my mind is probably stuck somewhere between twenty-two and twenty-seven. I’m certainly in better shape physically, and hopefully that can continue to improve.

Not exactly sure where I’m going with all this, but things are going pretty well. I’ve got a lot of work to do and probably about three more good Jameses to do it with.

The Cold Experience

There was a time when I would get sick, take the recommended dosage of Dayquil/Nyquil, eat a really dumb sandwich, and function well enough soon after. When you look at the universal cold medicines of the US, which usually are supposed to treat 9001 symptoms, it made sense to use them as when I’d get sick it would always seem to be some combination of things they covered.

Colds just aren’t colds for me anymore. Now something comes at me suddenly, hits me like a truck, and then combos into some other symptom. When you feel your body go from not-fever to fever over the course of two minutes your first though is “oh well I guess maybe I’m dying” and reach for some ibuprofen hoping to stave off the reaper one more night. It’s not over yet, though. Oh, no.

Each day the wheel spins, and as yesterday’s symptom fades we get to see what today’s episode’s sudden onset villain is going to be. This repeats for several days, becoming a spiral of self diagnosis and medicinal desperation. Going to a doctor for this seems silly, as the inconsistent symptoms are consistent with pretty much every damn thing.

This gets annoying with work, where I might go home with a stomach ache and then get messages like “so how’s your stomach?” I’m really bad at lying, but trying to explain my progressions of disease sound like fantasy. “Well, that’s fine now, but now I’ve got a <SPIN THE WHEEL>.” While true, it doesn’t make for a great narrative.

So I guess this is just how it is for me now.

Streamlined Ani-Mayhem Rules Cards

Ani-Mayhem was a game that existed because of the MTG boom in the mid 90’s. Everyone wanted in on that cardboard cash. Pioneer, who had gotten into the business of licensing Japanese animation for the US, decided to slap everything they had the rights to into a game. This included some things probably dozens of people had watched, but also had a lot of what we would consider classic anime. Dragon Ball Z, in particular, is one addition that they tossed in as a last ditch effort for traction. They had just gotten the rights for some distributions of DBZ (thought I don’t believe for long), but while the DBZ set proved to be fairly popular, they ended up discontinuing the game. It probably didn’t help that the overall card power in the DBZ set was so much higher than the first two sets. A new DBZ card came came out the next year, and while it had horrible production value it was far more popular.

Ani-Mayhem was a mess, but for some reason I found it endearing, and ended up collecting most of the cards, including all but I think two of the promo cards. Once the game was discontinued I remember picking up some set one booster boxes for $15 each, which was certainly a good way to pad out the collection.

The rules changed with each set, though rarely being much better than the previous version. The rule book was like the old MTG rule books, but without all the flavor. Sixty pages of rules and examples for the complicated tracking of everything ever and all the options you had in any given situation. It was very much like they were trying to translate a video game RPG into a card game, but with the D&D annoyances of party splitting and characters actually getting killed.

Last year I took a look at all the cards I still had and decided to make probably-functional theme decks for each of the anime that were in the game, except for Ah My Goddess, which only had like three cards in the game. DBZ got two decks, one for the A-Team and one for the B-Team. Ten decks in all, with 67 cards total per deck (down from the DBZ minimum deck size rule of 99). So now I was left with the problem of boiling the rules down so that I could maybe someday get someone to play it.

So I’ve done just that, and got them compressed down to four standard card-size blocks of rules. I purposefully ignore a lot of the rules for options (like running away from combat and such) for the purpose of streamlining them. I’ve made a few decisions on keywords and such to make things make a bit more sense. Reducing deck locations from 7 to 5 also helps ensure that multiplayer games won’t take forever. The last time I played a multiplayer game was sometime between 2002 and 2004, and it took us 3 hours to finally, as a group, concede defeat to the disasters.

So I’ve finally managed to sit down long enough to do this, fiddling with phrasing and font sizes to make everything as short and compact as possible. I’ve made the assumption that most of the icons in the game don’t need explaining, and anything I’ve missed can be figured out on the fly. Here’s what I’ve managed to put together. In the really strange event that you’re one of the ones of people on the Internet who still look for things relating to Ani-Mayhem, you’re welcome to use these yourself.


My Typical First Hurdle and the Power of Spite

I’ve noticed something that consistently happens to me whenever I set out to tackle one of these sorts of life project things. I get sick. I get sick almost immediately. Every time.

“I’m finally going to try and run a mile. Oh, but I guess I caught a cold instead.”

“Maybe I’ll try to run a 5k this year, but first, maybe I’ll try some gastroenteritis.”

“This year I’m going to to consolidate all my projects and ideas and things I want to get done and start actually finishing them. Oh, let’s have a nice bout with influenza first.”

This is not something I knowingly pursue, and in fact I’m unsure how I would be trying to do this every time. The consistency of it is enough to make me angry at the universe. So here I lay, trying to keep my body temperature feeling consistent and slugging down Aquarius Zero and Ibuprofen (which I can at least enjoy pronouncing as “ibupurofen”) and trying not to breathe on anyone.

What I’ve learned from the universe seeming to inflict me with varying intensities of temporary disease over the years is that it’s very easy to stumble on that first hurdle and let yourself get set back for days, weeks, even years. So each stumbling is a choice. Let yourself lose that fire you had before something comes along to take the wind out of your sails, or come out of it with a renewed strength to spite the fates. Spite, I find, is one of my core motivators.

I eventually did run that mile for the first time years ago. I ran that 5k later and lost 40 pounds in the process (I gained 20 back, but hey, I still call that a success.) This is where I say “screw you, universe. I’ve got things to get done.”

Just as soon as all my muscles stop aching and I stop hearing what I presume is the sound of blood moving through my veins.

Studying Kanji Again

In America we have spelling bees. English is, as far as the written characters themselves go, not a terribly complicated set of characters. How to spell complicated words is pretty much as far as we go in the measurement of skill in just the characters themselves. Japanese goes to the other extreme, as if they looked at their character set and went “okay, that’s complicated, but how can we make it more complicated? Let’s take a bunch of stuff from this other language, rename the characters several times, but also keep the original names.”

Yesterday I saw the word 御御御付け (“omiotsuke” as in “miso soup”) on some variety show were someone was being tested on obscure kanji readings and it occurred to me that in America we will probably never have a show where a bunch of famous people cheer someone on as they try to spell things, with random, raucous bursts of laughter, shock, and applause. Our language just doesn’t leave much room for it. Neither does our culture, it seems, as we seem to have designated Jeopardy to be the only show where actually knowing anything is still celebrated.

So I’m getting back into trying to learn kanji. When it comes to studying, everyone has their own little quirks for how they most easily learn. Fortunately in this case, someone recommended to me an Android app simply called Japanese Kanji Study that lets you choose a number of study methods. Kanji is grouped into sets based either on standard Japanese education or the more vaguely defined structure for the JLPT (wherein “this might show up” is the theme for those.) When I last took the JLPT kanji study wasn’t something I focused on, but with this app I’m somehow more eager to do so. I’m about 2/3 back through the N3 range, which has a lot more variety than I remember, but it looks like I’ll be able to check off my N3 goal fairly quickly. This is a rare app that a) costs more than $0.99 and b) seems worth the cost of unlocking all the features (I think it was $12.99). Compared to the price I’ve paid for physical study books that seemed much less effective for me, this seems like a pretty good deal.

Personally, I like to queue up a block of kanji and just force myself through it exclusively through the writing practice, failing repeatedly until I’ve burned them all in to my brain, then I’ll go back and review all the previous sets to see what I forgot. So far it seems to be working rather well.

I should also mention Aedict as being the best version of a Japanese dictionary I’ve found for Android, being unsurprisingly based on Jim Breen’s old wwwjdic web dictionary.

The List

As mentioned in the last post, my resolution was to make a list and then start checking things off of it. It’s a set of standard resolutions with a whole pile of other “I really just want to find time to get this goofy thing done” things. The two I’ve already completed/removed were sorting out what I wanted to go on my NES/SNES minis. Low hanging fruit to be sure, but still something I wanted to get done.

The remainder of the list, vaguely in order of priority, and certainly not in order of simplicity/time consumption, is as follows (and only slightly censored to preserve some of the items where knowing the title might ruin the surprise):

  • Arthur – Teach Arthur the Alphabet
  • Stories – Write <That Story Finally>
  • Business – Work out selling art online for Shoka
  • Exercise – Do 5 Continuous Chin Ups or Pull Ups
  • Education – Catch back up to the N3 JLPT
  • Education – Get to where you could pass the N2 JLPT
  • Exercise – Get back to 88kg
  • Gaming (Android) – Learn to use Unity and publish an Android game
  • Gaming (Table Top) – Make a Deck Building Game
  • Gaming (Table Top) – Make a Lego-based Dungeon Crawling Board Game
  • Gaming (MTG) – Build an Unstable MTG Cube
  • Gaming (MTG) – Rebuild my old elves deck
  • Collect the History of Violence Movie List
  • Get back on Social Media
  • Art – Draw Things and post them on Social Media
  • Gaming (Table Top) – <Board Game Sorta>
  • Gaming (Table Top) – <Internet Reference> Dice Game
  • Gaming (Android) – Publish another Android game
  • Gaming (Pokémans)  – Catch ’em All
  • Start on N1 kanji
  • Gaming (Ani-Mayhem) – Finish Ani-Mayhem Rule Cards
  • Gaming (Ani-Mayhem) – Actually play a game of Ani-Mayhem
  • Gaming – Sort out SNES mini games
  • Gaming – Sort out NES mini games

Most of these are solo projects, though several involve some friends of mine who have helped develop some of these ideas (or started them in the first place and the goal is to get us to actually do something with them).

I’m holding back on crossing out “Get back on Social Media” for when I’ve proven to myself I can get to doing this stuff consistently. Getting Shoka to start actually using her own blog is also a part of this. Here’s hoping.