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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Xodiac the Dragote's LiveJournal:

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Monday, October 19th, 2015
6:54 pm
What's so bad about being a fair-weather fan?
Well, my local NFL team, the Seahawks, lost another game yesterday. That puts them at 2-4, which means they can probably lose, at most, one more game this season if they want to reach the playoffs. There's probably not much chance of losing only one game in the ten games they have left in the regular season, so I figure their season is pretty much over already. A comeback could happen, but it'd be practically a miracle.

And that means I'm not particularly interested in watching them anymore, at least this season. Yes, that makes me that most hated thing in sports, a fair-weather fan.

"Real" fans pay for season tickets even when their teams are doing poorly, or even playing outright garbage. "Real" fans know the names of all the players, not just the team's stars, and they know their stats. "Real" fans buy the merchandise, watch evey game, were fans years before their teams won the championships, and practically dedicate their lives to their team. And anyone who falls short in even one of those things is clearly not a real fan. They're either bandwagoners, following their team only recently, or they're fair-weather fans who only follow while the team is doing well. Bandwagoners are sneered at, but warily; everyone, at some point, had only just started following along, after all, and it might be for a legitimate reason like having only moved to the area. But fair-weather fans are outright hated.

Now, as far as I'm concerned, when people buy a team' merchandise and go to their games, they're making an implicit agreement with the team. "We'll give you our money," they say, "which can be used in any number of other places. In exchange, you entertain me for a few hours, and maybe give me something to talk about with friends at the bar or around the water cooler. Deal?" The team owners gladly take the money, but they dont' always win games.

Well, that's fine. Not every game can be a win, and a good defeat can be as entertaining as a victory.

But when you lose and lose and lose again, it stops being entertaining. At least to me. What is so fun about watching a game where you're expecting to lose? Why should I spend my money and/or time on a team that provides me no pleasure in return? That can be counted on to provide no pleasure? It's like watching your best friend pick a fight - again - and then get their butts kicked. Again. After a point you stop watching the fight. You just watch him head off to the parking lot while you nurse your beer inside the bar. Why bother watching? You know what's going to happen.

I don't deride fair-weather fans, because I am one. And I am one because it's the only kind of fan that actually makes sense to me.
Sunday, September 20th, 2015
5:41 pm
Life update
And now, after making that last post — in which I declare that I won't be posting much about how my life is going — I'm now going to do exactly that. After all, I only said I'd not be bothering with day to day living updates. But it's been 20 months or so; plenty has happened in that time that's worth mentioning.

First of all, I no longer am on RainFurrest staff. That actually happened after the 2012 con, over a year before my last post, but I held off on posting about it because I didn't want to be a drama whore. But enough time has passed that if someone thinks I'm just trying to bash the con, maybe in hopes of getting my position back... well, they'd be idiots. Suffice it to say, for now, that I was demoted away from Programming Track Department Head — essentially, one step below Con Chair — for either bullshit reasons or no reason at all. I may devote an entire post to it at some point, but not right now.

Let's see, what else... oh. Heather dumped me. That was in June 2014. While I'm a little puzzled about it — the issues she gave seemed not worth breaking up over, especially as she never raised them as issues until the separation — I'm honestly more upset at how she not only broke up with me but essentially broke all ties. She hasn't been over for Game Night since, I think, March, and it was pretty rare before that. Her classes for nursing school account for some of it, but not the total lack of visits over the summer. And it's not like she can't bear to associate with past boyfriends, since she lives with one. So it seems to me that it's me. But even the reasons she gave for breaking up don't explain such an extreme reaction. It's somewhat distressing, really. What did I do?

In July I got a new car. My Honda didn't die, but it needed 3 or 4 thousand bucks in repairs an maintenance, and considering it was 20 years old I decided enough was enough. When a car is that old and the repair bills are that high, you might as well buy a new car, since you'd likely be spending even more next year and the year after. So I got a Hyundai Elantra — a new, 2016 model. Yes, a new new car, rather than a new used car. My dad helped. Actually, he pretty much took over the car search and price negotiations, which was a little irritating. I just wanted his help on the pricing, since he's a kick-ass price negotiator; I wanted the actual search to be all me. But I can't argue much with the results. Got a good car with a good package for something like $17,000 after taxes and other fees, which I'm sure is a lot less than I could have gotten on my own. And now I have a car loan to pay off, which is helping my credit rating.

Lastly, at least in regards to major news, my cat, Terra, died. I had to put her down a little over two weeks ago; her health had been poor but stable for several years, but it started going downhill again recently. She'd been vomiting fairly frequently for some time, but over the last few months she developed arthritis. She never jumped up on chairs or the bed any more, and she had trouble even negotiating stairs. She was losing weight, was getting dehydrated, and had other issues. RIP, Terra.

The following week, the house felt pretty empty without a second cat. I kept looking for something to pet, and correcting myself when I go upstairs to put food in the bowl. So last weekend, I got a new cat. A kitten, in fact. She's a medium-haired cat with longish black hairs and an orange undercoat; I named her Ember. If she's been male I could have named him Char. She's an active one, loving to explore and snuggle and jump and be, well, kittenish. I've never taken care of an actual kitten before, so this is a learning experience for us both.

And that catches you up on the major events over the last 20 months of my life. Now on to your regular blog posts... whatever that may entail.

Current Mood: nostalgic
Sunday, September 13th, 2015
7:09 pm
Well, It HAS been a while, hasn't it?
My last entry was December 23, 2013. That's... let's see... one, two... over 20 months ago. Why so long?

Well, the simple answer is that I saw my journal as something of a chronicle of my life. If I didn't make a post in a week, then I'd have to make a big post to catch people up. But... not to sound self-pitying or depressed or anything, but I am nothing special. Who freaking cares about my life? Judging by the lack of comments to most of my posts, even when I specifically asked for opinions on what I said or did, the answer was, "Nobody, really." And if nobody really cared, why bother posting?

But LJ is good for other things, too. There have been times when I wanted to muse on this or that, when I wanted to get my thoughts down on paper. (Well, in electrons.) Sort of just thinking out loud. Of course, I thought about my LJ, at those times, but dismissed it. Nobody reads it, and probably even less do now that I haven't made a post in a while.

But... heck, who cares? If I want to make a post on current events, or my thoughts on fiction tropes, or, yes, about my life, then I can. Replies would be nice, sure, but I'm going to try not to get discouraged if there aren't any. I'll just post when I feel like it, about whatever it is I feel like posting.

In short, this is now a blog, not a journal.

Current Mood: cheerful
Monday, December 23rd, 2013
2:13 am
Early XMas
Well, Christmas is this Wednesday, and I usually work Wednesdays. This one will be no exception, so that means I do the whole gifts and gatherings and food thing either early or late. In most cases, I chose to do it late; I'm having dinner and exchanging presents at my parents this Friday, along with Heather. But foxcutter doesn't like coming along to other people's Christmas celebrations, so I opened my present from him last night.

He got me a Kindle!

It's something I've wanted for a while, but for several reasons never bought. And while I have a good library on paper, there are some books that are only available electronically that I've really wanted to read. It's also convenient when I travel. And... well, you know all the advantages of using e-books, I'm sure. While I don't expect this to replace my paper library - certainly not anytime soon! - it will certainly make a nice supplement.

Thanks, Fox!

Current Mood: happy
Friday, December 6th, 2013
5:24 pm
Devil's Advocate #2: Infinite worlds? (Part 2) I Don't Think So!
In a previous post, I pointed out that the "infinite worlds" of Many-Worlds Theory is not, in truth, infinite. Staggeringly huge, yes, but not infinite.

But I don't think the Many-Worlds theory is actually correct. I don't think the world — the universe, the multiverse — works like that. Exactly why that is is more a matter of off-the-cuff philosophy than the mathematics of the last post. This is summing up my feelings and beliefs on the subject, and it's not entirely based on logic. It certainly isn't based on proof. It's just a case of "I don't think it's right, and here's why."

Here's the thing: most people think of MWT either as, "Every time you make a decision, the universe splits and in the other universe you also make the other choice," or, "Every time something may go one way, the universe splits and things go the other way as well." And that's true. But it's inaccurate.

MWT doesn't give a damn about macroscopic events. MWT is all about energy states, Heisenberg uncertainty, and other quantum-mechanical fun. Many-Worlds Theory is properly defined as (or close to), "Every time a quantum outcome must be chosen by probability, each comes to pass, each in a different universe."

A lot of those differences are going to be essentially inconsequential. An electron might change energy states, giving out an extra photon. That could cascade into other changes... but they might be equally inconsequential. Who cares if a star gives out one extra photon? Will it really affect anything? No, probably not. So if MWT is true, there'd be a lot of universes that are functionally identical. If I were to travel to another universe (somehow) and the only difference was that one photon, I'd never be able to tell.

I don't believe in God, but this nevertheless strikes me as wasteful. The universe is all about taking the easiest road; water takes the easiest path downhill, energy propagates through the least resistance, and so on. Why would the multiverse spend so much energy doing things with no consequences? Even bringing up the Butterfly Effect doesn't really work, because I'm not at all certain events that small would cascade into something larger. I mean, yes, they can, but would they every single time? Surely not.

Still, if enough of those differences happen at once or that disparity happens in the right place and it cascades, then it would. If enough atoms zig instead of zag, you get a wind in one universe and a hurricane in another, or nothing. And if it happens to take place in some bit of circuitry, it might cause a computer to crash. And there are some who think brains may operate, in part, on a quantum-mechanical level, so possibly the right change in a single particle or atom in someone's brain could, indeed, make you choose ice cream over cheesecake for dessert, or even something more crucial.

It's even possible for these macroscopic consequences to be outrageously weird. After all, the location of a particular particle is never definite. It's a matter of probabilities, and those are determined by quantum mechanics. So there might be a 99.99999999999% chance that the electron is in location A, but that leaves a miniscule chance it's really somewhere else. And that somewhere else is anywhere in the universe. Each location has its own probability of containing that electron. It is possible for an electron that is here to suddenly be there. And in fact that happens all the time, over short distances. Look up quantum tunneling, if you doubt me. Electronics depend on it.

But it can happen over long distances, too, at least in theory. It's quite possible for that electron to suddenly shift across the room. Or the planet. Or the galaxy. There's a probability that it's there; all there needs to be is something to make that infinitesimally tiny chance the real one, and it's there. And there's a chance that all the particles in your body decide to do that. At once. You would essentially teleport across the room, or planet, or galaxy. They say that likelihood is so small that you'd have to wait many, many times longer than the universe has existed for that to ever come to pass, but it is possible.

And that is the other problem I have with MWT. If every single probability gets expressed somewhere in the multiverse, then there is a universe out there where something has teleported. "Okay, big deal," you say. "Kinda cool, actually."

Yup. It is. But the chances of something spontaneously teleporting apply to everything. Which means that there's a universe out there with lots of things teleporting. Repeatedly. Including people. And getting even further off the line of probability, but still withing the realm of possibility, things would appear and disappear all over the place, at random. Brownian Motion, the "random walk" of atoms and molecules, would suddenly line up and all the air would rush out of rooms, and coffee might flash into steam or freeze solid. The teleportation of molecules and atoms would align just right and concrete buildings would turn into tofu. People could change into Pokemon.

And it might happen at just the right instant to create some interesting effects. Imagine that every time someone shouted "fus ro da" Brownian Motion of the air around him would align into a massive gust of wind, blowing things away from him. Every time. It could happen. If every time people waved their hands in a certain way and, coincidentally, all the electrons in his hand changed energy states, he just threw a lightning bolt.

Magic, apparently, can exist. If MWT is real, so is magic. Somewhere.

This is nuts. If this happened here, people would literally go insane. Nothing could be certain anymore. Except... maybe they wouldn't go insane at all! After all, there's a possibility that the electrons and other reactions in your head would react just so, and you'd accept it calmly. There's a chance everyone on the planet would just go about their daily business, just working around whatever the daily weirdness is.

And there's a chance that, however normal things are right now, it all begins in the next instant. There's nothing that says such a universe had to start out so bizarre. At any second you could start teleporting all over the universe, or explode into your component atoms, or turn into a couch. With a really ugly upholstery pattern.

If MWT is true, it's already happened. Somewhere in the multiverse, you have transmogrified into a couch.

Perhaps now you can see why I don't think MWT is real.

Now, keep in mind I'm an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy, and an amateur author at it. I like the idea. It allows for some absolutely awesome story possibilities. So I'm not going to fault any author who uses it, and I'm going to use it myself on occasion. But I don't think it's actually true. It's just too messy!

Current Mood: thoughtful
Saturday, November 16th, 2013
12:55 am
Concerts and shows! Yes, plural. Of each.
Earlier this week, Heather asked if I was interested in going to a concert held by Switchfoot. Her friend had won some free tickets in a radio giveaway, but couldn't go due to being in Hawaii being the subject of a marriage proposal. After I told her I never heard the band, she sent me a link to some of their music on YouTube. Since it wasn't bad, I said sure. The concert was to be Friday.

Wednesday I'm told good news: she has permission to ditch school that day in favor of the concert. Hooray!

Thursday I got some bad news: the concert was a studio appearance at the station, and it was at 2 PM. Worse, they wanted people there by 1:30. This would require I leave at 12:30 to make sure I get there despite any traffic I hit, and that in turn meant getting up at 11 AM. That, for me, is equivalent to about 3 AM for most people. But I said sure, I still wanted to go. (Heather said to that, "Gee, you must really like me!" to which I replied, "Well, duh.")

So the plan was to meet at the station, go to the concert, then grab lunch and head to her place. We'd hang out in the hot tub, I maybe would take a nap to catch up on sleep, and then I'd head home. Or maybe head home and then nap.

That plan quickly went to hell. Traffic had delayed her bus, so I wound up picking her up and heading into Seattle. And it was cold and rainy all day, so a dip in an outdoor hot tub was looking less pleasant than we envisioned.

But those were about the only change in plans that were for the worse. The 1:30 check-in time was not so they could get us settled, but because they wanted to feed us. Yay, catered lunch! And as we walk in Heather is told that she not only won admittance to this studio concert, but of those winners 3 also won a pair of tickets to Switchfoot's concert later that evening!

So we eat lunch (Qdoba chicken tacos), and watch the show. 15 people won, each was allowed to bring a friend, but there were still only 12-15 people there. There was almost more station staff present than general public! It was a good show, though, with 4 songs being played in an acoustical rendition.

We then got a short tour of the radio station (KNDD 107.7 "The End"), which included a moment when we got on-air by popping unannounced into the radio booth and loudly greeting the DJ in unison with, "Hi, Penny!" Penny said into the microphone, "And about a million people just popped in here. I'm going to turn the radio over to them!" She then pressed some buttons and started some songs or a commercial or something. We chatted for a few minutes, but left before whatever she began needed her live again, so that was it for my radio debut.

After all that, it was only 3:15. The concert opened its doors at 6 and the show started at 7, so we had time to kill. Heck, there was enough time for a movie. So that's what we did. We say Gravity.

DAMN good film. See it before it goes out of theaters! It's great. Just... not if you're agoraphobic.

So then we go to the Moore theater. And find our seats are front row center. Out of 8 seats in that row, Heather and I were seats 4 and 3, respectively. Sweeeeet... well, mostly.

The show was in two parts. First was an 80-minute movie the band made about surfing and music and their world tour. It was interesting, but not especially my thing. Then there was an intermission, and then Switchfoot came out and played their set of 10 songs. They also answered selected questions that were asked (at their request) over Twitter during the intermission. (My favorite was, "On a scale of 1 to 10, what is your favorite color of the alphabet?" His answer: "Hamburger.")

The songs were good, very upbeat. That is apparently one of Switchfoot's "things." They try to foster positivity and hope, not hate and despair and anger and angst like so many other bands.

The one downside of the second concert was that the seats sucked. Oh, the location was great, but they were folding chairs with little padding. By the end of the movie (called "Fading West," by the way) my butt was sore. And when the band came out everyone stood, so then my feet started hurting as well. I ache...

But the concert ended happily enough. We got out, I brought Heather home (with a quick stop at Wendy's, since that lunch was by then 9 hours past). We ate at her place, checking in with the roomies as we did. Then I headed home.

We never did get to the hot tub.

This was a very long day, and unexpectedly full. But nearly all of it was in a good way, so I'm happy. It was a fun day and eve.

Now I just need to unwind...

Current Mood: happy (and tired)
Thursday, November 7th, 2013
4:38 pm
Whooda Thunkit?
I'd kind of given up on ever getting married or having kids. The girlfriends I've had in the past have all proved a poor match in one way or another, and I'm not big on the social scene so I wasn't exactly meeting a whole lot of prospects. And, at my age and with my job, I considered it unlikely that one would just fall into my lap and be The One.

But that's practically what happened at RainFurrest. A girl I've known for years, but was always dating Someone Else, became single again. And immediately hunted me down. We've liked each other, of course — we were friends, like I said, for years — but I didn't realize she was actually attracted to me!

This is looking pretty serious, too. It's only been a month (or five years, if you count the time we knew each other without dating), but we've talked a lot of stuff over. And so far, we're in pretty close agreement over nearly everything.

This was a surprise. But, for once, a pleasant one! Yay, me!

Current Mood: bouncy
Wednesday, October 9th, 2013
7:20 pm
not happy
Just after Rainfurrest, Fox came down with something. It knocked him out of work for a week. The next weekend, I got it. it didn't hit me as hard... but it still caused me to miss work. Tuesday, because I still wasn't up to snuff, and Wednesday — today — because the crap in my lungs prevented me from sleeping. I wound up going to the doctor's for the first time in perhaps five years. The visit itself wasn't too awful or expensive; the co-pay on my insurance is fairly low. Even the pills she prescribed were cheap, but the new albuterol inhaler is another matter! Add in the 2 days worth of lost pay from missing work, and this was a financial punch in the gut.

At least the pills work. Really well, in fact; I'm feeling much better, the crud is already mostly gone from my lungs, and I have a 5-day supply to make sure it stays gone. But I just hate unplanned-for expenses...

Current Mood: annoyed
Friday, September 27th, 2013
2:19 am
Rainfurrest 2013, Days 0 and 1
Day 0 (Wednesday)

Did my normal day type stuff. Went shopping. Met Phil Geusz at about 8 PM for dinner. Since he hadn't eaten all day, due to that whole "plane" thing, we went where we knew there were large portions, Too-Much-Food-R-Us. Also known as Claim Jumper.

Fox had chicken, Phil pasta, and I had steak. Phil paid for it all after we stole his wallet, which was very nice of him.

Afterwards, went to his hotel room. Along the way we noticed registration was open, as it often is on Wednesday night as RF staff checks in the staff and makes sure everything's working right. So we collected our badges and other swag, avoiding the lines sure to form during the con proper. We also met Aloha there, a friend and this year's Con Chair. So the four of us went back to Phil's room and talked for, oh, 90 minutes or so, about no particular subject. Just chatted about whatever.

Left around 11:45, came home and played Halo 4 until about 5, when I went to bed.

Day 1 (Thursday)

Woke up around noon, left the house around 12:45, arrived at the hotel at 1 PM. Dropped off my bag of board games (containing Cutthroat Caverns, Power Grid, King of Tokyo, Nuts!, and Lunch Money) in the game room. Played King of Tokyo (lost), then went to a Writing Track panel about dialogue. Afterwards, wandered the con, visiting the Art Show, the Dealers' Den, and various other places. Bought one piece of art from a dealer. Dropped the print off in my car and returned to the Game Room for a while to just hang out. Mark and Lauren, who are in charge of the room and are regulars at my Sunday Game Night, bought some food: gyros. (I need to pay them back.) Played Small World (lost badly), then went to a panel giving general writing advice for beginner writers. Returned once more to the game room, played another game of King of Tokyo (lost again), and then hung out with Phil for an hour, discussing my story ideas for "What Comes After Wings."

By now it was after 11 PM. I was frankly ready to go home, but I had hopes that the parking gates would be open after midnight. So I played one more game, this time Power Grid. (This time I won.) Left the hotel about 1:20 AM, and stopped by Safeway on the way home. Bought some cheese (we were out) and took the opportunity to get some cash for the con. Got home at 1:45.

Fun day. It was soooooo nice to simply attend. I didn't have to worry about anything at all, other than what I wanted to do next. No concerns over how things are going, if the equipment got where it needed to go, where the panelists were, or anything else. I think I like it. :)

Current Mood: mellow
Thursday, September 26th, 2013
12:35 am
Rainfurrest 2013
Well, RF is on this weekend. I'm looking forward to seeing the con from a new perspective: that of the average attendee. :)

Current Mood: excited
Thursday, August 29th, 2013
4:40 pm
Devil's Advocate #1: Infinite worlds? (Part 1) Wellll...
When most people these days think of multiple universes, they think of the "Many-Worlds Theory." It basically says that every time an event could go in more than one way, it actually goes both ways, each in a different universe. Whether large events like battles and wars going differently, to the submicroscopic, where a particle may or may not change its quantum state, to everything in between like what you decide to have for lunch, it all happens. Somewhere. And people generally say that, because of this, there are (or may be, at least; there's no real proof that the Many Worlds Theory is true) an infinite number of universes out there.

But are there really?

It's time for some numbers.

The universe is estimated to contain 10183 "planck volumes" — cubes a planck length (10-34 m) on a side. This, like all the other numbers here, is approximate, and indeed is believed to be growing as the universe expands. But let's keep it (relatively) simple and static.

The universe is believed to have about 1080 particles in it. Again, give or take a bit.

The number of different quantum states of the particles making up your body — approximately one cubic meter of material — is 101070. This is a huge number, but you must admit it's not infinite.

Putting all these numbers together is actually complicated. You can't just multiply them all; the particles, for instance, are larger than a planck length, and so fit into multiple planck volumes. It's kind of like having a 10 x 10 grid and asking how many ways two 3 x 3 squares can fit in there. And the fact that space isn't chock filled with particles means you can't just take that number of quantum states, compare it to the space in the universe, and scale it up accordingly.

I can't do either of these calculations properly. I simply don't know how. But they can be done. And no matter how you do it, none of the ways you multiply them all together will equal infinity.

So how often do we calculate this? Think of the universe as a reel of film, like a movie; what's the frame rate? It matters; for a movie, it's pointless to calculate faster than 24 frames per second, since that's how fast the frames are going past. You'll be making a lot of calculations where absolutely nothing has changed, so why make them? But if you calculate less than that amount, then you will miss out on some frames, and thus miss some changes.

The "frame rate" of the universe is called planck time, and it's 10-44 seconds long. Nothing can happen in less than that time. And the age of the universe is around 4.34 x 1062 planck seconds. And it is, of course, increasing by the second. So we need to multiply the number we got from the last calculation by 4.34 x 1062 quick!

Of course, it's not that simple. If superstring theory is correct — and, mind you, it may not be — then space consists of not three dimensions, not four (including time), but eleven. The others are scrunched and folded in on themselves until they're too small to be useful. But how they're folded pretty much dictates our physics. And according to calculations, there's more than 10500 ways spacetime can fold. So you have to add that number to the calculations.

Unfortunately, all those different folds would result in different physics. Gravity would be higher or lower, protons would decay at different rates, and so on. It is impossible at this time (and possibly ever) to calculate what the consequences of 10500 alternate physics would be; we're having a hard enough time figuring out the universe we know exists to try calculating others. So for simplicity's sake I'm simply saying they're like ours, mathematically. So you just have to multiply whatever number you got above by 10500. Or leave this out entirely. Up to you.

But wait, there's more! You see, if you simply do the multiplication as I've posed it so far, then probability is useless. If you have something with a 1/2 chance of going one way, and a 1/3 chance of going another way, and a 1/6 chance of going the third way, then if you only create three universes to hold all the possibilities, then from the point of view of the greater multiverse everything had a 1/3 chance of going a certain way. For probability to mean anything, in the example I provided there would have to be six universes, where three were identical, two were identical to each other but different from the first three, and there's one lone universe that's different from any other.

Figuring out the probabilities for each of those 101070 quantum states in a single cubic meter is impossible. It's just too much for our computers. Doing it for everything in the universe probably will always be beyond us.

But the number exists, even if we can't calculate it. It's unbelievably huge, but it's there. But unbelievably huge is still not infinite.

On the other hand, when you're talking numbers this huge, it might as well be.

Current Mood: thoughtful
Tuesday, August 6th, 2013
12:43 am
One of those truly excellent weekends
Friday I went to gaming at Mark and Lauren's. (I host gaming every Sunday, but I go to their place for more once or twice each month.) We discovered that Descent is horribly weighted against the players, and that The Last Night on Earth is horribly weighted for them. But while the latter has ways included to increase the difficulty, Descent can only be fixed by house-ruling it out the ass.

Saturday I drove into Seattle to watch the Seafair air show. No Blue Angels this year — damn sequestration! — but there was an alternate team, the Patriot Stunt Pilots. Their planes aren't as fast, which means not as pulse-pounding a show. On the good side, though, not as fast means not as ear-splittingly loud, and they spend more time over the audience doing their stunts rather than going twenty miles out to make a turn. And, being a different group, they had a different show. Not that I've watched all that many Blue Angels performances (I think I've seen three), but even so different is better, when it comes to entertainment.

The biggest downside of the day was that I saw the show from the I-90 bridge (look, Ma, I'm playing in traffic!) but I had to park up top of the hill due to traffic restrictions. Apparently that neighborhood isn't keen to have a bunch of strangers driving around and cluttering up their streets. Climbing up and down that hill was one hell of a workout. I had to take a nap when I got home. Although having to get up 4 hours early to make the show probably contributed, there.

Sunday was more, this time the regular Sunday Game Night I host. We played Thunderstone for the first time since we asked the player who owned it not to come back (Yeah, I didn't mention that in a previous LJ, and I should have. Sorry. Not that anyone reads this.) which was fun except I hadn't sorted the cards. That took a while. But I won Thunderstone for the first time, possibly because of that player's absence.

We also did a communal grilling that night, the first time since April or May. This one was more successful; Fox actually had enough charcoal this time, and we didn't try much in the way of experimental grilling of vegetables. So it was very a tasty, meatocious evening.

And today I took zucchinni, squash, peppers, and onions, and steamed them along with salmon, clams, shrimp, and scallops to make my own Crab Pot style dinner. It's a lot of food and I look forward to having it throughout the week at work. Smells delicious.

Put all that together with absolutely beautiful weather, and it was just an awesome weekend.

Current Mood: pleased
Friday, May 24th, 2013
11:18 pm
Open Valve
Well, Tuesday I did something a little different before work. I took a tour of Valve Studios, the makers of such games as Portal and Half Life and Team Fortress 2. This was arranged by the NW Science Fiction Society, so big thanks to Jeanine!

The tour officially started at 3:30, but actually got off five or ten minutes late. No big deal — the lobby where everyone was gathering had promo videos for Valve's games running on a big screen, and there was plenty of art inspired by those games to look at. Hanging on the wall, sitting on tables, bolted to the ceiling. (Finally, someone who agrees that ceilings are woefully underutilized for art space!)

Our tour guide was Tom, who works in their Steam department. The first stop was a wall of fan letters. It couldn't possibly be all of it — it was only 8' x 4', give or take. But it was likely a representative sample. Tom says they're always happy to hear from their fans, which certainly makes sense to me. I mean, wouldn't you?

Next stop was another lobby/rest area type place, where Tom talked about the founding of the company and some of the games they've made. Someone asked about Half Life 3, and he made a tally mark in the air ("one in every group") and then proceeded to evade the question. I got the definite impression from that and other things said on the tour that Valve is moving away from the franchise, focusing more on Steam and other community gaming ideas rather than single-player first-person shooters.

Here he also went into some detail about how Valve works. Few people work in offices, or even cubicles. Most everyone works in what he called "cabals," which means basically groups of desks in a large open area. There are no bosses or team leads or the like; you work communally. There's no HR department; when a person is being interviewed, it's by whoever needs the help on their project. There's no QA department; when a piece of hardware or software needs testing, they put out a notice and people sign up to give it a go. It's very, very team-oriented. If you want to work on something else, you unplug your desk and move it to the new department which is working on that. Or you can start your own project. The whole system is geared towards letting people work on whatever it is they want to work on, the theory being that if you work on what you're most interested in, you'll do your best work. Seems reasonable to me!

After that, we took a peek into the IT area, where they build the custom high-end computers that their developers use. Not much to take away from that area, except that Valve believes in giving its employees the best hardware and support available. Give them the best, and they'll produce the best.

For that matter, it soon became clear that Valve treats its employees like royalty. We passed a massage table (unoccupied) on the way to the next stop on the tour, and Tom said each employee gets one free per week. They also have a hair stylist in their offices, a laundry service, and of course a fully stocked lunchroom, where everything's free. Add in health and dental, that they pay any gym or athletic club fees, they'll pay for your hobby supplies if you care to do any, say, sculpting on the side, and they hold classes in yoga, art, and foreign languages in a large open space, and you start wondering how you can get in on this gig.

We'll get to that.

The fourth stop was their resident psychologist's office. He actually works on games, not treating the employees; they're working on biofeedback devices, which struck me as odd. Until Tom explained at least one rationale for it. As he told it, there's two types of stresses: good stress, like being excited at reaching the next level or solving a puzzle. And bad stress, when you're angry or frustrated at, say, dying over and over. Both elicit changes in skin conductivity, but they're different changes. Now imagine a controller that you're holding in your hands that can read those changes and knows you're about to ragequit, so it scales back the difficulty some. Neat idea.

Also in the room was a set of Oculus Rift goggles. They're smaller than I expected, but then the last set of VR I wore was in the early 90s. (No, we didn't get to try on the Oculus.) He talked a bit about porting their games to VR, which of course would be awesome. I should mention here that, back in the main lobby, there was a crate that the receptionist said contained an omnidirectional treadmill for VR use. So they're apparently taking VR seriously.

I believe it was then that we took the stairs up to the 9th floor (we were on the 5th) which is where their sound and motion capture studios were. But first there was a wall of photos from a gaming tournament they sponsor heavily. Unfortunately, I didn't catch its name, but Valve apparently puts up a $1M grand prize for one of the games there, and smaller but not insignificant prizes for lesser winners. They're also making a documentary about three of the top-notch gamers that attend. Tom was very proud that Valve was getting into the actual movie business. He was also proud that they support the people who support video gaming. He said Valve (and he himself) believes that people help support the games and, by playing in these tournaments, they promote them, so they're plenty happy to promote and support the fans in turn. Good for them, says I.

We tried to check in on the motion capture room, but it was in use. So we had to make do with a quick refresher on what mocap involves. Apparently, for much of it they just use their fellow employees, but if they need something special, like coordinated moves or dancing, they'll hire professionals.

Then we stopped by a mixing studio, the one where apprently they put the final touches on the audio and video of a game. They used to rent out a studio, but after their offices expanded they put in one of their own, and now nearly everything is done in-house. As for the studio itself, it was... weird. You never quite realize just how much ambient noise there is, until there is absolutely none at all. That room was soundproofed out the humminnahum. No echoes, no noise from outside, nothing.

Next came a trek down to the seventh floor. Immediately off the stairs were a pair of life-sized models of turrets - one from Team Fortress 2, and one from Portal. They were made by WETA, who made the effects for Lord of the Rings, and so very realistic. The TF2 one was even active, homing in on movement and "firing" with gun sounds every ten or twenty seconds. Then we entered "the classroom," which is a sort of communal space and, reportedly, Tom's favorite room. It's where they hold classes in yoga and foreign languages, pursue their hobbies, and perform press interviews. It's pretty much a blank slate that can be made into anything.

Our last stop was the lunchroom, where Tom went into further detail about all the awesome things Valve does for its employees. It's also where we learned how to get in on this great gig. The essence is that Valve interviews people to sift out people who are only mediocre, and those who are interested in being managers and leaders. They don't want leaders, remember; they want team players. And they want the best people out there, so long as they're not trying to push their opinions and methods. They'd rather fire a million-dollar diva than let them corrupt their corporate culture.

So, how do we get in on this? Basically, be awesome. Do something great, something that makes them really laugh or gasp at its quality. Then come knocking. Don't go to Valve hoping to make it big. Show them, and the world, your stuff and then they'll talk.

I suppose, technically, our last stop was not the cafeteria, but the Valve lobby. Everyone got a little goodie bag (two bumper stickers, a large "companion cube" patch, a booster pack of TF2 trading cards, and a lanyard) and a few parting words, and then it was over.

All told, it was a great tour. I did wish we could have gotten a peek at some works in progress, but I understand why we didn't. And it was of a good length - we got out after 5 PM. I had a good time, and got out just in time to go to work. At my, unfortunately, NON-Valve job.

Oh well.

Current Mood: chipper
Monday, April 29th, 2013
11:42 pm
Went bowling again for the first time in 3 or 4 years. First game went great, but my play went steadily downhill as my arm and wrist got tired. 4 games 481 total — a 120 average. But my last two games were 100 or less.

Fox and I are probably going to start going a couple of times a month. As workouts go, it's not much, but it's something I can and, more importantly, will do.

Current Mood: content
Saturday, April 20th, 2013
6:54 pm
The secret's out: I'm getting old
Not that it was ever very secret.

Back at the beginning of the year, my work switched health care providers. Group Health was fine, as far as I could tell, but they switched to Cigna. One of my friends is an optometrist, and while he wouldn't take GH (too much paperwork with them, he said), Cigna was fine. So in February, I went up to Snohomish and got some glasses.

Yep. I'm four-eyed, now.

The first set had to be sent back; the prescription on the left eye, it turns out, was slightly off, and it gave me instant eye strain when I put them on. It felt like my eyes were crossing. The second set, which I got at the start of March, works fine.

I found it interesting that my eyes apparently hadn't changed much from when I was a kid. My last optometrist appointment was when I was a teenager, if not earlier, and my new set have a not very different prescription. As for how severe that is... well, look at it this way: I did pretty darn well without them for all my life. So, not very severe. They definitely help — text is just a little larger, just a little clearer, than without them. But i can do without them just fine.

Which is actually a little bit of a problem. It's been over a month now since my second, corrected set came in, and I'm still having trouble remembering to wear the damn things. And even when I do, it sometimes feels really really weird, having this thin perched on my nose. I take them off to rub my eyes, and forget to put them on again for a couple of hours.

In time, I'm sure I'll get used to them. This transitional period, though, is proving irritating.

Current Mood: calm
Tuesday, April 9th, 2013
9:58 pm
More car trouble
While doing some errands yesterday, found my car wouldn't start. It was, unfortunately, too late in the day to look into auto shops or tows, which meant I had to take care of all that this morning. Which I did, meaning I didn't get to sleep until 10:30 AM or so. Guh, that sucked.

On the good side, the problem was relatively simple: bad ignition coil. All told, it cost $400 or so (including the $70 I spent on a new battery, since the one I had was old and going bad, and we were hoping it was simple), but $100 of that will be reimbursed by my insurance since they cover towing.

On the bad side, there was no way I could get the car to the shop, get some sleep, and pick it up, all before leaving town at 5 PM, which I'd need to do in order to go to work. In fact, I'd need to know by 2 PM whether the car would be fixed and available, since work requires a 4-hour advance notice of call-offs to avoid a written reprimand. So I'm out $300 and a day's pay.

Back to silver linings, it's only one day's pay. The car was available today, so I can go in tomorrow. Also, I took it not to the dealership's repair bays but to an independent shop, which probably cut my costs in half. Even though the dealership does have a loaner car, so I could have gone to work, I still would have been out more money, there. And this way I have an unexpected day off to relax.

Still. Ow.

Current Mood: poor
Monday, April 1st, 2013
12:02 am
Well, another NorWesCon come and gone...
Not too bad. Nothing too special, either, though. I stayed home, like last year, while Fox stayed at the hotel. It saved me some money and I was able to take care of the cats, at the expense of not being able to really enjoy any room parties because I'd have to drive home soon.

Bought a goon number of books, and attended 5 or 10 panels, maybe half of which I stayed through until the end. (I'm sorry, but a panel about writing Alternate Universe stories should not be about fanfic, it should be about AU.) As usual, these days, I spent 2/3 of the time in the gaming room. Which is fine, really, as I got to play some stuff I rarely get to otherwise, and with people I never get to otherwise play with.

And, better yet, combined with my resolve to DO SOME WORK on my costumes and even write a bit, I feel creatively refreshed. Let's see how long that lasts! But still... for now...
Saturday, February 23rd, 2013
9:41 pm
A very enjoyable day
Went to see Cirque du Soleil today, to watch their performance of Amaluna. Excellent, excellent show. One of their best, in my opinion. Most of the time when I see the Cirque, there's one or two acts that are kind of... meh, at least compared to the rest. (None of them, not even the "mediocre" acts, are things I could ever do, so this is a comparative judgment.) But this time, that's not the case. All of them were great. The least impressive was probably the unicyclists, and since they were the very first act they served nicely to bring people into the show. They weren't a letdown after another, more spectacular, act, but rather a fantastic introduction to everything else.

One of the best acts was also the slowest. It's a balancing act that had the entire tent utterly silent. Totally, absolutely still as everyone held their collective breath.

The show was made even better by our seats. (By "our" I mean Fox and myself, plus one of Fox's friends.) We bought fairly cheap seats, near one end of the C that makes up the seating arrangement at the Cirque. But directly in front of our seats was a slot for a wheelchair, and it was actually going to be in use this time. No extra legroom. In fact, when the wheelchair slot is used, the seats behind it need to be empty, so the chair can go all the way into the slot and not stick out into the aisle. Which meant our seats were invalid. So we had to get moved.

We wound up being seated in the VIP area. 5, 6, and 7 seats from the center aisle, second row from the stage. $260 seats. WIN!!

Of course, we didn't get all the other VIP extras — the special food, the souvenirs, the backstage pass, and so forth. Even so, WIN!!

After the show — which, I emphasize, was awesome; see it if it comes to your town! — we all went to Claim Jumper for foodage. Mmmm, steak. Oh, and I picked up an expansion for one of the board games I own, as well as a growler of Mac & Jack's, before the show. Snuck a beer into the Cirque, too, putting a sippy cup of it on my coat pocket.

Very good day.

Current Mood: chipper
Thursday, February 21st, 2013
7:16 am
Fun, easy, and totally legal (if a liiiittle bit dangerous) way to make lots of money fast!
1. Go to grocery store.
2. Buy large bag of powdered sugar and some baggies.
3. Stuff baggies with powdered sugar.
4. Go to bad part of town.
5. Start asking people in sly, secretive tones, "Wanna buy some 'sugar?' Got some good sugar here for you! Reeeally sweet. You'll love it. Hey, wanna buy some 'sugar?'"
6. Sell baggies of sugar for $500 each.
7. Leave promptly.

You may also want to buy a bulletproof vest and a gun. If you do the latter, make sure your weapon is properly registered and you are licensed, including concealed carry if appropriate. Also, remember not to fire until you yourself are threatened.

Selling sugar is not illegal. Self-defense is not illegal. And you told them exactly what was in the bag, so it's not fraud.

This is also good for trolling the cops.

Current Mood: mischievous
Thursday, February 14th, 2013
4:49 pm
Omens, signs, portents, and delays
I've been feeling a little creative recently. Maybe my long drought is ending, but I've been getting the urge to write, especially. More, when I replied to an email with a reasonable argument about the matter discussed, I was praised for my writing. Okay, it was from my parents, but still. And then someone online says he's looking for someone to co-write a story with. So I'm getting lots of signals, all saying, "You should write something!"

So I decided to make Mondays "Hobby Day," in which I write or fursuit or do something creative, hopefully for a significant amount of time. Say, four hours. This weekend was going to be the first.

Then I get a call to work overtime that day, because President's Day requires an extra shift at my work site.

Maybe next week, I guess. At least I'm getting some money out of it.

Current Mood: content
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