Tuesday, April 15, 2014

new york in april

I'm back from Manhattan, having spent the weekend there for the Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism. I may get around to writing up some comprehensive notes about it later, but for now suffice to say that I enjoyed it very much, having learnt a lot and met many fine individuals. Additionally, David and I managed to hand out cards for the show, so here's to hoping that we get some new listeners! Although, I must admit I am simultaneously mortified at the things that people may hear me utter. Oh, I am neither eloquent or enjoyable to hear, and it stresses me that my spoken voice does little justice to my character.

New York itself was nice. The warm weather made for some glorious strolls, though I had only a handful of free hours to enjoy it in. On my longer hike I was pleased by how many people recognized my Siouxsie Sioux shirt, one of my few treasured garments. It genuinely felt good to breathe in the city, to observe its thick cultural mixture, to look up and see buildings that have been enjoyed by generations.

We ate humbly, there not being the time to fully, deeply partake in what NYC had to offer. My best meal was probably a simple bowl of oatmeal with almonds, apple, and maple syrup from Birch coffee, a moment of quiet where I had nothing but this meal to attend to. Else-wise, I had a lot of hamburgers, available on pretty much every corner.

I stayed at the Gershwin Hotel, it being economically located for my tastes. Adequate is how I'd describe my lodgings, though some might find its spartan rooms cramped and claustrophobic. Myself, I was quite comfortable with my earplugs, laptop and wine.

Getting to and from New York was a fairly trouble-free affair -- flight to Newark International, an hour wait at customs (!), shuttle to the train station, then a train to New York Penn. Station. The kindness of strangers came into play many times, frequently answering our troubled speculations.

Now I am back. And there is so much to do!

Monday, February 17, 2014

games, trying to keep positive

Games seem to be the thing on my mind, these days. I suppose the cold weather is a strong influence on my staying indoors, where it's warm and I can keep my coziest garments on. I did get up to playing some board games with people though:

Thursday night MJ and I discovered the joy of Lost Cities, a simple two-player game that is deep enough to keep one always thinking, but quick enough to not get bogged down with lengthy turns. Perfect for filling up half an hour.

Friday night I went to a CFI board game night, where I got to try and enjoy Shadow Hunters, which I liken as a version of The Resistance but with hit points. It doesn't have the same social directness as there's no need for accusations or protestations. Much more tactical, and at the same time more tame. I didn't much care for the artwork, or the visual design choices -- that card font is just awful.

Saturday Jenning's wife had a birthday party where a group of us played The Resistance, which is always good for a few big laughs. It's amusing to see people's personality get played out when they are forced to act, to lie, and to plead innocence. Why should a witch-hunt be so enjoyable?

The rest of the weekend I stayed in, playing games of the video variety. I also saw two movies -- Battle Royale (2000) and Punch Drunk Love (2002), both of which I've been meaning to see for a long time. Battle Royale delivered on its promises, and though I had steeled myself against the violence before it came, I found it not so bad, not as gruesome as I'd imagined to experience. Perhaps it was seeing it on a sunny Sunday afternoon with cats at my feet but I wasn't shocked at all. Well, certainly 14 years of violent films, many of them owing homage to BR, has inured me to the graphic horror. I liked the ending, the very ending, leaving one with the idea that life is a game, a game in which you must fight to survive, and that trust, true trust, is a valuable thing to be cherished and held.

I didn't know much about Punch Drunk Love, other than hearing that Adam Sandler was excellent, which he was. I have to admit, I though the film would be about an alcoholic. But it's actually much more nuanced, more human, more insightful than the title implies. Like any great film, each scene is precise, each look meaningful. The only question, in my mind, is why Lena, Emily Watson's character, would be so attracted to Barry (Sandler) -- her explanation was weak, and indeed, I feel like we needed to learn a bit more about her. Overall, however, I enjoyed the film -- it kept me gripped and interested throughout, until suddenly, abruptly, they were saying goodbye, a window briefly opened now closed. And seeing the late Philip Seymour Hoffman was an unexpected bonus, bless his soul, his goodbye far, far too early.

I almost forgot to mention Risk of Rain! I've put in about 10 hours over the weekend, since purchasing it on a suggestion from a friend at work. I'm generally not a big fan of side-scrolling jumpers, but there's enough of a Rogue-like quality to the game to keep me going -- you build your character from found items, you grow in strength with experience, and the maps are partially randomized. The 8-bit aesthetic is also a big draw for me. Apparently the co-op multiplayer is a blast, but I've yet to try. I've so far unlocked two more characters, but the Commando's roll ability is just too useful for me to switch. We'll see. I'm not a fan of the increased-difficulty-over-time mechanic, especially since much of the game is exploration and your little man moves soooo slowly.

And I still hate jumping puzzles. Hates them.

Finally, yes, I'm still playing the Hearthstone! I got to 10 wins with a Paladin in the Arena today. It's remains my favorite class: Argent Protector, Aldor Peacekeeper, Truesilver Champion -- such good cards! Ugh what a nerd.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

happy birthday to me

That is to say, it was my birthday a couple weeks ago, and now I enter the muck, the deep muck, of middle age. Forty is my number, friends, and I shake my head whenever I am reminded of it. Which is daily, hourly, far too frequently. Who'd have thought 40 year old Hwan would be this? Not me, least of all me.

It was nice to see people give their regards, a gesture not lost on me. Especially those kind few who made the effort to go out of their way to pick something out. I like to think I'm not materialistic in nature but these items I covet, a physical link between giver and receiver.

How else was my January? I helped MJ move out of my place into a new apartment, which took up a couple weekends of back-breaking work and remains a strain on our relationship. I do find myself getting increasingly tired -- I shall sigh myself into the next world, this one too much of a bore. Thinking about it now kills me all the more.

I saw The Pixies at Massey Hall! My first show of theirs, though I've been a fan since high school. Even without Kim Deal they were a joy to behold. I had a middle-balcony seat, giving a removed yet close-up experience. They mixed old and new, and the people danced to the old, nodded along to the new. The opening band, whose awful name I cannot now recall, were themselves forgettable.

MJ and I went dog-sledding this past weekend. Windrift Kennels, the same place I'd went a couple years ago, and we had a blast! The weather did seem colder, so I must make a note here to bundle more carefully next time -- my feet felt like stumps by the end of it. We went with friends, some of whom were a bit underwhelmed. I personally didn't really have any complaints, other than I wished the weather allowed for more photography.

The weather! Egads it is so dreadfully cold out. I picked up a cough at some point, one of those nagging keeps-you-up-at-night coughs, waking up with an alarming amount of phlegm in my lungs. I am disheartened to think that this is the climate we have to look forward to, that people have resigned themselves to this environmental misery.

Well, I have Hearthstone to keep me warm. I have been a playing a LOT of the game. So much so, I've decided to start recording my games, which, if you care to do so, can be viewed here: Laz Befriends. I honestly don't suggest you do so, unless you're actually interested in witnessing me stumble through learning how to play the game. The audio for the first few episodes is off as well, so you may want to skip them. Anyway, I'm going to try to make this a "thing" I do, at least until I get sick of it.

Until next time...

Thursday, January 02, 2014

it's twenty fourteen

One of my resolutions, one of several such odious things, is to post more. So here are some quick movie reviews of films I caught over the past couple of weeks, me having had so much time to myself (but never enough, nay, hardly close to enough):

Tokyo Godfathers (2003): One of those rare Christmas-themed stories that is actually a joy to watch while maintaining a semblance of seriousness, entertaining every minute without resorting to jerking tears. Highly recommended.

Four Lions (2010): A comedy about young terrorist-wannabes. The lamely controversial theme aside, I found this film funny in parts, smiling frequently but rarely breaking into audible laughter. I still am not sure if I should like the ending, though perhaps that's the point.

Equilibrium (2002): Priests with guns and high martial arts hunting terrorists! A dystopian society subdued by drugs! I actually quite liked this one, and wished that they'd the budget to make the film a bit more timeless. Christan Bale stars as Keanu Reeves as The One.

Man on Wire (2008): Fascinating documentary about a man's dream to walk a high wire between the Twin Towers. The film is very aware that the enterprise is much like a bank heist -- the stage must be scouted, examined from every angle, plans drawn, disguises worn, and devices built before the ultimate show. I was amused by how fame affected the proverbial walker.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011): Food documentaries often drive my appetite for their subject, and this movie succeeds well in this respect. Oh, to taste a pre-brushed, artisan-prepared serving of sushi! Though who knows, perhaps such a thing can never live up to its photoshopped image.

Manhattan (1979): I have to admit, I have an uneasiness about enjoying any Woody Allen work in which his character dallies with a much younger woman. Still, it's hard to be critical of a film so funny, so beautifully shot, so full of great dialogue, so very aware of itself. My affection of the city was handily revitalized thus.

Dredd (2012): I read some positive reviews of this film, that it was worth a glance but I found it more forgettable than anything. The gadgets and one-liners might appease fans of the comic, I suppose, but they had little to offer me. I feel like the whole "psychic power" thing unnecessary and/or underused.

Only God Forgives (2013): I cannot forgive this film for looking great while being terrible. Drive was miles better than this, this assemblage of brutal violence and uninterested goons.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

ho ho hum

What better way to welcome the winter snow than with a viewing of Fargo, that study in tense moments. My first full viewing, as a matter of fact; I'd somehow caught the ending a couple times, which I found depressing. How extreme a situation, a series of situations, that would cause someone to think that they were doing right by hiring thugs! I don't mean to judge, only to contemplate. I enjoyed the characters, their speech, their peculiarities.

December, and winter, and the end of 2013. A time for reflection, and in so doing, I feel less than pleased with my efforts. Health-wise, I haven't put much time into the gym or into karate, which shows. But I am off my colitis medication and am fairing well enough. I put time into The Dave and Hwan Show. I worked on a board game. I suppose I went to a couple marches and rallies. And I did do a fair bit of donating to things this year.

MJ and I have been going to couples therapy, which I feel is making some difference. And I had a few sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy, enough to give me a taste of what it's like to train one's own responses to situations. To shape my own personality, through exercise.

I am the first to admit that I've spent a whole lot of time playing video games. At least of late, since I picked up a PS3. Over the past week however I've been playing Hearthstone, Blizzard's take on Magic: The Gathering. It's been a long while since I've had any interest in collectible card games, but the price (free) of the beta was too enticing to not try and now I am quite addicted to it. The fact that you slowly build a collection of cards with play helps -- I doubt I'd feel the same draw if I already had access to the full library. Another positive spin is that one's rate of card accumulation drops off sharply after playing more than thirty minutes or so a day. Still, I often find my mind lingering there.

Perhaps my current funk is due to MJ being away, and who will be away for the next 16 days. Or maybe it's because I spent the entire day inside, unwilling to face the snowstorm and its upsetting -12 windchill. Or that I feel old and fat and something something lethargy.

Monday, November 25, 2013

it's cold, i'm down, played some browser games

It's been a month and how have I been? Not miserable, but not boomingly good either. Winter has cast its shocking gaze, and I find myself little prepared for it. Drained, I find myself.

I just got back from visiting my parents, who are well enough. My father had a mild heart attack a couple months ago, and seems to be relatively good now, though he still suffers from high blood pressure. We're all getting old, very old. I feel new aches and pains all the time and find the value in stretching throughout the day.

I went to the AGO with the aim of seeing the David Bowie exhibit but the thing had sold out, such is its popularity. I took in a couple of other things, eager to avoid the crowds. A quiet gallery is a blessed thing. Some coffee, some sweets, some escape.

Saturday MJ and I picked up groceries from the St. Lawrence Market, some of which made its way into a simple meal. We started in on the third season of The Walking Dead -- such violence, such gore! They really took the gloves off for the opener. I do like the show, no doubt, and its attention to detail is admirable. It's just a bit draining to visit that bleak, desperate world.

We also watched Indie Game: The Movie, which came highly recommended to us by a friend. I recall seeing its KickStarter and not thinking much of it or the games it touted to document but it was actually a well done, thoughtful film that I quite enjoyed. I don't know that it actually inspires me to build games -- at least, not any more so than I am already enthused about doing. To take that leap into squeezing out all the creative and programming ability out of me... ah, such a thing to contemplate! Perhaps, perhaps....

Speaking of games, I spent a fair amount of time playing these "stuff-happens-while-you-wait" browser games. Half the fun is figuring out what you're supposed to do, and then how best to do it. The CandyBox ones are fun experimental-type games, but A Dark Room is the crème de la crème, a memorable gaming experience.

CandyBox -- The original “while-you-wait” game.  Hint: The max lollipops you can get from farming 100/s.

CandyBox 2 – Prettier ASCII! A map! Action-packed battles!

A Dark Room -- Definitely my favorite, worth playing even if the genre doesn't appeal.

I suggest playing a couple (all?) concurrently.

Monday, October 21, 2013

lazy Sunday

Today I put a couple hours into Ziggurat, the board game my friend and I came up with earlier this year. But mostly I played GTA V and slept, not getting much in the name of chores done. Indeed this entire weekend has revolved around playing video games and procrastinating. I did get to hang out with a couple friends, so that's something.

Went to Malabar Saturday, a madhouse of people hunting for costumes. Not for me though, nay, I think I've had quite enough of putting effort into Hallowe'en. I suppose that's a decision made for me by the company I keep, which in turn is shaped by my age.

So yeah, GTA V. I bought a used PS3 off of Dave, and played (and finished) The Last Of Us, a survival-horror game. I quite enjoyed it, impressed by the story, graphics, voice acting, atmosphere, maps: One of the best games I've had the pleasure of playing, and certainly it set my console gaming bar quite high. Without a doubt GTA V is up there, with a dauntingly large world to muck about in; mindbogglingly detailed, with a wide assortment of vehicles, characters and activities to give a fairly immersive experience. I just recently unlocked the third character, a psychopathic individual with whom playing I find slightly upsetting, even for a game mostly about killing and stealing and getting away with it.

Fall has finally cast her gaze upon us, with rain in the forecast for the coming week. Myself I find I nurse a sneeze and runny nose, irritating me regularly throughout the day. Lack of sleep? Allergies? Being alive is wonderful and all but these little things do take away from the experience!