Monday, December 29, 2008

Windows rant, playing games over Christmas break

Holy cow you mean to say that I haven't updated hwan.com in 11 days? Yikes. That is.. well, I am sorry. Not that sorry, but surprised certainly. Actually, I'm here to write about windows, er, Windows. In particular, reordering of items in the Start menu. For the longest time I would, when tidying up my Start programs, press really hard on the mouse button, sometimes getting the item to drag and sometimes not, not really knowing why it would or wouldn't work. Irrational I know, but it just felt that doing so would help. I finally figured it out just now -- if you drag a folder, you have to wait for Windows to expand it. Otherwise, the expand animation unsets the click and doesn't recognize that you are attempting a drag action.

THIS IS STUPID!!! Oh WOW that bugs me ever so much. How did this possibly get past user testing? How is it that this has been this way since.. since dragging of expandable Start Menu items was allowed? Windows Explorer certainly doesn't act this way. I just realized.. WHY THE HECK DOES WINDOWS HAVE TO FADE MY BLOODY START MENU! It's the most used interface on my computer and I've been sitting around waiting for the damned thing to animate!? That's it, I'm turning that crap off right now. Hmm.. how do I remove the delay? Oh c'mon Windows, don't tell me you need time to render a few icons and text? Surely not! Hmmm.. oh I see. Apparently, Windows defaults the following registry key value to 400:

My Computer\HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop\MenuShowDelay

Which is the biggest piece of rubbish ever. Oh, I do shake my head so.

I woke up at some fiendish hour today, maybe around 6 or 7 AM? Left work around 7 or 8? Playing StarCraft, yeah. Anyway, I can't concentrate on more than one thing right now, which probably explains why my gaming was so terrible. And a minute ago I was talking to my mom on the phone and I glanced at something on the screen and totally blanked out of the conversation. We were talking about my dad's birthday and I have NO recollection of what she said, oh dear.

Hmm.. but my mental state did not deter me from dropping a bit of fun money on some Steam games -- Prince Of Persia, Mass Effect and Sid Meier's Pirates! Steam has a funtastic little special on everything right now, and what with the economy the way it is, I decided to do a little bit of extra saving. Before 2009. Not that I need a reason to be irrational.

Christmas was alright, yeah. I spent it in Markham with the parents and sister. Ate a whole lot, stomach now on the flabtastic side. Came home Friday night, and spent much of the weekend playing the new Red Alert 3. Video games! Why aren't more people playing them? Shamus may know: Reset Button: Most Innovative Game of 2008.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

StarCraft, rating charities

"Every time I have to remove my shoes at an airport it would be nice if there were a picture of Bush nearby to throw them at." -- twoleftfeet

Been watching and playing a lot of StarCraft lately. Yes you heard right. Watching videos on GOM TV has really opened up my mind to the complexities and intricate nature of the game. Well, of course it helps that the commentary is in English and reasonably entertaining in of itself. At work too the spirit of RTS is alive and well, with many people working to improve their skills. Certainly passions also run high, and can bring out the worst in us. Oh, how the tempers do flare! What is it about creating an army and watching it die that frustrates one so? And why do we keep playing when it happens? Such a struggle!

I find the Canada Revenue Agency Charity site helpful in choosing where to send my donations. I'm thinking that I can judge them by how much of their revenue was spent on advertising. For example, the Canadian Wildlife Federation spent over $7.5 million (68% of their revenue) on advertising and promotion in 2007. The similarly named Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society spent a trim $94 thousand (3% of their revenue). Well, this is not my ONLY metric, but it does serve to give a little guidance here and there.

Friday, December 12, 2008

toothpaste, Tylenol, TTC

Chemicals! They surround us and penetrate us. They bind the galaxy together. And once in a while I find out that it's the ones in my toothpaste that have been responsible for that strange film I sometimes find in my mouth. At least, I'm fairly certain that sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) is responsible for that. The wiki article also talks about it being responsible for increasing the frequency of canker sores, which as you know I love to hate. I've also noticed that my shampoo and dishwash soap contain SLS/SLES. Surrounds us indeed.

The other chemical? His popular consumer form is Tylenol and the danger he poses is to the liver. More to the point, apparently alcohol and Acetaminophen work together as a double whammy. News to me, who has been prescribing tylenol and water after a night of heavy drinking. Yeah, oh my poor, poor liver. But no more! No, I've turned from this potentially harmful duo. Well, the Tylenol half anyway.

Finally on my list of things to mention, remember way back when I said it would be nice if the TTC used their GPS to let people know when the next car is coming? Well, apparently they were already thinking about it: Where's the Streetcar? Right there. And there. And there. Pretty sexy! Now, if only they would increase the actual number of vehicles out there. And lower their prices. And Febreezed the streetcars once in a while. But yeah, I'd settle for more frequent service.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

reading, watching, watching

'ello 'ello! Yup, December. Hey, I finished reading The Road, the Cormac McCarthy book. Pretty good! I found it reminded me of I Am Legend for that tension from having a survivalist dialog. It's kind of a far reaching comparison I suppose. Certainly I can compare it with Fallout 3, a very obvious contrast there. I find myself quite enjoying McCarthy's books, and will likely seek out his other work. I must say that I am excited to see how it will translate to the big screen, and should curb my enthusiasm as it is not Coen-directed.

Started watching Summer Heights High, an Australian mockumentary centered around three characters in a high school. The twist is that all three people are played by Chris Lilley and it is down right eerie how good he is at it. Surreal. Oh, I suppose one could compare it to The Office (the UK one) since it also has that authentic documentary feel. You can find some clips on YouTube to get a taste of it.

I've been trying to go to bed earlier, but apparently it does little good in getting me to work at a Christian hour. Is this coffee addiction at work, or malaise? Eh, a little of column A....

Oh right, I sat through Real Genius on Sunday. Huh. Why did I expect more? The plot kind of made me ill. And I couldn't stand watching the main actor -- something about him just bothered the heck out of me. It's the way he LOOKS. Nice to see Jon Gries (of Napolean Dynamite!) in an early role. Yeah, the nerd/physics stuff is nice. I suppose if I had seen this during or just before my university days I'd be more inclined to spout its perceived cleverness and wit, but the older, current me just doesn't feel it.

Friday, December 05, 2008

festivities and some StarCraft ideas

Silly times, my friends. Drinking, drinking, drunk. Tonight more of the like for the office Christmas party, this year at Tappo Restaurant out in the Distillery district. Yesterday was the Charlotte room, Wednesday was Bar Wellington. Oh my sides! In the latter parts of the evening I was trying to convince my friend to drink some water, him being in the state he was, by applying various slogans to make water more appealing. "Water, It's In You To Give", "Water, Nature's Fruit-juice", "Water, The Sweat of the Earth". Actually, the bartender came up with the brilliant "Water, Turn It On" and the memorable "Water, Put It In Your Mouth". Indeed.

I floated in out and out consciousness, trying to sleep but my mind all a-buzz. I thought about the upcoming StarCraft 2 and how, if at all, they plan to improve the game. I mean, aside from the graphics. A huge gripe of mine with the original (bless it's well-balanced heart) is that controlling units is too dependent on accurate mouse handling. I thus had the idea to have a set of buttons on the side that automatically allow one to select groups of units visible on the screen. For example, if you have a bunch of Marines, Medics, and Tanks (which is quite often for Terran), in order to StimPack your Marines you have to either already have them assigned to a hotkey or to doubleclick on one, a tricky endeavor in the chaos of battle. Instead, there would be a list of buttons on the side, one for all the visible Marines, one for the Medics and one for the Siege-mode Tanks and one for the mobile ones. Remove this layer of mouse control and even up the playing field a bit.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

words beginning with the letter "h"

SCATTERGORIES... it's harder than it looks! Hit Forward, erase my answers, enter yours, send it on to 10 people including the one that sent this to you. Use the 1st letter of your name to answer each of the following. They have to be real places, names, things.. nothing made up! Try to use different answers if the person in front of you had the same 1st initial. You CAN'T use your name for the boy/girl name question.

WHAT IS YOUR NAME: Hwan

BOY NAME: Hortense? Harry

4 LETTER WORD: hide

GIRL NAME: Hilary

OCCUPATION: Horse-whisperer. Hairdresser? Hoser? Haberdasher!

A COLOUR: Hazel (this one took me 5 minutes)

SOMETHING YOU WEAR: Hat. headpiece.

BEVERAGE: Heineken?

FOOD: Hamburger

SOMETHING FOUND IN A BATHROOM: Handle?

A PLACE: Himalayas (there be my Sherpa playas).

REASON FOR BEING LATE: Hissyfit.

SOMETHING YOU SHOUT: HOT DAMN. Or How the heck? Or simply Hell.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Wages of Daily Living

Blast this weather! How is it that it always manages to ruin my complexion, and thus my mood, and hence my mind? Cannot think, cannot feel. Aching, itching. Mornings are still a struggle, unrested, unready.

This morning was more tedious than usual as there was some kind of streetcar stoppage at the corner of Queen and Roncesvalles. Eventually a bus came by to pick us up, but it unfortunately struck (or nearly struck) an old woman crossing the street at Dufferin and King. Yes it was nutty, but I think she was more shaken up than physically injured if indeed there was contact as I didn't witness it directly.

Not really watching much these days. I did see an old French film on the weekend, The Wages of Fear (1953) a black and white thriller. It takes a while to get going but once it does WHOO it's a wild ride. I saw the Criterion Collection version and wasn't happy with the translation used -- there were times when even I, with my faltering French, could tell that details were being left out, that nuances were missed. I guess however that it's not the dialogue that makes The Wages of Fear the memorable experience it is.

Did you hear about that taxi cab that hit a cyclist, amputating his leg? Cabbie charged with assaulting cyclist who had leg amputated [cbc.ca]. The story makes one squeamish to be sure. I've driven past the mentioned intersection often, as recently as yesterday. Toronto definitely needs a better bicycle infrastructure but I certainly hope that this incident is not indicative of driver attitudes towards cyclists! I'm not sure if I mentioned here before but I really believe that we need designated lanes for cyclists if cars and bikes are to share the roads. Dancing that thin line between the curb and moving traffic is fun and all but it's just not worth it.

Christmas! Seriously, what is up with that. Will nothing stop the flow of time?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

QWOP

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I present Exhibit A: QWOP. Proof that Hwan does not need a fancy schmancy computer in order to be amused and entertained for hours on end. No, he only needs a game with simple mechanics and a steep learning curve. HDR, fillrates? Pfeh, a Jedi craves not these things! Seriously though, that QWOP game is hella fun. I guess it's the combination of the hilarious animation and the thrill of actually getting the dude to run, once you figure out the control scheme. Getting the beginning movements correct is crucial, as this initial forward momentum is what seeds the rest. Then you need to get into a rhythm, adjusting it for missteps and other randomness, incrementally increasing the size of your strides to match your speed. After a while you start to naturally press the right keys, without even thinking about which finger is pressing what key when. Oh, it's definitely tough in the beginning oh my yes.

Montreal is where I went this past weekend. Cold it was, and a new winter jacket I have returned with. I ate well. I realized that my iTunes collection needs to be dramatically overhauled. Oh that it should be so easy.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Playing Left 4 Dead

Slight flu/cold right now. Not using that as an excuse for anything, but just letting you know that I'm not feeling 100%... so perhaps my writing is not 100%. Not that that's ever stopped me before. Oh yeah, feeling the heat of sickness now urgkkkk.

Been playing more Left 4 Dead, having now gone through all four missions (or movies). I can see the good (graphics, zombie-animatronics) and bad things (same maps, few items and weapons) about the game, but it will be the multiplayer experience that makes or breaks it as a lasting thing. So far, I think the multiplayer can be very much likened to Counter-strike in that the players play on one of two teams whose aim is to kill the other. The twist is that the mission of the protagonists (the humans) is to reach the other side of the map alive. Oh, and that the antagonists (the infected) respawn.

Fallout 3 is still on my games radar. I came across this excellent review of it: Fallout 3 review [nma-fallout.com] which, for me and I'm sure as for many others [shamusyoung.com] speaks of both the highs and lows and what's worth taking from this thing people want to call Fallout but isn't really.

Whew! I'm sure you're tired of me talking about games. Uhm... my wrist has healed up, and only gives me a slight ouch now. I bought a new coat which, in hindsight, is perhaps a little too effeminate. It certainly is not much protection against this decidedly wintry weather. Work? Is much the same.
Oooh it's only 10:30, there may be a chance I'll go to bed before 1 AM! A slight chance, given my procrastination skills, madz they be. Oh echinacea, my sour friend!

Friday, November 14, 2008

New computer, Left 4 Dead, sleep

With the new computer I've also done a bit of re-arranging of my apartment, getting things done that I've been putting off for months. Funny, I wrote that sentence and can't for the life of me remember where I was going with it. Sure, sometimes there are things I recall that I wish I wouldn't. I suppose any thoughts on controlling these are futile.

Has anything happened? No. My fridge was fixed, but not until most of the food inside transformed into non-food material. I bought the pre-release of Left 4 Dead which I have to say looks fantastic and plays even more so. I tend to rave in a meaningless manner about games I really think are neat, but believe you me, Left 4 Dead is impressive. My only grief is that there's not much to it -- run, shoot, survive. But it's so very well done, with shockingly good zombie animation. Oh man, when a horde of those suckers come running at you, it's the thrill of seeing one's first fast zombie all over again.

Oh right now I remember -- I wanted to mention that I threw out my beloved Microsoft ergonomic keyboard, one of those early white models with soft keys. A ginger ale-related incident disabled the functioning of many of the keys, rendering it pretty useless. Not even sure why I kept it. Unfortunately, it wasn't until after throwing it out that I came across an article describing how to make use of the old keys -- turn them into thumbtacks!

My efforts, such as they are, to wake up earlier for work have been, shall we say, a total failure. As in, I wake up even later than planned, feeling less rested and peaceful. Perhaps I am still adjusting to daylight savings, that troublesome beast.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Deer Hunter

I had actually planned to spend a month or two watching (or trying to watch) a movie a day, but of course like most things I think might be fun to try, it never happened. Still, I did make some time on the weekend to watch The Deer Hunter. I liked it. I read that Christopher Walken went on a diet of rice, bananas and water to get as pale as he did. I did find the first act somewhat long to sit through, but then I can be impatient with weddings if I can't take part in the festivities. I suppose you could call The Deer Hunter a war movie, but in three acts it shows the before, the during, and the after, and manages to transform the viewer as even we witness the characters transform, hollowed out by the trial of war. I found myself worrying about life and death all over again, that old bonnet of going away, the long goodbye to nowhere and nothing and life is but a temporary illusion and when I go it is gone.

Yes, I have been playing some more Fallout 3, but haven't these past couple days. Well, my gaming has turned to Team Fortress 2 again. It's just exhilarating to be part of a team, to work as one. Conversely, it's incredibly tiring and frustrating to be with a group of aimless fools, each interested only in killing and not the objectives. Such a rabble cannot stand against a force united.

My fridge has stopped again! Wait.. hmm.. yup, it seems dead. I've had problems with it before, but I think it may be kaput now. And guess who recently went grocery shopping?? I've actually thought about not using my fridge anyway, and instead maybe have a cooler with ice or something like. Really, the only thing I like is cold juice and water. I can do without the other stuff, especially since I prefer eating out anyway, fridge or no.

Oh yeah, WHOO GO OBAMA! That is like, wow man, that's super cool. On the other hand, I think it would be funny to have had Sarah Palin in office -- non-stop entertainment, of the shaking-head variety. But nay, things are so much brighter with Obama as President. This is like one of the first positive things I can feel about the US since.. well, for a very long time. Exciting!

Also nice, the weather. Seriously lovely. I mean, yes, global warming and all that, but one can still enjoy the warmth while one can.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Playing games on the new computer

Was the new machine worth the $2000+? I.. well possibly yes! I've never been able to say "I have a top-of-the-line machine" and by golly, now I can. It is a joy to be able to move those detail sliders all the way to MAX and enjoy pure processor goodness.

So.. games! My first acquisition was Far Cry 2, that sexy beast straight from Montreal! Graphically, yes, dripping sweaty incredible detail yadda yadda. The original Far Cry (2004) placed the player on a series of islands but which were otherwise quite open for exploration. You could go anywhere and spend lots of time just creeping around the place. Much of that is gone now, with areas cut off from each other by impassable hills and many buildings requiring an extra load to enter and exit. I mean, yes technically you can go anywhere you want but it feels a lot less open. Perhaps it's because the missions keep you to populated areas and so I haven't given much time to just wandering around.

A huge difference is that now there are interactions with people, although in conversations this is limited to either you saying yes (by clicking the "Interact" key) or you saying no (by walking away). So yes, there are quests now. And money! You can purchase upgrades to weapons and get these restocked whenever, which is probably the silliest part of the game. I also don't like the easter egg aspect of finding diamonds during your travels. Instead of feeling like you're a virtual world, you rather get the sense that you're playing what could've been a fun game until they decided to cater to console gamers and other decidedly non-Far-Cry features.

But let me speak of my latest love, Fallout 3. It too had to live up to a fan-favored franchise, Fallout 2 (1998) being immensely popular by those who played it (including myself). And did they stray from that turn-based, darkly comedic, nerdly-referencing RPG? It might be too early to say but YES THEY DID. Fallout 3 feels pretty much like what you'd get if you took Oblivion and switched the magic and swords and elves with radiation, guns and mutants. The more I think about it, the closer this analogy holds since I just learned that Bethesda did both games. They also console-ified it greatly, making the interface annoying to us mouse users since we have to (most unnecessarily) scroll through EVERYTHING -- inventory, conversation options, skills etc. This is greatly tedious when, like me, there is plenty of screen real estate for more information (and less eye candy). Haven't come across any of the humor or cultural references that Fallout 2 managed to pack.

Having said that, it's still damn fun running around the Fallout world, avoiding roving bands of mutants and battling psychopaths. The VATS battle system, while kind of silly, is enjoyable to use. The graphics, like everyone says, is startlingly excellent -- everywhere I go I want to get close to things to see how far the texture detail goes. And the draw distance is far, so far I wish I had some binoculars to check everything out. They kept the PipBoy and RPG mechanics, which I consider one of the more fun systems out there.

So, a yay to Fallout 3 (fun but entirely different) and a tentative nay to Far Cry 2.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Wrist injury, new computer specs

I injured my wrist again. Well, this time the left instead of the right, but it hurts just as much. Sparring it was that did it. Ok, YES I should've break-falled, but I didn't -- I was too busy worrying about smashing into the mirror somewhere behind me. Oh, and at the time my leg was held by my rushing opponent. Is this really news? For me, it's a pain certainly, and makes riding my bicycle unpleasant. I have to be careful handling cups and dishes, as I have no gripping strength. Oh, and I can't do pushups. I'm not sure which is better, keeping my wrist straight all the time and not using it or to exercise it and use it normally. I would think the former would result in faster healing, but the latter lets me maintain its strength.

The new computer is almost ready! Just have to install all my primary apps and chat and copy over files and program data and... well, ok, not so ready ready as to replace my current system, but it's at least getting on its feet and showing off some of its colours. For those keeping track, my current system is a Pentium IV 3.0 GHz/1.5 GB RAM/Radeon 9800 Pro 256 MB. Here's the new guy, with the prices I paid:
  • Motherboard: ASUS Rampage Formula Socket 775 Intel (Dual-channel DDR2). $338
  • CPU: Intel Core 2 Quad 2.83 GHz. $380
  • Memory: 2 GB (2x1 1024 MB) DDR2. $95
  • Video: ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 2048 MB. $580
  • Storage: Seagate 1TB SATA 3 Gb/s. $136

So the core system is about $1529. Add onto that the case (Lian-LI PC-60B, $120), power supply (Antec TP3-650 TruePower $95), and DVD reader (LG GBC-H20L SATA OEM, $130). I also splurged and got a new monitor (Samsung SyncMaster 2253BW 22", $213) and a new mouse (Logitech MX518, $45). Pre-splurge total is $1874. Total with splurge: $2132. With taxes, grand total of $2409.16. Yup, it's a mid-life crisis! This should keep my gaming appetite sated for a while. At least, the non-XBox side of it.

This entry may be a long one since I'm at the same time installing things on the new machine.

Friday night was drinks with some karate people at a bar on College. I think I'm just about done with alcohol. Really I am. No desire, tired of not controlling my brain, inability to concentrate. Fun, sure but tiresome. Saturday I slept in, saw my Korean tutor for the last time before he returns to Korea, and then drove out to KW to see UFC 90. Oh what a sad thing it was! Far Cry 2 proved to be an accurate indicator of who would win each fight, even if it meant a freak accident. Do not doubt the power of Far Cry 2! Sunday was dragon form practice, then lunch with mom, then returning home to sleep.

Sunday I also finally watched Donnie Darko. I must admit that I was very impressed, am very impressed. I'm not much of one for horror or thrillers, but this one is just too damn smart I can't help but enjoy the way everything was laid out.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The charity question

It's that time of the year again, time to spend spend spend! I've already spent lots on myself (in the form of a new computer), but now I shift my aim to charities. Namely, I ask you, what's a good charity? Last year I gave to the Daily Bread Food Bank (and plan to again this year), and in the past I've given to hospitals and my university, but I suspect that I might be missing some real obvious, needful organizations. It's kind of hard to judge these things via the internet. I'm wary of giving to mega-corps like the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and United Way. Perhaps someone can point out some good options?

Hmm, no, I'm not using my new machine yet -- I still have to install an OS on it. The point of all this? GAMES. I also got a BluRay player, but it was kind of an impulse buy which I vaguely regret since my new monitor can only go 1680x1050, somewhat less than 1920x1080. I really let my knowledge of these things slip behind. I kind of turned a blind eye to the whole HD-DVD vs BluRay war (outside of hoping that Sony would lose), and now HD is all in my face and such.

Monday, October 20, 2008

iOS apps rant, helping a friend do renovations

Apparently you're not supposed to sit on your iPhone for long periods of time because if you do the Home button stops working. Thankfully, you can kind of squeeze it back into shape.

Just a few random thoughts before I get to today's lunch at the Wellington. Uhm, I'm going to look into what it takes to develop apps for the iPhone because I hate HATE the thought of paying for these garbage apps that you can't even try before buying. Plus, I am of the "software should be free" mindset. However, it looks like I need to first get OS X before I can use the SDK, but Leopard isn't free? I suppose $130 is not much. AND I will (hopefully) have a new system up and running, a shiny, "luxurious" (as the Canada Computers tech described it) system with all the latest dongles and cards and cogs. In time for the pre-Christmas load of new releases.

Saturday I helped a friend smash up the main floor of his house, dust and debris and plaster, dressed up in my funny flight suit, sweaty work.

Saturday night I learned that my Korean tutor is going back to Korea! Poor guy, he's had a hard time making life work here. I was also a little dismayed to hear of all the discrimination he faced. Discouraging!

Oh wait, I need a PowerPC to run OSX? Blurgh. This entry was written under the influence of coffee.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Disappointed by Harper's second win

Oh man when did Canada become so very Conservative? I mean really, I am so out of touch with the political pulse of this country. Shocked, shocked! And more than a little upset. Who are these people? I don't think I know them. Part of my surprise is due to the fact that my riding (Parkdale/High Park) voted Liberal. Disappointed, really. I sincerely believed that Peggy Nash would win safely. How.. how... how did this come about? Oh Canada, I thought I knew you well and here you go, breaking my heart. You've spoken your mind, and your words are sheering hot death.

Monday, October 13, 2008

iPhone guilty pleasure

Much of my guilt of having and using an iPhone has dissipated by now, I think. I mean, I don't feel great about it, but there is certainly a pleasure in using it. A new toy, sure. Obviously not perfect. One of my top griefs is its lack of iPod interface -- no dial for skipping or advancing or adjusting the volume without having to fish the thing out of one's pocket and look at it. The ringtones are customizable, but the other sounds (such as SMSes arriving) are not. The battery life is not very good. The App Store is polluted with garbage, spam applications that are just a waste of everyone's time. I believe in the freedom of choice, sure, but I'd like to not have to weed the wheat from the chaff. I am really upset that I can't upload some files from my computer at home and some from another -- it can only accept files from ONE machine at a time. If I try to put some from another machine on, it has to first erase everything already on it. Blurgh!

Also, I find myself playing with it at the wee hours of the morning....

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Nuit Blanche was busy

Nuit Blanche this year was just.. well, it was just too busy. WAY too busy -- drunken, riot-minded swarms of entertainment-starved streetlings, bustling here and there, yammering away bubbly nothings. It was more than a little upsetting when I think about their wanton destruction of art and latent disregard for the works. But mostly, just too too many people every which way. Make the TTC free for the night! Close the streets! Bah... next year I won't start until after 3 AM.

iPhone? Yes, I got one. Guilty? Very much feeling so. Paying more for a toy, a shiny technophilic toy, money going from me to them, voting finanically in the wrong way. And ringtones! Why can I not simply make my songs ringtones! Damn you APPLE, will you not free us from these scalywags who would have me pay for the air I breath and the sounds I hear?

It's not all bad, of course. The mapping and GPS-like ability is neat. Visual voicemail is dreamy. Email and SMS in my hand is.. handy? Camera is responsive, fairly true.

There's a US version of Life On Mars? Huh.. and it seems to take quite a bit from the UK version. First episode was.. alright. I do hope they change it enough so that it really is more of a US version, rather than just the UK version with US songs and accents.

Speaking of spending frivolously, I'm thinking of upgrading my computer! Well, just buying a new one. I likely will at least get a new computer chair.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

smartphone achieved

I went to a Rogers store last week to find out what it would take to get an iPhone. Yes, I've been tempted by the fruit of others. It's funny, really -- I've always wanted a phone-PDA-camera-mp3 player, but when the iPhone, a seemingly ultimate all-in-one came out, I was STILL not ready to commit to it. Other than that, nothing is really prompting me to upgrade except that the $30/6 GB/month offer ends September 30th. Anyway, so I went to the store and apparently I have to pay a penalty above the regular price! What rot was that, I wondered? It seems that if you spend less than some number (I'm guessing $30) a month, then you fall into a "beggar's tier" (my term), in which you're not considered a very good customer and thus must pay extra to upgrade your hardware! I ranted to the Rogers store rep about this, who agreed that it was a bit draconian (I would add capricious and arbitrary) and that I might be able talk to Rogers sales to get them to give me a break or something.

Which I did, today. Thirty minutes or so of back and forth and eventually me threatening to switch providers, which got the lady to offer me a credit for nearly the difference I was complaining about. This worked to abate my frustration, though I do feel a bit of hypocrite for thinking of continuing business with these technology sluggards. On the other hand, iPhone!
I started on that one hundred pushups program. My initial test was 30, so I did the week 3 thingy today. Man that is a good workout. You can check on my progress with the pushups logger, which is handy, I guess. When I first heard about it (over on girl's blog), I was skeptical (as I often am) but upon closer inspection it seems a fairly reasonable schedule. I admit I am somewhat excited to see how it goes.

Oh, and I did get to see and meet (though briefly) Judah Friedlander, who seems like a really nice guy if you were as drunk as I was, where everyone seems like a really nice guy.
I looked into getting an XBox 360, and came REAL close to laying down the shells for one, but just couldn't quite do it. I'm not sure what it is. Habit? Miserliness? Fear of letting myself get consumed by console gaming? Or perhaps sincere lack of interest? Something like.

Oh hey someone tore off my bike light! Literally ripped it from the handlebar, which I had taped over to keep it steady. I don't mind losing the light so much as losing those rechargeable AA batteries, since I also use them for my digital camera. Curse these casual city thieves! And it's not like the light is worth all that much, maybe $8 or so. Eh, just not worth whinging about, but the thought of it does rile me a little.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Haircut, beginning karate again

Just a quick update from work. Weekend, frustrating because of the Gardiner closure, made worse by the lack of parking in the downtown area and then just nigh unbearable by that damn The Score closing the intersection of King and Spadina. Yargh, an unhappy, a most unhappy camper. I'm going to try to write this entry without going back and editing/censoring myself, so excuse the spelling and such. Oooh, I almost deleted what I just said because it was so boring.

Anyway... Saturday, instead of going to a dental appointment and getting my car looked at and dropping into Future Shop to see if XBox 360's were on sale, I played Team Fortress 2! Like, all day. And I have been playing pretty much nearly every hour since then, at home. Perhaps it's better that I stay at work, where the temptation to play games is not nearly so high.

Oh right, I cut my hair the other day. Twenty-three centimeters, according to the salon. I was tempted to keep it, perhaps use it as a brush or the like. Haha, so gross. No, I got it wrapped up and have sent it in for donating, though whether they accept it or not is another story. The requirements list is kind of hefty, but my concern is that it's not long enough -- my hair is layered so some of it might be under the minimum 8 inches.

I did find some time Sunday to try my friend's karate class, which turned out to be a heavy cardio and conditioning training session. I felt like an out of shape smoker, huffing and sweating and looking just awful. I did very much enjoy the hand and knuckle conditioning, delicious battering pain.

Yes, that's right -- I was tempted to consider buying an XBox 360. I must, once again, say that I absolutely dislike the controller, that crazy, knobby, thumb-centric glob, it frustrates my 1st-person dreams. Still, playing games like hockey is fun on it. And the new Star Wars game sure looks purty.

I'm just killing time, waiting for the Judah Friedlander show at Second City. Killing time, killing virtual avatars, what a waste!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Into Korean movies

Two Korean films. First, I mistakenly saw Seven Days. I say mistakenly because I do not know why I got it -- I'm not a fan of grisly murder mysteries (aside from perhaps the fantastic Memories of Murder). I guess I figured that because it was so popular it might be worth watching. It actually builds up well enough, but when you start to realize what's going on and who's behind what, well, it simply doesn't meet expectations.

Speaking of expectations, how about that The Good, The Bad, the Weird? The action scenes? Woo-eee, man they are smoking! But what was all that junk in the middle? And by junk I do mean all those pointless plot bits. Seriously, we GET IT -- there's a treasure and everyone wants the map! It would've been nicer if the backstory was more coherent/relevant, but to have all that unnecessary running around was a bit much. And the opium house? What was all that about? Anyway, some great action (the opening 30 minutes or so pretty much blow you away, and the final big showdown is impressive and fun) bogged down slightly by the director's attempts to make the film heavier than it needed to be. Trim that fat and you've got a memorable shoot 'em up.

Time, how does it go? Arrived at work late, coffee, worked, ate fish and chips at Wayne Gretzky's, got tickets to see Judah Friedlander next Tuesday, got my picture taken with a Shoppers Drug Mart witch, worked, a game of backgammon, worked, NHL '09, a couple hours of Go, rode home, had a sandwich, fried up some pot-stickers, mailed a letter to the NDP, got some groceries, found a dead pixel on my new monitor, watched some SNL digital shorts. Seriously, where did the day go?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

TIFF 2008

I have, thanks to the generosity of a co-worker and friend, been able to see no less than four TIFF films thus far.

  1. Ghost Town, the new Ricky Gervais romantic comedy of a jerk who can see ghosts, a kind of Sixth Sense, only replace the scary bits and whispering with Gervais' signature awkwardness. He was actually at the showing (no pictures, sorry), but he didn't speak. Also there was the director, an editor, as well as Kinnear and Kristen Wiig, who was wearing this great electric blue dress with lacy black stockings. Oh, the movie was mildly good. It's a romantic comedy, has a "feel-good" message.
  2. Detroit Metal City, a story of a country boy moving to the city in the hopes of becoming a "trendy" pop music star. Instead, he finds himself as the lead singer of a death metal band Detroit Metal City. Eh, it was fun and all but I often find with these Japanese films that for all their quirkiness there's an equal amount of lulls and missed jokes. A little tighter editing and this would've been a pretty good film. As it was, eh.
  3. Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Kevin Smith's latest offering. I freely admit that I was not looking forward to this. I think the last thing I really enjoyed was Clerks, and it was generally downhill from there. I look upon Smith's films as live-action versions of South Park, only with less likable characters. At the same time, I had no idea who was in it or what it was about, apart from what the title implies. So it's with a big, surprised smile that I find myself liking (and possibly even recommending) Zack and Miri. I blame the cast, which is chock full of talent. I laughed quite a bit and some of the scenes rang quite true, which for a raunchy romantic comedy is saying a lot. I dare say this is Smith's best film, but only because I do not care much for the hyper-articulate characters of his previous works -- here they are quite down to earth and relatable.
  4. Not Quite Hollywood, a documentary on the exploitation films of 1970s Australia. In structured, precise format, director Mark Hartley manages to give all the goods on this little known pocket of B films. Plenty of anecdotes, interviews, stories, trivia, it's quite a ride and given in the spirit of those pioneering directors and actors. Both entertaining and exhausting.

Whew! I do have The Good, The Bad, The Weird lined up for this Saturday. I may also try to catch Chocolate.

Friday, September 05, 2008

a quick rant on browser tabs

While I love tabbed browsing, I simply cannot stand the default behavior of browsers that place a little Close button on the tab. What rot is that? Right, when I click a tab I don't want there to be a chance that I can hit this button and have the exact opposite of what I want to happen -- the tab I want to see is gone and closed, with no Undo other than to hunt for it in the History or from the page it was spawned. Who thought this was a good idea? Me, I remove those buttons (when the option is available) and use middle-click to close tabs.

Feeling better today, but mouth dry and gross. Plans for weekend.. eh, nothing.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

sore throat, a night in KW

Sick with a strange flu-like malaise. I was up at 4 AM, my throat a channel of broken glass. Slept most of the day away. Am somewhat better now, but still out of sorts with grogginess. I did go for a bike ride, the weather being excellent for that.

I went to KW to hang out with Growli this past long weekend. Played hours of Rainbow Six Vegas 2, which is a lot of fun for two people working cooperatively. I still find 1st-person shooters on consoles a claustrophobic experience, like driving a very slow vehicle. The storming of rooms and setting up zones was otherwise quite rewarding.

We also went to Phil's Grandson on Sunday night, which I'm pretty sure is the very last time I ever go down there, that dank, sewer-like club. Ever foreboding, ever unrewarding.

Oh hey, did you get a chance to try Google's new Chrome browser? It's neat how they can just throw together a bunch of different engines and make something fairly decent. I would make it my primary browser if not for Firefox's extensions (AdBlock Plus, Firebug, NoScript, Google Preview) and search engine bar. If you're not addicted to Firefox extensions like myself, it is definitely worth a spin. Excellent performance, clean interface.

What else... oh, I saw that new Ben Stiller movie, Tropic Thunder. Eh, it was alright. I laughed plenty, sure. Some great lines, but I think I prefer Pineapple Express.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Reflecting on Vipassana

Well, it's been over a week since my Vipassana experience. Adequate time to analyze my state of mind and mood. Simply, I only feel slightly different. See, I've been, of late before the retreat, constantly trying to calm my temper down which flares frequently at work. Not because of the work itself (not lately anyway, now that I have a pretty good grip on what I'm doing) but rather due to the after hour gaming sessions, usually xbox gaming and StarCraft. Not in a terribly serious way, but enough that afterwards I had to pause and ruefully reflect on how I felt.

And it happened again today! Oh dear. So, perhaps thinking 10 days of meditation would help is a bit much. But again, am I different? I think yes, very slightly so. My perspective is clearer, I think. I am more inclined to believe the meditation did some good, which is practically the same as it being true, no? I'm afraid I haven't been keeping up with the mediation itself. I did fix my eggtimer page so that I had an easy way to time my meditation sits, but have only so far used it twice. Maybe nothing has changed at all.

In any case, I will continue with my discussion of my time at the Vipassana retreat. I'll talk now about the stay and the environment instead of the technique.

My lodgings were a grave disappointment. I was not made for the outdoor life. Sure, this was something like camping, but when camping you have the camaraderie of friends, the tactile enjoyment of cooking your own food over a fire, the pleasures of the outdoors to soothe over any gripes one may have with one's sleeping environment. Here there was no such balm, and every night I begrudged the cabinette that was to be my home for 11 nights, a choice (over taking up a spot in the comparatively hotel-like residence) I both rued and lamented.

My needs are simple enough -- for example, windows. Oh, we did have a view of the outdoors, but the only shield over our windows was a screen, letting wind and sound pass easily into our homes and over our faces. Going to bed at 9 PM meant the evening was still warm to only require a sheet of cover before dropping to sub-ten degrees come 1 or 2 AM, at which time you'd wake up shivering to zip up your sleeping bag only to be less than amused at 4 AM when the wake-up bell was rung. A Hwan without sleep is not exactly in a peaceful state of mind.

I wasn't ready for the bugs. I mean lots of bugs. The bathhouse, inexplicably, has an unused swimming pool behind it, which is covered in a tarp covered in puddles of water -- mosquito central. Unwilling to use my supply of DEET every day as I do not much care for spraying myself in chemicals, I ended up giving lots of blood. At first I avoided killing the little jerks, but by the end I would slay those that dared to come into contact with me.

The food was vegetarian and for the most part tasty, but by the third day I dreamt of beef and chicken and spices and BEER, of all things. For breakfast one could serve oneself oatmeal, stewed prunes, congee, whole wheat toast, and fruit. Very nutritious but it was the same for all 11 mornings and was hard to enjoy with the lack of sleep banging about my head. Lunch (the other meal) was varied -- I recall pasta, curries, soups, and noodles, always accompanied by the same salad choices. There was both coffee (instant, blargh) and tea, but for the most part I drank water.

Speaking of which, I started to become nauseated by the fourth or fifth day. I worried that it was the old colitis coming back, as it often does during times of duress. And I wondered how long I would be able to hold out this time, far from pain medication and the comforts and ease of being at home. But no, it turns out I was dehydrated. Or at least, that's my theory, because after I started drinking a lot of water the nausea seemed to pass. I had been avoiding drinking much water for fear of my bladder bothering me while meditating, a foolish notion thinking back on it now.

As mentioned, I lost about 8 lbs, noticeably from my behind. Less calories and less exercise, that'll do ya. I haven't really been eating piggishly since, though I probably overdid it the day I returned. Oh, to quench my gluttony!

There were about 20 males and 30-35 females who took the course. We would see each other in the main meditation building (which was much like a large portable from high school), but otherwise we were separated. The days started at 4:30 (with the first wake up bell at 4), breakfast at 6:30-8:00, lunch at 11:00 to 13:00, and a tea break (fruit and whatever drink) at 17:00 to 18:00. Bedtime at 21:30. The rest was hour upon hour of meditation, with a video discourse at 19:00, which ran about about 60 to 90 minutes.

My mood began poorly, mostly due to my cabin and the bug thing. On the night of day two and three I was very strongly tempted to leave, mad at the conditions that were preventing me from sleeping well and getting rest. Oh, did I mention that there was a frog living in the shower?? Yeah, little things like that. My physical low point was the nausea and the lack of air conditioning in any of the buildings but the meditation hall and there it wasn't too strong. Still, I'd say that my "wall" was that second and third day. I kept thinking, "How am I going to endure eight (or seven) more days of this?" That final day seemed so far away, and I felt like a prisoner counting the days of his sentence.

After that, I pretty much resolved to stay, even with those trying Sittings of Determination. On the ninth day I was very ready to leave, and lost focus during meditation more often with each session.

Whew! I think that's about it. If I were to do it again (and I'm not saying I would), I would definitely opt for living in the residence over the cabins. I would also only do this in the winter months, to avoid the mad bug situation. Bugs... why can't they just leave us alone?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

My Vipassana experience

Disclaimer: These are my thoughts and interpretations of what was taught during a 10-day Vipassana introductory course. I'll try to be accurate, but I'm doing this from memory so I apologize for any mistakes. I suggest the Vipassana Wikipedia entry as a starting point if you want a more neutral, matter of fact synopsis.

Summary: Vipassana is a nonsectarian meditation technique, focusing on results and practicality. One should be able to immediately see improvements in one's ability to deal with situations, with an aim towards liberty and eventually enlightenment (in the Buddhist sense). I personally found the living conditions a daily strain on my nerves, which greatly hindered my enjoyment of the 10-day course. I am currently skeptical of the results and am withholding judgment on its efficacy.

A) The Vipassana Course
Day 1 -- Observing respiration: Instructions on sitting are not given, with only the suggestion that one keeps one's back straight and head high. As such, people adopted various sitting positions. I switched between several, eventually keeping to a relaxed half lotus, both legs lying on the floor, with a couple cushions to prop my rump up. All meditation was performed with the eyes closed. The first day or so was spent trying to breathe normally and to observe the air flowing in and out of the nostril (or nostrils, whatever the case may be), feeling it on the edges of the nostril as well as along the inner walls. When one's attention wanders (which it inevitably and naturally will), gently pull it back to this task, without feeling disappointment or frustration. This exercise serves to a) begin the process of training one's mind to sharpen its area of focus and b) to get in the habit of pulling one's thoughts back to respiration, or whatever task was originally at hand. These random thoughts that distract one's brain are quite prolific in quantity, a response of the brain when given a task that requires minimal sensory attention. To paraphrase S. N. Goenka, it would be impossible to attempt to make a diary of all the thoughts that intrude onto one's meditation -- they are too numerous.

I thought of food, sure. Hamburgers and steaks and chicken curries. My entirely non-existent relationships with women, so very virtual in nature. Work and the people there. Curiously enough, I also found myself thinking, unbidden, of video games. Unreal, Warcraft 3, Diablo 2.

Day 2 -- Focusing on the triangle of nose: We shift the area of concern to the triangular area of the nostrils and include the skin of the upper lip, feeling the breath pass over this area. When one finds it difficult to get a sense of where this area is, or is unable to feel the air there, a couple harder breaths may be temporarily exercised to refocus. Once we get a hang of this, we shrink the area of focus to the skin between the nostrils and the upper lip, or the moustache area.

At this point, one should begin to find that one feels a sensation on this concentrated area. It can be anything, from something gross like the passing air to a subtle numbness. It can be a sharp prickle, or just feel cold or hot or sweaty. I often experienced a kind of poking or prodding, though I recall one time getting the sensation that three beetles were crawling around my nostril and cheek area. So real was the phenomenon that I had to resist reaching up to verify that it was imagined.

Day 3 -- Scanning the body, part by part: Now that we had trained this skill of focusing on searching for sensations on a part of the body, we were instructed to now sweep the entire body for sensations, passing the mind's eye from the top of the head down to the shoulders, over each arm to the fingers, down the chest and back, and down each leg individually. I found the hardest places to get a feeling for was my back and upper chest -- if I concentrate long enough I am able to feel my clothes against my skin, but it's arduous and slow going. I noticed that I would subconsciously expand my chest to press against my shirt so that I could feel it.

I also found myself scanning not my body from the inside out, but rather imagined a model of my body and looking at that from the outside, like a 3D wire-frame computer model being rotated in some cheesy sci-fi manner. I had to actively force myself to look out from the inside (or rather feel outwards), though for a long time I kept seeing my mind's eye as a kind of scanning laser.

Day 6 -- Sittings of Determination ("What is in the box?" "Pain."): Three times a day we would now have to perform sittings of determination, meaning we would meditate for one hour without moving, without re-adjusting our positions. This stipulation drastically changed the meditation from an exercise to real work, grueling, intensive work. I found myself reciting the Litany against fear:"I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer.", as I allowed myself to be swallowed in pain three times a day.

The point of all this is thus: To break free from the bondage of desire and aversion, to lift oneself out of misery, one must accept that life is change, that good can change to bad and that bad can change to good. As such, one needs to learn to not despair when things go poorly and, equally, to not exult when things go well. This is easy enough to say, but Vipassana trains you to do it. When meditating in this manner, you strive to remain both aware and equanimous. That is, to be aware of the sensations as you pass your focus over your body, and to merely observe them, to keep telling oneself, "This sensation will pass" and to neither crave it (if pleasurable) nor to resent it (if painful). In this way, one conditions one's responses to situations in life. This is because when faced with a pleasant or unpleasant situation, the body reacts without the mind telling it to.

For example, when someone insults you or aggressively confronts you in some manner, your body automatically reacts without your mind (your conscious mind) thinking about it -- your heart rate increases, you become flush, you tense up, your brow may furrow, you might be holding your breath etc. This is because your subconscious mind recognizes this insult and reacts as it's been conditioned to when upset. Vipassana meditation seeks to break this conditioning, allowing you to see the situation for what it is, suppressing the typical emotional response from interfering with your ability to observe and assess the situation. In theory, this suppression will lead to an extinguished state where you have no (physiological) reaction at all to what happens, freeing your mind to act as it sees fit.

I know it sounds a little kooky but it does have a kind of logic to it. The rest of the days were pretty much working on these Sittings of Determination, and time became slower and slower. On the second day I found it difficult to accept that I had eight more days of meditation left, it seemed so agonizingly far away. With the Sittings, the last few minutes of the hour were nigh intolerable. There were times I just wanted to stand up and exclaim, "That's ENOUGH!" and storm out. Later I got better at ignoring the hurt (without ignoring the pain) and still I couldn't wait for the hour to end. I found having my eyes closed for so long suffocating, claustophobic, like trying to sleep when one isn't tired.

On the tenth day the Noble Silence (the vow to not talk, to avoid eye contact, to not gesture or otherwise communicate with the other practitioners) was lifted. When I broke it by saying hello to someone, I was unable to stop smiling and a wave of elation washed over me and I was bemused to find myself thus. I had not craved or missed talking to others, but when finally I did it changed everything.

Many people ask me if I had any epiphanies or if I feel any different. Epiphanies I do not recall, which the teachers warn not to expect. However, I certainly do feel different but it's too early to say what is causing that. It could be sleep deprivation, it could be that I lost 8lbs, it could be that I was mostly miserable for 10 days and am now free again to live (and eat!) as I choose. I do admit that it could also be because all that meditation really did make a difference, but I rather think it's too early to definitively say.