Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Stuff of Life

Hello everyone.It's been longer than I thought it would be between blog entries. The new normal has settled in. Easter has come and gone once again leaving a legacy of love, forgiveness, family and food. Things have been quite peaceful and placid this past while. I've enjoyed good health and there's been plenty to keep me busy.

Easter was quite good this year. Unlike Christmas where I attended church on neither Christmas Eve or day due to family activities, I caught both services at Easter. There could well come a point in my life when I no longer have any family in easy reach. I therefore take most if not quite every opportunity to be a part of things. Increasingly, more occasions are coming up when I could actually do otherwise. That's still a relatively new phenomenon for me. I got to hear my nieces go on a very fast egg hunt. It was all in one room of my parents' house and the action was caught wonderfully on Audioboo. They found everything in well under the five minute time span I can capture at once with the service. The microphone in the iPHONE is really quite good. I just wish there was more control over the noise cancellation for when you want to capture more of the background noises. I'm glad I managed to record that little slice of life. Things seem to be going well for Dan and his part of the family. They had a great trip to the US recently and the kids seem to be enjoying their days in school. Here's hoping that lasts. I guess it'll be Ava's birthday soon again. Haven't really come across anything superspecial to get for her but I guess there's still a little time.

The new CNIB digital library has at last been unveiled. I've been able to circumnavigate the odd bug thanks to my multiple screen-readers, two browsers and some patience. Firefox seems to work best so far. I certainly appreciate the increased number of books available for download. This includes some long-time cherished favourites like Larry Niven's Footfall and Michael Crichton's Congo. I also enjoyed Jay Ingram's The Burning house, a non-fiction book about what is known about the human brain.

It's been nice catching up with friends lately. I've also started getting to know some additional people over a new app for the iPHONE called Zello. There's also a version for the PC. It works pretty well. Earle and a few other old friends use the app also. It works a lot like a walkie talkie with the addition of channels both public and private. Like most other such apps, I don't tend to have it open unless and until I actually want to chat. I've touched base with a few old friends, Earle included. I've also had some good conversation with Jessica, a lady in the states living in one of these house-trailers I've read about but have yet to actually feel. They apparently shake quite a bit when the wind picks up. Hannah, a listener of Mushroom FM who lives in the Philippines,told me quite a bit about what it's like for blind people there. They don't have any sort of social services or benefits. I was curious whether this provided any greater incentive for people to actually hire the disabled. Sadly, this is yet another of these idiotic theories that business-supportive idiots love to toss out there. Her experience has been pretty dismal. She's supported entirely by her family and can't easily travel around. There's all sorts of pressure to get a job that nobody wants to give her. A degree in computer science could very easily just go to waste and nobody over there would think twice about it. Although not very lucrative, my education has, I feel, been a substantial benefit to me and those who have come to know me in life here. She briefly had a job as an online language translator and conversational tutor but the experience left her feeling very exploited and drained with no money to show for it. I hope she catches a lucky break and wins through somehow. I wish I could help in some way. As it is with many people, I help her by having and taking the time to be an understanding listener who can, at least a little, relate to what she's going through.

I tend to like using gwconnect for Skype communications. Mainly these days, I've been talking with Rose. We make good sounding boards for each other but still run into patches where I tend to run out of patience. I get a strong sense of being productive, of doing something useful when I can be available for her. With all the crap she's gone through, she needs someone to vent to. If I can be even a small part of her journey to truly settle in and become a healthy part of the church community, then I've done a good thing. She has so much sheer knowledge and thought to offer that it takes your breath away. She seems to think some woman's going to find me soon and I won't have nearly as much time for her. As much as I'd dearly loved to believe her, I just can't. Similar to the whole god-guided versus reality-governed universe, all the signs in my experience point to a long stretch of single life ahead of me in a world of increasingly fragile fragmented busy people who don't truly value what I do. I've done everything I can within reason to increase my chances. Certainly, God could pull some long convoluted strings in the fabric of reality and bring a suitable woman into my proximity. While I hope that happens, I won't hold my breath while waiting nor spend any more time moping if it doesn't. I'll do my best to keep positive, to do what I believe God wants me to do, look for any places in life where what I know or discover can be of help to people, and continue to count my life's many blessings.

In around ten days, I'll be hosting a gathering at my apartment for Rose. She has nearly completed her hundred days in a row of Yoga. A damned remarkable feat considering the chronic pain and sleep deprivation she has experienced. Things are at last looking up for her. It helps to finally have a diagnosis. People are less likely to dismiss her concerns and will hopefully appreciate her efforts more in that light.

Work on Enchantment's Twilight continues. Just now, it's entering a somewhat dull patch that I can't say I relish overly. I'm trying to find the proper size for the board to be, a balance between speed of travel and there still being room for special locations and journey-related character development and events to occur to the characters. It would help tremendously if I could settle on a good travel system which felt experientially satisfying. It has to serve the purposes of getting characters from A to B, making travel fun, and adding to the overall atmosphere of the game. Pure random dice rolls don't quite give me what I'm after but neither does a completely predictable deterministic system. I believe I may be inching closer to an acceptable midpoint between the two but won't count my chickens before they hatch in this instance. A whole lot of old preconceptions have been tossed away and for now, a lot of balls are hanging in the air. The whole magic system breakthrough has opened quite a sizeable can of worms. It'll make for a very interesting Summer creatively. Another catalyst for all this change was another excellent game design book I just read. The Art of Game Design; A book of Lenses by Jesse Schell easily ranks among the top three game design books I've ever read. It makes for an excellent counterpoint to Ernest Adams's Fundamentals of Game Design. Thanks to Mr. Schell's more artistic sense of what it takes to achieve a game which gives the experience of fun, I feel much more properly directed as I set about nailing down the core aspects of Enchantment's Twilight. Mr. Adams has given me the order in which to try to accomplish things while Mr. Shell has given me tools to examine that work in a new light. Strange that one of the first results of reading the book is to be faced with the necessity of changing the board length and system of travel. But there's just no getting around it. The results are that critical, a bedrock on which to build the more creative castles in the air. Even in this important work, dealing with numbers continuously for this extended period has tinted life with the gloom that complicated numeric reality beyond the very basics always has. I've just never found mathematics enjoyable. Thankfully, they'll be behind the scenes when the player experiences them.

Looking ahead to the Summer, I'm actually quite confident it'll be interesting in other more social ways also this year. I've got my annual trip to Lake Jo scheduled for the start of July. I hope I can have as good a vacation as I did last year and come back without then getting sick as has happened a couple of times now. Hoping for the start of a steady love relationship on top of that stroke of good fortune is, I think, too optimistic even for me. There'll be the occasional trip to Canada's Wonderland with Carine and Kevin. I'm also hopeful of one or more excursions downtown to see Steve, Earle, Meko and the rest of that gang of good people. Slowly, more zest seems to be coming into life. May that process long continue.

No real action is happening on the relationship front. This past year has already seen two false starts. Not even a nibble from Plenty of Fish even after I finally figured out how to un hide my profile. Figured that might help a tad but experience isn't backing that assumption up so far. Meanwhile, my projects, online chats, visits with friends and a whole raft of podcasts and even TV are coming to my rescue. I'm certainly not wallowing through the muck of time anymore. Still, there's that void in life which just won't seem to go away. Too many thoughts, experiences and moments that I keenly wish were building blocks of a steady love. Thanks to this reserve of cheerfulness and an increasing sense of community connection, the square pegs I try to force into that round void work somewhat better than they once did. And yet, all too often, that emptiness makes itself felt. Is there truly no woman out there unspoken for who would either find my life interesting enough to share or, failing that, actually offer me a stable alternative? I wish I were one of those people who truly believed that God had pre-destined everything. Being patient is a whole lot easier when one has faith that God has picked out someone special just for you. I just can't subscribe to belief in a universe that really works that way. Well-wishers have offered that old platitude that "someone will come along at the right time.", or that whole notion that "the right person" simply hasn't appeared yet but will eventually. Both notions simply ring hollow to me. God need not control everything, solve every problem, and work miracles to a point where they're too common to be called such. Randomness and coincidence are plain facts of life to me. Virtue, compassion and prayer don't always lead to the positive outcomes we strive for. People far more faithful and devout than I have been left to suffer far worse fates than unwilling unemployment and singledom. Compared to getting nailed to a cross, I have the perspective to think I have it pretty easy in the grand scheme of things. That perspective helps in the same way that being thankful your leg wasn't blown off by a landmine lessens one's itch while suffering bites from black flies. I'm still in for countless days alone, conversations with people too distant to ever be more than friendly voices, counting and enjoying my many blessings in life in solitude when I'd be ecstatic to be able to share them.

The weather has been somewhat unseasonably warm lately with a few brutal reminders that we're not quite through with cold just yet. I've begun walking to the Dam on my own again. So far, things are working quite well. There's still a sense of uncertainty. I can't really let my guard down and just casually walk the route. However, it has stuck with me more solidly over the Winter break than any route has before. That area with the three gates and Basketball court is still all too easy to get badly turned around in. However, I'm getting better at recovering when this happens provided the GPS is locked in. The Trekker Breeze is doing quite well these days. I just wish there were more places within walking distance worth getting to often enough so the routes would at last stick semi coherently in my head.

I mentioned square pegs earlier. One of the latest I've tried out is a little audio game called Swamp. It's basically a first-person shooter for the blind pitting players against a zombie apocalypse. I finally remembered that I did indeed still have an old optical mouse and thought I'd give the game a spin. It's actually surprisingly addictive. I've always wondered if I'd actually enjoy such games provided they were accessible. Friends would talk about spending hours playing Doom, Quake and such and I just couldn't fathom how they sustained their focus. What kept them coming back? Now, I have an idea of how that works. If your character dies before reaching the safe zone with his or her loot, everything is lost but one's reputation and experience points. You can be walking around with advanced weapons and loads of ammo, get chewed up before making it back to the safe zone, and be forced to start yet again with nothing but an axe and pistol. It's keenly frustrating but you just keep hoping that luck will at last favour the bold and you'll come back with something impressive to donate for increased reputation. It's the old "Next time, things will work out better" pernicious pull that I guess hard-core gamblers must feel even as they sink into inescapable debt. Added to this pull is the very cathartic act of confronting a purely evil threat with the inability to even accidentally harm one's fellow players. It's a game with no real moral complications. You can blast those zombies to bits without any repercussions other than positive ones. Very unrealistic and therefore, most appealing. A clean safe way to blow off stress or anxt provided one has the discipline to stop. That is, in essence, the moral catch.

Complicating things for me is my poor orientation skill. I'm dead serious here. The game takes place in a map of a town with stores, houses, etc to go on scavenging missions in. I find it extremely difficult to keep a good sense of direction even with all the sonic aids. I've been killed numerous times right by the safe zone because I couldn't find the small entrance to it. Even when I remember in my panic that it's on the west side, it's still just a small gap in a solid wall. Buildings are pretty much deathtraps. It's so easy to get hopelessly turned around in them. I have yet to succeed in recovering an item needed for a quest. I keep getting lost and subsequently killed in the narrow confines of building corridors and other tight areas. This game could and should be used by orientation and mobility instructors. Finding my way around is nearly as time-consuming and frustrating as it is for me in real life. The only consolation is that you can just stop and do something else without actually being lost hours away from home. If you could actually hoof it around as quickly as your character with such impunity to muscles and energy, you really would be damned far away when you discovered how woefully lost you had become. And of course, being able to run at full tilt even while packing a minnigun is another power trip in and of itself. While wielding it, you actually have to crouch and brace the gun before firing it. Walking while wielding it does slow you down to a crawl. However, just pull out your axe or some other weapon and you can quickly carry that minnigun to where it needs to be.

Offsetting the navigation frustration is the pull of participating in a community of sorts. You can hear someone getting chewed to bits by a zombie and come to their rescue. Some of the expert players will actually carry on text conversations while on missions. The mouse really does help you move and shoot with more fluidity and precision. I keep hoping that I'll come up lucky and get enough reputation points to get me out of this starting grind and into the larger parts of the game like missions. Alternatively, I keep wondering when the painfully slow progress plus the annoyance of finding my way around will dissuade me from continuing to play at all. I've already seen the better part of two days pretty much vanish on me. Were it not for the fact that I've rearranged cords and items on my desk so that the long-neglected mouse has a home, I'd have to pinch myself to be certain I hadn't dreamed it and that today is, in fact, Thursday already! I haven't spent anywhere near that much time playing King of Dragon Pass yet and it offers far more substance and sense of meaningful accomplishment. How has Swamp just sucked away so much time? Even though I can barely get around, I think it's that sense of there being a community of real people not unlike myself who are engaged in an unreal but nonetheless epic quest for survival. I'm fitting yet another square peg into a round hole and just now coming to grips with what an imperfect fit it is. I dearly wish I could get lost in a real experience, even the relatively ordinary experiences of daily life, with real people on a more regular basis. Most of all though, I wish I could find love with a woman who shared most of my values and at least some of my interests.

Looking at the larger picture, a few news items have caught my interest over the past while. This being the hundredth anniversary of the Titanic's doomed voyage, all sorts of things are happening to commemorate it. An actual ship with passengers has set sail and will follow the Titanic's exact route across the Atlantic. At least one of the people I follow on Twitter is interested enough to have tuned into a feed reenacting the voyage with tweets about events at the times they occurred. There's a kind of creepy fascination that makes me pause for thought whenever I come across one of those. I've been meaning to find out more about how the modern reenacted journey is doing but have yet to get around to that. There's also a large collection of recovered artefacts which may go up for auction. That's sparking quite a controversy over the prospect of profiting from what some see as a grave site. Personally, I'm rather inclined to hope that the stuff of my life, understanding my circumstances and thoughts, etc, is worth bothering with enough so that the stuff of my life doesn't end up lying untouched and unwanted somewhere slowly disintegrating. The mind boggles at the risk and ingenuity needed to recover anything from that depth. Surely, those who have risked everything to recover historically valuable items deserve something for their troubles. Archaeology has rid us of many false conceptions and improved our understanding about where we've all come from.

Apparently, this is also the active season for the large hadron collider so there could be some interesting news coming from that quarter over the next while. Thanks largely to Rose, I'm now far more likely to hear about scientific developments via Twitter than I am anywhere else. I've begun to follow @bigthink, a fountain of large-scale thoughts scientific and otherwise. It's another square peg in a round hole making me feel more connected than I actually am. There have been some wonderful podcasts lately. From Our Own Correspondents is up to its usual quality. Everything from a meeting with a Japanese travelling poet and a Buddhist monk who drives fast and loves progressive rock to reporter's reflections on what it was like to cover the war in Sarajevo twenty years ago. I have vague memories of hearing news about that. It was certainly felt on the erindale Campus where I got my degree. Tapestry has let loose some excellent food for thought. I enjoyed hearing the perspective of an agnostic who, much as I had, made peace with his position of not knowing for certain whether there was a God. There was also an excellent episode which looked at the collision of religion and comedy. Am I forever doomed to hear so much excellent food for stimulating conversation while completely alone? It damned well feels like that's the case.

In order to balance the books, the government is making cuts all over the place. We're going to lose all sorts of people from health workers to food inspectors to border guards and people from the CBC. There's no real stopping this. We voted for this majority government and it can now pretty much do what it pleases. We're going to experience as a country what less of pretty much everything one would really want from a government feels like. I worry that these cuts will go too far and we'll end up with completely preventable tragedy as a consequence. Dad, on the other hand, thinks there's sufficient excess bureaucracy built up everywhere so that there really won't be much impact other than actually better balanced books. Back on election day, I was completely disenchanted with the continual wobbling about our government seemed to be stuck in. Elections kept being called before anything really substantial could get done. I was absolutely disgusted with the degree to which our leaders just couldn't work with each other instead of trying to grab power. Well we're now most definitely headed solidly in the direction of a smaller civil service and government. I hope those who now wield the axes in Ottawa are a heaping lot better at precision waste reduction and job cutting than I am at killing zombies with my digital axe in Swamp. I would have felt a whole lot better had the Liberals carried the day instead of being utterly decimated. Still, it could all work out for the best. the new NDP leader at least sounds good when he talks. We'll see what he can accomplish while leading the official opposition.

Tomorrow, I'll be heading over to Michelle and Gerry's. It's been a little while. Only one computer problem known about in advance effecting Michelle's ability to hear audioboos. At least I've already supplied the material for testing. I don't expect it'll be a very hard nut to crack but I've been wrong before. She's had some interesting and different problems with her computer. Nothing beets that one where the bloody clock wasn't set and therefore, nothing would work since it reported a date around 2005 or so. Her version of Jaws had yet to be written so its security wouldn't let her computer actually talk. Unbelievably simple presuming one can see and read the clock. Utterly insoluble without sighted help/knowledge. I would have suspected everything else first including the sound card. It's always fun to expose both of them to new thoughts and ideas. I always come away feeling like I've done something worth-while. They appreciate my efforts whether or not they're successful and are just all-around good simple folk caught in the interweb age.

I guess that pretty much covers what sticks in the mind from the past while. I've doubtless forgotten to write about some stuff I discussed in my far more frequent boos at:
I find it a whole lot more natural to just let those loose but will keep trying to update this blog a tad more regularly than I have of late. Until next time, faithful readers.