Friday, April 25, 2014

Of Cents and Consequence

Hello everyone. I didn't think three months would fly past between entries but it seems we're about done with April now. This time of year typically slows down somewhat. Given some extremely cold weather and an attempt to claw my way out of the first credit card debt I've ever been in, I haven't been doing a whole lot which seems blog-worthy. Having our engagement right near the holidays made for an absolutely awesome time but I hadn't quite factored in the damage to my usually stable finances.

With some generous assistance from my parents, I'm now clear of that situation. I've gained a very keen understanding of just how nearly impossible it is to make a dent in even a modest level of debt while living on ODSP. If you don't have family willing to help or a means of somehow getting unexpected income which doesn't impact your monthly income, there's just no way short of really drastic measures. You'd have to forego eating well, never see friends, severely limit phone and Internet, and more to lower the credit card balance significantly. Keeping it steady is one thing but meaningfully reducing it is quite another. Thanks to being on the receiving end of some such income, things didn't get as slow and grim as they might otherwise have. I tried everything short of those really drastic steps to very little effect. The ODSP system was, I've come to think, really designed with the assumption that disabled people would have supportive family or others in their lives to supplement the monthly income when necessary. Hence, the allowance for gifts or honorariums. This experience has increased my empathy towards those who are tempted or are forced into credit card debt who lack the friends and family I'm blessed with. One easily made bad decision could and has thoroughly wrecked years of life for some people I've come to know. If you avoid getting into debt, you tend to have at least a little wiggle room each month.

Over the past while, I've made numerous adjustments to streamline my expenses cancelling nearly all of my monthly paid subscriptions. If you add everything up, I've saved something like $80 per month. As a single man with no drastic changes foreseeable, I lacked any real motivation to cut these things back. However, so much has changed over the past year or so that I'm finally ready to get rid of some of my bastion against lonely boredom. I no longer pay Skype or Sendspace anything. Skype calling was very useful to me when I had to watch my long distance and cell phone minutes. Thanks to my new iPHONE plan, that just isn't necessary. Sendspace was a nice useful luxury. However, I have other uses for the roughly eight dollars per month it cost. The largest cut was my most recent decision to cancel my TV service. The small television and digital box I own are both now in my storage closet. I really should have taken the step of cancelling TV a whole lot sooner. I mean as much as a year ago. Mostly, I used it to listen to CBC Radio1 or local news. I'll miss CP24 a little I guess. Other than that and the odd documentary, I just haven't been interested in actual TV shows. All the entertainment I really value comes from the Internet in the form of books, audio dramas, podcasts and Internet radio stations. I've gone nearly a week and haven't really missed TV at all. Eventually though, I'll have to look into getting a better radio. My old boom box still mainly works but the antenna has broken off. This has somewhat impeded reception. I can only get really good signal if I put the thing on an end table in a corner by the window. There's a rather nifty spot I'd use if I could get better reception. My TV once sat there.

One subscription I've held onto is my platinum plan with Audible. I get two credits per month and thoroughly enjoy the books I obtain from that service. Increasingly, my iPHONE has become my reading device of choice. I've been reading a tremendous number of books lately. I'm going through a bit of a creative dry spell and have had a few thankfully short episodes of sleep difficulty. Reading has been my lifeline. The Kindle app is A wonderful way to read. I've read so many books that just wouldn't have been accessible to me before it became so accessible. Admittedly, Amazon has financially benefited from my newfound reading freedom. Over the past while, I've really had to work at adding books to wish lists rather than just buying them outright. I've ...well... somewhat succeeded at attaining this discipline thanks in part to the debt I'm thankfully now out of. It's damned nice to have at least a little wiggle room once again.

I'll be doing a lot of things differently this year. Being engaged certainly has that effect. As the weather warms up, Sara and I will doubtless be doing more socially. Once the weather makes up its mind, I also plan to do a lot more walking around the lake this year. I really want to get more into the habit of doing that on nice days. My bone conduction headphones will be getting a lot more use. I really like my Otterbox Defender case for my iPHONE but it's a pain to take it off the phone in order to fit it into the waterproof case I can wear on my neck. I can put the phone in shirt or coat pockets but hearing it while in a pants pocket can be tricky when it's windy. Glad I got those Aftershockz bone conduction headphones. They've been splendid when attending meetings but that's been the only use I've put them to for quite some time. As there's a Disability Concerns Canada conference in early May that I'll be attending, I've got the headphones plugged in and charging. I'll be the editor of the next issue of the organization's newsletter which will cover the conference in detail so those who couldn't attend might still benefit. I don't anticipate any trouble. It'll be good to make use of my editorial experience once again. It's been a while.

I won't be going to Lake Joseph this year. Back when I came to my decision about that, part of me wondered whether I'd change my mind as Summer approached. The first letter came urging me to register for the season. Frankly though, my mind hasn't changed. For at least the next two years, I'll simply be focusing my time and money on other things. It's all going to be about strengthening the friendships and laying the foundation for a good marriage. I'm hoping that there'll possibly be ways to perhaps catch the odd festival or partake in some other more memorable different experiences with Sara and friends.

Easter has now come and gone. I had a good one in all respects this year. Good Friday was consumed by my second reading of The Robe. That book has an entrancing powerful quality to it. I guess God's going to get my attention one way or another. On Saturday, I went to my parents' house for dinner. The food was excellent as always. There was plenty of turkey, ham and pie. As the kids get older, the Easter egg hunts get shorter. This last one may perhaps have taken five active gleeful minutes. It was good to see everyone again. This year, everyone included four good family friends. Two of them have yet to be introduced to Sara. Easter is a very busy time for her so we made certain to have a visit earlier in the month.

It's absurd o'clock on Easter Monday morning. Siri informs me that it will be a wonderfully warm 19 degrees C today. Definitely walking and balcony weather. Hopefully, that'll translate into better and more timely sleep tonight. I've been doing a great deal of reading, spiritual and otherwise, this past week. Mainly, there was Bob mayer's Atlantis series. I got the complete six-book set as a single ebook on Amazon. It made for a very enjoyable read. Made me wonder why I never could get into Stargate seriously. Another excellent recent read was a book called The Death Class: A True Story about Life. It was written by Erika hayasaki, a journalist who found out about a professor who taught a college class about death. I had first heard about this book on an episode of Tapestry, a favourite show on CBC Radio1 which looks at faith in the modern world. The book is available in print and Kindle form and is worth every penny. Andrew Pyper has also contributed very nicely to my mental stimulation of late. I thoroughly enjoyed The Demonologist, The Trade Mission and The Guardians. All very good stories.

Two glass items have met their violent ends on my kitchen floor. A thankfully empty beer bottle was accidentally knocked off the counter where I rarely leave them these days. I've gotten quite good about taking the time to put them back in the case safely on the floor immediately after I've poured them. However, something must have distracted me this time. There's always that instant of dread just after you make accidental contact and send a doomed object flying from its perch; A strange horribly stretchy instant of "oh no!", when you simultaniously recognize what that object is and realize that "is" will become a messy possibly dangerous "was" in the next nanosecond. While getting some juice, I heard an object fall from a shelf in my fridge. A split second before it hit the floor, I realized that it was a jar of some sort of goopy barbecue flavoured mayonnaise I had been contemplating throwing out for some time now. Broken glass by itself is no fun to clean up even when it's in a limited known area. Broken glass plus goo is less fun to deal with by an order of magnitude. Thankfully, only a small portion of each of these objects actually broke apart into small pieces. I can be pretty confident I've cleaned things up and have avoided injury. Of course, I'll be extra careful and ultra conscious as I walk in the kitchen over the next couple of days just waiting for the telltale crunch that informs me I missed some glass. Yes, Douglas Adams fans; I did think "Oh no! Not again!"

Having just polished off a light breakfast, I'm enjoying a dark coffee at my desk while listening to an episode of The Overnightscape. Frank Edward Nora is doing a splendid job as always. He's talking about everything from creepy Easter gifts to glum retail store employees to the vanished culture of flee market vendors. It makes for a very engaging start to the day. I hope he writes a book some day about his experiences wandering and riding his way through his beloved New York City. He's so wonderfully thoughtful.

The change in weather seems to have affected me this year. I've had a runny nose, dry cough and the broken up sleep. Allergy medication seems to be helping with these symptoms. Glad I had some handy.

I god out for a while today but have found myself with a head ache and tired enough that I slept away a chunk of afternoon. I had really hoped to have avoided that. However, it's still been an awesome day. The only real exception to that was a seasoned fish fillet I tried. Should have known better. I didn't like it at all. Oh well. One must gamble and loose every once in a while or go stale. A couple of headsets I bought recently after my Logitech G330 set unexpectedly broke on me have proved interesting gambles. The Creative HS800 headset is one of the most comfortable I've ever owned. It has very good sound for its $45 price but lacked a USB dongle. These let you plug the headphone and microphone plugs into a single port rather than the two jacks on one's computer. This little detail actually makes quite a difference for me due to my iMac's tendency to suddenly stop producing sound when running Windows bootcampped. If you're using a USB sound device when that happens, you can always pull it out and plug it in again thereby restoring sound and, more vitally, speech output. Thankfully, I kept the USB dongle which came with my G330s and it works perfectly with the Creative headset. The detachable gooseneck mic is a very nice touch. Due to the bulk of the headset as well as the somewhat delicate rotation points on the HS800, I don't plan on using that headset for travelling.

A good job then that I've also acquired the Turtle Beach Ear Force M5 mobile gaming headset. I give this headset very high marks for comfort also. Unlike the cushion used atop the Creative set, the M5 employs a more standard sort of rubber foam which would hold up far better to any accidental emersion in liquid. The cups on the M5 can be rotated to flatness relative to the headband. They're designed to be used with tablets or smart phones but come with an adaptor for use with laptops. Rather than the USB dongle I was expecting, this adaptor splits off into two jacks for mic and headset. This is fine for my laptop where I need not worry about suddenly losing sound. Unlike other smart phone headsets, these lack volume controls but still have a cord-mounted button for answering calls and such. Despite the lack of said volume control, I'd rate them better than the Urban Ears headset I once owned. This is true both in terms of sound quality and rugged construction. The Ear Force M5 has clearly been built to last and withstand travel. The Urban Ears could fold into a very small circular shape which was really only semi-pocket able. You can't stuff the M5 into a pocket at all, but people have apparently worn them around the neck. I don't know that I'd ever get used to doing that on a continual basis with a headset but they'll travel very well in a pack with other accessories. That flat cup rotation ability turns them into a padding asset rather than a recipe for snag and snap disasters like what I believe to have befallen my poor G330 headset.

It's Wednesday morning. I've been a tad tired this past while. I guess all the weather shifts haven't helped any. Glad I got to enjoy some of Monday outdoors. It was very nice indeed. As the disability conference approaches, more will begin to happen regarding the newsletter. As registration happens, it'll become possible to know who attends which workshop and I can ask people to write a piece about what they experience. I should also receive handouts for all the workshops. The real crunch will come after the conference when the writing arrives and I actually have the building blocks to construct the issue. I look forward to that.

Recently, I've begun investigating a new possibility for Land of Trivian. Rather than a board game, I might change how it's constructed entirely. It would be more like a gamebook with scenes triggered by location and other elements. That would greatly reduce the need for separate discrete locations. Travel choices would be more meaningful and I could still have the building of a legacy before time expires motivation conflict. The overarching crisis or objective still proves illusive. Lately, I've been digging into more of my treasure trove of books on game development, choice psychology and rpg mechanics. I know what I'm looking for is out there and I'm pretty sure I have the resources to eventually point the way forward. One big decision that the new approach would make for me was that the game would definitely be a computer game rather than any sort of tabletop game. I'd be using Inform7 in a way that would be far less of a stretch from the kind of game it was designed to produce. When I started this project, I didn't see myself arriving at such a fork in the road so soon, but here I am.

It's now Thursday afternoon. The groceries have arrived and are stowed nicely away. It was a medium-sized order which I'll probably have to supplement before the end of next month. I'm still trying to achieve a balance which keeps me in fresher fruits and vegetables and also maximizes my savings from coupons. This past while has seen quite a lot of financial tweaking and I won't really have a clear sense of things until the next month or two of bills come in. Overall though, I'm quite confident things will be noticeably better.

There are a few iPHONE discoveries which I should go over: The bible app I've been using was rendered fully accessible by this morning's version 5.01 update. This was a very quick and spectacular turnaround from its previously inaccessible state which the prior version 5.0 update unfortunately caused. I find that I now prefer using the You version bible app on my iPHONE over any version I have on my computer. The developers responded very quickly and comprehensively to the outcry from blind users of the app who had been bitterly disappointed with version 5 changes. I think what we saw here was a clear case of a lack of awareness on the part of the app developers that they had achieved such a strong blind following. I wrote them an apparently helpful email as did many others. Doubtless, they'll keep us in mind when they make further changes. Having such a widely used app made manifestly accessible is a nice victory for accessibility awareness.

Another discovery was with Flip board. I've enjoyed dipping into this app's endless supply of interesting articles. Now, having finally checked out one of their frequent emails touting new magazines and sources of said articles on my iPHONE, I can easily add them to my personal flip board. I was able to search back for prior emails and add a wealth of new content sources of interest which I couldn't figure out how to do before. When you come to the correct link, activating it opens Safari which then presents an option to open the desired magazine in the Flip board app itself. Once there, you just use the "add" button to subscribe to it. Very nice indeed. Especially since I don't plan on buying any new books other than my two Audible credits worth for the next few months.

Speaking of Audible and Kindle, they've both just updated their app's also. In the case of Audible, I'm very happy to be able to download books as single large files rather than have them split into parts. This will be great for books I want to jump around in a lot. People who still want smaller parts can opt for that within the settings of the app. Upgrades to the Kindle app don't seem to change anything from a blind user's perspective. I still need to go through the menu to get to the table of contents. Once there, I still need to feel around the screen until I encounter what I want and then double-tap on it. I would dearly love to be able to flick left and right among the chapters and headings rather than hunt around the screen for them. I haven't found any means of accessing these "info cards" mentioned in the update notes. At least they haven't broken what works. It's been nearly a year since they first made the Kindle app really accessible. While I'd love to see improvement such as my gripe about tables of contents being addressed, I'm still basking in the glow of having so many more books accessible to me. Being able to simply buy a book and not having to spend a fortune or wait years for it to be accessible has been utterly liberating in a way that people with sight would have difficulty truly comprehending.

It's nice to be able to have my balcony door open and not be freezing. We're not quite at the point where I'd set up on the balcony table for the day, but clearly, we're heading in that direction. Meanwhile, I'm drawn to all the noises which have been absent since Autumn; traffic, birds, people down below, and of course, the thud and crash made by the dumpster's being taken and returned empty by the garbage truck. I had forgotten how surprisingly loud that could be. They're pretty quick though so it doesn't disturb the peace for very long.

It's friday afternoon. I've finished rading the Complete Kobold Guide to Game Design. That book is probably one of the most worth-while read in terms of getting me to re-evaluate what I'm trying to achieve with Land of Trivian. It covers so many areas of rpg design well. I'm finding that flu medication is somewhat more helpful than the alergy medication. My dry coughing and stuffy nose have subsided nicely over the past while although my eyes have been a bit dry and itchy. Given past illness, this seems a fairly minor annoyance to contend with. Lulu and Brian are having a surprise episode of the Bear's Lair on a station called The Bell. I'm enjoying the music and hearing the two of them dish out the tunes. Brings back a lot of fond memories.

There's not too much happenning this weekend. I've just registerred for next weekend's saturday disability conference. I used to really resent these uneventful weekends like the one in front of me. They used to signify how thoroughly I had failed to connect meaningfully with anybody physically near enough to make any tangible difference in my life. That resentment of empty time has pretty much gone these days. Empty weekends don't tend to heard the bank balance as much. I treasure my time wheather it's solitary or not. Warmer weather is on its way and I can look forward to more time with friends. Perhaps, on my walks around the lake this year, I'll be lucky enough to make some new friends. There's always hope. That seems so blatantly obvious now that I wonder how I once managed to utterly lose it. Another cheery up-tempo show is following the Bear's Lair. A fine start to a weekend of good listenning and interesting reading. Of course it would be Irish Anne. Haven't heard that voice in quite a while. Splendid.

And so we come to the end of another long-overdue posting. You and picture me sitting contentedly at my desk with the afternoon sounds drifting in through the open balcony door to my left. It's actually rather peaceful out there just now... ignoring the motor cycle which rored past just after I typed that sentence. I look forward to seeing Sara again some time this month. This time, we'll do more socialising with friends. I'll close here by wishing all my readers the best of good fortune until I post again.