Note 29: Getting my life (back) into order

For Real This Time™.

Since our descent into COVID Weirdness a year ago, I’ve fallen into a pretty steady routine where I play like a pinball bouncing between meetings during the week, arrive at the end of Friday pretty much spent, promise myself that This Weekend I’ll take care of all the Other Stuff, and end up failing miserably as I start to scramble on the back half of Sunday to repeat the process all over again.

With the exception of a couple of bank holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas), I’ve completed that cycle roughly fifty-two times since I stepped off the cruise ship that sailed into the Bermuda Triangle and dropped me off in Pandemic World. I can’t complain too much about how Pandemic World has treated me - my livelihood remained intact and it seems like I know fewer people afflicted by COVID than others I talk to. I didn’t lose anyone and I’m going to count that as a Win.

Nonetheless, over fifty-two cycles, while the mental machinery that got me up in the morning and hauled me to work (at home until August, and in the office after that) continued functioning, it was pretty clear that the gears were getting stripped and - especially since the holidays - my own performance was suffering. I was slower getting things out the door, less responsive to my customers, and overall satisfaction was sinking.

It took a conversation with someone else to remind me that as a self-employed entrepreneur, it’s entirely within my own power to grant myself some vacation days, instead of waiting for someone else to give me permission to take some time off. I haven’t been able to travel at all in the last year, which has traditionally served as a sufficient context-switch to reset the brain a bit. So, I spoke to clients and they were on-board with me taking a week, which ended up being this week.

While I’ve kept an eye on my e-mail and responded to a handful of requests, for the most part, I’ve given myself permission to step away from all of that and do some other things in the name of mental health. What follows is an incomplete log of things I’ve been up to with my free time this week.

Star Trek: Discovery binge

A TiVo snafu related to scheduling sitcom recordings during Biden’s national address last week led me to signing up for Paramount+, the CBS/Viacom entry into the Streaming Service Melee. While we were unable to view the missed recordings (they’ll be available tomorrow), I did use this as an excuse to binge the first season of one of the latest entries into the Star Trek TV universe.

While I had been spoiled a few years ago on the major spoilers for the first season, I was still quite surprised at the sheer insanity packed into this show. There’s one scene early on where a Klingon mentions that they ate the dead bodies of Federation casualties during the initial big battle, and I went full DAYUM! From there, the madness snowballed into space tardigrades (I want a “Navigator Bear Don’t Care” tee), mirror universes, and a Klingon reenactment of Tom Hanks’ BIG.

In addition to the brass balls (and feminine equivalents) on the writing staff, the series was beautiful to watch in 4K, and the only reason that I haven’t started the next season (Baby Spock!) is that I have a few other things to do before getting sucked in further.

Gardening season is upon us

Over the weekend, I finally started planting some grass and doing some work to prepare the place for spring and summer. Like a runner waiting for the starting pistol to go off, I’ve been stockpiling supplies for when it became warm enough to get started. I seeded the part of the parkway, and cleaned up our courtyard.

While I’m not making as much progress on this as I would like, it’s for a very good reason - two days after seeding, Chicago got a decent late-season dump of snow. I’m hoping that this weekend will warm up enough for me to continue.

Jumping back into the cockpit in Elite: Dangerous

I’ve been neglecting my presence in the year 3307 over the past couple of months and I pulled out my VR rig to jump into my spaceships and play some Elite. The focus of my playtime has been unlocking permits in the Bubble so that I can visit systems like Sol that have been restricted to me. I’ve been pretty successful with this and am currently working on unlocking Achenar, which will allow me to visit the capitals of all three major human powers.

It’s been a lot of fun. In addition to my staple couriering missions, I’ve also been cruising the Bubble in an engineered Vulture, the small ship that punches well above its weight class in combat. Lazer Chicken is going PEW PEW once more and living up to its namesake.

Myst in VR

While I’ve been gaming for decades, I missed out on the Myst phenomenon back in the ‘90s. When the game became available for the Oculus Quest, I purchased a copy right away, and proceeded to not play it until now, several months later.

I went into the game as unspoiled as I could, and I started playing it on its own terms. Unfortunately, while the game itself is an artistic masterpiece, its design really highlights some of the fundamental issues that still plague virtual reality.

The major issue I’ve run into is that unless you have eidetic memory, there’s a whole lot that you’ll want to be writing down for later. Since Myst doesn’t provide an in-game sketch pad or notebook, I spent a ton of time with a physical pad on my thigh, peeking through the bottom of the Oculus Quest to either write things down or see what I had written while playing the game. While the Myst creators could have included this in-game, this seems like a function that should be part of the base system. I run into this issue playing Elite frequently as well, especially when it comes time to lookup systems in the game’s built-in atlas.

The second issue that Myst suffers from that is entirely their fault is not doing a good job supporting sitting users. Lots of other Quest games allow you to specify your height, and for this to be missing in Myst is a pretty big oversight. Too many times, I was cursing the game because something was either out of reach or I had to squirm around my furniture to reach something basic.

I’ll be finishing the game - if only to fill in this gap in my cultural map - but this could have been a much better experience, if only had the creators followed the lead of folks like the developers of The Room or Red Matter.

Arguing against the culture war online

I follow a number of political sites online and this week, I’ve spent too much time arguing with conservatives that their culture wars are stupid and a waste of time. (I’m not alone in this sentiment.)

To boil this down to its essence, while the Biden administration continues to score some pretty major policy wins, conservatives online (and in Congress) seem intent on spending their energies adopting a martyr complex on every little thing that happens that they disagree with on the cultural front, while neglecting the policy side of things: Dr. Seuss, (Mr.) Potatohead, WAP at the Grammys, military uniforms that fit women, et cetera. Rather than to confront Biden on the progressive juggernaut that he’s rolling through Washington, folks that should be offering objections and critiques are allowing TV dinner scion Tucker Carlson to lead them around by the nose in whatever today’s manufactured contretemps is.

Folks who should know better are falling in-line, and I’ve spent a good part of the week arguing that they’re being pretty stupid and have taken their eyes off the ball. No, progressives haven’t cancelled The Cat in the Hat. No, the military accommodating female soldiers isn’t succumbing to the Woke Mobs. No, Coca Cola doesn’t hate white people because an HR drone wasted money on a Robin DiAngelo seminar.

My well of patience for arguing otherwise is almost dry, and I’m on the verge of actually cancelling a couple of folks that I’ve been reading for years from my newsfeed. Our system of government doesn’t work without a decent opposition, and folks on the Right seem determined to double-down on the Trumpist victim politics, instead of doing anything productive, while the Biden team keeps their heads down and continue to push through their agenda, making the Right’s claim to victim-hood and martyrdom a self-fulfilling prophecy. At the very least, you’d think that some conservatives would be interested in actually producing a compelling culture that better reflects their own values than complaining about what they don’t like in the mainstream. (I miss conservatives who used to value and practice competition.)

I guess that’s good news for Team Biden. The more the Right mirrors the far-Left in its adoption of grievance as its key motivating force, the wider the lanes become for progressives and centrists who know how to get things done.

Book reports

Call for the Dead by John le Carré (★★★☆☆): As someone who cut his teeth on the spy novel genre on Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne books, le Carré has been on my radar for decades, but it’s only now that I’m dipping into his works. This first novel of the George Smiley sequence introduces le Carré’s famous spy in a murder mystery set in the early 1960s as East Germany begins flexing its intelligence muscles overseas. The story itself was a fairly middling whodunit, but it does a great job setting the table for what I hope are more cloak-and-dagger entries into the George Smiley canon.

X-Wing Rogue Squadron, Vol. 1 by Michael A. Stackpole (★★★☆☆): After last week’s deep dive into the lives of Star Wars pilots, I went back and started reading some of the comics published during the Dark Horse Comics era of the mid-’90s to see how they compared to the stories I reviewed last week. Unfortunately, the older stuff doesn’t hold up all that well, and unlike the George Smiley tales, I’m hopping off the train with this first volume.

This would have been a two-star review, except for some interesting choices in the art direction that hearken back to Boba Fett’s first appearance in the Star Wars: Holiday Special that is extremely ‘70s kitsch. I don’t know if that was intentional - and wouldn’t have been my choice - but it made looking at a lackluster story a bit more interesting than it should be.

In terms of the overall goal, I remain two books ahead of schedule (22 of 100).

Interesting reads and watches

What Does Any of This Have To Do with Physics? (Nautilus)

Rocket Lab will directly challenge SpaceX with its proposed Neutron launcher (Ars Technica)

Sweden Solar System

Alright CMDRs, in a show of solidarity with the recent attacks on the Lavian system, I’m hopping into my Vulture to defend the galaxy’s sole source of Lavian brandy.