The Standing Desk – Week One

Stand in the place where you work. Now face West.

Stand in the place where you work. Now face West.

I have survived a week of standing on my feet all day.

I think the most surprising part is that none of my coworkers seem to think that it’s weird. It just is accepted, “Jason is standing now.”

I know the question you all have… how does it feel?

To be honest, it feels… fine. I’m not experiencing some dramatic boost in energy and weight loss – it has only been a week after all – but I am also not in terrible pain. I’m learning. If I wear my hiking boots, my back is cool but my legs get a little sore. If I wear my running shoes, my legs are fine but I get a little pain in my lower back. Of course, sitting all day resulted in different pains. My posture isn’t horrible, but it could be better. I’m trying to make sure I stand with a neutral spine as much as possible, and it helps.

I also still make sure to take little breaks. Not to sit down, but to do some squats or walk around or just bend over and touch my toes a few times.

I need a standing pad. Two reasons. One, to provide a little more cushion. The carpet in the office has cushion, but I suspect after a few years of me riding a chair over it the padding isn’t as good as it used to be. Two, despite all my attempts to ensure proper measurement of the height of the keyboard shelf, I came up a little high… well, it’s about perfect in my hiking boots, but in my other shoes with thinner soles the shelf could be lower.

All in all, the new world order of standing at work has been successful. I’ll report in again when I hit the one month mark.

And because of the stupid caption on the photo, I now have a song stuck in my head. Enjoy!

Bastion

BastionI picked up Bastion as part of the Humble Indie Bundle V in early April 2012. It’s a two-dimensional isometric action RPG. You play “the Kid”. A catastrophic event, referred to as The Calamity, has broken the city of Caelondia. As a survivor, you head to the Bastion, where everyone is supposed to go in times of trouble. Once there you find Rucks, apparently the only other survivor, and you being the adventurous sort he sends you off on the Skyway to other remnants of the city and surrounding lands to find the cores with can be used to power the Bastion and rebuild.

The first thing you encounter in this game is the narrator, which you learn quite quickly is Rucks. But what makes the narrator awesome is that unlike other games where narration fires off based on events or locations – i.e. you cross a certain doorway and a block of narration kicks in telling you about the place you’ve just entered – it is also based on your actions. When you first get into the game, your character is in bed. If you do nothing, nothing happens, but the moment you move the controls and the Kid gets up, the narrator fires off something like “the Kid gets out of bed”. Later, when I was in a room full of boxes, taking my time to destroy them all and collect the items the game uses for money, the narrator said, “the Kid rages around, destroying everything in his path” or something close to it. If you double back on your path too many times it might say, “the Kid wasn’t sure where he was going, but he was getting there fast”. If you run past enemies rather than fighting them you might get a “the Kid was moving fast, no looking back”. It adds an element to the game that other narrations don’t simply because the narration is based on my actions (or lack thereof) and not just my location.

Being an RPG means that you have to level and upgrade your character. You get to improve your weapons, adding extra abilities and special properties, as well as equip the Kid with things that improve him directly. And it wouldn’t be an RPG without choices, so you only get to have two weapons and one special attack at a time, which you can swap out at an armory. To augment this, in addition to the normal game levels, there are a series of Proving Grounds designed for each weapon where you can practice using them as well as earn more bonuses by beating the third, second and first place goals. I really like this mechanic that lets me step out of the story and go play a little, improving both my skill at the game as well as earning new upgrades to my weapons.

The art style of the game is beautiful. Sometimes I just want to stare at the screen. Most of the game play shots below were actually taken during my second play through, in the New Game Plus mode where you get to keep your levels and everything from the regular game, because I was too busy enjoying the game, the play and the graphics, to remember to hit the F12 key.

I made it through the first run through in a little over 11 hours, which feels about right for the story. It never got boring, the pace never dragged, and I never needed to needlessly grind out cash. That last point is important. Being an RPG, you have to buy stuff – weapon upgrades and skills and such – and while you don’t earn enough money to buy everything, you also don’t need everything to finish the game.

As I said above, once you finish the first play through you get the option to do it again while keeping your previous levels, meaning you’ll be able to finish buying everything and get to level 10 – I only got to 6 the first time around. I look forward to continuing playing the game, getting all the items and seeking to get the Steam achievements.

Another great element of the game is the music. Instrumentals, songs with voices & lyrics. When I got the game I also got the soundtrack, which can be purchased through Steam, and it’s good enough that I’m certain I will listen to it even outside of game.

All in all, from top to bottom, I really enjoyed Bastion and would recommend it to others. What a great little game. Now, before I go, enjoy these screenshots. Be warned, a few of the artistic cut scene shots might be considered spoilers.

The Book Stops Here

It's a book. It's all the books.Not really, but I couldn’t pass up that title.

In the age of the e-book, I still buy physical books. Firstly, these books often come from favorite authors whom I might one day meet and wish for them to autograph it and from books, though I have been considering reviving the old autograph book to collect signatures.

The Wall Street Journal just published an essay. Go read it, I’ll wait. Done? Okay. I want to call attention to one line in particular:

In fact, according to Pew, nearly 90% of e-book readers continue to read physical volumes.

The second reason I still buy physical books is that some books aren’t available as e-books. I went to buy a bunch of books for my wife for Christmas (it’s how I spent the money my father gave me, because reading lots of books was something the two of them shared) and half of them weren’t available as e-books. There is a good chance that many people who would like to go 100% e-book simply can’t. If they won’t sell them, we can’t buy them.

The third reason I still buy physical books is that some publishers seem to think that an e-book should sell for nearly the same price as a hard cover. Seriously, go browse Amazon for a while and you’ll find plenty of examples where a physical hard cover can be bought for $12 or $15, and the e-book will be $15 to $20. This is primarily due to that agency model kerfuffle a while back where Amazon wanted to sell e-books the same way they do physical books, i.e. they wanted to pay the publisher the price the publisher was asking and then sell the book for any price they wanted. The publishers were afraid that e-books would destroy their physical book market, so they aligned against Amazon and force upon them the model of “We set the price, not you.” But only for e-books, Amazon still discounts the physical books.

See, Amazon, like any other retailer, pays (guessing) $12.50 per copy of a new book. The suggested retail price is $25. This is so the retailer can make a profit AND still run sales on it. “20% OFF!” brings it down to $20, still a nice margin from what they paid. Amazon, on the other hand, not needing to pay as much – no stores, fewer employees by volume, etc – can sell the same book for $14 and make up for the narrow margin by selling more copies. They were doing the same thing with e-books. Now they aren’t (can’t), though there are cases in court that might change this.

The fourth reason I still buy physical books… the technology just isn’t quite there for some books. It’s getting close, but frankly for long prose I’m always going to prefer an eInk screen like the older Kindle because I stare at a computer screen for 8 hours a day, when I get home I don’t want to stare at a computer screen for more as I read. But, tablets are becoming more advanced and the publishers and reader tech is catching up so that graphics heavy texts like manuals and comic books are beginning to work better. I can see myself in the future getting a large 10″ screened tablet to use for browsing and other tasks as well as reading graphics heavy books… I’ll still have the eInk reader for the novels.

The fifth and final reason that I still buy physical books: bookshelves. Someday, I will renovate my home and in that renovation I will have a library. Floor to ceiling books, preferably two floors, with a spiral staircase, and a fireplace with big comfy chairs where I will be surrounded by books… reading on my eReader.

The Standing Desk – Day One

A couple of weeks ago, I purchased the items I needed from IKEA to construct my standing desk. I had already gotten permission to make the desk, and then it took a while for me to remember to go to the store and buy the bolts I needed to finish it. But it is done.

Yo dawg! I heard you like desks, so I put a desk on your desk!

Yo dawg! I heard you like desks, so I put a desk on your desk!

After getting it set up, I set about my day – standing instead of sitting. I had done my reading and knew to expect some foot and/or leg pain since I’m not used to standing for so long. I did sit for lunch, and toward the end of the day I found myself leaning on the other part of my L-shaped desk.

On the whole though, smashing success. I hurt a little, and I’m a little more tired, but in general I actually feel better. We’ll see how I feel in a week…

Simply having a wonderful Christmastime

Today is the twelfth day of Christmas. That means tomorrow we start undecorating.

Yes, those gargoyles are wearing Santa hats.

Yes, those gargoyles are wearing Santa hats.

Despite the sadness and tears, this was a good holiday.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kX6rf9uw7w?rel=0]

Happy Holidays!

To play, perchance to game!

Perchance To GameThe voting went well. I’m playing Bastion now, and if you are friends with me on Steam you’ve probably seen and will continue to see me sharing screenshots. I’ve also begun writing about the game, making sure I jot down my feelings as I go rather than try to do it all at the end. Most importantly, though, I’m playing.

I hadn’t realized how much I missed gaming. Going through these Humble Bundle games is going to be great fun. But in additional to that, I’ve still got a bunch of Xbox games and other non-Bundle games to play. I need to start kicking more TV shows to the curb and playing more games!

Anyway, this post also serves to just say that voting is still open, so you can still help me set my next game, and the game after that, and the game after that, and so on… And there will be more polls in the future, because I would be insane to have installed an plug-in for WordPress to just use once.

There are no secrets on the Internet

The SecretI wish this were obvious to more people. Even when a website claims to provide you privacy, it doesn’t. Simply the nature that the data – the text, the photos, etc – are stored somewhere else means that they can be gotten to. There is a nice article on this subject over at TechCrunch.

Long ago, back in 1998, I decided to start a blog. Back then it was called a .plan, but still, same thing. Before posting my first post I had a long conversation with myself. The moment I put something online, it could be copied and stored by others. It would be like have a conversation with a friend, knowing that the conversation was being recorded. The recording would exist and I would never know for certain who listened to it unless I had the only copy and destroyed it. Even then… Ultimately, I decided that I would post online, and nearly fifteen years later here we are.

That said, there are things I don’t explicitly talk about. I try as often as possible only to post about myself and my own feelings. I try to avoid stories that involve other people unless I can find a way to tackle it from my perspective with minimal impact on them. I have a wife, whose name is probably not hard to discover if you wanted to dig, but I don’t mention her by name in my writing, mostly because if I did I would feel the need to have her clear what I wrote before posting whereas if I just call her “the wife” or “my wife”, I feel okay just running with it. The same goes for much of my family and friends, mentioned in generalities but never specifics, unless they want to or unless they are no longer with us.

I’m very careful about posting photos… of other people. Dig here and you’ll find a shirtless photo of me. I’d advise against it. The only reason I posted it was an attempt to motivate myself to exercise (it didn’t work). I’d never post something like that of someone else without their permission, and explaining to them how the Internet works.

See, I’ve got nearly fifteen years of content on this site. I could go back and delete some of the older embarrassing stuff, but it wouldn’t go away. Google has a copy, as does the Internet Archive, and perhaps a stalker or two. Once released into the wild, it’s out of my control.

Even inside a walled garden, like Facebook. If you post a photo, even if you make it private and set the visibility to “Only Me”, that photo still exists on a server in the Facebook farm of servers. It can get hacked. Some people, specifically celebrities, have discovered things like if you put private photos on a service like flikr or elsewhere, people can hack those sites, get your photos and publish them on placed like the Encyclopedia Dramatica, at which point they are public and will exist in Google searches forever being reposted time and time again by people seeking hit/pageview/impressions driven revenue.

Your Facebook, your Flikr, your Twitter, your LiveJournal, etc, etc… no matter how “secure” you think they are, they aren’t. You should assume every time you post anything to the Internet that it is public and permanent – everyone will see it and it will never go away.

Anyway, enough seriousness. Let’s end this with a song…

I resolve.

ResolveThe title is to be read with the punctuation.

I wasn’t going to write a kick-off Happy New Year post, but then I thought about the fact that I’ve done one every year since 2002, so I couldn’t just let it go. I was looking back at last year’s post. I don’t think I was terribly far off for predictions of how the political arena would turn out. While I am thrilled at some of the people who got turned out on the street, I also think the people replacing them are still politicians and have no interest in actually making things better for everyone.

I was also completely wrong. There was an Apocalypse in 2012, but it was a personal one, and it happened just after Thanksgiving with my father’s passing. I never imagined I would be 38 and parentless.

That combined with a number of other things is why my resolutions will be so simple this year. There are two.

First, I resolve to write every day. It is so generic and simple. I am giving myself every possible chance to succeed.

Second, I resolve. Like the title of this post, that is meant to be read with the punctuation, “I resolve, period”. I’m going to work on planning things less and doing things more. The problem with planning is that you can feel accomplishment when you plan. You finish the plan, it feels good and then… you never get started. So, less planning, more starting.

And that starts today… see you later… I’ve got stuff to write.

Choose My Adventure

Supercomputer-CYOAI am addicted to the Humble Bundles. I have bought them all and played none of them. I always intend to play them, but now I am faced with a giant list of games and no way to decide for myself which one to start with. So, dear readers, I turn to you.

Please take a moment, check out this list and vote for as many as 5 games. The game with the most votes will be the one that I play first, then the one with the next most, and so on, until I run out of games or feel the need to post another poll. As incentive, I promise to review each game that I play, thus giving you more things to read at this blog.

Which game should I play next?

  • Torchlight (13%, 6 Votes)
  • Psychonauts (9%, 4 Votes)
  • Braid (7%, 3 Votes)
  • Dungeons of Dredmor (7%, 3 Votes)
  • Amnesia: The Dark Descent (7%, 3 Votes)
  • Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP (4%, 2 Votes)
  • Super Meat Boy (4%, 2 Votes)
  • VVVVVV (4%, 2 Votes)
  • TRAUMA (4%, 2 Votes)
  • Legend of Grimrock (4%, 2 Votes)
  • Gratuitous Space Battles (4%, 2 Votes)
  • Space Pirates and Zombies (4%, 2 Votes)
  • Cortex Command (4%, 2 Votes)
  • Darwinia (4%, 2 Votes)
  • SpaceChem (2%, 1 Votes)
  • Osmos (2%, 1 Votes)
  • Jamestown (2%, 1 Votes)
  • Trine (2%, 1 Votes)
  • LIMBO (2%, 1 Votes)
  • Frozen Synapse (2%, 1 Votes)
  • Cave Story+ (2%, 1 Votes)
  • Dungeon Defenders (2%, 1 Votes)
  • BIT.TRIP RUNNER (2%, 1 Votes)
  • Snapshot (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Shatter (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Steel Storm: Burning Retribution (0%, 0 Votes)
  • The Basement Collection (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Atom Zombie Smasher (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Aquaria (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Machinarium (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Uplink (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Vessel (0%, 0 Votes)
  • And Yet It Moves (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Wizorb (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Shank (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Shadowgrounds (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Samorost 2 (0%, 0 Votes)
  • DEFCON (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Crayon Physics Deluxe (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Dustforce (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Gish (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Hammerfight (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Cogs (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Lone Survivor (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Lugaru HD (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Closure (0%, 0 Votes)
  • NightSky (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Offspring Fling (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Penumbra: Overture (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Revenge of the Titans (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Rochard (0%, 0 Votes)
  • World of Goo (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 19

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I’ll be playing these games on Steam, so if you are also on Steam, feel free to add me as a friend. I go by Jhaer over there.

Thank you for your time.

The Pinewood Derby

Pinewood DerbyAs a Cub Scout, every year I looked forward to the Pinewood Derby. If you have no idea what that is, allow me to educate you. You get a box, which contains a block of wood, four plastic wheels and four nails. The wood has two slots cut into one side, in which you would use the nails to attach the wheels. Before you put the wheels on, however, you cut and paint the block of wood into a car.

The main reason why I looked forward to the derby was because I got to use my dad’s tools to make the car. Cutting and sanding, forming the shape I wanted. My father would supervise and maybe nudge me along if I was doing something completely and totally wrong, but for the most part, I made my own car. It was one of the many things my father encouraged that lead to me being unafraid of working with my hands. The post last week about my car was one thing, but around the house I’ve fixed a broken fridge, installed ceiling fans and lights, run wires for new outlets, built furniture, and more.

The second thing I looked forward to was actually racing the car. It a simple race, the cars lined up at the start down a steep drop and a long straightaway to the finish. I never won. Not once. But, my car always finished, which is better than some. The kids who always won, you could just look at the cars and know that most of them probably watched while their fathers made the car. They were too sleek and properly weighted, too aerodynamic. And this was before the Internet made it easy to go look up a design to copy. I mean, what 8-year-old kid would think to counter sink weights into the front of the car at just the right places to properly pull the car down the drop start of the track but not so heavy or poorly placed to slow it down on the straightaway. Most of the winners looked like professionally designed and painted cars.

On the other hand, the losers, like me, had cars with superhero logos and often bizarre shapes, you know, a kid’s idea of aerodynamic born of cartoons and science fiction. I never got a trophy, except when they started giving out those silly participation ribbons – yes, we had those even back in the 80’s, it’s not a new phenomena – but I was always proud of my car.

Looking back, I’m happy that my dad let me make my own mistakes and didn’t protect me from failure. I think most people are defined not by their wins but by how they recover from their losses. I’ve had my share of blows in life, been knocked down a time or two or twenty, but here I am, still standing.

I think I’m going to buy a Pinewood Derby kit and make myself just one more car…