Category Archives: life

On scattered moments and video games

In anticipation of more fuzzy-brain time-confetti, I’ve been thinking about what I can do with short, scattered moments. The considerations are:

  • They should be activities that I can pick up and put down at a moment’s notice: minimal switching costs and easy availability
  • They should be useful or enjoyable, and ideally both
  • Ideally, they should build up over time

Here’s a list of things I often find myself doing:

  • Reading: nonfiction, fiction, random Internet browsing. Dusted off my Kindle and loaded it up with a few tech manuals and some fanfiction. Great for walking around, since I can use the page buttons even with gloves on.
  • Tidying up or preparing: there’s always something that needs to be done
  • Checking out the Emacs community to see if I can answer a quick question or learn from other people’s conversations
  • Drawing an index card or two
  • Playing casual games

I think games are worth thinking about a little more, even though I’m tempted to focus on the more useful activities. There are a lot of people who spend a lot of time thinking about how to make gaming more engaging. It’s a big industry. I wonder if I can turn it to my own purposes.

2016-02-01c Game endings -- index card #gaming

2016-02-01c Game endings – index card #gaming.png

I tend to like games with stories that have funny moments, like RPGs or LEGO games. Since games like that tend to require space and development effort, I play them on the PSP or the PS3. I’ve learned I’m not a completionist when it comes to achievements or levels – I like passing a level, but I’m not driven to reach three out of three stars. I can enjoy open-ended sandbox simulations. Games that go until failure tend to be a little depressing after a while – the abstract achievement of lasting a certain time or reaching a certain level doesn’t tickle my brain the same way other things do.

2016-01-14d Thinking about games I liked -- index card #play #gaming #leisure

2016-01-14d Thinking about games I liked – index card #play #gaming #leisure.png

Reflecting on the specific games I’ve liked, I notice that I usually explore games that W-‘s also playing as a way of spending time together or sharing experiences. This is how I ended up getting into Borderlands 2 and Persona 4 Golden, and why I’m playing Final Fantasy IX now. On my own, I find that I’m a little partial to time- and resource-management games. I figure that among the popular games of those genres, a game is probably as good as any other. So I’m playing through Rising Star Chef on the tablet, and just for kicks (and Takei’s narration, although there’s far too little of that), Star Trek: Trexels on my phone.

It seems like most of the popular games have switched to a freemium model, with in-app purchases for the impatient. I find myself liking the built-in timers and rate limits, actually. They’re good for reminding me to surface from the game and look around. There’s a little bit of pride, too, in the thought: “Aha, I resist your feeble attempts to convince me to spend money.” But that’s only part of the picture, of course. I pay in time and attention, and often in exposure to advertisements. So if I’m going to do this, I want to make sure that I get what I want out of it.

Here are the pay-offs I think I’m getting from these games, and some alternatives if I want to play with those pay-offs.

2016-01-28c Playing with games -- index card #games

2016-01-28c Playing with games – index card #games.png

Games give me a sense of learning and a sense of progress, although they’re of arbitrary things. Games also deliberately build on the rush of intermittent rewards.

2016-02-01b Playing with my brain's failure modes -- index card #gaming

2016-02-01b Playing with my brain’s failure modes – index card #gaming.png

The most interesting benefit for me, though, is developing an awareness of how I think in different situations, while keeping things low-risk. Sometimes I catch myself getting flustered and messing up orders in the cooking game, or letting a party member get knocked out in FF9 because I was too distracted to pay attention to the health stats. (Trexels seems more like a virtual pet than anything else; it feels like it’s just a matter of time.) I like the way games make me think a few steps ahead, take risks, recover from mistakes, and deal with (or even celebrate) the inevitable failures.

So maybe a little more gaming, with built-in limits thanks to freemium timers and the pull of other things, mixed in with all these other ways to use scattered moments. Hmm…

Eating more vegetables

It looks like all I really needed in order to nudge myself to eat more vegetables was to keep a large variety of salad-able vegetables in the fridge. It’s still pretty cold out, so I prefer to eat warm foods. Roast vegetables, then.

2016-02-07c Eating more vegetables -- index card #cooking #vegetables

2016-02-07c Eating more vegetables – index card #cooking #vegetables

I spent part of my afternoon processing a stream of various vegetables cut into half-inch-ish dice, tossed in olive oil, and roasted at 400’F for however long it took to make them tender, generally shaking them and checking them every ten minutes or so. It’s a good pipeline: one bowl for scraps, one bowl for tossing in olive oil, one large chopping board and a chef’s knife, a roasting pan lined with foil, and each batch of vegetables is generally chopped up by the time the previous batch is done roasting, with liberal breaks for hanging out in #emacs, browsing the Web, or playing games.

Today’s haul: parsnips, carrots, fennel, broccoli, and beets, joining the sweet potatoes and butternut squash in the fridge. I also have chickpeas (both boiled and roasted) and couscous. Mwahaha. My very own salad bar. Meals feel like more of an indulgent production when I haul out almost a dozen containers so that I can take a couple of spoons from each. It’s like when I spend a weekend making a banchan extravaganza, lining up a slew of Korean side dishes, but with less work since the vegetables pretty much use the same cooking methods and I don’t have to juggle different pans, oils, and spices.

Might be a good opportunity to revisit this sketch from last year:

2015-01-28 Winter vegetables to explore -- index card #cooking

2015-01-28 Winter vegetables to explore – index card #cooking

Still haven’t played around with endives, kohlrabi, broccoli raabe, chicory, escarole, rutabagas, or turnips. There’s still time, though!

I imagine that stocking this kind of salad bar would be much the same in warmer weather, except maybe with less cooking and more greens/fruits. Should be fun.

Level up: figured out how to add a zipper pull on continuous zipper tape

The fabric warehouse near our house has an assortment of zippers, but it can be tricky digging through the bins to find a zipper of the appropriate type, length, and colour. They also sell zippers by the yard, and will thread on as many pulls as you ask for.

I picked up a few yards of zipper tape months ago as an experiment. I’ve used the zippers on a number of small pouches already. It’s so convenient being able to just cut the length of the zipper I need instead of sifting through a stash of pre-cut zippers.

Today I was sewing a large pouch that needed a 21″ zipper along one end. One side of the zipper had escaped the zipper pull on the segment I was working with, so I opened the zipper and removed the last two zipper pulls that were on it. Then I realized I had no idea how to get the zipper pulls back on.

Youtube to the rescue! I followed this tutorial:

After a little bit of wiggling, I got the zipper pull onto the coils. The new zipper pull zipped the zipper closed behind it. Hooray!

Bonus: Because I had left the bottom part of the zipper closed, by the time I had moved the zipper pull to the middle of the segment I had stitched into the pouch, the zipper pull was basically in between two closed parts of the zipper. This made stitching over both sides of the zipper much neater than it would have been if one of the sides were open, like the way pre-cut zippers are.

2016-02-05a Zipper pulls and zipper tape -- index card #sewing

2016-02-05a Zipper pulls and zipper tape — index card #sewing

I love how easy it is to find all sorts of practical tutorials on the Internet. It’s a small thing, but it’s nice to know that I can deal with zipper pulls and zipper tape. It means that I can buy zipper tape by the yard and never have to worry about having the wrong length, and that I can make large containers without being constrained by the pre-cut lengths available in the fabric stores. Yay making things!

On routines and depth

A few threads of thought coming together:

  • coming across the Atlantic article Why I Am Not a Maker again, and reflecting on the differences between creating a product and providing a service (particularly a service with results that are hard to measure, or that are repeated)
  • noticing the gradual shift in my 5-year experiment towards becoming more comfortable with routines and not just getting tangible stuff done
  • preparing my mindset for the next phase of the experiment

2016-01-27b Products, services, and routines -- index card #making #services #products

2016-01-27b Products, services, and routines – index card #making #services #products.png

2016-01-25f Do I devalue the other things I'm learning about -- index card #life #learning

2016-01-25f Do I devalue the other things I’m learning about – index card #life #learning.png

I wonder: do I unfairly devalue the other things I do, the other opportunities I learn, because they don’t resemble the things that I’m used to thinking of as opportunities for growth and learning?

2016-01-29b Routines and depth -- index card #learning #perspective #routines

2016-01-29b Routines and depth – index card #learning #perspective #routines

Routines such as vacuuming the house or cleaning the kitchen don’t yet tickle my brain the way coding or sewing do. There’s a sense of satisfaction in clearing the sink, sure, but it’s not something that feels like progress during my weekly reviews, and it doesn’t feel like growth in terms of capabilities.

But maybe that’s a perspective thing, and perspectives can be tweaked.

For example, let’s take vacuuming. It takes me about 30-40 minutes to do a quick vacuum of the house. It doesn’t seem like there’s much more to it. You don’t really have 10x vacuuming the way people talk about 10x programming. On the other hand, vacuuming can be an opportunity to practise concentrating on thoughts and questions despite background noise. It could also be an opportunity to look closely at my surroundings and come up with ideas for decluttering stuff or streamlining routines. I could generate questions for further research. If I do a bit of reading before hand, I could mull over those thoughts while vacuuming.

What about cleaning the kitchen? That’s fairly static. I do it in one place, instead of going through the rest of the house. Most items can go into the dishwasher, but there are a number of things that need to be washed by hand. I could use that time to pay close attention to sensation and anatomy, learning more about the muscles and bones in my hands. I can also learn more about and reflect on the manufacturing technologies and supply chains that made this kitchen possible. Then there’s thinking about the meal we’ve just enjoyed, practising the sense-memory of the tastes and thinking about what to tweak next.

I wonder what else I can do to stack the deck so that these maintenance tasks feel as valuable to me as my more discretionary tasks. I think there might be surprising depth in these activities, like the way monks turn sweeping or walking into moving meditations. It’ll get even awesomer as I get better at seeing the possibilities.

(In case you’re wondering, W- does household chores too. He often brings home groceries, cooks, cleans the kitchen, folds laundry, and works on projects. He handles all the heavy stuff, too. I feel good about our current household workload. Besides, chores took up less than 8% of my total time over the past year, anyway – less than two hours a day, compared to >= 23% discretionary time. =) Plenty of time for other things!)

Helping with physics

J-‘s grade 12 physics exam is tomorrow. She’s been working through the exam review sheets that her teacher gave the class: forces, friction, gravity, relativity. The review sheets give the expected answers, so she can check her work. She asks for help when she can’t figure out how to solve the problems, or when her solution doesn’t match up with the provided answer.

I’m usually the one to help with homework, since I can speed-read tutorials to refresh my memory or dig into a new topic. Sometimes it’s just a matter of nudging her towards one equation or another, or pointing out where she forgot to square a number or change a sign.

Sometimes we’re both stumped, when my calculations show her math looks reasonable and I don’t see why the answer should be different. This has happened a number of times in Physics. We’ve asked her to talk to her teacher and ask him to help her step-by-step, but she hasn’t gone yet. Maybe she feels a little intimidated, or maybe lunch break is too crowded, or maybe he’s hard to track down?

Fortunately, her physics teacher seems to be in the habit of reusing material posted online. When I search for the text of the question, I can sometimes find other people who have asked for help with the same problem, or a review sheet from a different school.

For example, we were getting stuck on a problem that started with “A fuzzy Velcro ball of mass 200 g strikes and sticks to a Velcro block (100 g)…” We solved it in a way that made sense to us, but our answer didn’t agree with the one provided by her physics teacher. The only search result on Google was this sheet of practice questions. It didn’t contain any solutions, though, so I nearly gave up there.

After making some headway on other problems, though, I thought I’d come back to that one and see if we could turn up additional resources. You can sometimes get to interesting places when you start playing around with URLs. The file’s top-level domain https://rosedalephysics.wikispaces.com/ is a public wiki for Rosedale Heights School of the Arts. The exam review on the sidebar didn’t match the exam practice document we were looking at, but a search through the Pages and Files section for June 2014 (which I picked up from the practice questions filename) turned up worked-out solutions. It confirmed that our answers and our methods were correct, and that the answer provided by J-‘s teacher was wrong. Maybe it was a typo, maybe he made a mistake, whatever. I can sympathize; I’ve made my share of mistakes as a teacher! Anyway, I’m glad J- asked for help and that we could clear up that mystery.

2016-01-25d Helping with physics exam review -- index card #studying #tutoring #family #school

We should probably bring it to the attention of J-‘s teacher at some point. Incorrect review answers can lead to lots of frustration, second-guessing, and a lack of confidence. Maybe W- can mention it at the next parent-teacher interview, or J- can talk to her teacher after the exam. Anyway, I guess it’s a good lesson in dealing with fallability, being resourceful, double-checking, and sometimes just trusting yourself anyway.

Thinking about grocery stores and recipe variety

The Asian grocery store near us has closed, so we’ll need to find a different source for things that our neighbourhood No Frills supermarket doesn’t carry: pork bellies for lechon liempo, bitter melons and salted black beans for stir-fries, tapioca pearls for bubble tea.

It’s mostly W-‘s thing, actually. I tend to make meals based on whatever I can easily get from No Frills instead of craving particular tastes enough to pick up special ingredients. I think it’s because I’m already satisfied with the variety we have. It’s a little easier that way, too, since I tend to pick up groceries on foot. If I want to make something that requires a trip to a different grocery store, that usually involves a sunk cost of $2.90 or $5.80, or some coordination with W-. I could probably benefit from doing a more detailed price comparison, possibly shifting some of our regular purchases instead of going to Chinatown or PAT Mart only for the kinds of things that No Frills doesn’t stock. I tend to make frequent, small trips to the grocery store as part of getting some exercise and in order to minimize wasted food. Even if soy milk and some vegetables are cheaper in Chinatown, in a small batch, the difference probably doesn’t warrant the transit fare, time, and the effort of lugging those groceries home. Maybe if I feel like long walks in better weather, or if I get one of those grocery carts again… Well, the additional cost of transit isn’t that much, but I guess I tend not to see much marginal value considering the extra time and effort.

Still, the lovely, crispy roast pork belly that W- makes (along the lines of this salt crust roast pork belly, I think) is a nice treat. He’s discerning about the particular cut of meat (even thickness = easier to roast), so he prefers to pick it out personally. We eat it in small quantities since it’s so rich. It’s a good excuse to have lots of vegetables on the side, too. It loses a bit of the crunchiness after microwaving, but it’s good to keep in the freezer or fridge.

There are lots of posts on Chowhound and other forums about where to get a slab of pork belly and comparisons among different sources and types. Hooray for the Internet! W- called around a bunch of places to check if they stocked pork bellies without pre-ordering, and what the prices are like. We checked out T&T Supermarket last weekend. T&T is large, well-stocked, and well-organized, and it’s nice to not deal with downtown traffic or parking. T&T’s prices are bit higher than the ones we’ve seen before (Chinatown or the Asian grocery store that has now closed), but their pork belly prices aren’t as high as the prices at specialty butchers. We might try pork bellies from a few other places before we settle on a new favourite source. Maybe a monthly pork belly roast? Yum.

As for the other things we used to get on a fairly regular basis: PAT Mart and other Asian grocery stores usually have bitter melons. We stock up on cans of salted black beans and packages of tapioca pearls when the opportunity comes up, since they’re shelf-stable. I can make tapioca pearls in a pinch, since the Bulk Barn sells tapioca starch.

It’s nice to live in an international city where I can get these ingredients. If I tweak my grocery shopping or I get better at taking advantage of the times when I’m out, I might enjoy a wider variety of recipes. On the other hand, it might be okay to be generally satisfied with a smaller set of recipes, and focus instead on adding more vegetables. Hmm…