Podcast Person

A few years ago I started running again, and I’m still going. I’ve tried it before and haven’t stuck with it, but what’s kept me going this time, in no small part, is that I listen to podcasts while I do it. They keep my mind occupied by something other than how much running sucks. ūüėÉ And I’ve used my OCD to keep myself going, because if I miss days then I fall behind on my podcasts!

My podcast app of choice is Overcast on my iPhone, using AirPods¬†for listening. I was initially skeptical of AirPods, but their connectivity and convenience has been great; I think I’ve only ever once had one fall out of my ear, and never while running. I understand that they don’t fit all ears naturally, but they work great for me.

I listen to most podcasts at 1.3x-1.5x speed since I’m more interested in consuming the content than the ambience the podcasts provide – although I’m more likely to listen to audio dramas at a slower speed than nonfiction podcasts, since in those the ambience is more important. Some podcasts can be listened to at higher speeds, depending largely on how fast people talk. Once a podcaster I listen to at 1.3x guested on a podcast I listen to at 1.5x, and it was… interesting.

While running I almost exclusively listen to podcasts about Magic: The Gathering. But I listen to lots of other podcasts at other times: While driving by myself or with Debbi, while walking after lunch or in the evening.¬†I don’t often listen to podcasts while doing other things (working, reading, writing), though I have a couple of music-oriented podcasts for which I sometimes make an exception.¬†I’ve listened to some other nonfiction podcasts since about 2010, as well as some “infotainment” shows such as NPR’s¬†Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me!

Last year I dove headlong into listening to audio dramas (having previously listened to only a few¬†Night Vale Presents¬†shows), and now they make up the bulk of my listening in the car. I’m only about two months behind in listening to them! There are podcasts I have in my feed whose first episode I haven’t even gotten to yet! Heck, the total running time of podcasts I’m trying to catch up on (at a rate of about 1 episode per week) might be longer than the running time of podcasts actually released during the week. But I should catch up – eventually. Assuming no other great podcasts get started in the next, oh, eight months or so. That’s totally possible, right?

Over the next few posts I’m going to survey many of the podcasts I’ve listened to. Mainly podcasts that I’m still listening to (even if they’ve completed their runs), and ones that I enjoy, although I’ll also touch on some that haven’t worked for me. There are a few “big name” podcasts that haven‚Äôt worked for me – but there are also some that hit me just right. Maybe you’ll find a few that appeal to you.

Lazy Labor Days

It’s been a nice holiday weekend around these parts – not least because it’s we’ve had seasonable temperatures getting up to the early 80s, as opposed to last year when it somehow got up to 112¬į according to our little weather station. That was so hot the A/C couldn’t keep up. Much more pleasant this year, with the windows open and a fan going occasionally.

The weekend started with me going down to a friend’s house to play some poker. With 10¬Ę blinds, we played five-handed for about 4 hours, and I ran my $20 buy-in up to $44. Not bad. I think I made a few good plays, and I tried some stuff that didn’t work. Plus I got fairly lucky. So all in all a nice mix. Plus I got to see my friends’ two young cats who are now all grown up – they were small kittens last time I saw them.

Saturday we made our way over to Half Moon Bay and had breakfast at the Main Street Grill. It seems the old owner, who had run the place for as long as I’ve been going (and longer), sold it in the past year, but other than a little of the memorabilia having been taken down, it’s the same place – which is great since I love it. Especially the best coffee in the region. We went for a walk along the coast, and then came back into town to go to Ink Spell Books¬†where I found a copy of Spider Robinson’s¬†Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon, which no dealer had in stock at Worldcon two weeks ago. We came home for a quiet afternoon on the couch before heading down to San Jose to dinner at Maggiano’s.

Sunday we had planned a small BBQ with friends, but it turned out that some folks were out of town, some were busy, and some got sick at the last minute, so it ended up being a very small BBQ with just our friends Itai and Jessica and their two daughters.  Nonetheless we had a good time, with the girls blowing bubbles and kicking balls around the yard. Their older daughter was bewitched by the cats (the cats did not feel the same, though Jackson and Sadie were their usual people-friendly selves, and Roulette hid under the bed). The younger one was scared of them at first, but by the end of the day was meowing at us. We spent another quiet afternoon and just picked up pizza and a sub for dinner.

Today we slept in, but I got up and went running anyway. I also made ice cream, and Debbi cooked dinner. We got to watch the Red Sox – who have been uneven lately – thump the Braves on national television. We considered going out to buy a new mattress, but we didn’t. We need to check whether our box spring needs to be replaced anyway – it would be nice not to have to replace it this time around. But I did some work up in the study and then we had a quiet evening watching Harry Potter movies.

Somehow it’s already back to work tomorrow, but for a short week.

Worldcon 76

I took a few days off to have a 5-day weekend in order to go to Worldcon 76 in nearby San Jose. This was my fourth Worldcon, and maybe the first SF convention I’ve been to in about 10 years. Fortuitously, my other three Worldcons have all been since I started my (old) journal, so you can read about them if you wish:

The weekend started off a little bumpy, though: I took Thursday off planning to go down to the con in the afternoon, while having lunch with Debbi and visiting her new workplace. However, I went out to my car and it wouldn’t turn over. I called AAA and they came out and replaced the battery – a little annoying since I’d just had the car in for its annual service a week earlier, but a friend of mine says he once had his Eos‘ battery die on him without warning. By the time it was done it was too late to meet Debbi for lunch, but I did drive to her work and we swapped cars just in case there was something else wrong with my car so I wouldn’t be stranded. (My car worked fine all weekend, so hopefully the battery was it.)

By the time I got to the con the check-in line for badges was¬†long, and I was in it for about 45 minutes. I think I was there at the worst point, as the line was half as long when I got out of it. I did get to see my friend Jeanne from Minneapolis, whom I don’t think I’ve seen since the 02 Worldcon, and we ended up going to dinner together as her partner was seeing some sights in Silicon Valley and ended up getting stuck in bad traffic.

There was not a lot going on Thursday. I wandered through the dealer’s room and said hi to a few people (such as Anna from Illusive Comics; I’m always a bit surprised and flattered that she recognizes me). I skipped the opening ceremonies and decided to head home early to save energy for the rest of the weekend.

On¬†Friday it was time to hit the panels. I went to a few which I thought were so-so – mainly because the panelists lacked focus or didn’t really have much to say on the topic – but I also went to some really good ones. I particularly enjoyed “A Geek’s Guide to Literary Theory” by M. Todd Gallowglas, which led me to insta-follow him on Twitter; if anything the talk was a bit too condensed and could have benefitted from another hour! I also went to see him read in the evening – he’s a very entertaining speaker. I talked to him at his booth in the dealer’s room later at the con, too, and bought his book of writing from his year finishing his MFA (I’m a few dozen pages into it as I write this and it’s good!). I did not, however, note how much his Twitter icon resembles Sean Bean. I could probably have talked to him some more (e.g., about his thoughts on writers who write novels which are in a way commentary on their earlier novels – such as¬†Tehanu by Le Guin – or about my obsession with story structure), but always worry about overstaying my welcome when talking to authors.

I also went to a remembrance for the late editor Gardner Dozois, featuring George R. R. Martin, Pat Cadigan and John Kessel. (I ran into my friends Ceej and David there, too!) As expected, it was a series of touching and funny reminiscences, but it also felt like a sort of pre-wake for 70s and early 80s fandom: Most of the people attending were 60 and older, and had probably broken into fandom between 1970 and 1985, as the panelists did. I got a sense that Dozois’ passing had stirred something, maybe a realization that the older members of that generation were getting up there in age (Dozois and the panelists are all early Baby Boomers) and that they should consider seeing and appreciating each other while they still can, especially at Worldcon since they might not often see each other otherwise. Maybe I’m off-base about this, but that was the feeling I got. (In 15 years my generation of fandom – the late Boomers and most of Gen X – will be there ourselves.)

My last panel on Friday was on Imposter Syndrome, which ironically is what I always feel at conventions. (Heck, look at the first of my entries on the 2004 Worldcon and I was keenly feeling that back then!) I could go on about this some more here, but let’s just say that Friday night I went home early rather than going to parties where I wouldn’t know anyone, and Saturday I ended up at loose ends for dinner in the evening, had a long wait before eating a pretty good meal at Il Fornaio, basically wasting several hours by myself. Ugh.

Saturday I went to a session on libraries and library technology, which was pretty interesting. It’s all stuff my sister works with every day, I think. I introduced myself to Lynne M. Thomas, whom my sister has known for a while and whom she urged me to introduce myself to. It’s sounds like they’ve had somewhat parallel careers in some ways.

The session I took the most notes on all weekend was on plotting a story, by Kay Kenyon, an author who frankly has been on my list to read for a while but I haven’t gotten there yet. (Ah, the curse of the slow reader.) I found her breakdowns really thoughtful and useful, fleshing out some things I already knew about the three-act story structure. Should be useful if I ever actually write something!

There was also a small protest outside the convention center in the afternoon, which most attendees avoided (I certainly did, although I enjoyed reading some updates on Twitter). It was over 90 degrees in the afternoon so that must have been fun for the protestors.

In the evening I had my ill-fated dinner adventure, but I did end up at the party hotel where I ran into my friend Mark and Yvette, and met their friend Miri, and we had a good time chatting in the lounge (the acoustics of which were way too good for the volume of the band playing there).

Sunday I went to a panel on recommended webcomics, which as you might guess is a subject right up my alley (inasmuch as I have about 125 active webcomics in my RSS reader). The panel was kind of split between discussing the history of webcomics and making recommendations, and it also had 7 panelists, which made it a bit unwieldy. It was fun, but felt like it could have used more focus.

But I spent more time on Saturday searching out books in the dealer’s room, and getting autographs. The dealer’s room was pretty good, but it did feel like there were fewer used book dealers there than in the past, which is perhaps not a surprise due to the rise of digital books, but it is a bummer for me since I was hoping to score some specific items from my want list. I did find a few, but some others were just not in evidence. And it’s nice to pick them up in person to see their condition first-hand, and not deal with shipping. There was one George R. R. Martin book I was going to buy, but when I went to pick it up – having determined that it was the best combination of condition and price in the room – Martin was at the booth signing their stock, and when they put it back on sale they’d marked it up by $25. No thanks! But I guess it’ll make someone else happy.

I did get a different book autographed by Martin, though, and I stood through the long line to have¬†John Scalzi¬†sign a few more books. But I can’t complain because John is a truly nice guy, and he was signing multiple books for many people, as well as taking pictures and having conversations, yet the line was still moving along anyway. I spent most of the time chatting with the person in front of me, and I took a bunch of photos of him meeting John. I first met John back in 2002 at Journalcon, and I’m flattered that he’s remembered me when I’ve seen him since. If you’ve seen him speak or be on a panel, when he can be very much in his “Scalzi the performance artist” mode, rest assured that he’s very personable in the autograph line – or elsewhere, from my experience.

In the evening I went to dinner with Ceej and David and a couple of friends of theirs. I haven’t seen Ceej in years, and we really ought to see each other more often than that! I decided to skip the Hugo Awards ceremony, and instead finally got myself up to the Borderlands Books suite for their sponsors, which was a nice quiet space and I had some good conversations with the few people there. I wish I’d made myself go up earlier in the week!

I’d taken Monday off as well, but there wasn’t really anything I wanted to do at the con that day, so I decided to take it as a day of downtime as well.

Overall I had a good time, though 2002 is still my personal high water mark for Worldcons. This con had some behind-the-scenes controversy (which spilled over into a broader audience, or else I wouldn’t have known about it), especially regarding programming. As someone who wasn’t really affected by those issues I thought things went reasonably smoothly – at least compared to my experience at other cons – but I understand why people who were affected have some hard feelings. The biggest issue for me was that the programming rooms were often too small for the panels – about half I went to were standing room only when I arrived. Given the site I’m not sure what could have been done about that – the San Jose Convention Center is a pretty stark and unforgiving facility. (But it does have excellent wi-fi!)

So it’s been 14 years since I last went to a Worldcon, and I’m not sure when I’ll get to one next. Though there have been 4 west coast Worldcons in this century, plus ones in Las Vegas and Denver, so there will be opportunities. Despite some of my anxieties, it is a fun experience.

Open House 2018

Saturday we held our eighth annual open house – eighth even though we skipped the seventh, as we didn’t get our act together last summer with everything we had going on. Last week in additional to prepping we were watching the weather hoping it would cool off by Saturday from the highs in the mid-80s, and it did cool down some, with highs in the low 80s. Still, better than our 2013 open house when it was well up in the 90s, which made us close the doors and turn on the A/C! (And a good thing we didn’t hold it in late June like we usually do, since our home weather station claims it got up over 100¬į around then!)

So we closed the cats in the guest bedroom, bought and made food and drinks, scattered balls and bubble wands around the porch and back yard, and opened the doors around 2 pm.

In the last two years I’ve acquired several new cow-orkers, and Debbi got a new job this spring at EPRI, so we had a lot of new people to invite – and lots of them showed up! A few of our regulars weren’t able to make it – lots of people are busy in mid-August with weddings, vacations and family events – so it was a different mix of people, but with all the new people it might have been our largest party since the first one. We both gave a bunch of tours of the house to people who hadn’t been over before (we’re more than a little proud of our house, I’ll admit), and tried to spend at least a few minutes with everyone who came in.

I was glad to see that the kids had a good time playing in the yard, as we had a different mix of kids than usual, including a lot of first-timers. I think the only mishap (that I heard of, anyway) was that I went to clean bubble fluid off the face and hair of one girl, but that’s not so bad.

We learned that our friend Emma – who I met through Madison fandom in the 90s and who had moved to California before I did – had worked at EPRI as her first job out here, and knew a couple of Debbi’s cow-orkers who came to the party. Maybe I’d known that at some point, but she’d moved to another job by the time I came out here, so maybe not.

I was happy to have my previous admin, Cyndie – who retired last year – and my current admin, Debra, came to the party. ¬†And that my cow-orker Anders and his teenaged daughter came, as they have a very busy schedule and this year’s party happened to fall on a day they had some time available. Also, my cow-orker Jake, who started earlier this year, came with his wife, and gave us a (I think) pen-and-watercolor drawing she’d done of our house, which looks awesome!

Things wrapped up around 8 pm, and our friends Lisa and Michel and their kids hung out for a little longer and helped us clean up a bit (such as taking down the canopy they loaned us).  Once they left we vegged out for a bit, and called it a night.

Sunday we alternated between cleaning up and lying on the couch, but mainly being really happy with how the party turned out. I hope everyone who came had as much fun as we did!

Beach Vacation

We’re back from a 2-week vacation to Massachusetts – which I think is the longest vacation I’ve taken since our Hawaii trip in 2011. We had originally planned this trip as part of Debbi’s sabbatical, but then she changed jobs so it became its own thing. Moreover, I haven’t taken much vacation time in the past year because of a big push at work, so I was due. (The last time I went a year taking so little vacation was 2005, but both times were for good causes. This coming year I’ll take more time off, if only otherwise I’d hit our vacation cap!)

Anyway, this trip was our annual visit to see our families – well partly, but I’ll get to that shortly. We took the red-eye flight from San Jose, landing in Boston the morning of Saturday June 24, picking up our rental car and driving to my Dad’s house. Red-eye flights are getting harder to weather so I don’t know how much longer we’ll keep doing them; at least I’ve learned to sleep on planes a bit, but Debbi hasn’t.

We had breakfast with Dad, took a late-morning nap, and then had lunch. Otherwise we just hung out for part of the day before driving down to Debbi’s family’s place where we had dinner and hung out some more. All three of the teenaged niephews [sic] hung out too, which shocked all (well some) of the adults. Sunday, we… well, again I’ll get to that in a moment. And then we drove back to my Dad’s and had dinner at the Regal Beagle. We got caught in a rainstorm on the way home and spent some quality time hanging out in the Arcade Building, checking out some of its corners that we’d never had reason to visit. (It’s not that interesting, but the century-old decor is unusual today.)

Inside the Brookline Arcade Building
The interior of the Brookline Arcade Building

Monday we drove up north to visit Nancy, a high school friend of Debbi’s, and her husband Dan (and their cat, who I followed around until I convinced her to let me pet her). I didn’t really know Nancy in high school, but I knew who she was – which frankly was about how well I knew Debbi in high school! Afterwards Debbi drove back to her family and I spent a few days with Dad.

Dad and I made some of the usual rounds, including visiting my Mom’s grave at Mount Auburn Cemetery, and going out to Waban where I grew up, having lunch at Barry’s Deli, which is very nearly the last thing left from my childhood town that hasn’t changed much. I’ve written before about Mom’s house being replaced with a much larger home, and now the large house on the corner – on a huge lot, and which I understand had been built around 1890 – has been torn down and replaced with two large houses. What will the neighborhood look like in another 40 years, I wonder?

I wanted to wander in to the Waban Library Center, but they weren’t yet open. However, walking up I remembered that one of the attorneys who had probated her estate had bought a memorial brick there, so I found it and took a picture. There are actually two bricks, and I don’t remember who bought the other one. (I might have a note of it somewhere, or it may remain a mystery.)

Memorial bricks at the Waban Library Center

The other place we went was That’s Entertainment, which is a huge comics, game and hobby store in Worcester. I remember why I only go every few years, because it takes over an hour to drive there! This trip was well worth it, though, because I managed to find all but 4 issues of two different runs of comics I’d been looking for. As with most series I’m currently collecting, they’re both not valuable and not in demand, so hardly anyone stocks them. I also managed to stump several employees with a question, which went down the line of four employees before someone knew the answer. (The answer, alas, was that they didn’t have any old issues of Dragon magazine in stock.)

We had originally planned to go to the Museum of Science on Thursday, but the weather dissuaded us. Instead Debbi drove up and had lunch with us, and she and I took the train into the city to have lunch at Faneuil Hall and look around. It was a little soggy, but not too bad. I bet parking and crowds at the museum would have been bad, though.


For the second half of our vacation: Well, a couple of years ago we bought a beach house on the south shore on Humarock. It was a keep-it-in-the-family purchase, and it’s mostly my in-laws who use it, but we arranged this trip so we could spend a chunk of time there, including the July 4 holiday.

The house had sustained some damage from the strong winter storms earlier this year. It sounds like these storms were the strongest in a generation, if not more, and we saw pictures of many houses hit much harder than ours. We ended up with some roof leaks, and some damaged furniture, but not much more than that. In particular it sounds like we avoided any serious mold issues. We hired a great contractor who put on a new roof, aired out the attic, repaired some damaged walls and ceilings, and discovered that the bedrooms have hardwood floors under their ancient 70s-era carpets. Even better, almost all of the work was done by the time we arrived.

So the first Sunday we went with the in-laws to check things out, and move some of the furniture back into place, as well as figure out what projects we wanted to do while there. We met with the contractor to go over some things, and also bought a new grill as the old one was getting pretty rusty. Then on Wednesday Debbi and Shawn (the brother-in-law) picked up some furniture at IKEA.

Friday we arrived to find a worker replacing one of the windows, so we left him to do his work and went out to get lunch and pick up stuff at Target. ¬†Many of the furnishings were still jammed into the undamaged bedrooms, and we weren’t sure whether some things – like curtains – survived or had been kept, so we bought more than we needed to. ¬†When we got back, we moved the bed back to the master bedroom and moved around some other things, and found that several items did in fact survive, so we were able to return some stuff later! Then in the evening I drove into Boston to meet my old friend Bruce, whom I haven’t seen in about three years. ¬†We had dinner at Maggiano’s, and caught up with the latest developments.

Saturday the in-laws arrived with the IKEA furniture and Shawn, Debbi and I spent most of the afternoon putting it together in fairly hot and humid weather (alas, the house does not have A/C), with the World Cup games on in the background. ¬†The in-laws are big soccer fans and were following them closely. ¬†I’m not much of a soccer fan, but it’s an interesting break from baseball. ¬†While people didn’t stay overnight with us, we did grill dinner together, and then they headed home and came back the next day for a much lazier day.

Monday Debbi and I drove into downtown Scituate for lunch and to walk around the harbor area. ¬†We also drove over to Old Scituate Light, which is in a surprisingly built-up area, but is worth the visit nonetheless, for the view if nothing else. ¬†Supposedly the battle which resulted in the line “Don’t give up the ship!” occurred near there as well. ¬†We also made another run to Target, where I embarked on a small project to replace many light bulbs in the house with LED bulbs, since the heat from the incandescent bulbs was pretty nasty in hot weather.

Old Scituate Light
Old Scituate Light

In our driving around we also worked our way through the first (and so far only) season of a conspiracy-fiction podcast called¬†Rabbits, which we both enjoyed quite a bit. ¬†I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts lately and need to do an entry or three about them soon.

And indeed Tuesday was probably the worst day for heat and humidity that we had, and we spent most of the day lying around the house like slugs.  We did make a run to the grocery store, where the A/C tempted us to wander the aisles for longer than we would have otherwise.  Thankfully, it cooled off late in the afternoon when the fam arrived, and we were able to hang out on the beach after sunset and watch the fireworks.

But wait! you say, Tuesday was July 3! ¬†Yep, Humarock has a long-standing tradition of fireworks on July 3 rather than July 4. ¬†Up and down the beach – several miles of visibility in each direction – people were shooting off fireworks, probably thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars worth. ¬†All perfectly illegal, I’m sure. ¬†But it sure was a great display. ¬†There were also a couple of people launching fire lanterns which would drive over the ocean and into the clouds.

Wednesday July 4 was another great day weather-wise, and we spent much of the day on the beach. Around the time the fam was heading home, Nancy and Dan showed up for a few hours, to hang out and grill dinner.  They headed out a little before sunset, and I spent an hour meeting one of my last goals, walking up to the end of the sandbar peninsula on which our house sits. I had to book it back before it got pitch black, but despite the rush it was a nice hike with some great views.

Fourth Cliff just after sunsetThe ocean side of Fourth Cliff just after sunset
(click for larger image)

We’d planned on Thursday to hang out around the house until late in the afternoon and then head back to Dad’s, but it turned out to be another humid stinker, so we actually called it a trip around noon, had lunch on the way out, and then drove around for a bit before heading back. ¬†It was sad to go – other than the weather – but we had a good time, and a good mix of Getting Stuff Done and Enjoying Ourselves. ¬†Unfortunately at Dad’s we went back to the Beagle for dinner, but their A/C was out so it was kind of a downer of a meal. ¬†(Not as much of a downer as it was for the wait staff, I’m sure.)

Finally, Friday it was a rainy day and we mostly hung around at Dad’s until it was time to drive to the airport and catch our plane. ¬†It didn’t rain enough to delay our flight, so we got home more-or-less on time, said hi to the cats, and collapsed into bed. ¬†Then we had the weekend to recover and get ready for a new work-week.I think this was the longest vacation I’d taken

All-in-all a great trip, though as usual we were ready to come home to our own bed and our cats by the end of it. ¬†But we’ll be back. ¬†Because ocean.

The Last Jedi Redux

I’m not a fan of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but lots of people are. I find this odd, but enh, I don’t have a deep love of Star Wars generally. Still, sometimes people I follow post how much they like this film and it makes me think:

Toy with tropes? Subvert expectations? Did we see the same film? I found its storytelling ham-handed and elliptical, struggling to find its meaning and message. But Rachel’s hardly the only person who sees meaning in what I see as clumsiness. Is this just a matter of different peoples’ minds seeing different patterns in the same content?

I’m not going to try to answer that question here (speaking of elliptical). Rather, her tweet made me think further about what sort of meaning there is for me in the film, inasmuch as I think Star Wars is not generally a deep franchise, and it’s generally pretty simplistic in both world building and storytelling. This led me in a roundabout way (which is code for “I don’t remember all the details of how I got to this point”) to thinking that the end game for this trilogy could be something different from what people are expecting. To wit:

The Force Awakens contained a lot of beats that seemed lifted from the original Star Wars, and The Last Jedi drew some comparison to The Empire Strikes Back, which perhaps leads people to conclude that the next film will evoke Return of the Jedi, and in particular an expectation that the trilogy is going to wrap things up in a fairly conclusive manner. After all not only did Jedi do so, but there’s likely still a lot of fanthink that these three movies are going to finish off the 9-film arc that George Lucas had teased decades ago.

But it’s pretty clear to me that Disney has strayed far from that path already, since Force and Last Jedi build upon, but don’t really continue, the arc of the six Lucas films. So what if the goal here is to not evoke the closure of Return of the Jedi?

What if the endpoint is instead to have our heroes suffer a crushing and total defeat, as happened at the end of the prequel trilogy?

After all, we didn’t really “get to” experience the shock of the heroes utterly losing in the prequel trilogy, because we all knew it was coming, but this is an opportunity to surprise and shock the viewers.

I’m skeptical that this is what would really happen, since it’s not very Disney-esque, and J.J. Abrams’ work doesn’t indicate that this is the direction he’s likely to take the final film. But it could be quite effective, and could lead in to another trilogy, maybe a couple more decades down the timeline, with a new group of characters trying to put things back together. (Finn: “It’s all true: Kylo Ren, Poe Dameron, the Skywalkers, all of it.”)

The Last Jedi ended on a pretty grim note, so how much worse can things get? Well, just as one possibility, which seems entirely plausible based on how the story’s been going, I have two words:

Empreror Rey.

Dominaria Prerelease

Yesterday I went to the Magic prerelease for the Dominaria, and had a lot more fun than I expected! Of course, winning a lot will do that.

I went to the new Isle of Gamers, which is two doors down from their old location, but is at least 100% improved due to the wider and brighter space. They’ve gone all-in on a pirate theme (which they had before, but it feels more pronounced now), and they have a great-looking private gaming room in back.

My approach to sealed deck has been slowly evolving, and these days I tend to focus first on bombs I open and second on number of creatures across the colors, since limited is such a creature-heavy format. It feels like I rarely open pools in which I have more than one viable color pair unless the format supports 3-color decks. Dominaria certainly does not unless you’re base green, because there is very little color fixing (much like the last time we were in Dominaria, back in Time Spiral), and I think you have to have just the right set of stuff to even consider splashing.

As it turned out I had 4 colors in my pool with nominally enough creatures to build decks – blue being the one that didn’t. Red had some good removal, but the creatures were terrible. At first I as leaning towards black-green, but as I looked at it I felt my green was just not very good and white had a lot more punch. So I ended up going black-white.

At first I wasn’t sure I’d had enough playables, but after some thought I talked myself into playing this little combo:


Voltaic ServantTraxos, Scourge of Kroog
This seemed a little sketchy to me, but I felt like I had enough Historic cards that it was worth playing. So in the end I ran with this deck:

Dominaria prerelease deck

My main reservation about this deck was its relatively average high converted mana cost and the low-impact 2-drop creatures (3 of them were 1/3s). I also did a test run and realized I had to be mindful of casting Demonlord Belzenlok since I could easily draw a bunch of cards off of him but also lose a bunch of life.

My first round was against another WB player. Game 1 I mulliganed to 5 (my first 2 hands had zero lands total), and predictably lost – although if I’d drawn a second Swamp I might have made a go of it. Game 2 my opponent got stuck on 2 lands and quickly conceded. Then, game 3 went on forever and ever. I got out Traxos, put On Serra’s Wings on it, swung twice, and then he killed it. Then we got into a long board stall, I got back Traxos with Daring Archaeologist, he killed it again, and finally I managed to seal the deal with Belzenlok.

1-0.

Second round I faced another WB opponent, but this one went considerably quicker. The second game was a bit of a slog as I kept drawing removal for his good stuff, but I couldn’t get any good stuff of my own. Finally I put On Serra’s Wings on a Voltaic Servant and just kept swinging away with a flyer he couldn’t deal with.

2-0.

Third round I played a red-white deck which looked similar to mine only without as good a top end. I played Divest to lead off game 1 and saw that he had Gideon’s Reproach in hand, but I ended up with more gas than he did and won the first game. The second game we ended up in an early board stall and then I played a Serra Angel. Next turn I had On Serra’s Wings to play and had to decide where to put it. I decided to put it on the Serra Angel in case he had Gideon’s Reproach in hand, making the Angel a 5/5 and out of reach of his spell. His groan when he drew his next card told me that I’d guessed correctly, and I rode the Angel to victory.

Flavor win or flavor fail? Marshall Sutcliffe says:

Flavor win

3-0.

On to the finals! I played a fellow who had just defeated my friend Subrata at the next table over in the third round. He was playing a black-green go-wide deck based around Saprolings and Slimefoot, the Stowaway. He got Slimefoot out in game 1 and he was as annoying as advertised, but I managed to keep the pressure on with slightly-bigger creatures so that he kept chump-blocking with the tokens, and I finally pulled out the victory with a Serra Angel.

Game 2 was epic, and we had several onlookers for the match. He observed that he drew the other half of his deck from the first game, which meant bigger creatures. I managed to get out my Traxos/On Serra’s Wings combo, but he dealt with it through removal and a Mammoth Spider. He got a second Mammoth Spider out, but we ended up trading off some creatures and I used removal to bring us – around turn 10 – to the point where neither of us had any nonland permanents on the board.

A little more maneuvering resulted in me with a 3/2 flying Windgrace Acolyte on the board, but then he dropped a kicked Baloth Gorger, which put me in a bad place. I’d been drawing a lot more gas than lands, and I started playing creatures to chump his Gorger. He was on 8 life and I was around 13, and I was stuck on 5 lands. Just in time I drew my sixth land and played my kicked Sergeant-at-Arms, which gave me several blockers, and I followed it up with a Serra Angel which ended up being just enough for the win.

So I went 4-0 in matches on the day, 8-1 in games, and finished first in the tournament, which was good for 9 prize packs!

People have been speculating that Dominaria is going to be a slower limited format, and that’s how it felt yesterday. I rarely felt like I didn’t have time to get down my 4-drops and slow my opponents way down. I’m sure there are a few faster decks in the format, but it feels like there are ways to deal with them. That kind of makes sense in a format with the Kicker mechanic.

I’m pretty happy with my deck, though in hindsight I think Divest wasn’t really pulling its weight and I should have replaced it with almost anything else – even just a combat trick. I’m also not impressed with Caligo Skin-Witch, mainly because its kicker cost is too high for what it does and its 1/3 body is unimpressive, but I didn’t have a great choice to replace it with. So I don’t regret playing it, but I think it’s a card to avoid going forward.

Overall I was happy with how many redundant moving parts my deck had, so I really didn’t have much trouble slowing down fast starts, dealing with big threats, and getting out my own big threats. Each game played very differently, but my deck was pretty consistent in always having something useful to do.

Oh, and On Serra’s Wings is just as awesome as people have been thinking it would be.

I’ll definitely have to see how this set plays in draft. I think it will be a lot of “good stuff” decks with minimal synergies, but that can still be fun.

Social Media

I have some thoughts on the turmoil in corporate social media recently – meaning, in particular, Facebook and Twitter. For posterity, the precipitating events are:

I’m hardly the first – or the five hundredth – person to observe that this is the natural development of handing over our online social connectivity to a few corporations who are mainly driven by profit motives and which mainly make money through advertising. The details of election manipulation were perhaps harder to foresee, but it seems clear that there was plenty of room for badness.

So what now? While there’s a movement to delete Facebook (#DeleteFacebook), it is still a tremendously useful resource for keeping in touch with friends and family. (My observation is that it’s especially handy for generations older than mine.) Twitter is less useful for that purpose, but it’s more useful for keeping up with people involved in or who share my hobbies and interests.

Frankly I trust neither of these companies, as both have long histories of not caring about their users. Facebook in particular I think is deeply untrustworthy as Mark Zuckerberg’s 14-year apology tour indicates. Twitter I think is at least as incompetent as they are untrustworthy, and I’m not sure if that’s better or worse – probably it just means they’re going to sell to some large, more solvent company in the next few years. (My guess is Google will buy them.)

Should I stop using them? Yeah, probably. Will I? Probably not. But I have been making some changes in how I use them:

  • I recognize that making political posts is not going to change the opinions of my followers on these platforms. So I’ve been cutting back on doing so unless I think I have something novel to say.
  • More seriously, I’ve been trying to avoid sharing political posts unless the post’s originator is someone I know and trust. The means of political manipulation has been to promulgate divisive political propaganda – at both extremes of the political spectrum – and while I’m solidly left-liberal, I see little reason to help them.
  • I’ve also been cutting back on following people whose main social media activity is to share political content which they didn’t write. So if that’s mainly been what you’ve been posting, then there’s a fair chance that I’ve stopped following you. I follow people mainly for what they have to say, not for them sharing content from others.
  • I also use an ad blocker (AdBlock on the Mac, 1Blocker on iOS), and also a tracker blocker (Ghostery). Since ads can be a vector for malware, using an ad blocker is also a security measure. Moreover, if I visit a site which doesn’t let me read its articles because I’m using an ad blocker, then I stop visiting that site.
  • My Twitter client on both Mac and iOS is Tweetbot. If Twitter drops support for third-party clients and doesn’t come up with a good client of its own with the features that I want, then I’ll probably stop using Twitter. I’d probably do the same thing with Facebook if they ever remove the live feed.

In the long run we’re going to have to move away from corporate-owned social media networks, or at least move to ones which we pay for, where we, not the advertisers, are the customers. Maybe something like Micro.blog or Mastodon is the future. It seems like something like that should be viable, but whether it will become popular is something else altogether.

The bottom line, though, is that it’s got to be something each of us owns. Because if you don’t own it yourself, then you don’t own your own presence on the Internet.

Which, despite my relative inactivity here lately, is why I still have this blog.

(Oh: This is the second post I’ve written titled “Social Media”. Things have changed a bit in the 9 years since I wrote the first one.)

My Trouble with Names

I’m bad with names.

No, not that way. I’m fine with remembering peoples’ names. Well, above average. Probably.

I’m bad at coming up with names. At naming things.

The earliest instance of this I remember was when I was about 10 and was playing Dungeons & Dragons with my friends. We’d come up with characters, and a few of them would persist for a while. The one I kept the longest had the deeply evocative name of… Seggerillon.

(He was a wizard.)

I probably haven’t written that name since I was 13 and geez, it looks even dumber than I remembered. Just a bunch of syllables stuck together, and it doesn’t even scan well. Okay, in my defense I was 10. But still.

This has extended into other parts of my life. For example, my two journals, both with names I’ve never been very happy with (“Gazing into the Abyss” and “Fascination Place”). I’ve never been able to articulate what I wanted my journals to represent, and I’ve shied away from titles that seemed snarky or dismissive. It’s been over ten years since I started this one and I haven’t yet come up with a name I like better. (Not that it’s been a high priority.)

I also hit this at work, where naming classes and objects is a routine part of the job. Fortunately, most of this involve fairly rote and descriptive names. But coming up with good names for more advanced classes is sometimes a challenge. I sometimes joke that one of the big problems in programming is that many things you create are abstract with only a tenuous connection to anything in the real world, and there are only a relative handful of words for abstract concepts in English compared to the number of words for concrete things. So we always end up with some class which is a BuilderOperationDelegateProviderManagerContext or some subset thereof.

On another note, something I rarely mention here is that I write a little fiction. A very little. So little that I wouldn’t call myself a writer. One of my problems is that I have trouble coming up with names for characters, especially since what I really want to write is far-future science fiction, where the names might arguably have a tenuous connection with names in today’s world. I like to think I’ve advanced a little beyond Seggerillon, though. I have a couple of names in my quiver that I’ve carried through a couple of story concepts looking for the right one. (And waiting for me to actually start writing one of them.)

Anyway, as they say, there are only two hard things in computer science: cache invalidation and naming things. At least I’m good at invalidating all the caches.

Middle Age

The last couple of years I’ve been feeling more keenly that I’m middle-aged.

I guess it started a decade or so ago when a cow-orker of mine observed that he remembered watching Babylon 5 when he was in junior high school, whereas I was halfway through graduate school when it premiered.

Since then time has marched inexorably onwards. Most of my cow-orkers are between the ages of 30 and 40, which puts them in average half a generation younger than me. It’s enough that our cultural touchstones are just a little askew: I saw Star Wars in the theatre when it came out, while they mostly watched it on cable growing up. They grew up playing Nintendo and Sega game consoles, while I had left game consoles behind by then and was playing Apple ][ and Mac games. One of them was visibly surprised that I was born in the 60s. And, my career at Apple is almost 19 years old, which means there’s a real chance that I’ll soon have a cow-orker – an intern, perhaps – who was born after I started working there.

(This is not at all to disparage my younger cow-orkers, who I learn things from all the time!)

As I’ve been feeling these differences in age, though, I’ve started making quips about our relative ages from time to time. Some of the jokes are rooted in these different touchstones, and others are more generally about my age (“Pipe down sonny or I’ll whack you with my cane” types of jokes). It’s not that I feel old – in a lot of ways I feel better than I did 20 years ago – but it’s like I have a new perspective that I haven’t had before, and which feels weird.

I’ve been feeling a little – something, guilty? Unjustified? – in making these jokes. I don’t necessarily believe that talking this way is a self-fulfilling prophecy, but it’s been making me a little uneasy. So my plan – my resolution, if you will – is not to make jokes like those this year. There’s a gray area, since I don’t think it’s feasible for me to just ignore or never mention these differences, but to the extent that not talking about them leads to me not thinking about or feeling being middle-aged, I think that’s a good thing.

I’m sure age will announce itself to me in due time, without any help from me.