Joe Abbott's Weblog

Letters home to mom

  • Flickr Photos

  • A pic that came out

    Just a nice pic
  • Holiday snap

  • Advertisements
  • Stuff posted on these days

    February 2018
    M T W T F S S
    « Jan    
     1234
    567891011
    12131415161718
    19202122232425
    262728  
  • Meta

  • Joe Abbott Musings

  • RSS Cat Cartoon w/o the Cartoon

    • Coda
      Posting these cat-cartoons-without-the-cartoon was a long journey that I don’t know if I’ll repeat soon again. A daily blog is tough … even when you have your material handed to you! But, I couldn’t have done it without the artwork … Continue reading →
    • December 31, 2011
      Father Time is riding out his last few minutes of being the temporal keeper for 2011; he sits in an easy chair with a calendar showing “Dec 31” behind him and a grandfather clock pointing to the time of 11:53. … Continue reading →
    • December 30, 2011
      A happy young lady shares a table at a tony restaurant with her cat; they both wear festive, cone-shaped party hats. The woman gaily says to the tuxedoed server, “One martini and one glass of milk.” The cat does not … Continue reading →

Valentine’s Day

Posted by joeabbott on February 18, 2018

WP_20180218_09_43_51_ProValentine’s Day with Joe and Suz was a special time … also known of as “Cold and Flu Season”. As a result, we shared a very nice meal prepared by Suzy, exchanged homemade cards, and then sat together holding hands on the couch. A syrupy, maudlin moment only tainted by our mutual blowing of noses, deep-chested coughs, and a bit of mild sneezing. If it gets worse, public authorities will erect barricades outside our home to keep a contagion from spreading.

But, we’re on the mend.

One of the things that made the day even more special was a card and note my mother sent us. She acknowledges Valentine’s Day is for sweethearts, but sent her note just the same and I can’t tell you how much we love that woman. She makes our lives better in so many ways.

First there was the simple card: velvety to the touch and festoon with rhinestones; it acknowledged us both and was simply signed. Big smiles all around at the thoughtfulness. But inside there was more!

With prior letters she’s included little square cards that you open for a motivational or thoughtful message. The front encourages you to embrace the day with mine saying:

Each day comes bearing its own gifts. Untie the ribbons. – Ruth Ann Schabacker

WP_20180218_09_44_50_Proand Suzy’s saying

Plunge boldly into the thick of life, and seize it where you will …  — Johann Wolfgang von Goerthe

For two people who could easily get lost in self-pity, these messages could only help rally the spirits and ask us to keep an eye on the horizon. Good stuff.

And finally she included a couple of crisp two dollar bills, each bearing a Post-It proclaiming: This is for you! (from the Book Fairy!!)

Included was a small note saying this:

Just thought I’d send you one of Uncle Joe’s $2’s. Among his things, Dana and I came across a pack of over 60 two dollar bills. I didn’t have the heart to spend them, and finally decided on how to move them along … So every now and then, when I go to the library, I take along one of them with a little post it on it, like this one … And I roam around in the children’s book section and where there’s an empty spot, between rows of books, I’ll leave it there on the shelf, kind of low down … so a little girl or boy will come across it  Smile I’ve been doing this for a couple years now, and have about 10 or so left. I’m sure there librarians who come across them, are wondering who this “Book Fairly” is. We’ve recently built a new Shoreview library, near the old one which is now offices, so I’ve moved my business over there… it’s a fun diversion for me – I’m sure UJ is chuckling. And I’d love to be a fly on the wall so I could see the little one’s reactions. And their mother’s reactions! Such are the games that we Ancient Ones love to play!

WP_20180218_09_45_27_ProWell, she can consider the Book Fairy to have conscripted a couple of helpers out in Seattle!

One little Valentine and so much heart I can’t stop the smiling for how special and welcome that card was. As for Suzy and me? Well, it’s four days since V-Day and we still have cold symptoms but are planning to take a walk through a park somewhere … either today or tomorrow. We’re “untying the ribbons” but they’re coming off slowly.

Thanks for dropping by … I hope you didn’t catch anything!

Advertisements

Posted in Me, Trivia | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

A good lesson

Posted by joeabbott on February 18, 2018

imageConsidering my last post, it appears I’m in an introspective mood … perhaps New Year’s Resolutions are just now catching up to me. I’m a procrastinator, so I wouldn’t be surprised. But I read another person’s post that I’ll share here … it spoke to me about some of my own traits and ways to improve change.

I follow a blog called The Daily Skeptic and it’s a woodworking blog … or, kind of is. Eric Key is the owner and he posts frequently and includes lots of photos and short pieces … they come so regularly that he has to be self-employed or retired. It’s nice because everything is short and the topic is typically some woodworking project he’s doing. And it’s motivational for me because he does a lot of things that I think are beyond me right now … but he presents them in a way that I ask, “are they beyond me?” It’s good stuff.

But today he posted a piece called Sloth that hit home in a lot of ways. He talks about buying a tool he didn’t make time to use, he talks about making time to teach himself a new technique, and he ends by sharing how he failed his way to success … and in the process, learned to slow down. I won’t steal his story or try to provide a shortened version; as I said, they’re already easily digestible in a quick reading.

I appreciate bloggers like Eric who can teach me more than just technique without it becoming a “change your life” or some other sort of sermon. I want to talk about other bloggers I follow but I’ll hold for now … Sloth is good enough to have it’s own quasi-repost.

Thanks for dropping in.

Posted in Trivia | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Are you a player or a critic?

Posted by joeabbott on February 11, 2018

A while ago my company changed CEOs and it wasn’t long before the “new guy” started showing his differences. While the prior CEO was a rah-rah sort of cheerleader, full of bravado and inspiring the teams with a booming voice and a spirit full of war cry, the new fella was much more understated and cerebral: a thinking man’s boss. One of the habits he’s formed is to have a monthly talk with the employees.

imageHe’ll arrange a time (we’re too big of a company to all meet in one place) and folks will dial in … a few people can find seats in whatever building he’s speaking from (he moves it around to be fair and give everyone a chance to attend in person). At the session he’ll talk about whatever’s on his mind or relevant to the business, share his thoughts, and take questions. During the last “all hands” meeting he asked if people were critics or players?

The distinction, he went on to explain, was more apt for team sport descriptions but one that touched him deeply. I will be doing his telling an injustice by missing details or just plain being wrong, but I recall him saying that one of his friends called to his attention the behavior of players on a team who were on the sideline: they watched the play on the field intently, both their team and the opposition. They read the play, they note how an athlete (in any position) approached a situation … they learned from what was going on in an attempt to improve their play!

ImageCompare that with pundits, experts, or critics … folks who are already confident in their competence and have no vested reason to improve. Those people sit back, watch only the most active play, and opine on what went wrong and why. There’s superficial, if any, learning and they serve themselves and their audience by treating them to an explanation based on a preconceived summary.

He asked if we were players or critics.

This likely touched me deeply as I’ve found myself taking the role of the critic lately. Complaining to my wife about how things are messed up at work, bitching to coworkers about a situation we have, and generally kvetching about any minor irritant or problem at work … without contributing anything toward remedying the situation. In short, I’ve been a pretty crappy employee. Sure I work hard, put in hours, come up with creative solutions based on my experience, but I’m not pushing myself to learn, I’m not solving any problems unless they’re assigned to me to solve … I’ve stopped growing.

Now, I’m being super-harsh on myself, but I know I have a good job and have always convinced myself my employer gets the better deal. But I can do more than I find myself doing now. I can reinvigorate my passion for learning and being that guy who hears people carping and says, “let’s fix it!” Yeah, I’ve slowly drifted into the critic persona but it’s time I get back in the game.

While it has all sorts of wrong connotations, I’ll say it anyhow: I am a player. How about you? Think how awesome it’d be if everyone just did a great job: made your customers feel special if you wait tables at a restaurant; made a suggestion to someone based on their purchases in a shop if you’re a bookseller; or found creative solutions that allowed a team to feel great about what they’re delivering if you lead teams. The ways you can be a player and contribute to a culture of growing and success are too many to mention here … and I’d miss many if I tried.

Stop listening to me. Go out and find ways to be awesome that feed you and improve the world for others, too. And, if you want to know more about my CEO (he’s recently written a book), this will tell you a bit more about him and his ideals.

As always, thanks for dropping by.

Posted in Me | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Book Review : Two Years Before the Mast

Posted by joeabbott on February 10, 2018

Two Years Before the Mast: A Personal NarrativeI put this book on my gift wish list not so much because I knew what I was getting, but exactly the opposite: I knew little to nothing beyond the title. I had an understanding that it dealt with the life aboard a sailing ship and assumed I’d learn a bit about ships, sailing, and the day in the life of a sailor.

While I knew very little about Two Years Before the Mast, that’s about all one need to know: it’s a fascinating story but slim on education.

In the early 1830’s, a Harvard College student with the appropriately weighty name Richard Henry Dana, Jr., took time off from his studies for heath reasons and chose to join a merchant marine voyage to the California coast. He signed aboard a ship, kept a diary, and for two years toiled aboard several vessels before returning to Boston. For a part of  that period he was actually working out of a hut on the California Coast, tending and treating hides in wait for shipment back to the East Coast.

While I’d hoped to understand sailing ships better, there’s precious little in the way of education for landlubbers on the difference between a spinnaker, a jib, the mainsail, or any other sail. Various ropes for manipulating the sails, terms for the different vessels (brigs, hermaphrodite brig, etc.) are never explained in the context of the story (there’s a slim line or two at the back of the book), and even the day-in-the-life details are picked up slowly, as if through osmosis, rather than have it explained. It’s not a bad education, but it’s a slow one.

At one point in the book, Dana gives a description of the eating arrangements; it was a rare moment in which he stopped the narrative and described exactly how something worked. He’d noted that various conceptions of sailors dining at a table was laughable, as the rolling sea would never allow such an arrangement. Instead, each sailor is allotted a “kid”, which I take to be a wooden box … the equivalent of an oversized bowl … into which their food was served.

A mess, consisting of six men, had a large wooden kid piled up with beefsteaks, cut thick, and fried in fat, with the grease poured over them. Around this we sat, attacking it with our jackknives and teeth and with the appetite of young lions, and sent back and empty kid to the galley.

He goes on to note they were in “perfect health”, which is in a bit of contradiction with several other passages citing various shipboard disease and a case or two of scurvy. But, for a gang of young men aboard a sailing ship, it’s easy to imagine they burned through all these calories and more.

The story quickly goes from leaving Boston, to rounding Cape Horn at the bottom of South America, and arriving on the California Coast. There, several ships from the same company plied the waters up and down, sending working crews to shore to trade for hides. These skins (it was never clarified what animal they came from, but I assumed cattle but maybe there were several varieties) were then sent to a processing hut somewhere near San Diego, where some of the company men (and for about six months Dana participated in this operation) cleaned, tanned, and dried the hides before storing them in-wait for a ship going back to Boston.

At various time the ship would take on passengers and, in this passage, we’re treated to the colorful sailor language in describing the crew not knowing what to make of an East Coast professor, who was in California to see and learn new things … something that would be as commonplace as anything these days:

The Pilgrim’s crew called Mr. Nuttall “old Curious,” from his zeal for curiosities; and some of them said that he was crazy, and that his friends let him go about and amuse himself in this way. Why else a rich man (sailors call every man rich who does not work with his hands, and who wears a long coat and cravat) should leave a Christian country and come to such a place as California to pick up shells and stones, they could not understand. One of them, however, who had seen something more of the world ashore, set all to rights, as he thought: “oh, ‘vast there! You don’t know anything about them craft. I’ve seen them colleges and know the ropes. They keep all such things for cur’osities, and study ‘em , and have men a purpose to go and get ‘em. This old chap knows what he’s about. He a’n’t the child you take him for. He’ll carry all these things to the college, and if they are better than any that they have had before, he’ll be head of the college. Then, by and by, somebody else will go after some more, and if they beat him he’ll have to go again, or else give up his berth. That’s the way they do it. This old covey knows the ropes. He has worked a traverse over ‘em, and come ‘way out here where nobody’s ever been afore, and where they’ll never think of coming.” This explanation satisfied Jack; and as it raised Mr. Nuttall’s credit, and was near enough to the truth for common purpose, I did not disturb it.

One should note that, at this time, California was a Mexican holding and not until later (~1847) was it part of the United States.

The book contains many memorable moments and, of the sailing, their return trip back around Cape Horn in the southern hemisphere’s winter is the most gripping. Dana describes a ship that is jam packed full of hides … they really worked hard to maximize how many hides were brought back … and the vessel sitting low in the water, attempts to navigate the rough waters, heavy with ice and violent winds, safely through the world’s southernmost oceans. Ice covers ropes, sails are rime-covered and need to be beaten out by hand so they can be unfurled, sailors work in the coldest temperatures, and the decks are slick. It’s truly horrendous work.

Everyone was on the alert, and even the two sick men turned out to lend a hand at the halyards. The wind was now due southwest, and blowing a gale to which a vessel close-hauled could have shown no more than a single close-reefed sail; but as we were going before it, we could carry on. Accordingly, hands were sent aloft, and a reef shaken out of the topsails, and the reefed foresail set. When we came to masthead the topsails yards, with all hands at the halyards, we struck up “Cheerly, men”, with a chorus which might have been heard halfway to Staten Land. Under her increased sail, the ship drove on through the water. Yet she could bear it well; and the captain sang out from the quarterdeck, “Another reef out of that fore-topsail, and give it to her!” Two hands sprang aloft; the frozen reef points and earings were cast adrift, the halyards manned, and the sail gave out her increased canvas to the gale. All hands were kept on deck to watch the effect of the change. It was as much as she could well carry, and with a heavy sea astern it took two men at the wheel to steer her. She flung the foam from her bows, the spray breaking aft as far as the gangway. She was going at a prodigious rate. Still everything held.

While not typical and certainly not page-turning prose, I found myself getting caught up in the writing, vicariously sailing at world’s end in dark waters and in dangerous weather.

And the pages go like that: lots of descriptions of times and places I know little about. I can’t recommend the book for everyone: reading a 400-page book is quite a lot in exchange for a smile at learning to get a “ducking” means to be drenched in water. If you pick up Two Years Before the Mast you’ll do it for simple pleasures, colorful reading, and hearing about sailing aboard a merchant marine ship from a decent man. Me … I’ve had my fill for now. As one of the sailors in the book said about the prospect of getting to shore after two years on the sea: “Go away, salt water!” says Tom. “As soon as I get both legs ashore, I’m going to shoe my heels, and button my ears behind me, and start off into the bush, a straight course, and not stop till I’m out of sight of salt water!”

Thanks for dropping by.

Posted in Books | Tagged: , | 5 Comments »

Yeah, blog that

Posted by joeabbott on February 3, 2018

DSCF1675I have a small pile of items sitting beside my computer in what I’ll consider the “blog that later” pile. The unfortunate reality is that most of it won’t be mentioned here … or anywhere else … again. I get distracted, I look at it later and wonder “now what was I going to say here?”, or it just fails a relevancy test that’s, admittedly, pretty loose. And then there’s the fact that I mostly just blog Saturday and Sunday mornings, and those are becoming fewer and fewer for sitting in front of the computer.

You see, my arm is on the mend!

So with feeling better and all, I’m starting to be a bit more ambitious with my time and that means getting out with Suzy or getting back into climbing. On the one hand, our house plans are starting to settle in and we have stuff to do there; on the other, I got a bit depressed and overate during the holidays and need to work off a bunch of misery-fat. And yet, I don’t like ignoring this channel, so I plan on doing a bit more blogging and maybe using some weekday time to catch up.

For today, I want to talk about a topic Suzy covered in her blog … the death of one of our chickens. Suzy did a better job than I could of talking about the hen; I’ll try not to repeat too much. In short, one of our longest-owned hens died.

P1000421We got her a while back, her hatch-mates being two other hens we have that made up (until recently) our “top three” hens … all others have come from more recent hatchings. I guess she was over five years old. As one of our most curious birds, she ranged far and wide in our hard, well beyond Chickenville boundaries.

That was in her earlier years; of late … meaning the past several years … she was just a member of the flock: secure in her #2 pecking position and never more than a wingspan from either #1 or #3. As I read Suzy’s post on her, I silently kick myself for not remembering more about her without a prod; she’d just become “one of the chickens”. Like a friend you have who reminds you of a great summer you shared and yet it wasn’t at the forefront of your mind when you talked to them.

For me, she was one of the hens who mostly stayed out of arms reach when we sat on the bench and tossed them simple scratch and peck treats. I’d give her a grab when I could (I’d give all of them a grab when I can), pop her on my lap, and if she’d stay, I’d let her eat from my hand. Not the Black Star: she’d always jump down immediately. But, she wouldn’t run; rather, she’d turn and look to see if I still had those treats in my hand and, if possible, would I put them down for her.

She appeared to pass away without injury or trauma; we found her lying in the duff in the coop shelter. I felt badly we didn’t find her earlier (we were away for the day) because it meant the other hens had to step either over or pass her on the way out of the coop. And yet, chickens can be jerks and the flock seems unaffected. While it makes sense … none of the younger batch is likely to ascend to #2 position over long-timer #3 and this doesn’t change the relative positioning of numbers 1 and 3 (now 2) … it’s hard to lose a hen and feel bad for it, when the rest of the flock seems unaware. Such is the life in a prey\flock animal’s existence.

I’ll end here, without a real end. Hope you and your pets (or those in your care) are well and remain so. Thanks for dropping by.

Posted in Chickens, Me | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Getting over the New Year hump

Posted by joeabbott on January 14, 2018

When it was time to get back from the holidays, back from the near-free feeding I’d been doing, and back from sitting around moaning about my elbow, I had high hopes. And then, about a work-week into the New Year, I picked up a bug.

On Tuesday the onset was so aggressive I actually got a ride home from work rather than wait on the evening bus. That night I became so congested I awoke making horrible noises and with more than a touch of anxiety as I was having trouble breathing at all. Back to sitting around. That day nothing changed except the cold went from a sore throat and some sneezing to a massive sinus headache with the attendant body aches.

So Wednesday was shot, no chance of focusing long enough to work from home, and that night I opted to sleep sitting up in a chair, rather than wake up again panicking over not being able to breathe. Thursday morning came and I felt world’s better for having slept upright and I had hopes of being useful to my employer … but, any  amount of activity would set me to feverish panting and breaking out into a sweat. Seems I wasn’t over it yet. So, I spent another day in limbo as I tried to eat some solid food and work on truly resting.

clip_image001That night I started sleeping on the chair again but felt good enough to try the couch. Right up until my cat decided he wanted to pull each and every tissue from the box sitting on the floor and so I moved up to the guest room. I slept, slept well, and really gotta say if you in need of a guestroom, ours is pretty darned comfy.

Friday arrived and I was able to work from home, but found myself mortified when I realized I’d left my microphone on during a meeting I was attending remotely … as it surely picked up my hacking and coughing. It was good to feel like I was productive but as soon as my last meeting was over, I once again headed to take a midday nap. It’s also a testament to my recuperation that I actually dressed in something other than gym shorts, sweatpants, and my bathrobe. Recovery was in sight!

Saturday was the first day I awoke proclaiming to feel fine, and yet I’d often find myself coughing with that deep, upper chest hack that indicates some bronchial thing or another is still manifest. But, I was able to do a few cleanup chores, spent a half hour in the shop\garage, and even went outside to the chicken coop. I wasn’t 100% but enjoyed dinner and didn’t feel I needed a long midday nap. I even put together a fun jigsaw puzzle I’d been sent for Christmas! And, yes … back to the bathrobe for me!

And here it is, Sunday. I still have the residual chesty-cough, but not as often. No headaches but I’m keeping tissues handy and they’re needed. But, I do wonder what the day will hold … likely just a few more chores about the house but it’s nice to feel alert and able-bodied.

Hope your New Year has gotten off to a better start than mine, but I look forward to catching up to you shortly!

Posted in Me | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Lotta gaming

Posted by joeabbott on January 13, 2018

I’m always amused when watching a sporting event on television and hearing the color commentary from various pundits as they cite stats, figures, and data about the plays, players, and teams that seem bizarrely obtuse: most yards by a player from a PAC10 school when running out of the I-formation and things like that. Well, it seems gaming isn’t far behind in that sort of statistics adoration and it’s impacting me! I recently received mail from a gaming site I subscribe to that shared my 2017 stats … here’s how I placed in some of their categories:

Box art1st in the Open World + Role Playing Completed Games Leaderboard for Washington

1st in the Role Playing + Action-RPG Completed Games Leaderboard for Washington

1st in the Role Playing + Action-RPG GamerScore Leaderboard for Washington

1st in the Xbox One Role Playing + Action-RPG Completed Games Leaderboard for Washington

1st in the Xbox One Role Playing + Action-RPG GamerScore Leaderboard for Washington

1st in the Role Playing Completed Games Leaderboard for Washington

1st in the Xbox One Role Playing Completed Games Leaderboard for Washington

top 10 in the Xbox One Role Playing + Action-RPG Completed Games Leaderboard for The USA

top 20 in the Role Playing + Action-RPG Completed Games Leaderboard for The USA

top 20 in the Xbox One Role Playing Completed Games Leaderboard for The USA

top 50 in the Open World + Role Playing Completed Games Leaderboard for The USA

top 50 in the Role Playing + Action-RPG Completed Games Leaderboard

top 50 in the Role Playing Completed Games Leaderboard for The USA

top 50 in the Xbox One Role Playing + Action-RPG Completed Games Leaderboard

top 100 in the Role Playing Completed Games Leaderboard

top 100 in the Xbox One Role Playing Completed Games Leaderboard

top 200 in the Open World + Role Playing Completed Games Leaderboard

top 500 in the Role Playing + Action-RPG GamerScore Leaderboard

top 500 in the Role Playing GamerScore Leaderboard

top 500 in the Xbox One Role Playing + Action-RPG GamerScore Leaderboard

top 500 in the Xbox One Role Playing GamerScore Leaderboard

Seeing that I was first in any category was like, WOW, and then you need to look at how much the category is specialized … a specific game category for the state I live in. OK, not bad, but pales when you look for how I did without some of the qualifiers. Still, I’m happy to have a little gaming fame, even considering the specialized notes.

Here’s to gaming … and, mostly to RPG gaming in Washington state!

Posted in Gaming | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

New Year’s Day Stroll

Posted by joeabbott on January 7, 2018

While almost a week old, it’s the only news I have. Well, my hand (elbow, actually … but it mostly impacts my left hand) is getting better and we’re taking down our holiday decorations, but those aren’t really blog-worthy. And this from a guy who’ll blog just about anything!

But, on New Year’s Day, Suzy and I took advantage of one of 32 State Park hikes offered around Washington State, choosing one that was near our house and about 2 miles long. Not particularly long but long enough to get the blood moving on a chilly day. The invitation simply stated:

Saltwater State Park, Des Moines: Take one hike or two, starting with a short, easy 1/4-mile guided walk on the interpretive nature trail, followed by the more moderate 1.5-mile Loop Trail. Meet at 9:30 a.m. at the interpretive center. The short, guided tour leaves at 10 a.m. and the longer walk follows immediately after. The Civilian Conservation Corps-built cabin will be open until noon for refreshments and viewing of displays.

WP_20180101_09_59_12_Pro

Our tour guide, Coleman, the ranger on duty at the park, wasn’t super-engaging or descriptive and we got very little in the way of explanation of any plant or animal life in the park, but he knew a bit about Saltwater Park history and the CCC activities in and around it. But, the main point of the meet-up was to get out into the chill air and move a bit.

We found the starting point early, chatted a bit with the Coleman outside, went into the cabin for a bit of self-learning as we perused the various small displays, and (in spite of a growing crowd) as nothing seemed to be going on we were about to leave on the hike just by ourselves. And then Coleman said something like, “well, we should get going.” Wow!

So, a group of about 15 of us headed out on a largely silent trip thru the Saltwater State Park canyon (up past their camping area) and then down to the beach. A few questions were asked but the trail was mostly single-file and with as many folks as we had, it was hard to gather for any sort of Q&A session. Suzy and I were near the front but, even then, it was a quiet little stroll on a chilly morning through some lovely greenery. I will note that the Park provided water, some snacks (nut bars and the like), and had hand warmers. I tossed a hand warmer in my pocket and was SUPER GLAD to have it! Never used one before … almost transformative. It was nice!

WP_20180101_10_25_39_Pro

As for the walk\hike part, I think I expected something “more” but it’s hard to put a finger on what that might have been. The outing was brisk and enjoyable, the time in the Park very fine, but setting expectations for anything more than that was aiming a bit high. I would absolutely do another New Year’s Day hike but would look for something a bit longer and temper any expectations of deep learning. We did discover the Friends of Saltwater State Park association and, should we ever want to share the brush-clearing skills we picked up managing our own property last year, that might be a good place to volunteer some time.

Welcome to the New Year!

Posted in Hiking | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Why I like video games

Posted by joeabbott on January 1, 2018

I like computer games in a similar way to liking science fiction and fantasy novels: to take me away, open my imagination to new worlds, and ultimately tell me a story. While video games are different than written works … much as they’re different from movies\television, board games, or theater … they impart to me the same sense of adventure and discovery. While video games “color in” far more details than books, magazines or even comics and “illustrated novels” do, they also allow for discovery and experience in ways that books simply can’t. It doesn’t make one imageentertainment device (that is, books or video games) better than another, it makes them different.

I like gaming for the experiences I get to play out. Here are three video games I recently played and some of the adventures I enjoyed while completing them. All of these are first person action games along the RPG genre, meaning you interact with the world as if you’re seeing it through your eyes and for each notable accomplishment (quests completed, puzzles solved, etc.) you receive “experience” (XP) allowing you to improve abilities at various levels (leveling up).

An example of this “leveling up” might be if I need 1000 XP for the next level: I might get 300 XP for retrieving an item for another character in the game, get another 200 XP for defeating notable enemies, say 100 XP for discovering new locations in the world, and a final 400 XP for defeating a “boss” (which is a unique and challenging enemy) … and now I have hit that new level. For hitting the next level I can choose a “perk”, which might be an ability to make in-game puzzles easier to solve, make combat against enemies easier, or provide my character with a new ability or tool.

While the three games noted below share gameplay similarities, the worlds in which they occur are vastly different. Come along and see a few reasons why I like video games.

Assassin’s Creed Origins

The background story to this game pits two groups of people: the Templars who are trying to take over the world through the combined use of corporate power and alien technology (work with me here, will ya?) and opposing them are the Assassin’s. The Assassin’s Creed franchise has spawned many games, each situated during a different time period and the Origins game tells of the start of the Assassin’s guild way back in 45 BCE or so. You play as Bayak, a medjay (a pharaonic bodyguard) who became embroiled with the Templars when they killed his son, and as your revenge quest leads you further and further into the ranks of the Templars, you establish the Assassins to counter them.image

OK, heavy stuff. Me, I just loved running about Egypt in the same way I loved my first few trips to New York City: you couldn’t turn a corner without seeing something for yourself that you’d heard of since childhood. There were Alexandria, the Nile, Memphis, deserts and oases; the Library and Lighthouse of Alexandria were imagined, along with the Sphinx and Great Pyramids. All is rendered in as realistic detail as possible using current scientific methods to uncover this time period. You see benign details like outposts for tanning animal skins, salt works, and even mines for natron, the salt used in the mummification process. You also see temples and priests, luxury barges plying the Nile, and the opulent palace grounds of the elite.

ImageThe game is even releasing a mode allowing you to explore the areas as a learning tool (not a game) and to “tour” this time period in ancient Egypt.

Did I say I liked running around? Well, that was an option but so was riding on horseback, on camel, or commandeering a reed boat and rafting the lakes and rivers. I can recall my surprise and delight when, in game, I ran up to a papyrus boat, hopped on, and seamlessly started commanding the vessel. Also, as part of the game you’re allowed to see the territory through the eyes of an eagle, giving you a unique vantage to the wonderful surroundings.

But, it’s a game with the word “assassin” in the title so as much as I talk about exploring this wonderfully rendered world, I spent a fair amount of time sniping ferocious beasts with my bow, shivving guards and military men with my assassin’s blade, and outright whacking grave robbers apart with a number of deadly weapons. The game also allows you to sneak undetected through the shadows, but that only goes so far when you’ve infiltrated a military camp to free innocent villagers and the guards are thick as thieves throughout the grounds.

I very much enjoyed that this game was balanced such that it’s encouraged you take a stealth approach, and do all your killing and looting without being seen. Many quests give extra bonus if you can complete them without raising an alarm. That doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be killing the enemy … you just can’t be seen by someone else while you do it.

Far Cry Primal

imageAnd from “ancient” Egypt we go to really ancient Central Europe around 10,000 BCE! In Far Cry Primal you play as a cave man from the peaceful Wenja tribe name Takkar, who has a gift of being able to tame animals, with his skills growing throughout the game from taming owls and wolves to powerful saber-toothed tigers and cave bear. In the story, two other rival factions are busy enslaving the peace-loving Wenja and it’s up to Takkar to unite the people and stop the assaults on his tribe.

Like the Assassin’s Creed franchise, Far Cry has several offerings but Primal is unique in that it trades the gun-play of the modern Far Cry setting for spear-chucking, club swinging, and bow-and-arrow gameplay. Primal is also similar in that stealth and sneaking is strongly encouraged but to a lesser degree. While it’s possible to complete some objectives using stealth techniques, the main use seems to be to single out a victim so they can be killed off in a fashion at your great advantage.

In this game I didn’t revel in the time period authenticity of setting or tools and garb. It’s a purely fictional world in which I was able to tame a saber-tooth tiger and ride him to battle, I could have my pet owl drop bombs causing enemies to fight their allies, and use a rope and claw tool to scale truly prodigious cliffs … even tossing the claw to a higher point while in the middle of the climb. But the lack of realism certainly didn’t stop me from enjoying the game.

I started out in a small corner of the map, a sole survivor from a hunting expedition gone wrong, and slowly bring more and more people to my camp. I save one or two from an enemy raid as they were being taken prisoner, I lead a small group of three to a safer camp some distance away (protecting them along the way), and I add my arsenal of weapons and techniques to stop an attack on another small group of Wenja. And all of these two and three and four caveman parties join my tribe until, by end-game, my clan had over 300 members. And, by branching out to find resources to build up my camp, to find new animals to tame, or doing the little quests to help my tribesmen, I expand the map.

image

In the end my Takkar gains many skills, slowly takes back territory from the invading tribes, unites his clan, and ultimately faces off and vanquishes the two enemy leaders. I let fly a lot of arrows, was a big fan of the devastating spear, and became handy with a club in those close-up fights but mostly enjoyed the game for the novelty of the setting, fantastical though it was.

Fallout 4

After looking to the ancient past in the last two games, we come to Fallout 4, set in 2287, 210 years after a nuclear war has destroyed most of the world; you are the Sole Survivor from Vault 111 where you were cryogenically frozen as you waited out the nuclear holocaust and worst of the subsequent fallout. Pretty somber stuff and yet as you wander the wasteland you can still find a tasty Nuka Cola beverage, imagestroll through Diamond City (a settlement built in Fenway Park … get it? “Diamond” as in “baseball diamond”?), and buy some Fancy Lad snack cakes from both zombie and robot salesmen. The game reaches for absurdist humor while mixing in lethal doses of radiation poisoning, raider enslavement, and attack by feral packs of dogs, huge glowing radscorpions, or the human engineered mutants (imagine smaller … but only slightly smaller … versions of the Incredible Hulk).

Set in post-apocalyptic Boston, the game is absolutely massive: cited as having over 111,000 recorded lines of dialogue, more than 300 locations to visit and explore, and 42 settlements either existing or waiting on you to settle, Fallout 4 is so big it’s understandable you have multiple ways to play. There’s the main story, which involves you on a quest to find out what happened to your baby son you were frozen with; myriad smaller quests ranging from giving an NPC some resource to retaking a settlement from a raider gang and establishing your own homestead; or you can go into detail on building up a settlement, including shops, establishing power systems and clean water, recruiting a number of residents and setting up supply routes. Fallout 4 is in a large part about exploration and allowing you to do what you want, when and where you want to do it.

And yet at the core it’s a shooting game where you are set against a number of enemies and shoot, slash, club, or otherwise kill them. There’s a violence to this game that’s equal amounts shocking and commonplace; the graphics of some of the kills are just that, graphic, but the ubiquity and regularity of this sort of thing inures players to any sort of surprise. While the other two games listed here allowed differing degrees of stealth and combat avoidance, Fallout 4 takes the player straight into conflict and the bloodier, the better. One perk players can choose as they level up is Bloody Mess, a little something that says, “+5% bonus damage means enemies will sometimes explode into a gory red paste. Watch out for flying eyeballs!” So much for subtlety.

image

The hook for me in this game is elusive. I loved the ability to create my own settlement. I started building out a massive complex at one location and I populated that site with some 20+ other NPCs … and then they started messing with my stuff! So much so that I setup a new location with zero other inhabitants and kept it that way, allowing me to setup a Power Armor suit without some NPC hopping into it and walking around, or sleeping in the bed in my master suite. The hard part is that I never spent the time needed to get really good at setting up a settlement for it to look good, so even my best command centers looked like hovels.

Oddly, I also started caring about the settlements I established.

One of the DLCs in this game had the Sole Survivor taking over raider gangs and claiming settlement areas throughout the map. When I completed this DLC I had completed the game, getting every achievement possible and, for me, this is the main reason I play most games. So Fallout 4 was over. But here it is, days after finishing the game and I want to go back … now that I have all the achievements I can do whatever I want and I want to retake those settlements from the raiders! I usually play as the “good guy” so playing as a raider boss is unnatural and against my usual style. I’m torn … I’m done with the game but it captured my attention so much that I want to go back and “make things right” for the NPCs.

It’s a pretty good game that can do that.

Coda

imageSo that’s it, those are some of my recent experiences with video games and why I like them. They let me go places and explore worlds, both real and fantastical; they show me an imagined world that has never and likely will never exist; and they let me do things I’d never otherwise be able to do, whether that’s sliding down a pyramid in Giza, riding a mammoth as it tramples enemy hunters, or launch a handheld nuclear bomb at a giant mutant. Some of these video games are a crazy wild ride.

I suppose I could\should touch on the fact that I’ve killed so many enemies in these games to be labeled a psychopath of enormous proportions, but in real life I still pet my cats, treat our chickens with dignity, and hold doors at the supermarket for both old and young. I believe any healthy intellect playing video games will understand those boundaries and be able to move to and fro without overt behavioral changes. But this is a discussion far beyond the reach of this post.

I like video games, play a lot, and these are some of my reasons; thanks for sharing my experiences on three of my latest games.

Posted in Gaming | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Edgewise by Pavel’s Puzzles

Posted by joeabbott on December 31, 2017

Earlier in my winter break, I wrote about a puzzle I received as a gift and how it’s been on my mind … and dinner table … since I opened it up. Well, the holidays, a broken elbow, and being stumped by this puzzle all have solving it on hold but I still glance at it, wonder a bit, and then move on. I’m at the point where I’m truly stumped.

After writing my post (A Grand 54th), I was tickled to receive a comment from Pavel himself, offering for me to drop him a line if I wanted a hint. I didn’t then but will take one now … I’ll either reach out to him a day or two or wait for him to reply here. I’m going to collapse this next section because IT CONTAINS POTENTIAL SPOILERS! If you’re working on Edgewise and don’t want to be polluted by my thoughts, pictures of my progress, or anything like that, don’t expand this section and just move on.

Consider that fair warning.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Fun, Trivia | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »