Joe Abbott's Weblog

Letters home to mom

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    • 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 →

Dark Souls dominance

Posted by joeabbott on April 2, 2017

I’ve been infatuated by a game called Dark Souls for a while now; in late 2014 I mentioned in this blog that I had “dipped my toes” into it. Well, it’s been two and a half years and a full-on immersion but it’s now completed, by achievement standards. This morning I picked up my last achievement in the last Dark Souls game than I had yet to complete … my quest is over. Sort of.

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I say “sort of” because I completed Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin this morning but I hadn’t completed the play-through … and so I’m left without beating the final boss and in this weird situation of not having complete closure. Additionally, in the last couple of days I’ve found a co-op partner who is a pretty cool guy and doesn’t have the same quirks as some of the other players I’ve met online … and it’d be fun to play more Souls with him.

So, I think I’ll be playing more but my obsession to “complete” the series is over, and I can start to dip into my game library for other distractions.

I was late to the Dark Souls party by playing the original game some three years after it came out. I made a longish write-up about the game here (Dec 2015) just a month after I picked it up; it grabbed me almost instantly. Within a couple months I had beaten it (not “completed” … I didn’t complete the game [get all achievements] until August of 2016) and finished my second run-through in early 2016 (Feb 2016).

By that time I had tried Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin but it just didn’t sit well with me; the game was harder and just felt unfair … where fairness was a hallmark of the original game. The original was hard, yes; but with patience it was a challenge you could overcome. But, Dark Souls 3 had also just released and so I jumped onto that train (April 2016), a full-on fan-boy of the series by this time.

But, again, the challenges were a bit too challenging and so I turned back to the original Dark Souls game and tried my hand at a Soul Level 1 run: completing the game while never leveling up; which makes all of the challenges, well … challenging (to say the least). I finished that in May 2016, so I made quick work of it and then turned my attention to completing the original Dark Souls … but after that was done, it was back to Dark Souls 3. With help from online friends, I completed that game in early 2017 (January 2017) and then jumped full-force into Dark Souls 2.

Dark Souls 2 had an original release on the Xbox 360 but it was a polarizing release: the level design and enemy placement wasn’t as exquisite as the original Dark Souls and some felt the tweaks made to the game made it harder and removed some of the fun. After releasing several DLC add-ons, the game was rereleased on the Xbox One with all extended content as Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin. Additionally, the game designers tweaked some of the enemy placement, making what purist thought was a much better game but they also making it harder by just adding a lot more enemies to each area.

With Dark Souls 2 (on Xbox 360) perceived as easier, I tried that version. Well, time hasn’t held up well for Xbox 360 games: the visuals were muddy, the gameplay stilted, and overall it was a chore to complete. But, after going through that, getting back onto the Scholar of the First Sin edition on the Xbox One felt amazing. The textures in the game felt better (in most places), the character moved well, and the increased frame rate helped everything feel crisp. And, with understanding the general map layout, I was quickly able to feel at home in this version and complete the game.

And that’s it. I feel the pull to complete my current play-through of Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin, I feel compelled to try the original one more time, and I want to enjoy some co-op with new friends who are also fans of the series. Fortunately, I can probably do all of these things but mostly I can be happy to have completed a good challenge in a fun game.

Thanks for stopping by and listening to me blather about gaming. Hope your diversions keep you as engaged!

Posted in Gaming | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Another Word-a-Day

Posted by joeabbott on March 19, 2017

A while back I wrote a piece on the A.Word.A.Day daily email that I get from the Wordsmith folks … I believe it started as the brainchild of Anu Garg and has since expanded to require a half-dozen folks to operate smoothly. The daily post is sometimes ignored but, more often than not, I always enjoy the pithy notes on a single word used in the English language. At times the weekly offerings will be based on a theme of sorts, and recently the mailing include a number of words with a nautical origin. I was so surprised at some of them I wanted to share that week’s words here.

offing

MEANING:

noun: Near future (used in the phrase “in the offing”).

ETYMOLOGY:

In nautical use, offing is the part of sea visible from the shore, but beyond anchoring ground. From off (away), from of. Earliest documented use: 1600.

This one surprised me; I’d heard (and maybe even used) this one before but the sense I had was less about “near future” than it was about in some nearby but intangible place. The meaning I “knew” is close, but it had more of a location connotation for me than a temporal one. When I look at the etymology, I feel better about my past usage.

jury-rig

MEANING:

verb tr.: To assemble or fix temporarily using whatever is at hand.

ETYMOLOGY:

On a sailing ship, a jury-mast is a temporary mast, rigged when the original is damaged or lost. From jury (makeshift or temporary), perhaps from Old French ajurie (help). Earliest documented use: 1840.

While I’d used “jury-rig” any number of times in the past, I had no idea this phrase had a nautical origin. Indeed, I likely suspected that it had more to do with loading a courtroom’s jury with a set of people who had a predisposition either for or against someone on trial, thereby “rigging” the outcome. And now I’m just a bit smarter.

slush fund

MEANING:

noun: A fund established for illegal activities, especially in business and politics.

ETYMOLOGY:

Originally, a slush fund was money collected to buy small luxuries for a ship’s crew. The fund was raised from the sale of slush (refuse fat) from the ship’s galley. Earliest documented use: 1839.

This was the point I said, “I gotta blog about these words!” I had no clue that “slush fund”, a phrase I often associate with Wall Street and never occurring to me as having salt in its origins, drew from the same stock as some of the other words here. Again, hard to help but feel just a bit more informed.

pinchgut

MEANING:

noun: A miserly person.
adjective: Miserly.

ETYMOLOGY:

Originally, a pinchgut was someone who didn’t give enough food to a ship’s crew. Earliest documented use: 1615.

This word resonates with a 1600s sort of thing you might expect a salty dog to say, but I’m surprised it had a ship-borne origin and wasn’t something more commonly said in those times. Not sure I’ll have a use for this one in my daily vocabulary, but it’ll be there should I need to call on it.

jettison

MEANING:

verb tr.: To cast off something regarded as unwanted or burdensome.
noun: The act of discarding something.

ETYMOLOGY:

Originally, jettison was the act of throwing goods overboard to lighten a ship in distress. From Latin jactare (to throw), frequentative of jacere (to throw). Ultimately from the Indo-European root ye- (to throw), which also gave us jet, eject, project, reject, object, subject, adjective, joist, jactitation, subjacent, and jaculate. Earliest documented use: 1426.

This is a word I knew, coming into my vocabulary around the time I learned of “jetsam” and “flotsam”. Nice to get a word I knew and actually used correctly in the weekly offerings!

Coda

And that’s it. I wrote about A.Word.A.Day previously but, on looking back in my archives, I see that it was in 2011, so perhaps a quick refresher or reminder is in order. I still get the daily post and still enjoy them … and you can, too. Just sign up here (Subscribe) or check out the website here (http://wordsmith.org/).

And, as always … enjoy.

Posted in Trivia | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Bee house

Posted by joeabbott on March 13, 2017

Last year I built a mason bee house and it came out pretty good: six-sided with a clever roofline to shelter the bee tubes. But, this year Suzy bought a block with slots cut into it that the bees will use to lay their eggs. The good thing about these blocks is that you can split them apart easily to remove the bees and clean them, and then re-assemble and you’re ready to go for next year. The bad part about the block is that it wouldn’t fit the clever six-sided house.

So, we built a new one.

While the new one is a little more boring (just a rectangle with a gable roof), it came out well and I thought I’d bragger-tell you about it here.

Boards

I went to Home Depot and picked up a half dozen fencing pickets that were mostly clear. As pickets, they were about 5.5” wide and many of the boards I’d need would be 8-10” … and even a 12” wide board for the back. So, after planing them down, it was time to glue them up!

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WP_20170123_17_31_35_ProMaking parts

I typically make things with all the same dimensioned thickness. That is, if I’m using 3/4” boards, everything is 3/4” thick. This time I decided that my 3/8” boards were too thin for some uses but would look great for walls and the back. So, I took a couple of the boards and glued them together, face-to-face.

With these thicker parts, I’d be able to make a bottom that had more weight and looked good, as well as create a roof that had interlocking parts, ensuring the sensitive bees in cocoons wouldn’t get wet from all the spring Seattle rain.

The picture to the right shows how I ensured the parts got good clamping pressure: add a lot of clamps!

Assembly

WP_20170205_13_53_31_ProAfter that it was assembly time and, with as cold as it’s been in Seattle this season, we brought the project onto our kitchen table on the chillier days.

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WP_20170222_10_07_09_RichFinishing

We weren’t sure if we wanted to put a finish on it. The joints were solid (see the picture to the right … it also shows what I meant by having an “interlocking roof” … rain is not getting through that!), and the wood would age to a grey that matched nearly all the other cedar in our yard.

But, we argued that if we wanted it around a long time, having a finish would be the best way to go. So, we chose a spar varnish but avoided finishing any of the interior parts where the bees might go. We weren’t sure if it would be toxic to them, and it wasn’t worth the “science experiment” to find out.

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I don’t have a lot of pictures of the finished house (with finish) but the two pictures below show how much even a simple, clear finish will make the grain pop and really give wood a warm, wonderful look.

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Coda

And that’s it! A simple bee box that took nearly two months to complete! There’s a tiny bit more to the project in that I built a thin, removable panel that I can wedge into the top triangular section below the roof. It has a small hole at the bottom that will allow bees to crawl out and fly off, but it’s not big enough to let something like a bird eat the larva.

Thanks for dropping in and checking out another mason bee house!

Posted in Home projects, Woodworking | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Who wants more Mr. P.?

Posted by joeabbott on March 12, 2017

The other day I caught a video of me walking our neighborhood pheasant to the backyard for a little seed treat.

Enjoy.

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

Speaking of books …

Posted by joeabbott on March 10, 2017

WP_20170305_14_45_21_ProFor about 10 years now, Suzy has been compiling our annual photographs into a “best of” printed volume. The books are 100-ish color pages of glorious us. Yup, we have all these images digitally; yup, we lived that life so there’s nothing new here; and, yup, it’s just a photo album … but I look forward to paging through these every time I find one on a coffee table or on the bookshelf.

I’m not sure what makes these books special; as I noted, we have the digital images. But, there’s something about the tactile quality you can get paging forward, dropping back, and seeing the various instances of our lives in a curated fashion. And it’s not the many thousands of pictures you might get clicking through something on a computer or flicking through them on your phone: they’re just the select, best-of moments that are special in so many ways.

Take for instance last year. Suzy chose a picture of me in the bed of my new-ish truck, arms wide, grinning madly at a tilted rhododendron we were about to plant in our new property. New truck, new property, a plant that a buddy gave me that will grace our new home for years … and that smile that says, “I’m enjoying life!” It’s hard to beat seeing that printed on the cover of a hardback book!

And so, sure, we lived that life so there’s nothing new or truly surprising that we’ll bump into in the pages, but she was a little late on the 2015 book and as we sat side-by-side paging through it when it arrived, we continued to say, “was it that long ago that happened?” or “I thought we had that <insert name of thing here> a lot longer than that!” It’s just fun to relive the very best moments of your life with a quick flip-flip-flip. Even those photos that won’t be meaningful to anyone else.

So, that’s it. If you keep scrapbooks, you’re probably ahead on this score but if you’re use to just cataloging your vacations and days by snapping digital pics and saving them on a hard drive somewhere, I strongly recommend spending some time making your own best-of.

Thanks for dropping in.

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That’s an odd bird

Posted by joeabbott on March 9, 2017

clip_image001WP_20170305_14_31_47_ProOn Sunday before heading out for errands, I called an odd-looking bird walking about our driveway to Suzy’s attention. “That’s a pheasant!”, she said. And she’s right!

We tried getting close to it before our errands to see if it was “tame”, but it ignored us until we were within about 10’ and then kept its distance. Whenever she neared with intent, it took off running. When we got home from errands, it was in our front yard. So, we herded it to the back.

We’re not sure what will be next. We’ll watch for signs if someone posts about a lost pet; we’ll watch our local NextDoor.com site for anyone asking about a bird but, until someone asks or claims it, we’ll let it wander about our backyard.

The chickens have shown only moderate interest and the pheasant is just pecking about at this and that. We very much expect it to just be gone sometime tomorrow … having flown to wherever a bird like this might fly. Again, it can be our guest until it decides to go or causes a problem but we’re enjoying the novelty of this beautiful bird just strutting about. Apologies for the poor photo quality … I shot these from my phone behind a window on the second floor of our home.

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Posted in Trivia | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Turn Right at Machu Picchu

Posted by joeabbott on March 7, 2017

imageI could have sworn I wrote about this book previously but I have found nothin’ on my site … seems like an omission to not mention such an excellent volume so here goes!

A while back I was strolling the aisles of Costco and, as usual, lingered a bit at their book selection piles. And, in another usual happening, I tossed one of the paperbacks into my cart: Turn Right at Machu Picchu, Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time, by Mark Adams. In short: read it. The writing is clean and clear, the pages are full of pop culture references (meaning: fun), and it describes a story a bit short on adventure but deep in engaging history, marvelous characters (both historical and those in modern day), and the jaw-dropping premise of a person whose outdoor exploits consist of camping in a pup tent in his backyard as a child deciding to hike the Incan Trail to Machu Picchu (among other destinations).

I got the book as I know little about Machu Picchu … and what I do know is muddied in New Age beliefs of it being a “power center” … and I hoped the pages would be an engaging way to learn more about this location. And the book certainly came through in that regard. But, the story has multiple layers in it, making a straightforward “book review” a bit of a challenge.

First, Adams covers his story: his motivation for heading out on this trip, the guide who takes him to Machu Picchu as well as many other Incan sites, and the boot-in-front-of-boot hikes. And while boot-in-front-of-boot might sound boring, Adams has an engaging style and the command of an author who knows how to keep his audience interested. On top of that, his overall lack of experience under a backpack makes the tale equal parts preposterous and commendable.

Next, there’s the Incan story, of which some stuff is fascinating and wonderful, and others devastatingly tragic. I’ve read a number of books about the Spanish “conquest” of Mexico and South American and every telling leaves me shaking my head at the barbarism and fundamentally evil nature of mans’ mindset in those days. I won’t dwell on that aspect too much, as I have little in the way of structured thought on the matter, but whenever I hear these stories I wonder that someone didn’t say, “hey, stop a second … what the hell are we doing here?”

Offsetting the headshaking, the fascinating aspects were titillated by Adam’s telling of what’ he’d learned. There was intrigue about who (Westerner) really discovered (if you can discover something the locals already knew about) or visited the site first, wonder at how the site was selected to match up with the Incan religious\life\world views, and mystery that we still don’t really understand how near-prehistoric cultures achieved such engineering marvels. And I repeat that last part for emphasis: we just don’t know how they did it. Yup, we can see what was accomplished or take it apart, but aside from appreciating the mix of engineering and artistry, we don’t know how it was done. The story contained a description of and earthquake on Machu Picchu (or perhaps another Incan site) in which the stones “danced” throughout the rumble and then settled right back into place. Now compare that to “modern” villages that are all but destroyed in face of an earthquake!

And that was the part I was really interested in: why was Machu Picchu built there, what was the site used for, and who were these fabulous engineers who accomplished such a feat. And while archeologists continue to decipher the stones and artifacts left behind (the Incas weren’t much for writing and what text they did have were all but annihilated by the Spaniard clergy and those seeking to rule over them), our understanding of this people is only slowly evolving.

Finally, the book contains a bit about Mark Adams and a small part of his life. Admittedly it only covered a few pages up front to establish his credentials for taking this trip, and a few at the end as he talked about meeting up with his guide on the trip for a foray into Adams’ milieu, New York City. Again, engaging and a fast read, it seamlessly wove its way into a story on Machu Picchu without annoying as a “why is this here” sort of injection.

While all of that is a very fine “what is this book”, I’ll finish here by simply saying, read it. The pages turn quickly as the story evolves, you find yourself engaged in the story of the author and those around him, and you learn a little about a very remarkable place.

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Love me some gaming!

Posted by joeabbott on March 5, 2017

imageWhile I enjoy gaming, the image to the right from a site I follow (that tracks my gaming activity) tells the tale: I spent the entire month of February playing just two games. And for someone with a game library of literally hundreds of games, this is something.

More telling is the two games I played: on the Xbox 360 it was a game called Dark Souls II; on the Xbox One it was Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin. Which is to say, I played the same game (slightly different versions) on two different consoles.

I clearly am enjoying Dark Souls 2!!

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And, yes, yes I am.

I’ve played all of the Dark Souls games and I have 100% completion (meaning, I’ve acquired all the achievements) in both Dark Souls (the original game) and Dark Souls 3 (the final installment). I glossed over Dark Souls 2, finding the game wanting: on the Xbox 360 the gameplay seemed stilted and the changes to the game were off-putting; on the Xbox One I found the changes they made to the game layout difficult and annoying. But, after completing Dark Souls 3 and absolutely loving it, I revisited Dark Souls 2 on the Xbox 360, found that I could enjoy it … and enjoyed it enough to complete it on that platform.

So now you may ask, why would I play the same game … a game I had to complete almost three times on the Xbox 360 … on the Xbox One? Couple reason …

First, the 60fps (frames per second) make the game buttery smooth; and after playing it on the Xbox 360, it’s a joy. You character moves and reacts better, the visuals are more interesting, and it feels like a whole new game. Next, they’ve built the add-on content into the game; something I haven’t played on the Xbox 360, so there is new content. And finally, on my “achievement wall” I have 100% completions in all of the Dark Souls games except this version … and I think it’d be a nice bragging right to have completion in all Dark Souls games. So I’ll continue on.

There are still aspects I dislike but it’s a great challenge in a great world.

And that’s what I’m doing with my gaming time these days. I’m interspersing a few other titles I have. As I mentioned, I have a lot of games and it’s a little sad to have a game but not enjoy it. So, I’m going to put playing a new game first each time I sit down to do any gaming but, in the bits and pieces of time I find here and there, I’ll get in a little more Dark Souls … until I beat Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin.

Stay tuned … I’m bound to crow about it here when I’m done!

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Changes near to home

Posted by joeabbott on March 5, 2017

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I’m in a bit of a quandary: as Suzy and I transform our property up in Granite Falls, removing years of brush and invasive vegetation, our neighbors at our current home are doing something similar to a lot abutting our home.

Since we moved in, there’s been a lot adjacent to our house that was vacant, overgrown, to all observations, ignored. Before we had yard waste service at our home, we’d dump the occasional bucket of trimmings into the underbrush and it seemed to go unnoticed.

At one point we had kept a compost bin on the far side of the fence (since replaced with a larger one on our property) and the owners knew it was there. They had to keep the property lines cleared of blackberry plants so they’d show up once a year to trim them back and give the fast-growing plants a shot of some herbicide. Another neighbor had talked to these folks but we’d never seen them.

Well, a month or so back a For Sale sign appeared and Suzy has been watching for action … and it came in short order. First, a set of (I’m assuming) amateur loggers felled all the trees on the lot. It looked like a scene from a page in the book The Lorax; trees just felled willy-nilly and left where they were dropped. It was a sad event.

A few days later, Suzy sent me the pictures as the lot was cleared by the massive machine you can see in the pictures here.

It’s somewhere sad; the lot was home to a few annoying trees (cottonwoods) but it had a wonderful old snag in which a woodpecker would live and a beautiful madrone tree specimen. Madrone trees are native to this area but not in great numbers; they have a peeling bark and a wonderful cinnamon-colored wood, with dramatic, curving structure. A great tree and sad to see it go.

So, all that habitat and a wonderful location for all manner of small mammals, birds, and plant … just gone.

The quandary I face is that we’re doing something similar up north. Similar is in quotes because we’re not completely flattening and entire lot; of our 5-acres, we’re preserving over three for native trees and maintaining corridors for animals that wish to use our lot as a thoroughfare to the 20-acre parcel across the street. While we haven’t removed any large trees yet, we’re sure a couple will have to go just based on where we plan on citing the house. Our careful decisions and slow pace make what’s happening next door feel a bit more heavy-handed.

Not only that, it’ll take a bit getting used to having a home higher than ours that, potentially, will be looking into our backyard. A lot has to do with what is built and where on the lot, but we’re not exactly excited with these developments. From the pictures you can see we’ve enjoyed a bird’s eye view for a while, which adds to the complexity of my misgivings to the development.

And so, as we reflect on the changes happening here and how we perceive them, Suzy and I will tread carefully on our lot up north as we transform it. We’re committed to putting in lots of plants and beautifying things and, now more than ever, looking forward to moving up there and enjoying a little elbow room without someone looking into our backyard.

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day and Suzy

Posted by joeabbott on March 5, 2017

imageMy wife does many things well but in one of her many exemplary qualities, she shares of herself; and as St. Patrick’s Day approaches, she handed me an envelope to get into the mail to her father in a distant town. Yup, good old USPS mail for a family member who lives farther away than is easy to share our day-to-day events with.

In addition to a newsy letter and some pics from recent gatherings and to-do events here in Seattle, she had created a St. Patrick’s Day greeting card for him. While the original art is based on the Farmville game, she spent the time making a quick recreation rather than just cut-and-paste from a web search. The clever design gave me a bit smile (perhaps you have to be a chicken owner), but I really liked that she continued to keep family in the loop and put time and effort into that connection.

So, for those of my family members who aren’t receiving a St. Patrick’s Day greeting in the mail, this post is for you!

Smile

Thanks for dropping by!

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