Sunday, February 17, 2013

Ice Skating

One of the things we forget as we get older, is how terrifying childhood is. Or at the very least, reasonably uncomfortable. Case in point, lessons, about anything: swimming, reading, soccer, or in this case, ice skating.

I never took ice skating lessons as a kid, I think at one point my dad may have given me a pointers over a span of about 15 seconds. As he was an immigrant from a country where humidity meets monsoons, that was the entirety of his knowledge on the subject.

We have Owlet in classes, all that 'give your child the opportunities you never had' thing coming into play there. Thinking back, the only reason I didn't have this opportunity is that my parents were busy signing me up in all sorts of other activities to feel awkward and self-conscious about.To my everlasting regret, there was never a summer camp for 'sitting quietly in a corner, reading books while taking breaks to watch cartoons'.

So anyways, yes, it's difficult, this thing we call childhood. We adults are supposedly much more self-confident, assured, and generally stable in most ways of the world. And yet we put the children in situations where they have to show how clumsy and awkward they are to their peers, "what doesn't kill you will only emotionally scar you", I guess. It's a huge burden to put upon developing minds, I think. They don't know what they want to become or how to act or what to do in pretty much every situation and yet, here we go, new activity, fall down in front of your peers.

Which is one of the many reasons I decided to take skating lessons myself. The frequency with which I, all adult with a full-time job and a mortgage and life insurance and such and such am required to do anything remotely as uncomfortable as lessons I can count on the hand I use to count the number of times I'm required to get feminine products for Mrs. Owl. Which is vanishingly, and thankfully, small.

I go to the Owlet's lessons, I give all the encouragement any dad can reasonably offer without repeating himself or falling into Al Pacino "Any Given Sunday" territory, but I think it'll really help me if I put myself in the same situation.

It's much less rigid, adult lessons. They crammed the intermediate with the beginner. I'm somewhere in between, so that's fine. I can skate forwards and stop  after a fashion. If the zombie apocalypse were to happen along a an improbably frozen river I think I'd do OK. If there was a social situation where the family were to skate I'd come off less well, though. I can't skate backwards, nor stop without losing a fair bit of dignity.

We all just mill about, trying things, and two to three instructors wander about giving us pointers and things to work on. I had my choice between a fairly cheerful woman who was impressively vague in her instruction or another young woman who's dourness denoted a lifetime in a war-torn country, a feeling that all this instructing stuff was a bit beneath her, or all the above.  The dour one was actually pretty instructive but had the brusqueness of someone who, if they do not pencil in their eyebrows now, soon will and abhor anyone who goes above, say, 1100 calories per day.

The first lesson was excruciating because apparently rental skates vary widely in their fit. The ones I had had a previous life as the genocidal ruler of a country filled with compliant people, a non-existant embezzlement regulatory body, and a complete blind eye with regard to disappearing political dissidents. I want to say it tortured me, but there is something professional about that word that doesn't quite capture the enjoyment I imagine said skates extracted from my suffering.

My second lesson I happened upon a pair of skates whose sole purpose is not to inflict maximum, gleeful suffering from my body. It has other duties, like one skate being sharper than the other. It's better, much better actually, asking for a piece of wood to bite on while I skated was awkward for all involved. Still doesn't beat going on home and catching up on Transformers, though.

Saturday, February 09, 2013


Owl Jr. is still very much into Thomas the Tank Engine. Periodically he'll ask me to read him the toy catalog, which I'll staunchly refuse the first 97 times.

But he has taken up Hotwheels to some extent. It does seem all hopelessly gender stereotypical but I suppose I'm just too old-fashioned, lazy, and cheap to get him the Mother Jones approved Green Nurture Truck from the Gaia Solar Empowered Rescue Team (made from carbon neutral renewable Fair Trade non-invasive species bamboo). Also, it means I can hand him down my Hotwheels. Likely made from lead-paint, cast from asbestos casts and formed from depleted uranium with a special DEET-infused glass for the windshield.

It's a bit of a trip to see him play with the milk truck tanker which I pretended to be a tanker with mini-laser turrets where the tank caps are. Or the grey funny car which quite EMPHATICALLY belonged to my brother. Or the 007 Aston Martin which even MORE emphatically belonged to my other brother.  Or the Starsky and Hutch car before it was made into a ironic poorly made retro-movie callback.

He generally doesn't play with them all at once, or even many at once. He'll ask what they are called (the old, 'gotta read the bottom to find out what it's called' trick). And then he'll loyally haul that around for days and days. One of them was featured in a unabashedly toy tie-in book in which Hotwheels cars race while dinosaurs methodically take them all out. The blue car wins, which we, completely by luck, we happen to have. It's name is Tantrum, since it's not a real car, but some special weird made up car where they just let the Hotwheel's designers go nuts because I'm sure that's cheaper than licensing names.

Invariably, as ny 4 year old who hauls around one toy for days and days, he'll lose it. And then, for many more days than we'd have thought possible he'll wander around, like a Dickensian ghost, repeating "Where's Tantrum? I lost Tantrum... where's Tantrum?". It's a little unnerving bordering on aggravating. But it's matched by a nameless joy when he finally finds the damn car.

The naming cars things is understandable, but some of the cars don't actually have the name on the bottom, which is a minor sin, I think, and why Owl Jr. calls the generic stock car 'Thailand'. Others have convoluted names, like the full designation, wth all the X'es and numbers and dashes. I prefer something in between. 'Charger', is fine, "Charger XJ-29 2012 Limited Edition Nascar PRO wheel", is a bit much.

It's at this point thinking about cars that I kinda pine for the simple trains, with their names that were popular for British children's in the 40's:  Thomas, Ferdinand, Percy. Even if they are featured in a product catalog masquerading, poorly, as a storybook. 

Monday, February 04, 2013

PNE : 2010

This is a draft, one of many drafts on different topics I've found in my draft archives. This particular one is from 2010... Yowsa.

The PNE is the Pacific National Exhibition, which is a very Canadian and overly complicated way of saying 'State Fair'.

Owlet is four, if my math is right, which it rarely is. Owl Jr. is two, possibly/probably. There are  rides of various speeds and sizes and death-defyingness, sweet and salty and questionable treats that all have ceased being technical 'food' during the long slow cost-cutting and profit maximization that is industrial food production and regulatory slackening which began in the 80's and has gone as unabated sales of Atlas Shrugged to undergraduate commerce majors.

Owlet is a smaller fireball, and I'm not sure how she'll take rides. They trundle and whizz and bang and some go at speeds which used to fill me with excitement but now just have me worrying about the frequency of federally mandated safety checks for semi-permanent carnival attractions.

We go through the gates and there's the big behemoth, I think it's called The Coaster, which, well, I don't know how the creative team at the PNE believes slapping some capitals on a noun makes for an iconic coaster name; but it's big and wooden and is old enough to be grandfathered through various safety protocols and the people exiting the ride look mostly like they are happy to have not required inadequate CPR from grossly underpaid transients and students, so it's probably a good coaster.

All you can really hear is the thunder and rattle of the cars as they whip through various turns and falls. And Owlet is sceaming.

In delight.

It's equal parts screaming and laughing and laughing screaming.

She has this frozen smile on her face with her mouth half way open and it's kind of heart breaking to take her to the tamer rides that appropriate for her age and size. But the various treats formerly known as foodstuffs are so chocked with sugar and chemicals that make reading it make me feel like I'm reading a Breaking Bad script that any sort of disappointment is quickly quelled into a stupor or euphoric, hopefully temporary, chemical dependence.

Owl Jr. is 2, so he's more incoherently manic about trains. There is this train ride, of course, that I'm pretty sure he'd trade us for in a heartbeat if that was legal and he had the proper documentation. His screams come, of course, when we try to remove him at the end of the ride. Two years on and he's pretty much the same way but he can grudgingly take a spin on a ride that has somehow managed to go under the radar of Disney's copyright lawyers. Yes, I'm sure there are other perfectly well known flying elephants, but I'm drawing a blank at the moment.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

The Chewy, Charry Bits

I'm at the last bit of my game, LaunchCraft. I still think I implemented it poorly, but I just want to be done with it. Which is a really crap reason for wanting to finish a game, but at this point I need any motivation to get through it. Game development is alot of pain working with obscure tools and uncertain documentation aimed at MIT compsci gradutates who read WC3 specs to wind down, I find.

To be more accurate, working with open source tools is like that. I could very well use any manner of commercial prodcuts to get my game done, and that would likely be the wiser course. But I have this thing for freedom, and have various, radical scenarios where entire swaths of my PC goes down, or companies dissolve, and then I have to rebuild whatever I was working on from scratch. With open source, that option is there. The code never dies. There's no company to die and leave you in the lurch. You can always work 'light'. That is, with as few dependencies on the nefarious commercial companies which have the habit of going out of business or discontinued whatever widget you are relying on.

Or maybe I'm just a not so disguised zealot.

But it means having to endure a lot of pain and feeling not entirely bright while trying to solve what you think is a pretty straightforward problem. The problem has been solved, but it's under a mountain of documentation, and even then you're better off peering at arcane source code written by the bright, genius sort of coders who find making game-frameworks to be just the sort of challenge they need between reading WC3 specifications.

It's humbling, to be sure.

Open source suffers for the same reason that Apple does so well. User interface design. In this case, as the programmer, I'm the user, trying to use different bits of code to make a game. Trying to make this bit of code work with this bit of code. Invariably the sort of people who write game frameworks (the bits I'm trying to tie together) can't conceive, or don't plan for, programmers like me who can't understand why there's no, say, simple way to pause the game, and will answer, in a slightly bewildered tone, an answer that is in no way obvious and involves using bits of code that I suspect were made by a malevolent AI bent on eventual human enslavement.

But it goes, it goes. Roughly.

Friday, February 01, 2013

1st Draft Birthday Cards

  • Remember when you used to look forward to being one year older: more mature, more responsibilities and opportunities?
    And now it's just hoping that the degeneration of your body isn't too catastrophic and that maybe you can make it to a peaceful death without smearing your name on the walls with your own feces?
    Those were great times.
  • This card is made from pristine, supposedly protected redwoods of California. The image on the front is of a idyllic untouched coastal scene, though, so there's that.
  • Another year older, another year wondering if that delightful absent-minded professor routine you've cultivated since 19 is really just masking advanced dementia.
  • Well, you're well past ever making anything of yourself.
    We love you anyways. Happy Birthday!
  • You know using today to get a free meal at Denny's means you've lost, in not an unsubstantial way, some very real points in life.
    Breakfast all day though, have a great one!
  • Batmobile, Porsche, Ducati, European sports car, Japanese performance sedan, domestic sedan, sport wagon, mini-van. It's called the 'tactical withdrawal of life'.
  • You've now officially spent more time in your life struggling with 'mail merge' than you have spent laughing with your loved ones.
    Happy Birthday buddy!
  • Broadly speaking, you've just turned up on the radar of nearly every actuarian.
    Keep on trucking!
  • On balance, though, more of your friends are alive than dead, enjoy your youth, birthday boy!
  • The prolonged eye contact with the cute store clerk isn't due to your dignified, Clooneyesque demeanour, it's because you've reached the age where you remind her of her dad. 
  •  This is the year that the retirement home billboards take on a certain vicious significance. But you can still drive, happy birthday!
  • The Classic Rock station doesn't even play music you recognize anymore. Have a corker!