Sunday, August 22, 2021

Owlet's 15th Birthday

Owlet turned 15. There isn't even a small chance I can ignore the fact she's a complete teenager, careening blithely towards adulthood. At 13, maybe, 14, in a pinch, if you don't think about it too much, you can still think of them as 'so early in teens, hardly even'. But 15. 15 is basically 16 which is basically 35 and inviting me and Mrs. Owl over for Thanksgiving because we can't 'handle the turkey safely anymore'.

We had a extremely small party. Barely a gathering. Ever since Owlet turned, oh, maybe 10? She's been very low key in her birthdays. A day at the VR Cafe with her cousins or going to the PNE. The 15th was marked with hanging out on the deck with two neighbourhood friends over and Owl Jr. Eating junk food and talking? I mean, there was laughing and such. Bella got her tablet and doodled/drew and they all just chattered away. I generally don't listen partly for their privacy but mostly because it's teen/pre-teen talk and I wouldn't say it's boring, just boring for me. 

At one point someone pulls out their phone and they start watching a video. And it's not like some nationally syndicated entertainment program programmed and funneled from one of a handful of mega corporations. Regular human entertainment. No. It's some very nichy faux court drama featuring.. YouTube personalities with enough in-jokes and callbacks to make an Arrested Development fan nervous. I realized, of course, that this was how my parents viewed, say, video games or rap music. Incomprehensible.

But it's my god given right to tell them to quiet down or 'do something normal' so of course I tell them to turn off the phone. I mean, if they were watching the Best of Night Court would I have said something? I'm not sure. And it wasn't so much the nichey-ness of it. It was the cloying sense that this YT show was like the Disney channel teen shows. Full of smarmy kids always pulling one over the dowdy adults. Except in these videos there aren't even any dowdy adults, they are just pulling everything over us without us even being present.  

Pop culture, by definition, belongs to the young. 

I'm still of the age where I think I should keep up , at least in the same hemisphere in what my kids are consuming.I do a pretty shoddy job at that. But when THEIR friends bring the sort of internet culture THEIR parents let them consume, that's when it really gets out of control. There are empires built on watching particularly charismatic kids play games. Open products. React to things, for the love of.. It's never meant to be understood by adults, I'm sure. Google 'Dream SMP'. I've had Owlet explain it to me several times to everyone's regret. It's a bit like reading an excerpt from a Stephen Hawkings book where you think you get it as you are reading it, but the essential understandability of the thing scurries off into the dark as soon as you blink. 

Yes, it's certainly me being old in the ever thriving youth of internet culture. Owlet has gotten Dream SMP merchandise, to give you an idea. This incomprehensible entertainment is big enough to employ a sweat shop somewhere in Asia. 

By which I mean I get slightly panicky when I have to encounter and evaluate a new 'thing' my kids are thinking about consuming. Nevermind that I was allowed (or, more, my parents never disallowed) to listen to gangster rap in the 90's and I've hardly been in any drive-bys. But the internet is more insidious, it works in memes and half truths and before you know it my kids are 9 miles down the Conspiracy Alley and Lizard People Taking Over the Government is least extreme belief they have.

But I think too much. I think too much about thinking too much. Owlet had a fine time chattering away, consuming several times her daily allowance of sodium, sugar, and red dye number 7. She and Owl Jr. almost always have the most mundane requests for Christmas and birthdays. A life lived with on-demand, commercial free entertainment, I chalk it up to. Fun was had by all, she's not yet an adult, and by god, I can still find my way around at turkey.



Interior BC

NOTE: Lower Mainland is the part of BC closer to the cost, the further west you go, the more zeroes you add to the real estate prices. Also it rains, often and always, as a general rule.
 
We visited our friends in the Interior of BC. There's currently a blanket of forest fire smothering our hometown, so it seemed like a great alternative. It was, technically, AN alternative, not a great one. Smoke doesn't respect municipal boundaries.

It was just a weekend stay, with a bit of a drive on the Coquihala. A highway where local truckers drive the the sort of speed is reached if one is sitting high, HIGH up. High enough to not notice speeds more usually attained on the salt flats, or an episode of COPS. The road always seems to be careening. Up or down, or curving. Sometimes the wonderful down and curving. All the meanwhile other vacationing families try and keep pace with the regulars. 

Driving is always a proper balance between trying to maintain the ambient speed, and drying not to rev my poor honda's engines to RPMs reserved for the Fast & Furious franchise. Being tailgated at these speeds engulfs me in equal parts rage and anxiety, while being passed by local truckers, and turning a blind eye to my fellow tourists white knuckling it to relaxation.

Their city is the sort of hot dry place with devastating winters where everyone has enough room to take up hobbies like woodworking or tap-dancing. Where there are so many lakes it's impossible to find one too crowded. Compared to the lower mainland, where a spray park can cause an around the block car lineup not seen since the 70's oil embargoes. It's a city where you feel out of place if you don't own a camping trailer. Double out of place if you don't own at least one vehicle that has serious pretensions about off-roading. 

We stay at our friends rather large house. For Lower Mainlanders, any dwelling where you can say, clear your throat without someone at the other end hearing you, is big. In this house I could reasonably yell and not be sure if someone heard me on the other side of the house. This is not a house, this is an estate. Clearly one of the main reasons our friends ditched the absurd house prices of the Lower Mainland.
It's pretty great to end our vacation here. They feed us so well. The dinners put glossy perfectly photographed recipe glamour shots to shame. My buddy cooks with amazing ingredients and has a much more varied repertoire than I do; for instance, he has a very strong salad game. Apparently not all of them are bagged. He has many things that are pickled. Some that I'd argue shouldn't be until I try them and swear to pickle everything. He keeps a supply of limes on hand. He's a fellow who watches the food network then actually applies what he learns.

Our kids play with their kids reasonably well, and I get to play the occasional board game with my buddy. It's a great low key time. He does enjoy the odd nerd-game, so it does make things easier. He's an engineer, so by profession he's legally obligated to at least tolerate board games, and possibly brew beer (he does).
 
On this visit they took us to the wildlife exhibit. Which is kind of a zoo, except all the animals in it have been rescued and are, in some way, incompatible with being returned to the wild. Lame, found as a cub with no life skills, terribly unattractive, you get it.

Some are quite exotic, the kermode bear, or something one would never see usually, a cougar, for example. But some are, questionable additions. The raccoons, I'd argue. The deer. I didn't get to the point where I was expecting a border collie but I was close. There was a grumpy too cute to be successful porcupine, two grizzlies that, I dunno, I feel if there was a really tasty toddler on the other side they'd tear through the gate faster than you can say "what do mean there's no refunds?". All in all it was pretty great, though. There was a pall of smoke and an ever present heat, but that porcupine was adorable.
 
Then it's more being fed, more board games, some family board games, but snooty euro family board games that have won all sorts of unpronounceable awards. Because, obviously, I'm the one supplying the games. The snooty euro family games have one thing in common, they always have the most deviously simple rules you at first sniff and, as an average person gazing upon a Basquiat for the first time mutters, 'huh, I could've made that'. Or more likely 'but isn't that already a game', except it isn't.

For example, Just One. A cooperative game. One player leaves the room. The rest have to put down just one word in secret that'll help the person who left guess the word. Except before the guesser returns, everyone compares their one word clues, and duplicates get erased. No, you have not played this game in your grandpa's cabin in the 90's. 

And then the fun is over and our road-trip summer is over and we're back to our modest townhouse. There is slightly less smoke. There is even some rain. I still prefer living here, cramped, wet. But will most likely never take up tap dancing.
 


Monday, August 16, 2021

PNE 2017

NOTE: This continues my unofficial series of finding blog drafts I've written years ago and finishing them. This one was started in 2017 and stopped about 3 paragraphs in

NOTE: PNE is the Pacific National Exhibition, a state fair, more or less.  Well, provincial. Which means, from what I get from movies. Slightly less firearms, almost no pig rustling, and a very informative farm exhibit.

Why is it that some rides have operators that have that weather worn look of someone evading several statewide warrants, and others are manned by fresh faced high schoolers, steadily checking off the prerequisites for a well rounded college application?

And the two groups are never mixed. You never see the guy packing at least one form of concealed blade with that girl lugging around the pre-SAT preview review prep books to lunch. It's not, I don't think, linked to the rides, like the rides didn't seem to have perks I one group over the other. Does it have to do with competence? Surely the woman with the lazy eye who looks she can bench press my car is kept around because she has the least fatalities on TeaKettle Madness? I have no idea.

Must of my expertise in rides is worrying about how to best maintain fatherly non-chalance as I'm whipped at G's most likely to terrify me with the least likelihood of killing me with some sort of embolism. Because as long as my kids wanna do the ride, I better.

This year, my daughter has taken a more measured approach to the rides. Last year it was WHATEVER RIDE THAT'LL LET ME ON, which was all of them. Now it's only if the ride can go fast enough to be used to train astronauts, in a pinch.

One thing she carried over from last year is the dreaded, 'Can we go again?'. It's one thing to maintain composure during the first go around, I mean, it's your first time, you can fool yourself at how long it'll be, how much your stomach will churn, how thorough the safety inspections are. The second and third time you have no such illusions.

Some rides have that quaint quality of being built just a little too long ago, that misty, hallucinations halycon days when men were men, air was fresher, and many, many fair goers were crippled or killed by lax safety regulations.

And in those rides, there's always that one inflection point, when I'm floating free, putting just a little too much effort in keeping my seat, when I start to think a little too much about just how carefully the engineers put into edge cases.  But then I'm back again, exposed to another terror, another extreme limit of the human body, another reminder that Middle Aged Office Dad is NOT the average case they are planning for. Young things with everything to live for and untouchable invincibility and the sort of spring back ruggedness that makes tackle football seem like a good idea. That's what these machines are built for. 

And some of these machines are built for not even that. Some of these machines were built in a time when they were for the young invincibles who wouldn't sue. You can tell when there is a little too much paint over the rivets. When the framing and general look of it says 'this was likely a repurposed sherman tank'.


Oddly, it's not those ones that summon a deep existential dread in me. No. At least, not this time. This time it was The Beast. Which couldn't be named better if this was an episode of the Wonder Years and Daniel Stern was speaking earnestly about a character changing childhood event. It's a pendulum, that has a circle of seats that face outwards, and then quickly swings back and forth while rotating the seats, until very serious thoughts of life insurance flash across your mind. It's a ride where they have you take off your sandals beforehand, check for pacemakers, and make sure rider is with good standing with the Federal Bar Association.

Of course Owlet wanted to ride it. Ride it so bad she could forgo all other rides and just ride this meatblender of a behemoth. So, we get in the line with the unreasonable number of people in it. The fearful, the seemingly unperturbed, the braggarts, the excited, the parents. It's the screaming that gets you. The screaming of the machine as it throws meatsacks back and forth while trying not break itself in two, and the screaming of the people.

At first it's just the general 'oh this is fun isn't it', scream. Then it gets to the 'oh I'm really pretty, scared, mostly.. mostly', then 'I'm definitely not faking it I just hope Roger is screaming louder than me', then it ends with a hollow scream of, I dunno, acceptance of death?

It doesn't help that a few months previously this exact ride model did come undone at the fulcrum and went daisy wheeling away. There were deaths. 

We finally get on. Only when I'm on do I realize that it has one of those delightful features where the restraints don't really seem to be restraining enough. Like there were standards set by the intern (intern at a safety regulations department, that, that could happen), then watered down by the senior engineer who was wheedled by the project manager, then further loosened when they had to price it out and get the parts. "Always" withstanding breakout g-force at 45 degrees is so much more expensive then "Usually".

So it's rattling and rotating and spinning and the screaming starts. Luckily I'm not beset on all sides by the death throes of my neighbours as my own screaming drowns it all out. Right before I lose all hope and right after I remember what 'beneficiaries' means visions of the operators pop into my head. They were young kids. But they had outrageously dyed hair. For the remainder I'm wracking my brain trying to figure out if that's the youth of a keener or the stick it to the man dye job of someone who is on first name basis with the local pawn shop brokers. And in the end that doesn't matter because I still can't remember in whose hands I'm safer.

We make it to the end. Owlet is hopping with joy. We totter off and I try desperately to ignore the pleas  'Can we go again?'.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Tofino

Our next stop on our whirlwind vacation tour BC: Too Expensive To Live There Almost Too Expensive To Visit: Tofino. It's a town on the west side of Vancouver Island, hit by the Pacific Ocean waves unhindered by the Gulf Islands, making it renown for it's surfing. It's the sort of laid back long past hippie town filled with youth, life, and outrageous real estate prices. It has hardcore surfers who I'm sure 'remember back in the day', juxtaposed with the middle class families trying to add a little tropical feel to their vacations. If tropical means water cold enough to give a polar bear hypothermia and an breeze with a bite to remind you that hey, you're still in Canada, pal.

It's not completely gentrified, however. You know, those tourist towns where everything is TOO cute, like it was mandated by a special committee on Curb Appeal and shopkeepers speak in hushed tones about bylaw enforcement; but then you stop for ice cream and it's 14.50 a cone. No, it still has it's lived in edges, I guess there isn't a rush to get out here. Nobody ever thinks of surfing and thinks 'some west coast town north enough that arctic currents are a concern'.

From what I've seen of Tofino, it's still very much a surfing town. Throw a bottle of sunscreen and you are sure to hit a surf rental shop, a surfing school, or a taco shop. Every van, german SUV and hybrid wagon has a surfboard on top.


We met our long time friends there. They had moved from the mainland ot the island, not to Tofino, but close enough. 

They have small children of the age where they can talk to you, and do, at length, not waiting for social cues. And not speaking with the sort of fluency that one cannot understand without bowing ones head, and repeating what they just said to you several times. They have the cheery fearlessness that comes with that age. When we went on a hike with them there was the frequent warnings to 'be careful' because we were wandering along rocks and near cliffs and these kids either didn't know about gravity or knew about it and weren't terribly impressed.

It's a bit of an adjustment going from teenish kids to toddlers. I'm used to saying stuff I find funny, and usually having one or both of my kids following along. Vice versa, of course. But with toddlers, suddenly there is a whole other layer of translation, an entire gear shift that I completely forgot about.

Our friends soldier on, the amount of work they have to do, from physical to emotional is just enormous. Herding these dynamos of energy and talking and questions and wants and impulsiveness. I feel I gotta take a nap just typing that.

We rented an already setup RV, which is called glamping now. I remember when the phrase was first bandied about. It was egyptian cotton sheets, hand wove linen tent with Kristal in the champagne bucket and massages at 11. This downgrade suits me just fine, though. I prefer air conditioning, flushable toilets, and strangers not touching me thank you very much. 

That's another thing about Tofino.  You always get this juxtaposition between the families, the locals, and the tourists with the sort of money to go to resorts with security guards at the entrance. On one hand you'll have the locals who've spent more time bobbing on the waves waiting for the perfect wave than I have ever being in any body of water, baths included; then you'll have the families like us trying not to stick out, slathered in spf 90 and trying not to eat our burritos wrong; and then you'll have the last group who I'm sure get waves hand curated for them with extra sifted sand and all the unattractive seaweed moved out of sight.

(Pictured above: the calmer waves my kids gamboled in the day before we played in murder waves.)

On the second day we hit the waves for a full day. It's probably part, my kids aren't a huge fan of sports, and part, me having The Complete Collection of Calvin and Hobbes around; but my kids just wanna jump in the waves. The CalvinBall of playing in the waves. While everyone else is in wetsuits trying to surf or body board, my kids are ecstacitc, just happy to get bowled over continuously by waves that are large enough to get my panic reflexes to jumpstart. Maybe it was watching too much Point Break, or 90's Saturday morning cartoons warning you about the dangers of riptides (and drugs, and.. teaching you about passing bills in the senate? That can't be right); but I have a healthy respect for waves.

My kids, forced to swim laps for weekly exercise have no fear of waves. Of any size, as far as I can tell. There could be a small family schooner being brooched, snapping in two, a small child's sailor hat flying from the wreckage, and my kids would charge right ahead, jumping, even.

Our time in the waves was naturally ended when I, in classic middle aged dad tourist style, got plastered with a wave hard enough to lose my glasses. The kids were satisfied though. I was exhausted. The burrito shop was closed, in the end, which is just as well, I would have, no doubt, eaten it wrong.

Sunday, August 08, 2021

Painted Boat

In a belated 20th(!) wedding anniversary gift to ourselves, we booked a few days stay at the Painted Boat resort on the Sunshine coast. It was for the family, for a villa, which, as far so can tell, means entirely too much space for eye watering prices.

Funnily enough I learned rather late, that of course, that I still have to do the cooking, just in a more luxurious kitchen. I'm never a fan of cooking anywhere except my kitchen. Big enough to have all the tools I need, small enough that I can more or less pivot to get to anywhere I need. Like a sea galley. Or a .. space station? I dunno, something very efficient, barring the hilariously "broken but not broken enough to buy a new one" stove.

Where was I? Cooking, yes, in a luxurious villa. Most of the time trying not to swear as I try and find the cutting board, checking the same cupboard three times before finding it in the hidden lazy Susan in the corner. The stove worked great, but I've long conditioner myself to only use two elements so it's 5+ elements were wasted on me.

There was a pool, the sort of adult pool with constant depth, faux rocks, and riddled with parents that look too old to have kids that young. Fancy. 

It was a salt water pool, and I was riddled with questions about them from the kids. Is it clean? Is there chlorine? A thousand questions that I bluffed my way through but only served to increase my discomfort, I mean, was it clean? At these per night prices of seems impossible that it wasn't?

We did all sorts of activities including the usual 'just have screen time kids while we watch the Olympics because we're too tired'. 
Hiking. Mrs Owl loves hiking. Living where we do it'd be a shame if one of us didn't appreciate the great outdoors. She usually goes on these epic hikes with neighbors or old girlfriends and leaves the rest of us peaceably at home, ideally still sleeping. 

On vacation it's a different matter.

Our hike took us to the ocean, through coves and the like where sailboats that looked too sleek to be affordable lurked. Invariably with young people who I suspect have jr in their name and perhaps watch Olympics Equestrian events with interest.

The pandemic pounds I've put on makes all the hikes more huffing and puffing than I'd really admit. The kids enjoyed it, or at least complained very quietly, and Mrs Owl loved it (a general trend in our hikes). 

At one point we walked onto the barnacle infested rocks and waded through the swarms of insects that participate in the subtidal circle of vaguely disgusting life. My brain was obsessed with walking as carefully as possible, visualising the horrible knee gashes the barnacles would give me should I slip. (I am not blessed with the spirit of an adventurer. If I was born in Ireland during the potato blight and all my countrymen were going to the New World I'd probably think "more blight infested tubers for me!")
We also got some kayaking in. We've kayaked a few times, just enough to think we know what we are doing and get ourselves in trouble. 

The first guy who helped us set up our kayaks was young, helpful, but one got the general feeling he would exchange canoe for kayak for paddle board without really noticing. As we were getting in the water an older fellow came to help us out. He had the grizzled features and "never had an office job" look of someone who's still trying to become a professional kayaker. Or that forages for his dinner. His warnings seemed more sincere, more hard won, but somehow more casual. Referring to orcas as 'big lummoxes' instead of 'apex predator that could crush your kayak and have your entire family for lunch' was particularly memorable.

The kayaking was good, partially because the clouds showed up, but mainly because we didn't get eaten by orcas or run through from sleek sailboats whose Captain was too busy catching up on Olympic Equestrian results.

Sunday, August 01, 2021

Marco!

This summer, aka Hey Isn't It Great That Covid Is Over OH NO DELTA, we've been spending alot of time in the complex pool. 

This is the standard pool in a complex as old as this. Nearly every eye-line is covered with warnings that there are no life guards on duty. There are life saving .. tools? Nearby. Nobody knows how to use them. The list of rules of what can and cannot be done has been crafted and edited to include nearly everything you can think of that would SEEM innocuous until that one family from unit 12 ruins it for everyone.  

There is a changing room, building of sorts. It's been updated enough to let you know that people still use it but not enough for you to mistake it was first designed when the AMC Gremlin seemed like a pretty good idea. 

The pool itself is what you would expect, a vast cement container filled with chlorinated water that gets progressively suspect as the day goes on. But when the temperature is 30C, well, anything that cools you off is welcome. 

Because it's a family pool, there is a defined set of people who frequent it. 

Young(ish) parents (well, let's be honest, usually moms) with their babies to toddlers. These folks usually hang out in the shallow end, make the dreaded small talk; bond over small tragedies and triumphs of child-rearing. The ups and downs which have been lost to me, as my kids are old enough to make snarky comments while watching 'Friends'. I'm  pretty sure that if I was in trouble in the water, they'd be able to pull ME out.

Older parents with their tweens to (rarely) teens*. Again, these adults usually just bob in the shallow end, making small talk about decidedly Adult Things: Sports, listing off (because this is Canada) various Scandinavian names of professional hockey players who may or may not be the hope that this godforsaken team needs; probably the various things we've been trying and failing to keep ourselves sane.

Older folks, who may have had kids, maybe not, but they've earned the right to not give the littlest concern either way. They too, are usually bobbing near the shallow end.

Then there is me, my kids, and my kids friends, playing Marco Polo. The only proper use of a swimming pool. Well, for my kids it's that and swimming laps during the winter because they can't be bothered to be interested in any sports so, laps it is. Oddly enough this hasn't scarred them from enjoying the pool in general.

We mark off our game area by the depth level markers, which we initially thought were 21 meters to 25 meters, carefully reading and paying attention to punctuation has correct that to the 2.1m and the 2.5m mark. Common sense, added to the observation we are not a NASA training facility should have told us there is no part of the pool that's 25m in depth. We still use the wrong numbering system though, because if the United States and Liberia can stick to the Imperial System, we can ignore a decimal.

To avoid being Those Kids (and one weird adult) we will change our markers if there are too many people on the shallow end, who eventually drift into our domain. This is a considerate thing to do, but also I don't want to pull That One Neighbour I Awkwardly Wave To When I Throw Out The Compost into a game of Marco Polo. 

Marco Polo is great, the panic, the frantic swimming, the fooling yourself into getting exercise because you'll be damned if Little Jimmy tags you again. There will always be the odd kid we don't know that we invite to play with us after they sit on the outskirts, mournfully staring at us. The odd kid is usually younger than my kids, and invariably cheats relentlessly. The great thing about this is my kids know, I know, and we just let it slide. I mean, we get it, we've seen the other end of the pool. Who wants to be there, and submit themselves to endless small talk? Or hanging out with the really small kids? It's like a lesser circle of hell reserved for people who play their music outloud in transit and people who have a very strong opinion on how to make coffee.

Sometimes I'll hear a comment that, 'oh, isn't it nice that man is playing with his children'. And I do feel guilty. I mean, yes, Marco Polo is great, but so is avoiding discussions on the third paragraph subsection C on the previous months strata council resolution. It's equal parts playing marco polo and NOT making the tottering verbal bumbles into adulthood that I try so hard to avoid. 

Well, that and being Marco.

*(Thankfully, I rarely see the dreaded surly teen. The kind who, depending on the decade, would likely be sent off to man the Western Front/Protest the Vietnam War/Be aRed Hot Chili Peppers Fan/Protest the Iraq War (etc). The kind old enough to have ideals and young enough to have the energy to act on them. And, depending on the decade, sometimes there is nowhere to direct that burgeoning sense of self, that invincible energy of youth and you just get full, unadulterated, uncut Sarcasm.)


2017 Australia trip: Airports

Airports have this casual affluence to them. People rustling about in leisure wear that's​ just a little too nice to be considered a track suit. In the endless lines for security and customs and all the little declarations that slowly wear on ones paranoia, everyone is clutching expensive active executive totes and tactical all weather jackets that are too Military Grade to be considered something as civilian as a 'jacket', elements shell, maybe.

Nobody outside a visiting dignitary or a tourist from Scandinavia could fail to feel suspect about themselves after all the official and unofficial scrutiny. The forms, the people in official uniforms, endless cautionary signs warnings for explosives and drugs and non-indigenous produce.

It's maybe a little better with kids, people usually give you the benefit of the doubt. You don't always have a lurking suspicion that maybe you are some sort of Manchurian Candidate ne'er do well.

Past all that there is no doubting how mundane this has all become. Flying. Getting to pretty much anywhere in the world if you have enough money and a high tolerance for millenial trustifarians talking about their eco-adventure-fairsource startup. You can tell by how put upon and harassed people look. If we were taking a tourist orbit of the sun you can bet there'd be far less bickering about gate departure times, shoe removal,  and why a super big gulp is hardly the correct choice for a 7 year old.


We are going to Australia, stop over in the US. And you can guess which part of the trip fills me with a nameless, spleen twisting dread. And it's not the part about flying at hundreds of miles an hour in an aluminum crate flew more by software than brains over a trackless, hungry ocean. 

Maybe it's part of the national identity that is so adversarial. A country born of rebellion, drunk on the constant contesting of sports, of political parties, ideals, culture. One can hardly imagine a country more fit to breed soldiers, or lawyers. 

And yet when you look at everyone travelling, expensive casual wear notwithstanding, we're all remarkable similar. Misshapen, a little overweight, vaguely anxious, fuddling through life hoping for the best. The high drama and epic battles over the soul of the country don't seem to be anywhere but talkshows.

This fact calms me somewhat, but I'm nervous and worried by nature. Projecting a laid back calm by only two things. First is that as  a lifelong Pacific Northwester, such a trait is my birthright. Second is I just assume the worst has already happened. A nihilist prescription, maybe. Pretty great for the blood pressure, though.

The kids, thankfully, are blissfully ignorant of all the various things we as parents worry about.  Crossing the border, the many MANY poisonous organisms in the land where even the comical genetic crapshoot of the platypus has a fatally poisonous spur.

Most of the drama surrounds candy. Whether they can have it, if so, how much, how long until they can have it again. Then time. How much longer is the line, how much longer til lunch, the plane. The updates and negotiation keep that nagging worry that they'll say something: in retrospect hilarious , in the present, mortifying, that'll end with me in a windowless room answering questions about my political affiliations and that one time I shared a Mother Jones article on private prisons on Facebook.

And then we are through. And the airport is just a well lit luxury mall with, what I assume, are FAR too many newstands.( A non-trivial percentage of magazines have to be sold in airport newstands.i can't say with any confidence that I've ever seen anyone actually read a magazine outside of say, a waiting room, maybe?). 

Monday, July 26, 2021

Disneyland 2013 Semi-organized Notes

We took the kids, oh, crap, 8 years ago to Disneyland. I made some notes to optimistically make a blog post about it in a timely manner. Well, in a manner, anyways.  I present the notes, with , uh, more notes? 8 years later, certain to be accurate.

"This rocket ship ride, while being quaintly pulp sci-fi circa 1950's inspired, goes I Think I Saw This Machine In "The Right Stuff" too fast." Yes, yes, it was entirely too fast, and gave the controls over to the children, the children! I guess if low brain trauma is self-induced we can't sue? It must have been the combination of being a little bit too fast and my kids being the right combination of far too frail and little and little to less than little sense of danger.

I guess we saw one of the last runs of Captain EO, which was much cringier than I remember. Two things: "Captain Eo has the power to turn all Borg soldiers into Solid Gold dancers; and ANGELICA HUSTON?! #pullingOutAllTheStops"
 
"The (from my childhood memory) pretty spooky Haunted house. Quake with fear kids as a traditional, original classic Disney ride is contorted with the power of vertical market integration and right-size co-synergestic marketing with Nightmare Before Christmas. OooooOooOoOOOo!" It was pretty ham-fisted how everything was shoe-horned. I mean, I guess us nerdy types are supposed to near-worship Imagineers, but, yeah, this looks like a soulless redesign.

"Pinnochio is old school Disney ride made for children who grew up with more than a passing familiarity with starvation or burying close relations because boy HOWDY there is some grade A nightmare fuel in there." It was amazing what they accomplished with paint, darklights, and what I assume are repurposed child sized rails from an era when 5 year olds would put in a honest days work. Back of the napkin, this ride was likely made in the 50's? So the designers for sure saw at least one world war and the Depression. Nobody growing up on Def Leppard and Back To the Future would make this ride, is what I'm saying.

"Splashdown mountain. Adorable animatronics, delightful story, scampy Brer rabbit OH MY GOD FEAR FOR YOUR LIFE relaxing boat ride, enchanting scenery, end." Perfect note.

"Mater ride must really annoy southerners with his over the top relentlesss hokey hick accent , OH WAIT here's a Luigi ride and Italians don't fair horribly well either."

"The only time my children clapped in this multi billion dollar exercise in merchandising and proprietery fairground entertainment? When I bought them lollipops. "

"Jj on rides "I hate that ride, I love that ride, I dont want to ever ride that again, why arent we going on that ride, I hate disney can I go on that ride!?" About the same ride. All within about a minute." The ride was Star Wars. Now he sneaks in prequel memes during normal conversation like an animal.

"Stone cold ride attendant approaches screaming near hysterical toddler in chair swing pre-start. Doesn't mention to dad that, hey, maybe kid doesn't wanna be there. Simply double checks safety belts are in place, moves on. Disney is GANGSTA."

"It's not the chipped fuselage paint or the out of date magazines that had me worried. It's that the bathroom sink sounds like a thermite bomb after use." I have no idea where this note is about or from. But there was always something I appreciated about Disneyland. How everything was meant to run forever. Everything seemed to be made of some form of concrete or an exotic plastic 007 would use in his bullet proof sunglasses. Fun on a neverending hamster wheel of durability.


Saturday, April 10, 2021

Cyberpunk 2077


 Like a late 90's webring, replete with link back and hints at an actual relationship with other authors, this is a piece I'd like to say in.. rebuttal is too harsh a term, in reply, to my very long standing internet friend, zompist, where he posts his various gripes with that great sprawling hot mess, Cyberpunk 2077.

Now I say hot mess because that's what the internet at large thinks of it, but me, playing on the worringly over-powered computers on GeForce Now, have experienced nearly no problems. Or at least not problems that bother me enough. Keep in mind I'm the Homer Simpson when it comes to critiquing alot of things. I just like, alot of things. Cheap date, as it were. 

 It might be my hundreds of hours in Bethesda titles and regularly having to look up console commands to debug yet another janked out quest, but it takes a rather large bug to befuddle and begrudge me. Like if a bug repoed my car, maybe, or  told me how much weight I had actually put on during this Covid-19 pandemic.

 I'm not a gamer for story, generally. When you talk story you eventually draw connections with story from film, or story from books, and, as far as I played, there have been nearly none that have matched a really excellent book. But that's just me, I don't play for overarching stories. For amazing .. I dunno, they are always puppets to me. The 3D models, the pathing, the tricks behind the curtain. There have been a few times when the motion capture and acting of the actor behind a cinematic really grabbed me, weirdly enough the main bad guy in Far Cry 3 (the kinda Malaysia one). But over all, no. 

 When we are taking open world sandbox games, of which I've played a few (Fallout 3, 4, Oblivion, Skyrim, Just Cause 3; GTA 3, SA, VC, 4 , 5 etc), I play for the action and small stories. The side missions, the little nuances that attempt to paint a world by inference. And there are so many here. Mostly about the horror of combining the worst of capitalism and technology together. 

There is a story about a lovely dad and son side business, or would be, if they had been selling pretty much anything else. Or a various side missions about migrants, invariably gone horribly wrong. Or a side mission involving scuba gear which is the most affecting bit of gameplay I've ever played.

What are the results if greed and technology continue unfettered? What are the unintended consequences? What are the mortifying, obvious consequences? As a Canadian it's like America Taken To 11. For profit health care is monstrous. For profit security/health care when your body parts can be harvested? Unspeakable.

 That's a whole lot of preamble. On the whole I agree with most of what zompist says, but it's still not enough to deter me, because they dont' take up the majority of the game, or anything near it. 

First zompist gripe, the cutscenes. Yes, annoying. Moreso than other games? I don't think so? Or not so much more that I was losing patience. Again, the main arc for me is just a way to get the next story act. 

The joy of Cyberpunk is in the atmosphere, and in the bizaare/macabre side quests. In ornery characters with hinted backstories. In motion capture and 3D modelling that really astounds.

Zompist has other gripes, world building wise. I've always viewed this game as a East European's take on an 80's American RPG take on the future. So, there's going to be some disjointedness. The fact that the Japanese have risen ascendant and now run the entire world? Pure 80's (Nakatomi Plaza, etc). The tone-deaf transphobic advert? I would say they are being transphobic, but there is a side mission which is surprisingly progressive. Are they making a comment on society in the future? Did the left hand not know what the right was doing?

Now about the stealth gripes. There are options for stealth. They mostly involve hacking, and hacking nearby devices to distracts enemies. It's not the stealth excellence of, say Shadow Tactics. But it's no slouch. You can regain your stealth. You must use hacks though, to track the baddies and take unsuspecting enemies out of line of sight.

I do wish there were more achievements for doing things stealthily. The most you'll get is a comment from a fixer that you did a job smoothly. Going in with guns akimbo and katanas flying rarely gets you that. But yes, in, say, Dishonored, it tracks down to the dropped pin how stealthily you did everything. Would be nice. It is a much tougher option to clear out areas.I would like a big BONUS XP for distracting, katanaing badguys, and storing every body until the last one.




 I can't say I disagree with everything zompist says, he has a much better nuanced, well thought out opinion. I play mostly with my gut, leaving things like 'plot' or 'storytelling' or 'is this actually a good game' to smarter people.

But CyberPunk is a gutsy game. It's a glorious mess. It's a loud disjointed jarring experience. The side missions and atmosphere. Even the NPC dialogue which I usually blow by. All outline a world powered by a capitalist techno nightmare, with real people with completely reasonable hopes trying to live within it. It's the human heart, struggling to survive in horror of humankind's making. The casual references to the natural outcome of unfettered everything. These are the things that stayed with me, that elevated the hot mess to something rather more.



Thursday, February 18, 2021

Short Hair

Finally got my hair cut. The Mrs. has always been, at best, tolerant of my really nerdy impression of Conan.But a few weeks ago she said, quite seriously, that more or less I'm losing hair from traction baldness. Either she honed her delivery to really put the fear of god into me, or she really believed it. 

Turning 45, I had to decided which would win, the vanity from having long hair or the vanity from losing all my hair. Well, ever since I learned what a skullet is, obviously I'm going to try and save what I got.

She finally cut it all off on my birthday. Donated the ponytail to wigs for kids. I don't know what kid with cancer needs black, grey, and some white hair with and uneven amount of waviness in it, but there it is.

Now I just look like any other asian-ish man with short hair. I could be an accountant, or, a ... dentist? Certainly not the rebel programmer ideal I have in my mind. I look like someone you could easily copy and paste into a news segment where they ask the respectable public what THEY think of the latest bypass, or tax increase.  The kind of person who has strong feelings about marginal tax rates and current water tables and not, say, the fact we never get to see Wolverine in his super rad brown and orange suit. 

Honestly the one thing I worried about the most is how my kids would react. They've grown up with a dad with long hair. Owlet, in particular, is pretty conservative about change. She once got upset when we gave away a ghetto blaster we had in her room, that we NEVER used, but that she always saw. Owl Jr.was worried more about my general state of aging and decay. Why would I be balding?

They both adjusted well to the change, or have hidden their horror well. Either way, a win in my book! Not getting a skullet, maybe a bigger win. Now if I could just bend your ear a bit about this gondola line  they are proposing to put in....

PS I've told the kids finally about this blog, this might be the first post they've ever read from me,if so, HI OWLET! HI OWL JR.!