The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

September 19, 2011

Fun With Waking Up Way Too Early in the Morning Again

Filed under: Fun With Insomnia, travel, Wanderings — Brian Lutz @ 9:49 am

As something of a hardcore night owl, I try not to make a habit out of being awake at 6 in the morning too often, but lately it seems to be happening a lot more than I’d really like it to.  Then again, given the various reasons that I’ve been getting up early, I suppose I probably don’t have much excuse to complain.  On this particular fine morning, my excuse happens to involve catching a train on my way up to Vancouver BC, where I will next be catching a light rail in order to go catch a ship, from which I will be catching…  Oh, probably not much really.  I suppose that I’ll eventually be catching a ferry, but that one’s still a couple of days off.  And then a few days from now when I get off the ship I’ll be catching an airport shuttle, then a rental car, then a Doom Buggy, and finally at the end of all that I’ll probably manage to throw in an airplane somewhere along the line just for good measure.  When you think about it, it’s really kind of an unusual trip.

This particular trip started out this morning at King Street Station in Seattle to board the train.  The place has been under renovation for a while now (I recall posting some stuff about it back when I was working over in the neighborhood last year, but seeing as how I am currently on vacation I’m being just a little too lazy to look it up right now) which is mostly intended to reverse the effects of a radical stylectomy inflicted upon it back in the mid Sixties, with perhaps the biggest indignity coming in the form of a drop ceiling covering up the ornate original, which remained until the middle of the last decade.  As you can tell from the photo above, “Hatchet Job” would probably be a good description of the approach taken to this renovation.  I’m sure the whole thing was considered oh so very modern at the time, but then again, so was LSD, and we all know how well that one worked out (your mileage, of course, may vary.)

Anyway, it took about a 40 minute delay before the train arrived at the station, but once it did boarding was quick, mostly painless, and surprisingly free of pointless security checkpoints.  As far as I can recall this is actually the first time I’ve traveled on a railroad that didn’t involve an amusement park anywhere in the process.  It probably helped that I paid extra for business class, which results in a bigger seat, more legroom, shorter lines and a faster trip through Customs in Vancouver, but ironically, it did also make the train trip from Seattle to Vancouver cost more than the flight back to Seattle from LAX on the return trip.   That said, there are a few nice things about the train when compared to flying.  For one thing, even with the assorted noises that come along with rail travel, it’s still a lot quieter than having two big jet engines blasting outside the windows.  You also have the ability to get up and walk around freely on the train, and don’t need to be in a seatbelt the whole time (in fact, I’m pretty sure the seats here don’t even have seatbelts.)  There’s free WiFi on the train, as well as actual power outlets to use it with.  In other words, this ain’t the Chattanooga Choo-Choo (although in a certain nostalgic way it might actually be fun to take a trip like that, as long as you weren’t in much of a hurry to get anywhere.)

The scenery on the train is also a lot better, although I ended up on the “wrong” side of the train car to see Puget Sound in all its glory.  One thing I’ve noticed about air travel is that even though you’re going about six times faster in an airplane than you would be in a train, the fact that you’re 35,000 feet in the air tends to make the scenery stay mostly the same for long periods of time, which mostly serves to remind you that you’re not going anywhere for a while (well actually you are, just a lot slower than you’d really like to be.)   In fact, if not for the nagging reminder in the back of my head that Amtrak would probably implode in a huge crater visible from space if the whole thing wasn’t being propped up by about half a zillion dollars of taxpayer money every year, I’d be tempted to say that rail travel might be a nice way to get around.

Anyway, being on a ship means that I’ll most likely be Internet constrained again for a few days, but I’m going to try to post at least something when I make it to San Francisco in a couple of days.  I’m looking forward to sailing underneath the Golden Gate Bridge and seeing Alcatraz, even if it does mean I’ll have to be awake way too early again.  Oh well, I suppose I can sleep when I’m dead, right?

September 13, 2011

It’s a Bigger World Than You Think: Thoughts From Labor Day Weekend at Disneyland

Filed under: travel, Wanderings — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 11:19 pm

Once again, I’ve been slacking off a bit recently on Blogging.  Since I spent a good portion of last week on vacation part 1, and I am now less than a week from embarking on Vacation Part 2.  I could probably claim to be busy, but I don’t think vacation really counts as “busy,” at least in the typical sense of the word.  As is usually the case with my travels, I’ll probably be Internet constrained for a decent portion of the trip, but I’ll try to post something (probably brief) when I get a chance, probably when I’m in San Francisco.  Apparently I’ve actually cruised enough now that I actually qualify for free Internet access while onboard the ship, but in my experience shipboard Internet tends to be more of a “hey look, we’ve got Internet on our ship!” thing than it is a useful tool, and I doubt it would allow for much blogging. I don’t think this particular trip (a cruise down the coast from Vancouver to Los Angeles with stops in Victoria and San Francisco along the way) warrants too much in the way of blogging, but I’ll probably come up with something when I get back from my trip. 

That said, this past Labor Day weekend found me once again at Disneyland, although instead of being one of my usual solo trips, this time I went with three friends, which certainly made for a much different trip than I most likely would have gone on by myself.  As usual, I will refrain from making a blow-by-blow account of the trip (I tried that back with my 2008 Disney World trip, not sure it’s all that useful, nor am I certain I have the attention span for it again in the first place) but after the jump you’ll find a number of random thoughts and photos from the past weekend’s Disneyland trip.

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September 3, 2011

Fun With Waking Up Way Too Early in the Morning

Filed under: Fun With Insomnia — Brian Lutz @ 10:08 am

As anyone who is familiar with this Blog knows, I’m a bit of a hardcore night owl, and as such have a tendency to do a lot of my writing at semi-ridiculous hours of the night.  I’m pretty sure if you went and averaged out the post times on the last, oh half zillion Blog posts or so, you’d probably find yourself somewhere in the neighborhood of 1am or so.  As a result of this, I tend to prefer to keep my mornings somewhere in the realm of theoretical concepts.  I hear sunrises can be quite lovely (and the time a few weeks ago when I somewhat annoyingly got awakened by one of the things blasting through my window would seem to suggest that there’s something to that) but fortunately, there are guys out there who are far more motivated than myself to go out and take pictures of the things so I don’t have to worry about going out and experiencing the wonders of nature for myself.  Sunsets I can manage every once in a while, although my apartment is facing the wrong way for one of those.

Of course, every once in a while, even I have to figure out how to actually wake up at what I would consider to be semi-ridiculous hours of the morning.  And for the past two mornings, I have been doing just that.  Recently, my job responsibilities have shifted to supporting a different team from the one I have been working on for the past ten months, and as a result, instead of working with people in the local office, I’m now working primarily on stuff that comes from the team over in France.  To make a long story short, it means I had to be on a 7am conference call yesterday morning, which translates to about a 6:45 wake up time (at least I can take the calls at home so I don’t need to worry about heading to the office at ridiculous hours.)  Trying to decipher technobabble with a French accent coming through a telephone line is something I have a bit of a tricky time with when I’m wide awake on a good day.  Try doing that on about five-and-a-half hours of sleep, and it gets to be tres difficulte (or whatever that term is supposed to be, I’m writing this with no Internet available at the moment to go look it up.  I’m hoping I don’t have to deal with the early morning calls too often, but I suspect I might have to get used to them.  At least when I start work that early I usually get to leave early too.

But none of that explains what the heck I was doing waking up at 5:30 this morning, an hour even most sane people tend to put in the ridiculous category.  Granted, that one’s pretty easy to explain by itself, as I’m currently writing this on an airplane about halfway between Seattle and Oakland, with an eventual destination of Orange County and Disneyland for the next three days.  Breakfast this morning consists of airline peanuts and pretzels, the breakfast of champions (who didn’t have time for breakast anyway.) and I’m posting this on a quick layover in Oakland (voted best place in the Bay Area to get mugged, three years running!)  The multiple trips that I’m taking down to the Los Angeles area by air and by sea, I’ve decided to make the (somewhat expensive) plunge and get an annual pass to Disneyland, which means I’ll probably need to find excuses to sneak in at least another weekend trip or two down there over the course of the next year (and if the Winter in seattle sucks again this year the excuse will probably be welcome.  And as much as I try to avoid the really crowded times of the year, it looks like I’ll probably need to make a trip down there next Summer once the big renovations to California Adventure are completed.  The annual passes certainly aren’t cheap (especially the premium one I got with no blackout dates and included parking) but it ends up being cheaper in the long run than buying 3-day Parkhopper passes each time if you’re going for multiple trips.

So in other words, expect to get really sick of me talking about Disneyland soon.

September 2, 2011

If it’s Too Loud, Am I Too Old? Some Thoughts on PAX 2011

Filed under: Games — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:22 am

Objects in mirror may be closer than they appear. And are probably shooting at you.

On the calendar, Summer still has a good 20 days to go, but unofficially, Summer is coming to an end quickly.  In just a few short days, children will return to school (Although first days of school vary significantly from place to place, around here school begins next Tuesday) and before we know it, the leaves will begin turning, and the long descent into Winter will begin.  And yet, even for those of us who have long since departed from schooling, there are certain things that mark the unofficial end of Summer and the beginning of Fall.  For some, it may be a fair (the Puyallup Fair is just a couple of weeks away, although it’s unlikely I’ll make it there this year with my schedule over the next few weeks), and for others it may be a festival (Bumbershoot, this weekend at Seattle Center) or something a bit more mundane like a barbecue or a campout.  Over the past few years, I have found the end of Summer to be marked primarily by the arrival of PAX Prime, which was held last weekend in Seattle.

Although by now PAX should need little introduction for most people, it’s one of the largest festivals of gaming in all its various forms (the primary focus remains on video gaming, but tabletop and pen-and-paper gaming also comprise a major part of the show as well),  with most of the space being taken up by a large and ever-expanding expo hall where hundreds of game companies, ranging from the big console makers (Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo) to scrappy little three-man indie teams trying to prove themselves, show off their latest and greatest, and provide the chance to play them before their release.  Or at least that’s the theory.  In practice, any of the highly anticipated big studio productions that make it to PAX inevitably draw long lines of would-be players, resulting in what can in extreme cases become waits of several hours just to play something for ten minutes.  Since I’m not exactly known for my patience, I tend to just skip these ones.  Then again, it’s not exactly like there was a whole lot of stuff worth standing around for anyway.

Your mileage may vary of course, and I suspect for a good portion of the people who were there it did, but as I wandered through the expo hall and looked at the many games being offered, I just couldn’t seem to shake the feeling that it seemed like all the big studios were making pretty much the same game with slightly different graphics.  This may just be me getting jaded in my old age, but every fantasy MMO seemed to be trying to hard to be World of Warcraft, and every shooter out there seemed to be trying too hard to be either Call of Duty or Team Fortress 2.  And if I really wanted to play Team Fortress 2 or World of Warcraft, I’d just play Team Fortress 2 or World of Warcraft (I’ve got pretty much zero interest in any of the half zillion Call of Duty games on the market, so I’ve never been inclined to bother with it. )  Granted, not quite everything on the floor falls into those sweeping overgeneralizations.  There were a couple of new fighting games that looked reasonably nice, but I’m pretty sure I’d get myself thoroughly clobbered at  if I tried playing them against actual players (my last fighting game experience at PAX was, to put it mildly, a tad disastrous.)  There was also plenty of cool looking new PC hardware that was way too expensive (although I have been looking into some sort of upgrade for my desktop system in the semi-near future.)  On the non video game side, there were also quite a few new pen-and-paper RPGs  trying way too hard to be Dungeons and Dragons and card games trying way too hard to be Magic the Gathering. 

I’m pretty sure I’m overgeneralizing a bit here, but I don’t think what I’m seeing is necessarily as much a problem with the gaming industry as a whole as it is a subtle change in my attitudes towards gaming.  I’ve long known (and asserted) that I’m something of a finicky niche gamer, having at various times gone through phases of being at least somewhat fanatical about DOS shareware games (which, growing up as a frequently broke PC junkie in the early 90s, were attractive mostly by merit of not costing anything to download off the local BBSes,) early 80s arcade games, pinball, arcade games on their actual hardware, a particular series of Japanese strategy RPGs and\or Imported Japanese 2D shooters, so I suppose it’s not too surprising if I happen to find myself turning into a bit of a game snob.  But even given that fact, it seems that I’m just finding myself gradually less and less interested in gaming as a whole lately.  That’s not to say that  I’ve stopped playing games (or even reduced the amount of time I spend on them much,) it’s just that I gradually seem to be getting more and more picky about what I spend my time playing.  There are at least a couple of games that I tried out at PAX last year, enjoyed quite a bit and eventually bought, only to find them nearly a year later still sitting in their shrinkwrap.  Since it seems unlikely that any of these are ever going to become highly sought after collectors items, I’m not sure what my excuse is for those ones. 

Another thing that might be influencing this newfound pickiness is that slowly but surely, I find myself spending a lot less of my gaming time on the consoles in the living room, and a lot more of it on my PC.  To some people this might seem a bit counterintuitive since the longstanding trend has been in the other direction, but with the rise of major digital distribution platforms like Steam, it’s gotten a lot more convenient to purchase and play things on the PC.  And while a lot of this comes from improvements to the PC gaming experience (mostly I’m just glad that we don’t have to mess around with DOS boot disks trying to squeeze out another 673 bytes of free conventional memory in order to get Jazz Jackrabbit to run,)  it seems that especially in the most recent generation of game consoles, the plug-and-play experience that used to be their biggest advantage has largely fallen by the wayside.  It seems like virtually every time I turn on my PS3 these days it does something to annoy me, usually in the form of an excessive load time or a mandatory patch that seems to download at about a quarter of the available speed I have on my Internet connection.  My Xbox is a bit better, but it comes with more than its fair share of load times as well.  My PC, on the other hand, comes with a nice little list of games I can run from my start menu, is usually pretty fast to start them, and Steam automatically takes care of the patches and updates in the background so I don’t have to worry about any of it.  I’d even argue that as long as you’ve got the system to handle it (my current desktop PC is about two years old now, and I haven’t run into anything yet that it can’t handle) a PC might even be a better plug-and-play experience for gaming than a PS3 or an Xbox 360. 

None of this is to say that I didn’t enjoy PAX, because even if I am getting ever more finicky about my gaming, I did still enjoy PAX quite a bit, and intend to continue going every year as circumstances permit.  But I do reserve the right to become increasingly jaded about the whole thing as I continue to get older, OK?

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