Snapshots of Life in Acedia
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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Dvarin's LiveJournal:

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    Tuesday, July 14th, 2015
    12:52 pm
    Continuing to hate technological progress
    My usage split of communication methods, until recently:
    Phone Call: Message demanding an immediate response or an extended discussion
    SMS: Short messages demanding attention ASAP but no significant discussion
    Hangouts/IM: Short, time-relevant but not urgent messages
    Email: Long, important, but not immediately urgent messages
    LJ: Long/rambling and undirected messages that I don't really expect a response to.
    Paper letter: Birthdays, Christmas, and social messages to/from my grandparents.

    Consequently, I have my phone set to make noise for calls and SMS and just flash for IM and email.

    Google's integration of SMS into Hangouts has broken this in a way that I cannot fix without tracking down and nagging every android user I know who has my cellphone number in order to get them to either 1) disable SMS in Hangouts or 2) manually split apart my email/phone contact book entries, so that their Hangouts app stops sending me SMS messages. This is actually impossible in some cases--e.g., my mother, who would have no clue how to do this.
    Wednesday, June 17th, 2015
    11:30 pm
    Amorous Footwear
    Randomly saw the touring company's performance Kinky Boots due to inheriting a ticket from someone who was unable to go. Apparently it won a Tony in 2014 or something. Regardless, I was unimpressed. And not just because in my particular performance they had the sound set up in some way that I was unable to figure out significant portions of the lyrics.

    There were a bunch of funny bits (including a clever pun) and the costumes/set were good. However: A lot of the scene shifts were abrupt and random-seeming, even by the standards of musical theater. The story seemed really trite and/or forced in places and a few characters underwent random radical personality changes. It was also not sufficiently any the things I primarily like in a story, those being {sweet, subtle, fun/silly, adventurous, romantic}.

    The main message got distilled down to "accept people for themselves." There are at least two readings of this appeal, and I think the musical went for the feel-good one which is practically unworkable, that of accepting/tolerating/respecting everybody. I should probably note here that this is not only practically unworkable, I happen to think it's also a horrible goal because it fails to abjure evil. If someone is an asshole, I want to have the right to think they're an asshole and not associate with them rather than be enjoined to tolerate them.

    The other reading I can think of, "If you are going to accept/reject someone, accept/reject them for who they actually are rather than for a label you've unilaterally stuck on them or, with also trying to change them," seems like neglected common sense and I fully support it.
    11:02 am
    The internet is really large nowadays.

    This posting of the obvious brought to you by my not having paid any attention to it for like seven years and just now wondering whither went what was.
    Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015
    2:12 pm
    I have a GSM smartphone that I used in Japan. It's old as far as smartphones go (Two years! Practically ancient!) but it does pretty much everything I want it to with acceptable efficiency, doesn't usually run out of battery, doesn't limit tethering, and, aside from some cracks in the case, is in good condition. I have zero desire to buy another one.

    Thus begins the quest to try to get it to work in the US. I know that it can work, because when I was a Docomo subscriber and brought it here on visits it would get 3G/LTE roaming access.

    However, I have no idea which network it was using to do that. My initial effort, which just consisted of going to the T-Mobile store and asking them for a SIM card to fit it, didn't work: it can make calls and it gets 2G access, but nothing faster. It can't even see the T-Mobile 3G network to be able to select it in the settings.

    Investigating on the 'net, it appears that
    - Actual 4G LTE is hopeless. The phone uses only band 1, which is not supported in North America. This doesn't match my roaming experience, but it's possible that the phone was displaying "LTE" as the connection type when it actually meant "3G plus some speed boost features."
    - For 3G, the phone uses bands 1, 9, and 19. None of these are supported by anyone in North America.
    - AT&T supports, in some places, band 5. Band 19 is entirely contained within band 5. I strongly suspect this is the one it was using when I was here before. As further evidence, "AT&T[3G]" shows up as a carrier I can select in the phone settings screen.

    So my options seem to be
    - Switch to AT&T. They have an equivalent plan to what I've got now, so it won't cost me any more. I'm not sure how to check if they have reasonable coverage since coverage maps don't show which bands are used where, but "some coverage" is better than the "no coverage" I've got now. The one catch is that my current T-Mobile plan is a grandfathered one that's $20/mo cheaper than anything else they offer currently, so if I leave them and then want to switch back later it'll cost.
    - Buy a new phone. Arrrrggggghhhhhh.
    - Give up and live with 2G access. It seems to be kinda-usable just for web browsing at least. Though apparently 2G networks are deprecated and getting shut down soon.
    Sunday, May 24th, 2015
    7:58 pm
    Some Jehovah's Witnesses came to the door yesterday, which is a hazard (?) of being a foreigner in Tokyo.
    Them: Hi, we'd like to tell you about the good future waiting for us.
    Me: Oh?
    Them: If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
    Me: I can't really answer that. I am sure that regardless of what I choose, the world will be worse off for my having done so.

    Then I had to explain that, because English was not their native language. But it pretty much set the tone for the rest of the conversation, which was remarkably civil despite my essentially pointing out more depressing alternative explanations for anything they said.

    It also reminded me that constant pessimism is an engineering occupational hazard.

    And that I really dislike it when people take a single verse out of the middle of somewhere and use it as evidence for something where that something is not present in the plain reading of the text.
    Thursday, May 21st, 2015
    8:19 pm
    So I am finally playing Skyrim, because I wanted to lose any and all time that I could be doing something more useful or fun. Also been dabbling in the Creation Kit because I wanted to fix that there wasn't a follower with the particular skillset I wanted. But that aside.

    Most quests are, of course, of the "go there and kill/acquire something" variety. Apparently in Skyrim there are a lot of people who want other people dead but don't want to do it themselves. Nor do they want to make use of, e.g., black widows in the privy. But some have interesting stories or form interesting lines, and I do have enough of a character concept that I won't just do anything anyone asks of me, or in the most expedient way. Anyway, having stumbled upon some Stones of Barenziah and being unable to get them out of my inventory until I collect all 24*, I've been following the Thieves' Guild questline.

    Which brings me to the thing I wanted to complain about: Nocturnal's deal. See, they want to make me a Nightingale. The contract for which is: I protect the Twilight Sepulcher with my life while alive, and then my spirit is bound to it after death. In return, Nocturnal makes me luckier. Except when she arbitrarily (and possibly randomly) doesn't.

    It is really annoying that the only way to object to this deal is to claim that you're not a daedra worshipper, to which the person recruiting you responds, "It's not religion, it's just business. It's a deal between you and Nocturnal." Yeah yeah I know that, the problem is that as a business proposition it is a horrible deal. Every single other daedra so far has given far better value for money. Meridia gave me this completely awesome sword just for getting rid of some necromancer that I probably would have killed anyway. Hermaeus Mora didn't even ask me to do anything at all—he essentially just gave me two and a half levels for free. Even Hircine, with his dubiously useful "blessing" of lycanthropy, is giving a better deal: after death, he brings you along on his hunting trips. Whereas Nocturnal binds your spirit in a dank and boring cave forever where your only companions are other sketchy rogues who probably cheat at cards. And then for her part she doesn't actually have to do anything for you at all. After all, you have no way to tell whether she actually is doing anything or not.

    Ironically, this deal makes perfect sense if you consider it as religion instead.

    But seriously, WTF. Maybe the current Thieves' Guild deserves to perish. (Or hmm, I wonder if I have enough Creation-Kit-fu to rework the quest so that some other sucker becomes their third Nightingale...)
    Thursday, March 26th, 2015
    11:48 pm
    I need to remember to make a better effort to write Amazon book reviews for books that I actually like.
    So far I've mostly only been writing reviews for 2- and 3- star books, which I suspect is because I'm annoyed at having spent money on them, usually through being mislead by the 5-star reviews.

    Part of this thought is derived from reading this Zen Pencils quote. It's really really easy to be hard on obviously-starting-out people who are apparently just throwing what they have up on the Kindle store and hoping for the best because man are there a lot of places to criticise. But if they want keep going and get better, then that benefits me down the line.

    ...but on the other hand, I feel like I ought to have context-invariant standards for categories of things that I pay for.
    Tuesday, March 24th, 2015
    11:24 pm
    [Book] The School for Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani
    You have probably already read this, since it is apparently like a NYT best seller or something.
    However, I'll just put in my two cents and say that it is excellent. And ridiculously twisty.
    The overall theme isn't anything new, really, being basically fairy tale material, but apparently you can do a heck of a lot more with that than I had thought.

    The sequel's a little weaker IMO, but still good. Plan to pick up the third one when it comes out.

    One of the cats my family had did not meow, only chirp.
    I have been thinking about pets recently. As in the "maybe I should get one sometime" way. The problem being that it's a total gamble what you end up with. Well, also I'm not sure if I'm just more enamored of the idea than the reality. Though I guess the last time I lived with a menagerie I did like 3/5 of them.

    Regardless, I will probably never have a kangaroo.
    Sunday, March 22nd, 2015
    8:04 pm
    Random pet peeve: were-whatever characters where the animal form has both medium+ length fur and tattoos or any other kind of detailed applied body art.

    This is not actually possible. Any tattoo would be invisible under the fur in the same way that you can't see scalp tattoos unless someone's head is shaved.
    Paint should blur and flake off as they move unless you applied enough of it that it just forms a solid block, and even then it would crack at the joints. (Though it would probably work better the longer the hair, since that would buffer the bending of the skin more. But if you do apply a lot of sufficiently sticky, flexible paint to fur, you'd better hope you have an excellent solvent to get it out again afterward.)
    Permanent-ish color designs might work with short hair and dye, and even then it's not going to get you that good a level of detail because the longer the fur the more it blurs together.

    I'm talking especially to you, author whose book I'm not really sure why I'm reading, whose werewolf main character apparently is covered snout to tail with impressive tribal tattoos in wolf form. Since your other main character is marvelling at them, I can only assume that the wolf also has no fur. Though come to think of it, you haven't actually mentioned anything about their fur yet, so maybe they really are bald.

    Not-quite-related link! Why Paint Cats, a book about what it says on the cover, sort of.
    Tuesday, March 17th, 2015
    12:40 pm
    [Book] The Demon's Apprentice
    Stayed up way too late reading The Demon's Apprentice by Ben Reeder.

    Summary: 7-year-old is sold into slavery to a demon by his father. Learns black magic. Defeats his master eight years later, goes to live with his mom instead, and attempts to return to normal high school life. Of course, it doesn't actually work that cleanly. He's also bad at social and tends to (over)react violently to threats against him or his friends.

    Overall, it was well done. Especially considering that apparently it's his first book ever. The characters and scenes mostly leapt off the pages, the plot pacing was excellent, and there was a large amount of impressive ass kicking. (If he has writing weaknesses, fight scenes are not one of them.) The magic system is arbitrary and unexplained, but the author never uses a trick he doesn't introduce ahead of time in some general way, so points for that. My only gripes were a few places where either the plot or the writing felt really clumsy (especially, the Chomsky incident and its immediate aftermath, where it felt like the protagonist was forced into taking the main plot hook rather than actually having a reason to do so) and, essentially, the protagonist himself.

    Taken as a contextless character, he's an excellent instance of the edgy chaotic-good dark-but-secretly-white knight with a traumatic past type that apparently every book and movie in a certain genre is trying to exploit nowadays. There's a reason this type is popular though, and the appeal doesn't really wear thin here. But in the context of his specifics... it is really, really hard to believe that a kid taken young and trained in the ways of evil for years and years will, without some kind of major transformative incident, have ended up with the seriously strong conscience, honor, and Good-capital-G alignment that he somehow has. Of course, if the protagonist didn't have at least most of those then the book would be unreadably depressing, so there's an excellent meta reason for it, but sigh. There were a few other character-related irritations too, mostly around how the "Hi I'm a black magic caster" flag in his aura was dealt with, but I suppose those were still well within the YA unsubtlety tolerances. And the love-at-first-sight with the cheerleader was... ehhh. I thought it overplayed a little, but probably that was just because I wasn't fond of her character in the first place.

    The morality thing kind of reminds me of the otherwise excellent Timothy Zahn Dragonback books where an orphan is raised by a con artist from the age of three to the age of fourteen, but somehow still ends up with his parents' moral outlook. Because morality is genetic? Though that doesn't help in the case of the Demon's Apprentice, since his father is definitely a complete bastard.
    Sunday, March 8th, 2015
    10:16 pm
    I've been online-researching details of a bunch of medieval crafting methods recently for... reasons. (Mostly leatherworking, flax processing, dyeing, and brewing.) So far, a really useful resource has often turned out to be PDFs and webpages put up by random people in the SCA, especially because they often include practical instructions derived from actually doing the craft with approximately those methods.

    I really should have just thought of looking for those to begin with.
    Sunday, March 1st, 2015
    11:28 pm
    You are two low-level D&D characters. One of your party members, who is a "monster" race, has been captured and is being held in the pens of the city gladiatorial arena, destined to be possibly-killed in an upcoming event. There are both wooden and stone/metal pens, the latter being for the more dangerous things.
    One of you is human and has most of the social rogue skills plus (fairly unreliable) lockpicking. The other of you is a werewolf with most of the stealth melee ranger skills. If necessary you can acquire one more of these latter by recruiting an NPC.
    How do you free your captured member? There are enough guards that just storming the place is not an option—you need some kind of Guile Hero solution.

    Things I have thought of so far:
    - Sell the werewolf to the arena as a wolf. Odds are the cages for wolves will not be locked, only latched, so they will be able to get themselves out while no one is looking and then let the others of you in and/or go find your friend and release them. Then flee. This solution has serious issues if the cages area doesn't ever have very few guards.
    - Volunteer to fight the newly acquired monster; attempt to Diplomacy (or Bribe) your way into being the first challengers. Somehow escape from the arena during a match in front of thousands of people. ...yeaaaah. Alternately, ask to be shown the monster before the fight, then precision-sneak-in later to free him somehow, maybe using the plan above.
    - Find out where the arena administrators like to drink. Get one drunk and steal his keys. Distract the guards (maybe set something on fire, that's always fun), sneak in, find party member, use keys, flee.
    - Get an administrator drunk, as before, but instead get him to cough up info on illegal dealings of the arena. (e.g., match fixing, illegal animal use.) Go find proof of same. Initiate blackmail. Cons: might not work at all, takes a lot of time.
    Sunday, February 22nd, 2015
    8:00 pm
    Finally watched Guardians of the Galaxy, only several months late.

    There were a lot of bits that made no sense and seemed like failed Fridge Logic. It was, however, really amusing. If a little lot melodramatic at the end.
    Wednesday, February 4th, 2015
    11:22 pm
    One side effect of picking up a good part of my Japanese vocabulary from manga and novels is that I can't tell when a word is common and when it's obscure. When reading I look up everything, and some portion of them stick in memory, more or less randomly. If it's a word the author is fond of, then it sticks better.
    So I will sometimes say something I think is normal, but will get a reaction of "Whoa, how do you know that word? Many Japanese people don't know that word!" To which I can only answer that I had no idea it was weird.
    (The recent example was いにしえ. I suspect the usual word for that meaning is 古代, but because I learned いにしえ first it's the one my brain tosses up.)
    Sunday, January 25th, 2015
    9:27 pm
    [DA3] Headdesk
    #1: Patterns for mage armor with a str/con slot. Str being utterly worthless to mages and Con being almost so.

    #2: Being forced to choose between two really bad options in a situation where there is an obvious choice clearly better than either. In this case, the Demands of the Qun quest.
    conversation, as it went in my headCollapse )

    Although I was happy that I managed to find the ending to the Negotiations/Ball in Haramshiral where you blackmail all three of the idiots into stopping their bickering rather than being forced to back one and "neutralize" the other two.
    Wednesday, January 21st, 2015
    7:18 pm
    [Book] Firefight

    by Brandon Sanderson
    ...who is apparently taking some time out from his giant fantasy world and its giant doorstopper series to write some post-apocalyptic superhero books instead. Is it just me, or has the superhero novel genre really taken off in the last few years? Probably it's just me.

    Anyway, Firefight is actually the second book in the series—Steelheart is the first. And calling it a superhero novel is misleading since superheroes mostly don't exist in the world: the actual supernaturally powerful guys are mostly-evil and the protagonist group members are a mix of Badass Normals and domain experts. IIRC the author himself claims the book should be shelved into "post-apocalyptic" instead, and certainly the main theme is a group trying to re-establish an outpost of sanity and freedom in a devastated world. Also revenge and hatred and fear.

    The revenge and hatred bit is actually one of the reasons I really liked these books. It's kind of an undercurrent in a lot of places, especially in the protagonist motivations, where it fights with a bunch of other emotions both between people and within single people. Actually Firefight could be a story of two people dealing with it, one who loses and one who recovers (with help).

    Other things to recommend these books include a humorous style, well constructed main characters, and a pretty unique setting. Also twisty reveals, mostly courtesy of the enigma-upon-secrets-upon-mystery leader of the rebel group. Also Megan is awesome.

    Less appealing features include an at-times hyper or annoying protagonist where I occasionally needed to remind myself that he's a 19-year-old otaku and cut him some slack.

    I only had one serious problem with Firefight, which is that the fear of water thing seemed really, really contrived. I mean, okay, sure, he hasn't had any experience with open water, and sure, it makes sense to be afraid of it for that reason, but it hardly seems like it could be on the same level of subconscious primal fear and childhood trauma as the poisoning by Kool-Aid and nearly burning to death that are the other examples of (potential) Epic phobias. And he's been using the spyril to run around on the water for half the book! He can't be that afraid of it So it's like, sure, he overcame a moderate fear of drowning. That's not nearly as impressive as Megan's thing.
    Did I mention that Megan is awesome?
    Though then again, maybe that lack of deep effect was part of the point. If Epicity is tied to mental trauma, and he doesn't have any serious unresolved trauma, then that would make him immune...
    Meh. It just seemed like it was being made out to be more than it actually was.

    Monday, January 19th, 2015
    4:34 pm
    [DA3] Notes
    - I've been wondering for a long while what you have to do to get Iron Bull's approval. It turns out that the answer is to kill a dragon with him in the party. And then go out drinking afterward.
    - Relatedly, killing the dragon was moderately annoying. It's difficult to get the party to actually stand in two groups (ranged/melee) and trying to dodge incoming fireballs was hindered by the lag between when you tell a character to move and when they actually start moving. Also an individual character "hold position" order would be really, REALLY useful.
    - I'm also really missing the behavior control knob that DA2 had that let you choose between {tank, ranged, melee}. I want my tanks to defend the entire party but there's no good way to set them to do that. I haven't spent more time controlling Blackwall and Cassandra than my protagonist, but it's probably close at this point.
    - There are nothing like enough action bar slots and I want the radial menus back. While the uncontrolled-character AI can cast things not on the bar, it's not smart enough to properly use anything that's not a simple damage spell. And if I put all the damage spells off the bar then I can't use them when I'm controlling the character.
    (Example: The AI logic for Barrier is apparently "cast on the most injured party member", even if there's nothing attacking them. So a half-health ranged character hanging out in the back with no one around him will draw casts of it even if they'd be more useful on the tank with 75% health who's actually being attacked by the giant demon or whatever.)
    12:04 pm
    Continuing adventures in psuedocooking.
    It turns out that you can buy packets of Japanese curry sauce at the supermarket as well as katsu or croquette or tempura or whatever you want to put on it, which makes making curry rice dead easy. (For bonus points, buy an eggplant or a pepper or an onion and sauté it. The sauce will cover up any problems caused by poor sautéing skill.)
    It turns out fried rice is also easier than I thought. Well, once I figured out that you need to use the "cotton" tofu instead of the "silk" and which of the six kinds of soy sauce they sell here was the proper one.
    Friday, January 16th, 2015
    11:21 am
    - Doing a lot of item crafting. Wish there were a war table option for "do this resource-gathering mission over and over until I get back".
    - Re. romance options: I <3 Josephine. Not only is she awesome, but you don't need to muck with approval ratings and so far all the romantic dialogue options for her have been classy instead of idiotic. As far as the apparently-required aggressive gay romance companion goes, Dorian is a decided improvement over Zevran and Anders. Especially Anders. I feel like he's taken over Varric's role of being the party snark, actually--Varric himself has gotten more dark/serious.
    - I should probably stop assembling parties based on who I think will have the most interesting conversations, but it's worked out decently far.
    - I respecialized Vivienne into Knight-Enchanter, but apparently the AI can't handle melee mages and she just sits back throwing staff-bolts unless I manually tell her to charge. Sigh.
    - Relatedly, still trying to decide what I want to have the Inquisitor specialize into. Currently leaning toward Rift Mage, mostly because the other two specialty trees have clear synergy with Spirit (K-E) or Inferno (Necro) and I'd really like to stay Winter/Storm.

    - Have recently been trying to cook at home more, or at least buy components from the supermarket instead of just eating out, on the theory that it's healthier and cheaper. It turns out that tofu can be used for pretty much everything and they sell it in these convenient 150g squares.
    - Having a fancy automatic Japanese tub, pro: Can soak in hot water on cold days. Con: Argh why is this gas bill so high.
    Tuesday, January 6th, 2015
    5:15 pm
    [DA3] Tactics are like those breath mint things, right?
    I am so far fairly underwhelmed by the combat AI. I understand the desire to make things simpler to deal with and appeal to a broader audience thereby, but needing to manually execute combos and click regen potions is kind of annoying when I consider how in DA2 I'd just set up one rule for it and then never think about it again. The bits where ranged characters fail to flee from melee unless I manually move them and characters are perfectly willing to stand in and walk through fire are also kind of special. As well as the bit where it's apparently perfectly willing to use the AoE taunt without any enemies close enough to be affected by it.

    Not a gripe about DA3 specifically, but tactics directives to follow the attack target of the controlled character never made a lot of sense to me. A lot of the time if I'm controlling a character deliberately it's because I'm trying to do something clever like CC something, a situation where everyone else attacking them is the last thing I'd want to happen. DA3 remedies this a bit by letting me disable follow-controlled and giving a specific everyone-attack-this command in the UI. (What would be even more useful is everyone-without-a-shield-equipped-attack-this so I could have the shield warrior keep tanking the giant whatever sufficiently far away from the ranged, but I guess you take what you can get.)

    Amusing combo I was surprised worked: mage casts Fire Wall, warrior grapple-hooks some enemy on the other side and pulls them through it, setting them on fire.
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