Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Gone Mobile

Traditionally, my blogging and Flickr posting has been done through a desktop or laptop. But with more and more of my online activity done on my iPad, and on the go, I've been moving toward mobile blogging and photo posting.

Unfortunately, both Blogger and Flickr are utterly unusable on a touchscreen for posting, and the new Flickr is just plain unusable on anything. So I had to go searching, and I found the perfect apps for each.

Blogsy

I looked around and this is easily the stand out option for psoting to blogs. It supports a wide range of the most popular blogs, including Google's Blogger platform, which I use. I can write new posts, edit old posts, add tags and drop in images and videos exactly like I want to. There's even a series of support videos linked within the app to help get you over that initial confusing transition period while you learn where everything is.

One of my favourite things about Blogsy is how easy it is to add links and images, alter paragraph formats and font sizes or colours, all without altering the standard paragraph style of my blog. That's something Blogger couldn't even manage when I was posting to it directly!

Rating: Highly recommended. Get blogging!

FlickStackr

There was a little competition for my attention when it came to Flickr apps. I needed something that could not only allow me to post, tag and edit descriptions, but also perform batch edits and create new sets, or edit old sets. After reading around a little, I settled on FlickStackr, and I couldn't be happier. It's wonderfully designed, and allows me to do everything I need and more. It's become the only way I ever log in to Flickr any more as the site itself is unusable on my iPad in Chrome.

I love how this app displays my photos, and it includes a basic photo editting suite for minor alterations before, or even after, uploading. I can add single images or whole batches to set or groups, and can add tags to a bunch at once if I need to.

Rating: Picture perfect.

 

The One Earring

Preface: What you are about to read is utterly unbelievable. It is dependant on nigh impossible odds at key moments, timing down to a single minute within a whole weekend and my inhibitions about talking to anyone and everyone. But every word of the following story is true.

The Saturday morning of PAX saw JP, Stephen, Claire and myself getting up early and into the convention centre ahead of the worst of the crowds. We wanted to do our own thing for a bit, and split up, heading to our various destinations.

We met up again at noon and were all heading across the brightly lit skybridge that connects the two main halls when Claire stopped suddenly. She bent down and picked up a tiny object. As she held it up, we realized that it was a single earring. It was a tiny glass-blown yellow octopus. The little guy must have fallen off of someones ear, but apart from his wire hook being slightly out of shape, he was otherwise intact.

We had a quick glance around to see if anyone was walking around looking at the ground, but didn't see anyone. Claire commented on how pretty the earring was, and how upset she would be to have lost it, then carefully put the earring in her pocket and we continued on our way.

Skip to 6pm that evening, and the main halls are closing. Hundreds of attendees are flooding out of the various exists and down the stairs on their way to evening panels, food or the gaming rooms. We're back together once again, and leave through the exit by the skybridge, one of the busier traffic areas. Everyone is walking along, chatting to each other. There are dozens of bodies within arms reach, and most are talking over each other. It's almost impossible to hear what any one voice is saying.

As we head for the first escalator down, my ears tune into a single word: earring. A girl about two bodies ahead and one to my right is telling the guy she's walking with how annoyed and upset she is that she lost her earring, and how she'll never be able to replace it. She's looking through her handbag for her remaining earring.

Can you see where this story is going?

I ask if it was a small earring, and she turns and says "No, not really, but it was unusually heavy."

Now, I don't have much experience with earrings, and the glass octopus looked like it would fit a "small" descriptor.

"Ah well", I reply. "Probably not the one we found then."

By now Claire, walking just ahead of me, has heard what we're talking about, and reaches into her pocket. She pulls out a closed fist, and opens it in front of the girl, revealing a tiny glass-blown yellow octopus.

Everyone involved stops dead on the spot, and, not to be too romantic about it here, but the entire place seemed to turn silent for just a moment.

The girl removes her hand from her handbag, holding a tiny glass-blown yellow octopus dangling from a wire.

"No. Fucking. Way."

We all have a good laugh, and chat briefly on the way down. It turns out the guy she was talking to is her husband, and they had just celebrated their first wedding anniversary two weeks previously. They had travelled to Vancouver Island, where they had found a man selling tiny glass-blown jewellery he made himself. The octopus was, literally, a one of a kind, hand-made piece she had gotten from her husband on their first anniversary.

True story.

PAX. It's a magical place.

You Gotta Share The Love

I've been a role-player since starting college in UCC in 1998. Before then, I had vaguely heard of the concept, but wasn't all that familiar with how it worked. I got asked to join a once-off adventure with pregenerated player characters, run by one of the taller members of the Wargaming and Role Playing Society, or WARPS. If I recall correctly, it was a Lovecraftian horror, in which I played the wife of a crackpot inventor who ended up being revealed as a clockwork automaton, much to everyones surprise, including myself! At that point I killed my husband and everyone else and escaped into the wastelands with my son who had been locked away in the attic.

Basically, I was hooked.

It was like reading a book with friends and choosing the outcome. Brilliant! I found out much later that those kinds of books existed as well! Amazing!

I spent the next several years playing and running various games, learning various systems and introducing more people to the world of tabletop RPGs, as well as making new friends through it.

Then that tall man with the twisted and uncanny sense of storytelling, who had gone on to write RPG's professionally, told me about a new game on the market, one focused more on storytelling and description than rolling bigger numbers. Gar laid out all the reasons why I should get excited about Spirit of the Century, then hit me with the homerun. It was a pulp setting, based in the 1920's and 30's, styled after the adventures of the Shadow, Indiana Jones, Doc Savage and, of course, the Rocketeer!

Once he got hold of his own copy of the book, he ran a few games, and I jumped at the chance to be in it. Before we were even finished the character creation section, which was most of a session in itself, I knew that this was going to be my system. The system I used for every game I ran. The system I stole elements from even if I was playing with a different rules set. The system I would love and support from this moment on.

I got the beautiful and low print run hard cover edition, read it cover to cover and ran my first successful campaign, including twelve sessions, guest appearances by other players and many, many happy memories.

So when Evil Hat annouced in late 2012 that they were Kickstarting their new edition of Fate, the rules system used in Spirit of the Century, I was stuck to it like gum on a Cirrus X-3! I watched as the Fate Core stretch goals were destroyed as the amount pledged shot through the roof. My own pledge amount rose as more and more was made availalbe as print add-ons. I became involved in the swiftly growing community around it in ways I have never done for anything before. I loved seeing the love Fate Core was getting, and sharing that love with others online.

Jump to PAX Prime 2013.

I'm wandering the main exhibition floor early on Saturday morning. I've decided to cross to the other side of the hall to check out a particular booth when I stumble across a guy chilling out on one of the complimentary seats one of the big booths has lying about its area. His head is stuck in a copy of the recently released print version of Fate Core. I stop briefly to comment on the book.

It turns out he's not a role-player! He saw the book and thought it looked like an interesting read, and already he's about a third of the way through. We chat briefly about the hobby and the book, and I suggest a few places to start, as well as answering a few quick questions he has. Before I leave, I suggest that he takes a look at Fate Accelerated Edition, a companion pick-up-and-play version of the Fate Core book, then I wish him well in his new adventure and keep on wandering.

Saturday goes by and Sunday rolls about. It's late afternoon, and I'm in the convention hall again, but this time I'm looking for my wife. I check my email and discover that she's on the sixth floor, in the Console Freeplay Area. That means having to go up the back stairs, a route I don't usually cover at PAX, as that side of the sixth floor is mostly for various panels.

I reach the fifth floor and sitting on one of the comfy chairs by himself is the guy from yesterday, still reading Fate Core. He's noticably further along in it. I stop and say hi. He recognises me immediately and we both get a good laugh out of running into each other again in a convention of over 70,000 attendees, especially here, as he picked this place to stop and read expressly because it was so quiet and out of the way. I ask him how he's enjoying the book, and he tells me, with much excitement, that he's thinking of running his first game tonight!! I wish him the best of luck in tonights game and many more beyond before leaving to find my wife.

I sit down with Claire and realize my brain wants to tell me something, so I relax and listen. It tells me this:

You have never been monetarily wealthy. You went to college away from home and had to pay for rent and food. Even with a job, you had to borrow money from your parents at times. You finished college with a degree and got a job doing something you love, but for only four hours a day, and you still had to pay for food and rent, as well as now paying back borrowed money to the bank and your family. Any time you thought you had money, an unexpected expense came up to take it all away. And then, you decided to move to Vancouver, so you had less money than ever to spend freely.

In all that time, from your first day in college to today, tomorrow and beyond, you have had amazing friends. They have shared with you all kinds of things, from cards to make your L5R deck better, to board games and books, from video games to comics, to food and clothing. You have long thought about how you haven't often been able to return that kindness to them.

But karma is a universal thing. Others do good things to you, you do good things to others, others do good things to even others. It does not have to be a closed loop. They do not have to be the same people. And

Every.

Little.

Thing.

Counts.

It's not the value, it's the friendship behind it.

You know what to do.

And suddenly I do. I get up and tell Claire I'll be back soon.

I race down three flights of stairs to where I know it will be and I buy it.

Then, I go back up two flights of stairs and find that guy again, still in the same place, still reading the same book. I interrupt his reading one last time and hand him a fresh copy of Fate Accelerated Edition, because I can do that now for someone. It's nothing, I say. It only cost me five dollars. This is incredible, he replies. I've never had a stranger gift me something before. I really appreciate it.

Enjoy the game, I tell him as I head back to my wife. It's the best hobby in the world.

Monday, October 07, 2013

PAX Prime 2013

This was the third trip to PAX for Claire and myself, first in 2008 on our Epic Holiday[TM], and again in 2011 after arriving in Vancouver and getting settled in. But this year was special, as two friends and my brother joined us in Seattle for the first four-day PAX ever, and it was fantastic

Mike had arrived in Vancouver a few days early, and we all travelled south to Seattle by train on Thursday evening, meeting up with friends I had made on the last visit to PAX at the station in Vancouver. It certainly helped pass the time on the five hour trip to have friends to chat to.

In Seattle we met up with JP and my brother Stephen. They had been in Seattle for a day already, and had gotten a jump on us by attending a Microsoft event and playing the Xbox One! Thursday night was pretty much a crash, as we wanted to be up super early Friday morning to get into the hall for a full day of PAX.

The whole weekend was amazing! I got so much free swag, mostly in the form of t-shirts, and spent a not inconsiderable amount of cash on merchandise, again, mostly in the form of t-shirts. We all had a blast trying out and seeing upcoming games, and managed to spend time doing our own thing without getting separated for too long, or at least being able to meet up later without difficulty. It helped a lot that the convention centre wifi stayed working under the strain of thousands of nerds on mobile devices for the majority of the time. We could email and tweet at each other with plans from where ever we were at.

Once again, I didn't do much by way of panels. Stephen and JP came in early some mornings to get into interesting presentations without having to queue for too long, which was the best way to do it, in my opinion. I don't see much point in queuing for five hours to play a 15 minute demo of a game I'm already sold on buying when it's released a month down the line. We did go to the Gearbox Software panel together in the Paramount Theatre, which was hilarious and awesome, and then we got to meet the team after at their signing! Very cool!

But my big lesson from this year at PAX was that I'm becoming less and less interested in the triple-A titles on display and more and more involved with the indy games. I found myself in the indy games section at least once every day, trying out games I've never heard of, from companies that might not even have existed in 2011. My favourite games at PAX this year were all from the indy's, from the colourful and frantic four-player chaos of Speed Runners to the beautiful and hilarious Monster Loves You, both of which I got after the convention on Steam. The only triple-A title I spent any time queuing for was Nintendo's HD remake of Wind Waker, and only then for the free t-shirt. I've already played the game one my GameCube.

Two companies of particular note that I got to speak to this year are Vancouver's own Klei Entertainment, creators of Mark of the Ninja, Don't Starve and the currently on Early Access release Incognita, and the team behind my game of 2013, Gunpoint. I fanboyed out bigtime meeting Tom, John and Ryan at their PAX 10 booth. They were a pleasure to meet, and I'm delighted to have been supporting them since launch, buying my copy of Gunpoint before I even had my own Steam account, and before it became the massive success it is. I've been following Gunpoint since November 2011, and I'll be following this team onto their next big project too, whatever that may be.

And it wasn't just the indy companies that caught my attention. JP, Mike, Stephen and myself spend an hour in the DigiPen section, an area showcasing the best games from the DigiPen Institute of Technology in Redmond, Washington. The games were creative, clever, beautiful and masterfully crafted with love and care, and we spent longer there as a group than at any of the big name booths.

It was interesting to note that more of the Indy games we saw were supporting couch co-op or couch competition. I have many happy memories of playing Mario Kart or Bomberman on the SNES with my cousins, or GoldenEye on the N64 with the garda recruits that stayed with us, each sharing one TV, and having those immediate and intimate reactions only possible when sharing a couch with your opponents. Even from the Xbox 360 era, two of my favourite memories are playing split-screen with a friend. I'd love to see a resurgence in that social gaming with friends in the coming years, and I think indy games might be at the forefront of that.

I hope that the organizers of PAX 2013 noted the heavy foot traffic in the indy section this year and give them a greater space next year. I realize they can't cough up the same amount as the big studios, but they deserve the support and recognition.

PAX was a fun time with fun friends, and I've enjoyed it every year we've been, but Mike "Gabe" Krahulik's recent comments on transgenders and the whole recurring Dickwolves fiasco has definitely soured our interest in ever going again. At the start of September I said we'd probably never return to PAX, but that's a bit premature. I'm not willing to accept Gabe's apologies, as at this point it's clear he either doesn't really mean it, or he isn't learning from his previous mistakes. But I would like to come back to a safer, more accepting, open PAX with my future children and share with them the joy of being a gamer geek.

So never is a long time. But not next year.

 

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Fired Up

As some of you know, I'm not much of a music person. I have near-zero musical talent, can't sing and just jump up and down to imitate dancing. That doesn't stop me from playing Rock Band to pretend I can play guitar, singing when I'm home alone, and dancing when no-one's watching.

But I love Hanson. I've talked about them before, and I stand with my convictions. They are, simply, an incredible band. They've grown so much in the last 21 years, maturing and developing both their voices, talents and songs.

When they announced their newest World Tour to promote their new album, Anthem, I checked to see if there was a Vancouver date included. Claire had bought me tickets to see them in January 2012 at the Vogue Theatre on Granville Street as my Christmas present the month before, and we had seen them again in the summer of that same year at the outdoor free concerts that were part of the summer carnival in Vancouver, the PNE. The Anthem tour was dated for October 2nd, again in the wonderful setting of the Vogue and I grabbed tickets from the box office the day they went on sale.

It was an amazing night! I arrived super early to get in line, turning up at 3pm for an event that had the doors opening at 7pm! I chatted to some of the others waiting, and discovered that most of them were there for the Members Only Early Access. So when they were all let in, Claire and I were at the head of the line!

The opening act was David Ryan Harris. I can't admit to having ever heard of him before, but I'm delighted to have heard of him now. His set was entirely on acoustic guitar. I really liked his stuff, and he was hilariously funny on stage between songs. About halfway through his set, he was commenting that "my wife and I", at which point he was cut off with an audible "WHAT!" from a lady in the front row, resulting in a good laugh from everyone.

Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed the main act. Hanson rocked the stage, opening with Fired Up and a few tracks from their new album, but mixing in all the old classics throughout their set, including Mmmm-Bop and One Second. I was delighted to hear some of my favourites like Give a Little, Thinkin' About Something, and Waiting For This.

By the halfway point, I think I had rubbed my fingertips off from all the finger-snapping[1], I thought my wrist was broken from the clapping and I was convinced I'd have massive leg pain this morning from the ridiculous amount of jumping I was doing. The sweat was running down my temples and small of my back, and, once the music stopped, I realised my ears were ringing, but I loved every second of it!

Given what I discussed in my previous blog post, I was worried I wouldn't be able to keep up with the level of engery for the whole night, but my body taught me otherwise, and proved once again that I don't have to stop doing anything I love just because my brain has decided to not play by the rules.

At the end of the night, I even to to fist bump Taylor, which was awesome! He and Isaac did a quick run along the stage, shaking hands with as many as possible. Isaac only managed to get one half of the stage done, but Taylor swept back to the side I was on, and I jumped forward for a quick "Thank You". I might have fanboyed a little.

Speaking of fanboys, there were noticeably more males in the audience this year over January 2012. I even spoke to one who was here because he had heard the new album and was suitably impressed enough to grab tickets to check them out. He only knew them from MMMBop years ago, but liked what he heard on their new stuff. Good to see!

I wil forever love their music and wear their t-shirts and my new hoodie I got on Wednesday night. I get mocked briefly for it, but people stop pretty quickly once they realise I'm not being ironic, or I manage to convince them to listen to a track or two.
I look forward to seeing them every time they play Vancouver.

[1]- I checked my fingers the following morning, and my index finger definitely felt smoother than the others! Also, my legs and ears were fine, which is always a good sign.

 

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Not So Terrific

For some, this is going to be old news, for others, this might be the first time you've heard about what I'm going to say, and for a few, this might just be the first time you've heard me saying it. But, I'm fairly confident that for everyone, myself included, this is going to be a difficult post to read. I'm sorry.

Around February or March of 2012 I noticed I had a slight tremor in my left arm. Nothing too serious, just a small thing. I thought it was stress induced, as we were between our visas and not working. Unfortunately, when I had to get my medical as part of my visa, the doctor said it wasn't stress, or RSI, or any of that, and referred me to a neurologist. As a man, I delayed seeing him for as long as possible.

On October 1st, 2012, one year ago today, I saw the neurologist, and he confirmed that I had early onset Parkinson's Disease. Or at least, he confirmed it as best he could. There's no medical test for PD, but he said I had all the typical signs. He recommended I get an MRI to confirm it wasn't anything else. I got that in December, and it came back clean, so we were back to the PD diagnosis.

Here are some facts:

About 10% of the population will get PD at some point in their lives, but most are over 60 or even 70 years old by the time they get it. About 4-5% of that number get it before 50, so I am in a select group, a fraction of a fraction of the population. I should have run out and done the lotto when I was told, but I didn't. I was devastated. My entire life just crumbled away before my trembling fingertips. For a brief time, I thought I'd lost it all. I thought we'd have to go back to Ireland and give up everything we had worked so hard for here in Vancouver. Going back wouldn't have exactly been a terrible thing, mind you, but we really did love it here by then, and do even more so now. Also, the health care system here is insane, and the University of British Columbia, just a bus ride away from where we live, is at the forefront of research into treating Parkinson's.

I thought I'd lose Claire. I know, that's a stupid thought. But for a moment, I thought it. I even offered to go home without her if it came to it, allowing her to stay here and work on her new and swiftly growing freelance career. She was having none of it, of course, and in the last year, as in the last 13 years that I've been with her, she's been nothing short of incredible.

That's it. That's all the bad news. So here's the good stuff:

It's been a year. Nothing much has changed. I can still work, I still love my job. I'm not taking any medication yet, despite the neurologist telling me in October that I'll probably be on something within 6 months. It's been 12 months now, and it hasn't gotten a whole lot worse yet, which is, obviously, a good thing. It's localized at the moment to my left arm and left leg. My right hand is... yup, just checked now, it's as tremor-free as it ever was. So this doesn't stop me drawing or writing. Even my left arm hasn't gotten significantly worse, as far as I can tell. My leg is fine if I'm walking or even running short distances, but if I try to fast-walk or jog, I notice that it stiffens up a bit. Running and fast-walking must use different muscles, or at least muscles in different ways. Even then, it hasn't been enough to stop me from doing anything. This summer is Vancouver has been astonishingly good, and I've done more outdoor activities than any summer I can think of in recent memory.

And I still have Claire. She's been my rock and my saviour. I know that this kills her at times, but usually, she's fine. She only seems to get upset about it when I'm telling someone about it. When I told the gang back home, I noticed she had to quietly leave the room.

But we're over the shock now. The first week, maybe two, was the hardest. After that, we both realized that not much has changed, or will change for some time. I'm an eternal optimist, so I just picked up the pieces of my apparently shattered lives, discovered that everything was intact, and had, in fact, just been knocked off the shelf for a bit.

I love following the development of technologies, and there is some fantastic stuff coming down the line for PD. This diagnosis 10 years ago would have been a dramatically different story, and in 10 years time, it'll be different again, in a good way.

Why am I telling you this now?

 Despite having a noticeable tremor since February or March, I was diagnosed a year ago today. It's hard to find the right time to tell people bad news, and it's very easy to find excuses why any time is the wrong time. I didn't tell anyone when I first got diagnosed, apart from my family. It was right before Christmas, and I didn't want to "ruin" anyone's holiday. Then we were planning the trip home, so why break the news to my closest friends over email when I'll be seeing them in a few weeks any? Then we were back, and I had work to divert my attention. Then it was the summer and everyone was having a great time. I could find excuses for now too, like, "I'm too busy", "I haven't blogged in months", "I want to write about other things", but that's all just putting it off, when really, I feel like people should know.

I don't want this to be a secret, to be some dirty thing that I'm going through. I want to be open with it, to show everyone that I'm still me, still living my life. And this is the first step to that, telling people.

I'm sorry if reading this has upset anyone, or ruined anyone's mood for the day. It wasn't easy writing it either. I'm sorry if you feel left out because I didn't tell you in person. It's hard to talk about at times, even after a year. I've never been sick before. I've never had to tell anyone I'm suffering from anything that doesn't warrant a "Ya big baby! It's just the flu!", or what have you. I've never taken medication for anything stronger than an over-the-counter painkiller, and even then, it's rare.

I've told people in a reasonably big group, in small groups and individually. I had to tell my mum over the phone. None of them are particularly "easier" than any other. At least in person, people can see how I really am. I mean, for all anyone reading this knows, I can be saying "I'm fine", while rolling around uncontrollably on the floor! I'm not. I really am fine. It's just clearer in person.

We live in a world where we know enough about the brain that I could get a probe shoved in to just the right spot to stop the tremors at the flick of a switch. A world where, excepting some horrific natural disaster, we're moving forward at an alarming pace with technology of all forms. A world where someone somewhere is finding another new way to make us live longer, better, healthier lives.

And I'm going to benefit directly from all of that.

I live on. I look to people like Michael J. Fox, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's when he was 30, and has just started a new sitcom as I write this[1]. He still works, and has a wonderful family, and this brings me great hope.

This is a comma in the story of my life, not a full stop.

Denis
[1] - I can't bring myself to watch The Michael J. Fox Show just yet, but I'll be sure to write up a review once I do.