Saturday, November 28, 2015

I Have A Doubt

Firstly, why is "doubt" spelled with a B. It just doesn't make any sense!

Anyway, it's Friday, November 27th, so we are, by definition, 27 days into November, and 27 days into my NoBeProMo attempt to post 30 blog posts in the months. I currently stand at, including this very one, which totally counts, 23 posts, putting me a whole four posts behind.

I'm not confident I can make that up.

Mostly, I've just been lacking in inspiration for what to write about. Inspiration comes from all kinds of places. A whole lot of the posts have been about Ada already, because they're easy to write. Her and Claire and all that are on my mind some days. My previous post on trailers came about because of the recent Captain America: Civil War first trailer.

I've been desperately trying to write some short story stuff as well, but I'm having major minor writer's block. Why "major minor"? Well, it's only a short story for my personal blog, not the fifth installment in a massively successful fantasy series. It would suck to not be able to write the next book in a series millions of people are waiting for. I'd honestly love to write something again, as my short story posts are ones I enjoy going back and reading again years later. But it's just not happening.

Work hasn't helped, even though I can't complain. I've been crazy busy and it's been lots of fun. I've been working with the toddlers and infants a lot, which is always an enjoyable experience. But all this fun has meant little time for writing.

So, I'm behind. I'm honestly going to do my best over the weekend to catch up, but... well... the post title says it all.

Good luck to me.

The Trouble With Trailers

The purpose of movie trailers is to entice the general public in to see your movie. It should grab the attention of the viewer and make them interested in learning more, in discovering the full story and, ultimately, giving you their cash in ticket prices or sales.

It should not reveal, or appear to reveal the entire story. The trailer for The Martian contains a scene from the climax of the book. Now, admittedly, maybe it's only obvious to me because I had read the book, but still. The trailer for Terminator: Genisys has a major reveal! I was warned in advance, and loved the twist when I saw it in theatres. But, as Honest Trailers point out, that's nothing new for the Terminator franchise. Only watch this if you've seen both T2 and Genisys.

As a matter of fact, as a viewer, I've learned to stop watching trailers once I'm hooked. I only watched that first trailer for The Martian, and I really enjoyed it, despite having previously read the superior novel. As mentioned, Genisys was a really great experience in the cinema, a lot of fun, even if it was only an okay movie, but mostly because I hadn't seen the trailers.

Once I've decided to see a movie, I'm pretty much done with trailers. It sometimes take more than one, but more often than not, the first real trailer is enough to get my attention. I've only seen that first, "Chewie, we're home" trailer for the Force Awakens and avoided screenshots, additional footage and any or all talk about it. I'm looking forward to seeing this on a big, big screen, with the best quality surround sound. I'm going to enjoy going in almost completely unspoiled and coming out, hopefully, with a smile on my face.

But I'm not nearly as excited for the Force as I am for a Civil War. This. Just this.

Done. Completely, utterly done. No more trailers, no behind the scenes, no photos from the set, and definitely no "exclusive footage". I'm already excited. I don't need any more.

Roll on May, 2016!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Baby Tipping Part Three

Nighttime doesn't have to be difficult, but you will have to endure some rough patches. Claire and I spent the first few weeks handing off to each other at night. Claire would feed, and I'd look after diapering. It was still exhausting, but at least we could get decent naps at night.

For the most part, it worked well, but there was a run of five or six nights in a row when Ada was three or four weeks old where Ada would refuse to go to sleep, crying and complaining and fighting every attempt to get her to sleep, and then wake constantly through the night. We were exhausted, frustrated and stressed. But it passed, and we got through it together.

Just remember the old Persian adage, "This too shall pass". Let the hard times come, and constantly remind each other that it's just a phase, and it won't last. Be there for each other. And take video documentation of it to use as evidence and guilt trips for the next eighteen years, at least!

Ada actually got into a really nice routine for a few weeks where she was asleep by 10:30, and would sleep until 7am, waking once around 5am for a quick feed. But ever since we went home to Ireland in August, she's been causing Claire nothing but pain some nights, waking every other hour. I don't know if it's just that she needs to eat more, or that she's just a light sleeper, but Claire sometimes gets a very restless night, resulting in a tired mommy for the following day. When I can, I'll take Ada out of the room and let Claire get a few solid hours sleep, but during the week, I leave for work by 7:30 or 8am, so I do my best at the weekend.

Daytime naps can be tricky, with lots still going on around thhe sleeping beast. My advice would be, when they're young, let your little bundle sleep in the living room, with all the noise that that includes, and don't be quiet while they sleep. We had Ada in the living room constantly apart from at night during the first five or six months. She's slept through Pacific Rim at just a few weeks. She can, literally, sleep through an explosion in the same room! And that's wonderful for when friends call over. We've never had to say "SHHHHH!! The baby's asleep". It also helps when we're in town. Ada can sleep on noisy buses, at busy resturants, or walking through a crowded mall.

At a certain point, that needs to change though. Around six months, Ada was too intereested in everything around her to sleep for long in the living room. She would wake up and refuse to go back to sleep after only a short nap, so we moved her back to sleeping in the bedroom even during the day. We still don't enforce silence while she's sleeping, but we do close the door a little. She sleeps much better that way. We also leave a bedside light on, so she can play with her stuffie when she wakes up. Sometimes she'll just cry for us right away, but more than once we've found her babbling to her stuffie, content and happy to be by herself for a while.

Too cute.

In Their Own Time

By definition, half the population will fall below the average for anything you care of measure. When it comes to infants, they are just all over the place!

Ada turns eight months old today, Monday the 23rd. She still isn't crawling, though she does scoot around the room sometimes, moving backwards by pushing with her arms. One of her friends at Family Place on Saturday mornings is older than her by a single day, but has been crawling since she was a bit more than six and a half months!

Claire has sometimes asked if we should be worried about any of Ada's developments, or lack thereof. I constantly reassure her that the longer it takes Ada to crawl, the better. At least for now, we can put her down with her toys, go make a hot cup of tea and come back to find her in roughly the same place we left her.

On the other hand, Ada is able to hold her own weight, standing for a few minutes at a time, leaning on the back of the couch, or against our legs. She's been a fan of tummy time since the week we brought her home, and her arm and neck strength is fantastic! She's been able to roll over since she was four months old.

Her dexterity is pretty good too. She can turn her stuffed toys and blankets around until she finds the tag, or move objects from hand to hand if we're changing her clothes. When I put here down on her change mat, she learned a long time ago that there's a marker by her head, and with a bit of stretching she can get at it. At first, she was only able to touch it with her fingers, but after a few attempts, she gained the dexterity needed to lift it out with her index and middle fingers. Since then, putting her on the change mat usuaally results in an immediate stretch, grab and play with the marker.

One of the things that every baby does is reach out their arms to be picked up when you offer. Every baby, that is, except Ada. Any time I offered to pick her up, she'd smile, but not raise her arms. She understands the sign for up, and has even signed it quickly when I sign it to her[1] but still won't raise her arms to me. I work with babies who reach out to me as soon as I walk into the room, but my own daughter expects mee to do all the work for her.

Until this last few days. Ada has just started to put her arms up when she want to be picked up. Today, in particular, she definitely rreached up to me to be picked up, and my heart soared.

Every kid develops in their own time. Every new milestone or phase is unique to every child. So when you see someone else's baby doing something yours isn't doing yet, I can guarantee you that kids parent is seeing the same thing in yours.

[1] The sign for up is, as you could probably guess, pointing up with your index finger. We've been signing lots with Ada, and she understands a few now, especially up and milk, but when I do up, her index finger will sometimes flicck out and point briefly. It's cute to see, and interesting to watch her learning that she can sign back at us.

Codenames

Sometimes big fun comes in small packages.

Vlaada Chvátil is the designer of space junk builder and racer Galaxy Trucker and space ship crew simulator Space Alert, but is most famous for the magical stategy game Mage Knight. So you'd be forgiven for thinking that his expertise lies solely in big box, big rules games. But everyone needs a change of pace, and Codenames is Vlaada's.

When you open the box you'll be surprised to find just a few packets of cards, in two varieties, and a sheet of thicker card stock with a few cards to punch out. It becomes immediately obvious that this game is clean, clear and simple, but by no means basic.

Codenames plays ridiculously cleanly. You set out 25 cards in a 5x5 grid. Each card has a single word printed on it twice, back to back, readable from both sides of a table. Then there's the map card, a square card with a 5x5 grid of squares, eight coloured red, eight blue, one black and seven cream. Eight plus eight, plus one plus seven equals 24. The last of the 25 squares will either be red or blue, deciding which team starts first, having one extra word to identify.

Players are divided into two teams, each made up of one Spymaster and one or more Field Operatives. The two opposing Spymasters sit on one side of the table, with their Field Operatives on the opposite sides. The Spymasters can see the map, or key, and are trying to clue the Field Operatives in to which cards are in their teams colour.

But it's not as easy as giving coordinates to the colours you want. Spymasters are restricted to only saying one descriptive word and one number. With that, they have to find connections between the words in the grid of 25 on the table, using the key to tell them which cards are important to them. So if the words Day and Star are in your colour, you might say Night, 2, in the hopes that your team get the connection.

And that's really the essence of the game. There are rules about guessing, such as not using part of a code word, like if Seahorse is on the table, you can't use Horse, or Sea as the clue, and there are rules for passing the turn to the other team, but all that is in the silm rulebook. Spymasters give clues, their teammates try to decipher those hints and find the required cards, and everyone wants to avoid that one black card which acts as an assassin, instantly losing you the game if chosen.

Codenames is fast. You can get a game set up in less than a minute and played in less than five if your team is on fire, less than ten if they're struggling for inspiration. And the second game will be even easier, as all the word cards are double sided, so for a second game, simply flip the grid!

I highly recommend Codenames. It's fast, easy to teach, and endless fun. The grid of words will never be the same, so there's no chance you'll just learn an optimal codeword and over use it. As long as a player can read all the words, they can play the game, so it works really well with younger players too.

There is a free app available for iOS and Android that generates the key and looks pretty. This means that it's possible to try the game using the app and a deck of Apples to Apples words, as long as you do some curation on the cards that come up. A fun way to try out this fantastic board game, but not a good long-term substitute.

Photos and formatting to be added later. I'm running disasterously behind on my posts.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Stumped

When I got home this afternoon, Claire and Ada were out with friends, so I immediately tried to write a post to stay up to date with this month-long project. I had fallen behind this week, unable to write over the weekend, due mainly to feeling numb and uninspired after the horrific events in Paris this past Friday.

I had managed to catch up, and wwe proud of myself for posting some interesting stuff, but today I just can't think of anything. I've started a few posts, but been unhappy with the level of writing in any of them. I wanted to try to write a short story, which I sometimes post here, but couldn't come up with a plot.

So blearg. This is still something. A brief, high level glimpse into my state of mind this evening. Uninspired. Not bored, or upset, in fact, far from it. The evening has been lovely. Cuddles with baby and wife, watching YouTube videos, getting frustrated at a video game. All good. Just creatively uninspired.

Tomorrow evening I'm hoping to be playing board games at a friends place, so we'll see if I fall behind then too. But at least today, I have this post. Uninspired, but content none-the-less.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes

"Right. I'm in a dark room. There's a clock reading 18:43, and a timer reading five minutes."

"Ignore the clock. That's the actual time. What's on the-"

"Cool! It uses the PC clock to have the real time in the game? Cool. That's-"

"We don't have time for this! What's on the bomb?"

"The timer reads 4:46. There's a space with wires, a button marked "Hold" and a thing with four buttons with weird symbols on them."

"Right, how many wires?"

"Er... Six vertical wires. Red, red, yellow, bl-"

"Horizontal."

"What?"

"They're horizontal. Vertical goes up and- we don't have time for this. Go on."

Later.

"The bar is white."

"Okay. Release the button when there's a 1 in any position on the countdown timer."

*BZZZZZZZT*

"I said 1!"

"I know! I did that. Wait. This time it's blue."

"Release on a 4."

*BZZZZZZZZT*

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!? I... Oh. Oh. You said a red button marked Hold... Just tap the button. Don't hold it at all."

"Okay. Done."

"Yeah... my bad."

"Last panel. Four buttons. Top left is a backwards C with a dot in the middle, beside that is a kind of balloon thing, below the C is a mountain with a road on it, and then Ha-"

"Wait. Stop. I've only gotten the C one so far. I have no idea what else you're talking about. What's the balloon?"

"It's like a circle on a pole. A quidditch goal."

"Oh. Got it. Next."

"The mountain... er... it looks like... um..."

"Does it look like an A and a T stuck together?"

"Yes! That's it!"

"Okay. And the last one?"

"HalfLife 3 confirmed."

"Got it. Balloon, mountain, HalfLife 3, C."

"Done!! We did it. 43 seconds left on the clock! Easy peesy. Lets do the next one."

And everyone died because no one could read Morse Code.

The story you just read is mostly true, although it's various beats occured over a few seperate games, with a variety of clueless bomb disposal teams, rather than one entirely incompetent one.

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes has been the cause of the most laughing I've done while playing a game with my friends in months, if not years. It's simply a laugh a minute, chaos simulator that will often end with the bomb exploding, but will always end with smiles.

One player can see the bomb and has to describe the various components to the other player or players, who can't see the bomb, but who have the manual and can talk the first player through disarming each component.

Keep Talking is so simple and fun that anyone can play with a minimum of explaination. In fact, I've had great fun just handing someone the controller, explaining the four controls (Left stick to move between highlighted components, right stick to rotate, A to select, B to cancel) and letting them go with little to no further instruction. It's fun listening to them come up with their own way of describing the various elements, especially if you get what their talking about but can resist the urge to suggest your own "better" desciption.

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is available on Steam and developed by Steel Crate Games, a Canadian indy developer, and I just cannot recommend it highly enough. It's for two to as many people as you can fit in a room, and is hilarious from opening tutorial to the final explosion and beyond.

 

Mobile Girl

Claire and I are pretty tech connected people. We both use our desktop PC's, iPads and phones daily, and Ada is present for a lot of that interaction of man and machine.

So it comes as no surprise to learn that Ada has a fascination with mobile phones and iPads. She sees us on them all the time, and they glow with inviting colours. Claire let Ada chew on her bright red silicone phone cover when she started teething, and she still likes to play with that.

But few toys hold her attention when our phones are in sight. I sometimes let her play with my phone if she's by my side on a soft surface, but all too often, it ends up in her mouth at some point, and that's just not healthy, for baby or phone.

So, on my way home today, I stopped into my phone network's local store and asked about the dummy display phones they keep on the display shelves, and what happens to them once they're no longer needed. One of the staff immediately asked what model my own phone was, disappeared into the back room and returned with a dummy version of my phone.

He handed it to me and suggested I give it a good and thorough cleaning. I thanked him, and walked home, delighted, with an unusual gift for my darling girl.

Ada now has her own phone to chew on, play with and babble at, just like mummy and daddy does. Because it's the same model as my own phone, it looks and feels the same, and even weighs the same. It doesn't light up, but at the same time, the screen is always colourful to look at. It even shares a feature with my phone. My lock screen has a digital effect that looks like there's water between the glass layers of the screen. When you press and swipe, the bubble moves with your finger, and it looks really cool. When I washed Ada's phone, actual water got into the device[1], so now there's a bubble of water under the screen that moves when you press and swipe!

Ada loves her phone. Now if only I could find a dummy iPad as well...

[1] - Don't wash your phone by immersing it, kiddies! Also, probably don't use soap and water.

 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Join Me On The Couch

Some of my best childhood memories are playing video games with friends and family, all sitting in the same room, within shouting, and hitting, distance. From the time my cousin yanked the SNES controller clean out of the console rounding a corner in Mario Kart, to the time my brother and I stayed up past midnight with two Garda recruits playing four-player GoldenEye deathmatch on the N64 with proximity mines, knowing the recruits had an exam the next morning[1].

But, for a while, the concept of couch multiplay was replaced almost entirely with on-line access, gaming against annoymous users half a world away. Games stopped offering split-screen competitive modes, and sometimes even split-screen co-operative modes.

Thankfully, the couch is coming back into fashion.

I first played SpeedRunners at PAX Prime 2013, and bought it that evening from my hotel room. It a fantastically frantic game of heroes racing around a circular course, jumping, sliding and dodging obstacles along the way. As players fall behind the group, they get eliminated, and the screen slowly shrinks down to just a tiny box with everyone laughing riotously at the chaos.

SpeedRunners is the perfect couch multiplayer game, as eliminated players start to pick alligences among the remaining runners, but rounds are over fast, so the player you were cheering for one minute might become your closest rival the next.

I've had many great hours filled with laughter playing this game. With races generally over pretty quick too, more than four players can enjoy the experience, taking turns on the controls. A real party favourite.

If you're looking for a longer experience, Artemis: Spaceship Bridge Simulator is an amazing co-operative game where up to six players can work together as the crew of a starship in hostile space. Each player takes on the role of a member of the bridge crew, either Communications, Science, Engineering, Weapons, Helm or Captain. Apart from the Captain, everyone has their own personnal screen for their role, with the accompanying console on the screen. The Captain has the main screen, which everyone can see, and uses the information the other players gives her to guide her crew around the available space and defend outpossts or attack threats.

Artemis has been around for a while, but until recently, getting six computers in the same room all running the game on a LAN is very, very difficult. But now the game is available on tablets and smart phones, so we have the server running through Steam on my PC, while the seperate consoles run smoothly on the iPads. A neat bonus is that the touch interface makes it feel very Star Trek!

The game as it's presented is very much a sandbox experience with a minimum of deep interaction. There's no story, just a series of missions to play. But the missions are just a map, and you fly around reacting to distress calls. It kinda gets boring.

Thank goodness for the mission editor. You can create your own missions, or, as we did, you can find a forum that posts completed ones, and play theirs. One guy has a forty episode series that you can play through!! With events, and villains, and surprises, and really clever use of mechanics. They really make the game an actual game. Also, because the story and events are revealed through the Communications officer, it greatly improves that role.

If you decide to try out Artemis with a bunch of friends, then check out the missions. You'll enjoy it a lot more.

I've been having a blast playing couch multiplayer with friends thanks to its resurgence from indy developers. Every one offers a different experience, but every one of them results in fits of laughter and high-fives.

Get some friends together. Grab a bunch of snacks. Clean off the couch. Enjoy a great afternoon making wonderful memories. Together.

And I haven't even mentioned my most recent acquisition yet. That one deserves an entire post all to itself. But I shouldn't Keep Talking. More soon.

[1] - They passed the exam, thankfully. I have great memories of gaming with Basil and Brendan while they stayed with us for a few months. I would love to know they're still doing well, but we lost contact long ago.

Sick Day

Everyone gets sick. Usually more than once. In fact, everyone gets sick more than once, unless the first time was catastrophic. But we grin and bear it, complain and mope about, recover and get on with our lives.

Over the weekend, Ada started acting strange. Not head-spinning-180º strange, but almost as disconcerting. Anone who has met Ada will agree that she's a people person, very chatty and bubbly, and loves getting your attention. She smiles, laughs, and has those beautiful big eyes to gaze upon you.

But this weekend she was lethargic and quiet. We went to friends place and instead of entertaining the new faces, she just snuggled into my neck and lay on my shoulder. Not in her usual babbling into my ear while stroking the nape of my neck way either, just resting her head on my shoulder, not really moving or doing anything much at all, zoning out, not even sucking her fingers.

We took her temperature, and sure enough, she had a mild, low grade fever. This is the first time she's gotten sick. Not bad given that she's almost eight months old and we take her out as often as we can.

I know kids get sick. I know they get better. But when it's your own, it's different. You worry. You watch. You wonder. You feel for them. They know something is wrong, but they haven't got the concept to understand what is happening.

She was sleeping a lot, and when she was awake, all she wanted was to be held by either myself or Claire. That's okay. All we wanted to do was cuddle her and reassure her we'd look after her.

And we did. Lots of feeding to make sure she was getting both her fluids, and all the health benefits of mummy's milk. Lots of warm cuddles, gentle rocking and soft singing.

She got better. Sunday evening she had a short feed and a nap and woke up alert and giggling. She still had a bit of a temperature, but it was coming down. She was still a little clingy, and feeding more than usual, including during the night, when she woke up probably every other hour for a quick feed.

It's an odd feeling when your own child gets sick. Even today, while I was at work, knowing full well that Claire was home with her and watching her all day, I still couldn't get my mind off of her. I doubt it ever gets easier.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Baby Tipping, Part Two

When it comes to feeding newborn babies, it's generally accepted now that breast milk is ideal. It's full of what baby needs, including lots of immunity boosts from mommy.

But, Breast is Best is well-meaning propganda at best, and hurtful lies at worst. Not every mother will be able to breastfeed, and it can feel like you're failing you child if it's not working out for you, especially with all the pressure from the "professionals". The truth is, as long as your baby is feeding, then how it feeds is kind of irrelevant.

And often, the breastfeeding will come with time. It took us almost a month before we could go a full day without supplimenting with formula feed at least once. But even if it doesn't, the only difference it will make is you'll have to spend money on formula. You'll still have a beautiful, well-fed baby either way.

Speaking of bottles, the best thing to happen to us is using a bottle with Ada very early on. It has the distinct advantage that she would then happily drink from a bottle if Claire wanted to go out with friends sometimes. It gave us a level of freedom that not many parents have, and in our opinion, it's a healthy freedom. Claire could go watch movies in the cinema, or practice archery, and come home to a happy, fed, bubbly baby.

Both parents need to be able to unwind now and then, and while it's easy for dad to get out, it's not so simple for mom. Even though Claire breastfeeds, before Ada started eating solids, she could express milk into a bottle when she knew she was going to be away.

Expressed milk can also allow mom to get a solid nights sleep while dad gets up to do the night feed every now and then. Happy, rested mom makes for a happy, rested baby, and a happy dad, rested or not.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Like Father, Like Daughter

Confession time: I sucked my thumb when I was a kid.

Nothing alarming about that. Lots of kids do.

I had a blankie that went everywhere with me, and held it in my hand when I was sucking my thumb, rubbing the corner on my upper lip.

A bit more odd, but still okay.

I stopped when I was around 12.

Yeah... That's unusual.

Ada hasn't gotten attached to any of her blankies yet, but recently, very recently, she's started falling asleep with her thumb in her mouth. It's very cute.

That's my daughter.

 

Bonding

It's Remembrance Day in Canada, so I have the day off. I thought I'd get to catch up on some posts, but I'm having a bit of writers block. I actually wrote the previous post yesterday, but wanted to wait until today to get some nice, bright, natural light photos of the Quantum board and components to include. That's my excuse for missing a day, and I'm going to stand by it.

Ada is asleep in her crib in the bedroom, and has been for a while now. I think it helped that I got up early and got her up too. I woke at 7am, which is my usual midweek wake-up time, but rolled over and napped a while longer before getting up and changing Ada and keeping her up. This is actually a great time for her to be asleep. As I write this, it's 11:45am, and in my experience, that's when the babies in daycare sleep too, so ideally, I'd like her to get into a similar routine.

Saturdays are when I get to spend the most time with Ada. We get up early in the morning, shower, diaper change, and a bit of breakfast before heading out the door. We meet up with a friend and his son on the corner and all head over to the local Family Place center together.

Family Place on a Saturday morning is specifically for fathers and their young kids. The center runs six days a week, but the week days are filled with mothers or caregivers. It's great to be able to have Ada around other children, and chat to the other dads. We haven't missed a week since it started up again in October, and look forward to going every week.

When Family Place wraps up at 11:30, Ada and I head home with a trip into the toy store on the way. By now, Ada is usually asleep, so we get home, and I leave her in her carseat, carry it up stairs, and plonk her down on the bed until she comes around.

The rest of the day is sometimes going shopping in downtown, sometimes playing at home, sometimes watching YouTube, and sometimes having friends over to hang out and chill.

Evening is dinner, relaxing, more playtime and giggles before bedtime.

I cherish my time with Ada at this age. I miss her and Claire a lot during the week at work, and while the evenings are great, they're also short, and I'm often wrecked tired. She's growing up so fast, more every day.

These moments are precious and fleeting. It's hard to think I might miss anything. But I'll try not too. It's the least I can do.

Addendum: This post was started on Wednesday morning, but didn't finish until Thursday night. Somee of the earlier times mentioned have no relation to when I actually posted it, despite high hopes at the time.

 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Quantum

For every board game that gets a massive print run, tonnes of hype and a huge release only to be utterly forgotten about twelve months later, there must be dozens of other games that are more worthy of your attention that the publisher can only afford a small print run, gets no fanfare on its launch, but has a rabid fanbase in the following months and years.

First released in 2013, Quantum is by designer Eric Zimmerman and published by FunForge. I first heard about it shortly after it's original release, as loads of people were talking about it online but, honestly, it didn't look interesting to me.

Quantum is a space game with six-sided dice representing your ships. The objective of the game is to colonise a number of planets by flying ships to a planet and dropping a tiny cube on it bringing you one step closer to galactic domination. You can only have one cube of your colour on any planet, so you're forced to travel outwards and get into territory disputes with other players.

It all sounds very dry and unexciting, especially without cool miniature ships to look at while you're playing. But it isn't. It's incredibly tight, exciting and fast, and every game I've played so far has ended with a wicked cool maneuver by the winning player as the final action.

Each die represents a different ship that can be any one of six class of vessel at any time. But that number also tells you its movement value, and even more, it's attack value. In Quantum, lower combat total wins fights, and combat is decided by rolling an attack dice and adding your attacking ship value, comparing that to the defenders defence roll added to her defending ship value. So the slow moving Battlestation represented by the One pip is the best at combat, while the zippy Scout on Six is terrible if it gets in a fight.

Quantum is all about strategy, but at a fun and easy to grasp level. I was never good at strategy games, either in board or video games. I usually got overwhelmed by options and never felt competent, especially in games against other players. But Quantum is so clean, I never felt that lost. Plus, it feels great when the newest player at the table wins because they just quietly sneak a cool victory while the others are attacking each other.

The new edition has beautiful frosted dice that feel great in you hand, and vibrant tiny colony cubes that look far too edible to be safe. The tiles are made of chunky card, the player boards are clean and well laid out, and the rule book is... well, one of my friends asked if he should be wearing gloves while holding it, it was so nice to feel. The pages aren't cardstock, but they are thicker and nicer than just plain paper.

If I have one complaint, it's that they could have included the single tile expansion in this edition. The Void is a tile with no planet, just nine spaces to move through. It's got rules for gaining Research quickly. It was released as a promo card for conventions and events, but then sold on BoardGameGeek.com. It would have been nice to include the tile, rules, and suggested layouts for using it in the new edition of the game, especially as there is plenty of room to include one more tile. As it is, I got the tile through BGG for $6 including shipping, but even then, it didn't include suggested maps, just the tile in an envelope. I posted an image of the information card that originally came with the tile here, just for future reference.

But, honestly, that's hardly a complaint. Quantum is fantastic fun, and I'm delighted to include it in my collection. It's so simple to teach it makes a great, slightly more meaty, introduction to board games for relatively new gamers, while still complex and deeply engaging for more experienced players. I have yet to win a game myself, even when teaching it to an entire new-to-the-game group, but I love every game I've played, and I've never feflt completely outclassed. Highly recommended if you're looking for something with strategy and depth, without the complexity of a miniatures wargame.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Mini Games

I've been enjoying playing a couple of cerebral puzzle games on my tablet recently, mostly on my way to or from work on the bus.

I grabbed a cool shadow manipulation game called Shadowmatic, which I played a lot of until I got completely stumped. It was frustrating when I could see the shape I was supposed to make, but just hadn't twisted the objects to just the right degree. Still loads of fun, and absolutely beautiful to look at.

Rop is another puzzle game about positioning nodes and attached ropes to create set shapes. It starts off very easy, but gets difficult after a while. Or, it did for me. Claire is more spacially aware than me, and cruised through the whole thing.

And finally, the madness that is AlphaBear. This is a game where you're given a bunch of letters and you have to form words out of them, sometimes under a time limit, building bears as you go along. It's cute, fast and I'm terrible at spelling. It's free to play, with some microtransactions, but so far, all that has meant is that I'm forced to play in small bursts and let my credits recharge over time, which actually suits me well.

These make up the vast, vast majority of my gaming recently. Perfect in short bursts, or in one hand while entertaining a baby with the other.

Monday, November 09, 2015

7 Days

So far, so good. Technically, I missed Friday, but posted double on Saturday. I had a long day at work and wanted to spend the evening with my wonderful daughter and wife.

Also, my blog's clock is set to Irish time still. I haven't had the heart to change it, so some posts appear to be from the day after I actually post them according to Vancouver time. I'm only going to really worry about this on November 30th, when I'll make sure the post goes up on that date according to the clock to keep everything together in November.

Friday evening was also spent watching The Fast and The Furious, which was... Interesting. Claire knew nothing about it, so she was confused and mystified for most of the feature. I enjoyed it, but spent a bunch of it playing AlphaBear on my iPad, and just looking up during the racing and action scenes. I think I got all the best parts.

This coming week is going to be busy as well, as I'm working long days every day, apart from Wednesday, which is Rememberance Day here, and a public holiday. It'll be an interesting challenge to maintain some level of posting, even if it is short and rambling, like this one!

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Baby Tipping Part One

Everyone has their own tips and tricks and suggestions for you when you have, or are about to have, a baby, and they're more than happy to share them. Here's a few things I've learned since becoming a father.

Nothing anyone tells you will be exactly what you need for your baby, my own tips included. What you need to do is take all those things and find what you can use from them. Adapt them to your baby, because they may be just a few days old, but they'll have their own personality and desires, and they'll make them known to you somehow!

Feeding time can be a restful, peaceful time with mummy and baby, a moment of intimate bonding. Unfortunately, it also involves a lot of moments of vomitting. As most parents know, babies spit up. A lot. What we certainly did not know is that it is totally normal for babies to have one big spit-up every day. And in my experience, I mean big! For the first few months, Ada had instances when she has spit-up far more than I could believe a tiny tummy can hold. When it happens, don't panic. It's frightening, but it's normal. Remember, as long as your baby is peeing and pooping, they're doing fine when it comes to feeding.

And even if your baby isn't pooping, they're probably still okay! Ada could go five or six days without a single bowel movement, and I got so worried I askedd our GP during one of our visits. She assured me it was okay and told me that I should start worrying around the ten or eleven day mark. That's strange to me, because in my experience working in infant daycare programs, babies poop a lot.

 

Oh, one more thing about baby poop (If you're not a parent, or soon-to-be parent, you're already horrified, so why stop now?). If your baby is breast fed, it doesn't smell when they're young. Beast milk only has what baby bodies need, so very little waste is created, so nothing to make it smell bad! As you start adding solids into their diet from around 6 months, it can start to smell, but even then, until they're mostly eating solids, it's not as bad as you expect it to be.

Babies are amazing, and there's so much I've learned from Ada already, even after studying this stuff for three years, and working with them for much longer. Part Two coming soon.

Related
Baby Tipping Part Two (Soon)

First

I first trained in basic first aid when I was, I dunno, 16, 17? Subsequently, I spent nine years as a lifeguard, continuing my training and increasing my knowledge of first aid, right up to holding an Occupational First Aid certificate for quite a while. I've held some form of first aid qualification continuosly for about twenty years now.

But in all that time, I never really made use of it. I mean, I patched up scratches and bruises, of course, and once, I had to help someone that scalded their arm with a steam burn, putting water directly onto hot coals. Nothing serious. I've never administered CPR, or had to use an AED in real life. I've never even had to help someone choking.

Until very, very recently.

We had already fed Ada her dinner, but I was eating mine a bit later than her. Usually, we all eat together, but it just didn't work out that evening. Ada eats while sitting in her own chair at the table, so that she gets used to sitting and eating a meaal toggether with us. However, she was finished her meal, so I just sat her on my lap while I was eating, giving her little bits of my meal to try.

Ada only recently started eating solid foods, and has tried a bunch of things, including rice, avocado, chicken, pork, egg, peas and carrots, among a lot of others. The one big dislike so far, in fact, the only dislike so far, is crabmeat from a California roll. Her whole body shudders and she spits it out every time.

I had given her a little chicken, and there was a soft chunk of, I think, pineapple. It was well cooked and very soft and squishy. I picked it up and popped it in her mouth. She chewed on it thoughtfully, and looked up at me. I watched her experience the flavours like only an infant can and went back to eating my own dinner.

Claire asked me something.

I turned away to answer her.

A wheeze. Ada was suddenly waving her arms. I looked down at her and she had a look of panic on her face. Her arms were flapping, and she was making a quiet coughing sound, tears were in her eyes and she was just staring at me.

I picked her up, turned her over, my right hand holding her chin, her body lying along my right arm, her bum higher than her head and gave one slap on the back. She immediately started crying loudly.

I flipped her back around and gave her a big hug. Claire took her and held her close, and within a minute she was calm and happy.

At no point did either of us panic. I don't think my heartrate even changed until after the fact. It certainly helped that I could hear Ada coughing, so I knew that it wasn't a total blockage. It helped that she as already in my arms, not strapped into her highchair. It helped that I knew axactly what was in her mouth moments before, how small and soft it was.

First Aid is an important skill that everyone should have. I honestly think it should be a subject in school, a skill taught to every child, even if just on a basic level.

Almost twenty years of having it and not needing it, but I'm really glad I had it that one moment I did need it.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Three-Score Barrels Of Powder Below

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent
To blow up King and Parliament.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England's overthrow;
By God's providence he was catch'd
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
It is more a testament to my continued efforts to blog than in support of a British commemorative day that I'm still posting this every year. This is, apparently, the ninth year I've posted this poem on this date, which, honestly surprises me. I've been adding to this blog since 2006, but started this... er... tradition in 2007
This is the first year writing (cut'n'pasting) this with my daughter sitting beside me. Right now, she is destroying a $10 voucher for a local thrift store. I hope it's still usable. Probably not... she's chewing on it now. I just took it off her and got her some apple sauce instead. 
I should probably go make a batch of homemade soup like I was planning. Some for dinner this evening, the rest for the fridge and as needed over the next few days. Yummy. Good, healthy food for all the family!
This has been an unexpected stream-of-consciousness post. Let's hope I have time to write some more coherent ones over the weekend. 
I'll leave you with this, related to the day. 

Tech Baby

Most mornings when I leave for work, Claire and Ada are happily asleep in bed still. Usually Ada will wake up a little later, have a feed and go back to sleep for another hour or two, snuggled up in bed with her mommy. Claire, for her part, usually checks her phone for important messages from the previous sleeping hours while feeding.
Recently, this morning ritual played out and both mommy and baby went back to sleep, Claire having made absolutely certain that her phone was safely out of reach. Ada, however, had other ideas. Apparently, she pretended to fall asleep until Claire was unconscious, then got Claire's phone, opened the camera app and proceeded to record a three minute video of herself chatting and babbling in bed.
It's all disgustingly adorable, and I put it up on YouTube! With annotations!
Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

I Don't *Star* Your *Heart*

Last night while I slept, my world had changed without me even realising. I woke up with the same local star shining its light, my beautiful wife warm beside me and my darling child dreaming of an endless field of clothing tags waving in the warm sun, everything she loves.

I got up, got dressed, missed my wife goodbye and headed out to work, just like any other morning.

Then, it happened.

I opened Twitter, started reading and noticed something odd. The little Star under tweets, beside the retweet button had become a little Heart. I was immediately curious.

Had I slipped into a nearby dimension where the only noticable difference was this graphic? No. Others had noticed the change too.

Did it have the same function as the old Star, or did it do something new and magical? No. Apart from a fancy animation (all 24 frames!) it fills the same roll. And that's where my problem lies.

I have and do star things that I particularly like, but 99% of those are friends sharing something from their own lives that I'm happy about. It might be a photo of their baby or something good happening at work or in their lives. Rarely have I ever starred something from a celebrity to represent just liking what they said or posted.

I often catch up on Twitter on the way to or from work, sitting on the bus, barely awake. Because of that, I most often use the Star button as method of bookmarking tweets for later. They might be videos I want to watch at home on a bigger screen, articles I want to read in comfort, or something I want to look at in depth.

The Star is fine for this. It acts as a neutral icon that represents something shiny that I find interesting or noteworthy, but also, it can just be something to catch my attention. It's equivalent to a star drawn on the back of my hand, or a string on my finger; a generic icon to remind me of something I need to watch read.

But a Heart is different. It represents love or admiration. If I Heart a tweet about an article on lack of funding for school age children with autism, do I now like that those children and families are not getting help or support? Of course not! I remember starring a tweet linking to an article on polluted beaches in Ireland one summer and accidentally upsetting a friend who thought I was taking pleasure in not living there, or having clean beaches near me. I wasn't. I was on the bus, on my mobile, wanting to read the full article later in the evening. My friend understood when I explained myself, but how much worse would it have looked it I had had to click on the Heart instead?

Why change it? The Star was fine. The Heart is, as a symbol, fine too. But as a feature in the way I use it, the Star is vastly superior.

Tell you what, Twitter, give me a seperate Bookmark button and I'll be happy. Then I can Heart things I like and Bookmark things I want to read more of later. Sorted.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

It's The Little Things

Before I became a father, I imagined what it would be like. A lot.

I thought about being there for the birth, seeing that first step, hearing her first word ("Spiduh-Man"). I thought about all the big things that parents cherish during those first years.

But it's so often the little things I never thought of that bring me the most joy.

Coming home from a long day at work and seeing that smile when she first sees me.

Laying her down on her changing mat and watching her twist and stretch to grasp the marker we keep nearby, catching it with tiny little fingers in any grip thaat works for her, and the happiness evident on her face when she gets it without help.

Hearing her babble at nothing, or babble at her chew toy.

Listening to her breathing as it slows, her head pressed into my neck, her little body warm against mine, and then, with a final sigh, she goes slack, asleep on my shoulder.

Just seeing her sitting upright.

Watching her try new foods.

There will be great big moments in her life that I will remember for years afterwords. Her first day at school. Her first boyfriend. Her first girlfriend! But among them, there will be countless tiny ones that might get forgotten in time, but I'll treasure them when they occur.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Let's Do This

November is, for some, a chance to write a lot in a short amount of time, aided by the support of others doing likewise. Most popular is the NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writers Month, during which folks like my wife try to bang out a whole novel. Just the first draft. Editting and subsequent refining are left for another time.

I don't write novels, so instead, I'm trying my own version of November activity, NoBeProMo, November Be Productive Month. I'm going to try to write 30 blog posts over the month of November. The last time I tried this was way back in 2011, and I managed it! It wasn't quite one per day, but it was 30 posts in the month. Hopefully I can manage it again. But more than that, I'm going to try to do video editing stuff, art and more, all of which I'll update about here. So some of the posts this coming month might be short on content themselves, but hopefully I'll have put work into other areas for those days.

This time I'm also going in with a plan. I have a few types of posts I want to do, including movie and board game reviews, a short story or two, and general life stuff, mostly related to babies. I have a few outlines scribbled up in advance to help me manage this task.

If you enjoy what you see, please feel free to comment. Similarly, if you think some post is weak, then let me know. This should be an interesting month!

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

It's All So F.A.B.ulous

Reboots, reimaginings and returning relics are distressingly common in recent years. I understand that one of the big reasons for this is that the children of the 80's and 90's are now the ones in charge of greenlighting new projects today. If I had that power, we'd be starting Season 5 of MacGyver (2011)* around now.

But for all the terrible attempts to bring back the past, there are a handful of successes, and one series stands above all others in recent years.

Growing up, I watched the heck out of the original adventures of International Rescue, Thunderbirds, a supermarionation series by Gerry Anderson. I've seen every episode multiple times. So when I heard that there was a new series on the way from ITV, I was pretty excited. My excitement faltered when I first heard it would be CGI, but grew immensely when I discovered it would have sets by WETA Workshop, the same company behind the sets and props for such massive movies as Lord of the Rings, Avatar and Disctrict 9!

Wait. Is it computer animation, or physical models? Yes.

What? It's both. The sets are physical models build by WETA, and then the characters are digital creations composited into the filmed sets! And it works! Spectaularly. The new series, Thunderbirds Are Go has become my favourite sci-fi show on TV right now, either animated or live action, and joy of joys, this is both!

Here is my top five reasons Thunderbirds Are Go is awesome!

FIVE! The sets are lovingly created in exquisite detail by the masters of modern miniature sets, WETA Workshop. The level of care and attention to detail is astonishing. There is a massive amount of tribute paid to the original sets, from the basic base and craft designs simply getting a modern overhaul, to things like the portraits in the island lounge, or the orange juicer in the wall of the Thunderbird 1 hanger.

But it's more than that. Not everything runs smoothly, and there's a slight jerkiness to some of the sets more mobile aspects. My favourite is the wall panel that swivels back to bring Virgil in to pilot Thunderbird 2. The panel judders just a tiny amount as it starts its rotation, a mechanical hiccup that was either intentionally included or purposely not fixed, because it adds to the heritage of the series.

FOUR! The computer graphic elements are so good they are indistinguishable from the sets. The figures are animated with a wonderful texture to their clothes and skin, making them appear to be miniatures as well. The seams and zips look a little over-sized and the weave in the fabrics look magnified. The skin effect in particular is beautiful, a slightly shiny, waxy look, as if made from the same rubber as the original marionettes.

All this intentional fakeness helps sell the illusion that these are also physical puppets moving within the set spaces. It sounds impossible, a clever idea that could never pay off. Surely the viewer would see the layering of effects? Yet, Thunderbirds Are Go proves that it can be done through cutting edge CG animation, lighting and clever set features. Doors open and close in the physical set, powered by invisible gears and mechanisms, and then one of the brothers is animated in, perfectly timed to the footage. Your brain simply accepts what it sees.

I also love how the characters move. Being CG, they can run, jump and be more active, as well as type without being replaced by live action hands, yet they still can often be seen holding their hands in that classic marionette cupped pose, or they move just a little like they might be on strings. And I still can't believe that the vehicles themselves are entirely CG. They interact with the sets so well, again, totally selling the illusion.

THREE! Scott, Virgil, Gordon, Alan and John. The brothers are so well written and realised. They work well as a team, and there are never any egos. Everyone is working for the benefit of the mission, so when Scott tells Virgil that he needs to back off because he's putting himself and the mission in danger, then Virgil does so immediately. Everyone still gets their moments of heroics of course, but they also have absolute confidence in each other, and never bicker or disagree. Success is a team effort.

That said, I hope to see a lot more of the newest member of International Rescue, Kayo in future episodes. Kayo is the new Tin-Tin, and is much more proactive, having her own ship, Thunderbird S, the Shadow, and joining Alan on rescue missions in Thunderbird 3. But so far, she's only appeared in a handful of episodes. More please!

TWO! The characters are smart. As soon as someone on a video connection starts acting weird, Lady Penelopy spots the inconsistency and warns of a possible trap by the dastardly Hood, Scott agrees, and everyone acts accordingly. When John admits to missing Grandma's cooking, the rest of International Rescue jump to action to rescue their obviously captive brother. Problems are usually solved in clever, action packed ways, that leave plenty of room for drama.

I would like to see them hire a science advisor for future seasons, however. There is no reason they can't stick to some basic levels of science without compromising the tension. In one episode John is subjected to 25 Gs of force as Thunderbird 5's ring spins. A human would blackout at around 8 or 9 Gs. I know 25 sounds much cooler or more dangerous, but Brains could simply have stated "Th-th-the average human can only withstand up to 9 Gs of force before going unconscious" to which Scott could have quipped "John's never been average at anything" as the readouts climbed into the low double digits.

ONE! That theme.

Need I say more. No, I needn't, but I will. It's a great update of the original, making it a bit more action packed and exciting. In a stroke of genius, they opted to retain the countdown from the original theme, intoned by the late Peter Dyneley, who also voiced father Jeff Tracy in the original series. It sends shivers down my spine every time. There are some themes you skip past to get to the action, but not this one. Never this one.

THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO!

* - In the Season 4 finale, MacGyver had to rescue friend and regular trouble-magnet Jack Dalton from recurring villain and master of disguise, Murdock after Jack stumbled on to a map to the lost library of Alexandria. In the Season 5 opener, Mac and Jack uncover the location of the library, only to discover that Murdock, presumed dead for a few months now, has gotten there ahead of them. When Jack gets them both trapped inside the ancient site, it's up to MacGyver to get them out, using only the artifacts inside. Sounds easy, but her hands have been badly burned in the cave-in, and she has to rely on Jack to put her plan into action.

No. No, I got the pronouns right.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Shake It Off, Shake It Off

Three years ago, on October 1st, 2012, I was provisionally diagnosed with Early Onset Parkinson's Disease. I wrote about this before, but now, three years on, I want to talk about how I think about my condition, and how it has, or, more accurately, hasn't affected me.

I've had PD for over three years now. Although I didn't see a neurologist until October, I had had tremors since March or April of that year. In those three years I've enjoyed my job, got back to swimming, drew lots of comics, played video games, read books and did lots of craft stuff, both with the kids in school and at home. Oh, and I became a dad. PD hasn't caused me any issues in anything I do. Sure, the tremor is annoying at times, but there's no loss of strength, so I don't have to worry about picking up an increasingly weighty baby! The only difficulty I can even struggle to think about is if I'm asked to write a note without something solid to lean on, say just using a binder held in my left hand. I can still manage it, but it won't be pretty!

Story Break: During the first year or two, I would occasionally blame anything and everything on PD. One time, while we were on holidays, I noticed my tremor was much stronger one morning. I quietly worried about it for an hour or two until Claire noticed that something was up and asked. When I explained, her reaction was "Or maybe it's the four cups of coffee you had over breakfast this morning." I do drink coffee, but not usually that much. We were out having a lovely breakfast and the server just kept refilling my cup. Mystery solved!

Since then, I've stopped blaming PD for everything. Now I blame those infernal cosmic rays from distant alien galaxies trying to alter our DNA for the coming invasion...

Some things will change, eventually. I might not be able to thread a bead for the kids some day. I might find I can't draw a neat circle one morning. Maybe I'll have to carry cups of tea one at a time, instead of one in each hand. All that's okay too. And they'll happen one at a time, not all at once, like the initial diagnosis. I'll deal with them then as they come.

My tremors get worse when I'm stressed, excited, tired, hungry, basically extremes of emotions or conditions, so I've really started to be more aware of my physical condition independant of PD at any time first and foremost. I try to eat well and regularly. I try not to have too much stress in my life, and get plenty of rest. You'd think that would be difficult with a six month old in my life, but Ada is a great night sleeper most of the time, so I usually get a good night's sleep.

The excitement bit is harder. I mean, for me, I get excited at movies, reading a good book, telling a joke, playing with the kids, all that. Heck, I get excited staring at paint dry. I just have to accept that I'm going to show my excitement more than others. That's not really a bad thing, in my opinion. Oh!! Taking photographs can be a bit of a pain, especially at exciting moments. Thank goodness for digital cameras. I just quietly delete all the blurry ones, as if they never happened. I had to let some of the hospital staff photograph the birth of our daughter, which worked out great in the end, as we got some incredibly unique photos to share with her on her 21st birthday/wedding day.

One great bit of advice I was given by my neurologist (I honestly love that I can say that. I have a neurologist! It's like I'm living in a TV show!) is not to let anyone decide for me when I need to start taking medication. Not doctors, not my neurologist, not family or friends. No one. I can choose that for myself, and to date, I have chosen to remain drug-free. I don't really need it yet anyway, the tremors are still pretty much limited to my left arm three years on.

The medication is getting better and better every year, but it's still not great. It has some long-term side effects, the funniest of which is tremors. Yup. The medication for PD causes tremors. Bananas! Anyway, the longer I can go without taking the medication, the longer I'll go before having to deal with the side-effects. Or, by the time I do start taking it, maybe I'll never have to deal with the side effects! One of the reasons for them is that the medication is a pill, so it's strongest when you take it and trails off over time, causing an inconsistency in the effects. This leads to peaks and valleys and the body has to try to compensate for that. They're currently working on a slow release delivery method, something planted under the skin that would release the medication evenly over days or weeks and just need topping-up at regular intervals. Cool!!

There is some advice that was given to me that I haven't taken myself yet, so read into that what you might. I haven't gone to any support groups or meet-ups for people with PD. I know that it's good to talk about these things with other folk and see how well they're coping. But instead, I blog. I believe that being open and honest about PD, or anything really, is great. It shows others that whatever they're dealing with, they're not alone, and sometimes that's how you feel when you get a diagnosis for something, not just PD. I was taught that by friends who survived cancer, and other friends who went through IVF treatments to become pregnant as they talked openly about what they were experiencing. I haven't had to deal with either of those, but their stories helped me with my diagnosis, as well as during the two years we were trying to become pregnant without success.

10% of the population will be diagnosed with PD at some point in their lives. 10%!! That's huge! One in ten people!! If that was a fatal condition, it would, literally, decimate the population! But it's not fatal. It's not even entirely life-changing. It's manageable, and getting more manageable every year.

I plan to live a long time yet, and thanks to medical science I'll be almost as active and productive as anyone else. I'll be a good friend, a good husband, and, hopefully, a good dad for a long time yet.

Post Script: This blog was inspired by a question from a friend. I'm so lucky to have great friends, and if this or anything else raises questions for you, feel free to ask me. I'll be delighted to answer them if I can.

 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Stat Block

Over the course of 2014 I tracked almost every board game I played. It all started on New Years Eve, 2013. I was having a conversation about gaming with friends in which I claimed to lose far more games than I win, but also that I'm more likely to win games I don't own, and as soon as I buy it, I'm unlikely to win again.

Using a calendar I got from a friend, I tracked every game I played, how many players were involved, and weather I won or lost, along with a few other factors for specific games.

The tracking started with a game of Love Letter on January 1st, and ended on December 31st, with a game of Dixit, that technically ran into the New Year, but I'm counting it, mostly because I won.

Since it ended, I've been wondering how to put together the data I had collected into something usable. I'm no statistician, so I didn't know how to start. But a friend recently pointed me to an App for the iPhone that tracks games played and statistics over time, called Board Game Stats. While it is a paid-for App, it's really well built and has some great features, like linking to BoardGameGeek, or tracking not just your plays, but who you played with in each session.

I went back to my calendar and started plugging in all the games I had tracked. I was missing some information, like I had tracked the number of players, but not who they were, so all my games in the App for 2014 have one player, and I either win or lose. So the end stats aren't as good as the App can normall manage, but I did get something to share.

I played 59 unique games, over 194 play sessions. Seven games were played over seven times, with Bohnanza and Cosmic Encounter getting the most plays at 13 each. I won a total of 62 sessions. Given that Hanabi is a game you don't win, so much as do your best as a team, I won't include those four games in working out my win percentage. That's 62 out of 190 sessions, or 32.29%, which is actually a lot better than I expected. There is a margin for error, I may have missed tracking a few games, but it's a good approximation.

Machi Koro has the highest individual win percentage, at 75%, or 6 out of 8 games played, and lots of games have no wins, the highest ranked of which is Tsuro, at 24th most played game, three plays, all loses. Everything above that I've at least won once.

I guess this just goes to prove the concept of confimation bias. I believed I lost most of the games I played, and while I did lose over 50%, I wasn't losing as many as I expected. Given that I ususally play games with three or more players, winning almost one third of my total plays is actually expected!

The App doesn't track whether I'm more likely to win a game on first play or after a few games, nor does it track if I own the game at the time I won, but what it does track is fun to think about.

I'll be tracking my games from now on in the App, but I won't be as fastidious about it as I was in 2014. Also, I wasn't tracking any of my games before now in 2015, so there will be a big gap between plays in early 2014.

Then again, with Ada's arrival, there was a big gap anyway!

 

Monday, April 27, 2015

XCOM Custom Tokens

I recently got some custom pieces cut for my copy of XCOM The Board Game and posted them on my Twitter. The response was amazing! The XCOM Twitter account picked up on it first, before a bunch of regional 2K accounts started posting about it. 2K is the publisher for the video game XCOM, so... that was cool.

Here's how I made them, for those who might be interested.

It all started when I had learned of a place in Vancouver that offered laser cutting to the public. The Laser Cafe is part of MakerLabs Vancouver, and you can just bring them your file, tell them what you want done and they'll cut it for you for a very reasonable price. I immediately thought it would be perfect for the Elite Tokens from XCOM.

Unfortunately, I had no idea how to even begin. Fortunately, I have a genius wife who walked me through everything and taught me exactly what needed to be done.

I took the original cardboard Elite Tokens and the role cards for the role logos and scanned them in with my home flatbed scanner. Later I realised I could get a much cleaner version of the logos from the XCOM The Board Game app on my iPad by simply screen-capping the logos.

I took the file into Paint on Windows 7 and with a bit of tweeking I made black and white versions of the scanned components. I saved each individual component as a .png file, and then imported that into the free vector graphics software, Inkscape.

In Inscape I selected the component and created a vector map, deleting the original rough bitmap. Then I went around the image, cleaning up the vectors, deleting extra points, adjusting others and trying to bring the finished product to a higher quality. It was much easier the second time around with the versions from the iPad app. You live and learn.

At first, I thought what I had was fine until I realised that the black parts of the vector image would be where the laser would etch, and that translated to the coloured aspects of the compents rather than the black aspects. So I had to flip the black parts with the white parts, which, for me just learning to use Inkscape, was a difficult thing to do. Thankfully, as with everything, Claire jumped in to help, making the flip look easy.

The Elite Tokens took a bit more to do due to their unusual shape. I used the cicle tool and square tool to make the basic shape, laying it over the scanned image to keep the same dimensions. The icon in the center was all Claire's doing. She did some voodoo magic and a star was born.

With all the pieces drawn out in Inkscape, I took the PDF file to the MakerLabs. MakerLabs is a makerspace, a collective designed to allow people easy access to large or expensive tools and machines, such as CNC machines, 3D printers or, most intriguing to me, laser cutters, allowing you to bring ideas to life.

The wonderful staff in MakerLabs took my file and walked through what they offered. I wanted the parts cut in acrylic, and while they had a range of colours, they didn't have the matching colours for each of the roles, so I went with a transparent blue for everything. I thought it would make the parts look kinda... techie.

After making sure they knew what size each of the pieces needed to be, I left the file with MakerLabs, and came back to pick them up a few days later. As you can see from the photos, they came out looking amazing! I did learn one thing that I need to change from this first batch. If I continue to use transparent acrylic, I want to get the images burned in mirror image, so that the etched side will be face down and the smooth, clean side will be face up.

I'm so happy with these. The cuts are crisp and clean, and the etched parts are sharp with great definition, even on the small details. I'm already planning more. Namely, I want to make the XCOM role badges bigger to turn them into drinks coasters. I also have some plans for other custom components for other games, but that... that's a story for another post.

Related Posts
XCOM The Board Game

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Laugh Until You Cry

Postpartum depression is a very common condition that can effect either parent. It's mildest form is often referred to as "The Baby Blues", and usually sees parents just despairing over little things, or getting emotional over what would be an inconsequential event at any other time. Neither of these states is anything even remotely a matter to joke about, nor are they anything to be ashamed of.

But the pendulum swings both ways, and Claire and I have had our fair share of uncontrollable hilarity in the last three weeks as well. Here are my top three moments, in chronological order, where one or both of us have just lost it.

On Hold

The day we brought Ada home from the hospital was, obviously an important day for both of us. We got to be a family in the privacy of our own home for the first time. Because we were home early in the day, it was also our first chance to Skype family at home and show off our daughter.

I rang mum on Skype so I could video-chat with her and introduce her properly to her granddaughter. Ada was a bit sleepy, but awake long enough to sit in my arms and say hi. Mum couldn't manage to get her video on her end to work, but could see us fine.

About ten minutes into the call mum's house phone rang, and she answered it, explaining to whoever was on the line that she was talking to her son and grandchild. But instead of making an excuse and getting back to us, she continued to have a full half hour conversation, while keeping the Skype call open. That's not an exaggeration. Skype displays the length of the call. It was, literally, a half hour of listening to mum talking to her friend.

Claire had been working on her PC behind me all this time, but not really paying attention to the conversation. At some point, I wandered away into the kitchen, and Claire realised mum was still talking.

"Who's she talking too?"

"Someone on the phone."

And that's when we both broke. Claire started to laugh. I started to laugh. Claire laughed at me laughing. I laughed at her laughing. Then Claire's stitches from the c-section started to really pain her, and she tried to get me to stop laughing, which only made me laugh more, causing her to laugh more. The tears were streaming down our faces before Claire escaped to the bedroom to calm down.

We could barely look at each other for the next hour without falling to fits of giggles.

Not So Sleeping Beauties

Claire had just gotten Ada to sleep. She handed our unconscious little daughter, just a few days old, to me, and Ada didn't stir, resting on my chest, mouth wide open. Claire reached to grab a camera to capture the pose, but when I spotted what she had planned, I tried to mimic the pose myself.

This just lead to Claire and I both bursting out in laughter, Claire once again cursing my name for making her laugh enough to strain her abdomen, me trying my best to not wake up a sleeping Ada, and both of us struggling to see through tear filled eyes.

It took five minutes for both of us to be still long enough at the same time to get one simple photograph, but over an hour to cure our giggles sufficiently to allow us to talk to each other again.

Zapped On The Funny Bone

Ada had been sleeping for a few hours and was in need to feeding and a diaper change. Ada loves her diaper change time, and will lie out on the mat oohing and ahhing and smiling and making faces the whole time. Claire was changing the diaper, but I wandered in to say hi.

In the middle of wiping Ada's bottom, Ada did what comes natural and let out a little fart. Her bottom was still wet, so it came out with a splutter, sounding, in hindsight, like an electric spark, or, worse, an explosive poop! Claire's hand shot away like it had been hit with a cattle prod, and she jumped back.

I doubled over with laughter. I had to grip on to the changing table to stay standing. I was finding it hard to breath. Every time I took a steadying breath, I'd look up and see Ada smiling at me, and crack up again. Claire finished putting on Ada's diaper and getting more and more frustrated at my hysterics. Eventually, she called her parents who were in the living room and they came in, wondering what all the chaos was about. Claire told me to explain myself, which simply caused me to laugh even harder.

At that point, she picked up our daughter and left for the living room. I picked myself up, dried my eyes, and followed her out to start writing this post.

I've been giggling for over two hours now.

Bonus Giggles
Claire was exhausted one day, but Ada needed feeding, so she took her and started nursing while lying out on the couch. Both mom and daughter fell asleep, while Ada was still attached, and, while very asleep, still feeding weakly. Eventually, Ada detached, but stayed asleep against Claire's boob. It was incredibly adorable, cute and funny, but, obviously, no photos to remember the moment.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Meet Ada Maria Ryan

On March 23rd, 2015 at 14:35 Pacific Standard Time Claire and I were delighted to meet our baby daughter for the first time, Ada Maria Ryan. She was tiny and beautiful and perfect and purple. Oh so very purple.

But let's rewind a bit first.

In July of 2014, after trying to get pregnant for almost two years, Claire announced to me that she was pregnant. Thus began weeks of nervous anticipation and worry that it might all be taken away, as nature sometimes does. But it was to be, and we told some of our family and friends the good news with our 12 week ultrasound, and everyone once we had our 20 week ultrasound.

Christmas came and went and Claire still wasn't even really showing. She started to have a noticable bump in early February, and gave up work at the start of March.

We had decided to use a midwife right away, and our dream was to have a water birth at home in our own apartment. All was going well until early March when we confirmed that our little Spawnling was in the breech position, head up instead of down.

We had a few options, namely a risky vaginal breech birth, a far less risky elective c-section, or, an attempt at turning the Spawnling in utero, through a process called External Celphalic Version, or ECV. Frankly, the thought of a c-section terrified us both, and there are very few doctors trained to do a vaginal breach birth thanks to a now discredited report from eleven years ago that adviced against it.

The attempt to turn the Spawnling with ECV failed, after five attempts over two sessions on the same morning, leaving Claire sore and upset. After discussing our remaining options together and with our midwife and doctor, Claire chose to go ahead with a c-section, and all I could do was be there to give her my full support.

That was not an easy choice to make for Claire. She is phobic of needles, or more specifically, injections, a condition called trypanophobia. One of the neccessities of pregnancy in the first world is a regular requirement to have blood taken, and be generally poked and prodded throughout the nine months. She was much more capable of facing a bloodtest by early March than the first time back before Christmas, but the thought of having an IV and an epidural was terrifying.

With an elective c-section, you're given a time and a date to be at the hospital, as well as a consultation a few days before. There is no stress, no hours and hours of labour, no rushing about like a headless chicken, panicing about what is or might happen. It actually felt a bit weird, and the night before was like the worst Christmas Eve ever! If you think waiting for Santa is exciting, try waiting for the best, most unique gift imaginable!

We woke up before 7am Monday morning so that Claire could have breakfast, as her major abdominal surgery required her to fast from 7am onwords. We took the bus into downtown and headed to the hospital a little ahead of time, arriving at Surgical Daycare just before 1pm.

Claire was brought into surgery at 2pm, an hour ahead of schedule, and while the staff got her set up, I was told to wait outside in the hall. At 2:25 I was called in and found Claire surrounded by hospital staff with a sheet dividing her head and shoulders from the rest of her body. I sat beside her and talked to her, just trying to keep her calm and focused on me.

At about 2:30, our obstetrician, the wonderful and hilarious Doctor Anderson, told me to stand up. When I did, I looked over the dividing sheet to find myself looking at Doctor Anderson holding a tiny bottom and two legs up. Only a tiny bottom and two legs. The rest of Spawnling, from chest up, was still securely inside Claire. Doctor Anderson twisted the legs a bit and we had the following conversation:

Doctor Anderson: Do you want to call it, Denis?

Me: Er... I think it's a girl.

Entire room laughs.

I sat back down and tried to hug Claire.

"It's Ada, Claire. It's our daughter, Ada."

A few minutes more, with another bit of pulling and pushing, and a purple, gooey Ada was brought around the curtain for Claire to see for the first time. She was taken to a table to be cleaned, and as I hugged Claire we heard her cry for the first time. I was called over to see her, and despite less than a minute old, apart from her hands and feet, she was a healthy shade of pink already. As soon as I stood near, I said "Hello Ada", and she just stopped crying, turning her head toward me. While her umbilical cord was cut to allow her to be moved to the table, it was left long to allow me to cut it to size.

Once she was cleaned up, she was brought back for Claire to hold. After a few minutes of just being close, Claire and I did what we had talked about before her birth: We started talking to Ada in Irish, welcoming her into the world in our native tongue. Ada, for her part, just lay on Claire's neck and breathed.

Out of the OR and back to a Recovery Room for a few hours where mommy, daddy and Ada could bond. After that we were brought to the room we would spend the next three days in. We got to meet the most extraordinarily wonderful nurses, get help with Ada's low blood sugar and high bilirubin levels, and relax in peace, while Claire recovered from her surgery.

On Thursday, March 26th, we were dismissed from the hospital, and came home to be a family at our own pace. Since then, we have learned so much about our little Spawnling. She refuses to sleep on her back, laughs at jokes we can't hear, loves having her diaper changed and dislikes baths. We can't stop looking at her, and I can't stop photographing her, in case I miss anything. New parents, eh? Yeesh!!

We still talk to her in Irish when we can, she sleeps at night lying on each of our chests in turn, and while Claire tries to breastfeed as much as possible, she eats more than Claire can give, so we supplement with formula, allowing me to do night feeds, leaving Claire to get some sleep. Because of that, and regular naps during the day, we've both been getting a lot of sleep and feeling great.

We've taken walks up to Safeway, just two blocks away, and longer walks around downtown. We've visited the park on a sunny day and relaxed on a bench. We've met friends for lunch in a restaurant and been able to eat without too much trouble.

Ada has become a wonderful addition to our family. We are lucky to have her, and hope that we'll prove to be great parents over the coming years and decades.

Related:
It Was All A Dream
Ada on Flickr