Friday, January 29, 2016

Gaming and the social contract

Recently our friends group absconded to the shore to celebrate Dara’s birthday and transgender unveiling. Kids were stashed with caretakers while 26 adults spent the weekend energetically socializing, gaming, and eating a metric ton of junk food. It was a glorious celebration.

I greatly enjoyed my 3 day vacation. It was worth every penny to see Dara out in public for the first time. I got to see old friends, play games, walk on the boardwalk, eat great food, sip excellent Scotch, rejuvenate my gaming drive, and build treasured memories. Those positive experiences caused me to reflect on the nature of my particular circle of geekdom. I have been dealing with this malaise for a while—d40con simply offered me further fodder for consideration.

It seems like all the quirky asocial tendencies that made one a dork when I was growing up have evolved into dysfunctional neuroses. For example, several of my friends have decided to cease all communication—not “I hate you and I am not going to talk to you any more” but “I have decided that years of friendship is no longer relevant and I am going to put you aside without discussion or warning.” I don’t get it. Look, if I have done something to offend you, let’s at least talk about what prompted you to stop responding to my communications. It is your right to associate or not associate with whoever you want. That being said, common courtesy says that you owe me at least a warning—for the love of god, being a nerd doesn’t exempt you from the social contract. If I have given such offense to render my very digital communication intolerable, then by all means sever the link—I wouldn’t want you to feel obligated to continue associating against your will. Just…tell me. Due me the courtesy of notifying me that for whatever reason you have decided to end all forms of dialog.

As another example, some of my friends have diagnosed mental and/or medical conditions. Whether it is a tendency to lash out, to seek affirmation of their self worth, straight up ADD, or an inability to recognize social cues, there are good reasons why a lot of us geeks grew up on the fringe. I would argue that little bit-of-something different is in fact what makes us interesting. However, several of our friends have notoriously taken our acceptance of the “different” as license to do whatever they want, say whatever they want, and inconvenience whoever they want without expectation of consequence. I understand that if you have ADD focusing is going to be difficult. If you are dealing with depression a certain amount of mood unpredictability is to be expected; however, “Issues” are an explanation for bad behavior not an excuse. I have recently been snapped at, left hanging without notice, and mocked without remorse. I have endured people butting in to private conversations and activities where they were not invited or welcome. I do not understand why they think that this behavior is acceptable. I heard someone actually criticizing the way a second friend had organized an event and then when advised to do it themselves if they were so opposed, they said that it was too much of a hassle—and then went on to attend the event anyway.

I am not saying this very well. I have noticed a creeping tendency toward self-centered obliviousness to basic social niceties in our circle of friends—not a lack of please and thank you but outright rudeness. Part of the reason I am so confounded is that I was raised understanding that basic courtesy is not optional. You do not have to pretend to like everybody you meet. Indeed, one of the benefits to the social contract is the ability to dismiss people we do not like without provoking a negative response. In order to claim that benefit you must observe minimum contractual social obligations. Many of my “friends” are acting as if that last component doesn’t apply. When we were kids the individual with aspersers or borderline personality disorder, or ADD or just no social awareness was different. All of the people in my high school gaming group were a little weird. That weirdness was, along with gaming, the shared trait that bound us together. We were all trying to find a way to make our little piece of fucked-upped-ness fit in. It feels more and more as if my friends and acquaintances no longer care about the damage their broken behavioral tendencies inflict. It feels like, now that geeks and nerds are mainstream, they don’t have to pretend anymore.

Maybe it is a product of getting older. Maybe it was always like this and I just never noticed. Whatever the reason, I find myself more and more often drawn to the self-described assholes and bitches among us. It is an odd preferential realignment. I have come to appreciate people who if they are going to be hypocritical are at least honest about it. I have come to prefer those who may not be as socially polished but who seem to have genuinely good intentions. It bothers the hell out of me that people I used to consider close personal friends think that status is, once granted, inalienable regardless of their behavior. As of now there are only a couple people I look towards when planning games or get togethers. Others get called in to fill gaps in the ranks, but the unrestricted list is vanishingly small.

I hope I am not falling into the same trap I find so objectionable in others. This is not a cry for commiseration or reassurance. If I have given offense, if I have fallen into bad habits, please tell me. I hate the idea of causing anyone else to feel the way I do lately. I used to celebrate the diversity in our friends group. I used to glory in tribe nerd. Now I do not know what to think. I want to be tolerant but not to the point where I drive people to bad behavior. I want to have functional friendships but not to the point where I accept abuse and excessive inconvenience. I am starting to question where the line between tolerance and enablement lies and what, if anything, I can or should do about it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Personal Invintory PT2

I have reconciled myself to writing a bunch of “this is what I did and what I am going to do” blog entries. I have talked about these items enough that it feels redundant. That being said, I need to get it down to hold myself accountable.

Last year was tolerable for miniature projects. I got virtually no mini gaming in due to Alternate worlds moving and driving out the warmachine event organizer—I am still bitter about that by the way. Flames of war was also pretty much nonexistent. Wmtrainguy had child/family/shooting priorities which took pride of place. Blood bowl was discussed—but not played. Miniatures were theorycrafted but didn’t see much table time. Titan, though advertising mini days has not developed a miniature community despite having one of the finest set of tables I have seen in a retail setting. This is the curse of adult gaming, as my friends and I start tripping across the 40 year line; everything has to be scheduled far in advance. It makes those games all-the sweeter but seriously cuts into the frequency. I can’t complain, especially since my gym time and cooking continue to eat up a third to a half of my free time any given week. Even so, 2015 definitely cooled my mini gaming ardor.

Project status for 2015:

• Jason finished the dwarves so I have a fully table ready blood bowl team.

• I got an Amazon team from the same artist who made my dwarves but the stars have not aligned to complete that project yet.

• My legion of everblight remains in a mostly theoretical state. Corc has fallen off the map for various reasons. Deathquaker is around but heavily engaged. I am not sure where I stand with them re-future projects. So legion is confined to a table ready battle box and a bunch of other miniatures in limbo.

• Khador remains cased, painted, and ready to rock. I got several models for Christmas which will require lady Deathquaker’s ministrations. I got a custom manowar tray from Battle Foam—so my steam powered armor troops are a unit and a solo away from completion.

• Jason completed all pig beasts, all but one warlock, Targ, Maximus, and is in process with two meat threshers. I still have 2 razor back crew blisters, Midas, and 2 units of slaughterhousers from Christmas gifting unassembled. I got a battle foam bag for the army, but it proved to be the wrong opening style (I hate the front compression foam portal deployment.)

• My French got their own bag and are ready for painting but short 3 objectives and a couple models.

• My 4th Indians are painted, assembled, but uncoated. Being honest, flames of war took a back burner in 2015. I was hoping Privateer Press products would take off, but such was not the case. So it is my fault less got done with those groups. I did not give them the attention they deserved.

There was a time when I thought of myself as a miniature and RPG gamer first and a board game guy second. This had everything to do with the local community makeup. There were people ready, willing, and able to role-play or take to the 6x4 field of honor. Board games and CCGs were fun filler for the times we couldn’t get a “proper game” together. Now coming up on my fourth decade, the community is willing but lacking for readiness and ability. Wmtrainguy, Jason, and Cherylkat have played a couple games but their time is limited. Others express willingness but have no real motivation to make the necessary commitment. So I have set myself two broad miniature objectives in 2016.

First, I am going to complete every available project it is within my power to conclude. Looking at what I have on deck and what painting/assembly resources are available, I should be able to buy the required components and source the work in the next 12 months. This is going to be a theme for 2016—I am getting tired of open ended projects. I am setting myself clear limitations on scope, application, and cost. I love collecting and building. I also love playing with collected tools and projects. I am getting to the point where if I am not going to actually use the minis, then I need to stop throwing money at the concept just “because.”

Second, 2016 is the last year of prepping for the next game. I will talk to friends, visit Titan, and check online forums as to interest in a regular mini gaming community—even if it is just once a month. If I have to build my own community from scratch—so be it. I have concluded that there are some games, like pathfinder the card game, that I can run from my home and then there are games like warmachine that are better played in a larger community. If there is no such community around, it is up to me to start one or I need to get out of the hobby—one or the other.

Plans for 2016 Miniature gaming:

• Legion is getting out of limbo. Regardless of how Corc ends up dealing with the situation, I cannot make project plans based on his availability. Deathquaker is in the same bracket, though for different reasons. So unless one of them comes forward with a compelling argument otherwise, I think legion is done. This is a difficult decision—I have a fair amount of cash tied up in the initial models and Corc has done some of the starter work already. However, if I have no full time painter, no plans to play the game, and no functional force, then throwing more money and time after bad is not helping anyone. Jason is already booked out for months on other projects…as might be Deathquaker. Even if I get a regular game going, pigs are fully ready to go and legion is at least a couple months from full playability. So I will wait until I get an updated status from them, but it is looking like legion is at an end.

• Khador needs some work. I regret the haphazard way I built the initial force—without any thought to future releases. My intent is to have Deathquaker finish my remaining manowar and 2 ragers if the kits come out this year. If I can save the cash, I would like BTP to finish up my collection with 2 plastic spriggans, Ruin, B3, Andre, and an extremoth conversion. For the sake of continuity I may add a battle box to that list as well—Corc painted my current box and it doesn’t match the army despite being an excellent job. I’ll have Jason do the assembly and move on from there. I have looked at b2, but his feat is a bit fiddly for me to manage. After that there are some mercenaries I would like to grab but that will fall to Jason after other projects are done.

• Pigs are going to be a work in progress. While I would love to knock them out, there are too many models and too little time to get them all done in addition to the other work I have planned for 2016. At the very least I will get them an upgraded battle foam bag. There is also the question of how often/if I will get to play the bacon. If the answer is rarely, then I will focus on projects with a more defined end point.

• Amazons will be finished one way or another. I will probably get a GW hard case to store my two teams. I wish I could find a nice compact case for my 60ish blood bowl models. Unless we get a league together, the ladies represent the end of my fantasy football investment.

• The French are next on Jason’s block. I need to get 3 panhards, have Wmtrainguy print out my HQ H39 long-gun, and build 3 objectives. One of the reasons I am looking to complete my forces is that I keep hemorrhaging cash toward mini projects. I want to get to a point where I am saving money rather than chipping away at my model backlog—play more, spend less.

• I have two paths I can go with the 4th Indians. First, I can pick up 3 Matildas, 8 trucks, 9 210 carriers, and build 3 objectives. After Deathquaker theoretically finished that batch I would be done. Second, I can get the previous items and add on additional models required to bring me into mid-war territory. I will have to talk to Wmtrainguy. It depends on how much of my current forces are playable and how much more I would need to pick up to make mid-war viable. If it is a matter of a couple models it is a no brainer. If it requires me to shell out a couple hundred more dollars than maybe not. Either way I will need to work with the birthday boy to create a custom BF bag for this force. I should be able to make that decision this weekend.

• Finally—no more mini projects, factions, or expansions. I am at capacity for a long long while.

If I do one thing this year I am going to get control over my miniature gaming experience. No community for regular gaming, I will create one. No ability to complete a project? Then it is Ka-put. I have other financial priorities coming up. My hobbies need to start pulling their weight. I am fine holding a couple armies to play with friends, but I really want to take PP gaming to the next level. Clearly that is going to require some effort on my part.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Personal Invintory PT1

I hate “resolutions.” They result in a month of furious good intentions followed by 11 months of disappointment. However, writing my expectations down keeps me honest. So these are not resolutions. They are “expectations.”

I got a lot done in 2015. Some of this came down to going to the gym, some of it came down to using the fitbit, and some of it came down to finding a routine that works. I cannot stress this enough, if you want to improve your health you have to find a sustainable set of changes that will give you the ability to make the required improvements. The basics for 2015 follow:

• Went to the gym regularly—usually 3 days a week for a total of 6 hours.

• Lost 40 pounds—ending at about 255 pounds.

• Reduced ordering out and eating out to a minimum.

• Brought all my biometrics and blood work out of red line to acceptable levels.

• Set myself up with my sleep study and machine with our current insurance.

• Got my foot issues definitively diagnosed and documented as gout with my doctor and insurance.

• Improved overall health to the point where I am visiting the dentist and doctor only for regular checkups.

• Took care of digestive problems with a probiotic supplement.

I am happy with those results. I accomplished what I set out to do—establishing a behavioral, documentation, medical, and physical foundation for future efforts. However, as per standard operating procedure I am not satisfied with those benchmarks. There are several things I need to correct—bad behaviors that have crept in during moments of weakness:

• Squish, MX, and I have taken to ordering at Taco Bell after each week day gym trip. I usually limit myself to a border freeze, but the trend is troubling none the less. I need to get out of the habit. So, until further notice, I do not get to order anything from the bell—no matter how much I want to.

• While my wait went down 40 pounds in total, at one point that number was closer to 60 pounds. I don’t mind the extra 10 pound gain between July and December, most of which was muscle. I mind the extra 10 pounds between December and January. To correct this I will get our scale fixed, stop stocking snacks when company comes over, and get my appetite back under control. Some slippage during the holiday is reasonable. Losing control is not.

• Towards the end, I went to the work café once every week and a half. My goal for this year is not to go to the café at all—never—not once—no matter how hungry I get. I will stock my desk with healthy snacks, tea, and other consumables so that eating junk food is no longer a necessity if I forget to bring my lunch.

• My former trainer told me that I should eat something before coming to the gym to boost my metabolism. I followed his advice and now I crave snackage when I walk in the door—gym or not. Some high protein, fruits, vegetables, and low calorie snacks are reasonable—going alpha hungry on the fridge is no bueno. I will stock a single P3 snack for gym days and cut up some cheese and jerky for the other days.

• While I was establishing good habits I tried to avoid getting hung up on “weight.” This year I need to focus on cutting fat. Strength is important; however I am at the point where I have the foundational basis for the work to come. My goal is to be back under 250 pounds by the end of February and under 200 pounds by the end of December—about 10 pounds a month. Those are aggressive goals but well within past performance levels provided I control myself.

• While I have committed to the gym and exercise in the abstract, I have let my conditioning go in the name of strength training. I can attribute some of this to a different trainer with less stringent goals. The holidays played hell with my schedule—closing twice in December, leaving social functions to block exercise time, as well as various external challenges for Squish bidding to pull him away from our routine. I will step up to a regular routine again. I will work with my trainer or find a new trainer—either way I will find someone who will drive me for better results.

• I have some basic goals re-physical training. Losing weight will help me get there. So will just keeping in shape. Mainly I need to lose enough of my gut that I can start doing sit-ups instead of crunches—35 in a sitting at least. My goal is 25 pushups by the end of 2016 at one time.

• Accountability keeps me motivated and honest. I have let reporting slack—probably the most unforgivable of my fitness sins. I will give monthly updates starting in the beginning of February.

• I have gotten into the habit of using the liquor store as my personal ATM. Especially on Friday, when I can try all the free samples, it is tempting to stop by for cash. The grocery store now lets us take up to $200 at a time so that is no longer an issue. So I will now only go to the liquor store when the brunette wants something. Additionally, I will not buy anything new for myself until I have significantly depleted my private stocks. I like alcohol—especially the high end whiskeys. Unfortunately it is becoming something of a collection at monetary and calorie costs I need to better manage.

When I started this process in 2013 I had this idea that I needed to find “my plan.” What worked for some people might not work for me—but there was a plan out there that would do it—I just had to find it. The truth is plans change because people change. I am not satisfied with my progress. I am confident that I can adapt though. It is time to get cracking.

Monday, January 4, 2016

The making of things

I am used to doing a fair bit of cooking around the holidays between parties, company, and day-to-day obligations. I like creating things be it meals, music, or stories. It is life affirming to share the product of your heart and hands. There is a particular sense of achievement when you can say “I made that myself.” That being said, this year was out of control.

When the brunette went back to work, we took the opportunity to stock the kitchen with all-the-gadgets. I got a full set of stoneware and stainless cookware courtesy of pampered chef. We acquired a full sized microwave oven, vitamix blender, dehydrator, vacuum sealer, and kitchen aid stand mixer. The deal was that if she agreed to outfit the kitchen I had to use it all. So I took that as a challenge.

A brief list of 2015 cooking projects:

• Learned how to make my own crumb pie crusts.

• Learned how to make fruit crumble.

• Learned how to make coconut cream pie with the vitamix.

• Learned how to make trifle—Pumpkin gingerbread, banana cream, and lemon cream.

• Learned how to make my own jerky—resulting in over 50 pounds of dried meat.

• Learned how to make my own fruit bark

• Learned how to dehydrate and preserve herbs and vegetables.

• Learned how to make rice not stick together.

• Learned how to make quick breads

• Learned how to make my own Irish Cream liquor.

• Learned how to make my own whiskey infusions.

• Learned how to make my own spiced rum.

• Made progress on effectively using my oven.

While these are a few of my favorite things, I have a long way to go. Still left to do is making my own cured meats, perfecting crumb crust, working on homemade pie crust, baking cookies and brownies from scratch, working up a standard super-hot jerky recipe, making cheesecake from scratch, and getting to where I can consistently cook bacon in the oven. These aren’t must-do items—just things I would like to learn to make. People have asked me why I want to make my own pie crust or shotgun shells or sausage when I can just buy them. The answer is I feel better making that choice after I have learned to make them for myself. There are elements of a well made dish that are difficult to appreciate if you haven’t attempted to replicate the result on your own time. There are certain dishes that are just better when made by hand. I am never going to be the super-maker of the group but I am hoping to add a few more notches in my belt this year.

Thank you to all the people who gave advice and tested my concoctions. For every proud victory there have been a couple not-so-great attempts. Your willingness to come back to the table over and over again is part of the reason I continue to strive for ever-greater gustatory heights.