Monday, May 27, 2019

Weekend Wrap-up

Happy Memorial Day!

We spent our holiday weekend at home in a low-key way. On Friday, Maia and I met Rebecca at the yoga studio and then headed over to Cascades Overlook for dinner at the new Marumen Ramen restaurant. I ordered the "Hot Stone Pot" dish, which, in retrospect, was perfectly honest advertising since the food inside stayed too hot to eat for the entire visit. I'm indifferent about trying the place again (I feel like noodles can be done just as well at home) but it was nice that Maia could roll around in the astroturf like a golden retriever while we ate nearby.

On Saturday, I wanted to try something new on the grill, so I bought swordfish steaks with an Italian-esque marinade (and salmon as a backup). We invited Tammy over for dinner and since she wasn't a fan of seafood, she contributed a bucketload of steaks as well. Rebecca and Tammy made chocolate mojitos from the chocolate mint plant we now cultivate, and they turned out deliciously. I also grilled the swordfish perfectly, thanks to the new grill.

On Sunday I took the morning off while Rebecca and Maia went to church. In the evening, we went to the poorly-named Clemyjontri Park for the 5th birthday party of Rebecca's boss' son. In spite of the name, the park was a playground paradise and Maia enjoyed visiting every single apparatus for the next two and a half hours.

No big plans yet for Monday, although I will work as usual and Rebecca and Maia are headed to the pool. What are you up to wherever you are?

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Friday, May 24, 2019

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Benfei USB-C to HDMI Adapter (Male-to-Female):
Streaming from a laptop is a regular part of our TV watching experience, but the ultrabook laptops I prefer have stopped having HDMI ports. This little adapter works fine for 6 months to a year before you have to unplug/replug it constantly to patch sound through it. 3 months later, it stops working all together. We went through 3 of them over 2 years before I finally gave up and bought a dedicated USB-C to HDMI cable (Male-to-Male). There's a sexuality joke buried in here somewhere.

Final Grade: C-

Colony, Season Three:
At the end of Season Two, I was worried that Colony (by LOST's Carlton Cuse) would devolve into a slow-paced slog without any answers. So, it was not reassuring to see that the first several episodes of this season take place in the wilderness and involve a brand new set of characters (one who looks like John Locke) with origin flashbacks. Luckily, the LOST clone part gets over quickly and the action returns to the parts that made the first season somewhat watchable.

There's a great story in here somewhere, but it's stretched to infinity and poorly executed onscreen. There are weird leaps in time and extended scenes with odd reaction shots that feel like huge chunks of the story were edited out. The show was cancelled after this season, and I'm perfectly fine with that. There are minor cliffhangers in the finale, but honestly, the show didn't make me care enough to be disappointed.

Final Grade: C

Samsung HW-MS550 Sound+ Soundbar:
This soundbar replaces my 15-year-old 5.1 surround sound system which we never fully exploited and just caused wiring headaches any time we rearranged the living room. I'm pretty sure I was never the person that was going to perfectly align all of the speakers and mathematically calculate the perfect cone of aural bliss, and that level of effort is even less likely now that we watch TV with subtitles after toddler lights out. The soundbar is easy to install, has sound quality good enough for the trashy TV and movies that we watch, and instantly reduces clutter in my entertainment nook by 500%.

Final Grade: B

Earth's Best Fish Nuggets for Kids:
I bought these fish sticks for Maia to mitigate any disappointment she might have from watching us eat our raw sushi. She popped one in her mouth and then immediately opened it to allow the nugget to fall back onto the plate. In my post-dinner dinner of fish nuggets that Maia had not finished (all of them), I found that they were 85% breading, 10% fish glue, and 5% actual fish. I chewed a nugget in search of real fish and experienced a powdery, formless texture that evoked a sense of "someone was talking about fish in the next room when they baked this bread nugget".

Final Grade: F

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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

List Day: Influences Maia Gets From Her Parents

Dad Influences Mom Influences
  • Excellent clean-up skills

  • Love of mac and cheese

  • Constant reallocation of stuffed animals (one per gap in the crib slats) during naptime

  • Need to sort different types of toys into different containers

  • Obsession with Berenstain Bears books

  • Ability to count to 5 while only occasionally skipping 3
  • Strong preference for being outside

  • Tendency to break out into yoga in every situation

  • Belief that shoes should be taken off inside the house

  • Need to walk everywhere, even if only at 1 mile per hour or less

  • Love of quiche

  • Ability to make friends in sprawling, social settings like Library story time.

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Monday, May 20, 2019

Weekend Wrap-up

On Friday afternoon, we had the entire Ahlbin family over (Ben, Anna, Ella, Rosie, Kathryn, Isaac, Felicity, and now, Gideon) for a pizza lunch and toddler dance party. They can no longer fit into normal cars and now drive a vehicle that holds 11 and looks like a cross between a SWAT team truck and a hearse.

On Friday evening, we had a family dinner at The V and then started a new puzzle (canals in Amsterdam).

On Saturday, Rebecca had to work, so Maia and I went to a nearby playground in the near-90 degree weather. I tried to teach her to express her displeasure with climate change by saying, "Boy, it's hot!" but she could only say, "Oh boy! It's hot!" We're still working on it. In the evening, we had our first barbeque of the season, featuring old work friends, our neighbours across the street, and their dog. As you can see from the photo below, our grilling experience is much brighter now that the neighbour's long-dead trees have been chopped down. Looks like it's time for a screen porch!

On Sunday, Rebecca finally got a chance to transfer her life into my old Samsung S5 phone (after having lost her iPhone in the pool last week). In the evening, Maia cooled off by playing in buckets of water and we had a dinner of pork tenderloin, weird mushrooms from the farmer's market, and kale.

How was your weekend?

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Friday, May 17, 2019

Review Day: Grim Dawn (PC)

Built by some of the team that made 2006's Titan Quest (and with the same engine), Grim Dawn is one of the best Diablo II spiritual successors you've never heard of. It's not perfect, but it effectively scratches the action-RPG itch and I've already sunk almost 100 hours into it.

Grim Dawn is closer in style and pacing to Diablo II rather than Diablo III or Path of Exile. There's much less emphasis on movement skills and enemies feel more dangerous and harder to kill. Gear upgrades are less frequent but, as a result, feel more satisfying and well-earned.

The key discriminator of the game is its dual mastery system. Instead of selecting a single class with a skill tree (like a sorcerer or barbarian) upfront, you combine 2 classes to build a hybrid character. With 8 possible classes, this results in 28 possible archetypes. There's also a bonus point system (Devotions) that takes the worst UI traits of Skyrim's constellations and Path of Exile's skill tree and offers an obtuse layer of additional customization that you probably won't fully understand until your third or fourth character. I'm currently playing a Level 70 Purifier that plays like a WoW Retribution Paladin with bombs and a rifle, and having a great time.

The area where small studio budget limitations are clearest is clicking and pathing. Picking up loot by clicking on its graphic versus its name sometimes feels off. Your character will not always pick the best path to reach where you click, or make the best decision on whether to attack or move when you click beyond a monster. Thankfully, the usual hotkeys for "Force Move" and "Force Stand Still and Attack" are bindable. There is also a hotkey for "Move", which is a revelation for someone like me who has destroyed their right index finger by left-clicking to move across hundreds of hours of similar games.

If you try this game out and choose to stick with it, the Grim Internals mod is a must-have. Among its quality-of-life enhancements are: auto-pickup of the game's billion different crafting components, a health bar that floats over your character, and floating names for major monsters so they're easier to see on the screen.

Graphically, the game has a pretty grim colour palette (think of it as the anti-Torchlight) and the sprites and animation are nowhere near as polished as a big studio might be able to produce. Most of the monsters look like cheaper knock-offs of monsters from other games. However, the graphics effectively get the point across and are good enough to support the addictive kill-loot-sell cycle. The perspective is freely rotatable at any time and has a wide zoom range. The game map has a nice feature that uses color to show where you've been in a particular session, which is very helpful to confirm that you've cleared an area after the map has been fully explored.

The music is fine. There's one awful track that grates on the ears like an undergraduate composer version of Matt Uelmen that only knows one chord. It's so long and irritating to listen to that I teleport back to town to reset the music every time it comes on. Otherwise, there's a good mix of melodic tunes and the ambient nonsense that Trent Reznor unfortunately popularized with the Quake soundtrack.

At $25 for the base game, Grim Dawn is definitely a cost-effective purchase. I've enjoyed it enough to purchase the first of two expansion packs and would recommend it for anyone that needs a new action-RPG fix.

Final Grade: B+

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