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May 2020 Retrospective

On May 18th Uber laid off 3000+ employees, less than two weeks after laying off 3700+ employees, which in total is approximately 25% of their workforce. Ever since the end of April, when I began my drive from San Francisco to Toronto, I prepared myself to be one of those affected.

https://twitter.com/statuses/1261319654812930050

Much to my surprise I was spared. I was certain that my move across the continent and lack of seniority on my team would have put me on the chopping block, and honestly I wouldn't have blamed anyone. Uber needed to reorganize itself not just because of the pandemic but for the post-IPO world that it lives in.

When I originally planned to move from San Francisco to Toronto I did not want to leave Uber. But I prepared myself for that eventuality because at the time Uber was not a fan of working remote. My hope had been that Uber would be the last job I had before I took a risk and tried to build something on my own. After nearly six years in Silicon Valley and over a decade since I graduated University, I would finally try to put everything I had learned towards something that truly interested me.

Now that I have been anointed as one of the "lucky" ones who survived Uber's cull I honestly don't know how to feel anymore. Am I truly lucky in a situation like this? Is the future any brighter or more certain than it was during those four weeks I was convinced I would be laid off? In this sort of situation is having a job, any job, better than doing something that continually motivates you?

I do consider myself lucky that these layoffs are the first I have ever experienced personally so perhaps this survivor's guilt is common, I have absolutely no idea. The point of this blog was for me to put my thoughts to paper so Future-Reid one, two, five, ten years from now could look back and reminisce. It would be irresponsible for me to not write about this situation just because I don't have a clear conclusion.

Enough of my metaphysical ramblings. A lot of other things happened in May so let's highlight the good, the bad and the honourable mentions.

Good

Furnished my office

A 15" by 15" room with a door has always been the dream. I know other people want a massive house with more space than they know what to do with but I just need a little man cave to call my own. A simple desk for my computers, another desk for my hobbies and some shelving for all my knickknacks, that's all I ask. While bedrooms in Toronto apartments may not be 15" by 15", they still have enough space to house everything I need.

I purchased a Jarvis standing desk from Fully in San Francisco and I've loved it so much that I finally pulled the trigger on a second. Some bookshelves from CB2 and StrucTube completed the look and after six years I finally have something I can call my home office again.

While I still am missing some essential accessories like a decent office chair and a 4K monitor for work I am loving this setup so far. I am looking forward to engaging in all sorts of hobbies that I just simply didn't have the space for in San Francisco. 3D printing, Arduinos, racing drones, painting minis. The world is my oyster. My only excuse now is a lack of time, and a pandemic that has shut down the planet but that'll be over soon right?

3D Printing

I finally bought the Anycubic Photon S 3D resin printer and its must have accessory, the Anycubic Wash & Cure Machine.

I have wanted to get into 3D printing for while. The idea was to use it to build practical things like attachments for an Arduino, a case for a Raspberry Pi, containers for homemade battery packs, etc. Unfortunately the FDM printer I wanted (the Prusa Mini) was so backordered that it wouldn't ship until September.

I follow Steve Troughton-Smith on Twitter and he has been posting his adventures with the Anycubic Photon S resin printer since December 2019.

https://twitter.com/statuses/1226208056360525824

After seeing some of the insane miniatures he was able to print I put my FDM printing dreams on hold and decided resin printing was my new best friend. I asked Steve for some advice on how to get started and he pointed me to an excellent YouTube video by Black Magic Craft.

After watching that video I found the r/AnycubicPhoton subreddit's beginner's guide, which led me to r/PrintedMini, which led me to this very informative YouTube video by 3D Printed Tabletop about the software needed to take an STL file and convert it into the format the Photon S needs.

I may write a more detailed article about all the steps I took to start 3D resin printing but here are the Coles Notes:

  1. Unpack and level your Photon S.
  2. Find a model to print. Thingiverse and MyMiniFactory are great sources.
  3. Download PrusaSlicer and configure it to print to a Prusa SL1 printer.
  4. Import the STL of the model you downloaded into PrusaSlicer.
  5. Right click the model and select "optimize orientation".
  6. Select the "hollowing" option from the toolbar and hollow out the model. I used wall thickness of 0.2 mm.
  7. Select the "supporting" option from the toolbar and add supports to the model. Use support point density between 65-75%.
  8. Export plate as STL including supports.
  9. Downloading Chitubox. You have to create an account and give China your email. It sucks I know.
  10. Import your STL into Chitubox.
  11. Slice your model and export it to the ".photons" file format.
  12. Copy your ".photons" file to a USB drive.
  13. Plug it into your Photon S and hit print.

OK that actually wasn't as concise as I thought it would be. I really put in a lot of work to be able to print a couple of small minis. Other than the Anycubic test print we also printed out a Baby Yoda and Low-poly Gengar.

https://twitter.com/statuses/1267255176974479362
https://twitter.com/statuses/1267326062834388992

After seeing how well these prints came out I cannot wait to learn to paint this month and test my skills on some minis that I've printed.

XCOM: Chimera Squad

It has been eight years since Firaxis rebooted the X-COM franchise and in that time they've only released "mainline" games. It seems that to tide us over until XCOM 3 Firaxis decided to take a risk and release their first ever spinoff, XCOM: Chimera Squad.

Chimera Squad differs from the XCOM franchise in two major ways:

  1. Every character has a unique name, personality and skillset which means they cannot die. If a character goes down during a mission you simply fail and have to try again.
  2. You are no longer deploying to a map where you need to search out the aliens and complete a single objective. You now go through a series of one to three smaller "encounters" that begin with a "breach point" which is where you position your soldiers to immediately enter battle.

Personally I am not a big fan of either of these changes and I hope they don't make it into XCOM 3. But at the same time I respect Firaxis for taking a risk. Chimera Squad is still a very fun game that took me 17 hours to beat on Ironman/Expert difficulty. That is a solid amount of entertainment for $20 USD.

The metaphor I like to use is that the mainline XCOM games are a fine glass of whiskey, while Chimera Squad is some bootleg moonshine. Sure it's gonna get you drunk but I'd rather have a smooth glass of Johnnie Walker that I sip on slowly instead.

If you are a fan of turn-based strategy games and are looking for a faster paced version of XCOM I highly recommend you give Chimera Squad a shot.

Replayed Midgar section of the original Final Fantasy VII

In preparation for the Final Fantasy VII Remake I went back and replayed the Midgar section of the original Final Fantasy VII on my Nintendo Switch. It has been over a decade since I played this game but god damn does it hold up. The second I escaped Midgar I wanted to continue playing and the only thing that stopped me was I had to move over to the Remake to see how it compared.

If you have never played Final Fantasy VII please for the love of god give it a try. It is on every modern platform:

It is freaking everywhere just give it a shot! Even if you want to play the Remake take five hours and play the original first.

Watched The Last Dance

Even if you aren't a basketball fan you must watch The Last Dance. There has been a lot of hullabaloo as to the truthiness of this documentary on Michael Jordan but I think it is supremely entertaining nonetheless.

Bad

Final Fantasy VII Remake

The original Final Fantasy VII is one of my favourite games of all time. Only X-COM: UFO Defense, Half-Life or Ocarina of Time could possible top it. When a Remake was announced in 2015 I was beyond excited. Now having beat it after 30 hours of playtime I wish I could go back and tell myself it wasn't worth it. How did this happen?

To me, the combat and story are always what makes a Final Fantasy game and FFVII was no exception. The materia based, "Active Time Battle" combat combined with the sprawling story about a rag tag band of misfits who saved the planet always left me wanting more. Sure it was anime as hell but that didn't make it any less satisfying. I can't fault Square Enix for experimenting with both of these elements but all I can say is that they seem to have completely missed the mark with me.

The combat takes the worse elements of Final Fantasy 12 and 13 and poorly implements the action combat of a Dark Souls or Monster Hunter. All of your moves are far too clunky and slow while the enemies constantly pelt you with abilities that are hard to follow. Combat is somehow both frenetic and boring at the same time. What is most annoying is that Final Fantasy VII Remake's combat feels like it is close to being great. Charge the ATB faster, allow swapping materia in battle, regenerate MP faster, allow customization of teammates AI, and push the combat closer to Dark Souls or Monster Hunter. These little tweaks would make the combat so much more engaging and fun.

The story is also is incredibly bipolar. It swings between being an amazingly faithful recreation of the original, to nonsensical filler, to Neon Genesis Evangelion level of insanity. I don't want to spoil anything here but the final three chapters read more like a fan-fic than a remake of one of the greatest video game stories of the 90s.

Obviously I am in the vast minority here. Final Fantasy VII Remake is a critical darling and there is nothing to indicate the follow up games are going to be any different. So perhaps this is just another situation like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. A video game franchise is reinventing itself for a new generation and I'm unfortunately just going to have to stay behind.

Minecraft Dungeons

Minecraft Dungeons has been derisively described as "Baby's First Diablo" but that is honestly the perfect description for it. After playing for only three hours, Jarques, Elsie and I got to the final boss and only died because it was an unfair difficulty spike. We could go back and grind to get higher level versions of the exact same weapons, armor and items but the combat is so shallow that I had no interest.

I would recommend Torchlight II as a better introduction to the hack and slash genre.

Didn't Run 100 km

I feared this was going to happen when I wasn't able to run for the later half of April and the first week of June. I knew the routine of running the Embarcadero was something that I did almost out of reflex and I would have to re-establish that habit in Toronto. I have found a really nice path to run but unfortunately I just couldn't force myself to get outside every other day. In June that is going to change!

Didn't get license plates for the Model 3

While I did managed to get all of the paperwork in order it unfortunately took until the last week of May to do it. So I am aiming to take everything to a government office in the first week of June and finally pick Nessie up some new Ontario plates. Amazingly this whole process has been relatively painless. The only annoyances have just been the forced wait times but even those haven't been too drawn out. I've always been given concrete timelines that were met. They just kept adding up which is why it took me the entire month.

Honorable Mentions

Nick Lockwood's Retro Rampage Game Dev Tutorial

If you know anyone who is interested in making video games you should refer them to Nick Lockwood's Retro Rampage. I honestly wish I had a niece or nephew who was old enough to be interested in something like this because walking them through these tutorials feels like it would be an absolute treat.

Nick takes you through building a Wolfenstein-like game from scratch in Swift. While some of the concepts are undeniably complex, Nick does a great job at getting you to code quickly so you have a more hands on experience which can help visualize and understand those concepts.

I have completed the first three parts and am looking to complete the rest in June.

Read The Godfather and watched the film

I read The Godfather novel and watched Francis Ford Coppola's film. Usually I'm one of those guys who says "the novel is always better" but in this case there is a lot to love about both. Obviously the novel has a lot more detail and nuance that can't always be conveyed on screen. But at the same time the film did a fantastic job at distilling the story down to its most important and impactful moments. The novel had so many random pointless tangents, that usually were sexist and racist, and had absolutely no effect on the story.

There is literally a doctor who only crosses paths with the Don's family because he performs dozens of abortions on the women that the Don's middle son constantly impregnates. This doctor then meets a woman who was the lover the Don's eldest son and she is distraught because that son's huge penis was the only one that ever satisfied her. The doctor realizes that the women can have surgery to "fix" her vagina after which they get married and live happily ever after. There are multiple chapters devoted to this needless bullshit.

And even after typing out that fucking bananas paragraph I would still recommend people read the novel. The vast majority of it is a fantastic gangster story that set most of the tropes which permeate pop culture to this day. Everyone owes it to themselves to watch the film and read the book.

agadmator's Chess Channel

I don't know what I searched for that made the almighty YouTube algorithm recommend me agadmator's Chess Channel but I am thankful it did. I have watched dozens of his videos analyzing famous or important chess matches and they are yet to get old. You wouldn't think 10 to 20 minute videos that make me feel like an idiot are something I would keep coming back too but I am hooked. I'll link one of my favourite videos below.

Review May Goals

June Goals

#MonthlyRetrospective

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