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October 2020 Retrospective

October turned out to be a pretty tame month all things considered. Similar to last month I didn't really go out of my way to do anything particularly productive or noteworthy. But at the same time I truly enjoyed all of the activities I engaged in. October was a solid month of time with friends/family, watching TV, playing video games, and reading books.

I do believe that I should be trying to break out of this "rut" but as I am still staying healthy and contributing at work there isn't really any forcing function pressing me to change. I am going to continue to try to use these retrospectives to suss out ways to improve but I will not hold myself to any concrete goals at the moment. Putting a gun to my head hasn't worked in the past and I have no reason to believe that has changed.

But enough about all that. What actually happened this month?

The Good

Video conferencing with friends

I highly recommend making an effort to schedule virtual meet-ups with friends/family you haven't seen during the pandemic. Be the person who proposes a small window, 30-60 minutes, and I guarantee if you can get a few people to agree you'll end up going over.

I have done two of these virtual drinks so far and even though they were only scheduled for an hour both went over three. Once we started talking we just couldn't stop. Humans are social creatures and as a fairly extroverted person myself it felt so great to interact with a group again.

We're all sacrificing/losing a lot during this pandemic but we should not act like we are helpless. There are many ways to tackle these problems but the all important step to take is that very first one.

South Park's Pandemic Special

It took a while, but South Park finally came out with their take on the hellscape that is 2020 and "The Pandemic Special" was absolutely fantastic. Police brutality, schooling over Zoom, "chin diapers", Mickey Mouse, Build-A-Bear, bestiality, all come together in 47 minutes of glorious South Park carnage.

If laughter is the best medicine I got a super strong dose courtesy of all the folks at South Park Studios this month.

The Trial of the Chicago 7

One upside to the pandemic's utter destruction of all theaters is that streaming services have been buying up distribution rights to films left, right and center. One such film is The Trial of the Chicago 7, purchased by Netflix, and it will probably end up being my favourite movie of the year.

As someone who knew absolutely nothing about the Chicago 7 and the protests surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention, I was completely enthralled with what I saw. You may not think that Aaron Sorkin's typical frenetic writing would work in a monotonous courtroom setting but every confrontation in it is spellbinding.

While Eddie Redmayne, Jeremy Strong, Mark Rylance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Frank Langella all give great performances, the stand-out is undoubtedly Sacha Baron Cohen. He may be most well known for his Borat and Ali G personas but Cohen utterly kills it as Abbie Hoffman. I'm sure that man could win an Oscar if he stopped starring in films where Rudy Giuliani touches himself.

The Good Place Season 4

Season 4 of The Good Place finally came to Netflix this month and brought with it a fitting end to the series. Very few TV shows, especially sitcoms, stick the landing with their series finale. But The Good Place seemed to choose to go out on a high note rather than drag things out like most successful TV shows do. Every season had a great premise that never overstayed its welcome and after 53 episodes I can safely say I am completely content with The Good Place.

If you are a fan of comedies such as Parks and Rec or Brooklyn Nine-None I strongly suggest you give The Good Place a shot.

The Queen's Gambit

Even though I am a huge fan of chess (highly recommend agadmator's YouTube channel) I was not expecting The Queen's Gambit to be so engaging. Typically TV shows like this only pay lip service to the nerdy activities that underpin them and make up whatever they need to push the story along. While there are a few liberties taken for dramatic purposes, The Queen's Gambit is easily the most genuine take on chess I have ever seen.

What is most impressive is how this is balanced with a gripping tale that seems to appeal to both those who have never played a game of chess and those who are infatuated with it. Essentially it is a tale about what if Bobby Fischer was female? But instead of being anti-semitic they were addicted to tranquilizers. It sounds very reductive when you put it that way but over the seven episodes every single character, not just the main, really does grow and change over the decade that the show covers.

I would recommend The Queen's Gambit to absolutely everyone. I am not guaranteeing that you will enjoy it but I throughly believe that it is something everyone should check to see if it appeals to them.

The Bad

Too much YouTube

Every retrospective I usually complain about how I watch too much TV, browse too much Reddit and read too much Twitter but I genuinely believe I have been pulling back on that. However, one vice I continue to indulge in is YouTube. I watch far too much and it is because of those god damn recommended videos. YouTube's algorithm is so finely tuned that they know exactly what it is I want to be watching and serve them up to me one after another.

Every once in a while I catch myself going down this rabbit hole and have a moment of clarity. I think about how much better things would be if I had a separate app that tracked all the possible YouTube videos I explicitly said I wanted to watch and only surfaced those to me. No recommended videos. I only accessed YouTube through this other app. It is something I have wanted to build for years but have just never gotten off my ass and started. If I am going to break out of my rut this would definitely be an excellent starting point.

Netflix's Dark

Last month I wrote about how much I enjoyed the first two seasons of Netflix's Dark but unfortunately I do not share similar sentiments about the third and final season. The series finale was not bad by any stretch of the imagination. I can totally understand how a large number of people would be completely satisfied with this ending. It was definitely better than many other serial dramas *cough Game of Thrones cough*. But to me it was the typical deus ex machina that plagues this genre. Nothing in the first two seasons pointed towards this type of ending and while that "twist" may be enjoyable to some people it left a very poor taste in my mouth.

It is really hard for me to recommend Dark to anyone now but at the same time I can still understand how some people would love it. Since I cannot describe any aspects of the show without spoiling some of the amazing moments in the first season, I guess I can only say that if you're in the mood for a gritty sci-fi show consider rolling the dice on Dark.

Buying winter tires

There really isn't much to say about this. I just wanted to gripe about how much of a pain in the ass it is to research and buy winter tires. There are so many god damn options that I started to feel like Charlie searching for Pepe Silvia.

After many weeks I believe I have finally found the tires and rims I should be buying and have scheduled an appointment to get them put on Nessie. Now I gotta start thinking about the next problem which is where the hell do I store the summer tires...

Two Point Hospital

I don't want to spend too much time dunking on Two Point Hospital because I did spend 20+ hours enjoying myself before I hit the wall. The game has a sudden difficulty spike where hospitals can straight up fail and require you to restart the level. After failing three levels with very little information as to why I finally decided that there was a better use of my free time and uninstalled the game.

Two Point Hospital was worth it as a piece of Xbox Game Pass but I can't recommend you buy it for $41.99 CAD. If you see it on sale for $15-20 bucks then I would say maybe give it a shot.

Honorable Mentions

Read Persepolis Rising and Tiamat's Wrath

I managed to read both Persepolis Rising and Tiamat's Wrath this month. After the absolute shitshow that was the sixth book, Babylon's Ashes, these two were a welcome treat. It almost feels like an entirely new series. From the very start of Persepolis Rising you can see the world building that is being done to set up another trilogy. The authors still have some people making dumb decisions simply to advance the plot but it is not as egregious as Babylon's Ashes was.

At this point I am very excited for the ninth and final book in The Expanse series sometime in 2021.

Listened to Oathbringer audiobook

We're only 17 days away from Rhythm of War and I am finally finishing up my listening of the first three audiobooks in The Stormlight Archive.

I chose to listen to the books because I felt that I must have forgotten most of what I had read over three years ago. But what I've found is that I actually remember almost everything and in this second time through I have been catching all sorts of subtle details. I've been identifying characters or events that are described ambiguously because I actually understand so much about the world of Roshar and the Cosmere it inhabits.

Also an interesting side effect of listening versus reading is that I am starting to form completely different opinions on the characters. I can't really describe it but there is something about being forced to listen to someone read every word versus reading it myself that is colouring how I view the characters. Some that I disliked before are now my favourites and the protagonists I almost exclusively dislike. I think when I am reading I do it so fast that I can gloss over behaviour I dislike and it doesn't take purchase in my brain. But when listening to a 55 hour audiobook you are exposed to everything.

Fingers crossed that Rhythm of War has less of Kaladin, Shallan and Syl and more of Jasnah, Adolin and Szeth.

The Founder

I had absolutely no idea that McDonald's was founded by two brothers who just wanted to simplify the burger making process. That it took a traveling milkshake machine salesman to turn it into the cutthroat megacorp that it is today. If you are interested in learning more then I highly recommend you watch The Founder and prepare to be blown away by Michael Keaton's performance.


Frostpunk is a city-building survival game that takes place in a future where the Sun has been obscured and the world is in a perpetual harsh winter. Generators have been built upon coal-rich areas of the northern hemisphere and you need to build a city around them while completing certain objectives.

I took about eight hours to beat the first scenario and I could not bring myself to start all over again for the second. Frostpunk does an excellent job at making you feel completely overwhelmed by the situation you find yourself in. I was legit impressed by how terrified I was of coming snow storms or cold snaps and didn't find myself complaining that this was bad game design. I was so engrossed with the world that I simply accepted the horrific conditions and did my best to survive. After eight hours of being beaten down and just barely managing to pull through I could not find the energy to continue.

Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition

It has been 15 years but I can still vividly remember playing LAN matches of Age of Empires III at the University of Waterloo. Sometimes we'd do 5 humans vs 5 computers where we would just build overlapping walls of castles and artillery to completely box our enemies in.

With the release of Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition this month I put about 25 hours in and am happy to report that it is just as fun now as it was back in school. It has actually got me excited for Age of Empires IV which is being developed by Relic Entertainment. They have such an amazing pedigree when it comes to real-time strategy games. It is a shame that Ensemble Studios never got a chance to work on a sequel but Relic is a very worthy successor.

Ajin: Demi-Human

Ajin: Demi-Human is the quintessential anime in that it is an amazing premise, poorly executed. The core concept is there are humans who cannot die because they can create "black ghosts" of themselves which allow them to regenerate any part of their body upon death. Governments around the world capture these "Ajin" under the guise of protecting them but actually perform cruel experiments to try to understand the Ajins power. Sounds pretty cool right? Unfortunately it is 90% teenage angst, 10% cool fight scenes. It is one of those animes where I am actually rooting for the antagonist because he is responsible for all of the cool action scenes.

Review October Goals

While I technically did satisfy this single goal it did not have the affect I was hoping for. Last month I failed the majority of the monthly goals I set and thought that maybe setting daily goals would make me more productive. Unfortunately the goals I ended up setting always seemed to be too narrowly scoped.

Looking back at the goals I set they were mostly small things like chores I had to do, reminders to play a video game, watch a TV or read a book. Again these aren't things that I am lamenting doing but the hope had been that these daily goals may have helped me to break out and try something new. But it seems that setting your goals for the next day at 10-11pm night results in some fairly poor quality goals.

I am going to go back to setting monthly goals but try not be as demanding/unrealistic as I have in the past. I am also going to focus on only 3-4 things that I really would like to complete. There seems to be little point to putting goals like "exercise everyday", "play game X", "read book Y" because I am now doing those implicitly. Let's try to think of goals that I would gloss over every day unless I put them front and center.

November Goals