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January 2021 Retrospective

January was actually a pretty busy month so let's jump right into it.

The Good

The Wheel of Time

In pledged in my New Year's Resolutions to read the entirety of The Wheel of Time, 14 books (over 12,000 pages), in just twelve months. It took three weeks to read the first book, The Eye of the World, and I am already a quarter of the way through the second, The Great Hunt.

So far I can say that I am absolutely enthralled with the world but couldn't care less about its protagonists. The first book immediately starts off by introducing five people from a small town called Emond's Field. Three men (well barely) and two women. The men (Rand, Perrin, and Mat) are complete morons. Whatever the equivalent of eating lead paint chips are in this world, the men of Emond's Field appear to be masters at it. Even though these "men" are 20 years old they have the impulse control and critical thinking skills of an eight year old. The women (Egwene and Nynaeve) on the other hand are completely smug and arrogant. They act as if they are above all the men while demonstrating that they may also have been nibbling some of those paint chips.

The protagonists from outside Emond's Field are better but haven't really gotten the chance to fully breathe yet. We have Lan, the stoic warrior who is skilled with the blade. Moiraine, the sorceress who doesn't have time to explain why she doesn't have time to explain. An finitely skilled bard who is following the party for a really flimsy reason. Pretty tropey stuff.

The last two paragraphs are making it seem that I absolutely detest the protagonists but that is not the full truth. Yes I hate many of them, but I can still appreciate how they are written. Their personality flaws are justified through their actions. For the most part, nothing they do is truly unbelievable given the context of their world. These farm children have almost no education or experience so when this epic quest kicks off it isn't out of character for them to act completely dumbfounded. I suspect that this type of writing will get frustrating the longer it goes on because it shows a lack of character development. But in these nascent books their shortcomings are much more easily justified.

But like I said before all of these characters pale in comparison to the world that Robert Jordan is building. It is amazing how he keeps slowly peeling back layer after layer without having it be overwhelming. Little sentences and paragraphs here and there seed new knowledge or build upon something from the past so smoothly that you don't realize how much you are learning about The Wheel of Time. Now that I am 25% of the way through the second book it is amazing to think back to how much I actually know about this world.

My goal is to finish the first three books by the end of March as I have read they are a sort of self contained trilogy that sets the tone for The Wheel of Time. Supposedly the next three books then blow the roof off and really expand the scope of the series. So hopefully I can give myself a break and slip in a "cool down" book of sorts in between those trilogies.

Chess

Before this month I honestly can't remember the last time I played chess. I want to say it was back in university but it may have even been high school. My point being that it has been well over a decade and I had absolutely no faith in my ability to beat even the lowliest CPU.

I signed up for a Chess.com membership and starting plowing through all their lessons. I spent 30-60 minutes every day for the first two weeks of the year learning all the fundamentals and strategies I could. I put those skills to the test against computer opponents and managed to get all the way up to the 1100 rating ones. Three weeks into the year and I was flying high. I let my inflated ego get the better of me and figured it was time to test my skills against a real opponent. 33 rapid games later and I have only managed to win 30% of them.

There appear to be three major weaknesses in my game.

  1. I have horrible vision for forking or skewering moves. I will routinely miss skewering two pieces with my bishop and the number of times my king and some other piece have been forked is too damn high.
  2. I miss traps that are being set for me four to five turns down the road. I think I am properly attacking/defending an opponent's move only to be completely surprised a couple turns later.
  3. I cannot play the endgame. If I manage to get a material advantage on my opponent I will throw away that lead more often than not. There is something about having so many options that I cannot visualize how to checkmate my opponent.

That all being said I don't absolutely suck at Chess. I just have trouble finishing games. But I would say that I am actually pretty good at the opening and middlegame. I can usually develop my pieces quite well and trade material in a strategic manner. It is only when the middlegame is coming to an end and the board is a little more open that my lack of vision really comes to the foreground.

If I want to improve I think I need to focus more on lessons and drills rather than just grinding out games. Sure maybe playing 60 games in February would allow me to start recognizing certain moves but I suspect doing drills on Chess.com and maybe reading books like Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess will have a greater effect.

Hades

I detest games that are critically acclaimed for their story or graphical fidelity but have absolutely horrendous gameplay. The Last of Us and Death Stranding are prime examples of this in my mind. If you took every cutscene and spoken line out of those games no one would want to play them. Gameplay is King and unfortunately there are very few games that truly knock that aspect out of the park anymore. But thankfully Hades is one of those games.

Supergiant Games take on the roguelike has a near perfect gameplay loop. The premise is simple. You are Hades' son, Zagreus, and you wish to escape the Underworld. You pick one of six weapons and fight your way out. When you inevitably die you are sent back down to Hades and try again. Most runs should take no more than 30 minutes. Since this is a roguelike you lose most of what you picked up during a run with the exception of some currencies which you can use to subtly tweak your power for your next attempt.

While the combat has the incredibly tight controls we have come to expect from Supergiant, what sets the game apart is the upgrades you can get. Each run is comprised of dozens of rooms. When you defeat all the enemies in a room you get an upgrade of some kind. The sheer number of these upgrades and their ability to synergize with one another ensures that every single run is going to play out differently. Even if you get unlucky and your particular combination of upgrades suck you don't need to worry because you'll end up dying and then can immediately try something else.

Hades' gameplay ensures that it can stand alone. But what about the story? Hades has that in spades as well. Every time you die you unlock new conversations with the various denizens of the Underworld. I was shocked at how invested I got with certain characters and was actually happy when I died because it meant I would be able to talk to Achilles or Dusa and unlock more of their story.

Hades is one of those games that I think everyone must play. Supergiant has really created something special and is probably the new poster child for how to do early access right. If I played Hades last year I think it would have landed at #3 of my Games of the Year 2020.

Lost weight

Since the winter started my exercising habits have been pretty poor and that has continued into 2021. I do go for a 60 minute walk every day but that is the absolute minimum sort of exercising one should be doing. Until I get back into running or find a way to do strength training I don't see myself making much progress.

That being said I have managed to drastically cut down the amount of calories I ingest everyday. I try to only eat between noon and 7pm and stay below 2000 calories in that timeframe. I've lost about five pounds so far but only 1% body fat which means I've been losing muscle as well which isn't surprising given the aforementioned lack of exercise.

In February I hope to supplement my daily walks with Apple Fitness+. Their classes are really fantastic but my lack of dumbbells has limited what I can participate in.

Replaced Lacey's feeder

After Petnet's glorious collapse last summer I finally got around to replacing Lacey's automatic pet feeder with one that actually worked.

The Petlibro feeder is the perfect mix of mix of technology and simplicity. I can schedule four unique mealtimes of differing sizes but I don't need an app and the damn thing doesn't need to be connected to Wi-Fi 24/7. If you are looking for a pet feeder I cannot recommend Petlibro enough.

Built Heavyarms Gundam

https://www.instagram.com/p/CKIIqtCH4pr

Affirm IPO

https://twitter.com/statuses/1346586962375942150

There isn't much I want to say about this publicly but it was very cathartic to finally see Affirm go public. I loved the people that I worked with day-to-day and I still keep in touch with most of them.

The NHL season started!

Too bad I can't figure out how to pay for it. It is hysterical that in Canada I can simply subscribe to DAZN and watch every NFL game. But if I want to watch the NHL I need some sort of PhD to decipher which combination of services I need to pay for to watch every Toronto Maple Leafs game.

Just give me the ability to pay someone like $150 so I can watch 56 fucking hockey games!

The Bad

Ontario's COVID-19 Vaccination Rollout

The numbers for Ontario's rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines are not great. By the end of February it is only possible to have around 270,000 people completely vaccinated (meaning two doses) which is only a little over 2% of all Ontario adults.

Since both Pfizer and Moderna have cut their shipment numbers to Canada for February we can basically consider it a lost month. The majority of the vaccine doses coming in are going to have to go to individuals who have already received their first dose. Effectively this means between March 1st and August 31st Ontario is going to be attempting to vaccinate 11 million adults. So over the span of 183 days we need to administer 22 million doses or 120,000 doses per day. The highest number of doses administered in a single day in January was 15,000 so we're going to need to 8X our record output if we want to have everyone vaccinated by the end of summer.

I am not saying these numbers are impossible but they definitely aren't going to be easy. I'll check back in with this in my February retrospective and hopefully by then I'm moving it into "The Good" section.

3D Printing in the winter, in an apartment

I have absolutely no idea why this is but my "A Newbie's Guide to the Anycubic Photon S" is the most popular article on this blog by about a factor of 10. It's definitely a good primer for someone just getting started with 3D resin printing but as I found out this weekend it leaves much to be desired regarding cleanup.

The bottle of Elegoo grey resin I had was expiring this month so I decided to do a couple full days of printing to use it up. Why not try to print for 72 straight hours in the winter, during a cold snap, while you live in an apartment? There are no issues with that right? As you can hopefully tell from my tone a lot can go wrong, especially when you don't properly cleanup after the last time for 3D printed something.

So let's list everything that went wrong as it happened:

  1. Ventilation is super fucking important! In June I can keep the door to the balcony of my office open 24/7 and have a fan kicking all the toxic fumes directly outside. When it's -10 degrees Celsius outside you can't exactly open the door because then the printer won't work correctly. So you just spend 72 hours inhaling toxic resin fumes. Delightful.
  2. The IPA container that I used to wash finished prints was completely full of hardened resin. I thought IPA would keep the resin in a liquid form until I exposed it to sunlight and to the best of my knowledge I didn't. But hindsight is 20/20 and after gloriously failing at cleaning our first print we had to drain our IPA wash.
  3. Draining your IPA wash is a fucking pain in the ass even when it isn't winter. The best solution I could find online for our situation was to pour the IPA through a filter into an aluminum tray, throw out the filter and then set the tray outside and let the IPA evaporate. You're probably thinking "But Reid? Does IPA evaporate in -10 degree Celsius weather?" and the answer is yes but very fucking slowly. So now I have a poisonous bird bath on my balcony that's probably stuck there for four months.
  4. You shouldn't throw uncured resin directly into the garbage. But how do you cure resin when in the winter it is overcast for most of the day and you don't have any sunlight? The answer is you don't and you're just stuck holding ziploc bags full of toxic fucking resin.

Ugh 3D printing has been one of the worst god damn hobbies I could have chosen to start in an apartment. Once I finally finish this bottle I am packing everything up and not touching it until I get a house where I have a dedicated room for this toxic bullshit.

Right-wing crackpots stormed the Capitol Building

First time the Capitol building has been breached since Canadians (OK fine technically Britains) did it during the War of 1812.

When you read about it the most hilarious thing I find is how well-documented it was by the attackers. They truly thought they were in the right and Donald Trump was going to have their back. But instead we just have hundreds of hours of footage and metadata with explicit detail about how they broke the law. It's fucking wild.

We're in a bubble

https://twitter.com/statuses/1350876743788187649

If the market doesn't drop by at least 30% before the summer I don't even know what is going on anymore.

Honourable Mentions

Finished Cyberpunk 2077

I have already written at length about Cyberpunk 2077 in my GotY 2020 article. But this month I did finally manage to finish the main story and I wanted to take a moment to express my disappointment. The buildup to the ending was actually quite good and the writing gave me flashbacks to what I felt during all the awesome quests in The Witcher 3. Unfortunately the gameplay of those final missions was the same boring stuff that came before it and the ending that I got did not feel earned. After the "big decision" all of the ramifications felt very rushed. I would be curious to know when the multitude of endings was decided upon because they feel sorta tacked on in a lot of ways.

To anyone considering playing this game I would say don't. Not because it is a horrible game but because 18 months from now when CD Projekt Red have fixed a lot of bugs and released some free DLC, Cyberpunk 2077 has the potential to be a truly great game.

Setting/recording goals

This definitely had a decent effect on me throughout the month The first two weeks it was really great because I was on that New Year high and wanted to try new things like Chess, Wheel of Time, etc. The later half I have definitely gotten lazy and just made most of the goals the stuff I was kinda gonna do anyways. Work has been beating me down and making me question my purpose again so by the time I'm done and cooked and cleaned up after dinner it's close to 8pm and I just wanna turn my brain off. I gotta find ways to break out of this and constantly forcing myself to confront what I am doing will hopefully help.

NFL Playoffs

I'm not usually a big NFL guy but this season has actually been a lot of fun especially when I'm trapped inside all weekend. Even though the pandemic has messed with the schedule a lot of the games themselves have been great, especially the playoffs.

It seems perfect that a pandemic affected season comes down to Tom Brady vs Patrick Mahomes. The greatest quarterback of all time versus potentially the greatest quarterback of this new generation. Tom Brady is looking to win his seventh Super Bowl with a team he just joined while Patrick Mahomes is looking to be the first quarterback to win back-to-back Super Bowls since Tom Brady.

Hopefully whatever happens next Sunday, the game itself is fun to watch. If the end score was something like 40-37 I honestly don't think I would care who wins.

Mythic Quest's Quarantine Episode

Mythic Quest's quarantine episode was a hilarious take on what a lot of us having been going through during these work from home times.

PSA: Clean your humidifiers weekly

I've been away from low humidity environments for so long that I completely forgot you should actually be cleaning your humidifiers weekly. It is super simple:

  1. Fill up your tank half full and throw in a little white vinegar.
  2. Shake the tank around for 30 seconds.
  3. Put the tank back on the humidifier and let the water-vinegar mixture sit for 15-20 minutes.
  4. Drain everything and clean using some paper towels and a little brush.
  5. Flush everything with water until you can't smell any more vinegar.
  6. Profit! Your humidifier is no longer coated with all sorts of minerals.

Replace vinegar with bleach if you feel you need to disinfect your humidifier because some bacteria is growing inside. Personally I just fill my humidifier with distilled water so that isn't really an issue.

Review January Goals

February Goals

#MonthlyRetrospective

🎮