Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Jan 6th Hearing

You don't have to watch the whole thing, but I strongly recommend at least listening to the entire thing. It's three and a half hours, yes, but it's something that every single American should hear.

The format is as usual for a committee hearing - The chair of the committee calls four witnesses. The four are officers who were on the front lines on January 6th. All of them were injured, some far worse than others. Each witness gives a prepared statement explaining where they were and what they did. And what happened to them. After the witness statements, some of which were incredibly painful to listen to, each member of the committee is given five minutes to question the witnesses.



I will note that if the minority leader had put his two traitors on the committee, they both pledged publicly to derail the hearing during the questioning phase. Pelosi refused them seats because they openly bragged about how they wouldn't do the job set to them. The two Republicans who actually agreed to serve honestly on the committee - both of whom I dislike intensely and disagree with on just about every policy matter - stayed on topic and asked good questions.

This is just the first hearing. There is a long way to go to find the truth... and the Truth. I hope the evidence hasn't been completely destroyed in the last six months.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Hugo Awards 2021 - Update

I don't have a lot to report, since I've been busy "in real life" and haven't done as much reading/watching/playing as I wanted to do.

I've now read one of the novels and I'm working on a second. Along with the second novel, I also read some of the works in the Best Series category as well. In fact, I sat down yesterday and read four novellas in one day, then started the novel. I'm talking about the Murderbot series, which became a literal "can't put it down" for me. I was up until midnight last night reading Network Effect and haven't quite finished. I only stopped because my eyes refused to focus.

The other novel I read was The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin, which was exactly as great as I was expecting. There was at least one moment I saw telegraphed a little early, but it was still a nice twist when it happened. I can tell the final ordering of the finalists is going to be a difficult decision already.

In the Video Game Category, I've played a little more of the two games I got free copies of. Both of them are interesting and have decent gameplay, but judging this category is going to be tough. The games are apples and oranges - like putting a fantasy novel up against a hard sci-fi novel up against an alternate universe novel - they are all very different in goals and gameplay and the like, so it will be a subjective decision for those who vote in the category. But then, aren't they all?

I also skimmed the art categories to give myself a first impression, but none of them jumped out and grabbed me in the "I would use this as my computer wallpaper" way. All were good, but I didn't see any that spoke directly to my heart (which has happened with Hugo finalist art before for me). So I'll give it a few more days/weeks then look again.

I'll keep chipping away at the finalists over the next few months (voting closes Nov 19th). I'll update regularly with general thoughts and hopefully with more on each category as I finish.

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Justice League at Home, finishing up

It took us quite some time before we were able to finish off the stuff in the box, as we needed to wait for a night Eric could try to make the souffle. But we managed it and the results were great. I really liked the souffle, and would certainly like to try that dish again some time.

Eric asked for my assistance in making it, so it was the one dish that both of us put work into. We followed the instructions on the website closely, and prepared two extra ramekins - good thing we did. There was enough batter for three of them. We started, however, by making the dish as suggested in the special Superman collector ramekin. And, frankly, it turned out gorgeous.
Not only did it look good, it tasted fantastic as well. We made up the extra batter into the other two ramekins and had seconds. It was delicious. We also brewed up "Element X" - the Cyborg themed energy drink.
My diet restrictions meant I wasn't able to drink much of it, which was fine. It wasn't really very good. It had the taste of artificial sweetener. The last thing in the box was the Batman themed chocolates.
Ours got a little dusky thanks to the heat, but they were excellent chocolates. Very yummy and a nice finish to the meals. We ended up having them with the marshmellows:
The box itself had an interactive feature, where you aim your camera at it and you see the box change color slightly, glow, and have a beam shoot up from it. Then the logos of the heroes float above the box (on your phone screen) and you can select them to view character bios.
The box also included some beverages that Eric and I don't drink, but I have plans to let other people give those a try (and return the collectible cans to me) so we'll get an independent opinion on them:

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Hugo Awards 2021 - Best Video Game category thoughts

This isn't a category I recall seeing in previous Hugo years. I think it's a first for this year, but it seems slightly overdue, as there have been some truly great stories being told in video games for a great many years.

The big problem for voters comes from having to figure out how to judge these games, many of which they haven't played and may not even be able to play. Of the six finalists - for example - I do not have the hardware to play three of them. So instead of first-hand experience with the games, which is by far the best way to judge, they will have to rely on promotion material or video playthroughs. And I'm guessing a lot of Hugo voters are going to be completely unfamiliar with video playthroughs. I know I am a relatively recent admirer of Twitch and YouTube video gamers, and some Hugo voters are certainly a little older or less techie than me.

For myself, I'll be playing three of the six. I requested Hugo copies of the two finalists that offered it, and one of the games is a browser-based game that is free to play online. To help other voters who may not be familiar enough with games, I'm going to list the six finalists with a link to their main website, if any, and a link to their category on Twitch:

If you click on the Twitch link for each game, it will take you to a page of people currently playing the game online. There are some options, including a video tab, that allow you to look at past playthroughs or even clips of people playing the game. This isn't going to point you to the best playthroughs, but you ought to be able to get a sense of how the fans are reacting to the game and what they think of it by watching some clips or videos, or you can pop in on someone actually playing the game live and ask questions. Just don't be rude.

I have already received my codes for both Spiritfarer and Hades, and I have downloaded and installed each game. I'm debating whether or not to run a stream with each game, since I do stream on Twitch. If I do, I'll save the videos and link to them in a future blog post. Blaseball seems to be a little... odd... and perhaps not very streamable. I haven't dug far into it yet, but it appears to be a baseball simulator with additions. We'll just have to see how that one works.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons seems to be pretty well-known outside of gaming circles as anyone with a Nintendo Switch was playing it at the beginning of the pandemic, and many people used it as a substitute for their outside social life. People even held graduation ceremonies in it. I have seen parts of playthroughs already, but I'll be watching a bit more to try to get a better sense of the game.

Final Fantasy VII Remake seems to be nothing at all like the Final Fantasy MMO I was already trying out - but the franchise seems to be huge and the lore all over the place. So I'll have to learn a bit about the storyline and watch some folks play it to get an idea of what's going on there. I will note that I've always sort of avoided games where characters carry those ridiculously oversized swords because I feel like they are silly and wouldn't appeal to me - so I'm going to have to eat my prejudices here and judge the game on the game and not on the utterly unrealistic weapon choice of the designers.

The Last of Us has a special place in my heart. The original, not the one I'm voting on. When I was in the hospital being poked and prodded and going through a whole lot of pain, I used a playlist on my phone to keep me from going insane and to keep me calm when the pain got too much. Sometimes I just let one song play over and over. And when I couldn't play the music, that melody was my mantra and it went through my head constantly. Instead of the pain, I would concentrate on remembering how the sounds fit together and feel the next note instead of the needle in my arm. The song that got me through that tough time was the theme song to The Last of Us, by Gustavo Santaolalla. Another friend, a streamer, had played the original game on his stream and I'd caught just enough parts of his playthrough to hear the song, and liked it so much I bought a digital copy for my phone's playlist. And it was the song that got me through my time in the hospital.

I've never played the original game, though, nor have I watched a full playthrough. But I still feel a fondness for the game that might affect my voting. I don't know. I'll have to watch some videos and the various materials provided to make a decision. I will note, however, that any game that takes the time to put this scene into it deserves at least a closer look.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Hugo Awards 2021 - Some thoughts

A couple of random-ish thoughts now that I'm getting down and dirty into my Hugo finalist readings.

The Best Series category is going to be really difficult for me this year because I've never read ANY of the finalists. I found myself overwhelmed by the category and posted a request for help on Facebook. What I got wasn't terribly helpful. I wish each finalist had put together a single page file that gave the names of the works in the series, a suggested reading order and possibly suggested highlights - but at least a list of the works with the reading order. It would have been EXTREMELY useful for the category. I think I've figured out the first book in each series, but I'm not completely certain. Sometimes series start with a short story, sometimes people list the chronological order instead of a good reading order, sometimes the first book isn't the best place to start.

The Best Video Game category has me kind of excited, as I've been much more a gamer over the last couple of years than a reader. I have requested copies of the two games that are offering Hugo voters review copies, but I know the number of games are limited so I don't know if I'll get the copies. One of the other games is a free-to-play browser-based game, if I am reading the information correctly, and so I'll be able to play it as well. Two other games are big enough that I already know a lot about them - but they are both Playstation only, which means I can't play them, since I'm a PC gamer and have no PS system. However, I should be able to find playthrough videos for both the PS games that give me enough of an idea of how gameplay works. I'm not even sure how to deal with the last game, which is only available on Nintendo Switch, but I'll think of something.

I also glanced through some of the other works in the packet. In particular, I looked at the Best Graphic Story category to see if the files were readable. I don't mind watermarks, but one year the watermarks on some files were so bad I couldn't actually read the comics because the watermarks obscured too much of the text. It doesn't look like that will be a problem this year. I'm looking forward to reading the finalists, despite none of them being familiar to me.

I have started on the first of the novels in the Best Novel category, and I'm really enjoying it so far. But then, what else can you expect from N. K. Jemisin? The packet only had an excerpt, so I went to the library and got a digital check-out of the full book. That's why it's on the top of my reading list - I only have three weeks to finish it. I'll be done by tomorrow night at the pace I'm going.

I'll try to update as I continue my Hugo reading/watching/listening and this year, playing. So far I'm enjoying myself, and I'm definitely feeling more connected to fandom than I have in far too long.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Hugo Awards 2021 - Thoughts on Short Stories

I haven't done any reviewing of the Hugo Awards for awhile, mostly because I didn't vote in them for the last couple of years. Last year, of course, I was otherwise indisposed. Before that, we lacked the money for my supporting membership - or rather, I had higher priorities and decided to forego the pleasure of trying to read, review and rate all the wonderful works in the Hugo packet.

With my continuing recovery this year, I felt it was time again to dip into the Hugos and see what my fellow fans think are the best works over the past year or so.

I make no promises that I'll review everything, but I will read and watch and listen to as many of the selections as possible and vote for the ones I like the best. So here we go, starting with the short stories.

The finalists for Best Short Story are:

So let's get to it... I will attempt to avoid spoilers, but I apparently suck at it so read on at your own peril.

First thoughts after reading all of them: Wow, they are all REALLY good. Not one stinker among them, although there are two I don't like as much. Understand, I'm not saying I don't like them - I'm saying I like the others better.

Starting with "The Mermaid Astronaut" - there's something here that doesn't quite click for me. The story is solid, the world-building makes me happy. There are callbacks to other stories with twists. But it never quite rises to the top of excellence for me. I guess it's just a good story and not one that is going to make me think about it for a long time after, despite some profound concepts it touches on. So this will actually probably be at the bottom of my ballot, although it's certainly deserving of its place as a finalist.

"Badass Moms in the Zombie Apocalypse" - If only I wasn't getting tired of apocalyptic stories, this might have hit me better. I like the characters, I thought the world-building was good, but I also felt like there were enough gaps to leave me wanting more in that respect. The concept is good, but oh so disturbing. Life goes on, life continues - but I have a lot of questions after reading it. A good story, but not one that can get to the top of my ballot.

"Open House on Haunted Hill" - This one definitely hits me in all the right spots. Paranormal, skepticism, family and some awesome bits of humor. I want to live in that house. And I want to hear more about the adventures of that place after the events of this story. This had just the perfect amount of world-building, and characters that drew me in. Definitely a contender for the top spot on my ballot.

"A Guide for Working Breeds" - I started out disliking this one intensely, but after I got a few exchanges in I began to be amused, then to really like it, then to love it. In fact, once I finished it I went back and reread it more closely, giggling at the jokes and thinking about the online exchanges I've had that were... well, not similar but certainly had the same flavor. The whole "how to be mean to humans" bit had me rocking in my chair with laughter on the second read. As soon as I finished it, this one jumped to the top of my list.

"Little Free Library" - I first read this on the Tor website back when they first published it, and enjoyed it then. I enjoyed it on the reread, although I found I had misremembered the ending. I love this story - it's fun and quirky and ties into real life in nice ways. And it makes me want to build my own Little Free Library. Overall, it's high on my list, and frankly this makes the third really strong story that I really love. It is not going to be easy to rank these.

"Metal Like Blood in the Dark" - The second in the list that tells a story from the point of view of an artificial intelligence, but this one isn't nearly so light-hearted as "Breeds". In fact, this one draws me into a deep well of wonder then presents a difficult concept to chew on - one that might keep me up thinking about it at night. The feel of the story is epic, like a myth told through time and handed down over the ages. This is a story that will ride with me for a long time to come.

So... I have four stories in my top spot. How will I decide what the final order will be? I'm going to set them aside, leaving this blog post as my only commentary on them, and read some other Hugo material. Then at some point I'm going to come back and look at the list and hopefully I will have formed an idea on how to rank them. Hopefully. But they are all so good, I feel any one of the six deserves the title of Hugo Winner and all are worthy finalists. I'm just not sure which one I'll pick for the top spot yet.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Justice League at Home, second meal

The fish dish in the Mother Box is pretty small. Unlike the burger, it didn't feel like a full meal by itself. So we went ahead and made some veggies to go with it, and then we also added the Chocos as an appetizer/desert.

In the DC Universe, the Martian Manhunter's favorite cookie is the "Choco", which is apparently their universe's equivalent of an Oreo or other sandwich cookie. In the Mother Box meal, the Choco is a jalapeƱo, salsa and cheese cookie. To be sure, I wasn't positive I would like it, since I do not handle any hot-spicy foods well at all. We ate ours before digging into the fish, and I have to say I thought it was pretty bland. Thought. It came back later with a mild kick - very tolerable, but a definite surprise.

The fish dish, called "The Trench", was pretty straightforward. There was a potato "chip" patty that had to be cooked first, then we added the chunks of cod piled on top and baked it a bit longer. It was finished by topping it with the dressing and some crunchy bits. It was easy enough, although difficult to tell when the potato was actually fully cooked. The package came with a "sardine tin" to cook the dish in. Eric did the oven work, and I topped the dish when it came out, before we posed it for a quick photo.
It was very tasty. The dressing had a little bite to it, and the crunchy bits were a very good addition. The potato chips cooked up well enough and blended nicely with the cod. It was a bit messy to serve - not in the comfortably messy Big Belly Burger way - but it tasted lovely. As a full meal it worked nicely.

This leaves us with the Superman Souffle, the Batman Chocolates, and the Cyborg Energy Drink. As the souffle is a little complicated, we're not sure exactly when we'll make it. I also hope to do some more photos and screen caps of the Mother Box AR stuff, so you can get an idea of what it is like.

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Justice League At Home

So, back in February, hubby-Eric and I decided to splurge on a very special meal box: Wonderland at Home Justice League Mother Box. It was quite a splurge for us, a lot more than we usually spend on a single thing - but both of us are big Justice League fans, and this felt like a one-of-a-kind experience.

To make the most of it, we planned to have it for Memorial Day weekend. We requested delivery on the Friday before Memorial Day to give us a three day weekend to fully enjoy the experience - and give us plenty of time to put the meals together. Yeah, we watched the movie LONG before we got the box, but we still figured it would be a delightful experience. Right?

Fast forward to May 28th, the day we were supposed to get the package. We waited all day... nothing. Finally I emailed the company, and got an automated response with another email to contact if I considered it an emergency. So I wrote to the other email. No response that night, but the next morning I got a response - for some reason our overnight delivery had been changed to 2nd day and, due to the long weekend, wasn't going to arrive until Tuesday. After many emails back and forth, I was told to toss out the cold food when we got the package because after a weekend in a hot shipping box they weren't worth the risk of eating. And I was told I would get a replacement cold box and a gift card as quickly as possible.

So our Memorial Day plans were pretty much dashed. It happens, I get it. I'm not happy about it, but I get it.

Tuesday, the box arrived. The box itself is really neat, a very cool Mother Box with a magnetic lid. All the food was packed inside, with the cold food in an insulated container inside another box, just to be sure. When we opened the cold box, one of the sauce containers had exploded all over. While the food was vacuum-packed, it was also disturbingly warm. The temperatures in our area were pretty high, and the cold packs just couldn't compete. In addition, the bread and chocolates were less than ideal after a weekend in a hot box.
The company rep replaced the bread, marshmellows, chocolates and the cold box and sent a gift card that basically covered the shipping and tax on the original order. However, she made a mistake when she sent the replacement, and tried to time it for the next weekend. But we live out in the boonies and the major shipping companies do not deliver overnight to our address on Saturday or Sunday, and she tried to send it to us to arrive on Saturday. By the time she understood the issue, it was too late and we had to wait until yesterday (Tuesday, June 8th) to actually get our replacement. That's more than a week after the Friday we expected it to arrive.

To be honest, I'm still a little put out. It was supposed to be a special treat. We still don't know why it didn't arrive on the Friday we were supposed to get it. And while a gift card is nice, the whole thing still feels like a let-down because we aren't going to be able to enjoy the meal as it was planned, and have to make the bits piecemeal as we have time.

Okay, enough with the grumping. Here's the good bits... the box has a number of dishes and some collectable items. The three "meal" items are a Big Belly Burger, a fish dish called "The Trench" and a Souffle with a collectable Superman Ramekin. Other items include Wonder Woman themed marshmellows, Batman themed chocolates, Martian Manhunter themed appetizers and three drinks: beer, cold-brewed coffee and an energy drink.

With limited time and energy, Eric and I decided to try the Big Belly Burger last night, and save the other two items that need cooking for later. So we pulled up the cooking instructions on the website, watched a little video and then Eric jumped in to make the burgers, which came with the patties, buns, two types of sauces (marked as being Condiment King brand!) and rosti patties (basically fancy hash browns). We layered the burgers as suggested in the directions: lower bun, burger sauce, rosti, beef patties, cheese sauce, any other toppings we add, top bun. Then we served them up with some chocolate milk (since neither of us drink beer or coffee and we didn't feel like dealing with energy drink) and chowed down.
So, I'm still annoyed at the delays, right? BUT... Oh that was good. It was really good. I mean, just delightfully good. The sauces were close to perfect, and the beef and rosti worked really well together. It was MESSY, but it was that lovely messy that makes your mouth water. And, wonderfully, there's enough sauce left over for a couple more burgers in the near future. And I plan on keeping the condiment containers, which amuse me because of the branding. We also are saving the burger boxes, which look like fast food containers from Big Belly Burgers, a fictional fast food chain in the DC Universe.

For dessert we had the Ancient Themysciran Fire marshmellows. We didn't follow the instructions closely, which tell you to light a scent stick (included) and listen to a clip from the movie available on the virtual aspect of the box (more on that in a second) and then eat the marshmellows in zen contemplation. We just ate 'em. They were tasty.
We have a lot of the box to still work through, including the fish and souffle, the chocos and the chocolates. In addition, I haven't played with the virtual aspects of the box yet. You see, there's a special virtual reality experience. You go to a special website then point your phone at the Mother Box and... things happen...
But I think I'll do a little more about that later, once I've had time to maybe take a couple of screen shots that actually show some tiny bit of the action, so you have a glimpse at the genius and effort that went into this special meal. We will be giving the beer to some beer drinkers we know and asking for their opinions (and the cans back, since they will be collector items for us) and the coffee to a coffee connoisseur for the same treatment. Which leaves us with the Chocos (Martian Manhunter appetizers), the Trench, Batman chocolates, Souffle and energy drink to make and consume over the next few days. We hope. Updates as they happen.

Friday, June 04, 2021

Rapid Review - Constantine (2005)

When I first heard about this movie, I was not at all impressed or interested. First off, I didn't really read Hellblazer, and thus John Constantine was a relatively unknown character to me. However, I knew enough to know that Keanu Reeves, as great an actor as he is, was NOT suited for the role. His distinct lack of Britishness alone makes him a poor casting choice.

Many years later, the incredible Matt Ryan took the role of Constantine on the sadly short-lived television series, then reprised it in the DC Television universe. And the mere thought of Reeves portrayal - which I had never seen - was enough to make me say, "ug" after seeing Ryan's brilliant, near perfect, portrayal.

But. I'm a completist. So I eventually decided that, since it's available on HBO Max and hubby and I have it at the moment, I would give it a try. Having watched the television series and read just a bit of the comics, I know more about the character and what I expect from it now.

So here's the ironic part. If I had come into this movie completely ignorant, I probably would have liked it just fine. It's not a great movie, but it's not really bad either. My absolute main complaint with it is still the fact that Keanu Reeves, despite understanding the character and doing his best, just is NOT John Constantine. He's a fair American imitation of Constantine, but he just isn't right. This is not an insult to Reeves. He does a great job. He clearly groks Constantine and his motives. And if I didn't know anything at all about the character, I probably would have been fine with him. But I just couldn't suspend enough of my preconceived notions to truly accept him as the character.

The movie itself moves along nicely, works well enough, has fairly good visuals and a strong supporting cast. It's not the greatest version of that particular plot, but it works okay. Some of the bit parts were the best players, grabbing their roles with both hands and making them work. There are a handful of gross moments, but nothing so over-the-top that I had any issues with it.

So, as a good little popcorn movie to watch? Yeah, go for it. It's not bad. I, personally, can't get over the non-Constantine-ish-ness of the lead, but that is a fault in me, not in the movie. Your mileage may vary.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Lupus Saga part 4

I have discovered that in my dreams, my hands do not hurt. They hurt all the time when I am awake. But my dream persona doesn't have sore hands. In fact, my dream persona is able to do chin-ups, as I learned last night in a vivid dream. I can still feel the surprise and joy when I managed to pull myself up on a bar - I felt powerful and strong and wonderful. I thought to myself, "I'm so glad I can do this now!" and laughed. And shortly after, when I woke up, I still felt the happiness, and the disappointment did NOT overwhelm it.

Today I saw the rheumatologist for a check-up. I'm improving, dramatically, according to my bloodwork. My overall health is slowly improving. The doctor was very pleased to learn that I've done at least five minutes a day on the exercise bike every day this year, and the "movement is medicine" mantra seems to be true, in my case, as I'm having very few problems with my legs.

My hands, meanwhile, continue to hurt. And I cannot lift my arms over my head without pain. Plus, I've got a bit of "Golfer's Elbow" thanks to sitting at my computer too much. I have some exercises that should help with that. One of them involves "walking" my hand up the wall until my arm just starts to twinge - but letting my fingers do the effort of lifting instead of my arm. I also am getting a couple of cheap weights to do regular curls. I plan on doing them on my morning streams.

Speaking of, I am streaming regularly in the mornings on Twitch. I've been usually doing about five hours of streaming, mostly playing Stream Raiders, sometimes on cam and mic, sometimes off. If you want to pop in and say hello, I'm at twitch.tv/realtegan and usually start around 7 am Pacific and go until about noon. I monitor the chat almost constantly, so if you make a free Twitch account and write in my chat, I will probably answer... unless I'm in the middle of a Stream Raiders battle.

I had no obvious side effects from the COVID vaccine I got on April 6th, just a very slightly sore arm that didn't bother me half as much as my hands do every day. I did venture out to a restaurant when my sister visited, which was quite daring for me.

Hubby and I invested in HBO Max so I can watch DC movies, and I've taken full advantage of the service already, getting my money's worth. In addition to DC movies, I also went ahead and watched Godzilla vs Kong (fun in a classic monster movie sort of way) and Mortal Kombat (I expected violence and very little plot, I got violence and very little plot). After watching the Godzilla movie, I went back and watched the other three movies in the modern franchise - they were all fun. I didn't bother doing the same with the Mortal Kombat franchise, though. I also finally watched The Matrix all the way through, and found it much more compelling when you actually pay attention to it. I don't have any particular desire to see the sequels, but I may change my mind. I watched the Halle Berry Catwoman movie, and decided that it isn't a DC Universe movie at all - it just borrowed the name and almost nothing else. It's what a movie called "Catwoman" would be if someone who had never read a DC Comic and only knew about the superhero genre from Spider-Man wrote it.

I also tried to watch Cats, but the modem committed suicide while I was streaming it and I've been sternly warned by both the Spectrum internet tech and hubby-Eric not to try to finish it. No, not even just to listen to the songs. We don't want to lose another modem.

I do not play League of Legends, but I've found their music videos to be very interesting, which led me to look up the lore of the game - and it goes VERY deep. I'm not sure how deep I'm willing to go into that universe, but it's interesting and has been somewhat inspiring. The music is helping me trigger writing sessions. It's odd, if I'm writing while music is playing I will not actually hear the music, but if I stop writing for a bit, the music can help trigger another spurt of writing. So I play the music and hope for inspiration. One story I got quite a way into writing and felt like I need a first reader for it, but I'm not sure I'm currently brave enough to let someone else read.

So that's my latest update. I'm still keeping on, lots of pain, but still living. I guess I'll just have to see what tomorrow brings.


Friday, April 23, 2021

Pixel 4a, first impressions

So, I've had the Pixel 4a for a bit over a day now... it's very nice. What can I say?

I like the size more than the Moto G6, which always felt just a tiny bit too large. The Pixel is just a tiny bit smaller with almost as much screen space.

The transfer process was easy - the Pixel came with a phone-to-phone cable even, and instructions on how to do it. Most of my data transferred and what didn't was easy to set up. So far.

The drive space on the Pixel is also very nice. My G6 had stopped finding the SD card, so I was down to 32GB, which sounds like a lot until you have a bunch of apps installed. The Pixel has 128GB, and so far all my apps are running around happy with all the new space.

The camera on the Pixel is amazing. It can see in the dark. I haven't played around with it as much as I want to, but I think I'm going to enjoy it.

Best of all, for me, is that I can still use the G6 as a little tablet in my room, allowing me to connect to the wifi and do some basic things - like have a way to watch my own stream on a different device, or play tv shows and music in the background while I do stuff on my computer or regular phone. I don't play to sell or give away the G6 because it has become very unreliable, turning itself off randomly. But it'll serve as a mini-tablet for non-critical stuff.

As usual, Ting came through for me when I had trouble automatically transferring my number to the new phone. Literally a couple of minutes in online chat and I was set up. The text messages... let's just say Google has some settings I had to turn off in the old phone before my new one could receive text messages - which was really odd. But once those chat settings were off, everything worked.

Now, ask me again in a couple of months, and we'll see if I'm still happy with it.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

New phone

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Lupus Saga part 3

Oops.

Yeah, I meant to write a blog entry, but would put it off for "a day or so" until I got more information. Then after a week or two, I'd think, I ought to write a blog entry, but wait, there's an appointment next week, I'll do an entry right after... And then another couple of weeks would pass. So, I have no actual excuse.

As I said in my last entry, my kidney disease is in complete remission and the kidney doctor says my blood tests show my system is processing everything normally. I'll have to continue having follow-up check-ups, but I can stop worrying about kidneys now.

My main issue is the lupus, which has decided to attack my joints. The most pain is in my hands, which hurt all the time. My knees are sometimes in pain, and it's still difficult to get out of a regular chair (thank goodness and my wonderful sister for the lift chair!). Getting up and down the stairs has become slightly easier overall. I've also gotten at least five minutes on the exercise bike every single morning - even on bad days - since I last wrote. The other bad spot is my shoulders, which I cannot lift over my head most of the time.

The big news today is that I got the vaccine for the coronavirus. Eric and I got the Johnson & Johnson version at a local pharmacy this morning. We then wandered around the store for a few minutes (to make sure there wasn't any reactions) and then headed home. I'm actually feeling pretty delighted to have it done - there was a line forming in the store for the vaccine by the time we left.

I've seen some worries about how fast the vaccines were developed, but there are two big factors that helped complete these vaccines: 1) the tech behind them has been in development for about 60 years (look up mRNA vaccine development) and 2) because the disease was so widespread, trials were more comprehensive and easier to conduct than if the virus hadn't been endemic. Add in the fact that the vaccine development was accelerated during the SARS crisis in 2003, and anyone who is paying attention understands that these vaccines were not developed fast - just finished and approved fast.

I've mostly been spending my days streaming in the morning and reading or watching videos in the afternoon and evenings. I'm not healthy yet, but I'm healing and making progress. I have regular blood tests and doctor appointments, and five days of every week I feel pretty good. But it's those other days, the bad days, that keep me from celebrating. I will sometimes wake with so much pain I just don't want to do anything. I usually force myself to stream since that's my only socialization at the moment, but will stay off the camera and sometimes even off the microphone.

I guess one reason I haven't been writing is that I haven't got much to tell. I mean - it's all the same news. I'm in remission from kidney disease, the lupus is painful, I'm streaming on Twitch, the cat is cute, the hubby is wonderful. I don't get out much, so there's nothing new coming in for me to write about.

Ah well. At least life, overall, seems to be looking up.


Thursday, January 21, 2021

Streaming Update - Birthday Stream!

This streaming stuff just keeps adding up.

For my birthday, I got actual paid subscribers to my Twitch channel. There are two ways people can subscribe - they can spend real money through their Twitch account or they can use the one free subscription through Amazon Prime. During my morning birthday stream, Sophie Fatal came in the room and subscribed (real money) and then bought six gift subscriptions just to make my day. Then two more friends subscribed over the course of the day, and two other friends used their Amazon Prime benefits to subcribe later on in the day.

When I posted about it on Facebook, I was asked how the Amazon thing works. This is what I wrote:

Follow one of my links to my Twitch channel. Sign up for an account if you want to. If you have Amazon Prime, you can link your account. Then... well, watch all the people creating content for each other. While it's mostly a community of gamers playing their games with commentary, there are artists and writers who share their efforts. There are people who just get on and chat. The appeal is that there's a chatbox next to the video, and people watching can comment while the person is broadcasting, and the person broadcasting can respond to the comments in real time if they want. So you can develop a close-knit community.

The DC Universe Online community has become a friendly bunch, most of us, and when we finish our streams we tend to raid (send everyone watching) other channels playing DCUO. It was after spending a lot of time in one Twitch stream, and getting a great deal of support from them during my illness, that I decided to try streaming myself. So far, three weeks in, I've really enjoyed it. If nothing else, it allows me to talk too much, like my online namesake Tegan.
Twitch Affiliates don't get a lot of money, but if I manage a few more subscriptions I can at least pay for the emotes. And I could unlock the other four possible emote slots. See, Twitch wants to make money, so the incentive is to get emote slots which are unlocked with "Sub Points". Sub points are earned by getting subscriptions, which makes money for both the affiliate and Twitch.
  • A Tier 1 or Amazon Prime subscription = 1 sub point = $4.99 or one free for every Amazon Prime subscription
  • A Tier 2 subscription = 2 sub points = $9.99
  • A Tier 3 subscription = 6 sub points = $24.99
The first additional emote opens up at 15 sub points. Then up to three more at 25, 35, and 50 sub points respectively - for a total of four extra emotes based on subscriptions. All the subscriptions giving points must be active at the same time - so it's not a matter of one person subbing over time - the total points of active subs must add up to 50 to unlock all emotes. Once an emote slot has been unlocked, it stays unlocked. So I only need to get 50 sub points once to get all slots.

As of this writing, I have 11 sub points, so I'm only four regular subs away from getting another emote slot. Being a bit aspie, I had to do the math. Please skip the rest of this paragraph. For one emote slot, I need four regular or two T2 or one T3 subs. For two emote slots, I need 14 regular, seven T2 or three T3 subs. For three slots, I need 24 regular, 12 T2, or four T3 subs. To open them all, I need 39 regular, 20 T2 or seven T3 subs. When I lay it out that way, it really seems incredibly unlikely that I'll ever make that final goal. Bummer.

I've continued to rank up a brand new stream only DC Universe Online character. The only offline stuff I've done with the character is rearranging stuff in his bank. As of today, I got the character to level 30, which is the maximum "level" in the game. From here on out, he will advance via gear improvements, which are called "CR levels" or Combat Rating levels of the best gear you have acquired. However, I haven't finished all the tutorial levels, so I'll probably complete those on stream. It took me 12 streams to get him to that level, with a lot of goofing around - I was not power leveling the character.

I've also finished my play through of The Room Two. I will soon start The Room Three, which I don't believe I managed to finish on my last attempt. I will probably start playing that on Monday. I still haven't decided what to do tomorrow. I have both the DC Legends mobile game and Among Us set up, as well as Doctor Who Infinity, but I'm not sure which one I'll be in the mood to do.

I set up some special audio channels on my PC, but I abandoned the effort when it became clear that Windows and various apps weren't going to respect the settings I put in. I was trying to route all my sound through a virtual mixer, but some apps ignored it entirely, others refused to use the correct input and Windows kept resetting the ones that worked until I rebooted the computer. The idea of having to reboot the computer before each stream was soul-crushing, so I scrapped the entire thing.

I'm also still learning how to use OBS to stream. It's not complicated, but it's not intuitive or straightforward, either. So I'm learning, and that's keeping me happy and focused. Things I need. When I think about my mental and physical state only one year ago, I'm stunned that I survived and am doing something new. It's a surprise.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Lupus Saga part 2: January 19, 2021

I am officially in complete remission from kidney disease.

My doctor gave me the good news in our virtual appointment last week, and I'm thrilled. It doesn't change everything, because I'm still suffering from lupus, but it does allow me to loosen up my diet restrictions slightly (I can reintroduce some forbidden foods as special treats!). I was cautioned not to go crazy, and I don't intend to, but it will be nice to have a piece of bacon again.

Now my biggest concern is the lupus, which continues to attack my joints. The rheumatologist noted swelling in some joints but said my lupus seems to be taking a fairly classical route, which means the usual treatments will hopefully help. Although a whole category of treatments is cut off due to my reactions to one of the medicines they tried during my kidney failure. Still, she said they would start to work on upping my dose of the latest new medicine, and if/when that happens it'll be another couple of months before we know if it's working.

I have good days and bad days. The bad days tend to be marked by horrible pain that makes it difficult to move at all, while the good days are marked by horrible pain that I'm able to fight through and move when I need to. Exercise always seems to help, but it is very difficult to start exercising when the pain is bad. I send prayers of thanks for my sister every time I get on the exercise bike she gave me or use the lift chair so my knees don't hurt so bad.

The doctors are pleased that I'm exercising daily, but I need to ramp up the amount of exercise I do. I'm trying to get on the exercise bike the moment I'm dressed first thing in the morning - and get at least five minutes in. I want to then start adding a couple more short sessions of exercise later in the day. And my doctors said I should start walking again, even if I have to use the cane. I also need to figure out some exercises for my upper body, as my shoulders are often very sore.

I've been streaming almost daily since the start of the year, although this past weekend I was in too much pain to get more than a few test streams in. I don't have a lot of viewers, which is fine, but I'm an affiliate so I have my own emotes. I can use them anywhere on Twitch, and anyone who subscribes to my channel can use at least one of them (all if they subscribe at the highest level). In the event I get some subscribers, I hope to make a few more emotes. But I have to get "subscriber points" to earn emote slots, so I don't expect that to happen any time soon.


My three Twitch emotes. Regular subscribers get access to "SUS".

The best thing about streaming, for me, is figuring out the tech and learning how to do neat new stuff. I have a good teacher at Sophie Fatal TV. Sophie's husband is a tech wizard who also runs online clinics on how to set up OBS (the software people use to stream) and make it do cool things. With his help I've been able to sort out some of the early issues I had and now am expanding into other things. Like a new opening and closing for my stream just in time for my January 20th birthday!

After someone asked me if I intended to put my Twitch videos on YouTube, I remembered that I have a YouTube channel. And so my streams are being archived at my YouTube Channel and I've got a playlist for DC Universe Online going, and a complete playlist for The Room as well as a playlist for The Room Two. I expect I will be terribly embarrassed by those vids as time goes on.

My mother is home from the hospital, but is in a halo brace. I urge you to not Google that if you don't know what it is, because the images will disturb you. My sister is sending the entire family regular updates with photos. I worry about my mom every night, but there's not a lot I can do from here.

Inkwell has finally decided that my lift chair is great, and now is willing to sleep in it. This means I have to evict him from my chair each morning - a chore made difficult by his general cuteness and the way he purrs loudly when I enter the room. But it is my chair, and I need it, so he always loses the battle in the end.


Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Streaming Update - Wha... Revenue?

I'm officially a Twitch Affiliate now, and have been having a fun time with the settings and stuff. No one has subscribed yet, which doesn't surprise me, but I did make some revenue - to my shock.

I have made four cents. Because at least two people watched ads.

I'm not sure how many ads that translates to, but I was actually shocked when the revenue showed up. I knew Twitch runs ads during streams, and I know I technically get some portion of it, but knowing and seeing are two different things. So, it I keep it up at this rate... er, um 13 streams equals 4 cents, minimum $100 in order to get a check, um, if I keep up a daily stream... it'll be 89 years before I see any money.

Well.

Okay, I guess I'll hope for some subscribers then, instead.

In the meantime, I'm still working on getting emotes. We'll just have to see how that turns out. When I get them, I will certainly post them here... and if you join my Twitch channel as a subscriber you can use them anywhere on Twitch.

Lastly, I'm posting my streams on YouTube as a sort of back-up. I posted my entire playthrough of The Room, and my ongoing playthrough of my new villain on DC Universe Online. I expect I'll be incredibly embarrassed by these in a couple of years. The streams go up on YouTube about a day after I've streamed them.

My birthday is January 20th, and I think I may have to figure out something special for that day on my stream. The whole world will also be celebrating, so that's good. But I gotta think of something fun for me to do. Maybe I'll try video for the first time? I'm not sure my system could handle it, but maybe... just that once...

Anyway, that's streaming life. I'll be posting a lupus update soon. I hope. I have two more doctor appointments this week, so I'm waiting on what news may come out.

Thursday, January 07, 2021

Streaming Update - The Emote Challenge

Yesterday morning I got my Twitch Affiliate invite after my morning stream, and immediately started to fill out the paperwork. It'll be a few days while tax information is checked, but I anticipate it going forward nicely.

I made the mistake of mentioning on Twitter that I was going to need an artist for my emotes. I should have realized that digital artists have searches set up for just that sort of comment in the hopes of landing a gig. After getting 24 artists in a matter of a couple of hours contacting me, I decided I needed to get very serious about it and decide on my standards. The worst thing (or the best) is that every single artist who contacted me was GOOD. I mean, really good. Some of them stood out as excellent, but all of them were absolutely worth paying for work. But I can only afford to hire one. ACK. Torture.

Anyway, I expect three things from a potential artist. Since most of these folks are young and just starting out, some of them had none of the things. Part of me wants to help them by explaining exactly what a potential client wants, but I'm a creative type myself and I know such advice can be hard to take. Still, I figure if I post it here, and maybe drop them the link, there's a tiny chance they will follow and get my perspective. And maybe it will help them in the future?

So. Three things important for an artist trying to sell their work:

  • One: A portfolio. This is just a set of sample images of your previous work, preferably showing the range of what you can do. Best practices is to have a website for the work with watermarked images (light watermark, but enough to prevent theft). Acceptable is to have files to send to potential clients. Most of the artists who contacted me had something, although I was a bit taken aback at the slapdash nature of some of them. It is worth investing a little time in making sure your portfolio is complete, accessible and accurately reflects your work.
  • Two: References. I want to know you can deliver the goods, and the best way to prove it is to have someone you've already done business with tell me that you can. Not one of the people I contacted to ask for references knew what I was talking about, which just tells me I'm old. But once I explained it, people quickly got back to me. In the case of Twitch emotes, a shout-out on Twitter from a streamer is just about the most perfect reference ever. Links to the streams of Twitch users of artwork are good, as well, but a direct mention is best. Unlike many business dealings, I don't need a letter with a glowing recommendation - just some proof that your work is out there.
    • A caveat: new artists are going to have a little problem with this, and the best way for them to get around it is to simply be honest. Admit to the client you haven't made your first sale. Surprisingly awesome things can happen when you are honest.
  • Three: A price chart. Yeah, I want to know what you charge for your work. And this is hard for both the artist and the client. But clients are going to want to know what they need to budget for your work, and that requires at the very least a range or a base price. So an artist who says they charge X dollars for a simple design with the price going up depending on complexity is far more likely to get my business than an artist who says they will "work with me." I honestly don't know what "work with me" means, and it doesn't inspire confidence. Give me a base price and THEN say you will work with me, and I will be more likely to move forward.

All of this doesn't help me with my present conundrum. I've got multiple excellent artists that I'm chatting with, and I can't make up my mind which one I want to go with. And I'm terrified that, once I've chosen one, the work won't be what I want and I'll feel some horrid regret. Worse, I've had to turn down several excellent artists that had work I loved, but didn't fit what I want. I tell myself that they contacted me, unsolicited, so I can't allow myself to feel too strongly for their feelings. This is the business, they know what they are in for. But they are all so GOOD. Like I said, torture.

Maybe Twitch will reject my application and spare me this decision?

Anyway, I don't want to waste any artist's time, so I'm going to try to put together very nice rejection letters to some of the artists, while keeping their information just in case. At this point, I don't know if I'll turn up an Ace on the first try, or end up giving several artists a shot before finding the perfect one. All I know is I want to be fair and I want to be kind and I want a kick-butt set of emotes that make me happy every time I see them on my stream.

Wish me luck and wisdom, for I will need both.


Update: Wow. I put together as nice a rejection letter as I could manage and sent it to some of the unlucky folks - all of whom I might consider going to in the future if the current options don't work out. Well, all of them except one now. One of them responded with accusations of wasting her time and leading her on. Because I asked for a portfolio and then - because I liked the work in that portfolio - asked for a little more information. In short, the artist made it past my first filter, and would have been high on my list of people to try if the current front-runners don't work out. But now she's off my list entirely because of her incredibly unprofessional and rude response.

In the same time period, two of the others I decided against got back to me with "no problem!" responses. Both of them are now on my list for potential artists in the future, and I'll be taking a second look at their portfolios, as well.

Monday, January 04, 2021

Streaming...

Wow.

Just. Wow.

So, I knew the DC Universe Online streaming community is strong and supportive. I didn't realize just HOW strong and supportive it is.

I started streaming, almost on a whim, on December 31st. On December 30th I had no intention of ever streaming and would have laughed at the thought of it. Me? Streaming? Yeah, right. So I was as shocked as anyone when I had a bad pain day and turned my attention to Twitch and the mechanics of streaming and decided to give it a whirl. Just to see.

My computer is decent, but I decided to not try to capture myself on video, since I wasn't sure it would have enough power to capture the game I was playing and my face at the same time. So my stream is an audio stream, mostly. I created a stream avatar that sits in the corner for some streams and responds to commands in the chat, so at least there's something there besides just the game. And suddenly four days had gone by and I was streaming a little every day...

Now I'm actually a streamer, having streamed for five days in a row (!!!) and gotten enough followers to qualify as an affiliate. I don't have all the other requirements yet, but I have the followers and that's half of the hardest part.*

Why does this matter? Well, if you become an affiliate, you can start to make a little money with Twitch (and I do mean little) and, more importantly, can make emotes for people to use in your channel and other channels. And I like emotes. There's one I very much want to make, and I think I will be able to find something that works. Heck, just look on Etsy for "Twitch Emotes" and you'll see a bazillion excellent artists offering custom work for decent prices. The very little money I make will no doubt pay for the few emotes I want.

Now I just have to keep it up. I will continue for a bit and see what happens, and if people continue to watch/listen I'll enjoy it. For my part, I'm now thinking of ways to keep the streams from becoming too confusing with me blathering about nothing for an hour. I'm also thinking of other games to play besides my morning DC Universe Online stream. I'll be playing DCUO at 10 am every morning for an hour, and then at 2 pm I'll play something else for an hour. I'm going to limit myself to an hour due to my health issues, but I think I can manage it.

Here's the link: Realtegan on Twitch. I don't expect anyone to watch or follow, but feel free to drop by if you want.

* To become an affiliate, you must (in the past 30 days) stream at least 8 hours on seven different days. You must have 50 followers and average at least 3 viewers.

Saturday, January 02, 2021

Lupus Saga part 1

Time to start a new chapter in this book, eh?

A year ago I went in for blood tests after feeling unwell for a couple of months with what I wrongly believed were allergies. The next morning the doctor ordered me to the emergency room because she suspected my kidneys had failed. As it happened, my body had gone into kidney and heart failure due to lupus, which I may have been suffering from for a number of years without knowing it.

The kidney failure nearly killed me, and the cure had its own problems. The steroid that kept me alive gave me temporary diabetes as well as inflating my face to balloon-size. The first attempt at bringing my kidneys back to full function resulted in massive rashes and worse, forcing me into chemo. Luckily, the chemo worked, and I have been slowly recovering the past few months. Now the lupus has become my main issue.

Not a lot has happened as far as my health goes in the last month since I last updated. I kept thinking I would update when I had news - then I didn't have news. I still don't. My next appointment isn't for another week, and although I've had a blood test, the results - that I can understand - just show more improvement as expected and nothing dramatic.

I have good days and bad days. My hands hurt all the time, no matter what I'm doing. They are worse in the mornings. My legs are good at times and bad at other times, with my knees having the worst issues. Thankfully, my house has been made as friendly as possible to my condition, so I'm not having too many difficulties getting around and doing daily tasks like feeding myself. My long-suffering hubby, Eric, has also been able to help on those days I just cannot manage.

My biggest difficulty is keeping myself busy both mentally and physically. I've been playing a lot of video games, which isn't ideal, but does keep my mind going. I use an exercise bike for physical movement, but I feel like I need more. I haven't been out walking because of the virus, as well as the general difficulty getting out and just walking.

I'm still waiting for the new medication to have its desired effect, although I think it's beginning to work. I have had a few more good days in the last week than bad days. And the goal is for my lupus to stop attacking my joints, which is what happens on a good day. It's still too soon to be sure, though. Another few weeks is when the studies I read said it would become obvious. I would cross my fingers, but that hurts.

In other news, Inkwell has his own merchandise. Mark Monlux created RedBubble shops for his line of people's cats, and Inkwell is on it (with my permission). I haven't been able to buy any of it yet, but my sister purchased a couple and has been amusing me with photos of Inkwell merch around the house. The real cat, meanwhile, has continued to make my legs his favorite daytime cat bed.

CBS News made a short video tribute to PBS, and hubby-Eric actually appears in it! He's about 90 seconds into the piece, sitting at a phone bank while our friend William talks to Dalek Rainier.


As our Centurylink internet service has been degrading ever since Centurylink took over and bought the original company we signed up with, we finally made the hard decision to move to another service. I don't like moving internet providers for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was needing new hardware to go from DSL to Cable internet. I ended up buying a new coax cable and a new router, but frankly the advantages are truly worth it. The new internet, from Spectrum, is on average about 15 times faster than the old. But most importantly for Eric's teaching job, it doesn't keep dropping the connection. Centurylink had gotten so bad as to drop our service a couple of times a day. And while most of the outages were in the evening when Eric wasn't teaching, not all of them were. Since signing up with Spectrum, I haven't noticed any disconnects.

The decision to upgrade our internet has had another unforeseen effect. I'd been being encouraged by Sophie Fatal to try streaming with Twitch, but knew our internet couldn't handle it. Heck, there were days I couldn't *watch* Twitch because of outages and the incredibly slow speed. But with a fast internet, I started to think about streaming seriously. On December 31st, I woke up in such pain that I couldn't do my usual stuff online, or even play my game. What I could do was read online, so I read about how to get started streaming on Twitch. And before the end of the year I managed to stream three very short test streams, and one longer stream. I deleted the test streams and left the longer one up. Then on the first day of 2021, I streamed my favorite game, DC Universe Online, for a bit over 30 minutes. So. I guess I can call myself a streamer now.

Another thing that fast internet did was finish my online backup. It was due to finish in February with the old internet. It finished with the new internet in less than a week. My entire hard drive backed up online. Nice.

In other news, I found a couple of cat-related mods in Fallout 4. One, called Craftable Cats, allows you to make cats for your post-apocalyptic settlements. Naturally I went a little nuts on them and made a few too many. This didn't last, of course. I had to go back to an earlier save because having that many cats just KILLS the framerate on the computer. But it was fun anyway. The other mod is Immortal Cats for those of us that cannot, for whatever reason, bear the sight of a dead cat even in a game. Despite the description in the mod's notes, this did lead to an amusing incident when a robot started attacking cats that were weaving around its feet.

In family news, while I started the year in the hospital, my mother ended the year in the hospital. No, she didn't get COVID (at least I hope not), but instead somehow managed to break her back. I've questioned my siblings, but we aren't sure which one of us stepped on a crack. While she's putting up a good show, I know she's in a lot of pain. I hope she's able to get home soon.