Waiting

Tomorrow is the last day of November. It feels like the month flew by, and dragged on, both at the same time. Just about every month of 2020 has had that same feeling. We’re stuck in this strange limbo where we want to keep pushing and pushing to get past this pandemic (as of this writing vaccinations should be starting in a couple weeks). It’ll take months to get there, but the end is in sight. That means that we want to get there as quick as possible.

But then there’s the flip side, feeling like we’re wasting time just letting minutes and hours slip away without actually accomplishing anything. As someone with a grasp of the finite-ness of life, it’s hard to watch days slip past without meaning to them. It feels like we should be seizing any opportunity we can. But, we also want to just curl up in bed and tell the world to wake us when it’s over.

This is a strange dichotomy, and one that I’m not terribly comfortable with. I’ve spent many years ‘waiting’, whether it was for financial or job related reasons, or for large milestones that I’ve had on my radar for long periods of time. Yet, here we are again, at another point where the main thing to do is wait. This time on a global scale.

Being forced into waiting does give a person time to think, and contemplate life. Sometimes that can result in big revelations, or just simple realizations. For me, I’ve realized that there are things from my past that I miss, and wish I would have focused more on. And, perhaps a better understanding of what it is that makes me tick. I haven’t answered the big questions of life, nor have I made any big changes. I do feel that I’ve come to a slightly better understanding of ‘me’ than before.

I think that my penchant for wanting each day to mean something, means that I need to give these contemplations space and time to bounce around. It helps with continuing to make each day feel worthwhile, despite wanting to get done with this entire year and just start anew in Spring. It also means that I’m often exploring a dozen different questions at any one time. Sometimes it leads to interesting things, and other times not. But it’s what I can do to keep the brain stimulated and moving.

I’m sure some of the people around me think I’m crazy, and going on half-cocked about random things all the time. Or maybe it’s how I’ve always been, and this year it’s just more obvious because there’s less distraction. Either way, I’m ready and waiting for tomorrow, and next month, and next year… but not quite yet.

This year my hashtag was #findingbalance. Truer words have never been spoken.

Jaina knows how to wait

2020 and thankfulness

Each year I try to do a Thanksgiving post, and talk about what I’m thankful for. As I stare back on the train wreck that was 2020, doing that seems like a tall order. I think instead of trying to list off all of the things I’m thankful for, I’d rather talk about the act of being thankful in a year like this, and what that really means. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very thankful for my family, job, health, and general well-being. But, when I look back at the year that was, all of my thankfulness is wrapped in selfishness. But that’s kinda what it always seems to be about.

When we go through stressful times, we turn to survival instinct. We do what we can to protect that which we have, so that we can live another day. Many people have fared far worse that I have in 2020, and many people didn’t survive this year. Yet, there’s this expectation that we turn to thankfulness and “count our blessings” and be happy for what we came out of the year with. There’s a mandated sense of contentment in how we view thankfulness. Don’t look at the bad, focus on the good, even when it’s hard to find. We tell ourselves that we have a lot to be thankful for, and we certainly do. But this is what I mean when I talk about “Thanksgiving thankfulness” being selfish.

Then along comes a year like 2020. Global pandemic, racial justice reckonings, economic hardship, political strife… you name it, this year had all the big ticket items. As a student of history, watching so much of society being threatened by both intentional acts and random happenstance at the same time, is hard. This year, I don’t think it’s enough to be OK with “Thanksgiving thankfulness”. I think we need to go further.

When I was a believer, I would say that I’m thankful that Jesus is Lord. Now that I no longer count myself among them, I would reframe that to say that I’m thankful that humanity still strives for goodness more than it strives for evil. That’s where I want to start my notion of thankfulness for this year. Not with a selfish desire to look at what I have, but to look at the broader world and declare thankfulness for things that go beyond me, and my small sphere of experience.

So for 2020, I would say:

  • I’m thankful that our world has educated and intelligent people in it that seek to help their fellow humans with science and research.
  • I’m thankful that even as America’s political disaster plays out on a global stage, the broad swath of humanity still manages to grow, adapt, and bring us forward as a species.
  • I’m thankful that there are still people willing to take a stand for what is right, and hold fast to the belief that every human being deserves a chance at a full life.
  • I’m thankful that we continue, as a species, to move in a positive direction around how we interact with nature. We’re facing the repercussions of centuries of neglect, but by and large, our species is trying to do better about living in harmony with our planet.
  • I’m thankful that despite everything that went wrong in 2020, and all of the harm that we will be rebuilding from in the future, we still have an opportunity to treat people with compassion, with every interaction we have.

I realize that this might seem like high and lofty tripe, but this year, I just can’t be content being personally selfish in my thankfulness. So much in our world is wrong, and it threatens our ability to exist. But yet, in spite of 2020, we’re still here. For that, I am thankful.

Quick Review: Red Dead Redemption

I’m waaaay late to the party here, but I finally grabbed a copy of Red Dead Redemption from my son and gave it a whirl. I enjoy story driven games, and I had heard a lot of positive things about RDR. I started playing this a few months ago, and tonight I finally got to the end. Why did it take me so long? Let’s talk more about that in my dis-like section.

What did I enjoy?

As I said, I love story driven games, and there is a solid plot that runs through the entirety of RDR. You play the game as John Marston, an outlaw who’s been conscripted to take out his old gang buddies. You’re not a good guy, but you’re trying to turn over a new leaf. You’ve married, had a son, and you just want to settle down on your farm. That’s when the government agents come knocking, and force you to do their dirty work. You’re dumped in the middle of nowhere, and need to make good on your agreements, or your wife and child will suffer.

From there the story progresses, until it reaches its crescendo, with a litany of side plots and characters strewn across a fictional ‘old west’ setting. Although you have some agency in how you behave, the story still progresses the same, no matter what. Key characters cannot die (until they’re supposed to), and in many cases your situation is dictated by what moves the narrative forward.

Putting aside the story, I also love open world style games, and this is an area where RDR excels. You can explore to your heart’s content, and traveling through the different southwestern landscapes is beautiful and immersive (by 2010 graphical standards). There are ways to fast-travel to different parts of the map, but you’re better off just riding to your destination and finding random encounters which make the world feel more alive and rich.

The gameplay is solid, and as someone who’s playing for the purpose of story, the auto-aiming is wonderful. I was able to just have fun being a badass, instead of dealing with my frustrations as a mediocre first-person-shooter gamer. Once you get a hang of the controls and menu system it’s pretty rock solid. Selecting new weapons is pretty easy, even in the heat of battle. The ring-style system of selecting weapons means you can use muscle memory to quickly change between them. It did take some practice to get it down, but once I did it became second nature.

In addition, riding your horse was mostly fine. The mechanics of getting them to go faster (and maintain speed) or slow down is highly unrealistic, but it serves its purpose. However, I would sometimes randomly lose my horse, and then all of a sudden a new one would come galloping over the horizon, ready to go. It was weird, and sometimes I never knew what I would be riding next. I’m sure I missed something in a tutorial here, but it was a little strange.

So what didn’t I like?

Despite all of the praise above, there was actually a lot that I found problematic with the game. Despite having a solid story, it wasn’t a very deep story. The main points of the plot were spelled out early, and it took very little brainpower to anticipate where things would end up. However, that doesn’t make for a game with hours of gameplay, so the majority of your time is spent on side plots that have nothing to do with your overall objective. Countless times you’re promised that if you help a character just “one more time” they’ll help you further your goal.

This constant distraction from your main objective often became tedious. After the first dozen missions (which had nothing to do with getting you back to your wife and kids) you start to feel like nothing more than a plaything to everyone else in the world. You’re constantly finding yourself enmeshed in the squabbles and troubles of random people, with little need to help them, except for the sticky fact that the game forces you. Without giving away too many spoilers, the only time I felt that any of this paid off was in the culmination of Act 1, where everyone you had helped became instrumental in your victory. The game quickly abandoned that trope in the second two acts, and you soon found yourself killing dozens and dozens of people for no reason other than “It’s the only mission available for me, and I need to keep moving forward.” In fact in Act 2, you kill so many people (on all sides of the conflicts!), with such wanton abandon, it becomes comical.

All of this plot meandering lead to an excruciatingly long slog of a game. It’s why I ended up putting it away for a while, because nothing I was doing seemed to get me closer to what I really wanted, which was to return home to my wife and son. When I finally booted the game up again after taking a few weeks off, I was in the middle of Act 2. I picked right back up where I left off, running deadly errand, after deadly errand, for people that I cared nothing about (except for Landon Ricketts… that guy was fun).

One other gripe was how tedious many of the filler tasks were. Roping horses, or herding cattle, or even just long rides with NPCs, was often just an excuse to squeeze in more dialog. However, because the overall plot of the game is pretty straightforward, it’s like listening to someone try to tell the same story, over, and over again, trying to make it different, or add a new twist each time. Plus, many of these tasks just weren’t fun or challenging, and no matter how good you got at them they never changed. They were the same mechanic over and over again. Once you’ve broken in a couple of horses, you have no interest in doing it, again, and again.

Overall, the whole game felt like it was crammed with filler content, instead of a long cohesive narrative. I really wish that there would have been more mystery to uncover, or at least not such a direct and simple through-plot.

Conclusion

After all this, would I recommend Red Dead Redemption? Maybe? In my case, I borrowed it from my son, and so the price of free made it worth it. It’s hard not to compare it to The Outer Worlds (which I recently finished), which was another story-driven, open-world style of game. Where The Outer Worlds drew you into a long and complex story, and kept many things hidden for you to uncover, RDR just tried to take up as much time as possible to stop you from getting to the end. The world of the old west in RDR was incredibly compelling. The visuals were great, the gameplay was good, and exploration was freeing. But then it fell down by trying to tell a 1 hour story in 20 hours.

I’ve heard great thing about Red Dead Redemption 2, and I also have that disc sitting here as well. Perhaps I’ll give that a shot and see if it can make up for some of these shortcomings, but still give me the open world that I loved in RDR. With our COVID lockdown heading into deep winter I have plenty of time on my hands.

Blowing electric snow

For years I’ve had a big, heavy, gas powered, 2-stage snowblower. It’s a beast of a machine, and I really don’t like it that much. Every year when I go to start it the first time it takes forever. I do all the stuff I’m supposed to at the end of the season, like use up the gas or put Stabil into the tank, etc,. But it just doesn’t make a difference. I have to spend 10-15 minutes every winter with the electric starter getting it to fire the first time (and yes, the spark plug seemed fine too).

It’s also overkill for how I usually snow blow. VERY rarely do I wait until a storm is completely over before I head out to clear the driveway. Often we might need to get the cars out mid-snow, or I just feel like being outside while it’s snowing. Usually, in a snow event, I’m out there 2-3 times before it’s done. I can could on one hand the number of times I’ve had to snow blow a MASSIVE amount of snow. Normally, it’s 6-7 inches or less at a time.

I’m tired of smelling like gas, and I’m tired of dealing with a big giant device, so I decided to go electric. When I first mentioned going to an electric snow blower to friends, they were shocked that devices like that even existed. However, battery tech has come such a long way in the past 5 years, you can get tremendous torque and longevity out of electric outdoor equipment now. That just left a decision on what brand.

Although you can get some two-stage blowers that are fully electric, I opted to back down to a 1-stage. I wanted something that wasn’t so huge and heavy (plus didn’t cost $1300). After pinging some folks on social media for opinions, I opt’d for the EGO SNT2102 single stage snow blower. The price was in my budget, and they have a long history of really good battery tech. In particular, this model is powered by two 56V, 5.0 Ah batteries. Way more than I should ever need for my driveway.

This isn’t really a review yet, because I haven’t had a chance to really put it through it’s paces, but from the short test that I did, I was super pleased, and impressed. Especially with how light the blower was. I could toss it around without any issue. It also comes with some LED headlights for night time work, and a variable speed control on the auger. The batteries are huge and heavy, but they didn’t contribute to overall weight that much.

For now though I’m waiting on a good snow to try it with. Unfortunately, the weather is looking pretty dismal for snow in the near future. It’s only November though, and I’m sure I’ll have a good change to put it through its paces and post a decent review before too long. I’m really excited to give this a try, and I’m hopeful it’s exactly what I’m looking for.

The postmortem will have to wait

I’ve been thinking over and over again about everything I want to say, could say, should or shouldn’t say, about the election. Honestly, I think many of us are still just coming down from the stress of it all and trying to process everything. I certainly have a lot of thoughts, and maybe I’ll talk about them more some day, but for now, I’m going to let things lie like they are.

Instead, I’m going to share a beautiful pic I got of a fire the other night, and remind everyone that COVID is surging, so wear a mask and stay away from risky situations. I haven’t eaten or drank inside a public building since February. Believe me I’m sick of it too. I want to go hang out at Silverwood and look out over the lake while I work. I get it. But we’re not making this better, so we need to do what we can to stop making it worse.

Oh, and testing is being expanded in Minnesota AGAIN so if you need a test, or even want a test. Go get one.