I logged in to write a post, and I’m not quite sure what to write, but I suppose that’s pretty representative of my state of mind at the moment.

Let’s start with this WIP entry from May 9, 2017 that I never posted, after seeing Ghost In The Shell with Maja, just so I can clean out my journal drafts. It also feels like an appropriate glimpse back into when the world was normal and we could actually do things.

I see movies so rarely that I feel like I have to write a post every time I do.

Last night I went to dinner with Maja and we saw Ghost in the Shell. I went into it not really knowing much about the film or its original manga other than, “They whitewashed this movie it’s terrible.”

Also, it’s weird that people have issues with the protagonist being white when most of the rest of the cast was white. :P It only makes sense that a company headed by a white guy and a team of white scientists would build a white robotic shell, even if the brain they’re putting into it was from an Asian girl. Meh?

But in any case, the movie itself was pretty good. Had all of the obligatory fight sequences and big CG effects and plot twists that you’d expect from a big film.

The world, and particularly the US, continue to fall further into viral despair. I think we’re officially cancelling our Phoenix trip this year, since cases are trending up again and we never actually hit a low enough level where we’d be comfortable with a cross-country drive and plane trip.

But while I could rant about anti-vaxxers and Republicans for hours, I want to talk about some other interesting things that have come out of the pandemic, instead.

I used to be a huge couponer, and even after I stopped cutting coupons, I would always watch sales and plan at least some purchases around sales… only get the sale cereals, only get the fruit-of-the-week, buy the bread or buns that are on sale. The pandemic’s condensing of grocery trips, combined with a switch to Aldi’s as our primary grocer, kind of put a stop to that. But it’s interesting to note as we’ve started going to Giant Eagle again that I haven’t switched back into it. We made a trip today where we just kind of grabbed the things we wanted, without regard for price, which was similar to the last trip where I bought a full-price pack of Milano cookies because I wanted them. I suppose it’s yet another indicator of how financially fortunate we are.

The housing market has also been crazy, probably thanks to the pandemic simultaneously keeping people at home (and therefore looking to upgrade where possible) and causing people to move to cheaper areas (since they’re not going into an office anyway). This is particularly true in Pittsburgh, where we started looking at house listings because Yubin was looking at buying a house, to find that none of the prices made sense to us anymore. If we were looking at buying a house today, there are barely any houses available in our neighborhood (and those that are available are huge), not to mention they’d cost between 25% and 50% more than what we’d be expecting.

Social arrangements are also… odd. While it’s been really nice seeing people in person (and playing outdoor board games with them) again, it also just feels strange to arrange disjoint plans (and gaming sessions) with different people to keep group size reasonable. We haven’t gotten the usual large games group fully back together (and probably won’t this year, if cases continue to go up), which makes some of the larger games I’ve been wanting to play a bit more difficult to manage, as well.

Work has been busy, as always, but I’ve just been having an increasingly hard time concentrating lately. I think it’s a confluence of a bunch of things, such as recent changes around work culture, my ever-fragmented jumping around between teams and topics, and the same general sense of “What do I actually want to be doing?” that I think has been on the minds of many people I know during the pandemic.

All of this is generally just giving me a sense of restlessness, where I feels like I need to be doing something different in my life, but having no idea what it is. I wonder how much of that was the itching to return to normalcy combined with what currently feels like any chance of that being ripped away from us again.

Anyway, this has been a huge wall of text. Boo pandemic. Boo another wave.

Card Games and Board Games and (Keith) Bares, Oh My

I’ve been on a bit of a defunct TCG kick lately, purchasing several new defunct TCGs and doing a bunch of card sorting. Things I’ve picked up include the Bleach TCG, the third starter I was missing for the Young Jedi TCG, the Power Rangers TCG, Force of Will, My Little Pony TCG, Dicemasters, Highlander TCG, Epic Battles, and some more Star Trek CCG and VS system. It’s also made me revisit (and reorganize) a lot of the TCGs I already have, such as .hack, Buffy, Megaman, Hecatomb, World of Warcraft, Fullmetal Alchemist, DBZ (CCG, TCG, and new Panini CCG), Yu Yu Hakusho, X-Files, Neopets, Simpsons, UFS, Lord of the Rings, and the Star Wars TCG (by Wizards, not to be confused with the CCG from Decipher).

Behold, my sorted and labelled collection!

I’ve also been dumping starter deck card lists (at least for the games with fixed starter contents) over at randomjunk, mostly so I can reconstruct decks in the future if needed. Some of them (like .hack) required quite a bit of reconstruction (since I didn’t want to open new, unopened decks to confirm), so I hope I have it all correct.

In any case, it’s interesting how TCGs have changed over the past decade or so. Some thoughts in no particular order:

  • A lot of the older games are much more low-frills: the starter deck boxes contain little more than the deck and some rules and are often sized exactly for the contents, and the games usually don’t require components other than the cards themselves. Newer games have dice and tokens and counters and come in huge boxes with plastic inserts that have to be discarded. (Power Rangers and Force of Will are particularly bad at this, but World of Warcraft also comes in huge cases which are at least functional.)
  • A surprising number of starter decks are not actually tournament-legal decks. World of Warcraft is especially bad at this (would it kill you to give us a full 60 card deck rather than a half-sized one?), but things like Buffy, Star Wars’ theme decks, and Power Rangers also offer starter decks that are less than the necessary number of cards.
  • Many games have two-player starter deck variants, which is nice, but those almost always have fewer cards than required for a legal deck. (See: Young Jedi, Star Wars TCG.) Still, I blame this less than the above, since you’re not forcing each player to buy a deck to play.
  • It’s interesting how TCGs went through a “starters must be randomized” phase, and then split into either theme decks or semi-randomized setups. Star Trek, X-Files, and Highlander are good examples of games with starters that are actually not only not tournament legal, but are often outright not playable out of the box due to the randomization. Some games then turned to preconstructed decks, often with randomized selection or portions of decks in opaque boxes (such as Bleach, Buffy, World of Warcraft, DBZ [both CCG and TCG], and Yu Yu Hakusho), while others took a more consumer-friendly approach of preconstructed decks indicated by the box (such as Simpsons, Megaman, .hack, Fullmetal Alchemist, Neopets, VS, and UFS) so you could select which deck you wanted.
  • Duplicate cards are an expected part of any starter, but some games take this to an extreme. I think Decipher’s 2-player starter decks (Young Jedi, Austin Powers) are especially egregious examples of this, but even things like the Star Trek 2E Starters duplicate cards for no good reason between decks (and even between decks in different expansion sets).
  • I wish more games did the “starter deck” rarities, especially across all cards in a starter deck. It’s extremely frustrating to open boosters and get a “rare” that you already have a few copies of from a starter (the DBZ TCG was particularly bad at this, with both the decks having two copies of one card as the only rare), but WoW does this too. Huge kudos to things like DBZ Panini for having only starter-rarity cards in their starters, but thanks to things like Megaman and .hack for at least trying via starter-only “rares”. (Alternately, randomizing only the rares works too, like LoTR or Buffy.)
  • I wish more games would include a booster pack or two in the starter deck. It’s a good way to give a taste of the collecting and customizing experience to newbies, but also increases the value of purchasing multiple starters. Bleach and WoW are probably the top here (two boosters per starter) but other games like Terminator at least make an effort.

I keep thinking it could be fun to start a blog/podcast/youtube channel on defunct TCGs, giving a general summary of their format (starter randomization, thoughts on packaging and collectability), gameplay, history, and my thoughts on the game. But like most things, I’ll probably never find the time to do it.

It’ll also be interesting to potentially try out playing some of these in the future. Which is actually a reasonable segue into the next subject…

We’ve started in-person games again, albeit outdoors (on our backyard deck) and with a very small number of other people at a time (1-3). Still, that means photos has gotten its first update with photos since the pandemic began (the last galleries, despite being posted in August, were from a February trip).

This is mostly thanks to Ben, who was in town for an unexpected visit. We hung out and played some games on the deck a couple of times (including some of my new pickups from the pandemic, such as Shadows in Kyoto), and it felt okay enough that we had Keith and Austin over for some more serious games this past weekend. I think we’re not ready for games (or generally groups of people visiting) inside the house yet, but outdoors seems fine.

We also had lunch at Emiliano’s with Keith (sitting outdoors, of course), which was our first restaurant meal with someone else since the pandemic started.

Baby steps :)

The beginnings of normalcy

It’s been a week of doing things that we haven’t done since March 2020, and stuff is starting to gain some semblance of normalcy again. It’s nice.

Last Thursday, we had a Verizon technician in the house to replace the FIOS box in the basement. It was the first repair person we’ve had in the house since… before last March.

This past weekend, we went on a tour of garden centers with Silja to buy flowers. This included our first time riding in someone else’s car for the first time since last March.

On Sunday, we made our first impromptu “we need one or two things from the store” run to Aldi without planning beforehand or lugging a wagon to cart everything home for the first time since last March.

On Monday, Max came over for Rock Band. It was our first time having someone inside our house unmasked (and first time having someone inside period other than to quickly pee) since last March. It was also our first time eating food with someone inside our house since last March.

On Tuesday, there was voting, which happened (at least for one of us) in person. It’s our first time not voting by mail-in ballot since last March.

Today I went to a scheduled doctor’s appointment (eye doctor, in this case) for the first time since last March. (I’d had a couple other doctor visits during quarantine, but they were all for specific issues that were bothering me.)

Today we also ate at a restaurant for the first time since last March. In this case, it was People’s Indian buffet, and we sat outside, but was also just nice to do this seemingly normal thing and not be freaking out about it.

Here’s hoping variants don’t make the world go to shit again, although I’m still rather bitter about the CDC being so stupid and making things a million times more dangerous again with their new mask guidance.

Life, Cabin, People, and thou

life‘s photo journal and stats have been updated. Given the lack of a trip in the past four months, we are of course the lowest photo count since 2002 with 300 photos, and the fourth lowest count for a four month period ever. It’s also the first period without Keith pictures since since 2009, which also makes sense because we’ve been meeting everyone virtually. We’re still about 400 photos off from the next 25k photos that would trigger another photo stats dump (including May photos so far), but I’m actually hopeful we’ll hit that in the next 4 months, because…

We’ve started the first stages of seeing people again. Rock band is scheduled in just over a week with the fully-vaccinated Max, and we’re looking at hosting a (very) small (and still outdoor) Memorial Day gathering with friends we know are vaccinated. Now that we’re two weeks after the second dose, I’ve also felt a serious sense of relief (or at least lack of anxiety) about going into buildings again — we’ve been to the bakery twice for donuts, I didn’t feel weird being in a fairly crowded car rental building, there was a Costco trip that felt fine to me, and we’re going to start going into the grocery store again. We’ll see if that sense keeps up given the ever-increasing threat of variants, but after a year of worrying, it’s really nice to be able to start letting down my guard a bit.

Speaking of doing things… we went on a trip to a cabin again, booked as a covid-safe vacation before we had any idea of when vaccination would be a thing. Whereas the last trip was to Blue Knob, this time we went to Cook Forest, and stayed at MacBeth’s Cabins right on the Clarion river. (And there are 200 photos from this trip alone, so the next four month period already has 2/3 the photo count of the previous four months.)

I must be getting old and curmudgeonly or something, because the biggest thing I was looking forward to was the lack of internet and cell service, and the cabin absolutely did not disappoint in that regard. I got to spend a week lounging around, reading and relaxing, without any of the modern obligationsdisruptions getting in the way. (Incidentally, the lack of internet might also be why I like cruise ships.)

Compared to the last cabin, this one was much better situated, but also less “nice”: the kitchen was smaller, the bathroom was less nice, and the heating and cooling situation was questionable, with a gas space heater (that said “do not use in bedrooms or bathrooms” on the side) between the beds. Still, it was definitely nice enough to return, especially with how great its location (and the hiking around it) was. Even if normal trips become a thing again later this year (or next year), a cabin feels like it’ll always be a good choice.

April shots bring May plots

It’s April. Where does the time go?

Our personal pandemic is looking like it will have an end date of mid-May, as we get our second dose shortly, and many friends follow suit. I’m looking forward to small gatherings again (maybe a couple vaccinated people over for board games or Rock Band).

What I’m really looking forward to is an outing to Fogo de Chao, which would be my first meal in a restaurant since last March. But such a meal is probably much further out (probably August or September?), since we not only have to all be vaccinated, and the waitstaff have to be vaccinated, but we also have to have gotten local cases down enough where I’d feel comfortable not taking the usual precautions in public.

But we’re so close to the end… and I hate how so many people are prematurely letting their guard down. Vaccination is not a 100% thing… by the latest numbers, it’s approximately 90% effective, which means you still have a 10% chance (multiplied by your regular risk percentage) of getting COVID. Why can’t everyone just hang on that little while longer and bring community numbers down?

We’re continuing to do our part. The riskiest thing we did during the past 13 months was probably getting the first vaccine dose. We walked about 9 miles round trip to the south side vaccination clinic (we don’t allow ourselves public transit), which just seems to be most of the first floor of UPMC Mercy, where we entered a building for longer than a minute for the first time in five months, and remained there for a bit over 30 minutes between waiting for the shot and completing the required 15 minute wait period.

Other than that, the riskiest things I’ve done have been to go to the dentist for a toothache, and go to the doctor earlier this week for some persistent pain, both of which were extremely nerve-wracking at the time, but arguably falling under the bucket of “essential”.

So overall, we’ve been very careful throughout this pandemic, and especially the past ~5 months as cases have started to spike again. I stopped physically going into stores, instead opting for curbside pickup for groceries. And other than the aforementioned doctor trips and quick stops in restaurants to pick up (preordered) food, we’ve been avoiding going inside buildings. I think we’ve been extremely fortunate in that our jobs and lives allow us to have isolated so effectively.

In any case, life goes.