Twenty Five

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Sometimes, when people ask me how old I am, I get a little confused. Especially when they combine it with questions like “so is that 23 turning 24, or 24 turning 25?” I don’t tend to think about how old I am all the time, so either I answer too quickly and get it wrong, or I think about it for longer than one might consider “normal”, get laughed at, and still get it wrong anyway.

It didn’t used to be this way, but over the past couple of years I’ve noticed it happening more and more. I’ve filled out enough online forms to know what my birth date is, so I should at least be able to calculate how old I am, but for some reason, deriving an answer to “how old are you” doesn’t come easily. Maybe I’m just over-thinking things, and I should add “I am 25 years old” to the list of things that I just know, like my (rough) height and weight. Maybe this is just what getting old is like.

Truth be told, I wasn’t planning on writing a birthday post this year. Or last year, for that matter. I had plenty of age and maturity-related thoughts when I was writing a birthday post from a few years ago, but when the time came to write about something last year, or something this year, none of the topics I had swirling around in my head wanted to coalesce into something of substance. No matter how long the bus or train ride was, nothing seemed pertinent enough to write about as the main topic of yet another birthday post.

Which is weird, because last year, more than any other, has been a pretty big year. Almost too big to write about, really, given that I accepted my first full-time job, which meant moving out of home and deciding what personal possessions I’d be bringing to another city in another state (computers, electronics, then everything else, in that order).

I made a trip to the US to watch The International, the biggest Dota 2 tournament in the world, as well as check out some west coast cities.

And so far, it’s been the first Christmas I’ve spent without any immediate family, the first New Year, and probably my first birthday. I can’t say for sure, obviously, but it certainly feels that way. Not that I mind about any of that. It was all going to happen eventually, and I’m glad it happened in at least somewhat positive circumstances.

If you’ve read any of my tweets from this year, you’ll know that growing up is, for the most part, pretty awful. No one’s talking about the freedom you get when you live alone, away from your immediately family, but when you work full time, people kind of know what you’re doing most of the time.

What they’re not telling you about is how awful it is having to do all of the washing up. Or needing to eat, but not wanting to do the washing up, and lacking the disposable incoming to eat out or get takeaway more than a few nights a week. Or how house inspections only happen four times per year, but even that feels too often. Or how having getting paid every fortnight feels great, at least until the bills and rent come in, at which point all your hard-earned leaves your bank account. The days turn into weeks, the weeks turn into months, and a lot of the time, it feels as though I’m living to work, instead of working to live.

People ask me if I’d go back to uni to study, and I usually answer that while the actual study part was pretty awful, the lifestyle was pretty great. Not having to wake up early to go to work, not having to spend the entire day at uni, and occasionally being able to have entire days to myself. Now that I work full time, the only time that I really get is from evenings and weekends.

What it comes down to is a lack of time. If I’m playing video games every evening, then I’m not cooking, or doing the washing up. If I’m on call on the weekend, then I have to squeeze in buying groceries into my “lunch break”, or go shopping after work during the week. Every time I decide to clean my tiny unit, do some ironing for the week, or whatever else needs doing that I didn’t get around to doing last week is another time I’m not playing games on the internet with friends, and as the old adage goes, all work and no play makes Benny a dull boy.

Of course, the solution here might seem pretty simple: give up video games. But games have been such a huge part of my life that giving up video games would be like giving up a part of myself, like trading in my childhood for a shot at adulthood.

And that’s kind of what this is all about. My friends have been moving out, getting married, and settling down for years now. Some times I wish I experienced those things earlier, but I’m happy enough with how things have turned out so far.

Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy the work that I’m doing. But there are times I wish it took up less of my time than it currently does. Some of the time, I wonder what it’d be like to be mostly-unemployed and have heaps of time, or what it would be like to have no time and be earning an amount to make it not matter. Perhaps there’s not much difference between the two, after all, but I guess that’s why they call it life.

Here’s to another year, whatever craziness it may bring.

NAS thoughts

IMG_3508When I moved to Brisbane, I decided against bringing my NAS with me. I can’t remember my reasoning at the time, but it was probably something along the lines of “my external storage requirements won’t be as extravagant if I’m living alone, without an NBN connection”. Besides, I had my directly-connected external USB hard drive if I needed to store anything, the same external hard drive that I’m using for Time Machine. With that mindset, I loaded up a couple of my favourite TV shows and things I thought I’d be able to watch, and figured I could either re-acquire the rest or collect it the next time I was in Hobart.

It’s been long enough that I’m starting to miss my media collection. I’ve re-acquired a bunch of stuff in the meantime, but it’s just not the same, you know? My ad-hoc acquisitions aren’t of the same calibre as my carefully-curated collection back home, and what’s more, I’m starting to worry about the ever-shrinking space on my external hard drive. Plus, there’s the stuff that just isn’t available anymore, or is enough of a pain to re-acquire that I haven’t bothered.

Which is why I’m thinking about another NAS. A NAS solves all my problems: it lets me access all my media from a device other than my Mac, it helps alleviate the storage situation on my external hard drive, and if I bring a NAS back home and make another copy of all my media, then I’ll be able to access all my old media, like nothing ever changed.

But it’s 2016 now, and NAS devices are a touch more complicated than buying a $200 HP MicroServer, stuffing as many drives as I can in it, and calling it a day. I can still buy a MicroServer, of course, but they’re a touch more expensive now, so what else is out there?

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New PC: Firebolt

DSCF0895I was actually in San Francisco when Intel was hosting their annual developer forum last year. At that stage, I hadn’t really thought about putting together an almost entirely new PC, but you could say it planted the seed. After all, my current PC was over five years old, and despite a steady string of graphics cards upgrades, it was probably about time for something new and shiny, seeing as my computer didn’t even have USB 3 yet.

When I got back to Australia, I spent a few good months thinking about whether I wanted to get a new PC or not. There was nothing particularly wrong about my current rig, besides being a little long in the tooth. Depending on the games I was playing, the CPU could be a little bit of a bottleneck, but the GTX 980 meant things still hummed along just fine on screen.

By the time December came around, I had all but made up my mind. I was going to build a new Skylake-based PC, recycling only the graphics card, hard drives, and a fan controller from my current computer. Now all I had to do was decide on some parts, but here’s how it all breaks down.

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Long time, no blog…

I’m not really sure why I stopped writing here.

Actually, I take that back: I know perfectly why I stopped writing. It was, as it always is, a (perceived or actual) lack of time, which can either be blamed on me not thinking I have enough time to write for myself, or not taking the time to do a little dance on the keyboard, tapping out a few words here and there to publish up on ye olde blog.

And it’s not like I stopped writing completely in 2015, either. For a little while, I was into daily journaling with Day One, a little iOS and Mac app that made it easy to create little snapshots of my day. At first, it was pretty great; I’d get to take a photo and record a little snippet of what happened during the day. But eventually, the lustre of doing something new and different wore off, around the time I figured my day-to-day wasn’t as interesting as it once was, back when I was unemployed. So I stopped doing that too, even though I still get daily reminders at 5pm to write in my journal.

As an amateur photographer, I’ve heard the axiom of living in the moment rather than looking at the world through a lens, but I’ve never really subscribed to that theory. How else are you supposed to look back on the good times without some reminder like a photo or a video of that time you flew halfway around the world only to find yourself in a Westfield shopping centre? Sure, some memories will just stick with you, but it’s still nice to see that you have some kind of proof of that time you rode across the Golden Gate bridge on a bike.

But as fun as living in the moment is, I’ve missed writing. As great as it is not having to set aside the time to write about my experiences and what’s been happening recently, Twitter’s micro-blogging just doesn’t cut the mustard when it comes to getting the point across. I mean, I don’t mind brevity at all, but sometimes you need a little further explanation to get your point across, regardless of how well you think you’ve condensed your thoughts into 140 characters.

My day-to-day might not be interesting enough for daily journaling, but maybe I can manage writing something weekly. If that’s not a New Year’s resolution, I’m not sure what is.

So much happened in 2015 I’m not really sure where to start. But I’ve got a couple ideas — watch this space!

Stories from the road: a tale of two American anecdotes

Paying for stuff

Paying for stuff in the U.S. is weird, compared to Australia. It’s mostly thanks to their weird credit card payment systems, which just recently saw the introduction of chip and PIN to their payment terminals, with contactless payments also being a new thing. Most of the time, you’re signing for stuff like in the bad old days.

Sometimes paying for stuff is the same, if a little outdated. At most retail locations, the cashier scans your items, you swipe your card, and then sign on a little piece of paper saying you authorise the transaction. Australia only recently went chip and PIN only for credit card transactions, which is a whole lot more secure than swiping a magnetic card and getting someone’s signature — there’s less chance your credit card gets skimmed, for one, and where your physical card gets stolen, only someone with the PIN can make a payment. I don’t think I saw anyone check my signature the entire time I was in the U.S.

The really funky stuff happens at restaurants, although I confess my experience may be skewed thanks to not visiting them all that frequently in Australia. When you call over the waiter for the bill/check/whatever parlance you desire to use today, they come back with a book which says the total amount for the food you ordered. You put your card into the book, which is then taken away to be pre-authorised. When they come back with your card, the book now has an additional receipt which has the actual, final amount you’ll be paying for your meal. Which is fine, except you then have to decide on a tip percentage (which differs from state to state), calculate the tip amount, and then write the total amount you’re going to be paying. Because this all happens after they pre-authorise your card, even though they have no idea how much they’re actually going to charge you, it all seems like a leap of faith to trust they’ll be charging you the amount you wrote down, instead of lots more. How often do people check credit card transactions, anyway?

I haven’t even touched on how physical items often don’t have the sales tax (which, again, differs from state to state) added on, which makes things more expensive than they originally seem, not to mention making things hard to pay for with exact change up-front, unless you know how much the sales tax is, and you can be bothered calculating the final amount beforehand (it’s generally not even some nice round percentage like the 10% GST we have in Australia, but something awful like 9.5%, like it is in Washington).

I witnessed one kid get upset because he had the exact amount, in cash, of the item he wanted, but thanks to sales tax, the total was more than he had. Luckily his parents were around to make up the difference, but it almost seems deceptive for stores to list the price before sales tax — I can’t think of a scenario where they wouldn’t be charging sales tax on sales in their store, so why not include it on the sticker? Like I said, paying for stuff in the U.S. is weird.

What makes things even stranger is that Americans have come up with ingenious ways to solve their wild and wacky payment issues. Square is perhaps the best solution for smaller mom and pa stores to take credit card payments that the world has ever seen, and with Apple Pay rolling out across banks and retailers across the country, things are looking up. But still, I can’t help but feel as though Kickstarters like the (multiple card support) are solutions to problems the rest of the world just doesn’t have. Chip and PIN is the way to go, and beyond that, contactless mobile payments via Apple Pay and its competitors.

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Malaysia 2015 — Epic Loot Edition

Every time I go back to Malaysia, my relatives all give me money in the form of red packets. It’s called tradition, and although Chinese New Year was over by the time we arrived this year, I still managed to get a few — some because they hadn’t seen me for a year, some just because.

And every year, I have this internal struggle with myself whether to spend the money or not. On the one hand there’s nothing I can buy in Malaysia that I can’t get online or back home in Australia, plus I usually save money rather than spend it. On the other side of the coin, I might as well spend it seeing as converting it back to Australian dollars means I lose out.

I didn’t intend to buy anything too epic this year. A new pair of Nikes, maybe, but that was about it. But little did I know the things Malaysia’s shopping malls had in store. In no particular order…

Found one of these at the same mall I picked up the SteelSeries Kana, last year. Wanted the SteelSeries Siberia as well, but the package would have been interesting to fit in my luggage.

Found one of these at the same mall I picked up the SteelSeries Kana, last year. Wanted the SteelSeries Siberia as well, but the package would have been interesting to fit in my luggage.

At the same mall where I picked up the Rival was a Toys R Us. In the spirit of adding to my Nerf collection, I grabbed this Nerf Cycloneshock — I've been impressed by Mega darts before, and this seemed like the natural progression.

At the same mall where I picked up the Rival was a Toys R Us. In the spirit of adding to my Nerf collection, I grabbed this Nerf Cycloneshock — I’ve been impressed by Mega darts before, and this seemed like the natural progression.

Later on we went to KL’s Mega Mall, and in a little electronics corner, one of the shops had a couple of t-shirts hanging up on the wall. I didn’t think much of it at first, but because the store seemed to be one of those that had promo material for other “special editions” of games (The Order 1866 seemed to be the flavour of the week), I decided to take a closer look. I’m super glad I did, otherwise I might not have picked up these awesome Dota 2 tees. As far as I can tell, they’re the same ones that were available on the Valve Store, but in actual sizes other than XL and XXL. At first I assumed the guy didn’t have the size that I wanted, but as soon as he said he had medium, I went from buying one of them to four. And the tees even came with the in-game item, just like they would have if you purchased from Valve’s online store. Super stoked. The little shop also had Chaos Knight, Axe, Juggernaut, and Brewmaster tees, but they didn’t have the Axe version in Medium (but they did have the Dota 2 track jacket, as well as the radiant and dire tees. I should have picked up more, but I didn’t have enough cash on me.

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Safety and Security

2015-03-17 15_29_43It’s fascinating how being in a foreign environment makes you more alert to the kind of stuff you normally wouldn’t give a second thought to.

The past couple of weeks I’ve been, spending a bit of time abroad to celebrate my cousin’s Asian wedding. Being my very first Asian wedding, it’s a fascinating topic and will require another post or two, but the long and the short of it is that I was in Malaysia, and over there, things work a little differently than they do back home.

But you don’t even have to be in a foreign environment in a developing country to be a little more aware of your surroundings. I was hanging around Melbourne airport waiting for my international connection to Kuala Lumpur, and one of my uncles wanted to meet up so he could pass something along to his wife and daughter who had already left. My dad, sister, and myself were waiting just outside one of the domestic terminals, just by the huge Melbourne signage near the designated pick-up and drop-off area. Those that have been to Melbourne airport will know where I’m talking about, and those that don’t should know that it’s really nothing special, in the context of all the big things Australia seems to be obsessed with.

I had just gotten off a flight from Hobart and was checking out what I missed on Twitter when a guy approached me and asked if he could borrow my phone. He had a Beats headphone case strapped to his waist and had two pieces of luggage in tow; it didn’t take much to tell he was a recent arrival, and judging by where he was standing, he was probably waiting around for a lift from a friend.

He gestured towards my phone, asking to borrow it because his own has no signal. He showed me his iPhone 6, and sure enough, “SOS only” was showing in the top left hand corner. He says he needs to call his friend to let him know he’s arrived, and wants to borrow my phone to do so.

I don’t consider myself particularly paranoid. Carefully cautious, maybe, but not overly so. But I hesitated. Call it whatever you want. I had heard the horror stories: people handing over phones only to have the guy run away with their phone, people handing over phones and then have the other guy drop it and absolve all responsibility, that kind of thing. I didn’t really need that kind of hassle before an overseas trip, so I took a split-second to think about it.

In that split-second, I weighed up my options. If he ran away with my thousand-dollar phone, could I catch him and get my phone back? A quick glance said probably, yeah: even if he did run away, he’d be leaving behind his luggage. Plus his backpack would slow him down.

Reasonably confident I could run this guy down if he made off with my phone, I said OK. He asked me if I understood Chinese (no idea where he got that impression from) and I shook my head.

Even after all that, I still wasn’t quite willing to just let a stranger have free reign of my phone. I asked what number he wanted to dial, he showed me on his phone (in WhatsApp, I think), and I dialled the number and made the call. Only then did I hand the phone over, staying close to the guy as he talked to his friend, telling him where to pick him up.

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What do insanely wealthy people buy, that ordinary people know nothing about?

If you are have net worth of a billion dollars, there is literally nothing you can’t buy, with one exception:

Love. Sorry to sound so trite, but it is nearly impossible to have a normal emotional relationship at this level. It is hard to sacrifice for another person when you are never asked to sacrifice ANYTHING. Money can solve all problems for someone, so you offer it, because there is so much else to do. Your time is SOOOO valuable that you ration it. And that makes you lose connections with people.

via a1988eli comments on What do insanely wealthy people buy, that ordinary people know nothing about?.

2014: The Year Twitter Kind Of, Well, Sucked

If I remember one thing about 2014, it’s how the internet, and Twitter in particular, kind of sucked.

A little backstory: I’ve been on Twitter since 2009. The microblogging social network helped (or hindered, I’m not sure which is more accurate) me through university, and really started to drive home having the internet — or at least a small microcosm of it — around in my pocket all the time. For the most part, I’ve really enjoyed Twitter. It lets me hear the personal opinions and musings of people I admire and respect, both about topics that interest me and ones that don’t. By following the right people, I’ve had some smart opinions and eye-opening perspectives tweeted into my timeline. Most of my reading material comes from Twitter, and while I don’t watch the news or read a newspaper, Twitter keeps me informed about all the stuff I need to know about.

On a more personal level, I’ve averaged about 5000 tweets per year since I joined. I tweet about pretty boring crap, mostly, because that’s just the kind of person I am — one who’s also aware of his public profile and the fact his tweets may eventually be used against him in some way, and the less fuel for that fire, the better. I’ve typically followed anywhere around 600-800 people, which is enough to keep my timeline busy enough to keep me interested and have something new every time I refresh it and enough to not get completely overwhelmed by a deluge of tweets. I generally don’t care about how many people follow me, although I confess it is a nice ego boost to see a large number of people read my drivel.

Last year, though, was different. According to my app for Twitter statistics, this time last year I followed 842 people, had 889 followers, and tweeted 19,851 times. Compare that with the current numbers (605 following, 938 followers, and 21,187 tweets) and you’ll see that I unfollowed over 300 people and only tweeted over a thousand times, one fifth that of previous years. Interesting.

Chalk it up to the mainstreaming of Twitter or people being unfamiliar with a medium which allowed them to communicate with their social circle instantaneously, every moment of every day, but last year I found out Twitter had disadvantages as much as it had advantages.

At first, I realised it was probably unhealthy to be checking something as frequently as I checked Twitter, but at the same time, I didn’t want to miss anything from my carefully-curated list of people and brands/websites I followed. One re-evaluation of my priorities later, and I started the great unfollowing of 2014, culling around 300 people from my list and eliminating that noise from my life. With a less noisy timeline, I could focus on the people and things that really mattered.

But even that wasn’t enough. I started taking longer and longer breaks from the service. My weeks-long journey overseas made me realise I could do without reading Twitter for extended days at a time, and when I arrived back in the land of mobile internet and Wi-Fi, not having that constant connectivity meant I didn’t check the service as frequently as I used to. It was good, but at the same time, I felt like I was missing out, like I was out of touch with people I cared about.

I returned to Twitter just before the middle of the year. For a while, things were fine: my signal-to-noise ratio was good, and I didn’t feel compelled to read Twitter every waking minute.

Gamergate comic via NerfNow

Gamergate comic via NerfNow

Then Gamer Gate happened. Overnight, my timeline turned from updates from people I cared about to people retweeting toxic comments into my timeline, leveraging their high follower counts in order to get some kind of public retribution for the offender in question. Suddenly, pretty much every American I followed was obsessed about ethics in game journalism, social justice warriors, and feminism — the latter of which has always been an issue, but a topic I’ve mostly avoided on Twitter thanks to the firefight that usually follows1. Now, though, it was pretty much unavoidable.

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