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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New Blog Post, Host, Why Not Both?

When I started out on the web in 2008 with a little site called Freshbytes, it was a different time and place. I needed somewhere to host the website, and there wasn’t much out there for affordable hosting for a high school student. I initially chose to go with BlueHost, which was fine — say what you want about shared hosting, but it was plenty good enough for the simple WordPress website I wanted to host, and even turned out to be more than OK for the additional WordPress websites and other static websites I started up later on (including this one).

I eventually moved away from the US-based BlueHost to the Australian-based VentraIP. Not for any particular reason, besides wanting my hosting in Australia. There’s actually very little difference between hosting in Australia and hosting overseas, besides a shorter route for what I assume is most of my “audience”. A large price disparity meant I couldn’t host in Australia from the outset, hence having to go with BlueHost, but in 2010 I made the switch, and have been hosted on VentraIP until recently.

The way I get by without a full-time job is keeping my expenses low. I don’t drive, smoke, drink, or take drugs, and part of keeping my expenses low involves looking at my recurring expenses every now and again, just to see where we’re at. It’s why I’m not a full-time Spotify subscriber, even though I enjoy the service occasionally and it’s, what, $12 a month?

Recurring expenses are a tricky thing. In the old days you’d pay for a bit of software and be done with it, at least until the next major version came out or you needed to upgrade, but these days, everything is a subscription. You can subscribe to Spotify for music, you can subscribe to Office 365, and while you can’t subscribe to a copy of Windows just yet, there are rumours that will happen in the future. You pay on a monthly basis for your mobile and internet and while that’s all well and good, you have to factor those in when you’re looking at your finances.

I never used to do an annual review of everything that I’m paying on a recurring basis for, but with the subscriptions and recurring expenses staring to pile up, I thought I’d take a look. Sometimes subscriptions are better value for money, and sometimes they aren’t. For example, I used to pay every year for each new major version of Lightroom, but when Adobe came out with the Creative Cloud Photography plan which included Lightroom and Photoshop for around the same price I was paying for Lightroom, it made sense to move to that instead of just paying for Lightroom alone.

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Magic, Part Two

IMG_1783When we last left our intrepid explorer on his quest for the glorious Sarkhan pin at PAX Aus 2014, he had just gotten his card stamped after taking a really weird picture of himself as part of the three tasks he had to accomplish before gaining the pin and taking over the world. Wait, maybe not that last part. One down, two to go.

After getting my picture taken and getting one of the three stamps needed for the Sarkhan pin at PAX Aus 2014, there were just two other events I needed to complete. Spell-slinging, duelling, or learning to play Magic were the options available to me, although there was one more I can’t remember for the life of me. In any case, I had no idea what spell-slinging or duelling was, and I was pretty sure I wanted to learn how to play Magic, so the choice was between spell-slinging or duelling.

With the primary goal being acquiring the Sarkhan pin in the least amount of time, the “learning to play Magic” line was a little too long for my experienced line-gauging eye. I did notice a collection of iPads setup in the Magic area, and after confirming with a passing attendant about how they were being used for the “duelling” part of the Magic exhibition, I joined the queue (which was, thankfully, much shorter than the learning to play line).

Just so we’re absolutely clear: I already knew how to play Magic. The Pokémon Trading Card Game might have been all the rage when I was in primary school, but in high school, Pokémon had all but died out, and Magic was the flavour of the month. I was intrigued by the card game the older kids were playing in the library every lunchtime, and before I knew it, had two Magic decks of my own and was spending the inevitably-too-short lunchtimes playing with and against some of the older kids.

But all that was many moons ago, and like Pokémon, I fell out of the Magic scene after a few years. I stepped up to one of the iPads set aside for duelling, and when presented with the screen asking whether I had played Magic before, I selected yes. At that point I fully expected get my arse handed to me from a computer, what with its perfect decision making and innate knowledge of the game. Luckily, I had overheard a Magic staffer saying you’d get a stamp on your card whether you won or lost the duel, so my fears about losing and having to do it all again were assuaged. With my newfound brevity, I started playing Magic on the iPad, an experience that was entirely new to me.

At first, I was losing. Pretty badly — the hand I drew had nothing usable, and I was still putting out lands when my AI opponent started doing damage. Nothing serious, just a few chips here and there, but enough to put me on the back foot. Combined with the trepidation and unfamiliarity with Magic on an iPad, I wasn’t really sure I would be able to win.

The Magic iPad experience itself was pretty standard — like any game, Magic follows a set of rules which can be codified and turned into a series of steps, much like an elaborate dance. Only in this case, my AI opponent held the entire ballroom captivated with his delicate footwork, and I was just doing the ol’ two-step in the corner.

Eventually things started turning in my favour and after a while, I had the upper hand. A few more turns later, and I had won the duel, defeating the boss. I resisted the temptation to do a small victory dance and instead settled for calling over one of the Magic staffers over, showing him my win. He grinned and congratulated me on a job well done, and rewarded me with a hole punched in my card, over the section that said “duelling”. Two down, one to go.

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Blogvember 2014 Wrap Up

Despite not hitting my target of a post per day for every day in November, I’m not going to call Blogvember 2014 an outright failure. As far as actual posts go, I wrote the same number of posts during November that I did for an entire year previously — 24 posts in November, 24 posts from October 2013 to October 2014 — which kind of explains why Blogvember was so needed. In terms of getting back into writing, Blogvember was exactly the kind of thing I needed, both to reassure myself I was capable of writing blog posts, and in terms of getting stuff up on my blog.

But all that said and done, writing is still undeniably hard. It’s not that I don’t have stuff to write about, as evidenced by the past month, but that actually getting words down into text form is something that just doesn’t happen without forcing it. That is, I can do it, but only if I’ve exhausted all other options. Only if I can’t sleep. Only if I haven’t played through as much Dragon Age Inquisition as I can tolerate. Only if no friends are online in Dota 2, and I don’t feel like queueing solo. You can see where this is going.

A lot of the time, it just comes down to motivation. I have no problems with getting paid to write, or writing as a hobby — but personal writing that only my blog audience sees is something entirely different. I have plenty to say about Dota 2, but finding the motivation to put those words down is hard. I have a few thoughts on Shadows of Mordor ready to go, but lack the motivation to finish it, or any of my other reviews. I could finish my story on getting the Sarkhan pin at PAX Aus this year any time I want, but what’s the point?

I want to write one thing every week. One thing every week doesn’t seem unachievable, especially seeing as I’m do daily news pieces for a number of outlets. But perhaps they’re part of the problem: after doing ~1400 words on Apple and consumer technology every day, I just can’t bring myself to bash out another couple of hundred, no matter how fascinating the topic.

I would have been an OK arts student. But apparently, a terrible writer.

These words are not a part of Blogvember 14, but they are related to the topic. Read more Blogvember posts, if you’re so inclined.

Magic, Part One

IMG_1795There’s this thing at PAX called Pinny Arcade, right, and it’s wonderful. It’s like a little subculture of PAX attendees who are obsessed about collecting and trading lanyard pins, almost kind of like Pokémon. You can buy many of the pins at PAX events or from the online store for little effort, but the most coveted ones are the ones that you have to trade other collectors for: Penny Arcade staff, some easier to find than others. Some, like the Sarkhan pin you see above, can be earned through a series of events. This is the story of how I came to earn the Sarkhan pin at PAX Aus 2014.

At first, I wanted to trade someone for it, it being the Sarkhan pin. I was wandering the area for panels with a few friends; they were searching for PAX Aus XP QR codes, I was mostly just killing time until the next panel I wanted to see.

An enforcer was standing outside one of the panel rooms, and I was drawn to his glittering lanyard of Pinny Arcade pins. After a quick glance, only one caught my eye: Sarkhan. I asked him if he wanted to trade, and pointed towards the mean-looking dude with flames. He seemed momentarily confused, as if this was the first time anyone had ever asked him that question before, before answering with a question of his own: “you know it can be earned, right?” I asked him where, and he said downstairs, at the Magic exhibition.

My companions at the time had heard about this, and informed me three tasks had to be performed before the pin was awarded. This being day two, one of them said the pin was actually easier to earn yesterday, on day one, as only two of four tasks had to be performed, but now, it was three out of five. Feeling a little like Hercules and his labours, I parted ways with my companions and wandered downstairs, passing through the many glittering attractions of the expo hall before arriving at the tabletop area, just past the console and PC free play areas.

Upon arriving, I made my way to one of the Magic areas, as they were cordoned off into various sections. I must have had a lost and/or confused look on my face, because I was soon approached by a guy who asked me if I needed any help. I asked him where I could perform the deeds to earn a Sarkhan pin of my very own. Looking pleased I was not there to collect his firstborn and merely after a collectible pin, he directed me towards another desk, currently staffed by a man and a woman. I thanked him for his assistance on the matter and moved on.

At the desk, I was greeted by the woman, who asked me what I was after. I stated my intentions on collecting a Sarkhan pin, and with a knowing look in her eye, she handed me one of the cards that contained the instructions for the five tasks. I only had to perform three, and from memory, I could choose from learning Magic, taking a photo, duelling, spell-slinging, and one more that I can’t quite recall.

Being the non-nerd that I am, I opted for taking a photo as that seemed the “easiest”. The goal was to get the pin in the shortest possible time, and I was thankful that PAX was such an inclusive place: they knew that a lot of people wouldn’t be up for the nerdery of learning to play a collectible card game, so they had an all-inclusive activity that everyone could enjoy. I donned a silly hat, picked up a sword, and stood in front of the camera as it took a photo. Looking at the photo now, and I wish I hadn’t chosen such a girly pose…

With the first of three tasks completed, I had my card punched. One down, two to go.

Wow, two PAX Aus posts in one day? Yeah, it happens when you’re six days behind in daily blog posts for the month of November.

These words part of Blogvember, a thing I just made up right then about getting back into blogging. You can read more words about Blogvember right over here, but the gist is that I'll be attempting to post something up on the blog every day in November 2014. Read other Blogvember posts.

Perception

DSC01210There was this one time at PAX Australia this year, when I was in the line to get some playtime with Far Cry 4. When you’re in lines there’s not that much to do — sure, if you’re queueing with a friend you can talk about what you’ve seen or are going to see next, but if you’re by yourself, you’re either smashing out some StreetPasses on your 3DS or doing something solo on your Vita and getting mocked for it on Twitter. But I digress.

Anyway, I was in this line, and it was almost my turn. There were perhaps 3 or so people before I was up, and the line was moving at a pretty steady pace — Ubisoft had between 8 and 10 consoles set up for the demo, and each person got maybe 10 minutes of play time, so it wasn’t too bad. From where I was in the line, I could see a girl playing the game.

I feel as though I have to preface this with “I’m not a sexist or anything”, because even though that should be pretty clear, what happened next could have easily happened to a guy, and I probably would have felt the same way.

With that out of the way, there was a girl playing Far Cry 4, and the thing I noticed was that she was dying, a lot. Like, over and over again. At first I thought she was just bad at the game, but then realised that wasn’t possible as the game wasn’t out yet, which meant everyone was bad at the game. My second thought was that she wasn’t familiar with console shooters — I know I’m definitely not, having two sticks to work with is confusing as all hell for someone who’s more experienced with a keyboard and mouse.

When I stepped up to the plate and had the PS4 controller in my hands, I was crazy bad at the game, too — I just kept dying, over and over again. Running into a guard unexpectedly and dying. Biting off more guards than I could chew, and dying. Trying to jump over something that couldn’t be jumped over, and dying. Glancing at the people who were doing the demo at the same time as me told a similar story, as they were dying a lot as well.

The interesting thing about the whole experience is that my brain automatically jumped to the conclusion that someone was bad at the game, even though no-one was particularly “good”, either. Like I said earlier, it could have happened to a guy or a girl, but it begs the question: did my own perceptions jump to a conclusion based on gender? Maybe. And if so, that’s kinda messed up.

These words part of Blogvember, a thing I just made up right then about getting back into blogging. You can read more words about Blogvember right over here, but the gist is that I'll be attempting to post something up on the blog every day in November 2014. Read other Blogvember posts.

Books

Ever since I half-heartedly made a resolution to read more books last year, I can count the number of books I’ve read on one hand: four. Two were for an English unit I took as part of my degree, and the other two are Matthew Reilly titles: first The Tournament, and just recently, The Great Zoo of China.

Four. Four books in close to 18 months. Three physical, one digital.

I’d say it’s because I don’t have enough time, but that’s not entirely true. I have plenty of time most days, and do absolutely nothing with it when I should be looking for work, actually working, or at the very least, writing.

I think a lot of the problem is that I have trouble doing all the other stuff that goes into reading a book, namely the process of actually finding something to read. Reading stuff by your favourite authors is easy, because you already know what their stuff is like. All you have to do is pick up a copy of their latest work and go to town, even if it’s 12am and you have to work tomorrow.

Finding new stuff to read, on the other hand, is much harder. First, you have to decide what kind of book you want to read. Fiction, or non-fiction? Then if you’re reading fiction, you have to decide what kind of fiction you want to read: do you want to read about romance with vampires, magic, or perhaps sci-fi? Do you want to read thrillers, crime novels, or all of the above?

And once you’ve chosen what you want to read, how do you decide what author to go with? If only there was something like IMDB, but for books, that gave recommendations for similar movies/titles you enjoy based on the ones you do.

Or maybe you’re not going to choose what kind of books you want to read, and just want to work your way through the New York Times Bestseller list or something. That’s cool too, even if you’re going to pick and choose.

It sounds like I’m making a whole bunch of excuses as to why I’m not doing more reading, and to be fair, I kind of am. But at the end of the day, there’s only so many hours in the day and days in the year, and you’ll forgive me if I don’t want to waste time reading something I won’t enjoy, or something that doesn’t appeal to me.

These words part of Blogvember, a thing I just made up right then about getting back into blogging. You can read more words about Blogvember right over here, but the gist is that I'll be attempting to post something up on the blog every day in November 2014. Read other Blogvember posts.

Planes with propellers

IMG_1752Oh man, we’ve reached that point where I just write about random shots from my camera roll? Seeing as I’m 6 days behind, yes, yes we have.

During my recent trip to Canberra I flew on three different aircraft on the four flights I took. I don’t have the exact numbers, but I’d guess that most domestic flights I’ve been on in Australia have been serviced by some Boeing 737 variant. This time was a little different: while the flights to and from Hobart were on 737s, the rest weren’t.

The flight was on a smaller Embraer E90, a tiny little jet with only two seats per side. I’m pretty sure I’ve been on one before, but I don’t recall them being ever so tiny — the overhead lockers in particular were downright minuscule, not even enough to fit my medium-sized backpack. It was also interesting to note how the seat allocations simply skipped a letter in every aisle. It was seats A and C on one side, and D and F on the other for reasons unbeknownst to me, although if I had to guess it’d probably some Virgin system limitation. Other than that, pretty similar to any other aircraft, if a little cosier.

The real surprise came when I flew in a ATR aircraft (turboprops and all) for the Canberra to Sydney leg. The particular one I flew on was VH-FVP, and I’d never been on one before. There was a bunch of schoolkids on my flight who had just finished a camping trip of some kind (also going back to Tasmania, interestingly enough, although they were flying back to Launceston), and I was somewhat apprehensive at the size of the thing.

The flight itself wasn’t too bad, except for the fact you can feel variations in altitude more readily than you can in an 737 or 747. You notice every bump and difference in air pressure, and dropping a few feet is really kind of harrowing. You also don’t appear to fly as high, staying below the clouds for the most part (land was perceptible out the window for pretty much the entire flight).

Overall, while I wouldn’t want to be travelling on a turboprop aircraft all the time, they probably have a certain advantage for shorter flights.

These words part of Blogvember, a thing I just made up right then about getting back into blogging. You can read more words about Blogvember right over here, but the gist is that I'll be attempting to post something up on the blog every day in November 2014. Read other Blogvember posts.