Things are getting back to normal

I’ve made an attempt to keep updates on a regular schedule since bringing the site back a few months ago; on Saturdays, I’ll hike the iPad over to Starbucks and drink cold brew and type things, and hit the Publish button before I pack up and go back home. Missed yesterday’s regular update because I jumped on the ferry over to Seattle for errands and a couple productive hours of bug-squashing at the soon-to-be-no-longer-deserted office. Logged the following observations over the course of the day:

After multiple years of living in downtown Seattle and becoming more or less acclimated to the realities of downtown living as it pertains to homelessness (trash/excrement/needles on the sidewalk, people having meltdowns on street corners, etc), the one year I’ve lived out on the island has re-sensitized me to this particular subject. If you’re on foot coming off the ferry, you might take the pedestrian walkway that traverses over Alaskan Hwy and Western Ave and drops you off at the Starbucks on First Ave and Marion St. The segment of Western Ave under the walkway seems to rotate in and out of being used as a homeless encampment, depending I guess on Seattle PD enforcement of the area. I happened to drive over yesterday because I had other errands to run that made walking too much of a time sink, and basically any overpass I drove under was occupied by tents and completely cluttered with trash. I understand these folks are in a lot of cases playing the hand they’re dealt, so this isn’t a direct criticism of them or the situation they’re in… but it is a stark reminder of how different things are compared to where I currently live, especially the longer I go without needing to be in the downtown area.

The area in/near Pike Place Market is about as crowded as it was pre-pandemic, albeit with folks mostly masked up. I was happy to see most of the businesses seem to be still in operation. Los Agaves (the Mexican place behind one of the produce stands) is still a good place to get a burrito. I skipped over Cinnamon Works this time because a burrito is enough for lunch without adding a cookie the size of your face to the mix, but they’re still there. Johnny Hahn, the old guy who plays piano right on the corner next to Cinnamon Works, didn’t seem to be out. The north end of the market still seems deserted, with Bavarian Meats having packed up and left in the early days of the pandemic and Taxi Dogs vanishing I think sometime before that, even.

I still question the wisdom of allowing people to drive their cars into and through the market. Delivery trucks, I can kind of understand – there are a lot of vendors at the bottom of the hill that it’d be a pain in the ass to get things to if a truck had to park out on First Ave and then wheel a cart down a hill so steep that it closes when there’s any kind of snow or ice on the ground during the winter months. But cars? What’s wrong with rerouting traffic completely around the market to the parking garage on Western Ave?

Getting back to the island at the end of the day took an hour and a half longer than expected – so long that I was on the verge of it being quicker to drive all the way around instead. Originally I thought the overflow lot outside the loading dock was comically large, but it turns out on a busy Saturday afternoon, it gets quite full when the loading area is full and boats are running late. Speaking of which, I’ve seen status messages on the ferry tracker like “the boats are 30 minutes behind, this affects the 4pm, 430pm, 5pm, and 530pm sailings”. If sailings are every 30 minutes, and the boats are 30 minutes late, why not just cancel the 4pm sailing? Then your other sailings are all of a sudden on time again! GENIUS.

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Sleeping in until 6am

Central air conditioning in apartments is a bit of a novelty here in the Sound. For that matter, so is central heat. The weather isn’t hot or cold enough for months on end to justify the expense, so it gets left out. Usually, this is perfectly fine. I’m on the top floor of a building, and the thermostat (tied to the baseboard heater) usually has me at a constant 70-72 degrees without doing much other than leaving a window open during the day.

During the summer months, it’ll get worse. Cooking will spike the temperature up to the upper-70s in the living room, sometimes going as high as 80, with the bedroom lagging a degree or two behind. Last year I mitigated this somewhat by buying a window fan and reversing its flow of air depending on the outside temperature. Below 70 outside? Pull air in. Above 70? Exhaust air out. This worked for awhile, at least until the wildfires came and destroyed the quality of the air outside. Then I had to leave the fan on exhaust mode all the time.

We got our first real touch of heat earlier this week, the first week of June, as the temperature reached 80 outside (I did say I moved out here for a reason). Fortunately this year I was a bit better prepared, as I had bought a portable air conditioner for the living room a few weeks prior. The air conditioner takes up a bit of floor space, but is so far otherwise doing a good job at keeping the living room cool. So that’s a win.

However, that leaves the bedroom yet to be figured out. The bedroom is cooled by a fan only, and the general heat and stuffiness has a noticeable impact on my ability to get a full night of sleep this time of year. Now, staying horizontal much past 630 is actually a challenge, as by that point I’m usually wide awake. It’s been like this essentially every year I’ve been out here. There isn’t quite enough floor space in the bedroom to support another portable air conditioner, either.

Once upon a time, I swapped my bedroom and living room around to solve a noise-related issue, as I was essentially sleeping under the stairwell at the entrance to an apartment building. Might consider doing that this time just for the heat, but then I have to figure out how to keep the bedroom from overheating due to electronics…

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The Sound is nice

I took this picture yesterday afternoon on the ferry ride from Bainbridge Island to Seattle:

A clear but windy day

When I made the decision to move out here in 2016, I did so without a lot of information or even really a clear plan for getting past the first few months, save for a few days on the ground in late 2015 and a lot of time spent lurking on the Seattle subreddit to observe from afar.

I think the only clear driver was more moderate weather; after twenty years, I figured I’d had about enough of the bitter cold and oppressive heat at opposite ends of the calendar. Continentality was a word I learned in college.

I’ve made things work since then. The first six months were a challenge, since I was moving without a local job lined up. I took my old job with me planning to work remote for at least a couple months and did everything I could to make that work, from selling my car to free up room in the budget to living in the cheapest studio I could deal with.

As luck would have it, I found a job within a couple weeks of getting here, at a company with a team that was motivated to expand quickly enough to accept someone who more or less bombed the job interview. The fact that this did not blow up in their faces remains a miracle to this day. The team’s initial objective of building a new product from nothing has been completed, the product launch was successful, and the team is now half as big as it used to be – with me now managing it, which is also something that I remain surprised hasn’t blown up in everyone’s faces yet.

Right before the full panic of the pandemic set in early last year, I started my more-or-less yearly look at the state of things to see if a condo or a house was going to be in the cards after the apartment lease came due. This time, everything lined up exactly the way it needed to, and I found a place on Bainbridge Island more or less meeting the size and price requirements. And not a moment too soon it seems, as the housing market has essentially gone bonkers since then, with what I understand is a confluence of panic-buying and lack of inventory driving the price of everything up. I understand that I could sell now and pocket around $75k, but then I’d have to find another place to live.

Bainbridge Island is a nice little bedroom community on the other side of the water from Seattle. It doesn’t have everything a person needs (Costco for example is half an hour away in Silverdale), but it does have the small town vibe and the peace and quiet on weekend mornings that I’d missed while living in the big city.

The only real downside is the “other side of the water from Seattle” part… the ferry ride itself is 35 minutes from start to finish, then you tack on time spent actually waiting for the boat at point A and time spent getting from point B to where you were actually intending to go. I timed going from the condo to the office one time and the total commute clocked in at around an hour and a half. Thankfully, work hasn’t made the call to require everyone to be in the office every day, and assuming people don’t abuse the privilege, things will continue to stay that way.

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Throw away your mask

Just kidding, don’t do that yet. Interesting but also not surprising that masks and staying remote has led to me not getting sick at all this year. Even with CDC guidance pointing in the other direction, I’m not entirely sure I’ll fully ditch masks; at least, not on public transit or around people who have kids.

I picked up one of the new iMacs yesterday. It’s very blue. At least, the back of it is. The front of it is more of a pastel blue with a white bezel, which has a completely different vibe. I don’t hate it, but if there was an option for a darker blue all the way around, I might go with that next time.

I went for the mid-range configuration, as I usually do. Go for the spec boosts from additional GPU, RAM, and IO, but leave the storage upgrades behind. Those tend to be expensive for what you get, and I simply don’t use bulk storage locally anymore.

Early impression is that the system is quite capable at doing what I need it to do. The speakers sound pretty good, considering the entire thing is as thin as it is. Better than what you get on an iPad or on most laptops. The screen’s nice, as they usually are. I don’t frequently use Windows 10 with a display larger than 1080p, but my experience has been that MacOS handles 4K-and-higher displays much more uniformly. (That’s to say nothing of the absolute circus that Windows 10 itself is; why, after six years, are some settings still in the Control Panel and others in the Settings app?)

Included in the box were a keyboard and mouse that matched the color of the computer itself. I can take or leave a Magic Mouse – I don’t particularly get a lot of use out of the touch-sensitive surface, and having the charging port underneath the mouse so you can’t charge it and use it as the same time is a pants-on-head-stupid idea that I wish Apple would fix. But the keyboard is nice; it’s comfortable to type on, and it includes a Touch ID button for faster authentication. One of these years, Apple will ship Macs with FaceID to bring MacOS to parity with Windows Hello, but it doesn’t seem like it’s high on their list of priorities.

The translation layer Apple provides to support x86 applications on the new M1 chip is actually pretty crazy. When you try to run an x86 app for the first time, MacOS downloads Rosetta and then uses that to recompile the x86 app to run on the M1 chip. Considering this was a wholesale CPU architecture change, I expected there to be hiccups among the stuff I use, but there simply haven’t been.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I occasionally play Rocksmith. The Mac build distributed via Steam works perfectly fine on M1, and although I’m usually focusing on other things when I’m playing (like staring at the fretboard of my bass), I’m hard-pressed to notice performance issues with the graphics, stuttering audio, etc. – the game simply runs as if it was targeted for the new platform to begin with.

I haven’t tried any other games yet. I’d expect the Good Old Games distro of SimCity 2000 that I still occasionally play to work fine. Supposedly Final Fantasy 14 is serviceable as well. However, I’m currently struggling to come up with a reason to play that on the Mac when the PS5 is in the same room, giving me much better hardware and a much larger screen to play on.

Long story short, Apple did a good job with building a complete package that serves the purposes they think they need to serve, and it seems clear to me that the tight integration and focused set of use cases are things that will be to their advantage for quite some time.

Windows (and Linux, to be sure) are designed to play to broader sets of hardware configs based on general-purpose components. Fifteen years ago, I would have identified the lack of AAA-level PC gaming as a weakness for the Mac platform; but then again, if I’m doing all my gaming on consoles and not even maintaining a PC for PC gaming, do I care? Probably not, right? Eliminating that checkbox from the list of things I need a computer I buy to support means I can look at other options that can potentially serve other purposes even more effectively.

And the bonus is I don’t have to subject myself to the vagaries of the interplay between an operating system I don’t particularly like and the sheer number of hardware configurations it needs to support.

If only 2003 me could see me today…

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Final Fantasy 14’s raids

Another Final Fantasy 14 post for this weekend.

Recently I’ve been getting caught up on the 24-person raid content in the latest expansion. It still amazes/amuses me that raids of this size are so easy to put together in this game. I recall us struggling to get 20 people together for Zul’Gurub raids in World of Warcraft years ago. The mindset seemed to be that you wanted to only raid with people in your guild or in allied guilds, and if you couldn’t cobble together your four groups, you had to spam general chat in the hub towns to pick up random players to fill the gaps. Finding a taker was difficult enough sometimes, and became even more difficult if you needed something that was in higher demand like a tank or a healer.

If memory serves, one of the problems involved with taking random players were that guilds usually had points systems to allocate loot to members over time, and strangers simply don’t fit into that system. If you’re a stranger, either you get preferential treatment as an enticement to join, which is unfair to 95% of the raid who have spent weeks or even months accumulating loot points, or you get nothing at all, which is unfair to you.

The other big problem is that each side is taking a gamble on the skill level of the other. A seasoned raider whose group has the night off would likely be bored with an inexperienced group that hasn’t (or simply can’t) clear things; and an experienced group would be slowed down by taking on a stranger who they have to train. It rarely works out for either side unless there is a mutual investment of time and training in each other.

Working with random players was considered the last resort; and yet, in Final Fantasy 14, everything except the absolute hardest content can be easily accomplished via matchmaking. It seems to me that Square-Enix was essentially able to solve both of the problems described above.

All loot is rolled on equitably (with players participating in the role a drop is designed for receiving higher priority), and in newer content, loot tends to be restricted to one drop a week to prevent players from hoarding the latest and greatest things.

At the high end, drops are even more restrictive – but with just eight people in a group at that tier, it’s much easier to manage getting a consistent group together.

In terms of encounter difficulty, the game tells you, one way or another, everything that’s coming at you – whether it’s an area attack, something your group needs to stack up or split apart for, there are different markers for everything. It’s always been explained as your character having been possessed with the ability to see a brief glimpse into the future. The markers usually display for 3-5 seconds, which actually makes it quite easy to “sight read” new encounters so players have a chance to complete something on their first attempt without spending the entire time face-down. All you have to do is pay attention and be ready to run.

On extremely rare occasions though, this ability just wouldn’t manifest itself and you’d have to read the boss directly to understand what was coming. It’s usually pretty obvious though, like the boss facing one way and raising an arm in the air with the intent to swing in a wide arc directly in front of it.

It seems like the raid content in FF14 has moved towards a middle ground between those two over the years; early on the markers were obvious and would last for quite some time, but as the player base has gradually become more experienced over time, markers in newer content tend to last for maybe a second, so you need to read the boss to understand what’s coming. What this means is that instead of serving as a warning, the markers serve as an educational tool for the newbies (“this is the range of this attack so you know for next time”) or a reminder for others (“this is what you missed”). This means you have to pay far more attention than before, which makes these raids quite exhausting the first few times you do them. But as with all things, once you understand the tells, it gets easier.

And as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, as the healer, getting more familiar with this stuff means I can allocate more bandwidth to helping others recover when they don’t do something correctly.

Here’s gameplay of The Tower at Paradigm’s Breach.

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