A Year in Pictures – Ephesus Arch

Ephesus Arch
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At Ephesus, the remnants aren’t properly put into position until the archaeologists are sure they have them arranged correctly. I don’t know whether this is an actual reconstruction of a bit of building, or whether they just stacked up what they’ve got until they can deal with it properly — but either way, the tree with its flowers made a nice backdrop.

I want my body back.

I’m at the stage of surgical recovery now where the thought that keeps going through my head is, “I want my body back.”

When I take off the boot to let my skin get some fresh air, my ankle is still swollen, still discolored from the skin irritation, and scarred. It doesn’t look like my ankle; it looks like somebody else’s. In the early days of recovery, taking the boot off was scary, because I need to keep my foot in a flexed position and the post-surgical weakness made me afraid that I would accidentally move it too far. Now? I’m not afraid at all, because I couldn’t move my foot too far if you paid me. With every passing day, it stiffens up more, my ankle petrifying into a single position. At this point I’d feel pain from the muscles before I felt it from the repaired ligament. By the time I get to physical therapy, I’ll have nearly no range of motion at all.

I recognize that in the grand scheme of things, it could be far worse. I’m young enough, and the surgery was minor enough, that I expect to recover fully. I could be stuck with the sort of injury you never get over, the kind where you have to learn to live with the body you’ve got now, rather than hoping to regain the one you had before. But it’s still alienating. And I have cabin fever, not only for my house in general and my living room in specific, but for my own physical existence: my body isn’t moving very well, so I’ve got this increasing and pointless desire to somehow crawl out of it for a little while and go running around in the sunshine.

Clearly, I need to learn astral projection. :-P

Fortunately, I’m near — well, not so much the end as a turning point. Unless something has gone horribly wrong, I’ll be out of the boot next week. Which won’t magically transform my ankle into its old self, but will mean I can do something other than just sitting around being patient. I made some physical therapy appointments yesterday. I’ll be able to walk without my legs functionally being two different lengths. I’ll put on jeans for the first time in a month. All of these are Good Things.

In the meanwhile, I sit here and keep thinking, “I want my body back.”

A Year in Pictures – Pulgas Water Temple

Water Temple
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Near where I live, the Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct (which supplies fresh water to the San Francisco Bay Area) terminates at the Pulgas Water Temple, a random little decorative site. The road leading to it is closed off on Sundays for people to bike or walk through the area, and my family went there for an afternoon; I thought I had lost the pictures from that jaunt, but recently recovered them.

HabitRPG: gamification works, yo

“Gamification” is a bit of a buzz-word these days: the idea that, hey, games are a really great psychological tool (challenge, risk, reward), so what if we harnessed their behavioral-modification powers for good?

HabitRPG is built around precisely that idea. And I’ll tell you up front: the rest of this post is me raving about how useful it’s been for me, so if you don’t want to read something that sounds like an enthusiastic infomercial, you can just skip this post. :-)

The basic notion is that you can earn gold and XP and treasure by doing stuff in your daily life. The game divides these into habits (either positive or negative, i.e. things you want to encourage or discourage yourself from doing regularly), dailies (things you intend to do on a set schedule, either every day or on certain days of the week), and to-dos (one-off items). If you indulge in a bad habit or fail to complete a daily, you take damage to your Hit Points, but completing things lets you level up, which improves your stats, as does the gear you buy. It also gives you a chance to find eggs, hatching potions, or food; these are used to hatch pets, and feeding a pet can turn it into a mount for you to ride.

Your stats matter because you can form parties with other people on HabitRPG and go on quests; these take the form either of collection quests, where you have a chance of finding a specific object every time you complete a task, or boss fights, where you inflict damage by completing dailies and to-dos. The latter gives you more incentive to finish your tasks, because if you miss a daily, not only do you get hurt, but the rest of your party also takes damage from the boss. Add in a small chat-room function, and you’ve got the basics of social networking to help keep you engaged and playing.

I will not pretend this works for everybody. But for me? HECK YES. Oh my god. Early on, I would find myself doing things like taking out the recycling before the bag was overflowing, because if I was very productive today I might be able to buy an upgrade to my gear! These days I’ve bought all the gear for my character class (at higher levels you get to pick a class and obtain skills that can help you or your party), but I still motivate myself to complete all my dailies by remembering that if I miss one, I lose the buff to my stats that comes from getting everything done. I’ve made attempts in the past to keep a to-do list, but never managed it for longer than a short period of time; having it online (there’s a mobile app as well as the web interface) helps, but linking it to rewards helps even more. Recently I’ve found myself hunting for things I can easily complete because dang it, I am so close to getting the Beastmaster achievement (hatching all the basic pets), but I haven’t been getting enough zombie hatching potion drops.

Press bar, get pellet! Dance, little lab rat, dance!

The major flaw in it so far — apart from the mobile app, which is only slowly acquiring full functionality — is that once you’re a certain distance in, some of the motivating aspects lose force. I worked hard to earn enough gold for all my gear, but once I had that, gold became pretty useless. There’s a solution to that, which is that you can design your own custom rewards and set a price on them; the difficult part is figuring out what rewards will be effective for you. I don’t, for example, want to make “read for an hour” a reward, because it would be detrimental to my life and career if I positioned that as a special treat I have to earn, rather than a routine part of my existence. My best idea so far is actually “flake out”: I can, for fifty gold, buy the right to skip a daily without taking damage for having done so. Because sometimes you need a break, and this is one I earn by not skipping things all the time.

HabitRPG includes a subscriber option, where you can toss five bucks their way each month to help support the service. This gives you the ability to buy gems with your gold (though there’s a monthly cap on that), and the gems can purchase other things, like treasure or character customization. I think I’d been playing for less than a month when I subscribed. Am I getting five dollars a month’s worth of benefit from this?

Heck yes.

A Year in Pictures – Malbork Medallion

Malbork Medallion
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If this had still been intact and in situ wherever it belongs at Malbork Castle, I probably wouldn’t have given it a second look. But chipped and skewered on iron rods in a side courtyard? It suddenly became much more photogenic. :-)

A Year in Pictures – SPACE TURTLES!!!

SPACE TURTLES!!!
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It’s rare for me to do heavy editing on my photos. I crop them a bit, straighten them out, enhance the colors until they look like I remember them being in real life.

But on this occasion, I feel obliged to share with you all the original form of the photo:

unedited turtles

I loved the carving in the ground, but the light made it absolutely impossible to get an overhead shot (which would show the turtles properly) without my shadow ending up on it, too. But with some heavy cropping and manipulation of the colors, I was able to properly convey the awesomeness of what really looks like a pair of turtles with jet engines in their butts zooming around together in in the depths of space!

A Year in Pictures – Eighteenth-Century Graffiti

Eighteenth-Century Graffiti
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If memory serves, this is a set of boards taken from the wall of an eighteenth-century prison. I have to say: the quality of graffiti has declined remarkably over the last two centuries . . . .

A question for the cooking types

I have a recipe that was originally intended as a side dish, and has been made into more of a main dish with the addition of hamburger — but it’s kind of a bland main dish. So I’m looking for ways to improve it, and I figured some of you who read this journal could probably make suggestions.

The recipe in its original form contains:

wild rice
onion
celery
salt and pepper
cream of mushroom soup
cream of chicken soup

Which you bake into a casserole, adding hamburger if this isn’t a side dish. But like I said: bland. Any recommendations for things I could add or substitute that would make it more flavorful? Note that household tastes mean we aren’t going to go for anything involving spiciness, fungus, or cilantro. But other options are fair game.

Ideas?

A Year in Pictures – Golden Gate at Sunset

Golden Gate at Sunset
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We recently went up to Sausalito in the North Bay to celebrate my mother’s birthday, and stayed in a hotel that was just off the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge: a prime spot to catch it in the warm light of evening.

Modern Confederacy

Sometimes you read something that spins your understanding of a topic around like a whirligig and when it stops, you see things in an entirely new light.

Here’s what my teachers’ should have told me: “Reconstruction was the second phase of the Civil War. It lasted until 1877, when the Confederates won.”

Which is really just the lead-in for the part that has very direct relevance for today:

The Confederate sees a divinely ordained way things are supposed to be, and defends it at all costs. No process, no matter how orderly or democratic, can justify fundamental change.

When in the majority, Confederates protect the established order through democracy. If they are not in the majority, but have power, they protect it through the authority of law. If the law is against them, but they have social standing, they create shams of law, which are kept in place through the power of social disapproval. If disapproval is not enough, they keep the wrong people from claiming their legal rights by the threat of ostracism and economic retribution. If that is not intimidating enough, there are physical threats, then beatings and fires, and, if that fails, murder.

(See also “The New Racism: This Is How the Civil Rights Movement Ends.”)