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Shannon A.
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1st-Feb-2016 07:33 pm - The Traveller Project
Last night I finished up a little mini writing project that took up a bit too much of my time in December & January. At the last minute I decided on the name "Far Futures & Fiction: A Review of Traveller's Literature", but we'll see if that sticks or not.

It originated with a series of 23 reviews that I wrote of Traveller novels and short stories when I was running my Traveller campaign, several years back now. I covered several of Traveller's inspirational novels and also every novel and collection of stories based on the game that I could find. (I missed one.) Besides just talking about the quality of the books, I also looked at the inspiration they offered for Traveller and for Traveller games.

Fast forward to 2015, and Marc Miller was kickstarting his own Traveller novel, Agent of the Imperium. He was listing out past Traveller novels, and I posted my whole list of reviews, and he asked if I'd like to compile them into a book(let).

Now I'm always a fan of collecting together material that I've written on the 'net into a more concrete and permanent form, so I happily told him yes. But that also meant lots of editing to transform everything into a book form and to make sure it was all consistent as possible. I also added six reviews (one new inspirational book that Marc suggested, the one book I missed, three books that had been published since 2011, and one short story collection that was new too). Oh, and you'll be unshocked to learn that I added as much historical context as I could for everything.

The result came out to 30k words. I think it's a nice little book(let) that gives a great overview of Traveller's fictional literature. It's also enthused me to read more of the inspirational literature for the game and write about it (but probably not at the moment, as this already set me back two months on another reading & writing project that I'm working on).

Dunno what the schedule for this book(let)'s production is going to be, as I just mailed things off to Marc yesterday, but I'm enthusiastic to see this little surprise mini-project appear. (As a PDF, one presumes.)
28th-Jan-2016 10:37 pm - Doctor, Doctor (II), Mrs. PA
On Tuesday I went to see a specialist for the chronic problems I've been having since November. I went to see a PA, I should say, not an MD or even a NP. But after the problems Kimberly and I have both had with incompetent doctors over the years, I'm usually happy to see something without that big degree, because as often as not they're better. Anyway, this PA lacked something in bedside matter (she once took off, barely saying what was planned for next) and she also seemed totally harried (rushing around, doing a dozen things), but she also seemed entirely competent. Heck, she even ran some samples while I was there; I'd like to see a doctor do that!

Unsurprisingly, the doc said that there was some inflammation. I'd been pretty sure that was the case since November and have been self-medicating with Ibuprofen, but that hasn't been enough. (The doc says to keep taking the Ibuprofen.) Unsurprisingly the doc prescribed antibiotics (but unlike most docs, only after really assuring herself that she knew what was going on.)

I'm unthrilled that it's Cipro being prescribed. It has a very low incidence of causing tendon damage, which is something I find scary. Mind you, the pharmacist says that it's about 1 in 10,000 ... but also that he knows a few people who have experienced the problem.

I'm unthrilled that I'll be deep into a course of Antibotics while on vacation. Because antibiotics can make you sick, and I'd prefer not to be while traveling and while on vacation. I'll take probotiocs alongside it, and hopefully that'll keep my good fauna from dying out.

I'm unthrilled that my insurance company refused the Doctor's 30-day prescription and only gave me a 14-day supply. Yep, my doctor wants me to take 30-60 days worth, and the scumbag bean counters at BLUE SHIELD say, nope, 14 days. Our friendly local pharmacist says that he's never had a case where an insurance company refused to refill, so these jerks are just making me come back in 14 days, in defiance of my doctor's orders. Because they know better, I'm sure. (Not.) I've also had to put back starting these antibiotics back a couple of days because suddenly getting refills conflicted with my vacation. And I'll have to tell the doc that she may need to call in a few more refills since they're doling them out two weeks at a time.

I'm unthrilled that the doc has also suggested I not bike. Yep, seriously. I decided after a little thought that I wasn't going to kill myself by not using my bike at all, as it's needed for transportation. So, Endgame, groceries, catfood, faraway doctors, those still get biking. But I'm going to put aside my recreational biking for several weeks. Sigh.

On the bright side, I suddenly don't really have to worry about rain any more. If it's raining on an Endgame day, I'll just make my doctor happier by BARTing. And if it's raining on Saturday, who cares. I'll get Dance Dance Revolution set back up to get my exercise and do some walking to get my quiet and solitude.

Still, pretty unthrilled. Overall, 2016 has been off to a really shake start, and I'm waiting for it to get better. But, hopefully this annoyance will all be in service to that, and I'll be feeling haler, healthier, and heartier come March.

19th-Jan-2016 01:27 pm - Overly Busy Weekend
Weekends are my panacea. They're my tonic. They're the time that I rest and relax from the busyness of the week. They allow me to work hard and return refreshed. Without them, it feels like the burdens on my shoulders grow larger and everything grows tighter around me week by week.

So, it's important that I get to actually relax on the weekends and when I don't, when I dive back into the week without true weekend, it's like diving into another exhausting day without a night's sleep in between.

Sadly, last weekend wasn't that restful.

Saturday was very busy because roleplaying was at my house. So the morning was spent cleaning and chatting with Kimberly, then folks arrived and we started gaming, then the gaming ran late, then Kimberly & I chatted with Donald & Mary for a while after gaming. It felt like I didn't come up for air until 7pm. (Then Kimberly and I watched TV, ate dinner, went for a walk, and it was 9pm!)

Sunday was better, though Kimberly & I spent a lot of time moving from one activity to another. After dinner it seemed like finally time to relax ... and then an attack on RPGnet ate up the next several hour of my evening. Dammit.

This all felt busy in part because I've been roleplaying less. It's certainly something I want to do, but the sessions have been a bit unpredictable since before Thanksgiving, so it's an activity that I'm less used too. (Hopefully that'll be changing around in the near future).

I think things also felt extra busy because of the lack of bike-riding. Usually even when I roleplay I bike out to Endgame and back, and that gives me an hour to stop my head from a'whirring, but that wasn't possible on Saturday. (Sometimes in the past I've gone for a bike ride before gaming at my house, but this Saturday I was up late the previous night because I'd had problems sleeping and Kimberly was unexpectedly home in the morning and it was raining part of the time, so ...)

I made up for things a bit on Monday. Because I'd been working on Sunday night, I knocked off a bit after 2pm, then bike up to Lake Temescal, where I wrote and read some up in the park. It was pleasant and did indeed remove some of the stress that accumulated (and more importantly didn't disperse) during the weekend.

On the ride I was a bit irritated to find that I'm still having troubles getting up to my cardio zones while biking, thanks to the upgraded med level for my blood pressure. I've been trying to get 30 minutes of activity a day, minimum, and I ended up with only 17 on Monday because for much of my ride up to Temescal and just about all of it back, I was sitting below the fat-burning zone that marks the start of cardio fitness. Grr.

My heart rate is definitely lower than it has been. However, the biggest problem seems to be that my Heart Rate Recovery is through the roof. My pulse rate drops extensively and quickly the second I stop exercising ... which apparently can nowoccur if I just take it easy while biking for a minute or two. That's generally supposed to be a sign of very good health, but when trying to exercise, it's a bit frustrating.
14th-Jan-2016 11:57 pm - Enough with the Journaling
Well, I've had some success writing different sorts of journal entries over the last two weeks, but I've found that it just takes up too much of my time to try and write something every day. This is especially hard on Wednesdays and Thursday when I have very busy schedules due to board gaming.

So, interesting experiment, but I have other writing I want to do more.
13th-Jan-2016 11:52 pm - Telegraph-ing Schedules
In late 2014, after much hemming and hawing, Oakland finally agreed to revamp 20 blocks of Telegraph Avenue to make it safer for biking. This was a pretty big deal because it's the main route into Oakland from the north — and the bottom 20 blocks where they were doing the work were in an area that is almost absent any really comfortable biking routes.

Now Telegraph Avenue is my regular route down to Endgame (or Jack London Square or Alameda or places south). I usually ride it at least once a week. I'd gotten pretty used to it over the years, but in early 2015 I looked at the street with new eyes and realized how crappy it really was for biking — full of fast cars, turning here and there. I began to count down the weeks until work was to begin in March 2015.

Now Oakland has been pretty good in recent years at extending biking routes. But they're really horrible at doing anything on a schedule. I was disappointed but unsurprised when March, then April went by with no progress. Then word came out that work was to be done in the summer, then that it was to be in September.

Come October, Oakland finally repaved the bottom 10 or so blocks of Telegraph. It was a horrible mess of unpaved roads for a couple of weeks, but then the paving was done and it seemed like the biking work was just around the corner. Then in November the city roughly painted in where all new embankments and such would go in the bottom 10 blocks. (Yes, they are currently ignoring the top 10 blocks they're supposed to be redoing; current word is late 2016, almost a year and a half late, which probably means 2017.)

I would have thought that Oakland couldn't make Telegraph worse, but they totally have. It's now been at least two months since the repaving and repainting. Telegraph now has roughly painted lines on it that everyone is ignoring because they don't match up with the construction of the road. (The new bike paths in that area will be protected, which means concrete [or something] dividers, and car parking getting moved out from the curb.) So instead we just have an auto derby with everyone going every which way, driving up what should be the shoulder, swaying right and left. It's insane.

And Oakland's been OK with that for two months.

So if I was looking forward to those lanes going in before, I really am now that they've totally f***ed things over for two months.
12th-Jan-2016 10:29 pm - Setting Up the Exercise Room
In December we decided to abandon the concept of having a guest room. This was due to its general failure when we'd had a guest earlier in the year and had been woken by her comings and goings. But, over the course of 15 years that we've lived in this house, she was only our second guest. I guess we're really not the invite-people-over sorts.

Meanwhile, we'd been talking about having an exercise room someday when we move to Hawaii. So, I put the two ideas together and said, "Why don't we just turn the guest room into an exercise room now?" Duh.

That idea later morphed into having it be an exercise-and-art room. No, I don't mean painting while lifting weights. Rather a room that could support both exercise and (Kimberly's) art. Kimberly ordered an art desk with an adjustable top last month; it was the first entry to our new room, going in shortly after we gave the old futon the boot. But today our exercise equipment arrived.

That was an exercise bike and some adjustable hand weights. We'd scheduled them both to be delivered to our house, so we didn't have to haul them home, and were waiting patiently. We made sure one of us was home at all times, so the stuff would actually get delivered.

Which was why I was surprised when I went by the front door and saw a UPS slip was stuck to it. We've had this problem with UPS before. Many times. They don't bother knocking at the door, they just toss the package on the front steps without breaking stride, perhaps hoping it will still be there when we notice it (a pretty unlikely hope in this neighborhood), perhaps not caring. It's why we don't have most stuff delivered at home anymore.

This time we had a particularly canny UPS driver. He moved our green bin up against the wall of our house and then hid the exercise bike behind it. As much as you can a 6-foot long box behind a small, green trash can.

(The hand weights arrived later; I was alerted by the house-shaking clunk of the mailman dropping them on our front steps, and thus managed to catch him before he abandoned them there. Probably he was actually going to ring the doorbell; I arrived between him dropping off the first and second boxes. USPS >> UPS about that sort of thing.)

After work Kimberly and I dragged the exercise bike up the stairs, which was probably the hardest part of the whole process. I'm hoping I didn't strain anything too much. Then we opened up the box to pull out the instructions. They were in French. Fortunately there was a second copy of the instructions right under that. Also in French.

The French instructions said that you could get Spanish instructions on the web. I went there and fortunately found English instructions as well. (Though I actually used the French instructions most of the time, because they were handy and on paper. AVIS!)

Setting up the exercise bike took a bit more than an hour and a half. Kimberly and I were able to do it efficiently and in good spirits. The instructions were good (even in French) and almost everything went together easily. Kudos to Schwinn.

Afterwards, we did a bit more rearranging of the room, voting some of the old guest room furniture off the island.

Afterward, there was reward ice cream at Ici. Because setting up an exercise room deserves junk food.

Exercise room renovation courtesy of the Appel Christmas Fund. Thanks guys!
The funny thing about writing a journal entry a day is that I'm hoarding some topics. For example, I've been wanting to write an entry about how all my writing projects went in 2015 (summary: lots of middle). But there have been days when I had time, but didn't write it because I came up with something else to write, and so I want to make use of that material.

(Other days, like today, it feels like it'd take too much time and I have other stuff to do ... which is my most common reason for not writing a journal entry, and something I was hoping to figure out by writing here more often for this month.)

Here's one thing I've been meaning to write about since last Thursday: we finally pushed our Rise of the Runelords characters over to box four of Wrath of the Righteous in the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. This is per Mike Selinker's instructions on running Wrath of the Righteous as Box 7 of another Adventure Path.

Now, Eric, Mike B., and I had previously tried out the first few adventures in Wrath of the Righteous, and we came to the conclusion that they were hard. I was pleased to see the same was the case when using our heroic characters from Rise of the Runelords in a later box. Some of the monsters gave us genuine problems! And we failed to complete the mission!

I was a little less pleased that the time seemed to have telescoped. We're usually able to finish two four-player sessions in a Thursday night evening, but our first try at adventure 4-1 took about three hours. Granted, there was tear down and set up and looking at our characters. I have every hope it'll come back to a reasonable amount of time.

So the whole play Wrath-4 as adventure #7 totally works. Now I hope we can actually get through it (trying again at the start of February).
10th-Jan-2016 10:26 pm - SF Media
My media all seems to be science fiction lately:

The Expanse (TV). I've previously read the first four books of this series, and am very fond of them. (I'm awaiting the fifth book arriving in trade paperback.) Now, I've come to quite like the TV series as well. Its biggest problem is that it feels near-impenetrable. I have troubles figuring out what's going on sometimes, so I can't imagine how confusing it must be to a newcomer. But, I enjoy the density of the universe, I like its grittiness, and I enjoy the characters (now that we've got to actually know them, after a near-disastrous attempt to disguise who the main cast is in the pilot). Alex really stands out in a way he didn't in the books. [4.5 stars]

Orphan Black (TV). We've been watching the third season of this BBC America show after it finally arrived at Netflix. (They have trouble getting all the BBC DVDs for some reason.) This story of clones in the modern-day has a clever and unusual premise, and it's rather brilliantly led by Tatiana Maslany who regularly plays four very well-differentiated clones. Though I love arc shows, this one has a bit too much arc even for me, as it's all middle: not only is there no beginning and end to the episodes, that's also true for the seasons(!). I felt like we just dived right back in when season three opened. I continue to enjoy this show quite a bit, but it's a challenge for me too (and I don't love it quite as much as in the earlier seasons when it felt like there was more mystery in the air). Looking at GraphTV though, I see people thought the season improved as it went on. [4 stars]

Nexus (comic). I was thrilled to discover recently that a new Nexus collection was being published called "Into the Past", based on short serials that Baron & Rude had been producing for an anthology comic. This is a classic SF comic from the '80s about an empowered vigilante. It was brilliant in its original run, not just for its hero, Horatio Hellpop, but also for the SF universe it created. The newer stories lack something because the serializations don't allow for as much of that deep universe creation, but they're getting better as the creators adjust to the limitations of the format, so I'm looking forward to where it goes from here (and I'm also hoping that Dark Horse will at some point fill in the almost 20-issue gap of comics after the end of the original series that has never been reprinted in collections: #81 and #84-98 or something like that.) [3.5 stars]

The Dark Forest (novel). This is the second book in the series by Cixin Liu, where the first, The Three-Body Problem won last year's Hugo. I started the series in part because I was intrigued by translated Chinese SF and in part to give it support because horrible bigots in science-fiction semi-prodom were protesting against it. (They're real scumbags who did their best to stuff the Hugo ballot boxes, but more notably whine like little babies that all science-fiction isn't still written by overprivileged white men, like them.) Anywho, the first book was interesting; though this second one has some interesting bits, it's also mostly boring, the waiting for Godot of the alien set. [2.5 stars]

Star Wars: Aftermath (novel). After enjoying Star Wars 7, I picked up the first of the prequel novels. You see, my favorite type of storytelling is heavily sequential. That's what I'm a fan of comics and TV shows. It's also why I enjoyed long-lived licensed fiction, like the 60 books of Doctor Who: The New Adventures that I recently finished. Star Wars used to have that, before the Expanded Universe got the boot, and I enjoyed some of the far-flung stories I read (mostly comics), like Dark Empire and Legacy. I dunno, Star Wars may get there again as it expands out of its new foundation. But a third of the way in, this new novel hasn't grabbed me, mainly because it's about minor or new characters and because its setup of the new universe of the movies is moving at a glacial pace. [3 stars]
9th-Jan-2016 08:35 pm - Biking in the Rain
I took my bike out today for a long ride, the first of that sort I'd done since getting the new bike. I went out to Hilltop and back for a total damage of 23 miles.

It was a dreary overcast day, but the air was clean and the roads were wet. I actually really love riding in that sort of weather because there are fewer people out and the wetness makes the road go faster (though you have to be cautious, because it also makes the stopping slower). So, I was enjoying myself ... until the rain came back. First there was spitting, then misting, then drizzle. The rain was never hard enough to be uncomfortable for biking, but I was definitely wet when I got to Hilltop. (And few a few hours afterward.) I like riding in that a little less. Ah well.

A few hours later, when I was riding back, I was getting a little tired. I decided that it must be the new bike requiring slightly different muscles because 20 miles wouldn't usually fatigue me at all. But then I looked at my Fitbit records and discovered some of my bike riding back wasn't recorded as active minutes. In fact, I frequently dropped out of the cardio & fat burning zones on my home, with my heart dropping into the 70s bpm, and once even down to 69. While I was biking.

After a bit of thought, I figured out the explanation. I had to go off of my old blood measure med a couple of years ago when my insurance changed, because the new Blue Shield plan didn't cover it. (The old HealthNet plan carried it at a ridiculous price, but this new one pushed that even higher.) So, I went over to something new, which was what my cardiologist used for most of his patients anyway. But it never worked as well for me, so this last Wednesday we upped it to two pills a day.

And it's a med that can limit your blood pressure max. So it's almost certainly what was making things more tiring for me (not the new bike), and it's probably what kept me out of the higher heart rate zones part of the time I was biking. I'd actually been worried about it when I started taking it, that it might keep me from doing hills on my bike. But this (with the increase) is the first time I've seen real evidence of that effect. So, hopefully it'll fade. And I've only been taking the increased dose for a few days, so I'm willing to give it a chance.
8th-Jan-2016 11:15 pm - Doctor, Doctor, Mr. N.P.
Off to see the doctor today for my annual physical.

Things look good, which is good. He actually told me that at my age and with my condition he was perfectly happy with a physical every two years if I preferred. Wanting to keep my foot in the Doctor's office (as it were) I said every one year is fine. I figure that gives me a time to actually talk about any problems I might be having.

Speaking of problems, though we talked about the chronic problems I've been having for the last few months, he just issued a referral. Which is fair enough. Unfortunately the place I was referred to stopped answering the phone at 3pm, and I called at about 3.01, after I got home after my appointment. So we'll get something set up on Monday. Hopefully the appointment won't be too far away. (Specialists can be awful sometimes for first-time appointments.)

The happiest thing was that the doc (NP) said he wasn't worried at all about my glucose serum levels, which looked uncomfortably high to me. That's apparently because glucose serum can spike around a bit and they have another test (Hemoglobin A1c) which is a better measure of things over the last three months. And my A1c was in the normal range. So, yay!

I'm taking this as a sign that I have one less thing to stress about. I immediately dropped my no sugary snacks in January resolution, and had some celebratory Ghirardelli chocolate this evening. Anywho, I think going a week without killed much of the craving. I'm still going to do my best to go forward without stocking sugary sweets in the house, except on a special-cases basis, and I think that be a healthier way going forward than to always have easy access to the sugar snacks that I love so.

So, win-win?
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