post-vaccine blues

I felt pretty good after getting my second shot on Tuesday. But I started getting a headache and feeling tired yesterday. I stuck it out and tried having a normal workday, but I wasn’t having a productive day at all. So I gave up today and called in sick. I spent the morning playing solitaire on my iPad and reading some of Grant Morrison’s X-Men run. I feel pretty good now, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t feel so good if I’d tried having another “normal” workday.

It’s right around noon now, and I have the whole afternoon to kill, so I figured I’d waste some time writing a blog post. There are a few things I’ve been meaning to write about, but haven’t gotten around to. I don’t have the energy to write anything deep, but I’ll just touch on a few random items:

As I mentioned above, I’ve started reading Grant Morrison’s X-Men run recently. I’ve had the trade paperbacks in my “to be read” stack for quite some time. I finally finished reading the last of his Batman run over the weekend, so I decided to dive into his X-Men next. His Batman run is pretty wild, but it’s also somewhat less than satisfying, since it’s spread across multiple titles and had to work around/with other stuff going on in the DC Universe (including the New 52 launch). When his run started, back in 2006, I was still buying monthly books, so I read the beginning of his run back then, as it came out. Then, I took a break from buying new comics for a while. So I’ve read through the rest of his run via TPBs and Comixology. So, for me, it’s been spread out over 15 years. I should probably have gone back and reread the earlier stuff in TPB before finishing it, but I have so much stuff to read that I hardly ever go back and reread anything.

His New X-Men run is fun so far. I’m finding it to be more coherent and straightforward than his Batman run. (Of course, I should say “coherent and straightforward” relative to typical Grant Morrison work. So still less coherent/straightforward than most mainstream comics.)

Looking back at this post from about a month ago, I have a few follow-up notes.

  • I did order a new Apple TV. It should show up tomorrow or maybe early next week. I would have been nice to have it today, since setting up an Apple TV would have been a good sick day activity, I think. I’ll post more once I have it.
  • I’m still not really missing cable TV. I’m watching a lot of PBS lately. And of course there’s plenty to watch on Netflix, Amazon, and so on. My last cable bill was a little confusing, so I’m still not entirely sure how much money I’m saving. The next bill should be for a full month of Broadcast Basic, so that should tell me what my regular bill will look like going forward.
  • I’m taking some advantage of the various services included with Apple One now. Though maybe not enough to justify the cost. I’ve downloaded a few Apple Arcade games, but I’m mostly playing this solitaire game. It’s funny how they can put out amazing games like Fantasian, and I wind up playing a solitaire game that doesn’t look much different from the Windows 3.1 solitaire game.
  • I haven’t delved into Apple TV+ much yet, but I did binge-watch the first season of Central Park recently. I was in the mood for a nice light cartoon, and that really fit the bill. Season two should be coming out next month.
  • I’m getting a lot of use out of Apple Music, but I’m not that excited about the new spatial audio and lossless stuff. I’m not sure I can hear the difference between their normal streaming quality and “lossless” quality. And the “spatial audio” thing sounds like a marketing gimmick. Well, I’ll give both a try when they’re available, I guess.

OK, so that’s a nice long rambling blog post that took about an hour to write, on and off. Time to put the computer away and take a nap, I think.

Apple One

My free six month trial of Apple Music is coming to an end soon, so I’ve been thinking about what to do next. I like Apple Music enough that I’d already decided to keep going with it after the trial was done. And since that means I’ll be giving Apple $10/month, that got me thinking about signing up for Apple One for $15/month, and getting Arcade, TV+, and 50 GB of iCloud too.

I’m still not happy about the number of subscriptions I’m paying for right now, but I guess I’m resigned to it. I could go down the hole of listing them all out again and thinking about whether I need them or not, and whether I’m getting enough use out of this one or that one, and what the alternatives are, but life’s too short and we’re still in the middle of a pandemic. Eventually, I’ll have to cull some of them, but for now, eh, I might as well give Apple $15/month so I can listen to music and watch Ted Lasso and play some games. So I signed up for Apple One today.

The first thing I’m doing with it is turning on iCloud Photos. Up until now, I’ve been syncing photos from my iPhone and iPad to my Mac the old-fashioned way, and using the photo library on my Mac as my master library. It’ll be nice to have that all happen automatically now, and have access to all my photos on all of my devices. Prior to turning on iCloud Photos, I had about 4500 photos, taking up about 12 GB, on my Mac. The library seems to be getting a bit bigger since I turned on syncing this morning. I guess that’s due to duplicates, which seem to be showing up on the Mac as the iPhone sync progresses. I turned on the “optimize Mac storage” setting in Photos when I turned on iCloud, so I might wind up with a smaller local library, eventually. I’m not sure how much total cloud space it’ll use up, but I’m sure it’ll be well within my 50 GB limit.

It looks like I’m going to need to run a cleanup to get rid of the duplicates. I have an old program that I used once to clean up dupes in my old iPhoto library, a long time ago (2014, I think), and it appears to still work. When I launch it, it “recommends” that I upgrade to a new program that costs $20, but the old version still seems to work fine. It found 168 dupes and put them in an album. From there, I could delete them via the Photos app. If I didn’t already own that program, I’d consider PhotoSweeper ($20) or PowerPhotos ($30), both of which I found via recommendations from the MPU forums.

Speaking of MPU, I’ve been thinking that I should take a look at David Sparks’ Photos Field Guide. I should learn more about taking, editing, and managing digital photos. Of course, I’ve been home alone for the past year, so all of my recent photos were taken within a one-mile radius of my apartment. I have so many photos of Van Fleet Gardens at this point that I could probably stitch them all together into a 3D model. But hey, someday we’ll be able to travel again, and I’ll go someplace interesting and take some cool photos.

SharePoint, Somerville, and so on

A little follow-up on some subjects from yesterday’s post:

I complained a bit yesterday about the “hundreds of files” pulled in on a new “Hello World” SharePoint Framework project. I checked today, and it’s actually more than 50,000 files, totaling up to about 500 MB. Scary. I’ve also been a little worried about all the security warnings issued by npm when scaffolding a SPFx project. Apparently that’s all fine though and I should just ignore them, according to this blog post. I guess none of the stuff that npm is checking is actually ever deployed to SharePoint, so it’s fine.

NJTV News tonight had a segment on restaurant and retail reopenings that spent some time talking about Somerville. I guess we’re likely to go ahead with the plan to close down Main Street to car traffic a few nights a week that I mentioned yesterday. I’ve still got some reservations about that, but nobody asked my opinion. (Yeah, I know, I could start attending town meetings. They’re virtual now, so I don’t even need to leave my couch. I’m still probably not going to do it though.)

One other benefit of having “attended” Microsoft Build this year: They’re letting attendees buy some stuff from the Microsoft company store. They’re only allowing purchases of digital goods, so no discounts on Surface hardware or anything like that. But I did pick up a few things at bargain prices. I got a Windows 10 Pro license for $40, and used it to upgrade my desktop PC from Home to Pro. And I got a one-year extension on my Microsoft 365 Family account for only $20. (That’s usually $100/year. I get the Home Use Program discount, which makes it $70/year. So $20 is really low.) And I got a two-year Xbox Live Gold sub for $50. (That’s usually $10/month or $60/year.)

I don’t know if I’ll actually get much use out of the Xbox Live Gold account. As I mentioned recently, I’ve had the Xbox for a year now, and I barely use it, except as a DVD/Blu-ray player. I’ll have to keep an eye on the Games with Gold stuff and see if they have anything I’m interested in. I really want to start playing video games again, but there’s so much other stuff to do too.

Xbox follow-up

Now that I’ve had my Xbox for a few weeks, I thought I should post a follow-up. I’m mostly using it to play Bejeweled, to be honest. I played Mass Effect for about a half-hour, and haven’t gotten back to it. Ditto for Stardew Valley. I want to get back to both of those, but right now, War and Peace is more of a draw for me. It helps that I can read War and Peace outside, or at work, or on the train. It’s been nice out the last few weekends, so I’ve been sitting outside on Division Street and reading a lot. (Can’t do that with an Xbox.) I’m about 25% of the way through War and Peace.

It’s funny, if you look at a site like How Long To Beat, a lot of modern video games take about as long to complete as it takes to read War and Peace. (According to my Kindle, it’s maybe a 40-50 hour book.) I won’t look down on or argue with anyone who chooses to play the Mass Effect trilogy over reading War and Peace, but I think I’ve turned into more of a War and Peace kind of guy as I’ve gotten older.

And since E3 is done, maybe I should take a moment to review the Xbox news out of that show.

  • Everybody continues to push into subscriptions, including Microsoft, with the new Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, for $15/month. I guess that’s great if you play a ton of games, but it’s definitely not for me.
  • The next gen Xbox looks interesting, and should be out near the end of 2020. Given that I seem to gravitate towards games like Bejeweled and Stardew Valley, that don’t exactly push the current gen hardware, I’m not likely to jump on the next gen bandwagon any time soon.
  • I’m glad to see that the next gen Xbox will continue to support backwards compatibility with older games, from the original Xbox, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. The headline in the linked article says “Microsoft ends Xbox backward compatibility,”  but that’s a little misleading. The article itself says that “Microsoft is winding down new additions to its Xbox backward compatibility catalog,” and “Microsoft is now committing to get every Xbox One game running on Scarlett, alongside games from all four generations of Xbox.” So that should be cool, and a good reason to (eventually) buy a next gen Xbox.

On a somewhat related topic, I enjoyed this article on the “slow death of the strategy guide”. It’s an excerpt from this book, which is currently just $3.82 for the Kindle version, so might be worth picking up. I’ve got strategy guides for a bunch of games, including several that I never got around to playing. Some of them are pretty cool, with lots of art and screenshots. Some people consider using strategy guides as cheating, but I always found that they added to my enjoyment of a game, making it easier for me to keep track of where I was, how the game worked, and whether or not I was on the right track. Generally, they helped me manage the more annoying stuff without getting in the way of the fun stuff. Since most games don’t even come with an instruction manual anymore, I wish more of them had good official (or unofficial) hard-copy strategy guides available. But I guess there’s not much of a market for that anymore.

Hardware in, hardware out

OK, here’s one more Xbox follow-up post (previous). The vertical stand was delivered on Memorial Day. I was kind of surprised about that, since (1) it’s a holiday, and (2) all the streets around my apartment are closed off on Memorial Day for the big bike race. But, somehow, the Amazon delivery guy found somewhere to park, then schlepped a box full of packages down Main Street. He hit my apartment building right as I was about to go out and wander around a little. If he’d shown up five minutes later, I would have missed him. (It’s possible someone would have let him into the building though, since one of my neighbors was hanging out right in front of the building watching the race.) So, again, it would have been more convenient for everyone if Amazon just used the USPS, but it’s fine.

I promised myself several years ago that I wouldn’t bring in any new tech without getting rid of an equivalent amount of old tech. So I took some time today to get rid of a bunch of stuff. There’s a monthly electronics recycling drop-off for my county, in Hillsborough, so I went over there today with a bunch of stuff. I got rid of:

  • an old HP desktop PC (with the drives removed),
  • an old Toshiba HD-DVD player,
  • a very old VCR,
  • my Dad’s old Sony CD changer,
  • my old MacBook (with the drive removed),
  • an old Apple TV,
  • an old Roku box,
  • an old Samsung tablet,
  • and my old Automatic adapter.

So I guess I’m officially giving up on a few things, like ever watching a VHS video tape or an HD-DVD again. I think I really need to purge my CD collection soon too. I have way too many CDs, and they’re not organized really well. Honestly, I have a lot of stuff to purge, but I’ll save that for another post.

Back to the Xbox: After saying that I wasn’t going to sign up for any subscription services, I went ahead and signed up for a year of EA Access. It’s only $30. I will probably go in and turn off recurring billing on it, to force myself to make a decision about it in a year, rather than letting it auto-renew. I downloaded Mass Effect and Bejeweled 3, but that’s it so far.

Honestly, I’ve been playing Bejeweled more than anything else. I think I first played Bejeweled on my Toshiba e310, which would have been in 2002 or thereabouts. (I could be wrong; it might have been on one of my Palm units. Either way, I remember it being grayscale, and playing with a stylus.) It seems kind of silly to use an Xbox One for something that ran fine on a handheld in 2002, but, hey, I like playing it.

I’ve also started playing Stardew Valley. That’s interesting so far, but I’m not convinced it’s as great as a bunch of people seem to think. I may need to give it some time to grow on me.

I’ve also committed myself to reading War and Peace this summer, so that may cut into my video gaming a bit. Either way, I should have more than enough stuff to keep me busy this summer.

More Xbox silliness

OK, here’s another post nobody needs, in my continuing series about unnecessarily buying an Xbox One.

First, on the subject of Amazon’s hapless delivery system: I still don’t have the vertical stand for my Xbox, but Amazon made one more delivery attempt last night. Around 9:15pm, I got a call from a number that Verizon’s Call Filter identified as “possible spam,” so I dismissed it. But a few seconds later, I got a text message from somebody identifying himself as an Amazon delivery driver named Luigi, asking how to get into my building. So I’m guessing the call I rejected was also from him. I texted back, saying that I could let him in, if he was here, but then I got nothing further back, other than a presumably automated message saying that my order couldn’t be delivered. Now I see at least three things wrong with this: (1) having people out delivering packages at 9:15pm on a Saturday night, (2) sharing my cell phone # with random delivery drivers, and (3) said delivery drivers calling and texting me, and then not bothering to wait around for an answer. It’s possible that item 2 isn’t really an issue; they may route the calls/texts through an app that doesn’t actually expose my number to the driver. Still, I don’t recall agreeing to be contacted on my cell # at all for this stuff. (But I’m sure I did at some point. Nobody reads the terms and conditions anymore…)

On to the Xbox itself: I’ve got the thing set up, and I’ve mostly figured out how to use it. (As I’ve sometimes joked in the past, this means that my job is now done, and I can stop using it. This tends to happen to me with consumer electronics. Figuring out the user interface is more fun for me than actually playing games.) I’ve bought just one game: Lumines Live, which is one of the old “backwards compatibility” games, and cost $5. This is definitely not a game that shows off the Xbox One at all, but I was a big fan of the original Lumines game on PSP.  It’s still a fun game, and it was worth $5, I guess.

There are multiple subscription services available on the Xbox that you can sign up for, including XBox Live GoldGame Pass, and EA Access. I don’t really want to sign up for any of them, but I’m starting to waver. In looking around for some cheap games to buy, I thought about maybe buying the original Mass Effect trilogy. Mass Effect 2 and 3 are currently on sale for $6 each via the current Xbox backwards compatibility sale. But Mass Effect 1 isn’t. I think that’s because it’s included with Game Pass, so they don’t sell it separately, maybe? Anyway, only ME 1 is included with Game Pass, but all three are included with EA Access. Also, I can pick up dodgy-looking used copies of ME 1, 2, and 3 from my local GameStop, or from a used game store that’s about a block away from my apartment. That would cost about $5 per game. So I don’t know. This is one of those things where I have too many options and I never manage to make a decision. The backwards compatibility sale ends tomorrow, so if I’m going to buy ME 2 and 3 that way, I should go ahead and do it. I don’t want to sign up for Game Pass or EA Access, because I’ll probably either lose interest in the games or get too busy to do any gaming about a week after I sign up. The smart thing to do would be to sign up for a month of Game Pass, play ME 1 for however long it takes me to get tired of it, then cancel it.

I’m going to start reading War and Peace next week, as part of a Goodreads group read, so I should really just give up on the idea of playing video games. I think that will keep me busy enough. (And the Kindle version was free!)

over-promising and under-delivering

At this point, my Xbox-related blogging is getting a little ridiculous. (But here I go again, anyway.)

The Xbox I ordered from Amazon yesterday was supposed to show up today, which I was kind of excited about. I don’t generally expect one-day shipping from Amazon, but it’s cool that they’ve been trying to do it lately. I say “trying” because two of the items in my order (the Xbox and the HDMI switch) changed over to two-day at some point today, so they should be here tomorrow. And the one item that was still scheduled for today (the stand) now says “Unfortunately we had trouble finding your address.” Which is, of course, nonsense. There is no way anyone could have trouble finding my address. So, hopefully that’ll be here tomorrow too, unless the delivery exception causes it to get stuck in limbo (which has happened before). So anyway, that’s another story to add to my Amazon delivery shenanigans file. I wish Amazon would either straighten this stuff out, or stop over-promising and under-delivering on their Prime shipping stuff. Just let the good old USPS deliver my packages. They do a pretty good job!

So, back to actual Xbox stuff. I spent some time today browsing the internet, looking for stuff about Xbox games that I might want to try. I’m interested in the backwards compatibility that the Xbox One has with previous Xbox models. Here’s a recent article from Polygon about some good older games that work with Xbox One. And here’s an older blog post from Scott Hanselman, diving into some old games from the backwards compatibility list. (I always wonder how Hanselman has time for video games, given all the other stuff he does. I’m thinking either he doesn’t sleep, or there are two of him.) There’s a big sale on the backwards compatible stuff going on right now, apparently. And there’s some good information about backward compatibility on Major Nelson’s site.

Of course, I’ve never owned an Xbox before, so I don’t have any old games to transfer over to my Xbox One, but I’d like to dig into some of the games I’ve heard a lot about over the years but never got to play. The lack of backwards compatibility is actually one of the main reasons why I never picked up a PS4. (My PS3 can play PS1 and PS2 games, and I’ve used it more for those than for PS3 games, honestly.)

I bought an Xbox

Sigh. I’m going to call this post the third part of my “Xbox denial trilogy”. (First part here and second part here.) I gave up and ordered an Xbox from Amazon today, along with a vertical stand and an HDMI switch. It should all arrive tomorrow, because Amazon is now using some kind of magic shipping method that can get pretty much anything to my door in one day. I think they use the Floo Network or Portkeys or something. Anyway, the Xbox was marked down to $208, the stand was $10, and the HDMI switch was $33.

I could have gotten a cheaper HDMI switch, but Kinivo seems to have a good reputation, and I didn’t want to get an iffy one. I only have three HDMI ports on my TV, and I’m currently using them all (TiVo, Apple TV, and PS3). I’ll probably put the PS3 and Xbox on the switch. The Xbox has an HDMI IN port, so there’s probably some way I could have used it as a pass-thru, and avoided having to get a switch, but that didn’t seem like a good idea.

It’s possible that the Xbox One S is getting marked down so much because Microsoft is going to announce a new Xbox at E3 in June. I won’t be disappointed if they do. I’m not a big enough gamer to care that much about having the very latest console. (And it’ll probably cost $500, which I can’t really justify.)

So I’ll now have a console that can play current-generation games. Most of the really popular Xbox games don’t really appeal to me, but there are a bunch of oddball indie games that I’m kind of interested in. I guess I’ll need to figure out the deal with Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass. I don’t think I want to sign up for either of them, but I don’t know.

This Xbox may just wind up gathering dust, but hopefully I can get enough use out of it to justify having spent about $250 for it (including the accessories).

probably still not buying an Xbox

I’m probably still not buying an Xbox, but I’ve been paying more attention to Xbox-related news this week than usual.

  • The Microsoft/Sony deal is kind of interesting, though it might not mean much. I assume they’re still both working on their own next-gen consoles, and will continue to compete with each other.
  • This blog post from Microsoft’s “Head of Xbox” is also kind of interesting. He’s saying all the right things, though maybe it’s a little disheartening that some of them even need to be said.
  • And this article about the current pricing on the new all-digital Xbox vs the older version with the Blu-Ray drive has got me thinking again about picking up an Xbox One S with a Blu-Ray drive in it, while I can still get one for less than $250. Maybe I should keep an eye out and see if there are any really good Memorial Day sales.

As mentioned in my previous post, I did indeed pick up the Enhanced Edition of Neverwinter Nights from Steam for $4. It occurs to me that this means that I now own four copies of NWN. I have:

  1. the original PC version on CD (inherited from my brother a long time ago),
  2. a Mac version, also on CD, from the pre-OSX days,
  3. the GOG “Diamond” edition, which came out a few years ago,
  4. and now the Beamdog “Enhanced Edition” from Steam.

I didn’t pay much money for any of these. The GOG Diamond one was $10, The new one was $4, and the PC version was a hand-me-down. The Mac one was actually bought new, in a box, from an actual brick-and-mortar computer store (probably J&R), so that might have been $20 or $30. Anyway, I should install that new enhanced version and see about moving my saved game over from the old GOG Diamond edition. Maybe NWN can keep me busy and out of trouble for a bit.

Not buying an Xbox

Yesterday, my brain decided to go down a path where buying an Xbox One started to seem like a good idea. I had nearly convinced myself to buy an Xbox One S from Walmart. I occasionally get the urge to play console video games. I still have my PlayStation 3 for that, but I bought it back in 2008, so it’s pretty old. But I have plenty of unfinished (and even un-started) games for it. So that should really be enough for me.

Anyway, I’d started thinking about Stardew Valley again for some reason. I could, of course, just buy that on Steam or GOG and play it on my PC or Mac, but it seems like the kind of thing that would work best on a console. It’s available for all three of the major (current) consoles: Switch, Xbox, and PS4. I’ve mostly been brand-loyal to Sony over the years, having owned the PlayStation 1, 2, and 3, and a PSP, but I haven’t been able to get too excited about the PS4. And I’ve never had any version of the Xbox. So that seemed like maybe something to try out.

Of course, then I started thinking about all the unfinished games I have, and all the clutter in my apartment, and mostly talked myself out of it. That got me started on a little kick to locate all of those games and the various game guides I’d bought for them. And that got me to realize how much clutter has been piling up in here. So the whole thing turned into a mini-cleanup project. I managed to sort out a bunch of stuff from past San Diego comic cons, and get that all together in a basket. And a bunch of old Metropolitan Museum bulletins, which I managed to get into a neat stack. And I eventually found all (I think) of the video game guides that I own. I have guides for Final Fantasy 8, 9, and 10. I made it about a third of the way through FF8, and still haven’t (technically) given up. I decide to give it a shot once in a while, make no progress, then give up again. I never started 9 or 10. I also have a nice hardcover guide for Metal Gear Solid 4, which is the game that came with my PS3. I never started that either. And I have two copies of the guide for Neverwinter Nights, for some reason. Speaking of NWN, the Enhanced Edition of that is marked down to $4 on Steam right now, so I should probably grab that while it’s on sale. The version I have now is the old GOG version, which kind of works OK on Windows 10, but kinda doesn’t.

Or I should go outside and take a walk. It’s a nice day out!