Two Steps Forward, One Step Back & The New Year’s Direction

In my zeal for New Year’s spring cleaning and re-ordering my life for the better, I opened a window that hasn’t been opened for the last ten years of living in this house.

The idea was to air out the place, improved ventilation and all that.

Also, I was proud of my herculean efforts cleaning out the window ledge, previously a location for accumulating convenient dusty junk piles, and removing chunks of grime from said window and wanted to keep looking out of it to celebrate.

Then it started raining.

The initial drizzle lulled me into complacency. A couple small drops on the ledge, nothing more, so I shrugged and went to enjoy my lunch.

I walked back into the room with a bunch of stuff in my arms, planning to have a good time sorting and arranging, only to discover an Olympic-sized swimming pool had now taken up residence on said window ledge.

Happily wading inside it, was a table lamp and my $800 Fujitsu Scansnap scanner.

*sigh*

I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice to say there was a great unloading of stuff in my arms on the floor, quick scrambling to shut off all electrical plugs, much rummaging for absorbent rags and dehydration effort implementation on various fronts.

The long and short of it is that my best laid plans for spending the weekend decluttering have now got to be pushed back at least 24 hours (and probably 48 hours would be safer) before I get to find out if I now have to buy myself a belated Christmas present of a newer model of Fujitsu Scansnap.

The shelving that I was -hoping- to sort things out on is now half-soaked and has been carted out to somewhat drier surroundings in the hope that it’ll dry out before mold decides it’s an optimal home.

The PC, thankfully, seems to have been shielded from the brunt of it by the valiant shelving’s sacrifice, but since there was a random scattering of raindrops across all the electrical plugs and wiring and the metal casing, I’m thinking it’ll be safer to give it at least a few hours of drying time.

So now the air conditioner is running, during an already fairly cold day (for the tropics, anyway,) in the hopes that it’ll speed up the dehumidifying process, and I’ve beaten a hasty retreat to the living room, sneezing frightfully with a nose that is fitfully protesting the sequential abuse of dust, mold spores and shivering cold temperatures, typing out this blog post on a laptop, for lack of anything better to do.

Well, it’s one way to get me back to blogging again, I suppose.

On a brighter note, I’ve discovered that serious full-fledged decluttering involving moving books, technological objects and shelving from room to room is pretty good beginner movement exercise for an overweight sedentary person, in that it provokes movement out of me and more importantly, feels more productive than engaging in repetitive motions for the sake of moving.

(If we liked moving to begin with, chances are we wouldn’t be overweight, so it does take a bit of mental gymnastics to find movement activities for a sedentary person that we like and can see ourselves doing repeatedly as a lifestyle change.)

Plans for the year ahead are pretty simple.

I won’t call them new year resolutions, as those seem traditionally broken or forgotten by April or so, but more of guiding principles to skew my life towards in 2016:

1. Pay more mindful attention towards health and exercise.

This cover things like trying to choose healthier foods when possible and enjoy indulgences in smaller proportions. Practice more mindful portion control, we know roughly how much we should be eating, it’s just ridiculously easy to over-eat because the bag of chips is there and we want the sensation of crunch while watching a show or whatever. Make an effort to move more, whenever the opportunity arises, just to get in the habit of -moving-.

2. Actively seek out a variety and novelty of experiences.

I’ve been noticing that I get depressed (or at least slow down, get apathetic or negative) every time I get into a rut and end up feeling like there’s nothing more to life than waking, going to work, eating, sleeping, rinse and repeat, with maybe some gaming in there from time to time.

To combat this, I think the first few words are important, I may need to be proactively looking to switch things up and keep myself focused on experiencing a whole bunch of different things. We’ll see how this works out in the year ahead.

3. Hoard less, use more.

It may be an odd slogan to coin, but I just finished a library book the other day (part of my branching-out-to-do-other-things-than-just-GW2 campaign) by Randy Frost, titled “Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things.

It was a nice read and a bit of an eye-opener. I mean, sure, we’ve all seen the hoarding TV shows, gawked at the spectacle of extreme hoarding and probably gave thanks that our own homes have not quite descended to -that- level.

But I liked how the book explained that forced intervention usually don’t solve the underlying problem – something within the person that causes them to feel obliged to hoard, and elaborated on various reasons while not being judgmental (one interesting twist of perspective is that some hoarders are very adept at creating connections and imbuing meaning and uses to objects that most people would consider junk, and thus find it hard to throw anything away; or that some hoarders rely on objects to build up an almost encyclopedic memory of stories about each thing, a sort of tangible memory palace to fuel prodigious feats of memory, so asking them to throw stuff away is like asking them to discard their memories or parts of themselves…)

Hoarding, it seems, may also have a genetic basis. Which does jibe when I look around at my life and realize that one of my family members is likely to have at least a moderate hoarding problem (which makes discarding old furniture and bulky household items quite a challenge) and that I probably have a subclinical to mild hoarding one as well. (See the Clutter Image Ratings on the Amazon page, or the full PDF.)

Most of the house hovers around the 2 mark, with one or two rooms (a storeroom and the room inhabited by the family hoarder) at 5.

It’s unlikely said family hoarder is going to change, but at least said family hoarder respects room boundaries.

In the meantime, I have my eye on the rest of the rooms, the bulk of which is either my stuff or family-owned stuff and am motivated to change up some things about myself, if only to eliminate dust allergies, make future cleaning easier, and have rooms that look easier on the eye and -pleasant- to look at and enjoy.

The good news is that I haven’t been really acquiring new clutter for the past decade, having moved much of my life (and my hoarding tendencies) to the digital realm. Yeah, I have somewhat crazy MMO and Steam game collections. But hey, they don’t take up as large amounts of space!

(The “hoard less, use more” slogan also applies in a figurative sense to the digital hoard. I intend to play more of my Steam games and branch out this year. It’s time to use and enjoy what I’ve been stockpiling.)

The bulk of the clutter that has yet to be dealt with is old stuff and once gotten rid of, unlikely to ever come back in such volume. Definitely something to work on this year. Hopefully it doesn’t take up the whole year and I can spend more of the time -enjoying- the freed up space and actually -using- the things that I choose to value and keep.

The latter is a big motivator for me. While decluttering this month, I keep encountering stuff I’ve wanted to do, but “kept for later” (be it books to read, hobbies to take up, games to play, whatever.)

That stuff ends up buried under piles of other stuff, forgotten until unearthed.

It’s way past time to unearth it and enjoy it, before it rots or I pass on and end up leaving it for some other poor bastard to clean up.

Blaugust Day 2: The (Very Optimistic) To-Do List

It’s past noon on a Sunday and I’m finally feeling somewhat human again after some intensive sleep and a warm lunch in my belly.

I managed to finish a scan-through of all the blogs that posted on Day 1 of Blaugust, and wow, I am not envying Belghast‘s self-inflicted job over the next 30 days to keep it all organized.

Anyhow, there’s gaming I want to get around to, but first, a blog post to satisfy Day 2.

I’m going to use Izlain’s good idea of creating a gamer to-do list to provide some focus for the rest of the month.

My personal rules are going to be a little less strict or structured: I’m likely to shuffle things around, add and remove at will, and my mind has no idea what ‘reasonable size’ even means. 🙂

Mostly, it’s just to have a list of stuff-I-might-want-to-do for me to refer to, when I’m trying to figure out what I want to do next.

So here we go:

  • Watch the Dota 2 International (3- 8 August, so this week.)

My optimistic dreams of learning Dota 2 to a sufficiently decent level didn’t quite materialize, stalling at the limited pool of 20 heroes, but I enjoy watching the spectacle anyway. I’ll just watch at my basic level of understanding and pick up stuff from the commentary. Still enjoyable, even if I can’t appreciate every last nuance.

  • Play the GW2 Beta Weekend (7 – 10 August)

The beta weekend announcement also includes some nice thought-provoking questions asking for specific feedback that might turn out great as prompts for a blog post. Two birds with one stone, hoorah. We’ll see how it goes, though.

It looks like it’ll mostly be the same content as the first two sneak peeks, and I found it very hard to write much about it because it felt then like more of the same. Which wasn’t -bad-, it was comfortable, familiar, a little bit grindy, but neither was it blow-your-socks-off-spectacular either. It felt like, okay, we’ve had Dry Top, we’ve had Silverwastes, and now Verdant Brink is the next continuation of that. Right. It’s (more or less) playable. I get where you’re going with this. I guess… it’s all right, it’s acceptable, no strong reactions either way.

  • Seriously attack the hobby room with a GTD-based cleaning effort (7 – 10 August)

Not quite game-related, but I’ve been on a declutter kick, and that’s something I’ve earmarked for the long extended holiday weekend. It’ll be nice to find a carrot to reward a serious effort at this, but I’ve been feeling quite content and satisfied after finishing the scientific skin collection in GW2. I just kinda want to build up some gold reserve again, is all.

Perhaps I might either think about a dreamthistle skin (not the whole damn collection though, shudders) or maybe allow myself to spend some money in Trove.

GTD (just google it), by the way, is the system that best works for me when decluttering. Collect everything by yanking it all out into a pile. Process it a piece at a time, figuring out what it is and what should be done with it. Organize it into categories for storing in its proper place (decide on a place if it doesn’t have on) or associate a next action/project to be done with it (scan it, donate it, whatever). I’m definitely still working on the Review and Do steps though. Not quite gotten the total hang of those yet.

  • Scan at least a book a day for the month of August.

As mentioned, my declutter project wasn’t quite done, even after three focused weeks of effort.

bookstobescanned

This pile is one of those still-to-dos. They’re still in decently good condition, but I have to accept that a) I just don’t have the space to keep so many books any more, b) I’m not likely to pull them out to read or re-read them, now that I’m hooked on an iPad and find reading on a computer screen not stressful at all, and c) that they -will- grow mold and fungus over the next ten years in my climate, making it less and less likely that b) will ever happen.

Solution: Ditch the paper, keep the knowledge digitally.

Depending on just how sentimental and unable to detach from your possessions you are, it might be possible to get by with a camera documenting memories of your stuff, but given the number of books I own (the pile is, like, just one shelf), plus loose papers and business cards, receipts, bills, letters and other assorted junk, I invested in the Fujitsu Scansnap series years ago and swear by them.

I own the S1500 model, now replaced by the newer-and-improved ix500, which is a workhorse of a scanner with an auto-document feeder. Books that I care little about preserving, I slice the pages off the spine and let the faithful scanner nom it up and spit it back out in PDF form. The software is pretty decent, with an AABBY Finereader variant for the Scansnap for OCR, and comes with Adobe Acrobat.

This year, I couldn’t resist the SV600, which fills in for the gaps that the previous scanner can’t handle. Namely, stuff larger than A4 sizes and books that you want to scan non-destructively.

Personally, I find it a little slower, in the sense that the manual flipping of pages becomes the scanning bottleneck because a human can’t turn pages as fast as the scanner can scan, and the resolution and accuracy can be a bit more iffy and take up more human processing time tweaking settings pre- and post-scan (there’s a lot of neat software tricks for straightening booklet scans, removing fingers, etc. but you have to go in as a human and adjust little dots one at a time to tell the computer what to do, so stuff slows down.)

But it really fills in the gaps that the first scanner just couldn’t handle, and between the two of them and a digital camera, it gives me no excuses tools-wise for not being able to digitize anything.

Only my procrastination and easy distractibility stands in the way.

So, taking advantage of Blaugust, that pile is slightly over 30-40 books (some of them pretty small), and I’m aiming to scan at least one a day (preferably more on the weekends just in case I run out of time on the weekdays) to go along with my blog post per day. Probably try to get the small ones first.

  • Goals for Trove
    • Level ringcrafting (I’m at 206, gotta get to 250. It requires mining ridiculous amounts of shapestone ore, 1100, at last count.)
    • Level gardening (Just crossed the 50 mark, I suspect it also requires an absurd amount of shapestone or sunflower whatsits.)
    • Get a better mount (Still using Slow Sebastian with the 70 mountspeed, normal mounts are 90 speed. I’m eyeing the store raptor, which requires the daily earning of cubits – obtainable in-game, and/or something fun from the Treasure Isles traders, which require an insane amount of glim, which I don’t have, but might earn fishing.)
    • Fish (which increases glim, and one needs to fish up 5 rare fish for ancient scales to upgrade one’s fishing pole. There seems to be an approximately 1% chance to catch a rare, which means 1 in 100 lures or so. Bit of a time suck, so do this while watching stuff in the other screen. Good thing there are going to be quite a few Dota 2 matches on the to-do list too.)
    • Get an ally (I’m not entirely sure on all the different ways yet, but I have my eye on the Prowling Shadow, which reputedly makes performance better with a whole lot of lifesteal, and that is apparently a rare drop from buying cat soultraps (aka lockboxes) at 300 glim each. That’s a -lot- of fishing for glim.)
    • Get boat (Finding those Treasure Isles traders is probably going to involve a lot of running around on the seas. One of these would help. No idea how to quite get one yet either. Gotta look it up. I suspect it’s also going to need glim, or some rare fishing resources.)
    • Plus the usual run around, fight stuff, get xp, do dailies, level to max level 20, play alts, the works.
  • Goals for GW2
    • Finish the new LA jumping puzzle (guiltily, I haven’t really bothered with it much. I might just look up a video and follow it, it just doesn’t seem to scratch an explorer itch because I don’t even know where one should be aiming towards and there are a whole lot of things that look like they could be jumped on, but don’t quite turn out that way when you try.)
    • Finish Dry Top badges and the llama hunt (never quite got around to the Challenger Cliffs completion)
    • Finish Silverwastes badges (I’m missing one or two normal ones and many many golden ones)
    • Finish the last undone jumping puzzle in my achievements tab (can’t remember what it is, but I know there’s one more I never got around to doing)
    • Finish the Ebonhawke achievements (the book reading and the poster things)
    • Possibly tidy up alt inventories again
    • Open all the champion bags I’ve been chucking in the bank with the low level alt
    • Maybe sort out my bank
    • Slowly build up gold reserves cleaned out from the crazy scientific skin chase
  • Watch Indie Game: The Movie

This comes in completely from left-field, but I was just scrolling through my Steam games list and realize that it was there. Possibly came bundled with some Humble Bundle or other, or something.

I watched Free 2 Play, the Dota 2 documentary, and didn’t feel like I wasted my time watching it, even if it’s mostly spectacle and fluff. I just kinda liked the idea that games have gotten serious enough, or at least part of the mainstream enough, to have documentaries made about them. So, why not? It’s like watching those “making of” movie clips, not exactly full of substance, but just a brief, polished look at some behind-the-scenes or production aspects.

Anyway, I need some easy goals for the tough days too.

  • Other Games I May or May Not Get Around to Playing, But Have Been Thinking About Trying or Re-Visiting
    • AI War
    • Astebreed
    • Cinemaware: Anthology
    • Dishonoured
    • Don’t Starve
    • Evolve
    • Gone Home
    • Hate: Plus
    • Her Story
    • How to Survive
    • Injustice: Gods Among Us
    • In Verbis Virtus
    • Minecraft (with all those lovely mods)
    • Path of Exile (the Awakening expansion)
    • Poker Night 2
    • Puzzle Pirates
    • Puzzle Quest
    • Realm of the Mad God (it may have deproved, there was some bruhaha around the cash shop around the time I stopped playing)
    • Skyforge
    • Spacechem
    • Spiral Knights (I really liked this game, but geographical latency issues were a killer)
    • Strike Suit Zero
    • Tales of Maj’Eyal
    • Talos Principle
    • The Banner Saga
    • The Blackwell Legacy
    • The Dig
    • The Stanley Parable (I played the free version, got the paid one in a bundle)
    • Terraria
    • Warframe (tried,  not super-impressed, may give it one more go before writing a ‘first impressions’ piece, or just chucking it entirely)

Yeah, well, I’m optimistic. What can I say. Getting the first four done will already make me very happy. We’ll see how far we get on the rest.

End of an Era – Books, Paper Manuals and Game Boxes

It's a tunnel! It's a digitally doctored circle! It's the moon as taken with a cruddy camera!

One is starting to see the light at the end of the big decluttering project I set for myself.

Among the targets were six cupboard shelves full of assorted books, magazines, DVDs, paper files and computer-related items, including hardware and game manuals and space-filling game boxes of a venerable age.

The biggest motivating factor in countering the hoarder tendency has been a revelation that Paper Doesn’t Last.

This sobering fact was driven home by the discovery of small flecks of white and yellow mold sneaking their way onto the sides and surfaces of book pages and a few Magic: The Gathering cards.

I could deal with aging yellowed paper and patiently cleaning off accumulated dirt and dust from tomes undisturbed for a decade. Fungus, I can’t handle.

I suspect it’s an allergy to mold spores. My face turns red, sinuses overload and start running uncontrollably, I end up walking around indoors looking like someone suffering from hay fever and an experimental test of dosing myself with off-the-counter antihistamines kept the symptoms at bay for 24 hours. Pretty much all the confirmation I need without an official patch test or what not.

The solution, of course, has been to go digital.

This two-birds-one-stone strategy neatly circumvents the hoarder part of me that protests throwing away things based on sentimental value (I can still browse through all the things to revive warm fuzzy memories), frees up physical space and reduces surfaces available for nasty things to collect on.

Yeah, I lose a little something in not being able to -touch- my objects, but I’m willing to trade it off since it means those allergens can’t touch me in return.

Tangibility is a two-edged sword, after all.

And the progress of technology and culture has finally moved to a point where this has become more reality than science fiction.

First, the digital camera. Oddly shaped, bulky items need remembering? Point and shoot. Check there and then that everything is in focus and satisfactory, else shoot again. Plug into a computer, copy and upload. The days of slowly taking film to a photo studio to develop are over.

Now, ebooks are in. You can cart around a library in an iPad or a smart phone while you’d probably need a wheelbarrow to do the same with paper tomes.

All the conversion process requires is a really good scanner. That technology has been moving in leaps and bounds, improving in speed, sophistication and ease-of-use. With the right machine and an automatic document feeder, an inch thick stack of paper can be preserved electronically in under five minutes.

I own a Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500, which has served me well over the last few years. (By now, it seems there’s a newer model iX500 and an even newer SV600 with a different angle on things, but you know me, hoarders own fossils and toasters, not the latest stuff.)

The biggest hurdle to get over with ADF scanners is the sacrilegious act of book vandalism.

bookblasphemy

There’s the physical de-spining, which I have to do by hand, since I don’t live in a country with a nice neighborhood Kinko’s that can guillotine off the spines for a pittance.

But mostly it’s a mental thing. BOOKS, like bodies, are not meant to be cut open.

“But… but…” the brain says… “What if someone else could have used and treasured the volume?”

As time wears on though, observed cultural changes suggest that it is not so much of a concern any longer. Once ubiquitous secondhand book store chains in shopping malls have been closing and going out of business. I see more people staring at screens on the subway commute than paper. The younger generation watches videos, they do not *gasp* -read-.

Newer published books often come with a cheaper digital alternative. The last few shopowners I found still trading in old books offer to buy a pile off you for 5 bucks. That’s the whole pile. In Singapore dollars, so $3.92 USD. You can’t even buy a Starbucks coffee or a movie ticket for that trade. That’s how unwanted these poor things are.

In a way, it is now an act of preservation to digitize.

The possibility of hard disk failure can be circumvented by multiple redundant copies living in separate external hard disk drives. (Which perhaps makes for slightly dodgy skirting of copyright rules, but they’re all for personal use and I’m not sharing the copies with anybody.)

And the honest truth of the matter is, I’m more likely these days to read a book thusly:

ipadpage

While halfway through the process of clearing out computer game manuals, I realized something: They really don’t make ’em like they used to.

A good majority of the newer manuals were thin, greyscale, stapled items that mostly screamed we’re saving packaging costs and who reads these things anyway?

A quick Google and a replacementdocs website visit later, I had digital copies that saved me the effort of scanning them. Some of them even came in color, where presumably more care was taken when selling to a US consumer than some poor bastard in the Asia-Pacific region.

But there were the rare tomes.

nowtheseweremanuals

Yes, tomes. Mostly from old RPGs like Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, Neverwinter Nights. Or strategy games like Warcraft III or Civilization III.

Nearly three quarters of an inch thick, spiral bound or with a glued spine.

I remember the times when one purchase of these games was all you got, and equally loving amounts of time was spent poring over these explanations rather than actually playing the game.

These were the guides of old, in the days before there really was the Internet to consult.

MMOs of a certain era were also represented. World of Warcraft, City of Villains, Guild Wars.

IN COLOR. Glossy pages to be thumbed through.

factionsmanual

I ended up keeping the GW manuals. Art is hard to discard.

Then there were the game boxes.

diytotempole

Those terrible space filling packaging items begging to be used as coffee table and mantlepiece displays because they’re so well built and pretty, it’s a shame to throw ’em away.

I suspect I’m still going to hang on to the Age of Conan and Warhammer Online collector edition boxes. They -are- ridiculously sturdy.

covbox

I’m still trying to decide either way on the City of Villains one. On one hand, it’s one of a kind, especially now that the MMO is defunct.

On the other hand, the MMO doesn’t exist any more. Moreover, it’s a dust trap. So probably not.

Then there’s the terrible irony of owning game boxes to stuff that is now found periodically for 5 bucks on Steam.

oblivion

*sigh*

Note the price tag of this one:

orangebox

Yep, once upon a time, it was a bargain to buy this at SGD$65, not $80! (About 50USD, give or take.)

How times have changed, indeed.

I haven’t bought a game that comes in a box for quite a long time now (with the exception of GW2’s collector’s edition box – the outer packaging quickly photographed then discarded, due to its monstrous size.)

And I find that I don’t miss it either.

Goodbye, paper. Hello, digital.