Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My 2013

There's three reasons I wanted to write this.  When I think back on this year, it's all a bit of a jumble of details, and I wanted to get it clearer.  When I think back to what happened in my life in any given year in the past, I can hardly remember any specific details, so I wanted this to be a way to help me remember this year in the future.  And I think it's nice to share a bit about what's been going on in your life.  I always like hearing about what others have been up to.

This is the first time I've tried writing something like this.  I found it very difficult!  It was hard to know what kinds of details to put into it and how to structure it.  Hopefully the experience of doing it this year will make me better at this kind of thing in the future.

(Details about the books, films, TV shows, games, and music I experienced this year are here).

Overall, it wasn't a bad year.  I moved forwards with a number of things.  And of course I have to make special mention of M -- thank you for everything this year.


I made some solid progress with my PhD.  For the five or so years prior to 2013 I'd been working part-time, but this year I didn't have a job so was able to work full-time on my PhD.  And after nine years of working on it, I finally got over that hump in explaining the ideas and started writing it up, and got through early drafts of several chapters.  I'm aiming to finish it by the end of 2014.

The amount of time it's been taking has weighed on me a bit this year.  It's been nine years of very little money or free time, and a big opportunity cost in terms of career development and life in general.  It feels a bit like life has been put on hold over those years.  But still it is ultimately what I want to be doing, and I still believe there'll be a worthwhile payoff in the end.


The breathing problems, and the consequent sleeping problems, that have plagued me over the last couple of years thankfully started to settle down towards the end of this year, and there's been general improvement in all my health problems (some of the areas where the muscles are ridiculously weak are slowly getting stronger and I'm slowly getting increased flexibility).  But still, those problems had a bit impact on my productivity, and meant I had less productive time each day, and consequently that a larger proportion of it has to be spent on PhD writing.  Which has meant I haven't caught up with friends that much, or done much in the way of other activities, this year.

Half way through the year I discovered, to my surprise, that I'm gluten intolerant.  Long story short, my health has improved a fair bit after getting off gluten (and now that my body has had time to recover, even fairly small amounts of gluten effect me pretty badly).  There is an intriguing link between the gluten and my musculo-skeletal/neurological problems, but it seems there currently just isn't enough medical knowledge about such things.  I'm hoping that in the longer term being off gluten will help reduce those problems.  The next step is to see what sort of tests I can get done and figure out whether it is just an intolerance or Celiac disease. 

Slow Carb diet

When I first started going gluten-free I went on the Slow Carb diet as a means to make it easier to be gluten-free but also just to lose weight.  I managed to lose 13 kgs quite quickly and have kept it off.  The diet is pretty well designed: I never felt hungry, and the weekly 'cheat day', when you can eat whatever you like, helps keep it sustainable. 

The 'cheat day' as a weekly break and day to work on other projects

The weekly 'cheat day' (on Sunday) felt like a little holiday, so I ended up deciding that, instead of working on PhD writing 7 days a week, I'd take Sundays off, which turned out to make a good weekly routine.  On Sundays I started doing some recreational things like watching a DVD, going for a walk, and playing some games.  I'd always tried in the past to make headway on some non PhD projects, but I'd never been able to regularly find the time, but now I spend 2 hours each Sunday on them, which has been great.  This year I was programming a proof-of-concept of my fan menus idea (which is still in progress).

Podcasts and getting back into games

A big part of my day-to-day routine over the last few years has been all my prepartion for getting to bed -- hotpacks, traction and stretches -- so that I can have a chance of sleeping, what with all the bad breathing problems stemming from the musculo-skeletal stuff etc.

At some point this year I started listening to podcasts while doing the stretches.  I ended up listening to ones on Indie game development.  First, the The Game Engine podcast, and then when I'd gone through all of the episodes of that, the Big Sushi podcasts.  I found it inspiring listening to people talking about the process, and hearing about how much more accessible game development is these days (compared to when I was back at uni in the 90s).  Makes me feel like I'd like to have a go at it sometime and try out some of my interactive storytelling ideas.

Over the last 15 or so years I mostly haven't played games much, but with listening to those podcasts and having Sundays off, I started playing some more computer games, particularly ones focused on interactive storytelling.  I wanted to get more of a sense of what's out there.  Partially for the interactive storytelling ideas, but also because games in general seems to be an area where there's a reasonable amount of innovation.  With my interest in education/communication/user interfaces, it's always interesting to see where you can get inspiration from.  Playing more games has meant I've read less this year. 

Noisy Neighbours

This year was my second one spent living at Corinda, which is a fairly nice place.  But our neighbours have been a problem.  After moving from Indooroopilly to avoid problems with horrible neighbours-noise, we've ended up with awful neighbours that are so disruptive and stressful.  Initially the ones from the gray house nearby, who were loud at night and into the mornings.  But they ended up quietening down then moving out.  Now it's the ones at the white house, who are constantly screaming (angrily, at the tops of their lungs) at each other.  Makes it unpleasant living here.


Not having a job has meant needing to be fairly frugal.  Didn't do much in the way of activities this year, and didn't go on any holidays.  A few miscellaneous things:

  • Several weddings this year.  In March there was Mark and Adele's over on Stradbroke Island.  Then there were several overseas weddings that I would have loved to have gone to, but didn't have the time or money to do so: my cousin We Chong's, my cousing Pei Li's, and my friend Lehka's.
  • Dad and Debbie were in Western Australia this year.  Dad working up at Pilbera, first working directly on train lines, then surveying, then managing stores.  Debbie at the store in Fremantle.  Dad come over here a couple of times during year.
  • My four-year old iPhone 3GS stopped working, so I got a silver iPhone 5S.

Overall, this hasn't been a bad year.  I'm glad that my health problems have improved, and finding out about the gluten intolerance has been a big thing for me.  The PhD has been a really long journey and I'm really looking forwards to getting it done within the next year or so.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

My 2013 in books, games, film, tv and music

What I read (saw, played, etc) in 2013.  Most of these weren't released in 2013, though.

My top picks, the ones that stood out:

  • The game "The Walking Dead" (season 1)

    Though I still don't think interactive storytelling has truly lived up to its potential, The Walking Dead does a pretty damn good job.  It's a pretty powerful experience.  Even if you don't like computer games, it's worth taking a look at.

  • The movie "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre"

    Deservedly a classic.  Quite enjoyable, never too predictable, and has a good ending.  I really liked how it felt quite naturalistic, with the plot arising organically from the situation.


Also worth a mention
  • Books
    • I didn't get to read that many books this year, but out of those I did, the best ones were:
    • Cider With Rosie, by Laurie Lee. Nice memoir of childhood in Cotswold village in 1920s. The writing is mostly pretty good.
    • The Main Dish (Kindle Single), Michael Ruhlman. Interesting look at how, to the author's surprise, he ended up becoming a food and cookbook author. Well written and pretty funny.
  • Games
  • Films
    • Kumare. Pretty interesting and thought provoking.
    • Indie Game: The Movie. Doco about the journey of some indie-game developers as they're making their games.
    • Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Interesting doco about Jiro Ono, a master sushi maker, and his philosophy on work and striving for perfection.
    • Unforgiven.  Quite good.  Been wanting to see this movie for so long - glad I finally got around to it.
    • Once Upon a Time in the West. Style wins over substance, but a pretty good triumph. Visuals and music were excellent. Intriguing all the way through.
    • The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.   Good, though I liked "Once Upon a Time in the West" (also by Sergio Leone) a little more.
  • Music
    • I didn't listen to much new music this year.  For whatever reason, I just haven't been into music as much lately.  Part of it's that most of the time I'm listening to music I'm doing PhD writing, and I find vocals a bit too distracting, so I only listen to instrumental stuff (mostly electronic stuff) and I don't really know of a good way of finding out about new releases of the sort I like.
    • Tomorrow's Harvest, by Boards of Canada.  It's a good album but I don't like the bleaker aesthetic on it as much as that on their earlier albums.
  • TV shows
    • Derek, season 1.  Ricky Gervais comedy/drama.

  • Books
  • Games
    • Gone Home.  An admirable experiment interactive storytelling, but ultimately I don't think it works that well.  Worth a look if you're interested in how interactive storytelling can be done.
    • Katawa Shoujo.  A straight-up "visual novel", so pretty much just a matter of reading through it rather than being a game.  Wasn't bad, but targeted more at teens than someone like me (I was curious about these visual novels and this was one people recommended).
    • "Fester Mudd" episode 1 (on iOS).
    • "The Silent Age" episode 1.
    • The Majesty of Colors.  A quick play.  Ok, but nothing special.
    • Proteus.  Ok, but I found it a little dull
    • Sourcery!  I was interested to see what those "game books" are like.  Good presentation and I think good for what it is, but not really my kind of thing.  Even though it is textual, it doesn't feel like a story to me.
    • MIMPI.  Puzzle platformer where you play as a dog.  Some frustrating puzzles and controls can be frustrating, but otherwise pretty decent.
  • Films
  • TV shows
    • Broadchurch, season 1
    • The Shield, seasons 1 & 2.  Pretty decent -- and compared to most tv shows, pretty good -- but it too often relies on improbable escapes from tricky situations.  We decided not to watch the rest of the seasons.  Our search for another show that can stand up to The Wire continues...


Bit Meh
  • Books
    • The Last Website.  Nice presentation but the story didn't do much for me.  Far too obtuse.
  • Games
    • The Novelist.  An experiment in interactive storytelling that doesn't work.  I mostly agree with these reviews.
    • Galatea.  A textual 'interactive fiction' game.  Didn't find it interesting.
    • De Baron.  Also interactive fiction.  Didn't do much for me.
    • The Graveyard.  Nothing to really engage with in it, so its hard to get emotional impact from it.
  • Films
    • Rashomon.  Interesting idea, but it wasn't well capitalised on.  Dull, and doesn't convey anything interesting through the use of the multiple perspectives.  I've only seen one other Kurosawa film so far, The Seven Samurai, but I thought that was much better.

Lots Meh
  • Books
    • Juniper's Knot.  Lame. Adolescent-quality writing and content, and the way animation/interactivity was used actually detracted from things.
  • Games