A bruiser of a year

Wed Mar 31, 2021

This month marks the one-year anniversary of going into lockdown, restricted gatherings, working from home, and so on. We’re at almost three million deaths so far from COVID-19, a number that undoubtedly would be a lot higher without the drastic global action taken this past year.

This one-year period has fomented a significant societal shift, and I can’t even guess what the long-term consequences may be. But if I were to hazard a guess, I’d say that, in general, people have become more suspicious, less open, and psychologically overburdened with either a well of anger or of loneliness seething beneath the surface.

Like Batman.

Also like Batman, more prone to hiding in dark caves and staring at a glowing bank of screens. However, we’ve also become smarter about the way we work, travel, and communicate. Some humanity lost, but some efficiency gained.

Perhaps we will start hugging each other again someday, and perhaps we’ll rip the Bane masks off and see each other’s smiles again, and regain some of that humanity. Vaccines are aggressively rolling out as I write this, with politicians promising a much brighter summer.

If you’re relying on the promises of politicians for your future happiness, however, you may just be disappointed.

Now is a great time to reflect and re-evaluate your priorities. You could sit with remorse and regret every day (about how you failed to invest in Bitcoin or NFTs earlier, for example), or you could take a look at your life (not a hard look, mind you, more like a gentle gaze). Congratulate yourself on your achievements. Or decide to make some small, incremental, positive changes.

But wherever you’re at, cut yourself some slack - it’s been a bruiser of a year.

When I gaze back on my life, I can’t help getting a bit metaphysical. Do you believe in fate, coincidences, divine intervention, or whatever you would call that inexplicable intervention that changes the course of your life? Or do you believe in full autonomy, agency, and proactivity in determining the path of your life?

When I think of amazing coincidences, I think about that fateful hike up Bhukan San in 2004. Seoul has a population of almost ten million people. What are the odds of meeting the father of the son who sent you to South Korea at that exact minute, on that exact day? And what are the odds you would strike up a conversation with him, and help him all the way up that mountain as he hobbled slowly with his walking cane and with the cancer in him? Which led to dinner and a visit to his home.

I’d say those odds are pretty high. Like one in ten million. Even at fifty-fifty odds, you could still fail to win the lottery on a coin toss.

I think about John sometimes and hope that he had a good end. I know he had a full life. When I was desperate for a steady teaching job in Vancouver, that connection did get me a job without an interview.

But here lies the incongruence - teaching wasn’t my dream job. And the son did not have the honour of the father.

Yet, not only did that job come when I most needed it, it allowed me to buy a car and live and work in White Rock. And living right on the border allowed me to drive down every other weekend to visit my girlfriend in Seattle and keep that relationship going. And that girlfriend became my wife, and we had two beautiful kids, and so on. The ripple effect from one chance meeting is quite simply, astonishing.

Agency and autonomy are just as important though - following your dreams, sating your wanderlust, and feeding your passion. All your wants and desires, all bound within the constraints of practicality and prudence - that’s what life boils down to. But then there are those moments of absolute surprise and delight…sometimes you have to look back to even see them.

Reading Tom Johnson’s recently-penned life story really got me thinking about the bigger picture. I found some common threads in his story. He also moved away from teaching towards writing, and he also chose technical writing as a more financially-stable writing profession. And there are many more technical writers like him, with creative minds who bring a liberal-arts mindset into the engineering arena. Often met with derision or resistance, but ultimately such a boon to those who see the value in infusing different points of view into a company culture.

Incidentally, there’s an anthropological angle to technical writing too - being the lone writer, an outsider, who must navigate and document a different culture (oddly enough, all those anthropology lectures on First Nations fishing practices are also loosely related to some of my exposure to the fishing industry at work).

I do love technology though, which is a common ground that obviously helps a lot when working in the high-tech industry.

And can I say how much I appreciate our IT guy for putting together a waitlist for retired computers back in 2019. Getting in early on that list paid off, cause I was one of the first to choose out of the latest crop of free used machines. As no doubt regular readers of this blog know, I’ve wanted a Windows machine for some light gaming for a while now. Getting a free machine is perfect - I get to re-use a computer that would have been recycled anyway, and I don’t have to justify spending any money.

Having said that, I was initially willing to shell out for a GPU so I could at least play Civilization VI. As it turns out, I don’t even need to.

The free PC I got is an HP EliteDesk 800 G1 tower. I chose the full-size tower instead of the small-form factor variant cause I thought it would be easier to upgrade.

Then I read this article and wasn’t too surprised to learn that this PC’s proprietary motherboard and power supply is crippled when it comes to gaming. But regardless, I thought I could follow the advice in the article and buy a used Radeon RX 560 on eBay for around $50. Boy, was I wrong. The current Bitcoin price has flooded the GPU market with miners and scalpers, there is a silicon shortage, and the covid situation has jacked up demand. In short, even old crappy GPUs are selling well above their value. That low-end Radeon RX 560 is going for over $200 on eBay used - and for a weird Chinese brand to boot.

So, you can imagine my delight when I popped the hood and discovered that my new-old PC was decently specced with an Intel i7 CPU, a 1TB SSD, Windows 10, and… a discrete Nvidia GeForce GT 630 GPU with 2GB of memory. Don’t get me wrong, this setup won’t run any new triple-A titles, but for my free collection of older games on Epic Games, Itch.io, Steam, GOG, and Ubisoft Uplay, it will do just fine.

So yesterday, while my daughter was making Kreacher’s French Onion Soup from her Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook, I finally played The Stanley Parable for the first time. I’d been wanting to play this game for a while and it was as twisted and viciously satirical as I’d hoped. I also briefly played Civilization VI and soon came to the sober realization that I don’t have endless hours to pour into micromanaging an entire society from the Stone Age to the Space Age. Or, at least, I’m old enough and responsible enough to have better things to do, like eat my daughter’s soup (it was delicious). Civilization VI ran like a dream though, which is all I was hoping for.

Sony has also gotten into the spirit of game giveaways and is giving away some great PS4 games, including Ratchet and Clank and Subnautica. So basically there’s no chance of being bored in 2021.

I may be becoming Batman - but I’m not a bored Batman. However, as we move into Spring and Summer, I’m looking forward to leaving the cave more often, getting some sweet sunshine, and moving on to a bit more normalcy - at least one can hope.

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