Checking my past journal entries, I see that Younger Nephew and I began playing Mass Effect 2 in earnest on January 23, 2017. Yesterday afternoon, we finished the game. There was much rejoicing!
And then we started in on Mass Effect 3. He was a bit frustrated with the length of the tutorial section and the number of extended cutscenes early on in the game, but he's pretty captivated by the story line of the Reapers attacking Earth. He's really eager to find his old crew mates: he keeps wondering aloud what Grunt and Jacob are up to, and when we met Liara again, he pumped his fist in the air and shouted, "Yes!"
This is all new territory for me, since I haven't played Mass Effect 3 by myself. I'm looking forward to experiencing a new story line.This entry was originally posted at https://wshaffer.dreamwidth.org/365996.html. You can comment here or there.
Played Mass Effect 2 with Younger Nephew today. We're getting close to finishing it. I'm going to have to decide what to try him on next. Mass Effect 3 is probably inevitable, but I understand the ending is disappointing. Then again, Younger Nephew might not care provided that there are suitably epic explosions.
Although his grasp of storytelling has grown by leaps and bounds. He has particularly latched on to the idea that certain scenes are setting up for or hinting at future events. In some cases, quite perceptively - he was very clear on the idea that when he intervened in the fight between Miranda and Jack, and sided with Jack, that that was going to cause problems between him and Miranda later. Other connections seem more dubious - he explained to me that it was obvious that the Illusive Man was a bad guy (something he has been insisting on from quite early on) because "his eyes are blue, and the Collectors...sort of bluish! It's obvious, really!"
He was also very emotionally engaged with the game events. He admitted to being "terrified" by the mission on the derelict Reaper ship, and almost decided to bail on it and come back when he had better weapons. I encouraged him to try again and he got through it. He was delighted by the character of Legion, telling me, "I don't know why, but I really like this guy!" (I really like Legion, too.) He was super-dismayed by the interlude in which Shepherd leaves the ship and you have to play as Joker. ("Aw, I'm Shepherd! Why do I have to be this jerk?")
I'm also really intrigued by how much he remembers of game events that he didn't seem to be all that interested in at the time. When we picked up the character of Jack, he didn't really seem all that interested in her. But today he suddenly informed me that we had to go "find the girl that we rescued from the prison" and do her loyalty mission. And when we visited the lab where Jack was experimented on, he turned to me and said, "No wonder she's a psychopath!" (He was a bit upset by Jack's tendency to swear. To be fair, I'd forgotten how salty her language could be. Younger Nephew turned to me at one point and exclaimed, wide eyed, "I only know two swear words, and she just used both of them in one sentence!" But he also told me that he knew those words because his brother had taught them to him. I want this on record so I won't be blamed if he uses those words later.)
Anyway, if anyone has any game recommendations for an increasingly sophisticated young boy, drop 'em in the comments. (I don't think I can interest him in the Dragon Age games yet, sadly - he's remained resolutely uninterested in any fantasy games in my collection except for The Witcher 3, and he is in not old enough for that one yet.)This entry was originally posted at https://wshaffer.dreamwidth.org/365572.html. You can comment here or there.
...but we may have forgotten when the pharmacy opens.
Yesterday morning, I got up and left the house at 9 am to walk down to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription. Only to remember before I got there that the pharmacy doesn't open until 10 am on Sundays. Ooops.
So, I took a walk down Stevens Creek Boulevard. Which is normally a very busy commercial strip, but on a Sunday morning, before most of the businesses open, it was surprisingly quiet and peaceful. The sky was blue and the weather was lovely. I stopped in at one of the few places that was open, a Persian bakery and coffee house, and discovered that they bake a kind of Persian flatbread that I've never had before. It's a long rectangular piece of bread that looks a bit like lavash, with seeds on it. I watched the baker take the sheets of bread out of the oven and hang them up on pegs against the wall, and then take them down and slip them into long plastic bags. People came in and left with huge plastic bags of bread draped over one arm.
They make a good iced coffee and I'm totally going back there for breakfast and bread sometime.
I've forgotten how nice it can be just to aimlessly wander. And how many things I can still discover even in a neighborhood I've lived in for years.This entry was originally posted at https://wshaffer.dreamwidth.org/365555.html. You can comment here or there.
Youngest Niece, who is six, has noticed that Younger Nephew gets to hang out with me and play video games, so she asked if she could hang out with me and play video games.
We went out for sushi first, because sushi is her favorite food. Daniel and I were reflecting that we didn't have such sophisticated palates when we were six, but sushi wasn't nearly as ubiquitous then either.
We played Lego Marvel Superheroes, which I think is not as good a game as Lego Star Wars (some of the puzzles are very fiddly to solve), but is still pretty fun. Youngest Niece got a kick out of being able to play Spiderman, a favorite character of hers. Like her brother at the same age, when she figured out that it's possible in the Lego games for the player characters to kill each other, she spent about 10 minutes figuring out every possible way to kill my character. Hulk Smash! (Death is very gentle in the Lego games - you immediately get resurrected. So this behaviour is not nearly as annoying as it might sound.)
We also messed around with a driving game that was part of some arcade game sampler installed on the XBox, which we were both hilariously bad at. (Like, driving off cliffs bad.) And we played a few rounds of Pac Man, and then she decided that she was done with games for the day and we went and got ice cream.
When we got in the car to take her home, I asked her if she wanted to listen to heavy metal or K-Pop. She unhesitatingly replied, "heavy metal," and asked me to turn up the volume. We had a rousing sing-a-long to Europe's "The Final Countdown", but the best was really when Darkthrone's "Valkyrie" came on and she started improvising her own vocal line. Which mostly seemed to consist of "Wooooah, woah, woah, woah!" at the top of her lungs. Clearly she's a true fan! (Or, you know, she's six and she's just enthusiastic about everything.)
A rollicking good time was had by all.This entry was originally posted at https://wshaffer.dreamwidth.org/365196.html. You can comment here or there.
Played Mass Effect 2 with Younger Nephew today. He seems to be grasping more of the larger storyline, and is also pausing more frequently to make comments about the plot and the characters.
Also, after playing through a mission where he basically double-crossed everyone (partly unintentionally, I think) and was awarded with many Renegade points, he looked thoughtful and said, "I think maybe I want to be nice to *some* people."
Certain types of foreshadowing, however, are lost on him. He cleared out a room, and got to an elevator at the far end. Garrus said something like, "Wow, we're really out in the open here, especially if there's somebody in the elevator." And Shepherd responded with, "Good thing there's plenty of cover around." Younger Nephew had Shepherd stand directly in front of the elevator waiting for it to open, and was astonished when a bunch of krogan poured out and killed him off. "They just came out of nowhere!" he exclaimed. (After a reload, he pushed the elevator button, got into cover, and handily dealt with the hostile forces.)
I still do the code-matching puzzles for him, but he understands how they work well enough that he sometimes tries to help.This entry was originally posted at https://wshaffer.dreamwidth.org/364942.html. You can comment here or there.
I've had any number of things derail my workout plans over the years, but this was a new one. On Thursday afternoons, I usually go for a long walk along the pedestrian footpath that runs along Arastradero Road, near where I work. This week, I was actually thinking of trying out a nice easy jog along that route. But on Wednesday, a jogger was assaulted at gunpoint
right on a section of the path that I regularly travel, and the suspect hasn't been apprehended. So, I'm feeling a bit weird about my lovely solitary walks and jogs.
I brought my running gear to work yesterday, and was just going to go run sprints by myself on the soccer field, but then I remembered that my personal trainer teaches a bootcamp class on Thursday afternoons. I figured I would give something new a try.
The class setup was really fun - in honor of Easter, my trainer had written a bunch of different exercises on slips of paper, placed them in plastic Easter eggs, and hidden the eggs around the area outside the gym. We were divided into teams - each team had to find 5 eggs. Then we had a set period of time to do the exercises from all the eggs, and then the teams swapped exercises. (So we ended up doing 3 or 4 rounds.)
In general, the experience reminded me of all the things I hate and all the things I love about group fitness classes.
The things I hate:
1. Gratuitous appeals to weight loss/aesthetic goals. My trainer is actually really good about not doing this, but that doesn't stop the other particpants from shouting out things like, "We're doing this for our beach bodies!"
2. Random and haphazard exercise selection. I'm used to training with specific goals and progression in mind, and bootcamp classes don't really do that. You'll get exercises that you don't know how to do properly (Hello, box jumps!), exercises that you don't want to do (Crunches, for real? In 2018? Haven't you all read Stuart McGill?), exercises that are too hard, and exercises that are too easy.
3. Lifting weights and running are both almost forms of meditation for me. When I finish a session, I don't just get the physical benefits, but I usually feel mentally refreshed, calmer, and more focused. Doing burpees like a lunatic with 20 other people doesn't really have the same effect.
Things I love:
1. I like the novelty. It's fun to try new things.
2. It does get your heart rate up like whoah.
3. The cameraderie. There was lots of encouragement, high-fiving, and lots of commiseration in the locker room afterwards about how much burpees suck. (Yes, I hate other people and I love other people. Did you expect me to be consistent?)
Also, I managed to teach one of my teammates how to do a kettlebell swing without referencing anything NSFW, which is an achievement since a kettlebell swing basically consists of humping the air while holding a cannonball on a handle.
Group fitness classes also offer an interesting opportunity to measure up your fitness levels against a bunch of other people. I used to be able to confidently assume that I would stand out as the least fit person in any group fitness class. (Which isn't so bad - if you don't let it hit your self-esteem, you can serve a socially useful function.) Now, not so much. I'm still a noticeably slow runner, although my endurance isn't bad. I'm terrible at burpees and other similar exercises that involve flinging yourself up and down a lot. I'm reasonably good at anything requiring core strength. I'm unsurprisingly pretty darn good at anything that requires leg strength.
I don't think I'll do the bootcamp class on a regular basis, but I might join it now and again for a change of pace.This entry was originally posted at https://wshaffer.dreamwidth.org/364566.html. You can comment here or there.
I almost didn't go to the gym yesterday. I'd been at a conference all day. The room had been just slightly too warm, and I hadn't eaten enough protein at lunch, and so I was hungry, dehydrated, and slightly lethargic. But I made myself a deal that I'd drink some water, eat a snack, and go to the gym, and if I felt crappy, I could do a light easy workout and go home.
Apparently, water and string cheese is one hell of a pre-workout, because by the time I got to the gym and warmed up, I felt pretty good. So I decided that I'd stick to my original workout plan and do deadlifts.
What I've been doing for deadlift training lately is doing a couple of warmup sets, and then working with 185lbs on the bar, trying to increase the number of reps per set I can do. Over the course of the past couple months, I've worked up from 3 reps/set to 4 reps/set. And yesterday, I did a set of 5 reps. So, at that point, I put 205 on the bar. And did just one rep. But it felt pretty easy.
Then I thought, what the hell. Let's try 225.
For those of you who don't lift a lot, 225 is a significant number because the largest weight plates in the gym are typically 45 lbs, as is the barbell. So 225 = 1 barbell and 2 nice big 45lb plates on each side. It just looks cool.
I load it up, and another woman walks up to me and asks, "You can pull *that*?" And I'm like, "I don't know. I've never tried before!"
So, now I'm thinking, I have to make this. At the very least, I have to break the bar off the floor. It'll be too embarrassing if I don't even budge it.
I budged it. And completed the lift. And then I rested for a bit and did it again just to prove it was not a fluke.
I did take the rest of my workout pretty easy after that.This entry was originally posted at https://wshaffer.dreamwidth.org/364396.html. You can comment here or there.
I hit 220 lbs on the deadlift today. I may make that 225 goal my trainer and I set faster than we thought.
Possibly even more exciting: I am now capable of doing a 20 to 30 lb goblet squat to below parallel. Like hamstrings and calves touching below parallel. I can't get that low in a bodyweight squat, and I can't get that low in a back squat, but the fact that I can do it in a goblet squat means that there's nothing biomechanical preventing me from getting that low.This entry was originally posted at https://wshaffer.dreamwidth.org/364161.html. You can comment here or there.
During the last open enrollment period at work, I switched health insurance plans. Same provider, but a plan that ought to save me some money and hassle compared to my previous plan.
Now, it just so happens that I need to use my insurance for a routine procedure today, and I haven't gotten a new ID card. No worries, I think, I can just go to the Aetna site and print out an ID card. So, I log in, click the link that says "ID card", and get a message saying, "Sorry, we can't show your ID card right now, try again later."
I give Aetna a call, and go through the automated phone tree until I get something about ID cards. And it says, "You don't need your ID card to access benefits, but if you want one, you can log into your account on the website and print out one." Um. Well, let's try again. I log back in, and the link in the header that says "ID card" is gone. Can't find a link to ID cards anywhere.
Well, maybe they're serious about not needing an ID card. But...how does that work? Every medical provider I've seen in the past n years has asked for my insurance card before almost anything else. Even if I don't have to show them a physical card, surely I need to tell them something besides, "Uh, I have Aetna, and I don't know my plan number or group number or any of that shit because it is all on the ID card that I don't have."
I call Aetna back and get a human being and say, "This is probably a really stupid question, but I haven't gotten my new insurance cards and your phone system says I don't need them but I literally don't understand how I use my insurance without them. Halp?"
Nice human being doesn't seem to have a clue how one uses one insurance without a card, but she puts in a request to have cards sent, and tells me that if I download the Aetna app, I should be able to access my card. Or, you know, I can log into the website and print one.
So, I log back into the website one more time for giggles, and now the ENTIRE HEADER is gone. Never mind. I get the app, it displays my card with no problem, and even allows me to save it to my Apple wallet so that it is theoretically no longer at the mercy of Aetna IT.
This new plan is probably still going to save me money, but I'm not so sure about the hassle.This entry was originally posted at https://wshaffer.dreamwidth.org/363795.html. You can comment here or there.
I started working with a new personal trainer, Nikki, a couple of weeks ago. Before we started training, Nikki sent me an email asking me what my training goals were. In the past, I think I've been a bit unfocused in describing my goals to trainers. "Well, I want to get stronger. And prevent injury. And get better at running. And get more flexible. And get better at rock climbing. And, you know, just be generally healthy." And all of that's true, but the fact is, I only get one hour a week with my trainer, and not all of those goals are things I really need their help with. I'm currently getting enough physical activity to cover the "generally healthy" part of the equation; I'm not currently injured and I seem (knock on wood) to be doing a good enough job of paying attention to my body to keep little tweaks and imbalances from turning into serious injuries; and although I'm nobody's idea of a great runner, I'm progressing enough to keep me happy.
So, I wrote back to Nikki and said: My goal is strength. I like lifting heavy things. I've been working on increasing my deadlift, and I've also been working towards being able to do a full pushup.
Nikki's email response began with a "hearts-in-the-eyes" emoji. She loves teaching the big barbell lifts. This was the beginning of a beautiful client-trainer relationship.
The real breakthrough, however, has been with my lifting nemesis, the barbell back squat. To quickly recap, my squat depth is not great. I've mostly attributed this to wonky knees, because my knees hurt when I try to go to low. My previous trainer, Tim, regressed me back to goblet squats and TRX squats, so I haven't done a barbell back squat in ages.
In my first session with Nikki, we did the back squat. The first piece of good news is that all that work I did with Tim definitely resulted in some improvement. Nikki pronounced my squat depth, "Not too bad." (It still wouldn't pass in a powerlifting meet.)
The second thing that Nikki picked up on right away is that I've got some hip mobility issues in the squat. She had me do some light sumo deadlifts in between squat sets, and my depth instantly improved.
I've also been watching a lot of video of the IWF World Weightlifting championships. Now, if you've ever watched weightlifting, you know that it involves a lot of deep squats. I was watching one lifter with her butt practically down to the floor and her legs out to the sides, and I thought, "Huh, what if when I squat I just tried to get my femurs out of my way and sink down between them?"
And I tried it, and...I'm still can't quite get to parallel, but I'm a heck of a lot closer. Close enough that for the first time in a long time, I think I might be able to get to parallel with enough strength and flexibility work.
I feel like I finally understand all those squat cues that trainers use like, "Knees out," and "Rip apart the floor with your feet," and so on. The thing is, they're not just about what you do with your knees or your feet, they're about what you do with your hips, too.
So, yeah, apparently I've been trying to squat wrong for years. And my knees may not be as much of a problem as I thought. (My knees are still definitely a bit of a problem, because whenever I happen to be on a high dose of NSAIDs, my squat depth gets better. But it looks like I might have been trying to compensate with my knees for lack of movement in the hips.)This entry was originally posted at https://wshaffer.dreamwidth.org/363614.html. You can comment here or there.