Saturday, May 27, 2017

47th Birthday, Part 3 - Easy Targets


"Renewed shall be the blade that was broken
The crownless again shall be king."
The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkein

Recap: As part of my annual birthday exploration of new things, I took a blacksmithing class in Oakland.  Due to an error originating at the highest levels of Google (curse you, Larry Page!) I found myself two hours early for class in an unfamiliar city.

In every work of modern literature (usually around chapter 3) the author diverts from the main storyline to introduce a subplot involving Pokemon Go.  If you're not familiar with Pokemon Go, it's a game where you play the part of an illegal animal trapper.  You walk around in the real world, catching wild creatures, and forcing them to fight in cage matches until they are beaten unconscious.  When you find more vicious monsters, you can send them away to be turned into candy the others eat to grow strong.

You know, a standard kids game. I play Pokemon Go for my son.  He likes to see what I catch.
I just manage the Pokedex and walk to incubate new monsters.  I also make sure I catch one monster and visit one Pokestop a day to get the bonus.  Sometimes I rush off in the middle of writing to catch new Pokemon.  Sometimes I rush off during meals to catch new ones.  Sometimes I rush off when hanging out with friends, or seeing movies, or during invasive medical procedures.

I let my son evolve the monsters I catch into a new form. I don't do it myself, because I play for him.  I wait until he's out of school (sometimes for hours) to find out he doesn't appreciate that I waited for him.  I mean I was the one who rushed over to a park to catch enough Chikoritas to evolve our Bayleef, and all he had to do was tap the evolve button, but he's the one who gets to name the damn thing, and what kind of name is Basil Buttface for a Bayleef? I mean if anything it should be called Bay Laurel Buttface.

The day I was going to start my blacksmithing class, I realized I had a bunch of eggs that were going to hatch at the same time, giving me a bunch of experience.  I was also going to get my big bonus for visiting Pokestops and catching Pokemon seven days in a row.  I also had a bunch of monsters to evolve: more experience.  And I also had a free Lucky Egg, an item that lets you double your experience for a short time.

So, I was sitting around at The Crucible for two hours with nothing to do in downtown Oakland and a whole dump of experience I could get.  So, I I turned on the GPS and (after half an hour of arguing with it) started off on the two mile walk to the closest Peet's.  Holding out my phone out in front of me, I activated the Lucky Egg.

I evolved 10 Pokemon.
I passed by this campsite.

I hatched six Pokemon.
I passed by this building.

I got a latte.
I got the 7 day bonus for catching a Pokemon and the 7 day bonus for visiting a Pokestop.
I headed back to the school.
I saw some of this kind of art.


In the end, I got enough experience to go up a level. 

All in all, I had a good walking experience.  I returned to The Crucible and waited for the teacher.
He showed us around the facility ("Here's TIG welding." "Here's neon." "Never go in this room." "Here's the bathroom."), and explained how to be safe while blacksmithing ("Point the hot metal down when you walk." "Stop, drop, and roll." "Touch someone on the shoulder while passing from behind.").  Finally, he gave one vital piece of advice:

"We're in The Hood, here.  Be careful when you're outside.  Lock your car doors.  Keep your money hidden.  Above all, don't walk around your phone out in front of you; that just makes you an easy target."

I laughed.  "Ha. Ha. Ha.  What idiot would do that?  Ha. Ha."

Then I ran down the block to catch a rare, "shiny" Pikachu.  You know, for my son.

Friday, May 19, 2017

47th Birthday, Part 2 - GPS


Recap: The night before I was to start my blacksmithing class, I realized it was in Oakland.  As I live far away, I figured the drive would be long, but not the two hours Google Maps said.

I arranged with my (disgruntled) wife for her to pick up and drop off the kids; if I was gone from dawn to dusk, I wouldn't be able to take them to school and other appointments.  I packed a lunch and a water bottle and snacks.

I grabbed Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls.  If I was going to put in 30 hours of driving, I needed something to entertain me besides NPR pledge breaks and road accidents. David Sedaris would enthrall me with fanciful tales of his fatty tumors.

I headed towards the highway, started the audiobook, and turned on my phone's GPS.

Me: Navigate to The Crucible, Oakland.
GPS: You will reach your destination in two and a half hours.
Me: Fabulous.  Let's go.
GPS: Do not get on the highway.
Me: Oh, is there an accident?
David Sedaris: French doctors are weird.
GPS: Go around the bay.
Me: Around the bay?  The bay is this big...  Lake-like thingy.
GPS: It's a broad inlet.
Me: They could just call it a lake.  I don't know why we have so many different words for water and the land that's near it: bay, peninsula, isthmus, spit.  Makes me wonder if cartographers get paid by the word.
David Sedaris: "There's a story behind this," the man said, handing me the severed arm...
GPS: I said to go around the bay.
Me: You're wrong.  The bay is huge.  That's why California built three bridges over it.  It'll take forever to go around it.
GPS: One of us is in constant contact with supercomputers and satellites to figure out the quickest route.  That one is not you.  Go around the bay.
David Sedaris: My father once half-strangled a small child in front of me.  I love my family.
Me: Are you sure you're using the right preposition?  In 9th grade, Mrs. Bengtson made us memorize a list of prepositions in alphabetical order.
GPS: I know what "about" means.
Me: I can still recite them.
GPS: Please don't.
Me: About above across after against along among around butt by before between beneath beyond-
GPS: Butt?
Me: Not sure where that came from.
David Sedaris: Obama!!!
GPS: Now, take the Central Expressway.
Me: What?!
GPS: You don't have to yell at me.
Me: That'll take me in the entirely wrong direction!
GPS: It's the only way to go if we're avoiding highways.
David Sedaris: Then my father beat me with his belt for singing too loud.  I love my family.
Me: I'm sorry, what?
GPS: We have to take Central Expressway if we're avoiding highways.
Me: Why would we avoid highways?
GPS: You told me to.
Me: I did not.
GPS: Sure you did.  Saturday, when you were driving through San Francisco and wanted to avoid traffic.  You set me to "Avoid highways."
Me: How long will it take me to get there if I took highways?
GPS: 45 minutes.
Me: I'm putting you on mute now.
David Sedaris: Now that gays were able to marry, I shot my wife and pregnant daughter.


I arrived at The Crucible two hours early.  I immediately started my Pokemon Go/homeless camp experience, which we'll have to cover next week.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

47th Birthday, Part 1 - Decisions and Maps


"Gendry was only spared because smiths, even apprentice smiths, were too valuable to kill."

A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin


I have a list of things I'd like to do on my birthdays.  Every year, I go through each item on the list one by one.  I think about the pros and cons until I find the experience I liked best.  This year, I went through the list like this:

  • Make movie
    "Meh, sounds like a lot of work.  And I don't know a lot of actors."
  • Learn cooking
    "It'd be nice to see what I have in the kitchen and improvise something great.  Oh, wait.  I have children.  Children hate food with flavor."
  • Get Tattoo
    "Pretty sure the Tattoo is dead."
  • Forge sword
    "I've always wanted to make a sword.  I mean, I have a shield.  It doesn't mean anything without a cool sword you made yourself.  Plus, there's the badass factor."
See, I'm not making this up.
I've never made it to full badass-level.

I know how to fence and shoot a gun.  I've trained in Muay Thai, Tae Kwan Do, Boxing, Judo, and Hapkido.  I've gone on quests to battle monsters and protect fair maidens.  I've jumped off a plane.  I've had my hair bleached without succumbing to the pain.

The beginning of Dune where the main character gets blonde highlights.
But I was still not a badass.  It was decided.

I would find a master who would teach me the art of swordcrafting.  Then, like Sokka in Avatar: the Last Airbender, I would go from being the quirky, comic relief to a dashing hero with a rapier (wit).

The first step was to find a master.

When I was in San Jose a year ago, I heard about a place where you could learn blacksmithing called The Crucible.  I went online and reserved a spot in the Blacksmithing I class.  I would study several hours a day for a week, then I would take Blacksmithing II, and then I would take Bladesmithing.

Then I would be a Real Man.

The day before the class, I looked up the address of the school.  Then I rubbed my eyes and looked it up again.  Then I checked a few websites and looked it up again. 

Then I had a panic attack.

I'd made a small error.  The Crucible wasn't in San Jose; it was in Oakland.  It wouldn't take me 20 minutes to get to class each day.

It would take me nearly three hours.

Next week: my ingenious solution to the problem of having to pick up and drop off kids from school while doing nearly six hours of driving a day and having three hours of class.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

I Suck at Vacations

When we go on family vacations, everybody has a job.

My father makes plane and hotel reservations.  My brother finds things for the family to do.  My mother anticipates problems and solves them before they happen.  My wife packs.

I complain.

I've never liked vacations.  I never "got" them.  I don't get why you'd spend money on a vacation.  I don't get why you'd go through all the effort to pack your clothes up and wake up early to fly somewhere and stay in a hotel.

Most of all, I don't get what's so great about the places people go.

Why do people like to beaches?  Is it the sand?  I can buy it in bags and spread it around on the back porch?  Is it the water?  We have a bathtub.  Is it the miles of screaming kids and overweight guys in tiny swimsuits?  I'll put on my Speedo and sit next to you and make annoying noises.

Why do people like camping?  Nobody actually chops down trees to make firewood, fishes for dinner, and shoots a bear for a blanket to keep warm at night.  You know what you do camping?  You sit.  You don't cut down trees for firewood.  Heck, you can't even collect fallen branches; there are signs everywhere that say not to.  You can't fish for food, because that's bad for the environment (and time consuming).  You can't shoot a bear because they get mad.  And, again, you're surrounded by fat guys not wearing enough clothes.

If I'm going to be forced to go on vacations, at least I want to do something.  Go on a ride on a submarine, see rare snakes, plot the downfall of fascism, rescue an ancient artifact, shoot a guy with a sword, steal a Nazi uniform.

Okay, that's Indiana Jones, but at least he would take me on a fun trip.  Also, there's only one fat guy and at least he doesn't wear a Speedo.