Becoming a Gamer – My Brief History #2

I believe the term “gamer” is relatively new and while playing computer games has been part of my life since the mid-eighties, I have never thought of myself as a “gamer”. First, I am sure the term has not been widely used until recently (checking Wikipedia, the term is known since 1422 so I may be wrong, but perhaps it is only with the recent mainstream focus on eSports (outside Korea) that usage has spread), second, I have suffered from a misconception that being a “gamer” is mostly a young man’s game, mainly for those a strongly focused enthusiasm…

Actually, one reason for starting this series of posts is that I finally realized (accepted) that the label applies to me as well, just as much as I am a gardener because I tend a garden and I am an aquarist because I keep an aquarium. I play, ergo gamer.

My brief history of gaming #2 – Next was Amiga

In 1990 I upgraded and replaced my Commodore 64 with an Amiga 500. The natural upgrade path at the time if you were on the Commodore track, at least if you hadn’t passed by the Commodore 128 along the way. I didn’t and I know very few who did and they all booted directly to C64 mode anyway.

So I got the Amiga and wasn’t really blown away. “of course”, you might say with the eyes of today – switching to a 3 year old model must be underwhelming, but coming from an 8 year old model, by today’s standard you would expect more? It would be like upgrading from an iPhone 5 to iPhone 8. Or, if you into Android, from a Galaxy S3 to S8 or A5 (2017). I never had an iPhone, but I tried both Galaxies, only recently having had to replace the absolutely adequate if unspectacular A5. “absolutely adequate if unspectacular” probably describes my A500 experience pretty well.

I had the A500 for 3 years and what I primarily remember or for is my first run at serious computing, doing both text processing for school (Kind Words” on a CRT screen) and my first database to keep track of Ultima V npc conversations. The Amiga was actually the place where I finished Ultima V (yes!) and a couple of SSI gold box games.

This may be unfair statement, but I don’t recall the Amiga as revolutionizing gaming (and my viewpoint is certainly based far from the main industry and press). Of course graphics improved, but I don’t think gameplay changed notably. To me the A500 is more memorable as a transitional platform at the time: if you needed powerful machine in 1990 and the budget was tight, then it was a viable solution. Also, who had foreseen Commodore crashing and the boring PC being Doom-ed suddenly to become much more soon after. I’ll get back to that in future posts.

Memorable games

My list of memorable Amiga games is surprisingly short. It is not that I kept playing on the C64 because I sold that one, instead it must be that I simply played less. My Amiga years cover my age between 15 and 19 years old and I am happy to have made that discovery! As a teenager I must, after all, have been into school and friends.

  • Ultima V: I finally completed this excellent game
  • SSI Gold Box Games: Curse of Azure Bonds and Champions of Krynn (maybe Deathknights too): Some fine Dungeons and Dragons Games
  • Sidewinder: My favorite Amiga shoot’m’up
  • Millennium 2.2 and Deuteros: Two resource management and exploration games, the later a sequel of the former. Actually, this type of game may have something new on the Amiga and they were great to play.
  • Logical: A fine puzzle game and something I hadn’t seen before either (there is a C64 vrsion, but I nver played it). Googling around I am happy to see several remakes/clones around for PC : )

Featured image

The sun setting over Riga Airport.

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Thoughts of Games – My Brief History #1

Berry week 2 (2019)

As written previously, berry week 2019 fell at an inconvenient time this year, so at the time I focused on just picking and cleaning as much as possible and store it in the freezer until it could fit in my schedule and (more difficult) on our jam shelf. Thus with a freezer full to the brim I went back to eating up last year’s produce. Right up until last week, when the freezer was urgently needed for other purposes and I came home from work to find about 8 kilos of laboriously cleaned fruit melting in a box – clock ticking. Now, it always was my intention to make syrup out of at least some produce, so that instead of overproducing jam I would have new options for fruity drinks, so now was the time to re-google for a recipe and get going. Here is the one found (check it out for better pictures and opinions and to give credit where credit is due), but in essence it takes 1 kg berries, ½ L water, 400 g sugar and ½-1 lemon. The berries should boil in the water for 15 minutes, then be filtered for 1 hour (if possible apply extra pressure and squash the berries), reheat with sugar and lemon. Pour  into sterilized bottles and store in fridge. Taking the time to filter I got a bit more than 1 L per kg fruit (also, trying to filter more than about a kg means that its more difficult for the juice to run out and I got lower yield). The end result tastes fine, though perhaps a bit sweeter than generally I prefer. Moar lemon, eh? For a first attempt I am happy and satisfied, and have a base from where I can experiment and tweak to taste. It also mixes well with whiskey and rum.

Gooseberry syrup being filtered from mash.

The rest of the gooseberries went to jam according to the usual recipe, except I added a fresh habanero chili for about 5 minutes and had to substitute the vanilla stick(?) with vanilla sugar. Fine result with the chili adding a little extra edge. Not berries, but noteworthy is that after I emptied the greenhouse last weekend I also had to deal with this year’s chili harvest. Knowing that we have never run out of dried chilies, I decided not to spend time cleaning fruit that won’t be used. Instead I brought a bunch to work to share with colleagues, then cleaned the rest and put them in the windowsill to dry (that is a key downside of my new aquarium – the LED lighting does give off enough heat to dry anything and the lid must be opened when feeding frozen food), so putting stuff on top for any duration is just not an option).

Featured image

This featured image shows gooseberry heating up to make syrup.

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Berry week 1 – 2019

Bæruge 2018

Bæruge 2017

Garden wrap-up 2019 (initial)

Update Sep 15: I emptied the greenhouse today, except for the Chocolate habanero, which isn’t ripe yet and may as well get some extra time to see if it ripens.

After a good long working day in the garden I see in the green house that fall is approaching, with several plans being cut down already now, either because there is no fruit left to ripen or because of beginning gray mold infection. Such is the cycle of the year, and so it is time to start capturing what went well, what can be done better and what we might not do at all next year.

Greenhouse

All in all chilies have worked well, herbs were more than great (next year do more chive and parsley, less basil). Tomatoes a bit disappointing. I know I didn’t care as well for the plants this year as I usually do, but also I didn’t have the best varieties this year. The plants I bought from Gartneri Toftegaard did well as always.

  • Toftegaards Sweet Crunch was a fine red cherry – too bad I accidentally broke the top and stopped growth.
  • Toftegaards Gule cherry – one of the best performers this year
  • Tomato Cavendish: Ripens too late (same as last year)
  • Green grape: Bad growth, low yield (same as last year)
  • Cucamelon: fun, but that’s it
  • Cucumber – 1 plant is enough, since I get all the fruits at one time which is too many, but after that there is none.
  • Rocoto chili: Probably placed badly, just one half rotten fruit
  • Chili Lemon Drop: Fine yield
  • Chili Habanero: Fine yield too
  • Chili Cayenne Long Slim: Not a good year, probably the plant suffered from being squeezed between other, larger plants. Lesson noted.
  • Chili Jalapeno: Fine yield
  • Chili Lombardo: OK yield, but at the end of day we are terrible at using these mild chilies.
  • Chili Habanero chocolate: Still ripening as of Sep 29

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Tilbageblik på haveåret 2017

How to say Goodbye at Work

I am changing jobs this weekend and so it has been a week of goodbyes (with an exciting week of hellos coming, I’m sure).

Leaving a place you have worked for almost 10 years is pretty big, so saying a proper farewell to the colleagues with who I have worked closely for so long is important to me, and therefore I also spent some time thinking about the best exit speech to use in various situations. And since this job change has been coming for some time, I have also had time to think about the best possible lines to say/write.

First of all there has times when I just wanted to slam the door or call in sick a few days before my final workday and let that be it, but while that may be satisfying in the very moment you do it, that would be such a waste of opportunity and I am sure I would spend years afterwards wishing I had said something clever instead. For example, when a colleague of mine picked a shorter straw in a rightsizing exercise, he demonstrated some greatness of mind by stating “this was not the promotion I had hoped for” – not bad in such a moment, and much better to be remembered for, instead of just being the angry guy (even when it is justified, and I have been there too) or the guy who didn’t care about the friends form work. I don’t think there is  a “do nothing option”, even if you don’t feel like saying anything. People do notice and whatever you may think, there is almost always someone that care.

Starting from nothing there is a wide spectrum of things to do instead. My job is pretty straightforward with limited drama and absolutely no public interest, so there will never be epic poems, roman à clef‘s or Netflix series written about it (and we already have Dilbert and ‘The Office‘ in two incarnations to cover most of the general absurdity of office and IT work), so a few, well selected lines is what it should be, and it is tempting to look for a good quote to either use straight out of the box, quote to paraphrase for extra impact with the initiated and sometime just to be heavily inspired by.

Quotes, however, come with issues. I.e., quotes have context. So even if the words are cool, then the entire thing will fall flat if the recipients don’t know where it is taken from and what it originally meant, unless is is great enough to stand without its source.

Consider “hasta la vista, baby!” which quotes Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Terminator 2 – Judgement Day”. The movie is from 1991 and you can no longer count on people around you having seen it, so the line may make little sense. However, to those who know the source, the undertone of impending violence make this line problematic as well. Saying something like that to people, will make them wonder what do you actually mean?? The same goes for “I’ll be back“. Very Terminator, not a nice promise to make to those who gets the line and pointless to everyone else.

Or the conversation that includes the excellent line: “This conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.” It doesn’t end well for the entity who said it in 2001 A Space Odyssey.

so long and thanks for all the fish” – if you are familiar with the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy you will recognize this as the last goodbye from the Dolphins just before Earths destruction to make way for a bypass. To everyone else it must be gibberish and just seem arrogant. To the few initiated, it will it is nicely nerdy, but most likely arrogant as well (noting that the book makes a point out of Dolphins being more clever than humans). I actually used that greeting once myself, happily intending to be slightly nerdy and slightly arrogant; probably the greeting just landed me in a “meh” bucket and I was forgotten so much faster. I didn’t appreciated that at the time, but thinking back, I would have said something else.

“this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” – is also a great line, the very last from Casablanca – a movie with an absolutely marvelous script and it is hard to resist borrowing good lines if they fit. But then again – the context of exiles and expatriates in Morocco during World War 2’s Vichy regime should be used with care.

For a while I was inspired by Rutger Hauer’s final words in Blade Runner, though I might have changed the original “time to die” into “time to leave”. I even tested it out at a small reception held in my honor, with fair results (speaking face to face with a small group allows you to make adjustment to the presentation) and I considered this:

We have seen things that others would not believe
Great things, small things, things best forgotten. Even C-beams glittering in the dark.
Because we remember now, none of this will be lost in time (like tears in the rain).
Time to leave.

Interesting salute if you know the background, but once more the context problematic (no spoilers though : ). Also, a reference to ships on fire would actually be bad taste in my particular case.

So while to the initiated, a quote immediately call on imagery from great movies, with great characters saying great things, but even then the context of the movie won’t fit well with the present situation and leaving with a quote is only good if the quote can stand for itself, since you can’t rely on people knowing the source of the quote (or even that it is a quote).

This is what I wrote in the end:

Dear Colleagues (current and former)

Today was my last day working for the company after almost 10 years.

Thanks you all for the time we have shared together and great stuff we achieved.

I wish you all the best going forward.

Best regards,
Allan

Not the most brilliant or most exciting perhaps, but no one will even suspect hidden meanings or symbolism, and I am pretty sure that I or anyone I know will never be embarrassed by it.

Featured image

Very apropos the topic of the post, the featured image is a sunset, the photo taken this summer in Thy, Northern Jutland. Such beautiful light up there.

How to Sort Email – (my) Pro Edition

I started using email in 1993 when I had my introductory computer science class at the university. Using email was a requirement for us to turn in homework and so we had to learn it. With only a handful of assignments throughout the term I must have written 50 mails at most and received about as many that year. Sweet! How little did I know what the world would look like in 2019.

Much e-ink has flowed since then about the advantages and disadvantages of email and what to do about it, and this post is my drops into that ocean. I will not proclaim myself an expert on the matter. I am just another user who needs to deal with the incoming flow of information as well as possible, so here is what works for me today in my particular professional context.

My context

I work as a technical project manager in an fairly large IT organization where I am usually involved in 2-4 different projects with project teams spread across locations. I received about 100 emails on a typical day and On a typical day I receive about 100 emails and write 20-30 myself. Microsoft Outlook is the email client of choice.

Mail treads range between the single announcement mails over 3-5 mail back/an/.forths to long exchanges with 10 or more people involved and 10s of mails in threads that may even branch out. Most threads live for one to at most two weeks.

Regarding Outlook

Microsoft Outlook is a powerful email client that can do much more than receive and send messages and put them into folders.

Key features that I depend on in my daily work is:

  • Categories: Email categorization is integral to both my reading and sorting workflows. More about it below.
  • Customized search, that allows me to search for a very specific terms by using keywords [link] – a search can be across folders
  • Rules, that automate sorting and assigning categories
  • Cross platform access: Apart from the desktop client my mailbox can also be accessed via a powerful web-client that has similar functions as the desktop version(at least as my usage goes). On Android there is a mobile emails client called Nine from 9folders that supports most of my favorite functions as well and well worth the price for an ambitious mail user (Microsoft’s own Outlook for Android, on the other hand, is reduced to almost only basic mail functionality).

According to various websites the maximum number of emails that a folder can hold is 100,000. In my experience (with my hardware and my emails) I have experienced degrading performance when the inbox folder contains more than 4-6,000 items, so I need to sort and archive regularly. Since I receive about 100 emails per (work-) day, this means that I can have about 2-3 months of mail in my inbox.

Reading workflow

My reading workflow focus on ensuring that no actions are left behind. Since many of my mails are not just simple Q&A exchanges but can be longer discussions where different people contribute and responses drag out because people are busy with other things than this particular thread, I need a system where I can track an active thread over time.

I rely largely on the a combination of the unread mail filter, subject sorting and category of assignment; with the category only being assigned when mail has been read and no further action is required.

Here is what I do:

  1. In chronological view, pick a unread and categorized email.
  2. Switch to subject sorted view, review thread and take actions as needed, mark items as categorized according to content (cf. the outline folder structure below).
  3. Repeat steps 1-2 as many times as time allows or until all email has been handled.
  4. When done, mark all categorized mail as read.

I use the category marker to indicate when a mail has been processed and then combine it with the unread mail

Folder/Archive structure

For many years I used to build detailed and deep folder structures for my emails and then spent ages archiving mails, followed by occasionally spending ages finding them again, because I couldn’t remember where I had put that particular mail on that day. The point to remember is that most emails can be sorted according to several different criteria, and those criteria may even change after arching. Imagine for example an emails about a release 2.2 of a product. Perhaps the scope of that release is later changed to release 2.3 because other scope is introduced in release 2.2 or perhaps the matter discussed in that particular mail is moved to another release. Regardless, the odds of finding that email again is small, not because you didn’t archive properly, but instead exactly because you archived it in a very specific place. To avoid this, avoid folder hierarchies and embrace the search functionality provided by Outlook.

Here is what I do:

  • Inbox: All mail resides here until archived
  • Project folders: Projects where I contribute actively for an extended period has a folder. IN addition I have a folder for projects I am not involved in and possible one for programs that my projects are part of. All these folders have a prefix ‘_P’ to ensure that they are easy to find on any client (note the underscore that ensure the folders go on top in alphabetic lists)
  • “Info” folders for non-project related mail, organized to reflect the organisational structure, with Info corporate and then breaking up once the team structure is relevant for me. So:
    Info: Organization
    Info: Department
    Info: Team
    Info: Miscellaneous
  • “Newsletters” for newsletters
  • “Admin” for various administrative messages that relate to simply being employed, such as travel expenses, time registration, appraisals, training
  • “People” for tasks related to people management, including hiring/firing, 1:1 follow-ups and appraisals
  • “Private” for emails and content that might as well have been handled in personal mail
  • “Miscellaneous” for everything else

The list above reflects my current needs and is not supposed to be the final, ultimate and exhaustive list. For example it could make sense to have a folder set up for activities like art corporate club memberships (art society, fitness activity) or social activities like organizing the next x-mas party.

I use the Outlook categories to categorize emails in the same way. That makes it easy to get a view on all email related to a single product and make the archiving incredibly smooth.

Sorting/Archiving workflow

As mentioned above, my personal experience is that the Outlook inbox performs less well when it contains more than 5000 mails, so with approximately 2000 emails received monthly I need to archive regularly and the easiest way for me to do that is to keep archive once per month and hold only mails for last and current month in the inbox.

What I do is simple:

  1. On the last day of the month click Outlooks inbuilt “received last month” filter to show just that in my mail box (if you missed the date, just write “received:june” (if in August) to get all emails from the almost last month).
  2. Filter on categories (note that filter only returns 250 items, so this may have to be repeated several times for each category)
  3. Move all mails of a given category to the corresponding folder (note that the move is not instantaneous but one can switch between categories and filter one while the other is still moving)
  4. When all “last month” mails have been sorted, apply the ‘Categorized mail’ filter to retrieve all categorized mails. Sort the search result and clear the category from all folders expect the inbox

Featured image

Last night’s sunset seen from the garden.