3/25/2017: The Grand Filet Mignon Sous Vide Experiment (or, if I die tonight, y’all’ll know why.)

I enjoy the cringe of the double contraction more than is strictly proper. Makes me feel like I’m unraveling the universe just a little more every time.

ANYway. I’m done! It’s happened! So far, I’ve even lived through it.

As I mentioned a few times, I bought an Anova “Precision Cooker” as an experiment. It’s a delightful little thing for cooking sous vide. You vacuum pack something, then toss it in a water bath with a precision controlled temperature for some number of hours and you can’t overcook it. As someone who is pathologically incapable of cooking beef correctly in any form (even ground I manage to screw up. Burgers are right out. Steaks…well…best not to talk about what I do to a steak) this thing was a godsend.

Sure enough, for months I’d cook steaks to absolute perfection every time. The first few I’d then sear on a cast iron pan, which would inevitably set off my smoke alarm. So I stopped searing it. Small price to pay for the quality of steak I was able to enjoy.

But it got me wondering, after a couple months. Since you couldn’t burn it, and it was vacuum sealed so you couldn’t dry it out, what would happen if you kept it in too long? What would happen if you cooked a filet mignon for…well…

a week?

Well…I mean, that’s just crazy. What’s the duty cycle of the Anova? Would it even LAST that long? What would happen to the meat? Remember, the temperature we’re talking about for a medium rare steak is 125. That’s…I think 40 degrees shy of health department minimum acceptable steam table temperature.

But how tender would it GET? What would it taste like?

In the name of science I decided I had to know. But cooking a steak for a week is a pretty shitty test. I’d need to do a side-by-side test.

So off we go.

Last Friday (3/17) I went to Fresh Market in Hendersonville TN, on my way home from work (they have a great meat counter) and I bought 3 filets, explaining to the guy that I was doing a side-by-side sous vide time test (I left out the soul crushingly stupid scale of the experiment) and I got 2 almost identical pieces and one that was a bit larger.

The experiment:

– Friday 3/17: Vacuum seal all 3 steaks, numbering the bags 1-3 and stick them all in the freezer (this way they all start from the same state.)
– Saturday 3/18: Once fully frozen, set the Anova to 125 degrees and put steak #1 in.
– Wednesday 3/22: Add the largest of the steaks.
– Saturday 3/25, Noon: Add the 3rd.
– Wait 4-5 hours (the normal cooking time of a steak from frozen, maybe plus an hour for good measure.)
– Pull ’em and see what I’ve got. (NOT searing them. Just not worth the trouble of explaining to the neighbors what was up.)

So here’s (some of) the pics I took of the process and result. Thoughts and conclusions at the bottom.

All 3 steaks vacuum sealed. The sequence is out of order. The big one should be in the middle.

Putting in the first steak. You can see on the Anova the set temperature is 125, but it’s only at 89.2. So it’s JUST starting to come up to temperature. Yeah, the bin I use is a bit too large. But I didn’t quite realize what I was doing when I bought the damn thing. The lighting makes the steak look awful in a lot of these pics. I’m no photographer.

You can’t really see them all in here. But this is the state at about 6:00 tonight, as I was about to take them all out.

Here they are, in the order they went in (left to right.) Yeah that steak on the left is looking a little dark and, now that I’m looking at it and being even marginally honest with myself, perhaps a bit green. But it didn’t seem that way to me at the time.


I mean….yeah. I was still pretending it was a trick of the lighting.

Here are all 3 taken out and cut in half:

1 week:

3 day:

5 hour:

Oldest to youngest, left to right:

So. What happened when I put this stuff in my mouth? (’cause yeah. I ate almost all of this.)

1 week: I started with this, figuring if I was gonna kill myself for science, I’d better start quick. I wouldn’t have eaten it if it smelled off. I mean I’m crazy, not stupid. But the steak was far more aromatic than I’m used to a filet being. (I confirmed this by giving it a good sniff before I opened the other from their vacuum bags at all as well.) But it didn’t smell BAD. It just smelled like… like a grilled skirt steak with nothing on it. Meaty and tough. My thought was that the process had brought out some character that I wouldn’t have ordinarily gotten from the meat.

Notice the way it looks cut. I’ve got a real sharp chef’s knife. And the meat was disintegrating right out from under it. I cut a small piece and put it in my mouth. I am here to say, dear reader, that this piece of meat was only slightly more easy to chew than…say…mashed potatoes. It was without a doubt the most succulent, tender piece of land animal I’ve ever had (unless you want to count a German girl I used to know.) The flavor had that aromatic character to it as well. It tasted like a steak. But the mouth feel was too tender to believe that could possibly be what it was. I ate a few pieces of it before moving on.

On to the 3 day piece. Yes, it had the same smell, in a bit less strength. It was noticeably less tender. But it was still lovely. There’s not really much to say about it since it was the same as the 1 week cooked piece in every way, just in lesser degree.

Finally I took a big chunk of the 5 hour old filet. This was a known quantity so I had no hesitation. It didn’t have any noticeable odor other than I would expect from a filet. I’ve done these before so the tenderness, while lovely, wasn’t unexpected.

After fiddling around for a few minutes with the camera and drinking a bunch of water to wipe my palate out a bit.

I went back to the week old steak, cut another piece off and put some salt on it before bringing it to my mouth. Now I wouldn’t be quite so play by play normally. But when I got the fork to my face, that “smells like a skirt steak” smell got to my nose and my brain, this time, fired the “NOPE” circuits. Because I’m a moron I ate the piece, my thought being “I’d better try it just to be sure.” And sure enough, it wasn’t okay. Sure it tasted the same. But it seems that, when compared with the normally cooked steak, the week old one was suddenly able to be reevaluated as just not food. But ohmygod it was so tender.

Back to the 3 day old one I figured “maybe 3 days is the sweet spot.” No. This one is bad as well (I thought to myself as my eyes rolled back in my head, barely having to chew.)

All in all I ate half of each of the long-cooked steaks and the whole of the young one.

That was all… 5 hours ago and I’m waiting to see if I suffer any ill effects of any kind.

Conclusions:

– The Anova will run for a week no problem.
– Don’t cook a steak for a week in an Anova

There’s something to this. There’s going to be a way to make this work. But just taking a piece of meat from the butcher and putting it in a vacuum bag then dropping it in a water bath for a week isn’t sufficient. Would using a dry aged steak work? What was actually the problem? Was it bacterial? That’s all beyond my ken. But the experiment was definitely worth doing.

2/21/2017: New Date Rule

Interesting. Just had this post get nuked by some weird session persistence bug. Ah well. It was only about 3 lines anyway.

So this ‘consecutive dating’ thing is making me nuts (really? that what did it? Seems more like an effect than a cause. But whatever. You do you.) So I’m instituting a new policy which, I sincerely hope for the sake of all y’all’s sanity, will only make sense to me: If a post is at all bound to events of a particular day, I’ll title the post with the appropriate date. Otherwise I’ll give it a backfill date. That way at the end of the year I’ll be able to back scan for gaps and write a bunch of filler posts so I have “at least one post per day.”

2/20/2017: Can I relax now?

I’ve been sitting here, noodling on twitter, thinking about my day.

Between the sauce, the mead, cleaning, a bit of drain clearing, the steak experiment, and a few posts I got a lot done.

I should be happy with the day and, it being about 7:30 at night and having eaten (ravioli with my sparkly new sauce) I should feel okay about sitting down and watching an hour of TV or two. For those who don’t know, I don’t watch tv. It’s not a default activity. I just…don’t do it. I’ll hang on to a show or two (Archer, Game of Thrones, and Rick & Morty are the three I get excited about) but that’s it.

But the guilt involved in deciding to do that is pretty silly. The ‘reducto ad absurdam’ of it is “Your life is not perfect, therefore you have no business relaxing.” Now it’s bullshit because you can’t just go 16 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The other thing I chant to myself rather a lot is “The reward for being good can’t be permission to be bad.” Which I think, while maybe a little over the top, is pretty much sound policy. Eating salads and veges for a week doesn’t mean you get an ice cream float. You’re not doing yourself any favors that way.

It occurs to me that, in a very real sense, I don’t know any successful people.

Why I think that’s relevant is that I don’t know how people who really get things done in the “I have dreams that I work towards while working a day job” template. So I don’t know if I’m actually allowed to relax or if I’m ditching school to watch a bunch of Archer (aGAIN. My neighbors must hate me. But I can’t get enough.)

Part of it comes from something my mother used to drill in to our heads (she still says it, but I argue with her about it): “Good enough isn’t good enough.”

Now, I know what she means. She MEANS “don’t slack until the job’s done right.” But I, far too recently, came to the conclusion that my brain has been hearing that for the majority of the last 40 something years as “Nothing you do is ever good enough.” Which “isn’t something I would have thought I thought.”

But the post I made a bit ago about the success and great reception of the mead was a clear indication that somewhere, in the cobwebs of my mind, something like that has been internalized pretty severely.

So I’m not sure if I’m:

– Successfully overcoming the hopefully misguided notion that any effort I do exert will be for naught.
– Ditching school on my goals and projects.
– Watching some well earned TV.

Regardless, I’m off to get the Amazon Fire working again (more on that some other time) and watch a metric fuckton of Archer.

Shit. Maybe I’ll open a bottle of mead. Eh. No. Bad idea.

o7

2/19/2017: ’cause THAT’S what I needed, another task

I woke up a few times in the night “bothered” by the amazing smell of garlic coming from I couldn’t figure out where. Each time I came to enough to remember I had the marinara sauce not-quite-simmering on the stove over night. It was absolutely heavenly. I fell back asleep fantasizing that it was strong enough to similarly inflict my neighbors.

It was good enough (when I finally got out of bed and tried some) that I found myself just eating it with a spoon. A dramatic improvement over my previous batch. The role of parsley was surprising, once I picked out the flavor.

So I jarred all of that and cleaned off the kitchen counters…sorta.

I got out the sparkolloid powder, looked up some directions and mixed up a bunch. Sparkolloid’s a powder you dissolve in water then add to a wine/cider/mead that’s at the tail end of it’s brewing process to help clarify it. It’s funny to me how some meads just settle out and end up clear as glass. It’s lovely to watch. But I have some (most) batches that are 6-7 months old and still cloudy as hell. I finally decided that a fining agent was needed.

Not too big a deal. I grabbed all 7 bottles and made a play at identifying them by smell. Yeah I got a couple. The cherry mead was a gimme. But it smelled like there were 2 strawberry meads, and I don’t remember doing 2. So I gave that up pretty quick, put the sparkolloid solution in each of them and re-capped them (with airlocks…JUST in case.)

Hopefully in another month or so these will be clear enough to bottle and more importantly, taste.

Also just started the great filet mignon sous vide experiment. More on that next week.

Okay I’m just rambling.

2/18/2017: Marinara: Take 2

9:00 on a Friday night and I clearly don’t have the good sense God gave a horse because I decided to start a marinara sauce a couple hours ago.

Not quite sure what it was I did wrong the last time, but it came out oddly sweet. There was no sugar of any kind added. Closest thing I can think of is that the onions were a bit sweet and I didn’t use a dry enough wine.

So here’s the source ingredient list again:

  • 2 14.5oz cans of tomatoes (says diced, going with crushed)
  • 1 6oz can of tomato paste
  • 4 tbsp fresh parsley
  • 1 garlic clove (oh, honey…)
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 6 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 1/3C finely diced onion
  • 1/2C white wine

First of all I doubled it. I have a disease about doubling or tripling recipes. I live alone. There’s no excuse, especially when I’m experimenting (which pretty much means “always”.) So I don’t get it. BUT I always do it.

Also I really REALLY don’t have the patience to “finely dice” onions. They’re too tough to wrangle once they get small.

So that all went in the pan about an hour ago and has been simmering in the most lovely fashion since then. The only problem is that I’m pretty sure it needs several hours to cook, so I guess I’ve committed myself to staying up until some ungodly hour to keep an eye on it all.

The kicker is that I still have a couple jars from the last batch someplace.

2/17/2017: Echo Echo Ideas

A funny thing is happening as I accumulate bodies of text and ideas, however poorly organized. It’s the same thing that happened the first (and really, last, if I were being honest) time I blogged with any frequency.

I’m forgetting what I’ve already posted and I’m finding my brain rediscovering paths I tread 15 years ago.

The thought process in this case goes like this:

“The problem with blog posts is that they’re serialized in time. You have to go through them in chronological order (or referenced by their posting time/date) in order to find something specific. There should be an extremely fluid way to be able to cross-reference meaningful posts and concepts between them with an absolute MINIMUM of extra work (or post searching.) Then you could jump in at any point and spider through conceptual relationships rather than chronological ones.”

Now this is a describing a Wiki. And no I don’t mean that giant bag of shit over at wikipedia. I mean Ward Cunningham’s original wiki. You’d type a post and use what was called a WikiWord, two (or more, iirc) words joined together, both capitalized. That meant you were typing a post title.

When you saved the text and it rendered in to a web page, the rendering code looked for WikiWords (yes, plurals created an interesting issue) and just replaced that with a link to a page of that name/title. IF that page didn’t exist, the link took you to a “create new page?” form. If it did, it took you right to the page.

Clicking on the page title brought you to a search page that listed all references to that page.

This way you can type a topic post and put in references to the pages you’re going to back fill later on. Back when the original was really active, it was kinda amazing how, if you were adding to a page, which was the primary method of conversation, you could type a WikiWord with the intention of filling in that page only to find out that it already existed when you saved your changes. So additional connections were drawn between existing content.

It really is absolutely genius in its simplicity.

I worked on a couple wiki style plugins for blogging systems back in the early 2000s. Movable Type, Blogspot (before Google fucking ate it), Radio Userland…aaaannnd I don’t remember the other popular ones. I was never patient enough to get them working with the apis correctly.

But now when I look for wiki plugins for WordPress (swidt?) I find that the generally accepted definition of a wiki has changed from what it was to the Wikipedia style full blown content management systems, which is just disgusting.

So I may end up whipping myself up some WordPress plugins. We’ll see.

Knowing me I already said all this a few months ago.

2/14/2017: Bochet (or: Whups, the kitchen’s on fire)

So yeah. Blah blah mead this mead that. zomgz all the mead.

I bottled the 5 gallon JAOM out of the 5g carboy last night, into 4 1-gallon jars (between lees, headroom, and the bottle I took out last weekend for that spectacular taste test, it only amounted to 4 gallons, which is fine.)

I put labels on the bottles and went to my notes to get an initial fermentation date and notes to mark them with…

nothing.

*sigh*

Scooter forgot to write down what he did in creating this lovely batch of mead. I can ONLY hope it’s in my paper notebook (rather than the OneNote brewing reference I’ve been maintaining (and yes, backing up) for years.) So I was pretty pissed.

I’d been thinking that I needed to start numbering my batches so I could put them in an ACTUAL database (the OneNote thing is neat, but it gets a bit unwieldy) I called this the “M-1000” batch, and proceeded to take notes under an “M-1000” entry in OneNote like a friggin dipwad.

But, whatever. I put the four bottles in a box, numbered the bottles (I’m interested to see if it matters, though it shouldn’t) and stuffed it in the very back corner of my closet, for “bulk aging.”) I had a vision as I was on my way out of the closet, looking at the box over my shoulder, of a day in the far too close future, where I had a dozen or two such boxes, and shuddered.

The ulterior motive was to free up the 5 gallon carboy for further experimentation, since I had all kinds of plans. But when push came to shove, I was a bit stumped.

There are a couple things I want to try:

  1. A plain mead in bulk that I could freeze distill to see what came out. (This is how Apple Jack is made, but with hard cider.) I’m convinced a true honey liquor (instead of that honey flavored vodka horseshit) would be lovely. The start to yield ratio of freeze distillation is high enough that I’d really want to start with 3 or 4 gallons, so this would be the way to go.
  2. It’s mid March though, and I think my reputation would spread far and wide if, by the time it started getting hot this summer down here, I had case after case of hard lemonade, some with ginger, some with strawberry, and most plain (though a friend of mine said “and some with watermelon.” But he’s clearly nuts.) I haven’t made hard lemonade (or “skeeter pee”) in years and I was nonplussed by my previous result.

The bigger problem is, it’s No Spend March, so this is all academic (something I’d forgotten yesterday) so I washed out the carboy, ran a couple shots of bleach through it, then rubber-banded a top on it, so it wouldn’t get full of dust or other nonsense. Then I stowed it away….iiinnn the middle of the kitchen floor ’cause I haven’t been back over to the closet yet.

But what I DID start, realizing that it was Sunday night at 6:30 and I needed a couple wins under my belt, was a Bochet.

Now, Bochet is mead made from burnt honey. I can’t IMAGINE what it tastes like. It’s always really dark in the pictures and people say they love it.

So I put my 8 quart pot on the stove (gotta be enough) and put 2 1/2 pounds of clover honey in it, turned it on medium low and went back and sat down to putter a bit. It’s supposed to take between an hour and a half and two hours to torch it all the way down, so I didn’t think anything of it.

Not until I heard that telltale “bubbling over” hiss. I raced over to the stove, but it was too late. Honey had boiled over and splattered everywhere. What. A. Damn. Mess. I moved the pot to another burner (dragging molten honey behind it the whole way) turned off the burner and barked an expletive… or six.

I disassembled the stove and cleaned it out, unable to quite judge how much had been lost in the boil over.

Undaunted I got my huge lobster pot, put it on the stove, poured the honey in, along with an additional pound, and turned it on. I figured I could measure it back out once it was cooked by pouring it in to the original container (which was a 2.5 pound container) until it filled up, then just using that. Simple enough. Then I’d experiment with whatever was left.

So it’s been cooking there for about 40 minutes. It’s starting to smell pretty burnt, but I remember the video I saw a long time ago of these hippies making bochet and burning honey over an open flame (I mean…in a pot, don’t be stupid) and the number of times they went back and said “uhm….LOOKS burnt….SMELLS burnt…but the book says the smoke should be smokey” so I’ll leave it a bit more and see what happens.

This should be an interesting experiment if nothing else.

EDIT: 20 minutes later: Well, I quit burning the honey before it was actually smoking. The bubbling had died down almost completely and it was a really weird color. Even the bubbles were dark.

Turned off the heat and poured it all in to a steel bowl and scraped the sides with a teflon spatula (CAREFULLY) because it was sticking to everything. Once in the bowl it was clear that pouring it back into the plastic container would almost certainly be the most unintentionally hilarious bit of misfortune of all time, as it was probably still at about 300 degrees or more.

Filled up a measuring cup of water and put about a tablespoon in, at arms length. It just sorta glided along the surface until I noticed a weird expansion. It was bubbling up from underneath in one big blop. I stood back, fearing molten honey, but it burst without event.

So I started pouring more water in, my goal to dissolve it and cool it down for easier handling. It formed a crust on top as soon as the water hit it, which I then mixed in, and the water started boiling (duh, I suppose) so I mixed in a bit, stirred a bunch, etc. Once it stopped overtly boiling, I poured it through a funnel into the glass jar where it will be living for the next few months.

Unfortunately a whole bunch had crystalized on the bottom of the bowl, so I filled it with hot water and stirred a bunch. Newp. Got a knife and started prying at the glass like honey that had coated the bottom of the bowl and eventually chipped it away and stuffed it in to the funnel, after which I topped it off.

Now it smells like burnt honey and I have a metric fuckton of dishes that look like they’re spotted with thick brown glass.

Yay.

Still got to let it cool down a bit more before I start adding brewing chemistry, then an airlock. But this one’s in the bag for the most part.

2/13/2017: Riddles in the dark

I haven’t been talking much about the mead, mainly because I hadn’t started anything new in the last couple months. I’ve got 8 batches just bubbling away waiting for me to free up a gallon jar to rack into their respective next stages.

But it’s time to crank up the production engine, as I mentioned a few days/week ago. The biggest problem I’m having (and it’s a lovely problem to have) is that there are so many varieties I want to try that I’m falling all over myself trying to prioritize them.

A couple ideas:

  1. Bochet: Burnt honey mead. Essentially you just cook the honey half to death first before fermentation. It sounds fascinating and I have no IDEA what the result would taste like.
  2. Lemon Melomel: It’s funny. I’ve made hard lemonade a couple/few times; badly, but drinkably (shut up, it is too a word.) I’m not sure I ever thought of making a lemon mead before. Seems like it would be a natural fit (and i’m gonna guess it would take ginger, mint, or strawberry flavoring really well on top of it.)

I know I’ve got more kicking around in my head. I’ll make more of some of the “easy win” meads as well. But I’ve got to get another round of experiments under my belt first. Summer’s closer than it seems and having a dozen gallons of hard lemonade/lemon mead would be awfully nice.

2/12/2017: TDD between layers

Civilians might want to sit this one out.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away I used to be an Extreme Programming coach. THAT didn’t work out. I just lock up when I’m presenting organized material for a crowd, which is odd really. I’ve got no trouble speaking in front of groups of people generally. When I was working with little teams of enthusiastic developers it was all good. I’d get involved in their project and we’d excitedly press forward.

When I had to hard-sell a room full of suits with their arms crossed over their chest, wearing their best scowls, well… I buckled. I’m much less worried about that than I used to be.

But one of the deep practices of Agile development/Extreme Programming is Test Driven Development. That’s where you don’t write a single line of code before you have a failing unit test. So you write the test, it fails, then you write the code that makes it pass.

It’s time consuming.

It’s EXHAUSTING.

It’s slow.

But it produces better code than any other minute-to-minute technique I’ve ever used.

Still though, when you’re working on something in the small (like any of the examples they use in the hundreds of videos on the topic over on youtube) it’s lovely. You end up with a series of classes or functions that do exactly what the spec says they should, with a battery of unit tests covering 90+% of the code.

And all is right with the world.

I have a huge problem when I try to zoom out and write unit tests for larger and larger blocks of functionality. Yeah if I’m creating a little tiny thingie it’s no problem.

But developing test first and letting design emerge from the 15-30 second iterations starts producing insanity when I do it “in the large.”

So when I’m facing (as I am now) a new project that I want to run, fully tdd (determined to dust off my chops and do it right) I’m utterly flummoxed.

When I try to start from a higher level, the nature of tdd brings me instantly into this microcoding work style, which I suppose is appropriate, but I keep expecting the tunnel vision to abate and eventually to be testing larger and larger integrations of tiny code bits.

I’m gonna have to play around with it. Maybe I just need to start working from a “clouds on a whiteboard” design instead of letting it kind of….develop.

The biggest problem with a post like this (he realizes around word 430) is that I can’t give you a concrete example because this is a problem I’m having in the office and I can’t exactly post the damn code. Any contrived example I came up with would be sufficiently contrived that it would almost certainly not exhibit the problem I’m describing.

Yeah, sorry. No big conclusions or apostrophes (I think you mean epiphany) just something I’m trying to work my head through.

2/11/2017: The Same?

I was thinking about the post from the other day about game playthroughs and my lack of variety and, rereading it, I realize I went off on a wildly different tangent from where I expected/planned (yeah… plan… lol) to take it.

I didn’t mean to diverge into the moral issue of not being able to take the Left Hand Path IF the context of the game made that optional, though it’s a reasonable point to have made.

The post was precipitated by this curiosity I have about my own complete lack of desire to do things differently.

Sure it manifests most frequently as “playing the good guy” but that’s only because that’s the only set of choices that are available.

It’s far more interesting to me that, as much as I love these games for their sense of discovery and working through the plot lines, I will abandon the unknown ENTIRELY the next time around.

“It’s as if” (up there with “If I didn’t know better”) once I play them through once, replays serve a completely different role. It’s…comforting, soothing even, to play through these games again and know how it’s going to go. My enjoyment isn’t reduced, it’s ENHANCED by the predictability. Like listening to a favorite song on repeat I can get nice and lost in it.

I don’t remember much about the first time I played Mass Effect 1. I remember AFTERWARD, finding out all the shit I did “wrong” and how I could’ve saved Wrex, etc. I remember my first Dark Messiah of Might & Magic playthrough and how completely awkward it was because I didn’t know what I was doing. Sure, it was fun. But I was fumbling around, lost the first time.

But once I settled on a style, I played it through…maybe 5 times. And sure, I thought about different styles and strategies. I just…didn’t need to use them.

And it’s not just RPGs. I do the same thing with Command & Conquer: Generals, and other old-school RTS games. I’ll play them through the same way over and over and over again.

When push comes to shove, I’ve much less consternation about it than I used to (until very recently) and now maintain a bemused curiosity about the whole thing. I’m not ALL that sure what changed. But six months ago I’d agonize about it.

I dunno. Gets me to thinkin’.

2/10/2017: Elvira Kurt

For some reason I’d forgotten about Elvira Kurt for years.

Which is a damn shame because she’s funny as SHIT.

I was thinking about what makes her funny. Her material’s pretty good. But her delivery is so wonderfully kinesthetic. It’s hard not to smile along with her. Not, I suppose, that I’ve tried.

Of course. I’d be lying if I didn’t say she was pretty damn easy to look at as well.

2/9/2017: Publish, the food pellet button

I have… 3 readers. And by readers I mean “people who ever come here.”

Sure, there’s a bunch of lingering overflow from the 9/11 story. But they stay for that and leave. I don’t exactly get conversions from that.

I’ve gotta say, as much as I’d like the comfortable 130-150/day I had back when I started blogging, back in 2002, it’s not really going to change much what I post here. I mean, that’s 15 years ago.

It’s really nice to hit post (well, it’s WP, so “Publish”) even on a bullshit little post like this. Feels good to have put something down.

And yeah, maybe this is nothing more than an attempt to catch up by posting 2 thingamabobs in a day (and, seeing as how the ‘current post date’ is 2/9 and not the actual 3/6, I’ve got some catching up to do.) But I don’t care that much.

Even 150 words feels pretty damn good.

2/8/2017: The Same, But…The Same

It’s no secret that I’m a gamer. I’ve been playing video games since before “video games” was a phrase. I don’t play those online shooters (Call of Duty, Battlefield, Halo, whatever else) as I just…well, I suck at them. Plus they’re not particularly interesting.

I really love story rich role playing games. But not TOO “story rich.” I still love blowing the crap out of aliens, undead, monsters, and bad guys with swords, guns, spells, and artillery.

But if there’s not a plot, I’m not particularly interested. Also, if it’s an open world game (where you can finish the plot line and just keep playing) I have no interest in continuing once it’s nominally done. Completion is a whole other thing.

So I’m a crackhead for things like Saints Row (2-4), Mass Effect, Dishonored, Thief, Skyrim, Tomb Raider (the new ones, not the fancy platformers), and lots more.

They’re good games. In some cases I would suggest they have literary value (I’m looking at you, Mass Effect.)

One of the features of these games that’s taking a greater and greater role as time goes on, is the idea that your choices matter and redirect the river of plot. Favor one faction and it grows in power. Go through the game without killing ANYthing and the ending changes dramatically. Take the “nice guy” options and different dialog choices and affinities open up. Be nice to this or that character and it cascades to who shows up at all in the sequel.

There’s a lot of that and it’s only becoming a stronger aspect as time goes on. As a gamer, this is amazing because it provides replayability. You can just start over, make different choices, and see how things turn out differently.

Or…well…one could.

Dishonored is a great example. It’s a sneaky game where you play an assassin trying to solve the mystery of who framed you for the Queen’s murder. So you have to eliminate targets along the path of discovery, taking out more and more important players in the conspiracy to unlock what’s really going on and who’s behind it.

But “take out” doesn’t have to mean “kill.” Sure, you can run in to the scenario, dispatching guards stealthily, by slitting their throats from behind until you get to the target, who you watch and maneuver around until you can spring on him from behind with a final blow. OR, you have the option to conceal yourself entirely, to go through the whole scenario without being noticed (or escaping when you ARE noticed) and at the end, you’re given an option to “eliminate the target” in a way that’s effective, but not…terminal. And if you go through Dishonored and don’t kill ANYbody, you get a little meaningless achievement. You can even get an achievement for running through the whole game and not being noticed at all. But most importantly (in this tiny little context), if you don’t kill anybody the end is well…good. In your restraint, you didn’t add more darkness and death to the world.

I LOVE Dishonored. It has about half of the elements I look for in a game, but it executes them with absolute perfection. I’ve loved stealthy games since the original Thief game came out, decades ago. So when I learned I could get a “ghost” achievement for not even being SEEN, I was hooked.

I played Dishonored through twice, exactly the same. Complete no-kill, ghost. And it was lovely.

Now, I said to myself, I’m going to do a full blown carnage playthrough. I’m gonna kill ALL those motherfuckers. It’s a whole half of the game I’d never experienced. Kill moves, talents and techniques that had absolutely no place in my previous playthroughs would be available to me as the game progressed.

I remember (this was a couple years ago now, Dishonored isn’t particularly new) starting that first mission, breaking out of the cell and sneaking up on the first guard.

I couldn’t do it.

I was a little shocked at myself (though in truth I’d had the feeling this might happen.) It’s a game. It has no effect on anything. I’ve killed millions of fake bad guys in videogames over the last 40 years, in all SORTS of ways.

But when push came to shove, when given the choice by the game of whether to execute the kill move or to choke him unconscious and drag him to an empty cell to sleep it off, there was just no reason to do it.

And I proceeded to sneak through the mission, not spotted once, and play through the rest of the game that way.

Mass Effect: Andromeda is coming out in…2 weeks I think? So I ran through and played Mass Effect 1-3 over the past couple weekends. I love them. ME2 might be my favorite game of all time.

I started up ME1, went to character creation and… played the default male Shepard, Infiltrator class (the sneaky one) and proceeded to choose the “paragon” options at every turn, leading me to not have to kill Wrex and save Saren (spiritually, he still shoots himself if you talk him down.) Every time there’s a Paragon/Renegade (which are the nice guy/bad guy conversational options) there was no QUESTION. Not a doubt in my MIND. Paragon it is.

I found myself, last night, thinking “Ya know. I’ve never played femshep. I should do that. People say the voice acting is awesome.” (“Femshep” is the affectionate term for playing a female lead character.) I went to character creation in Mass Effect 1 (having gone all the way through 3 with Male/Paragon/Infiltrator), created a femshep soldier and started the first mission.

Within 5 minutes my skin started to crawl and I exited to character creation and started over. “Well, I’ll do male shepard and soldier.” Not that I don’t play female characters. I do that all the time. It just doesn’t feel right for Mass Effect.

I recreated the character and started again.

I got about 7 minute in. “This just isn’t right.” Aaannnnd….exit.

Recreated male Shepard as an Infiltrator, so I could use my sniper rifles, cloaking, and other funky skills.

I started playing and through “wait…wtf is the point of this? It’s the same playthrough I just did.”

Over and over again I do this. Skyrim, Oblivion, Dark Messiah of Might & Magic, Fallout 3 & 4.

I don’t think my enjoyment of the game is any less. Not really. I know what I like and, insofar as I am allowed by the game to play that archetype of character, that’s exactly what I’ll play, and I won’t deviate one BIT. I have probably 8 full playthroughs of Fallout 4 (with a total hour count I’m embarrassed to even post HERE) and the only variation in my character, playstyle, and progression is the sex of the character. Everything else is something oddly close to PRECISELY the same. I even start out each playthrough with a half hearted “Hmm…maybe I’ll do something different this time.”

But now?

Now I just chuckle along with that.

’cause it’s just not going to happen.