Thursday, March 28, 2019

Timmie's Tetris Tips: Height Differentials and I/L/J plans

In celebration of this year's "Carnival of Death" (celebrating "Death Mode" in Tetris the Grand Master) I thought I'd offer some general Tetris stacking tips that might be useful to think about for newer players.  I'll try to make these agnostic of rotation system, so they should apply across both ARS and SRS games!

A key component of good Tetris stacking is to place pieces in a way such that your stack is receptive to as large a variety of future piece placements as possible.  Generally this means you want to try to make your stack "flat, but not extremely flat".

Here's an example of a very stable and receptive stack:

Notice how there are multiple placement options for each of the 7 tetromino shapes (L, J, O, I, T, S, Z).

Now here's an example of the opposite:
In this situation our stack is extremely jagged and we have no immediately good placements in the main stack for Z, S, and T pieces, and instead would be forced to drop them in the hole on the right side, hoping for L, J and I pieces to fix the rest of our stack.

One of the keys to maintaining a stable stack is to look at the height differentials you create with each placement, and particularly the exact height of the "wells" you create.

For example, in this situation, your attention should immediately jump to the well created in column 2.  This well is 3 rows deep, which means it can only be filled with an I piece (unless you make a hole).  We also lose access to column 1 while waiting for this I piece since nothing can be placed there without also affecting column 2.

Well that are 3 or more rows deep are BAD because they can only be filled with 1 out of the 7 possible pieces.  This means two things:
- Try to avoid creating wells of 3 or more rows.  The J piece here could have been placed elsewhere, like in columns 8+9 pointing upwards.

And perhaps even more importantly:
- If you DO create a well of height 3 or more, try to fill it with your next I piece ASAP.

This is very important.  In general, if you have a situation where you absolutely need a given piece, make sure you don't waste your next instance of that piece on something else!  This is a problem I see all the time with inexperienced players -- don't let it happen to you!  When you have a well 3 rows deep, you should form a PLAN for the next I piece -- an "I plan".  Keep remembering this so that the next time you receive an I block, you immediately place it in the needed place.

Just like we have "I plans", another very useful concept to think about are "L plans" and "J plans".  I, L, and J are often the most common pieces for which you will have a specific need for. (closely followed by T)

In this situation, we have a well that is 2 rows deep on the very left in column 1.  This well can only be filled by two pieces: a J or an I.  But since the I piece is so powerful (a bit less so in ARS, but still powerful), and can be used to make Tetrises, it's generally much preferred to use a J to fill this well.  This is also because using an I maintains a height difference of 2 (more on this later).  So whenever we see this formation on the left side of the screen, we should form a "J plan".

Again, this is a common mistake.  Often beginners might place a J in columns 6-8 instead.  Do not do this!  Fill the slot on the left side with your J instead!

Let's look at one more example to close things out:
Imagine that we place the O piece here (as shown in the shadow).  What should spring to your mind?
That's right!  We've created a slot that can only be filled by L or I.  And of the two, it's much preferred to fill it with L!

Notice that if we fill this slot in column 5 with I, the height differential between columns 4 and 5 is still 2 rows.  This is another reason why using L and J to fill 2-deep slots is usually preferred -- because L and J will end up with a height differential of 0 instead of 2, which often results in a smoother stack.

So we should aim to fill this hole with an L if at all possible -- we should form an "L plan".  If we end up getting an I before an L, that's ok too (use your judgment), but L is preferred.

But wait...was there a better way to handle this situation?

Placing the O piece here instead is much better.  Why?  Because it keeps the ability of both L and J to fill the well, not just L.  In fact, the very next piece is a J here!  In this situation, I still have an "I/J/L plan" vaguely in mind because again, these are the only 3 pieces that can solve this well.  If I get a T or Z or S, i may not intuitively know exactly what to do with it.  But if I get a L or J in the next few pieces I should know exactly where to place it as long as this structure exists.

This O placement demonstrates that thinking about flexibility for these sorts of wells is important.  A lot of this comes down to experience with specific structures and situations.  In the next installment of these tips I'd like to go over some common ones that are good to know about.

Monday, March 25, 2019

End of Unemployment, Dance stuff

Well, things got a little interesting!

My unemployment ended a bit earlier than anticipated -- I'm now doing contract work for WB!  Got a gig for the next handful of months, mostly working remotely from home helping out with Unity stuff.  Just started only last Thursday, but so far so good!

It's definitely a nice opportunity and I'm really glad it worked out, but at the same time I definitely felt a bit of pressure knowing that my unemployment days were over, at least for now.  The usual flurry of thoughts ran through my mind -- "Did I do enough?"  "I'm not going to have enough time to do these things now." "Did I really make the most of my time?" At the same time, I've always wanted to try my hand at contract work anyhow and this was definitely the perfect opportunity to do that.

Right before that, I got hit by some sort of death plague that has been sweeping across everybody, which was not fun, though it certainly was a great chance for me to just stop doing everything and just focus on relaxing.  Fortunately it only really lasted for a week, and the worst of it was really only three days, but I haven't really felt that bad in a while.  Brings back some unpleasant memories of some other times that I have been really sick =(  On the plus side, I had absolutely no trouble falling asleep for a while because of that.  On the other hand, waking up in the morning was like the absolute worst thing ever...

I missed out on a bunch of dance stuff while I was busy being super sick, so I decided to stop by South Bay Fusion and Gentoo Swing this past week to make up for it.  I won't really pretend that I really broadened my dance horizons, but it was certainly cool having the opportunity to push outside what I normally do and see some other scenes (I have not been to South Bay Fusion in many years).  I guess I did end up reaching a couple of conclusions, not necessarily directly related to those days but inspired by them.  One is that I don't play follow nearly enough for how much more fun it can be than leading and I wonder despite all I've said and done, if that is because I'm closer friends with more follows, or if it's just because I'm falling into the same gendered social norms as everybody else.  Don't get me wrong, leading is great, especially for some dances, but I think there is something more there and I wonder if it is preventing me from having as great of a time.  I won't pretend I don't have my personal preferences and I still daydream romantically about the day when a girl will lead me in a dance and sweep me off my feet, but...  
The other thing that occurred to me is just how well I understand waltz compared to everything else and the feeling of confidence and ease that brings with it.  I mean, that is of course only expected given how much time I have put into the dance as well as the amount of enjoyment I have gained from it.  It's not like I never dance other forms of course, though we all know I love to stay in my comfort zone (not just in dance), but I think it was elucidating to have it illustrated to clearly to me how much more of an understanding I have and how much more "fluent" I am in that language compared with others.  It actually reminds me of when I first started to have one or two very close and very real friendships and how other relationships started to feel a bit hollow and less rewarding in comparison, because that deeper understanding just wasn't there.  I'm sure others have had that experience as well, maybe not in the same way but in some manner.

Like I said, I'm always for staying in my comfort zone, but I also place a heavy emphasis on staying true to what came before.  If I had to name something that bothers me most in other people I think it would definitely be that I find people to be passionate and interested about things one minute and lose interest the next.  I don't think that is a bad thing inherently, it's just something that I personally am really not about.  It makes me feel like nobody is actually serious about things, that they are fickle and can't be relied on.  And of course it's the same for dance too.  The interesting thing about dance is that for me I think to "stay true to what came before" does not necessarily mean always doing the same things over and over again.  Because for many people, myself included, dance involved a lot of discovery and experimentation when we first became involved in it.  And I think to be intensely passionate about learning more, and then do a 180 and feel jaded about anything new, is its own form of moving on from something perhaps without good reason to do so.  I'm not trying to call that behavior out or anything, just saying that that's what I feel ought to be a personal virtue for me.

Anyways, I thought that was kind of interesting since I feel like complacency is not something I am usually afraid of, but maybe in this case I ought to be.  I think there are many people who become complacent in dance, some of whom I think it totally makes sense and I approve of, and others whom maybe it doesn't.  But I'm sure there are many many people who learn one dance role, become comfortable with it, and then just don't feel like starting from ground zero again to learn the other one.  Because that would involve going through all of those same things again.  And I think things like that sort just feels like a shame for people who were so excited about learning them in the first place.  But who am I to judge, really?

Putting all that aside, I've actually had some really great days recently.  I have not been getting a lot done, which I'm sure will start coming to stress me out soon (sigh........), but I have been having a lot of fun and enjoying myself and some great company too.

I know my "unemployment break" is over, but that doesn't mean that I'm not still thinking about self improvement.  And when I say "self improvement" I mean "self regression" because to me "regression = improvement"...anyways, like I've probably said before, I'm still searching for a greater feeling of peace and "quietesse" (not a real word), one that I used to have and one that Sayuri knew quite a lot about.  I almost wonder if I ought to see what she has to say about it someday.

Let's all keep doing our best to hold onto what is important...

Friday, March 15, 2019

Tried glowsticking in my dream this morning.  It did =not= go well lol...sticks shone SUPER BRIGHT for a few seconds but died out really fast for some reason??  And the sky turned brighter, maybe that was causing it.  I failed like pretty much all of my was pretty unsatisfying lol

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

13th Journey, feat Gilorien

Happy 7th anniversary to our most beloved game, Journey!  This was my 13th journey -- apparently I had not done one last year for the 6th anniversary, so the last time I took to the sands was all the way back in 2017 when I met raisin.

On a whim I decided to take part in the 7th anniversary event, which started at 2:30PM my time.  I barely managed to get the requisite system updates and such taken care of in time, but made it to the Broken Bridge with a little bit of time to spare, this time donning my fully-embroidered white cloak.  Soon after I dropped to the sands below, I encountered a fellow chirpy white cloak and proceeded to do the normal excited meeting rituals, complete with faceplants and all.  The faceplanting actually is quite an easy litmus test for the experience level of the traveler, along with their general flying technique and where they choose to lead us.  Old-timers will generally always easily reciprocate a faceplant with one of their own, with no trouble at all -- sometimes even going so far as to do a leaping faceplant (!).  The real test, though, is where the traveler decides to go after collecting the 3 glyphs in the level -- if they go through the "headbonk" glitch entrance, or start charging a chargeboost near the sand falls, I'll know I'm definitely dealing with somebody who knows their way around.

This was certainly the case, as I would later learn that my white cloaked companion was none other than Gilorien!  I somehow remembered their name way back from the TGC boards, though I can't say I remembered many details of their exploits or exactly who they were.  Truth be told, Gilorien messaged me later and told me that they remembered my ID as well, which honestly quite surprised me as I was never a very active poster in that community.

We proceeded to have a wondrous journey, where Gilorien showed me all manner of things I had not seen before (and some that I had), taking me backstage in the Broken Bridge, Sunken City, and the Underground.  Gilorien was a wonderful guide and companion through all of it -- very easy to follow, very comforting in the way that they made sure I was with them every step of the way.  I did more tandem coasting (where you glide through the air together with no flapping at all) than ever before as well; it felt quite nice to be able to manage it so many times despite my relative lack of experience compared with a lot of the veterans of the game.  We even had a nice beamdown or two, though embarrassingly it took me quite a while to get the signal for it -- for a while I thought we were just floating about out of bounds and wondered where we were supposed to go next!

In the Broken Bridge, my initial trepidation for trying to do advanced flying techniques like charge boosting (a glitch of sorts where you can accumulate flying "power" and use it to soar upwards into the sky) was quickly met with relief when I was able to chargeboost from the glyph CB spot up to the level end statue on my first try with no problems at all.  I wasn't sure that was the correct destination though, and sure enough Gilorien ended up further upward, toward the sand/wind wall marking the proper level boundary.  Understanding that they meant to try to go OOB (though I wasn't sure what the proper entry was at all), I went down for another CB.  Charge boosting is a tricky thing to do with a partner because it involves tilting the camera at a specific angle, so it's actually really difficult to see where your companion is going if they take off before you do.  Fortunately Gilorien was quite clear on the timing of the CB release and I didn't have too much trouble after another try or two.  We made it out of bounds and saw some of the weird skybox stuff back there before heading to the Pink Sands.

The Pink Sands was where I feel like I really got a sense of what kind of traveling companion Gilorien was.  It's hard to describe these things, of course, but we traveled to all the usual landmarks, doing quite a bit of coasting along the way (to my delight), as well as wandering and meandering about, playing with each others' scarves and such.  I took a backseat for most of the Journey as I honestly don't remember where everything is anymore in a lot of the levels and definitely don't know where anything is backstage, but at some points I'm not quite sure if either of us was really leading the way at all, or whether we were just sort of moving forward by default, but it was enjoyable nonetheless.

In the Sunken City rest stop area we chargeboosted up to the invisible platform and went out of bounds yet again, seeing some interesting things here and there before finally landing past the level exit in the UG spot of light that I particularly like.  Unfortunately I can't quite remember a lot of the specifics (there was some swirly sand textures, some interesting background color changes, etc), but I told myself that I wouldn't worry about taking notes or photos or anything and would focus more on just enjoying the Journey and my companion for what they were was this time.

In the Underground I was getting a bit worried that our session would run a bit too long if we kept on going at its current pace, meandering about out of bounds every which way to see everything, and I knew that the UG didn't have too much exciting going on in the beginning of the level, so I decided to take the lead there for once.  There was a cute moment where Gilorien peek-a-boo'd me from the other side of the cage from the glyph where the bunch of kelp/seaweed/things were, hehe.

In the next room (with the jellies) after collecting the glyph I knew we could either continue forward along the main path, or try to go OOB.  From what I had remembered, going OOB was relatively easy, but I've gotten lost out there before and wasn't quite sure I was up for it.  Gilorien motioned back towards the OOB route though, and I obliged, feeling that I was safe in their company.

And safe I was indeed!  Throughout our entire time together I felt that Gilorien was quite a great leader in the unknown (to me, anyways) depths of the backstage areas and I never once felt that I lost them or was confused.  Perhaps they did not take me anywhere particularly dangerous, or perhaps just knew how to avoid all of the danger areas, but all the same it felt quite comforting.

My best friend related Journey to social dance once, and I'm really inclined to agree.  There is so much nonverbal communication, and so many different types of interactions, whether it be between two dancers/companions who are already experienced, or perhaps someone new paired with someone who already knows the ropes.  I'm happy that I had enough experience with CBs and other tricks to understand pretty quickly what Gilorien was going for in multiple occasions, and I think that really made things easy.

As is often the case with guides who take me OOB in the underground, we somehow managed to mess up some of the War Machines, making them inactive and playing with them for a while.  We were in the room with the first WM encounter when alas -- Gilorien dusted on me, I assumed due to a disconnect.  I quickly checked Discord and the fan forums to see if they had posted anything, and then decided to hastily run through the rest of the level in hopes of meeting them at the beginning of the tower.

It worked!  I saw the white cloak, recognized the familiar chirp cadence, and the playful faceplant, and I knew I had found my companion once again!  We started proceeding up the tower -- I unlocked the first water level, but I think Gilorien wanted to play around without doing the further unlocks (or perhaps they had wanted to do a dry climb in the first place?), so we helped each other up a bit, until .... Gilorien dropped from the sky and....dusted once more. =(  Apparently they were having issues with their router, with quite unfortunate timing for the event.

So I completed the rest of the tower without doing much special, though I think I did manage a nice CB of some sort at one point which sort of impressed myself.  I had hoped to meet up with Gilorien again in the snow, but alas, I paired with a reddie, and accompanied them the rest of the way to paradise and beyond in a relatively uneventful end (aside from us getting chomped by a WM in the snow, oops!!  I need to start just leading reddies over to the left side of that area...).

Gilorien and I messaged each other after our "companions meet along the way" screen and thanked each other for the wonderful company, but Gilorien also asked if we could perhaps resume our Journey from the Snow level until the end.  I was happy to oblige, and we proceeded to right away go for the backstage entrance at the beginning of the snow level.  Lucky for me, I'm actually familiar with this OOB entrance, and the "trick" of returning to the beginning entrance to "re-warm" your scarf, so I wasn't super confused by that part and managed to get up there just fine after a try or two.  I'm actually also familiar with the other (easy) OOB entrance near the wall painting as well, which was nice.

Gilorien showed me a great many fun things in the snow level backstage, including a very interesting steep and tall "wedge" of snow in the middle of nowhere that looked quite beautiful, as well as a flying WM to play around with.  When we got back into the stage proper, I took the lead and rushed over to the lantern room excitedly, my favorite place in the entire game.  I don't think I really need to ask Gilorien, I'm sure my love for this room came through clearly through my actions, as this was one of the few times I took the lead, and I chirped more excitedly than ever, followed by a lingering meditation session, and than a final large shout after leaving and turning back to the room.

I write this pretty much every time I go out of bounds with a traveler, but seeing the mountain in the snow level from out of bounds is always quite something.  I always get the feeling of "I wonder if I can really MAKE it this time".  Every time we are out of bounds it feels like we are approaching the mountain from a different vantage (though I'm sure maybe it is just the same way and I just forgot), and it really does seem really close, almost within reach sometimes.  But alas, the death march must still happen one way or another, and we dropped down into it as soon as we flew close enough.

Paradise was a really unique experience this time around.  I don't think I have ever felt so =free= and happy to be in Paradise.  That is because while I think Paradise is a beautiful level with amazing music and great colors and everything, it's also the level where you can travel the fastest and farthest, and therefore the easiest level in which to quickly lose track of your companion.

But for this time, I had Gilorien with me, and I trusted them to be my watchful "chaperone" of sorts through paradise -- I knew that even if I flew quickly, they had more than enough skill to keep up with me and keep track of me, as well as the patience to follow me even if I went meandering off into random places or acted like I didn't know what I was doing.  And I think that let me really feel a unique sort of joy and "freedom" in the way that I played in Paradise.  Here too I felt a bit less reserved to take the lead if I felt like I wanted to fly somewhere, or see something, or play with the whales, or whatever.  Of course, Gilorien also showed me a number of really neat things, including a very very very epic sit-and-slide meditation drop.  Wow!!!  I have done a meditation slide before in Paradise, maybe it was this one too, but I certainly don't remember it being so epic.  That was a lot of fun!  We went OOB here too, to see some various things, meandered about and frolicked, and finally went up to the final walk to the light.

I felt that drawing a heart here would be too cliche, and felt a bit "cheap" because Gilorien was more of a special companion for me.  Besides, they mentioned they had already drawn a heart for me when they were alone in paradise (<3).  So we zigzagged our way across the chalky sand, and I spontaneously made up a small "red light, green light" game before we approached the final walk into the light -- where Gilorien showed me you could wiggle your way into the light backwards!  Haha, a fun Journey right until the very end...

What a wonderful time!  I consider myself so lucky to have met you on the sands Gilorien.  Thanks for a great Journey-versary :)

A very happy 7th anniversary to Journey!  I just realized the anniversary event takes place in just half an hour from now...I don't know if I will participate though, might just sit this year out as I'm not quite feeling it.  Hope many a nice Journey is had though.

Edit: Ah what the heck!  I'm going to try and still make it.  Hopefully the system updates don't take too long...

Yuri on Ice

I'm sick with a cold which means a great opportunity to rest in bed...and by that I mean have my sleep schedule royally screwed over.  Sigh...well, can't win em all.

In the meantime I finished (basically marathoning) Yuri on Ice!  As is often the case I'm not really sure what to say about it, but here I am anyways.  I quite enjoyed it, despite some of the "surprise" factor not being there since I already knew bits and pieces of what was going to happen.  I enjoyed watching the main characters' relationship develop and thought that was a nice arc to see, how the power dynamics of the relationship developed from being completely unequal, flipping a bit, but ultimately in a place where both realize they need and grow from each other.

On the ending: I like that it wasn't a "fairytale ending", and of course I appreciate that Yuri wasn't just that "shonen hero who tries really hard and despite failing all episode, wins in the ultimate way in the last battle" but at the same time I feel like the ending failed to carry me home emotionally and really make a statement.  I know endings are hard and of course YMMV, but this is the feeling that I have.  If I had to say what the show is "about" in terms of a main narrative I guess I would have to say (?) it's about the main relationship between these two characters and how it grows, as well as a sort of coming of age story about the protagonist, right?  Where he is this anxious wreck of a failure at the beginning and at the end he really has this newfound strength that he discovered through his relationship over these past 8 months.

Yuri on Ice ends with the grand prix final competition ending and the standings being announced, and both of the main couple affirming that they'll return to competitive figure skating in the next year.  Then we get a very nice credits sequence with (at first) just Yuri doing an exhibition routine, but he's joined later on by Victor.  I thought that part was actually really great, I think it really spoke to the future of their relationship, and I think having that as the final emotional "reward" at the end of the series (spoiler) worked much better than a gold medal.  We then fade to a final shot of Yuri running across a bridge toward Victor (and fellow rival Yurio) and a slight teaser for a 2nd season.

I think my issue with the ending is that although we had a nice emotional note with the exhibition performance, I wish that these final scenes would have been more of a takeaway moment to recapitulate what I am supposed to take away from the whole series.  So I think what I personally was looking for was maybe something more reflective, looking back on the past and seeing how far Yuri has come from the beginning of the show, and using that as a way to see just how far the relationship has come and how they have both grown.

I think what highlighted this issue for me was two things.  Firstly, the fact that Yuri didn't win the gold medal.  I think this is a great choice, actually, because to me it speaks to how even though this gold medal was the goal for Yuri and Victor throughout the entire anime, both you and the characters could realize that over the course of striving for that gold, they gained something much more important (aka their relationship with each other).  So that is great.  However I feel like this message is a bit diluted when the ending says "ah....too bad.....BUT WAIT!  Actually, let's try again next year!!!  Yeah!  Let's hope Yuri gets the gold next time!  It'll be alright!"  That's not to say that I thought it would have been better if they all retired, but I feel like that was one of the last takeaway moments in the episode so it sort of sets up that mindset.

The second issue is that I think Yuri's free skate performance is such a big emotional payoff at the end, that everything in the entire show is leading up to, and it's a great moment to see, BUT afterwards instead of moving on to closing the show up, we move on to see three other free skate routines by the other characters.  That in itself is not so much a problem, but it takes us away from this main narrative.  Yes, there is some flashbacks to Yuri's beginnings during Yurio's performance, but the focus here is still on Yurio, not Yuri.  So it's only after being distracted by three separate narratives ("Oh crap I'm jealous...but I recovered??", "Live life to your fullest???", and "Look at how awesome I am YEH") that we return back to Yuri and there is just not enough time left in the episode to re-center us on what the whole point of the whole narrative was, so instead we are left with this feeling of "oh, that was cool!.....I guess.....and now they're just gonna keep competing....hooray!"

So I feel like for me, the episode would maybe have been a stronger ending if it had looked like this instead:
- Yuri's final free skate performance ends
- A quiet=moment of emotional catharsis, (NOT a loud cheer).  Or it could be loud applause which fades to the background.
- Yuri and Victor share a moment of understanding amidst the celebration
- Cut out the rest of the entire competition (I know it's a bit jarring to have Yurio win without seeing his performance though)
- I don't think there is any way to show any of the rest of the competition or even the awards ceremony without being awkward, so probably cut to an "epilogue, aftermath" scene?  The point of this scene is to fill in what happened at the competition, (but remember, the actual result of the competition is an afterthought now, because Yuri performed so amazingly, it really doesn't even matter)
- I guess the scene might be something like: Yuri and Victor are back in Japan, Yuri does something (hang up?) his silver medal, he says something about how it's too bad he couldn't win that gold after all, but he was really amazed by Yurio's performance.  Even though he's disappointed that he didn't win, you can sense he has a new air about him, he is truly happy.
- I think it would also be nice to include some scenes of Yuri interacting with other people besides Victor, like people from his hometown, Yurio, or the other characters.  I think that is a chance to both close up their plotlines (though quite honestly some of them were not very developed in the first place) as well as show how Yuri's personality has grown in terms of his social interaction.
- Victor thinks to himself about how much Yuri has grown.  But also himself, too.  blahblahblah  (Maybe they say something about how he will just have to win the gold next year then)
- Maybe some "awww" moment where Victor notes that they did take home gold after all and points to the rings they have on (but maybe that's a bit too heavy-handed)
- (If it's getting a bit too melodramatic for the atmosphere of the show maybe some silly moment involving katsudon)
- Fade to the exhibition performance with first just Yuri, then Yuri + Victor skating together.  End song and close.

I know that was a ton of stuff about just the ending but I really felt like that was one of the main gripe I had with the show.  Honestly a lot of stories in general feels like they have endings that are too "cheap" or send a confusing message.  It's quite rare to find an example where it has been done really well.  Anyways, in general I felt like the show was a little bit unfocused in some parts and a bit predictable in others but it didn't bother me a ton.  On the other hand if you want me to speak positively, I will say the song "Yuri on Ice" still really gets to me.  I have an interesting history with that song because the very very first time I heard it was actually when aivisura performed a cover it of live at a concert (Fanime 2017 I believe).  I still remember being in the audience, I didn't know what the song was or where it was from at all, but I knew it was clearly not something mainstream that they pulled from their Steven Universe, nor was it something from The Black Box, but rather something completely different.  And I was completely enthralled by both Aivi's playing as well as the warm gentle pads coming in courtesy of was really something magical, it sent chills down my spine and I felt so much emotion coming out of that performance.  It is something that really spoke to me and I will try not to forget it.

So anyways every time that song comes up it's like GAHH so good, but not nearly as good as =that= time, hahaha...

Anyways, here's to attempting to sleep again...

Monday, March 11, 2019


Is being adaptable, learning on the fly, and dealing with unexpected obstacles something that can be trained?  If so, how?

This is a skill that I find comes into play most often in social dance where partners frequently compensate or adjust for each other, but there are quite a number of other places where it happens too.  When you hop on an arcade cabinet and find that some of the controls are malfunctioning, for example.  Or perhaps when a rhythm game is miscalibrated.  It seems like in these cases it's a matter of learning the new set of rules of the system -- what works, what doesn't work.  Is that something that can be trained?

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Things have been going really well, actually :)

I don't actually have anything specific to talk about, but thought I should post an update anyways.

Let's see, been playing some Tetris 99 lately, which has been pretty fun!  My win rate is about every one in three or so which is pretty decent.  I'm still really trying to get a handle on multiplayer stacking strategies, like trying to manage center well stacking while making t-spin doubles and such, as well as just getting better at general things like good downstacking and things like that.  I'm starting to look at a few other situational t-spin setups, like Imperial Cross and DT cannon (I love that these all have names) which all seem really fun, but quite hard to get a handle on how to really implement them mid-game.  T-spin stacking is a bit tricky to manage too, I can see the setups just fine, that's the easy part, but actually managing the rest of the stack well while trying to set things up and wait for the necessary pieces can be a bit tricky.  I think I also need to pay more attention to how the pros "abort" a t-spin setup where the bag randomizer doesn't really seem to be cooperating (though I guess maybe the pros just know enough other situational t-spin setups to just deal with it in any number of creative ways).  Things like "donating" and shifting your well around (often without even breaking btb bonus) look really cool and this is definitely the most fun I've ever had with an SRS/guideline-based game.

I've been grinding a few things in Melee, pretty simple stuff but all good things to work on.  For Falco, just general shine/waveshine combos involving platforms (something that really takes a while to get used to), for Fox working on upair followups after uthrow onto a platform -- the instant upair to cover missed tech and/or tech in place, vs delayed upair to cover rolls.  For Marth, various uthrow followups and different percentage ranges, like getting a nice utilt->regrab around 30-40%, and tippers at 50-60%, as well as uthrow->usmash closer to 100%.  At some point I need to put some time into Sheik foxtrotting, and also Peach float aerials, but eh...

I guess this is just becoming a gaming-centric post, but I have been playing a bunch lately, which is a good sign as it means I'm letting myself actually relax for once.  System Shock 2: Ponterbee Station is continuing, and I'm also making progress through Dead Cells -- now on 2 Boss Cells mode (newgame++).

Still continuing the regular grind with making music and album artwork.  I have enough OHC entries to come out with a volume 4 of All in a Day's Work, so need to draw up some new artwork for that as well.  Work work work work.  I still get a bit worried when I think about how April is only a month away already.  I guess I need to work more on Rhythm Quest, that would (????) maybe me feel better.

Oh, I guess I should mention (I didn't already?) that JaSmix happened, and went pretty well!  We (and by "we" I mean "I") tried some new things this time and got some useful feedback which will help inform future events.  Will have to decide whether to put another one on before the end of the school year or just wait until our regular summer event.

Finished watching the second season of Sangatsu no Lion!  It was such a good show, one of the top ones for me for sure.  It felt incredibly real in its themes, maybe because it really resonated with the things that have changed in my life over the past years.  I tried watching a few episodes of Boku no Hero Academia but it didn't really stick for me so I'm (finally) watching Yuri on Ice now instead, ha ha ha.

As I said, things are going pretty well...I'm not sure whether I am closer or not to finding an "answer" to my constant obsession and worries about getting things done, but maybe that is not something to be "answered" after all.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Timm[ie]'s Top 5 Tips: Cooking

I've come a long, long way since I started first making use of a stovetop back in 2011 ("oh, you need to use OIL to stir-fry things??  you don't just dump it all in the pan and..."), and a lot of that has come from accumulated knowledge gleaned over the years.  A lot of this knowledge comes from great resources such as Kenji Lopez-Alt's more scientifically-minded columns and various "mythbuster"-type articles (and trust me there are WAY more myths than truths about cooking floating around out there), and other portions of it come from more practical home kitchen experience.

I personally very much rely on a blend of science and experience to inform my cooking.  I need to understand the theory behind why something works in order to apply it to more than just a single recipe, but at the same time a lot of cooking resources are tailored to amazing thumbnails and ASMR-tingling videos where noodles are hand-pulled, beef is pushed through your own meat grinder, and everything is perfectly plated with little bits of hand-chopped freshly-picked herbs as garnishes and girl, I love attention to detail but sometimes we just ain't got the TIME for that, you know what I mean?  So the home kitchen is where a lot more of the "practical"-minded advice comes from, things like "reuse the same pan for these 3 steps so you have to wash less" or "while this is sauteing is a great time to peel and cut the next veggies so you can multitask".

That's already a pretty lengthy intro, so let's just get on with it, shall we?

1) Wash mushrooms with water, saute them separately

Contrary to what you might have heard, mushrooms don't "absorb a ton of water" when you rinse them under water.  They absorb about 2% of their weight at most, which really isn't a big deal, so go ahead and use water to clean your mushrooms since it's just easier (but make sure you give them a good scrub and rub at the same time to get out the little dirt chunks).  However, mushrooms are made up of a lot of water in the first place (92%!) and end up releasing a lot more water than say, onions or carrots.

This is important because all that water needs to evaporate out before any yummy tasty Maillard reaction browning can occur.  So if you're doing a simple saute of mushrooms, onions, and carrots all together, the amount of moisture in the mushrooms will end up dominating the saute and you'll end up with wimpy steamed veggies.  Instead, cook the mushrooms through first (really give them time to develop a nice brown color), remove from your skillet, throw in the other veggies, and add the mushrooms back at the end.  This will result in awesome caramelized veggies.

Is this more effort?  Yes, it is, and I admit sometimes when I'm EXTRA lazy I just go for my wimpy steamed veggies.  But mushrooms are the one case where 95% of the time I take the effort because they really do release a lot of water during the cooking process.  Of course this also applies to other "watery" veggies such as lettuce, celery, cucumbers, etc. which I will often cook together with the mushrooms to get all the watery veggies out of the way first.

2) Reuse plates or bowls for both temporary storage and final plating

One of those more practical home kitchen tips, and should be an extremely "duh" one for many people already, but I thought I'd still include it since it's so practical and beginner cooks (i.e. me in 2011) might not have a handle on efficient kitchen management.

So let's say you've got your mushrooms all nicely sliced or diced or whatever, but now you've got no more room on your chopping board for onions so you...pull out a bowl to temporarily put all those sliced raw mushrooms into.

Fast-forward a short while (or maybe you were smart and sauted the mushrooms while slicing your onions), you've got your mushrooms all nicely sauted and need to remove them from the skillet to start cooking your onions so you...pull out a plate to dump the mushrooms on.

You can see where I'm going with this.  With a simple saute it's not too bad but at the end of a fancy recipe you end up with fifteen million little bowls and plates that you need to clean. (one for minced garlic, one for minced scallions, one for minced ginger, one for raw mushrooms, another for carrots, ...)  I get it, mise en place is great and sometimes when you are doing a furious chinese-style stir fry over a jet burner, you NEED to have all of those ingredients prepared in separate bowls for the sake of speed.  But if you aren't doing some crazy high heat stir-fry, for the love of god reuse your bowls and plates throughout the cooking process.

That plate that you used to hold your raw mushrooms?  Reuse it for the cooked mushrooms -- no reason not to!  And after you toss your mushrooms back into the skillet with everything else, just give it a quick rinse and it's ready to be used as your final plate!  I strive to make most of my recipes use ZERO extra plates and bowls if at all possible for maximum efficiency, and yes, sometimes that means I can't chop all of my ingredients ahead of time -- chop them as you go, and multitask!

3) For better browning (i.e. better flavor), dry your meats, fish, and everything else before searing

Remember what I said about water needing to evaporate before mushrooms can undergo any awesome browning reactions?  Well, same thing applies to meat, fish fillets, and everything else you're trying to sear or pan fry or saute.  If you thoroughly pat dry your steaks, salmon fillets, and everything else before you cook them it will really help you get that nice tasty outer caramelization that we all love.

A lot of people (myself included) might intuitively think that the more "wet" meat or veggies are, the juicier they will be once they're done cooking.  Unfortunately things don't actually work that way at all.  A steak is not a sponge -- you can't "add moisture to it" by submerging it in water.  There's a reason we grill and pan-sear steaks and fish fillets instead of eating "boiled steak" all the time!  So make sure the exterior of your piece of protein is completely dry before going to cook it. (don't worry, the interior will still be juicy!)

Along the same lines, you might be tempted to put a cover on your skillet in order to "help keep the moisture in".  This results in "steamed steak" which again is not nearly as appetizing.  Putting a lid over your skillet or pot is great for braised/saucy dishes (or actual steamed veggies), but for searing and sauteing you need all that water to evaporate so you can start to develop delicious browning flavor.  And of course, if you're ever worried about things getting too dry in the pan, don't add water -- instead, add more oil.  Or if you're feeling unhealthy, bacon fat.  Delicious bacon fat....

4) Keep frozen bacon in the freezer

Speaking of bacon fat, is there a dish it won't make better?  Apologies to any vegetarian or pescetarian readers, but adding some chopped up bacon pieces can add some extra deliciousness to pretty much anything.  Roasted brussel sprouts turn from boring to unhealthily delicious.  Kale suddenly becomes something you're actually excited to eat (actually, I like kale on its own, but many don't!)  And who doesn't like some extra bacon bits with their potatoes, tater tots, or even cauliflower soup?  Pretty much any time you're roasting or sauteing anything you can just add some extra bacon in there and get some extra delicious flavor.

Of course I don't go super ham (ha ha ha...) with the bacon with every meal I ever eat, so it takes me a while to get through a package of bacon.  There's two solutions to this -- option A, buy your bacon in individual strips from your butcher.  Option B is buy bacon in bulk but keep in the freezer so it lasts forever.  As an added bonus, frozen bacon is way easier to work with on the chopping board because it's not all greasy and slippery!  Frozen bacon is a breeze to work with and cooks great too.

5) Cook fish fillets with the broiler because it's freakin delicious

How many of you have never even understood the "broil" function on your oven?  If you've been baking your fish fillets your whole life, you really ought to try broiling them instead.  Baked fish is "okay", but the end result is always going to lack the extra flavor of broiled fish because baking simply doesn't give you the intense heat required for any delicious surface browning (and yes, browning really is THAT important).  Broiling is essentially "upside-down grilling" -- it cooks via intense radiant heat that happens to be perfect for fish fillets.  (Yes, you can also pan-fry fish fillets and that can be wonderful too, but takes a bit more skill to really get right)

You might have to get a feel for it the first few times as every broiler reaches a different temperature and the distance to the heating element can be important.  For fish, it's important to do most (not all, but most) of your cooking with the skin side up for broiling since the skin will act as a nice insulator, protecting the rest of the fish from getting overcooked.  Oh, and if you do that, you get a nice, crispy, delicious fish skin that is totally unlike the floppy slimy fish skins you'd get with baked or steamed fish.  Since fish overcooks quite quickly, I'd recommend testing for your ideal doneness very often until you get a good feel for it.  You can test for doneness by trying to flake the fillet with a fork and/or checking the color of the inner part of the fillet.  I prefer my fillets "medium" but you may even prefer "medium rare" with some translucent flesh in the middle (which is perfectly safe to eat).  But for the love of god please do not overcook your fish fillets and turn them into dry cardboard lumps like 90% of all restaurants do.

Got a toaster oven?  Even easier -- just pop your fish fillet in there and use the broil setting and you've got a quick and easy route to delicious fish, without having to wait around for your entire oven to heat up to temperature.  Hooray!

Broiling is also great, by the way, for other proteins, such as lamb chops, or anything else you'd think about grilling (but don't want to go through all the effort to set up the grill for).