Still Here


I’m still in Shenzhen, China. I wish I wasn’t.

I’m on day two of recovering from a massive, massive hangover. I guess I’ll get to why a few paragraphs down.

So, it’s been almost exactly two months since I last posted. A lot has happened, but also a lot hasn’t happened. It’s mostly just living and working, but harder.

In the time since I’ve posted I’ve moved into a new hotel, settled into a routine, found some hobbies and have continued to be amazed by how gross China is. It pains me to say that, because I feel like you should try to understand other cultures and not compare them to your own… but damn man, it’s fucking nasty here.

Anyway, I live in Shenya Business Hotel now. It’s a Business Hotel because they decided to call it a Business Hotel, presumably to attract Business People. There is nothing Business like about it. My room smells like sewage most of the time. Not, like, a little bit. Like a huge fucking open sewer.

I’ve had to install mosquito poison in my room because I was getting eaten alive every night. I still have no idea where they were coming from. The drain, I think. My windows and doors are closed.

In the pictures above you will see a cool picture of a sanitized glass! Awesome! Except that little paper slip that says it’s sanitized just comes out of a stack on the maid’s cart. When you use one and throw it away she just rinses the glass out in the toilet (I assume) and puts a new slip on.

There is poop in the hallways. Often.

Last night someone threw up in the hallway so the manager came and yelled at people and beat on doors for 30 minutes. At 3am.

There is a machine across the street that we call the Squonk Machine, because that’s the sound it makes. It makes it night and day, loud as fuck, and has been since we got here. It’s part of some construction thing and they honestly run it almost 24/7. It’s awful.

On the upside, I mentioned hobbies. It’s really just one. I love wandering the electronics markets and documenting what I find there. Every Saturday I get up fairly early, have a healthy breakfast at McDonalds and then go wander the markets for 6 or 12 hours. When I find something neat, or rare, or that might help me in my projects I take a picture of it, take a business card and then document it in this spreadsheet.

I would love to just make it my life to create the Google of Huaqiang Bei but I am pretty tired of the smell of poop.

One of the good things is that we’ve discovered a great pizza place called NYPD. We go every Saturday to absolutely pig out on pizza and pretty decent beer. That’s the cause of the absurd hangover I mentioned. We’ve gotten to know the owner pretty well and he kinda expects us every Saturday and usually rolls out the red carpet for us. Well, this week we get there and they are out of draft beer! THE NERVE! We give him a little bit of gentle ribbing and then get on with emptying the bottle fridge.

So we’re waiting, and waiting, and waiting for our pizza and it’s taking forever to show up. Thompson, the owner, comes up and sees we don’t have pizza or draft beer and decides to just dump a ton of beer into a box with ice and give it to us. For free. So that basically turned the night into a shit show. We drank all that beer, ate all that pizza and then went back to the office and started drinking whiskey straight from a bottle we found. At some point I got in a punching contest with an Alaskan hockey player and that’s about all I remember.

That puts us at today, which has been fairly crappy. Just recovering and wishing it was tomorrow.

I know I sound pretty down on China, but that’s only because it’s awful. Seriously, don’t go.


Five Days: A Summary


I’ve been in China now for five days. It’s been a crazy whirlwind and I’ve written many pages on the subject in a draft but after re-reading it I realized it was boring as fuck. So here is a brief summary of my adventures so far, and some pictures! Not enough pictures, I know. I am going to remember to take more.

Day 1, Friday: One of my roommates blew the power in our hotel room, causing to have to get moved and we ate all kinds of weird things on sticks in the hotel restaurant.

Day 2, Saturday: Found our offices, found the subway, had really good curry, had miserable jetlag, starting getting our work organized. Visited the first (and second, third and fourth) of many electronics markets. More power shenanigans.

Day 3, Sunday: Even worse jetlag, a couple trips to Walmart to start buying some of the basics I will need while living here and some actual work. Dinner with some other folks involved in the same thing we are and had our first experience with everyone wanting to take pictures with us. Power adventures related to blowing out my brand new power strip tower thingy.

Day 4, Monday: By most accounts it was basically just a work day. I came to work in the morning, got some dumplings for breakfast off a street vendor, had some great coffee from a Kopi Luwak coffee place downstairs and basically just programmed all day. More trips to Walmart.

Day 5, Tuesday: An almost completely boring (but wonderful) workday. Met some new folks here for similar reasons as us and had dinner with them. The waitress had the best fucking time of her life laughing and telling us no when we tried to order things. No idea if they were out of stock or what.

Day 6, Wednesday: That’s today. Today was the official kickoff of what I am here for, so I met a TON of new people, learned a lot and got very little work done. It’s 7:48pm now and I’m still at the office, typing this.

I’ve had brutal jetlag since I got here and last night was my first full night’s sleep. I’m hoping tonight will be the second but for that to happen I need to stay up till at least midnight, so I am just sitting here doing this and will do a little more work.

There are some things I really like about China so far:

* Food is delicious and cheap as hell. You can get a great huge plate of all kinds of stuff for $5 or less, in a nice restaurant, very quickly and without having to tip.

* Since there’s no tipping, the service is weird but cool. The wait staff pretty much leaves you alone. If you want help you yell. Often you pay as soon as you order, and then the food comes out amazingly fast. Like, strangely fast. Like… there’s no way you had time to cook that fast. But it’s all been great and no sickness so far.

* Since you pay when you order, when you are done you just get up and leave. Awesome.

* The subway is clean, fast, cool and wonderful. It’s honestly the best subway I’ve been on anywhere. Not even very crowded.

* Other stuff is cheap too. Beer is almost free, water (which you need to buy and not take from the tap) is just a few cents.

* People are generally nice and helpful. Not many people know any English but they are very willing to try to help you and understand you.

* The electronics markets are like something out of a nerd wet dream. They are endless and you can buy ANYTHING. I mean it. Anything you can think of in the technology, electronics, mechanical or consumer market and there is at least one stall full of it. There are probably 500 stalls full of it. There are entire stalls dedicated to stepper motor cables. It’s like my crimper died and went to heaven.

There are also some things I don’t like about China so far:

* Everyone smokes. It’s everywhere and completely unavoidable.

* People hack and spit CONSTANTLY. On the street, in buildings, in elevators, everywhere. It’s gross.

* There’s a lot that is just gross. No better way to describe it. Trash, dead things, slime, grease, human refuse, just gross. Lots of it.

* There is no personal space. People will just rub up against you in line. Bump you with their shit. Push you (gently) out of the way.

* There are no rules. Traffic goes anywhere it wants (more on this later), people smoke while standing right in front of the no smoking signs with the people who put the signs up standing right there not caring. People butt in line. Last night we were at a corner store buying beer and I guess two girls behind us decided we were taking too long and just pushed past us, walked in front of us and had the clerk ring them up first. We just kinda stood there stunned.

The traffic is incredible. There are cars and electric bikes everywhere by the thousands. They go whatever fucking way they want. Traffic moving too slow in one direction on a two way street? Drive up the other side of the street, honking at the cars who DARE come at you. Too many cars on the street? Ride your motorcycle on the sidewalk, dodging old ladies and children. Honk always.

If Shenzhen had a slogan it would be Always Be Honking. People honk to get you out of their way, to say thanks for getting out of the way, to let you know they are coming at you, to let you know they are going to ignore the traffic signals, to let you know they are going to drive their electric bike right into the fucking store, to say Hi or just because it’s a nice day and why not do some honking?

We’ve taken to just saying “Honk!” while walking around, just to fit in a little better.

I had a mini breakdown the third night. I was tired from jetlag, my back has been hurting, I had no privacy and nowhere to just relax and suddenly couldn’t figure out why the fuck I agreed to this. I fell asleep and in the morning I was over it, and I am excited now, but it was a low point.

So that’s the first five days. I know I should say more, but honestly it’s just been about trying to survive and set up some kind of normalcy. This isn’t like a normal trip where you are just living out of a bag until you leave. I have to make a life here for a quarter of a year and the transition has been difficult.

And finally, pictures! In that one of the very tall building, the thing hanging from the crane is a full size shipping container. It’s a very, very tall building.


Looking East

I suppose it’s fitting to follow an end with a beginning.

In the time since my previous post, I have healed. I didn’t think I would, but it happened. I can think about Sonja, and talk about her in the past tense and not cry.

That seems better.

Being busy has helped, and busy tends to multiply, which brings us to a new adventure.

Tomorrow I will pack a bag. Not a very big one, considering. And I’ll board a jet and I will move to China for 3.5┬ábusy months. I’ll be working, and I can’t yet say what on, but it’s going to be stressful, and challenging, and exciting, and scary, and probably awesome.

Within the next few weeks, I hope, I’ll be able to talk more about what I am doing there. At the very least I will be posting about my travels, even if I am not talking about the work. I don’t know if you are still reading- I know it’s been a while, but I hope you will follow along.

Saying Goodbye to Sonja

Last night Courtney and I said goodbye to Sonja. She had been in pretty rough shape for quite a while and she had some bad breathing trouble last night and I knew it was time. We took her to the vet and laid on the floor with her while she went to sleep. She went very peacefully and I am so glad that I could be there with her.

The first picture I ever posted to this blog was of Sonja, in a laundry basket, just being Sonja.


I’ve known this was coming for a long time. She’s been on a downhill slope for a few years now and this past year was very rough. Even though I thought I was prepared, nothing could have prepared me for this pain. I miss her so incredibly much. I can’t fit a world into my mind where she isn’t with me. It’s so easy to slip into a train of thought where I’ll see her again and it hurts so much.

I want to write more, but I can’t find the words. Maybe when the pain has dulled a bit. I know it will, although right now it doesn’t feel like it.

For now, goodbye my sweet girl. I love you, I miss you and I’m so glad I got to spend all the time I did with you. You were everything to me, and I will never be whole again.


Hey guys, remember when we were all so excited that blogs were gonna replace the lame ol’ newspapers and all those silly reporters? We were right! Except then all those hard fought freedoms, and all that integrity that those old reporters and newspapers had went with the reporters and newspapers and now news is vapid entertainment and we’re pretty much fucked.

Annoying USBank Website Bug

USBank’s online banking site has a really annoying little bug that has been there for as long as I’ve been using the site. Which is, like, years. Years and years.

Here is a video showing the problem:

What happens is that if you have previously logged in to the site and then left the site but kept your browser open, when you try to log in again it tells you that your session has expired and that you must login again. Expiring the session is good security and makes lots of sense, but taking me to a page to tell me it happens is a bug.

If I am typing my username in and hitting login then I am interested in starting a new session. It doesn’t matter if my old session has timed out. I’m already trying to start a new one. What most websites do in this case is clear any state remaining from the old session and immediately just start a new one. Telling me about that process just wastes my time. No other website, including every financial one I can think of, does this.

It’s a bug. Please, please fix it.

The Hobbit

Yesterday Courtney and I took the day off work so we could see The Hobbit at Cinerama. This is probably the most excited I’ve ever been for a movie release. The Hobbit is the book that got me into fantasy. I may have read other fantasy books before it, I don’t really remember, but none of them stuck. The Hobbit was perfect. I’ve read it some uncounted number of times since the first and I love it just as much, or more, every time.

So yesterday when I saw my perfect fantasy utterly ruined on the big screen I was pretty disappointed.

We decided to see the HFR 3D version of the film. HFR stands for High Frame Rate. It’s High Frame Rate because it was recorded and played back at 48 frames per second instead of the usual 24. Even though the film was being released in 24 FPS alongside it’s high speed cousin, I wanted to see the HFR version because that’s the version Peter Jackson wanted us to see. I had fostered a great respect for him for his work on the Lord of the Rings films, which were incredible, and I figured that if he felt the HFR 3D version was the best version then that would be the one I would see.

It was apparent from the start that this was a poor choice. From the very beginning everything looked incredibly fake. Where Lord of the Rings made you believe that The Shire truly was a magical place tucked away in a corner of the world we can’t see, in The Hobbit it looked like a cheap set designed for a high school play. The costumes, instead of looking right at home, looked absurd and silly. Once the dwarves started showing up it took a turn for the worse. I felt like I was watching a live theater rendition of a Disney film about funny pirates.

The HFR 3D film experience made it seem as if I was sitting right there on set. At first that sounds perfect! It would be just like being there! But it is not perfect. It’s awful. Instead of suspending your disbelief for a few hours and believing you are in a world with Hobbits, Wizards, Dwarves, and Goblins you instead feel like you are watching a bunch of well funded kids role playing in the forest. It’s TOO real. There is nothing separating the reality that this does not actually exist from the fantasy of believing that it does.

I can go on and on about how badly the HFR ruined the experience for me, but other people have said it better. Here is a whole page of quotes about it and they are all right on the mark.

I am told by a friend who saw the 24 FPS version of it yesterday that it was great. There were none of the problems that I am talking about here. That brightens my spirits quite a bit. I think that if I see it again and really enjoy it I can easily forget about the bad version. So sometime soon I’ll do that, and I’ll hope for the best.

Until then, I’ll talk about the things I didn’t like about the actual film itself.


There were four specific scenes that really bugged me in the film, and one overall theme.

In the book, Bilbo never makes a conscious decision to join the party. He wakes in the morning, relieved to find the dwarves have left (and not cleaned up) and he sets about his day, dismissing any ideas of an adventure. Gandalf arrives and basically pushes him out of the door telling him there’s no time to pack or to think about what is happening. Bilbo finds himself joining an adventure that he isn’t quite sure he wants to be on. This theme repeats throughout the book.

In the film, Bilbo wakes up in the morning and decides that, by golly, he’s going on an adventure! He signs the (absurd) contract and runs out the door shouting along the way that “I’m going on an adventure!”

By changing the way the story starts it changes the way the story proceeds and it changes Bilbo’s character altogether from a slightly bumbling person out of his element to a willing participant with heroism on his mind.

The next scene that really bugged me was with the trolls. We all know that the trolls are eventually turned to stone by being tricked by Gandalf into staying outside when the dawn arrives. In the film, Gandalf cracks a giant boulder in half, letting the sunlight come through. In the story Gandalf tricks and confuses the trolls by using their voices to get them to argue with one another. They argue and argue about how to cook the dwarves until finally the dawn arrives and they are turned into stone.

It may seem like a small change, but to me it represents a loss of innocence in the film. In the story, Gandalf is quiet and mysterious and prefers to get involved as little as possible. The film has him exploding boulders from the start and it seems very heavy handed.

Overall I thought the goblins and Gollum scenes were handled well. We didn’t get much backstory about Gollum and his ring, and it’s not really clear how upset he is that he’s lost it. It seems more like he’s upset that he’s lost a meal. The goblin city was a bit overwrought and there was a hell of a lot more running around and battling than needed, but overall it was good.

My problem comes with the scene afterwards, where Bilbo rejoins the party. In the original, the dwarves and Gandalf have just discovered that Bilbo did not escape with them and are upset at having lost their burglar and suddenly he appears among them. They are shocked that they could have gotten past them and then even further when they hear about his adventures. They begin to have a grudging, but solid respect for him and for his abilities.

This is truly the first part of the story when the party begins to believe that he may have some use and it does a huge amount for Bilbo’s confidence in himself. In the film, this scene is just thrown away and glossed over with no real explanation and the audience is just left to wonder how this transformation of character happens.

Finally, perhaps my biggest disappointment comes when the party is treed after being chased by the wargs. The film brings back Azog, the orc chief, in a down and out battle with Thorin that Bilbo eventually joins in an effort to save Thorin’s life. This scene just disgusted me. We suddenly have this hero of a Hobbit facing down the enemies of Middle Earth with his glowing sword. In the book the orcs set fires around the trees until the eagles come and rescue the party. There is no epic battle where Bilbo wins Thorin over with his bravery.

This last scene, and really all the scenes that I am complaining about here make up the theme that bothers me. The theme is that of Bilbo as a hero. It clashes utterly with my reading of the book and my memories of the story. In my mind, Bilbo spends the first half of the story lost, bewildered, scared, out of place and barely getting by. Only with the help of Gandalf, the dwarves and in some cases, extraordinary luck is he able to survive.

We fall in love with a character who truly seems like what he is. A very small person from a very small place thrust into a huge world and epic events. It’s through his small, but increasingly important discoveries about himself and the world around him that he eventually grows into the Hobbit of legend.

At the start, Bilbo is truly innocent. He has no knowledge of the world and events around him. The Hobbit is a story about the loss of innocence and the joy of finding confidence and power within yourself.

I feel like the new film has removed that incredible feeling of joy that we get with each new boost in Bilbo’s confidence and it is that journey of discovery that makes the book so magical.

The Zelda Project: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

I finished A Link to the Past way back on November 24th, but I have been too busy to write about it. Now I will!

A Link to the Past is the first Zelda game for the SNES. The upgrade in graphics is pretty evident as soon as it starts up and it just gets better and better. First released in the US in 1992, I would have been about 15 years old. At this point I had my very own TV and the SNES had taken up residence in my bedroom. The game I remember most from this time period was Street Fighter II, which I played constantly with my friends. In fact, I don’t actually remember playing A Link to the Past during this time at all. I know I did, because as soon as the game started up I recognized it and I remembered more and more as I played. It’s possible that this was one of the games I played duo with a friend.

In any case, A Link to the Past was, so far, the most enjoyable of the bunch. The graphics and sound are so good that they don’t look bad even by today’s standards so it’s easy to forget you are playing a 20 year old game. The gameplay is SO MUCH BETTER than The Adventure of Link. In fact, I might even say it’s a little too easy. Where The Adventure of Link was maddeningly difficult, A Link to the Past is really pretty hard to lose at. I died plenty of times, but deaths are quick and easy to recover from and if you are careful it’s easy to avoid through potions, fairies, lots of free hearts under pots, etc.

Another nice thing about this game is that while there is plenty of exploration and adventure, it’s very easy to get a hint as to what to do next. You can always go to a fortune teller to have your “destiny” read to let you know where you’ve left off. This is pretty handy when you aren’t taking extensive notes and might set the controller down for a few days or a week at a time.

All in all, I feel this may end up being my favorite game when this project is all said and done. I started Ocarina of Time the day after I finished this one and I am sad to say that so far I hate it. The controls are awful, the graphics look incredibly dated and I am constantly fighting with the camera. Ocarina of Time is supposed to be one of the best games ever made, so hopefully I’ll get past these issues and start to enjoy it.

That’s for another post though!

The Zelda Project: The Adventure of Link

The Adventure of Link is the second of the two Zelda titles released for the NES and it’s fucking awful. It was released in North America in 1988, much to the dismay of people who liked good video games.

I mentioned in my last post a feeling of guilt over never having finished TAoL, but now I can finally put that to rest. After several weeks of work and what felt like a lifetime of misery, I will never have to play that abomination of a game again.

I don’t remember why I didn’t finish TAoL. I’ve been trying to. I think the core reason is probably that it was too damn hard but I think that may have been coupled with having rented it. I know I went through a period of my childhood where I rented games quite frequently, and then failed to return them for way too long, ending up paying as much in late fees as I would have to have bought the game. My financial acumen shined even in those days.

I always felt guilty for not finishing it because I feel like having finished the Zelda games is something I need in my pocket. I feel like these games were formative for me, but not being able to definitively say I’ve completed them all seems like cheating. That is a big part of the reason for this project, and finishing Zelda 2 was one of the major goals of this project.

Zelda 2, as I said is awful. It’s awful because it’s completely punishing and unforgiving. You get three lives and as many continues as you want. Chances to recharge your health bar are very few and far between and when your three lives are out you continue from the beginning of the game. That doesn’t sound so bad until you realize that this even happens in the dungeons. In Zelda 1, if you were in a dungeon when you died, when you continued you continued from the start of the dungeon. In Zelda 2, often times just getting to the dungeon is a life losing exercise. You might lose one or two lives getting there and then you have to fight all the way through the dungeon and kill the boss without losing the last of your lives or it’s all the way back to the beginning. It’s brutal.

Zelda 2 was also the first to introduce the overworld random attack system. I don’t know if it was the first game ever to do this, but it’s the same mechanic used in the early Final Fantasy games and other games like Pokemon. As you run around the overworld suddenly creatures will come running from three sides and they are very hard to avoid. If you don’t avoid them you go into a side scrolling battle scene and you have to fight your way back out.

Early on in the game, it behooves you to fight your way through Death Mountain and get the Hammer. You can actually go fairly far in the game before you get it, but the Hammer gives you shortcuts through the overworld. Without it you are forced to take the long way for everything past the first dungeon which means you end up losing more lives along the way. Getting the Hammer early on is the better of two very, very evil evils. Getting the Hammer caused me to throw a controller for the first time that I can remember. Part of my brain is still screaming about it.

Aside from that mess near the beginning, the majority of the rest of the game is just a grind. The graphics are awful, the controls are awful, the music is awful. You find as you go that no matter what you do you just can’t advance and that’s when it’s time to find a spot to fight and grind out a few levels to increase your powers. It doesn’t hurt to spend some time finding tactics for killing each type of enemy, too. For the longest time the red Ironknuckles were my nemesis, until I learned you can hit them every time by jumping towards them and swiping down with the sword.

Finally, when your boredom has reached it’s limit, you reach the final dungeon: The Great Palace. This hell hole is unique in that it is the only dungeon in the game where if you continue you start from the dungeon instead of the beginning of the game. Lucky, too, because while the dungeon itself actually isn’t that bad, getting to it is brutal. I died over and over until I finally decided to sit for a few hours grinding my skills up to max. Once I did, getting there was pretty straightforward although I usually died at least once getting there.

You’d think that I would have only had to get there once if I can continue from inside the dungeon, right? Nope! If you save and quit… back to the beginning.

Yesterday I finally had enough time to sit down and finish the Great Palace and I did it. It took me a few tries to learn the big flying head dude’s pattern and get him dead and then Shadow Link was easy, since he is stupid. Crouch on the left side and spam your sword. He’ll just run into it. I got the Triforce, saved Princess Zelda, got a picture, saved the game and then closed that thing down for all time.

Zelda 2
Never Again

So now we move on to A Link to the Past. Downloaded it, fired it up and it’s like a breath of fresh air. Not to mention I really remember a lot about this one. So far it’s going great and it’s a very enjoyable play. That’s for another post though.

One thing I think I failed to mention in the first post is that I will be playing only the single player console Zeldas. I know there are half a dozen or more Gameboy ones, and there’s things like Four Swords. I won’t be playing those.