Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Be excellent to each other

It's been a while since my last post, and it's as I feared. I don't have a whole lot to say anymore, and what little I say, can be said to a more interactive audience on Twitter and Facebook. So, after 379 posts since April 2005, it's time to say goodbye.

This blog was an important outlet for a lot of the things I wanted to say and, quite frankly, for all the things that needed to be said. At times the blog served as confessional, soapbox, water cooler, journal, newspaper, even a battleground, but at all times, I wanted the me that you saw to reflect the me that I see. And I hope I accomplished that.

Thank you all for reading, for commenting, and, at times, for challenging me. I appreciate it all.

Until we meet again, be excellent to each other.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

August recap

Wow, what a ride August was. Normally, I am on vacation for three weeks of the month as I am dealing with the Fringe Festival and don't want to come home from a full day at work only to perform in two evening shows. This year, I didn't have to worry about work anyway, but I've been gimpier more often this summer so I was concerned about how that would affect my performance.

The answer is "some, but thank goodness for drugs." I was in two shows this year: Apocalypse Kow's show, "Enemies of Music," and the #YEGprov improv show. Most nights, I would be scheduled for both shows, with a 5pm call and a 7pm call, respectively. After decent opening nights for each show, I was really hurting, but it wasn't a debilitating one, just a really uncomfortable and awkward one, easily mitigated with drugs. There were good days and bad days, but its was mostly the standing and bopping for an hour during the Apocalypse Kow shows that really fatigued my knees, since they normally can't straighten all the way anyway.

#YEGprov was a little better because I got to sit whenever I wasn't in a scene, and I was normally moving around a bunch during scenes. This worked out pretty well when I had my knee braces, which turned out to be all the time! Those and my pills were my best friends during the Fringe, and afterwards.

Fringe is always a stressful time for me, as I tend to worry about my show a lot, this year more than usual. Despite my bandmates assuring me that things would be okay--they were--and that everything was taken care of--it wasn't--and that we would have a good show--we did--I'm not entirely certain they are aware of all of the production issues that have to be considered beyond just what we do on stage and how well we know our music.

As an example, on opening night, there were many things that needed to be done, such as telling our front-of-house volunteer what needed to be done, coordinating with the stage manager regarding when to let the house in, setting up the concession, setting up the merch table, having a float in the prepared cash box, and having the BYOV tickets ready to sell. Well, I majorly hooped up and forgot to sign for the tickets, which needed to be done the day before, and consequently, we had not tickets to sell at the door.

Aside from that snag, once we got through a couple of shows, everything went really smoothly and we had ourselves a good show. Our friends and dedicated fans liked it, we picked up a few new fans, and we got decent reviews this year, which we appreciated. We also had a great support system from friends who were producing the other two shows in our venue (in fact, they convinced the venue to allow us to do our show there after the venue initially declined our application).

This is more of less the pattern of emotions I go through during Fringe: freak out because there's so much to do, bandmates tell me it'll be okay, freak out because stuff isn't done, bandmates tell me to calm down, figure things out on opening night or just before, freak out about whether we know our music well enough, opening night jitters, have a good opening, fix issues, have a good sophomore show, everything else goes smoothly, Ninja feels bad for freaking out but somehow can't not freak out the same way the next year.

This year, part of the reason I think I was freaking out way more is that for two whole weeks at the end of July, which is just a couple of weeks away from opening, three of our guys were on vacation. I can't exactly blame them, as that is prime vacation time, and everyone's got their own lives and everything, but it didn't feel like we as a group made show preparation a huge priority, or strove to get a bunch of stuff done before the vacationers left. Maybe I would have felt better if at least one of the other guys demonstrated any bit of concern or asked if we would have enough time to prep.

Feeling like I'm the only one freaking out about the show is not a good feeling, but if the guys want me to stop, I think I need more than just platitudes and dismissals of my concerns to make that happen. I love love love my bandmates, and I am very grateful that a couple of them have stepped up their game to take on more responsibility during the year or on stage or whatever, but Fringe is kind of our big show of the year, and we need to step up our game as a whole if we want to start making the kind of money we were making on the outdoor stages. Mostly, because we vastly prefer an indoor show to an outdoor one.

I am voicing my concern at our traditional festival post-mortem, and based on previous discussions about admin and various roles and jobs that need to be formalized to make us more efficient, I hope/think that next year will see a less freaky-outy Ninja. Also, I will likely be employed again by then, since if I'm not I will be back at my folks' place, and that's not an eventuality I care to entertain.

Next time, a food fustian on Noorish, the raw/vegan/gluten-free cafe! Spoiler alert: good food, bad science.

Friday, July 20, 2012

F OFFF! Fionn MacCool's

Time for a positive episode of "Friendly Old Fogey's Food Fustian!" Why is it positive? Why is it friendly? Because this is one of those food reviews that encourages the reader to go to the place I'm talking about. Go now, now now now!

Oh, I haven't told you which place it is yet? That would certainly help. Okay, but just this once.

Today's food review is about the new Irish-style pub that opened up on Calgary Trail, plugged into the Holiday Inn just north of Whitemud. It's across the street from the Delta Edmonton South and the Radisson. Also, right across the street from the BioWare offices (hi, guys!), but through a hotel and an atrium. Not that I'm spying on my former employer using restricted military spy technology or anything, you understand.

The place is Fionn MacCool's, one of the four Irish pub brands of Prime Pubs, which itself is a subsidiary of Prime Restaurants out of Ontario. The name Prime Restaurants might not be familiar, but it's the company that owns East Side Mario's. So it's no mom-and-pop shop, but it's run by a local franchisee. Other pub brands in the family include Tir nan Og, Paddy Flaherty's, and D'Arcy McGee's.

I initially tried the place because the name was unusual and it opened up right across the street from where I worked, on a road I travel often. So one day, when my chosen place of lunchables was closed, I decided to give it a shot. And boy, was I surprised!

The decor is about what one would expect from an Irish-style pub. Imagine O'Byrne's or The Druid and you've pretty much got it. Dark wood, some patterned smoked glass, and Fionn MacCool's even has a patio. Unless O'Byrne's, however, Fionn MacCool's has a lot of space and doesn't feel at all crowded even when the place is empty.

The servers are lovely young ladies in black tops and tartan skirts, but while I find it attractive, the skirts aren't scandalously short and the servers appear to have been hired for ability more than the concept of size zero bimbosity. Everyone is friendly and professional, but seem extremely fun-loving. It's gratifying to see people who genuinely seem to enjoy their job!

I can't speak to the alcoholic beverages since I'm a teetotaler, but each patron is given a drink menu in addition to the food menu.

The food is pretty great, making Fionn MacCool's my definition of a gastropub. The menu is magnificent for a pub, elevating basic pub grub to a level you could find in any Food Network program. And I haven't even tried any of the traditional pub grub yet!

On my first visit, I was pleasantly surprised at their seafood options, so I started with the fisherman's chowder. It was delightfully creamy and chock-full of veggies and seafood, which I appreciated, and served with a biscuit. Needless to say, I thought it was great! The Jago would have appreciated the mini stuffed Yorkshires. I could have easily gone for the crispy calamari and shrimp but I'm one of those squid fans who like the tentacles, and the menu description for the calarmari emphasized rings. Next time.

What to have for an entree, though? It was a new place, so I was a little concerned I wouldn't find anything interesting, but I was proven wrong on every page of that menu. Chicken tikka masala boxty? Fish and chips? Burgers? Flat iron beet salad??? So many delicious choices, but my eye was drawn to a certain page: pies. Had I not been in a seafood mood, I would have jumped at the shepherd's pie right away. But I saw they were offering a seafood pie, and the accompanying image sealed the deal. Take a look at this menu page (warning: large PDF).

Imagine a small carton made of puff pastry. Now imagine that that carton is filled with a creamy seafood mixture with vegetables and things. Now imagine that this thing is growing in a garden, and one fine spring day, it blossoms, revealing all the steaming tasty things inside. That's how this seafood pie is served--a blossoming pastry box of food. And it's a great presentation. The only down side is that, as beautiful as that puff pastry "blossom" is, it can be a little difficult to cut up and eat along with the seafood within.

Even though I was pretty full, I let the pretty (and super fun) server convince me to have dessert. How did she do this? Not with her feminine wiles, surprisingly enough, but with her description of their chocolate lava cake and ice cream. Sold! And sure enough, it was every bit as tasty as she made it out to be.

What a great first impression Fionn MacCool's makes to a non-drinker.

So today, when that same chosen lunchable place was closed (I either have to check their hours more closely or have my lunch closer to a decent hour like noon or 1pm instead of 3pm), I once again went to Fionn MacCool's. This time, I was going to try one of their appetizing appetizers and maybe the lamb shank that I noticed on the menu the last time.

I settled on the blarney chips, a fanciful name for what is essentially a small plate of nachos made of thick waffle-cut potato chips. Chopped tomatoes, green onion, jalapenos,  a thick zesty cheese sauce made it a plate I couldn't finish, even though I was enjoying it a great deal. Oh, and did I mention that the server upsold me on a layer of chopped bacon that exploded a great appetizer to super-great levels? Because she did.

The lamb shank was everything I expected, though I couldn't even touch the mountain of mashed potatoes on which the lamb shank was resting, that's how full I was from the blarney chips. What more is there to say about lamb? It's delicious! And the lamb shank came in under $20, which I appreciated.

And though my server tried to sell me on dessert, I politely declined because I was just too full of lamb and chips.

Okay, now that I've told you, you should go, go now, now now now!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

F OFFF! B's Diner

Time for another edition of "Furious Old Fogey's Food Fustian," where this food-loving ninja talks about some memorable food experience in some kinda food place.

Today's thingy is about B's Diner, a place where the Jago and I had brunch last weekend. Now, I like brunch. It fills a great food niche between breakfast, when I'm not usually awake, and lunch, which for me feels like the least creative meal of the day. I rarely eat breakfast these days, and when I do, it's late in the morning, too close to lunchtime for lunch to be anything special. Growing up, lunch was sammiches. PBJ, cold cuts, that sort of thing. And I ate a lot of sammiches in my school years, from trading sammiches with classmates in elementary and junior high to coveting other people's sammiches in high school. Sammiches are no big thing to me now; like clothing, sammiches were utilitarian. It's the reason I can still stand processed meats like bologna, mock chicken, olive loaf, and Spam/Prem/Klik. And headcheese.

Brunch is a lunchtime meal with all the creativity and versatility of a breakfast, and traditionally involves eggs, one of my favourite foods. The many different textures and tastes of different egg preparations makes me happy. There is always at least one carton of eggs in my fridge. I may run out of milk, cheese, or meat, but I will always have some eggs.

The Jago and I enjoy finding different places to eat--and food is definitely a sharing activity for me--so this past week, we decided on B's Diner, a tiny mom-and-pop place which used to be in that little-known mall on Whyte and 100 street, beside the old Top Gear scooter shop. It's since moved a couple dozen feet to the west, on the other side of the Fountain Tire. They have an outdoor patio out front, and the interior is a low-rent, yet homey place with artwork on the walls.

Before I go further, I just want to say that I love mom-and-pop places and that I'm not some kinda food snob who insists on the finest and feshest of ingredients, and all the froo-froo pomp that comes with restaurants that boast Zagat, Michelin, stars, or even "fine dining" in their description. I like simple fare just as much as I like fancy foods and presentations. I like dives with $6 steak sammiches just as much as I like the overwrought civility and mechanical precision of a $45 entree. Ultimately, I like a place with personality and I will go back to a place if there's something to recommend it.

Somehow, B's Diner fell completely flat for me in many respects.

We entered the place and were met by no one official. A couple of tables were seated and fed, but there was no host or server to say hello or seat us or even to tell us to seat ourselves. We picked a table beside the front window and waited. And waited.

Finally, an extremely casually dressed guy comes to take our drink orders. This guy might have been owner, but you wouldn't know it. Maybe we took him away from watching the soccer game that afternoon, who knows? We ordered an orange juice and, after confirming they had it, tomato juice. The orange juice was a large glass, sure, but I looked in the cooler later and saw that it was no-name OJ from concentrate, for which I likely paid more for a glass than the entire carton cost. And I had two of them. C'mon, man, if you're going to serve me low-rent juice, don't have it out for me to see!

The tomato juice was a can of V8 which, to me, is something distinct from tomato juice and should at least be mentioned when someone orders "tomato juice." "Is V8 okay?" is a perfectly valid question, much the same way that "Is Pepsi okay?" is valid when you order a Coke. Some people do, in fact, have a preference.

Once we have our drinks, we wait and wait some more until the guy comes back to take our food order. We order a special off of the sandwich board of specials, and probably had to repeat ourselves since the guy seemed not to know what his own specials were at his own place (assuming, once again, that he was the owner). At least he got the food order right.

The food itself? Not bad. Not terribly inventive or sophisticated, but serviceable and filling and served on a giant plate, which I appreciated.  A plastic plate, sure, but it looked impressive. At Denny's, they would serve the pancakes on a separate plate, but at B's, it all came on one. Definitely impressive. The food was brought out by who I assumed to be one of the cooks, and if he had been the guy serving us, I have no doubt I'd be singing a different tune about the place. The cook was more focused, more present, and just plain "there." He was also dressed more like someone who would work at the diner. Oh, and no quality check during the meal, either, nothing to show that they cared about how our food was or how our experience at the place was. And that was a major sticking point for me. If you don't care about having me at your place of business, why should I?

But it gets worse, or rather, much the same. After we'd finished the meal, the plates were eventually cleared and we waited to be presented with the cheque. And waited. And waited. We weren't in any rush, but still... And waited. And waited. Looking around, we could see no workers anywhere, not out on the patio, not in the restaurant, not in the kitchen, which we had a full view of. Finally, we went up to the counter to pay. And waited. And waited, until the casually-dressed guy showed up again.

After needing to be reminded of what we had, and then having to go to the sandwich board to check the price of what we had, we got our correct bills and that's when B's Diner presented me with one of my pet peeves: no debit machine, but hey, here's a convenient ATM for you. It's precisely the reason I don't like going to The Pint, and one of the (many) reasons I won't be going back to B's Diner.

Oh, and while this calculating our bills and paying was going on, the dude asked me if I was Chinese. Yes, I said. "My wife's Chinese," says he. Great? Question mark? Seriously, man, build up a rapport with the customer before asking a potentially sensitive question. Don't just blurt it out when you've essentially ignored the customer for much of his stay. It made me feel like the guy just didn't care very much about serving his customers or about having an inviting atmosphere for the customer to have a good experience. The food wasn't good enough to keep me going back, and the rest of my stay was a major turn-off, worse even than my experience at Route 99 Diner, which I would rate as a solid "meh, it's okay."

I don't recommend B's Diner. YMMV, but I'm certainly not going back. Sugarbowl, Culina, Manor Cafe, Wildflower Grill, Cora, Ricky's, Blue Plate Diner, Urban Diner, New York Bagel Cafe, even the Next Act are brunch places I would recommend.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

All hail Computron-Prime

While computers are getting smaller and simpler, this scrappy little ninja has decided that he needed to overcompensate for... something. I went with the same brand of quiet case that I had before, only a step up. As such, the monstrosity that is my computer no longer fits under my desk and must instead stand sentinel beside it. And it's only a few inches shorter than the desk. And heavy!

But it works as advertised: super silent most of the time. I'm still trying to figure out a way to silence the CPU fan, because that's running like a mother at times. It's all set up perfectly, though: wireless keyboard and mouse, my all-in-one printer that will connect with USB or Bluetooth but no wifi, my wireless internet (after I forgot to buy a wifi card the first time and had to go back to the computer store), everything!

I even have my old hard drives plugged in so I will never have to worry about storage space, even if I cram an entire head of cattle in there! All that's left to do is connect my new laptop to the fancy schmancy homegroup that Windows 7 helpfully offers. Then, I'll be able to work on documents and print them while working from my laptop on the couch, and not have to sit in my uncomfortable computer chair all day. Hmmm, maybe all I need is a more comfortable computer chair. Funny how all these big expenses (such as my Midnight repair bill) come only after I leave the job and reliable paycheque behind.

I needed a name that would be fitting for the computing monstrosity, and I had trouble coming up with one. The old computer was the Ninjanomicon due to its blackness, its quietness, and its ninjaness. It was very appropriate. This time, however, the computer is a giant beast of a machine with seven fans in it! (There were heat problems with the old machine, for several reasons.,) The name had to reflect its giantness, its coolness, and the fact that it has neat sliding panels on the top and front. No fancy schmancy blinky lights, though. I'm not out to look cool at a LAN party or anything with this behemoth.

Because I love cool, giant robots (Transformers, Macross, Voltron, Getter Robo, Iron Giant, etc.), I turned the word "computer" into a giant robot name, "Computron." And as it's the base of my home computing operations, it became "Computron-Prime."

Yeah, I'm a geek.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Back to Midnight

Midnight and i have been reunited, and it only took five weeks. While I originally thought the cycle shop terrible, terrible people, they were, in fact, waiting for parts for much of that time. What ended up happening was that Midnight became quite the celebrity at the cycle shop because of all the work they had to do to get her fixed up enough to ride.

I had what I thought were four simple things to fix: the brakes, removing the cracked windshield, a misalignment of the front wheel, and a tune-up. Little did I know that these three simple things would result in a $1900 bill!

The tune-up was elementary. Very basic stuff and no problems with replacing fluids, tightening bolts, whatever. Removing the windshield must have been simplicity itself. Even the brakes, once the parts finally came in, were apparently very easy to fix (some parts just needed replacing, anyway). No, the difficult part was the front wheel alignment, which I though would be as simple as the mechanical equivalent to gripping the front tire between your knees and twisting the front handlebars a bit. You know, just like a pedal bike. After all, the damage was caused when Midnight fell over during this spring's weird freeze/thaw cycle. But no. In order to realign the front wheel, they needed to take her apart and replace some bearings and that took hours! At $100 an hour for labour alone, that gets expensive!

So that's the good news and the meh news: Midnight's fixed but it cost quite a bit. Since I hadn't really put any money into Midnight aside from maintenance and tune-ups, it's probably karma that it all came in one lump sum payment in year 6 of my and Midnight's relationship.

The bad news? Yeesh!

I also asked the cycle shop for an estimate on body repair. Way back in year 2, I parked Midnight on the street, and somehow, she fell over, damaging the front console. A sliver broke off the back side of the console and the front corner was cracked. Also, the right footboard was cracked. Her handling was unaffected so I let it go.

Last year, a big truck who couldn't see behind him backed into and crunched my front fender. No other damage, no injuries, and the dude was (barely) apologetic. No big deal, I thought. After all, how much could that front fender cost? Again, her handling was unaffected so I didn't do anything about it.

When Midnight fell over this spring, she fell on her left side, damaging the front console again, taking a chunk out of the left side and busting up the windshield and, of course, the front wheel alignment. Now I could no longer afford to ignore the damage, which is what necessitated the trip to the cycle shop. That and I needed a tune-up, and the brakes fixed.

The estimate for fixing all that damage? Over $2100 in parts alone! With labour, that's going to run me over three grand, a price that seems much, much higher now that I'm unemployed. (It didn't stop me from dropping that much on my new computer and laptop, but that's more an investment in future work.)

So I now have a couple of choices. If I decide to keep Midnight for another year, I'm probably going to have to bite the bullet and get her fixed. My credit cards can handle it easily since I dropped a bundle on clearing out a bunch of debt. If, on the other hand, I decide to sell her, I'm going to have to consider the amount required to fix her and factor that into the selling price. I was already going to have to sell for not very much, but now it's going to be a lot less. But that's something that has to happen because I might be selling Midnight to a friend, and I don't want to  take advantage of a friend.

I suppose we'll see how well this weather holds out and when I can finally get my Class 5 again. Then, and only then, can I go car shopping. And that will be yet another major change happening this year.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

F OFFF! Tres Carnales

Time for another edition of "Furious Old Fogey's Food Fustian!" In this edition, I talk about Tres Carnales, the highly regarded downtown Edmonton taqueria that's a favourite among E-town foodies. Let me preface this post by saying that the restaurant is not a bad or terrible place. Perhaps "furious" should be changed to "fine" or "food-loving" so as not to give readers the wrong idea. Part of the reason for this post is the high expectations I had of the restaurant based on the raves of some of my friends. If you're considering going, please ignore this and go, form your own opinion! I am a grumpy old man, you shouldn't listen to me anyway!

So let's begin.

Tres Carnales is a taqueria that serves those little round soft tacos that you fold yourself. For a guy who's grown up believing tacos to be either hard U-shaped corn shells or large, soft, round shells, the little round shells often served at taquerias and some trendy restaurants today are unexpected. The first experience I had with these authentic(?) street tacos is at one of those trendy restaurants, where they cost about $4 each. I found that a little extravagant for what little food I got, as I was expecting much more. This sets the stage for my experience at Tres Carnales.

Since opening, Tres Carnales has been making waves  among food lovers in town. My friends have been hyping it to me, I've seen it mentioned in raves from popular Edmonton bloggers, and other social media. Those who love it, love it a lot, and I didn't see a single dissenting opinion. As someone who enjoys trying new foods and new restaurants, I looked forward to trying out a place that was universally loved by so many different people.

I was not expecting a fast-food style restaurant setup, but the fact that they had a couple of servers was different. The menu was written on chalkboards and, aside from the featured special, which got its own chalkboard and plenty of space, crowded and confusing. Some items got a short description, some did not. The mains (taco, tamale, torta) had numbers in front of the price, and I had to ask if that meant I would get that many of that item. I guessed correctly but was told I couldn't mix and match, which was fine. I got the special, pork tacos using sustainable Sturgeon Valley pork. Sounded yummy.

The tables were few, and the chairs were plain, simple stools. Decor was nice, with colourful walls, skeleton figures on shelves, and a brightly lit hallway with swinging wooden doors, which I'll get to later. I suppose it was what an authentic Mexican taqueria would look like on the inside. The staff were all friendly, though I was a little intimidated by the counter guy. He might have been one of the owners, based on a picture on their website, but he seemed ready to squash me like a bug if I ordered wrong or something. He was a big guy.

The food was brought out to us when it was ready. Four tacos on a plate with topping/filling, a couple of lime wedges, and a small cup of a green salsa/relish. It looked pretty good, and tasted all right, but again, based on all the raves and hype, I think I couldn't help but be a little disappointed by a merely "good" meal.

I found the tacos to be a little messy, the meat to be all right (I couldn't taste the sustainability, after all), and I loved the onion/cilantro topping the whole thing. The lime was almost crucial in making the tacos I had something above the ordinary, as otherwise the pork was a little bland. Really tender and juicy, but a little bland.

Remember those wooden doors I mentioned earlier? After my meal, I needed to wash up, but there was no sign pointing to the bathrooms. I had seen someone exiting those wooden doors, so I tried that. The access to a back hallway was comparatively white and sterile, not at all "authentic" or colourful. Only some paper "Mexico" decorations hanging from the ceiling gave the impression that I might have been in the right place. The back hallway is shared between a couple of different businesses, but once again, no signs or directions. The first restroom I encountered was the wheelchair access one, and thankfully, there was a sign on the door indicating that the men's/women's rooms were further along the hallway. I did find it, and worried that I had gone into the wrong room as there were no urinals (nope, I was in the right room).

So I had a adequate though not great experience, informed mostly by the super-high expectations I had going in. As I said at the start of this fustian, it's a good place and you should try it, especially if you like tacos and want to see how it's really done in Mexico. I will return and try other things on the menu, particularly the fish tacos, maybe one of the side dishes. You hear me, Tres Carnales? I will return, and now that I have a better understanding of the joint, I will likely be able to have a less slanted opinion of the place.

I like their concept of using local, sustainable ingredients. I grew up in the city, so this concept of fresh, local, sustainable is a little tree-huggy to me, but it seems to be a big deal in the restaurant world, so I say go hard and support local producers! I want my experience to be good, so next time, I'm going to dial down my expectations, ask more questions about the menu, and try the fish.

Tres Carnales website
Twitter: @TresCarnales

Monday, May 21, 2012

Bye, O Ware. Yay?

This is the update I've been wanting to post, but kind of didn't. As I mentioned in my last update, this isn't going to be a tell-all about how bad my work was, or how things have gotten too corporate for me to stay, or anything except the opinion of a blatantly nice guy and an optimist.

A little over a month ago, I left EA BioWare, my office away from home for just over 11 years. I began work at BioWare Corp. on April 2, 2001, and I worked on games that some gamers consider some of the best in the world, possibly the best ever! I had the privilege of working with some truly amazing and talented game developers--writers, artists, programmers, producers, QA,  loc--and I tried to be friendly and respectful and unobtrusive to those on the paperwork side of things (ie. admin, finance, payroll, exec, etc). I helped to manage the company's online community through thick and thin and very thin and ultra-thin and microscopically-thin, and holy cats, did I have more than my fair share of funsies during my tenure.

The last couple of years were difficult for me, though, as a creature of habit, I tried to hide it and cover it up, because hey, awesome job that pays okay and allows me to maintain a pretty good lifestyle. That should be enough for anyone, right? Well, not me. I've always said that if you're not happy where you work, you should probably find something you'd prefer doing. If there's a salary disparity, the change in money should be more than offset by your happiness and personal fulfilment. This, of course, works only if the salary disparity is minimal. I'm also notorious for never being able to take my own damn advice.

So I slogged through the same position and job that I'd done for 11 years, and management noticed I didn't seem motivated anymore and wasn't working to the best of my ability. After a whole bunch of discussion, I kind of had to agree with them. They worked up a solution that was best for all involved--me, the department, and the company--and I was able to leave on good terms. Everyone's happy.

Oh, I didn't feel that way when I got called into the first of several very important meetings. I was devastated. I thought I'd be there forever. I didn't know what I'd be doing as an old man at BioWare, but it probably wasn't going to be QA, and that was kinda part of the problem. If I wasn't happy, I should have talked to my department head, HR, whoever, to make a plan to move to a different department or do some different work. But I was in denial for at least two years, and it would have taken a lot more than "hey, how's it going?" to get stubborn ol' me to admit that things weren't going great.

I talked to some really close friends at the office about it, and they gave me some really good advice. Asking for advice is something I should really try more often, because wow, it gives one a whole new perspective on things. Thanks to this advice, from coworkers and other close friends, I was able to make what I believe to be the correct choice. Now, before some people start emulating me (because I know y'all want to), let me clarify that this was the right choice for me at that time, based on my circumstances. It's not a decision everyone should make. But it was one that, unfortunately, I had to be pressured into making. So I left, and hopefully someone more enthusiastic and less old and curmudgeonly and stuck in his QA ways now has my job and a bright company future ahead of him or her.

In the month that I've been gone from the job, it's been difficult for me to let it all go. When talking about BioWare, I still tend to use "we," "us," and "our" when discussing BioWare games. I tend to refer to the people I worked with as "coworkers" as opposed to "former coworkers." And goddamn it, but I miss working with those people. If there was one thing that would have affected my decision to stay or go, it would be those former coworkers I mentioned. I made some really good friends there. Some of them are people I've worked with for 11 whole years, and some I've only worked with for a few, but they are dedicated game developers all. They are enthusiastic professionals who do the job because they love what they do.
The second question people ask me is what I'm going to do now. Well, I still haven't made that decision yet. I spent a month doing nothing, work-wise, and it's only been the last week that I've started thinking about my future. I can say that I've begun spending money that I should have spent years ago on getting my shit together and having the tools I need to make it in most any career. I've started updating the ol' blog again and writing prose in general, getting the creative juices flowing at will because I'm considering something creative as the next job for this scrappy little ninja. And now that I'm no longer employed by EA, I can explore these creative ideas more freely!

The next step is to get a vehicle, start and complete some projects that have been swimming around in my brain, and put to paper a lot of ideas that need to be fleshed out. Oh yeah, and get my finances in order, write a couple of resumes, do a whole mess of research, and get head shots in case I need to audition for something. I'll likely be returning to the BioWare online community as a Moderator some time soon. The Community team has kept my position as a volunteer Moderator open, and it was something I did enjoy doing, so that'll give me my daily recommended dose of Vitamin RI (righteous indignation). Then it's new shoes so I can pound the pavement better.

I may have a long road ahead of me, but I'm glad to be walking it in the summer. Can you imagine if I'd left the job in the winter, or just as winter was starting? I would have just hibernated and not come out until spring, and by then I would have wasted over 6 months of time. This way, I'm only wasting 3, maybe 4, depending on how things go in the next 60-90 days.

This isn't the last awesome thing that the Worst Ninja Ever will do.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Another season down

As long-time readers know, about 7 years ago my work treated a bunch of us interested folk to a free Edmonton Rush lacrosse home game. It was the Rush's inaugural season and for some reason, the sport really resonated with me. I ended up going a few more times to a home game that season, and since the team's second season in the National Lacrosse League, I have been a season ticket holder.

For seven years, I and my fellow Rush fans have been in the stands at most every home game, cheering on our boys in silver and black, hoping against hope that we would one day have a championship team. This is the first sport where I could truly consider myself a fan: I buy their merchandise, I follow them on Twitter and Facebook, I know player numbers, and I try to get other people out to the games. I've got two converts so far, but I won't be satisfied until I fill my immediate area with friends.

A couple of years ago, the Edmonton Rush made the playoffs. Hooray, we weren't the worst team in the League, for once! It was great, because the first game was against Calgary, in Calgary. We'd made friends with some awesome Calgary Roughnecks fans, and they hosted us and showed us a great time while my compatriot, Gibble, and I were there. We sat near our friends, which happened to be smack-dab in the midst of a sea of red-clad Roughnecks fans, but everyone was cool and we weren't douches about it, and we got to see our Rush defeat the Roughnecks to make it to the second round of playoffs!

That second round was against the Washington Stealth, in Washington, so we had to watch the game televised. Gibble and I went to a bar and watched as the Rush did what plucky underdog teams do in movies all the time--come back from almost certain defeat and tie the game at the end of regulation time. Holy cats, we thought, the Rush could make it to the finals if they could just score in sudden death overtime! Sadly, it was not to be, as Washington scored a mere 8 seconds in the overtime period to win the game. But we never forgot that playoff run and hoped we could do it again.

This year, the Edmonton Rush have been amazing at home. We've held our own against powerhouse teams like the Toronto Rock, and sunk to humiliating defeats against our eternal rivals, the Calgary Roughnecks. But through it all, our team, bolstered by an indefatigable defensive line and a phenomenal goaltender, Aaron Bold (#77), showed us the potential of this team we've supported through thick and (more often than not) thin.

We made the playoffs again this year, and once again, we played Calgary in the first round of the single-game-elimination tournament. We were pleasantly surprised when, in our second time in the playoffs and second post-season game against Calgary, in Calgary, we defeat them to move on to the second round! Holy crap!

The second round was against the Minnesota Swarm, whom we played well against at home. Okay, we played half the game well. The second half was full of frustration, seeing the Swarm come back from a 4-goal deficit to tie the game in regulation time without us scoring at all in two whole quarters! Grah! Thankfully, we scored in overtime to win the game and--for the first time in franchise history--head to the Champions Cup finals against the Rochester Nighthawks!

A bunch of us gathered at Krush Ultralounge to watch the game. Rush fans filled the place with cheering and support. There were prize draws, conversations with other Rush fans who sat near us in the stands (we were recognized, yay!), and some complaining about some less courteous and far more annoying season ticket holders in our section at Rexall. But the food was good, our server was seeing to us as best she could, and the kitchen was dealing with this huge increase in the number of food orders it was getting.

The first half was great. We watched as the Rush dominated the opposition, and we hit half-time with a 4-goal lead. The Rush were able to get a few shots past Rochester's goalie, and it seemed like were headed for another easy victory after the last two titanic playoff games.

The third quarter showed us just how wrong we were. The Rush chose this game to resurrect their second-half slump, and we were unable to hold off the reinvigorated Nighthawks with any effectiveness. Goal after goal sped past Bold, and we were done. We got in one goal in the second half, late in the 4th quarter after 7 unanswered goals against, but it was too late. One empty net goal by Rochester in the final minutes sealed our fate. The Rochester Nighthawks, with a score of 9-6, won their third Champions Cup.

I'm really looking forward to next season, though. The Rush get the first pick in the draft, and there's a young superstar we want on our team, so it'll be neat to see what he'll bring to this new Edmonton Rush that seems to be winning more games at home as well as away. We just need to play the full four quarters, like we did in much of the post-season and some great home games, to win those games.

Season tickets will be renewed next week. Some of my local readers should consider getting a flex-pack or at least come to a game or two to see why I keep crowing about it. This team and this sport made me a sports fan. Those of you who are already into sports will love it.

I really have been wanting to talk about my job and why I am no longer employed, but there's always something else more immediate to talk about. I promise I will talk about it, but it won't be the scathing blamefest some people might think of when they read someone talking about why they're no longer employed. There's a lot to say, and much more to consider for the future.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Weird Dream

As far as I can remember, the dream starts at a stereotypical revival. The place is enormous, and filled to capacity with people in their Sunday best, clapping and singing along to the music blasting from a rock band on a dais at the side of the auditorium. Apocalypse Kow appears to be the only non-black people there, and all the other guys but me are dancing along with the crowd. Dr. Teeth and Jago seem particularly into it. And me, I'm just watching everything, fascinated.

Then I'm in a large living room watching a terrible teen comedy on television, where an older teen girl is babysitting her younger teen siblings. The precocious teenaged boy is peeping on his older sister and her friends in the bathroom, through the wall, which is made of frosted glass. Of course, the babysitter sees him and gets angry. This is funny? I'm only half-watching this program and discussing my high school with an older woman. She tells me she taught Television Arts at my school back in the day, so I ask if she knew the teacher who taught TV Arts to my friends. She did not.

There are several children running about, playing with each other, and having lots of fun. Their parents are half watching them, and half watching the terrible TV movie. I befriend one of them, a girl of 4, and we strike up a conversation. This was likely inspired by a lunch encounter at a restaurant last Friday, where a young boy kept walking away from his mother's table to explore the rest of the restaurant. While his mother kept telling him no, she didn't really do much more than that to keep him at the table of to fetch him. So I started talking to him, as I often do with children who seem to want to be social. I asked him how his day was and whether he enjoyed having lunch. I asked him what he was having and smiled and laughed with him. Cute kid. His mother wasn't hard to look at either.

So I'm having a conversation with this young girl and we're all headed to a community hall or something for some event. Then we're on a hill outside, so I guess we're starting from there. My phone tells me how to get to this building and the girl and I set off. I know this to be a dream because I can walk, even down a hill, without difficulty. I can climb fences and everything! And this girl is keeping up and talking in complete sentences, being all wise beyond her years, which isn't at all creepy in this dream.

But wait a second. Once we get inside, we're in a department store. This isn't the place where we need to go. I check my phone again, and realize the problem. When we passed the school (where a bunch of kids were playing even though it was the middle of the night) we turned right when we should have turned left. We're on our way out of the store when we run into my cousin, who is also going to this community hall place. We leave the store ahead of her and wait outside for her to catch up, as she has some shopping to do.

Outside, the girl and I run into a group of young people who want to start some trouble. They throw pebbles at me and start getting more obnoxious, but I shrug them off. No sense letting them get the better of me, but they persist. Then the girl--this 4-year-old girl--starts cussing them out. I'm impressed, and glad she's on my side. Things are about to get physical when there's a commotion out in the street. The cavalry has arrived, in the form of a line of bikers and a bus full of people. The troublemakers leave and I'm glad to see some familiar faces. How could I have forgotten that the girl's father is a biker?

We continue to wait for my cousin to finish her shopping. And that's where the dream ends. I don't know if we ever got to that community hall.

It was a neat dream, and the only one I've really remembered in a long time. I remember that feeling of belonging at the revival, and the sense of "oh yeah, this feeling of connectedness is why many people are religious." I remember feeling like part of a large family in that living room, even though I wasn't related to any of the people there. Nevertheless, we were all of a kind, and parents weren't really worried about the kids. That's what it's like with my theatre friends. Everyone looks after everyone else, and the kids are always cared for by all of us.

And that's what I miss about my old job. It was a giant company where I knew most everyone. And now I spend my days by myself or with some old friends. This will take more getting used to.