My First Chilli Festival

For most of my life, I haven’t really been into chilli. Sometimes as a kid I would compete with my brother to see who could eat the spiciest curry or whatever, but I never really enjoyed it. Then one fateful trip to Korea, I ate a kimchi jiggae so hot that I found every other chilli dish in the world to be pleasantly mild.

Since then, I’ve been meaning to check out Araluen’s Chilli Festival, and today was the day I finally got there. Immediately after arriving, Beth and I bought a chilli plant to replace all the veggies we’ve lost (a kaleidoscope chilli that we’ve named Kali), and then decided to have a wander around the stalls.

The very first stall we came to had some chilli sauces, and when I saw one called “Widow Maker” (thinking of the Overwatch character) I decided to try it. There was a couple already chatting to the owner, covering an entire cracker in the sauce and sampling it. I sidled up next to them and spread a small blob (about enough to cover a 5c piece) on my cracker, and just as I put it in my mouth I glanced at the label and saw that it read: “Hotness: 15/10.”

As this couple next to me talked about how it had a pleasant heat that didn’t kick in right away, I suddenly felt like something had grabbed the back of my throat. I didn’t want to embarrass myself, but after a few seconds of fighting it I started coughing uncontrollably. Drinking deeply from my water bottle, I stopped hearing whatever the couple was talking about because I was consumed by the fire inside of me; it literally felt like I had swallowed a hot coal that got lodged in my throat.

Beth had been saying something to me as well but I couldn’t make out the words. After a few moments (where I stared desperately at the crackers on the table, wondering what he’d say if I just started shovelling them into my mouth), I thanked the owner and walked away because I didn’t want him to see me cry. And cry I did, the tears rolling relentlessly down my face as I desperately tried to put the fire out.

The water didn’t help much. The moment I swallowed it the burning returned as strong as ever, so I ended up just holding the water in my mouth and it kind of helped a little. Beth had the brilliant idea of getting ice creams, and without a word I handed her my wallet and leaned against a nearby post while I tried not to be sick.

We found some stairs to sit on as we ate our ice creams, and Beth gave me her handerchief as my nose started running uncontrollably. Trembling from whatever hellfire was burning its way through me, I felt like I might throw up, or soil myself, or both. I tried to make the ice cream last as long as I could, but when it inevitably ran out the waves of molten lava began to crash into me again. Talking made it worse, because the burning on my tongue would press against the burning on the roof of my mouth. All I wanted to do was find somewhere shady to lie down and die as I was consumed by the fire within me.

After about 20 minutes, I managed to gather enough strength to stand up and hobble, and we made the long journey back to the car pausing several times so I could rest. A laughing man pretended to reach out and steal one of the chillies off the plant I was holding, and I didn’t even have the energy to break his kneecaps. I felt like I’d been poisoned three steps into the dungeon and had used the every healing item the party possessed just to stay alive. Worse, all the drive home I felt like a hand was gently squeezing my guts, and that hand was slowly going from “pleasantly warm” to “alarmingly hot”.

All in all, I consider the Chilli Festival a great success, and I can’t wait to try again next year. 10/10 will immolate again.

General update: Getting up early, facebook, video games, and training

For the past four days in a row, I have gotten up some time between 5 and 6am. I didn’t plan to – it just kind of happened that way. First I met up with a friend for hiking, then I needed to fill a skip bin before it was removed (though it turns out they still haven’t picked it up two days late), then I had nightmares and couldn’t sleep, and finally I’ve given a lesson to my karate student. Although it’s early days yet (forgive me), it’s such a gift to see the sun rising, and to hear the birds begin to sing. The air is crisp and fresh, and the coolness of the dawn makes it a pleasure to be outside.

I haven’t been a “morning person” in many years, but I think I might try and become one again. Additionally, there’s something appealing to me about to building the discipline of getting up even though I don’t want to. I guess we’ll see how things go over the next few days – it’s probably easier to sustain while I have the opportunity to nap during the day. I recall a few years ago that I got up at 6am every morning (except Christmas Day) to run for 5km around Tomato Lake. Tiredness became my default setting, and I just learned to live with it.

I do not want to live a half-life of wandering about in a daze, not willing to sleep but neither willing to get up and be active. I’ve known such states all too well lately, and have filled the void with idle games or scrolling facebook.

 

Speaking of which, I noticed that I was spending a lot of time on facebook, so I downloaded an app that could track how much time I was spending on my phone. In the first week, I was disheartened to learn that I was losing over an hour a day on average to mindlessly scrolling, hoping for that next endorphin hit. I noticed the problem got really bad when, without being conscious of it, I minimised the facebook app and then re-opened it hoping for that fresh first-time-checking-experience.

After that I disabled the app on my phone for a day, and once I had re-established a degree of self-mastery, used the tracking app to set an alarm once I’d used it for 30 minutes. I’m happy to say that I’ve rarely gone over 30 in the past few weeks, but I’m still using it more than I want to.

It’s a tricky thing though. In my head, it’s uncomfortable but not impossible to just experience distress and boredom without deflecting and distracting. In practice, it’s almost intolerable for me to be tired but not try and comfort myself somehow. When I’m tired, I’m really fucking miserable, and if scrolling through wholesome memes and stories makes me feel a little better about my life, then it’s very hard to convince myself that it’s bad for me. Of course once I start scrolling, I find it super hard to stop; I keep promising myself that I’ll close the app after “that next big hit”, the next story that I pause to read, or the next image that makes me smile. Spoiler alert: it never comes. Or rather, I read the story, and then want more because I only get this tiny little endorphin release, and I’m chasing that next big hit. It’s really hard for me to walk away when I’m getting diminishing returns, but I know logically that the void I’m trying to fill can never be filled, and I have to make peace with the emptiness inside me.

 

Speaking of filling the void, I picked up Skyrim again. This was a scary decision for me, because last time I played it I fell 237 hours deep into the hole. Yet, I’d been reading Inheritance and reading about fighting with swords and shields, and I had such a craving I thought I’d scratch it.

And I scratched the hell out of it. I played about 8 hours over a few days, choosing a very different path from my magical, highly moral Khajiit and acting as a proud Nord warrior. I blocked and I blocked, and I bashed and I bashed, and then feeling satisfied I put the game down again. I’m grateful I didn’t stay long in the pit of addiction I so-often find myself in.

In other gaming news, I’ve decided to take a break from Gwent and Overwatch, which were consuming an hour or two of my day on a regular basis. When they overhauled the Gwent mechanics I dipped back into it for a bit. Apart from my deck Mahakam’s Finest, all of them have really low success rates, but have been fun to play with. (For posterity, my decks are named Ackbar’s Nightmare, Komorebi Phantoms, Sage Wisdom, Wielder of the Flame or Anor, Dragon Fire, Master Elves, and my one and only Nilfgaard deck, For A Silver Penny.) After playing out the first competitive season and ranking reasonably well, I’ve decided to retire from Gwent, at least for now. Overwatch on the other hand, now that the Lunar New Year event is on, I’ve been playing almost every day until I get that sweet sweet “First Win of the Day” xp. Sometimes it takes five minutes, other times an hour. It’s pretty fun, so I’ll probably continue my pattern of playing it during events and then not at all in the interim months.

I’ve been trying to finish Mass Effect Andromeda for a while now, and I kinda ran out of steam with it. 80 hours in, I’ve 100%’d 3 of the planets, and am about halfway through one or two more. It’s an amazing game with a great story and interesting characters, but I am looking forward to retiring it so that I can move onto God of War which I got for my birthday three months ago. For once, I have so many accumulated games on my PS4 that I’ve run out of room to download them all, so I’m planning on finishing and uninstalling a bunch as soon as I can.

 

Training-wise, things are up and down. Something that is fresh in my mind is that I keep accidentally making contact with my partner, far more often than I want to (but not perhaps more often than is reasonable). Sometimes it’s because my partner responds unpredictably and moves (or moves me) into contact, and other times it’s just because I move in too far. I’d really like to get better at this right now.

I met a Chen-style taiji practitioner at King’s Park last week, and his balance and control both put me to shame and inspired me. I feel clumsy and awkward compared to the memory of him, and I’m starting to understand what mastery looks like: not just being competent at the moves, but doing them to a degree of perfection that they could not possibly be improved in any way, every time.

Karate in comparison is easier for me. I’m pretty confident as a teacher, and there’s so much I know that I wish to pass on to the other students. I kind of take for granted that not everyone has had the benefit of training for decades in various styles, and so their knowledge of basic grappling principles (for instance) is very poor, ever though their stand-up fighting is reasonable. It’s hard for me to be patient sometimes and I wish that it were possible for everyone to master a principle the first lesson they practiced it.

My great fascination at the moment is with weapons. In the past two months, I’ve been revising jian, sai, tonfa and jo. I daresay I’m quite adept with all of them, and I wish there were other people I could train with for applications. All of them feel like natural extensions of my body and will, and it would be great to explore them deeper in other contexts beyond the forms. I seem to have an affinity for weapons of just about every kind, and I’m grateful for those skills.

 

Well, that will do for now. Time to get on with my day and enjoy it while it’s cool. Hope your day is a blessed one, too <3

How To Pick the Best Card in the Keg

With the new update to Gwent, many of the games fundamental mechanics have dramatically changed. I recently wrote a guide on The Slightly Better Way to Open Kegs which is now completed outdated, so I thought I’d take a look at writing a new one. Due to playing the beta a fair bit, I had unlocked enough achievements to buy around 100 kegs straight out of the gates, which allowed me to do a fair bit of experimentation so that you don’t have to. If you’ve felt anxious about making the wrong choice when picking that fifth card, read this guide and hopefully it will help you make those decisions a little easier.

Note that if you played the beta and have hundreds of thousands of scraps lying around, this guide doesn’t really apply to you – just buy any cards you want and save your ore for a special event.

 

So first things first: everything’s different. There are no more silver cards, just bronze and gold. You can have as many gold cards as you want in a deck (so long as you have at least 25 cards total and the rest of your cards fit within the capacity limit), and you can only have two bronze duplicates in your starting deck at any one time.
Why does this matter? Because it changes which cards are a priority, and informs how many of each card to get.

Let’s talk about the mechanics of kegs. Here’s an example of one I opened recently:

GWENT: The Witcher Card Game_20181205123558

See the brown and green indicators underneath the cards? Those refer to the number of standard (non-animated) and premium (animated) cards I already possess in my collection respectively. So in this case, including the cards I’ve just received I now have 3 standard Temerian Drummers, 2 premium Brokvar Hunters, 3 standard and 1 animated Trebuchets, and 3 standard Venedal Elites.

Here’s the all important next screen: picking the 5th card.

GWENT: The Witcher Card Game_20181205123603

You can see the same indicators underneath. The green diamond with the “!” indicates it’s a card I don’t yet have in my collection.

So which card do you prioritise? Here’s what I’d recommend.

 

1. Any premium card.

Surprisingly, the answer is not to immediately choose the card you don’t have yet. Premium cards are worth way more when you mill them than standard cards, so if your long term goal is to be able to access extra meteorite powder and scraps to craft your perfect deck I would pick the premium cards first. Note that unlike the beta, you can’t tell if any of the cards are animated until you move the cursor over them, so make sure to manually check each one before making your decision.

2. Cards that belong to the faction that you’re currently focusing on.

The new Gwent is absolutely huge; there are half a dozen viable strategies for any given faction. To minimise brain overload, I recommend picking one faction and focusing on building one working deck at a time. If you’ve only got one copy of a bronze card in your preferred faction (including neutral), go ahead and snatch up that duplicate.

3. Cards that you don’t have yet.

Assuming that one day you might want to have a large enough collection to build several decks from different factions, having every card in the game is not a bad starting point. Even if a card doesn’t seem like anything special on face value, maybe in combination with other cards it might just lead to some mindblowing strategies that no one else has thought of. I like to think that every card is useful in the right situation. And besides, if  ccard really is useless, there’s a good chance the devs will alter it in future updates to make it more viable.

4. The standard version of a premium card.

If you’ve got one premium version of a card, grab its standard counterpart. That way you’ll have one of each, and will be able to add two cards to your deck if you want to use them both as part of your strategy. You can have a maximum of two premium and two standard copies of each bronze card in your collection, or one of each gold.

5. Cards you only have one copy of.

Snap up those bronze duplicates. You can have a maximum of two premium and two standard copies of each bronze card in your collection, or one of each for gold.

6. Any other card.

Anything else is just going to get milled anyway, so don’t worry about what you pick. Rest assured that when you’re being shown three cards, they’re all equally valuable (rare or higher) so you can’t really make a wrong choice.

 

And that’s it! Doubtless they’ll release some major update in a few months that will make all of this outdated, but for the moment these are my best tips for making the smartest selections. May goodest cards you get, ‘uman deserve it!

Homecoming

Welp, it’s the end of an era. In about 24 hours, the Gwent beta as I know it will be ending, and all of the cards will be completely reworked and the gameplay mechanics majorly adjusted. I’ve played Gwent somewhat regularly over the past year or so, often playing every day between 30-60 minutes, and I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge what this game has meant to me. It’s been both an important coping mechanism, and a source of immense frustration as I’ve yoyo’d between winning and losing. As I’ve often told my wife, “The highs are highs and the lows are low.” I’m feeling bitter sweet about the new update that will change everything that I love about the game currently.

 

Overall, I didn’t do too badly on the competitive scene even though I would describe my dedication as “somewhere between casual and passionate”. I was never exceptional, but in those months where I was playing regularly, I ranked as highly as #281 in Oceania and Australia.

GWENT: The Witcher Card Game_20180830231139

 

From the very beginning, I decided that I would only play Scoiatael decks, and for the most part I kept to that – about 95% of my games have been from the one faction. I actively avoided following the META, and I put huge amounts of thought into the composition of decks with unique strategies. More importantly though, I created meaningful names for every deck I ever made, and I remember each of them fondly. There were the Sons of Earth, the River of Gold and Aen Seidhe. During my brief stint playing as Skellige, I called upon The Undying. When I went through my Monster phase, my decks were named Winter Knights, Champion, and Om Nommy Nomface.

In practice though, I only really used three decks.

There was Ambuscade, that focussed almost exclusively on ambush cards, traps and keeping my opponent guessing. I would lay down two or three cards face-down, and they would never know which of them would flip over and put them at a disadvantage.

Then there was the Commando deck, constantly moving units from row to row, never being where the opponent expected and punishing them for both staying where they were or trying to escape.

Among them, my prized deck was called Use the Boost to Get Through. I would layer several rows with Golden Frothed ale, and my Mahakam Marauders would drink it all. Due to some strategic wizardry, I could get up to nine Marauders on the board at once, each worth 40+ points while my Farseers laughed and laughed. I once won a game with a final score of over 400 points in the third round.

GWENT_ The Witcher Card Game_20181202171100.jpg

 

Over the time I’ve played, I’ve gotten almost all of the cards in the game. This was knowledge hard-won, involving much trial and error as I learned the best way to open Kegs. I’d opened hundreds of them over time and was curious to see how many cards I had in total, so I manually counted them all, not distinguishing between premium and standard (animated or still). The final tallies were:
Bronze – 200/200
Silver – 133/150
Gold – 104/131

Even though I was missing more than I’d expected, I’m pretty proud of that effort! I’ve already got about 10000 scraps from previous mills, so when Homecoming launches and all of my current cards are converted to scrap I think I’ll have enough to buy the maximum playable number of every card in the game (thanks to all those duplicates). I wonder what kind of strategies I’ll create next.

 

I’ll miss the old Gwent, but I’m excited for Thronebreaker and the Homecoming rework. I’ve avoided learning anything about Homecoming because I want to experience it fresh, poring over each new card and putting together my ultimate deck without being influenced by other people’s ideas of what works. December 4th has been a long time coming.

My Old Friend

My old friend Fear knocked on my door today. He walked with me all morning, reminding me of all the things that could hurt me.

I took me a while to realise that I had given him my power because I knew on some level that he was trying to protect me, and God knows I needed someone to. I had given him the reins, and in doing so had let him convince me to shrink myself, to avoid danger, and to run from threats.

Then, I remembered to lean into him rather than turn away from him. There was a distinct moment where I said to myself, “I’m not going to live in fear today.”

And so I turned.

And he pushed back.

And I held strong.

Life is scary. It’s full of painful shit that could hurt me. But closing my eyes and bracing is no way to spend the day, and I refused to do it any longer. I decided that if I were to die in battle, I would face the end with courage and dignity.

And then I crested the hill,

And saw that it was deserted.

But I it did not change my bearing.

Trouble averted

I was once talking to two colleagues at work. We were standing in triangle, taking up part of a corridor between cubicles. As we were chatting, I saw out of the corner of my eye that someone, S, was coming towards us. I saw from her body language that she was distracted and impatient, and I realised that she was a few steps away from crashing into my colleague M, whose back was turned to her. Without interrupting our conversation, I stepped forward and slipped my arm around M’s shoulders and pulled her into a one-armed hug, stepping back to give S enough room to push past. M, this sweet 60-year-old lady, was a little confused but gave me a cuddle, and then we stepped apart and kept talking like nothing had happened.

The only person who saw what happened was someone at a distant cubicle, who came up to me and said “Smooth”. I smiled and said nothing. It was perhaps the best application of Wu Wei that I have ever done.