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Little moments that make my day #4

I was out exercising, which for me means biking on my racing-bike, and I was some kilometers away from home and back in the city. I had to wait at a stoplight and was standing behind a man with a little girl on the backseat.  She was turning around and telling her dad to go go go and be faster! So I stayed behind him and made it look extra like I was struggling to keep up and could see the little girl cheering and feeling so proud of her father.

This lasted for about 2 kilometers or so when we headed separate ways, but the pride of the little girl was truly marvelous to behold. She thought her dad is the best dad in the world at that moment.

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Immigration: it’s stressful

As you may know I’m currently in an immigration project to get my girlfriend a residence permit so she can live with me in the Netherlands. This has been keeping us busy for several months now, with various sources saying different things and lots of phone calls to our immigration department later we got all the paperwork sorted. She also passed her  Dutch exam (very well, actually!) which was the major part which we still needed.

This was all happening during the rioting in Kyiv/Ukraine, which also caused my girlfriend to get stuck in the massive protest because the metro was no longer functioning, which was on the day when the most serious clashes happened, with many people dying. Of course this really worried me and I was amazingly glad that she got out of there unscathed.

After this we still needed 2 documents from her, which was really tough considering that many governmental buildings were being burnt down, looted and occupied. For instance we needed a document stating that she has a clean record and has not been arrested. Directly after we got that document, the building at her town got burnt down and all the records got destroyed in the fire. But we gave immigration what we could get and in the end managed to get the documents, including the apostilles which were required.

During this time as you know it’s really tense in Ukraine due to Russia’s occupation of Crimea. The region is on the brink of war, with both armies having mobilised at the borders. This is very stressful as I know people there and of course my girlfriend being there. I really don’t want her to be part of a war, it’s one of the last things I want of course. This means that I’ve been paying very close attention to the news and world-politics for this entire time, to maybe give us the opportunity to get them out of the situation as soon as possible. It really does lead to some scared, for example when there’s been shooting around the borders, seeing the tanks moving towards the border or when all the food is gone and the roads have all been blocked to prevent new shipments coming in.

After this it’s purely waiting for immigration to look at the dossier and give an approval or request more documentation, but from the employees who I spoke we had all the documents we needed. So for several weeks now I’ve been coming back from work and have been getting tense as I’m opening the mailbox, hoping that there’s a letter saying “approved”. There’s no indication of when the letter will come, the only thing they will say is “it can take up to 3 months, that’s all we can and are allowed to say”.

It thus far hasn’t come, the day on which it will we shall be celebrating. It’ll be a huge relief!

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I settled and got Profoundly Disconnected: A True confession by Mike Rowe

For those not in the know, Mike Rowe is the host of Dirty Jobs, a well known programme that ran for many years on Discovery. One which I adore, both because of it’s focus and Mike’s personality. I’ll gladly spend some of my time listening to this man, for his ambition and drive are inspiring. It also helps that he’s a skilled public speaker and charismatic.

I’ve read a couple of brief reviews which seem to boil down to a simple message: this book is an extension of Mike Rowe and his strivings. He also makes no claim that it’s a great book, but it’s an easy and enjoyable read which should shed some perspective on the economy and the kind of jobs that people are looking for currently. Furthermore the money goes to the mikeroweWORKS foundation, which is a good cause, so that’s not bad at all.

Listen to Mike reading the preface to the book, which is what started Dirty Jobs:

Link to the mikeroweWORKS foundation website: profoundlydisconnected.com

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Thoughts on: Metro 2033 & metro 2034

I just finished reading Metro 2034 last night, and I definitely went through phases while reading the book. I was also very excited about reading it as I had finished Metro 2033 not too long ago, which I hadn’t gotten around to writing down my thoughts about yet. So here we go!

First of all, I very much love the setting of Metro, it all takes place in a world where everybody attacked with nukes and the atmosphere become radiated and all civilization pretty much died out, except for ones who took shelter in Moscow’s metro. Furthermore  in the meantime because of the radiation some new species have developed quickly and rule the surface of the earth. Humanity is now stuck in their underground tunnels, only going up to the surface to scavenge.

Metro 2033

Metro 2033

The first book is all-together excellent, it follows Artyom, a young man who meets a stalker named Hunter (who go up to the surface) and gets tasked with a mission of going to Polis and warn a certain person that the stalker had not returned. This whole journey is excellent as he learns more and more of the metro and the various groups of people that live in it, the monsters in it and many rumors and myths that go around. These stories and people he meets really deepen the lore and feel of the metro.

After Artyom meets a bunch of important people around the metro and has survived passage through some of the tunnels, which all have varying effects, he joins some stalkers and goes up the surface and this is also where the climax of the book is, which also happens to be it’s end.

The only and I mean only downside is a part towards the end which could’ve been really exciting but I frankly found rather strange, which is a part of a cult which dragged on too long to remain interesting. But it’s only a minor part of the story which frankly could be forgotten. For anybody who loves post-apocalyptic stories; Metro is an excellent book.

 

Metro 2034

Metro 2034

The sequel starts off following some characters who you don’t know and it takes an incredibly long time to get going and get interesting. I had some real trouble getting into the book and keeping on reading. It tells the stories of Sasha and her father, which actually get really touching on a very base level. It also follows an older man called Homer who reminisces about life and what it’s accomplished and the fate of humanity. Slowly the story develops and once things get set into motion after roughly a hundred pages or so, the characters eventually meet and things get much more interesting.

Once the story gets going though, it is going. It does seem to lack some of the mysteriousness of it, but this is probably due to Hunter reappearing and as a tough guy you’re much less afraid of the things that happen to the characters. This may also be a major downside for the story because I loved the mystery and the power of the metro itself, like a living and breathing entity.

But I have to say that the last 100 pages or so were really tough to put down as I was really curious what was going to happen. And towards the end it got really tense and surprised me by the way it ended, which I think finished the story perfectly. There also is quite a lesson in the ending, one of youth.

All in all then I would say that if you liked metro 2033, you’d very much enjoy the sequel. Just bare in mind that it’s a really slow starter!

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Retrospective: Helbreath

I’m not sure how many of you may have played this wonderful gem of a game, as I feel like it wasn’t very popular, but it is one of the games that has given me some of the most fun I’ve had, ever. I used to play on the official servers and it was a glorious time. The thing about the game is that maybe it did shine so much because it was a rather smallish community. People knew each other, this led to scenarios where if you knew someone was online, they’d normally be out hunting one of a few people, so you’d have to be careful.

At the heart of Helbreath lies a simple concept, there’s 2 towns which are at war with each other. They each have a couple of zones adjacent to their city which would mean that those’d be safe zones (nearly totally). But then there’s a bunch of contested lands in-between of the 2 cities, and rather quickly after you’d assembled your basic gear you’d be heading into this contested territory. And frankly, there’s very few games which force confrontation as much as Helbreath. This ensured that you’d always be on your guard, especially considering the maps were small. You could run from 1 town to the other in 10-15 minutes, easily.

Then there’s some key systems which I really like about Helbreath, such as that you have to level skills up (Long Sword, Fencing, Magic, Magic Resistance, Mining, etc), for most of these you get something if you get the skill up to 100%. For most weapons you’ve mastered it which meant that you could now charge (run and jump) at enemies and use critical attacks; This meant that you could use a range attack with a melee weapon, which is super important. These would slowly recharge over time so you’d always be managing them in case of enemy players. And even as a warrior you’d oftentimes have some intelligence so you could cast simple spells such as paralyze and Protection From Magic which meant that you could stand up to high-level mages easier, or give yourself a possibility of escape.

Another thing I really like is the equipment/loot system. All enemies can drop some wonderful items, they’re just exceptionally rare. This meant that every single rare item had value and you’d be cherishing them. This could range from a simple wooden shield which would have +18% stamina regeneration, or health/mana regeneration. Or a weapon with for example +hitting probability, or one of the variants such as Sharp, Ancient, Righteous and more which had different effects. Normally there’d only be several of these around and they made a huge difference.

Then there’s the way the damage works, which is simply being displayed over the target’s head, which would normally in the case melee weapons be going by really quickly, assuming you’re hitting them. What makes it interesting though is the fact that little damage is shown as really small numbers, whereas bigger hits, and especially crits/flying hits (where you would send your enemy flying, sending them backwards several tiles) would be shown in big numbers, which was always exciting to see and it made you feel really powerful. That small fact, I think made a huge impact on the game, as you’re always striving to become stronger.

Many of these things are probably the reason for there being a Helbreath community that’s still out there. I still play the game sometimes myself, there’s just something about it!

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Thoughts on: Catcher in the Rye

Catcher In The Rye

This book is considered a classic, it’s near-impossible to never have heard of it, and so I figured that I should read it. So I did, and my thoughts on it are potentially controversial, it seems. I know some people who’ve read this book and claim it’s among the best they’ve read and I absolutely cannot fathom why this’d be the case.

The only strong case I can make for the book is that I detest it, largely in a story there’s some characters or moments that will at least give you something to enjoy. In the case of Catcher in the Rye, I have found absolutely zero. At best there were some side-characters who didn’t frustrate or outright annoy me. But by far the worst is the main character himself, a teenage boy who hates everything, and boy does he show it.

Holden is always talking about people and things around him, in that way you learn about him. Saying that you learn that he’s a whiny bastard that complains about everything, everything is shitty and nothing is fun or good. Everything annoys him and often I just wanted to punch him in the jaw to not be a little whiny bitch. You are supposed to relate to him as a teenager, or looking back to your teenage years, but I can’t do anything but despise him. Every moment I wanted to just drop it and the only way I got through this book was because I was urged to by others.

I really can’t say that I’ve read a worse book in my life, every second I’ve spent with this book has been horrible and miserable, the only good about it is that it’s meaningless and super easy to read through, so your misery shall be shortlived.

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Thoughts on: Metro Last Light

Metro Last Light

I love the Metro universe, metro 2033 was one of my favorite games I’ve ever played, so much so that I bought the book and now the sequel metro 2034. I was really stoked for the second game after seeing the first trailers of it. I thought it had crazy potential, so did it live up to them?

First off, I thought the start wasn’t memorable, it didn’t immediately grab me into the story as there were a bunch of people that I simply didn’t care about. I was doing the things I was doing in the first game, scavenging for ammo, hiding in the dark and shooting a bunch of creatures and people. It wasn’t until about roughly 2 hours or so into it that I really started liking the story more and felt immersed. But all in all, and it may be due to nostalgia, I felt more like I was playing a game than being truly immersed like I felt being in the first game.

The part where it really shines though is the part where you deal with the Dark Ones, that is truly wonderful. And this mainly kicks in from about halfway into the game, but man is it worth it! The last hours really were completely different and made me just want to keep playing and see what’s going to happen next. Though there’s some really dubious things that happen during the story, it makes for a wonderful experience, as long as you don’t logically think about it. And that’s where the game get’s the original book right, the metro is a living and breathing thing, not mere concrete tunnels.

That being said; what they also get really right is the atmosphere, playing this game at night, while you’re on the surface breathing through a mostly cracked gas mask and are running low on oxygen and bullets while big mutants are hunting you; it’s a marvelous feeling. There were moments for me where I was absolutely frightened, much like my pants were when playing Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Enemies are frightening, especially knowing that you might not have enough bullets, or even be out of bullets!

All in all I would say that if you like a good story and a bit of sneaking around in a post-apocalyptic world, this is a great game to play. You just have to endure the first couple of hours, it’ll be worth it, I promise!

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Thoughts on: Bioshock Infinite

I recently finished the third Bioshock game after hearing very good things about it. I never thought that after playing the second I would play another Bioshock game. I felt that they really should’ve left the original alone as it’s an outstanding game. The second was a real cash-grab and it bored me, because of this I never played more than maybe an hour or 2. So I went into Infinite being rather skeptical.

I figured I’d play this game on the hard difficulty as I never had a problem with the original on difficulty despite you really playing it for the engaging story. And first of all, it’s a very aesthetically pleasing game. Though I can’t say it ever pulled me into the world, I definitely liked looking at it, the initial moments of going up to Columbia are really gorgeous. Though I say initial, it really is something that remains for quite a while. These sentences do largely sum up the game for me in a way, because it was a pretty thing to look at and I had some fun with it, but I never felt part of it.

The combat was okay, but never felt special. I also felt that a lot of the vigors they gave you were pointless, such as the charge or bronco ones as they’d leave you open to attack because you needed to be in the open. On hard difficulty I felt that I was a real glass cannon, that was often very low on ammunition in the later parts of the game. I ended up using mostly the sniper rifle and carbine or hand cannon to do some quick damage and dive back into cover and take enemies out that way. This worked for most of the game until the final sequences, starting from the moment you are supposed to fight Elizabeth’s mother for the second time in the bank. She absorbed so much ammunition to kill, whilst also reviving other enemies that attack you, where there was no ammo at all. I simply did not have any amunition to kill them all with. Also the fights with a lot of people and a Handyman? Ridiculously tough on the ammunition-level, I often had to run around to pick up any weapon I could and ended up using all of the ammo available in every gun lying around to kill them.

The story was at least better than the combat, though I still much prefer the initial game. Though I do like that Rapture’s part of the game/universe, that part was neat. But I think the ending went over a lot of people’s heads and it really didn’t make it obvious that Comstock is Booker, though there’s a line which states it directly… I felt that it was poorly shown and it probably left a lot of people confused about it all. But the moment where you see the multiverse theory at work with all the lighthouses while going through the beginning sequence again is very well done.

All in all I’d say that Bioshock Infinite is an okay game, but over-hyped. I’m also not sure if I will be going through the “Burial at Sea” downloadable content because of this.

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The coming weeks will be exciting

Baptism of Fire - Andrzej Sapkowski
Baptism of Fire – Andrzej Sapkowski

This past weekend my girlfriend and me spent some time on fixing our documents for her immigration, so now we know what forms we still require. We then also requested the documents I require, so those should arrive in the coming week or maybe 2 weeks. This coming sunday I’ll be driving her to the airport so she can fly to Ukraine and request her documents we still need and get them translated. Then a week later on the 17th of february she’ll have her dutch exam, I think she’ll make it just fine if the practice exams are anything to go by, but we’ll have to see how her nerves are at that point.

On the other hand there’s some fun news as well as we went shopping and I got her some new shoes and ordered some for me (as stores normally don’t carry my size). I also ordered 2 Kanto Field Guides for me and my friend & pre-ordered “The Baptism of Fire” of the witcher series and “Metro 2034″‘s english translations which release on 20 and 27 february.

 

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Thoughts on: Time of Contempt

Time of Contempt by Andrzej Sapkowski
Time of Contempt by Andrzej Sapkowski

Following Blood of Elves is Time of Contempt in the witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski. It in fact follows the happenings directly, carrying on with Yennefer and Ciri leaving Nenneke’s temple. Ciri is being taken to Aretuzo to study magic and become an enchantress. While arriving at the town she’s being shown around town and ends up in a situation where she’s forced to use her witcher training, the entire thing is rather funny and it makes me love Ciri’s character and spirit.

Ciri is especially wonderful as she has a strong will of her own and doesn’t want to become a full enchantress and instead wants to see Geralt who she thinks is at a nearby town. She goes through the woods to reach that town after escaping Yennefer and some other sorceresses (among them Tissaia De Vries, which is a funny name  to me as it’s Dutch). On the way she encounters The Wild Hunt which I didn’t expect at all, that part was really curious in the way that I didn’t know what was real at all.

The escape did lead to her finding Geralt and caused Yennefer and Geralt to see each other again. Afterwards they’re going to a gathering of all Sorcerers, which is full of diplomacy and gossip. Not a very interesting part of the story, although what happens shortly afterwards is. That is because there’s a coup among the mages that involves the Scoia’tael and Geralt got asked by Vilgefortz to join them. Geralt remained neutral as is his way. It ends in a mess with it being unknown what’s happened to Ciri or Yennefer and this really makes me want to know what happens next.

The next book Baptism of Fire is expected to be done translating into English on 24th of Feb 2014, so that’s still a little while.