Week 1 – Gearing Up

The other day I gave a good friend of mine a phone call to wish the man a happy birthday. The subject of school came up, as we’ve been talking about me heading back to class the moment I told him I registered. He asked me how I get to school.

“Well, first, I hop on a bus outside of my place, head downtown, wait about fifteen minutes, then head up on another bus that takes me to the campus”.

“Man, you know what you need to do? Instead of hopping on the bus right outside your place, why don’t you walk to the second bus? Clear your head, get some exercise. Sounds like you aren’t saving time taking the first bus.”

So I took him up on his advice and started walking to school for the first section of my trip. And goddamn if he wasn’t right; I feel way more awake and alert and ready to tackle the day.

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  1. Get some exercise in the morning.

The last three days have been more about getting ready and forming study habits, as to diving right in. Even on the last day of the school week, I’m still missing one tools from the ol’ toolbox, so hopefully tomorrow morning I can track that down. Speaking of tools though…

I’ve been bragging a little bit about how prepared I am for school, the fact that I’ve gotten a lead in a lot of my classes by taking the time to study math, physics, and programming. Well, I found out on Wednesday that being prepared has cost me. And it’s cost me roughly fifty dollars.

You see, back in June or so, when I was in between jobs, I decided to meet a couple of my professors and get a bead on what I was going to be learning. One of my profs recommended that I pick up a little kit for his class. It was a box containing an Arduino microcontroller, a bunch of LEDs, resistors, motors, and other electronic goodies. I took it home and play around with it a bit, learning a little bit about how to program the board. Awesome, right?

The tool kit for the program is roughly $420 ($418.15 to be precise) and it has everything you need, including the kit I had already bought. When I went to go pick it up, I mentioned that I had already purchased the microcontroller kit. This led to some problems, because as I found out, there’s only one guy on campus that knows the exact price of each individual part of the tool kit. Most of the other staff only know the total everything, which is roughly $420 ($418.15 to be precise). I could wait until this particular gentleman got back from his lunch, come back another time, or buy the whole thing and have two kits.

He wasn’t going to be back for about half an hour. In the school setting, a half hour when you have nothing to do can quickly become filled with things you need to do, like homework or eating some vitals or suffering the existential questions of why the hell am I here in the first place. This was the only time of the day where I was actually going to get a lunch, and I wasn’t sure when I was going to be able to make it back to grab this stuff. The power of my stomach turned over, so now I have two identical kits. My hunger cost me $50.

2. Majority of tools purchased.

The plus side of this is I now have a spare kit, as well as a crafty fiancee who wants to make Halloween decorations. Maybe if I get some spare time, we’ll sit down and try to make some interactive Halloween stuff. Who knows? We might be able to whip up some incredibly imaginative decorations.

There was another important event going on Wednesday, and that was checking out a wedding party venue in town here with Kat. Long story short, it was so well suited for our needs that we’ll be scooping it up.

3. Procuring a venue for wedding party.

Now, I should mention right now that due to both my new school schedule and Kat’s new work schedule, we aren’t actually going to see each other very often, and when we do, I’m usually going to be in the office studying. The only day we actually might get to see each other is on Wednesday afternoon, as I’m off school early and Kathryn has the day off. I made a declaration that Wednesday would be date day, and that even if we didn’t have any extra money, we would still hang out and spend some quality time together.

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Ladies love Italian.

4. Romancing the lady.

On another note, I’m going to pat myself on the back and let you all know that for the first time in my entire life, I actually went home and did the homework on the same day I received it. I didn’t procrastinate! I have six sheets of fresh math homework just waiting to be handed in. I’m hoping to continue this momentum this weekend.

5. Finish Math homework ahead of time.

And finally, this is the first day of not only attending school, but heading to work right afterwards. When my last class is done at 3:30pm, I whisk myself off to the kitchen to start work on the line. The restaurant closes at 10:30pm, so at the very latest I’ll be done at 11:30pm, which means I get home at midnight. That’ll make for an eighteen hour day, so even though I’m headed to the campus on the weekend, I might rewards myself by sleeping in until 8:00am.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. Right, right, I have to pick up some tools tomorrow before I head to school, and then before I go to work again tomorrow. Well, only four to five more years of this.

p.s.s. I wrote this last Friday, but didn’t post it until next Tuesday. I ain’t working the weekdays.

Mr. Charlton Moves to Victoria

After months of planning, saving, packing, and preparing, we’ve finally lumbered all of our belongings from one province to the next. A two day trip, 1300 or so kilometers, fifteen hours of driving, a three hour wait for the ferry, the number all added up to transplanting two people from Lethbridge, Alberta to Victoria, British Columbia. Since drawing up the schematics to move back in January, this is a trip that’s been in the making for a while.

Now we’re here, and after a week of unpacking, settling in, scouting out the neighborhood and taking a bit of a break, I’ve finally managed to set up the workhorse and crank out some words for the internet. As much as I love sitting by the beach in board shorts, it was time to plop down in front of the computer and write.

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I had to spend a bunch of time posing majestically, staring in the harbour before I sat down.

See, I could recount the fact that since we’ve arrived, Kat has dived into the ocean and removed five crabs from their homes. I could also recount that I’ve given them new homes inside of our bodies, by boiling the crabs then soaking their meat in butter. Crabs that look sort of like this.

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I know everyone is going to be looking at the crabs, but just so you know, that’s a medley of crooked-neck squash and spinach leaves in the bowl. I just want you to know that.

I could talk about how I finally live in a city again, and there’s a place not too far from home that sells Latin American food stuffs, or there’s a place that does nothing except charcuterie, or there’s a place that sells gentlemanly items like proper razor blades and humorous socks. But all these things take a back seat to the fact that once again I happen to be living in an actual city, even if it’s sort of a tiny city. Mr. Charlton thrives on space and people all over the place doing things in that space.

I might also talk about the idea that after well over a decade, I’ll have family around again. My brother lives in the city, and I have a mess of cousins and uncles and aunts that are dotted all over the West Coast. After fifteen years of being over in Alberta, I’ll actually be able to attend weddings and social gatherings without having to get on an airplane.

The most important thing to take away from this is that I no longer live in Lethbridge, Alberta. To extend that, I don’t even live in Alberta anymore. I now live in Victoria, BC, next to the ocean. I can pop my head out the window and see the ocean from here. I can hear the ocean waves pound the seawall. And I can drive half an hour out of the city to a craggy beach where my amazonian goddess of a girlfriend will literally dive in the ocean and catch live crabs with her bare hands.

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This picture was taken about 15 seconds before she spotted a crab and decided to leap in.

It’s going to be a year before I head back to school, so right now I’ll be saving some cash and catching up with family and friends who live in the area. So if you’re down on the coast, hit a guy up. I’m always willing to get a few beers and talk about small times. In the mean time, it’s incredibly nice to be home.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. The crabs were utterly delicious. The mussels weren’t bad, but they weren’t good either. They’re out of season right now, and they tasted a little spawny.

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In the same breath, they were the goddamned biggest mussels I’ve ever actually laid eyes on.

p.s.s. Sure, it’s just crabs right now, but soon I’m going to be hunting for fresh oysters. And mussels. And clams. Pretty much any shellfish you can think of, I’ll eat.

p.s.s.s. The drive down itself from Lethbridge was pretty mundane, except for the fact that the entire province of British Columbia seems to be burning to the ground.

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It’s hazy in Victoria at the moment, because the smoke from the mainland is wafting over this way. Also, if it doesn’t rain in five days, this will be the driest summer that Victoria is ever had on record. This rain forest needs some rain!

 

Mr. Charlton is an Expert on Moving

I’ve been busy as of late. Busy moving. Getting ready to strap all of my stuff to the outside of a vehicle, and pack as much of it inside as well. Selling stuff on the internet (which is a whole other set of stories) and saving up money for the day we convoy across two provinces. ‘Bout to have a little garage sale, even. There isn’t a whole lot of things I can claim to be good at, but packing up my stuff and taking it to another location is something I’ve become somewhat of a pro at.

I should be a goddamn pro at it by now. This move to Victoria will count as the 32 move in my life.

Go ahead, pick your jaw off the floor. You read that right. I’ve moved a total of 32 times in my life, which chalks up to almost a move a year. That’s 32 times of stuffing boxes full of junk, sorting them out, putting them in a truck, putting those boxes in a new place, and then finally unpacking the boxes and putting all my junk back out into a living space. That’s 32 times of either renting a truck or wrangling friends and family into loading up vehicles and driving across my current landscape until the landscape changes into the new landscape I’ll hopefully be looking at for more than a month.

Moving is a hassle. It’s a goddamn pain in the ass. Nobody in their right mind would move as many times as I have. And it’s not like I’ve been living in exotic locals or anything. I’m not backpacking across Europe or taking a whirlwind tour in South America. All of those moves have been confined to BC and Alberta.

And yet, here I’m doing it again. And it’s going to be the longest move I’ve ever done. 1500 km. All the way from Lethbridge, Alberta to Victoria, BC. Hopefully this will be the last time I have to move in a few years.

There’s definitely a trick to moving, though. There’s a secret method I’ve cooked up, over the years, that’s a sure fire way to make uprooting and putting those roots somewhere else a little bit more tolerable. It’s crazy, it’s a bizarre and insane idea in this world, but gosh, it absolutely works.

I don’t actually own a lot of things.

This “Not owning a lot of things” has slowly been creeping up on me the last couple of years. At first, I thought this was something I was doing, something I had a hand in. I was reading blogs on minimalism, I borrowed “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo from the library. I exchanged my CD collection for an external hard drive. Instead of books, I got an E-Reader.

Until maybe a week or so, I had never actually tallied up the number of times I’ve moved. When I started counting out the moves, I lost count. So I made a spreadsheet, and it turned out I’ve moved over thirty times. Which is incredibly excessive for someone my age.

This got me thinking. Am I actually some sort of minimalist monk who’s rejected this consumer lifestyle we’re being sold every day, a modern Jesuit figure giving the middle finger to everyone who’s ever made a beer commercial, a Tyler Durden born in the flesh? Or am I just a guy who’s had to put his shit into cardboard so often that I just gave up and said “Man, if I don’t actually own this sweet Ab-Blaster 8000, then I won’t have to put it in a U-haul and move it somewhere in six months”.

Looking back, I think I’ve moved so often that I just got sick of owning stuff. When you go to the mall and your first thought is “Am I going to be able to put this in a Chevy Geo?”, you start to take into account how physically large your purchase is. It’s probably not the first thing that comes to mind when most people go shopping, but it’s definitely close the the top of my list.

I move again in two weeks. I’m excited and nervous and all those other crazy emotions that come with moving. Hopefully once I’m settled, I’ll get a little more routine back in my life and I’ll be able to yell on the internet more often. Until then, life is a little crazier when it involves changing locals.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. The Ab-Blaster 8000 came about when I typed in “Most useless purchase ever” into a search engine. 90% of the comments mentioned exercise equipment.

p.s.s. Exercising is good for you, but you don’t need an Ab-Blaster 8000 to do so. Just some regular sit-ups should suffice.

p.s.s.s. On the other hand, you should at least look up some instructions on how to properly do a sit-up. Most people are sitting up wrong.

 

 

Mr. Charlton – Yoga Master

Besides the fact that I tend to walk everywhere, it’s been a long, long time since I’ve actually done any exercise. Every once and a while I’ll get the inkling to do some pull ups or some crunches, but it’s been, shucks, it’s been over a decade since I actually had a workout routine. I’m what a lot of fitness buffs would call ‘skinny fat’, but these days it’s leaning a little more to the fat side than the skinny.

So, with Kat’s help, I’ve been slimming down with a better diet. Thankfully, my speedy metabolism is still firing and kicking, so the pounds are already starting to shed. I’ve parked the car, and once again, I’m walking around and getting some air. There’s one thing that’s been missing; stretching.

Most of my free time is spent sitting in front of a computer screen. It’s where I like to work, and it’s where I like to play. I sit, on average, for about 90% of the time I’m not moving from one area or working. This has wreaked havoc on my hips. My weasel-like ability to bend and flex has all but disappeared. My cat-like reflexes are now only apparent in online death-matches.

Me and Kat have been looking for an activity we could both do. The only issue is our schedules. My schedule isn’t evening friendly, and there’s little chance I can commit to a program later in the night. If we’re going to do an activity together, then it has to be something we can do at home.

Enter yoga. Good for the body, good for the brain, and good for the soul if you have one. Kat’s done yoga in the past, and was super excited that I was on board to sit on a mat and do a bunch of stretching. Last weekend, we went to the store and I picked up a yoga mat. With a rubbery piece of foam, some shorts, and my willingness to do anything twice, I started doing yoga a few days ago.

Yoga is totally kicking my ass, by the way.

Right off the bat, the shorts I picked aren’t really sports wear. I figured, ‘Hey, shorts. I can work out in these’. I was wrong. The first lesson taught me that doing the kind of stretching I was doing was something I haven’t prepared for. Like, I don’t own any active wear. I thought shorts were active wear, and I was wrong.

Now, rather than put off yoga until I got some proper attire, I decide to step up to the mat and dress down a little. Needless to say, I’ve been doing yoga in my underwear. So here I am, almost halfway through thirty, sitting on a yoga mat, bending in way I haven’t bent since I was about eight, in my skivvies. Oh, and I’m working up a sweat, too.

I just want that mental image implanted in your brain. A slightly pudgy, grunting, perspiring, greasy Mr. Charlton rolling around on a cheap mat I got from some conglomerate chain store. Hopefully you are now paying attention.

But here’s the thing. Even though I’ve only sat through two 30 minutes sessions so far, I’m already starting to feel a little better. My arms and legs are a little bendier. Sitting at the computer here mashing at the keyboard doesn’t feel so rough on my hips. I’m a little more focused. And tonight, before I go to bed, I plan on hitting the mat once again.

Yoga gets Mr. Charlton’s seal of approval. If you are a desk jockey like me, if you spend your days as a keyboard warrior, typing your typpie types into the type pad, then I fully recommend yoga. In fact, if I were a large firm, I’d make 20 minutes of yoga almost mandatory.

It might seem a little presumptuous to make bold claims like this after only two sessions, but I’m the kind of guy who make bold claims all the time. And honestly, after being an arm chair cowboy for over a decade, having a big old stretch in the morning is a great way to start the day.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. Alright, so I’m baiting people with the headline “Yoga Master”. Sue me.

p.s..s. Seriously, it’s a pretty good workout. You find yourself doing a lot of planking. Good for the core!

p.s.s.s. I’m digging doing yoga in the raw, by the way. Sure, I could go buy some stretchy pants, but doing it in the ol’ underoos makes me feel like a tough hombre.

Mr. Charlton Hates Driving

It’s not unusual for a young man to be interested in cars and trucks. Even in the 21st century, boys are still the primary market for hot wheels and Tonka trucks. These boys grow up into men (at least physically) and targeted still with slogans about owning a vehicle. Freedom! Speed! Sex! These things come with a car. So again, it ain’t unusual for guys to be interested in cars, trucks, motorcycles, and that sort of thing. It’s kinda weird if they didn’t.

Mr. Charlton is most certainly a strange duck.

I’ve never been into cars. I only owned a vehicle from the ages of 17 to 19, then promptly got rid of the thing. Part of the reason was the fact that I enjoy walking. Strolling around kept my body lean and fit. Part of the reason was the car is the only place I got angry. Not being in a car was saving my hair from going grey. The biggest reason was I just moved to the city.

I’m a city boy. I was raised in a small town, but at heart, was someone who loved the urban jungle. I loved the density, the towers, the different foods, the people. And the closer you are to the heart of the city, the less it makes sense to own a vehicle. A car’s usefulness decreases drastically as the towers above you rise. What was originally a means of freedom is now a burden. Parking is expensive. The Stop-Go of city driving is hard on a vehicle. You no longer have to get a week’s worth of groceries and stockpile your pantry, you can just stop at the market on the way home. The only reason you would have a vehicle is because you lived in the suburbs, and I’d rather pull teeth than live in the damn suburbs.

Long story short, there hasn’t been a whole lot of times I missed having a car. But that’s when I was living in the city. And right now, Mr. Charlton isn’t living in the city.

Now, if you’re in a small town, you don’t really need a vehicle either. There’s really only one municipality that requires a car. If you live in a large town / small city, then it’s going to be a hassle to get around.

Enter Lethbridge. That’s where I’m living right now. It’s not a bad little city, but it’s a little city. The bus only runs until 6:00pm on Sunday. The town is split in two; The city on the east side of the valley, the university and a bunch of burbs on the west side. And I happen to be lodging on the west side. Getting around is tougher.

If I were single, I’d suck it up and walk or take the bus. Kat has a vehicle though, and she’d (her own words) would rather have me borrow the car and be home sooner. I’ve been driving a lot more than I normally do.

This is bad news, ’cause it’s making me fat.

So I made the plan in my head to use the vehicle a lot less. I had to whip over to Kamloops  a few weekends ago, and Kat was gracious enough to let me borrow Skylar (the name of the car). This ain’t my car, so I needed to take really, really good care of it. But after this, I was done. After this last 1600 kilometer journey, I was parking Skylar and getting my walk on.

It was almost halfway through April, so spring is well on it’s way. Unless, of course, you’re living in Canada. Then we’re getting the last spitting of winter. For the first leg of my journey, I encountered sleet, snow and wind. Nothing I couldn’t handle though.

There was a lot of wind, more than usual. This is important, because halfway to Kamloops, right outside of my hometown of Golden BC, there’s a particularly treacherous span of road. For about 10 kilometers, there’s only a two lane highway, and it twists through a rocky canyon. I’ve driven through here hundreds of times before. Never much paid attention to the signs in the area, mostly the ones saying “Watch for falling rock”. And for the first time in my life, I saw what these signs were warning travelers about. In front of me, the road was getting pounded by rocks the size of baseballs.

These rocks weren’t rolling down a hill, they were falling from heights. Suddenly I had flashbacks of stories about people getting hit by rocks in the canyon. People who’s windshield got destroyed. Some folks even died. This is all passing through my brain, and I now have a decision to make; Do I stop, and risk getting rear ended? Or do I speed up, and go for broke, hoping that with an increased velocity, I avoid getting hit altogether?

Bravely, I did neither.

“DONK!”

That’s the noise the rock made when it hit the side of Skylar. The noise I made was ten minutes of swearing. And I mean, straight up cussing. Some of the best cussing I’ve ever done was right after this tragedy. Then there was sadness, as  the reality sunk in that when I arrived to my destination, I’d have to call Kat and let her know Skylar got hit by a rock from the sky.

Finally, when I showed up to Golden, I was able to assess the damage. Thankfully, there was a slight bit of dirt, but there was no dent. Not even a scratch, really. The rock was all bark, no bite.

Still, with everything said and done, if I had to do it again, I’d hop on the bus or catch a flight. Instead of 18 hours of driving this weekend, I would have simply had 30 hours of reading.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. The joke is that a bus ride is usually way longer than taking your own vehicle.

p.s.s. I’d still rather take the bus.

p.s.s.s. Kat was totally cool, just FYI. She was far more worried about me than her car.

Ready Player Two

We met in the one of the worst households I have ever lived in. In an effort to get back to my roots, I had thrown caution to the wind and decided to live with some people after living by myself for the last three or four years. It was both a blessing and a curse. The curse was that within three days of living with strangers, I quickly realized why the hell I like living by myself. Because goddamn it if an adult, who pays taxes and would be drafted in a war against aliens if they ever landed, can’t wash their dishes after they’re done with them. But I’m planning on saving the House of Hell stories for later. I still want to talk about video games. It’s kinda how I met my current girlfriend.

That was the blessing of the House of Hell, because she was one of my roommates.

I had been living in this backwards revival of my youth for about a week and a half, and so far it hadn’t been going all that well. The house was usually in a state of disarray and the kitchen was almost always a disaster. I had met everyone in the house, but hadn’t really spent any time with anyone, except for Kat, who split a bottle of wine with me a few days earlier. One of the housemates, an energetic 19 year old hot idiot by the name of Shay, was planning to get some of us together and have a few drink. Seeing as how I had nothing better to do, I figured this would be a great way to meet everyone in the same setting.

There was seven of us in the house. Three people said no, so there was the four of us hanging out. Shay, Katie, Kathryn, and myself.

Shay – The 19 year old Hot-Mess. The reason the house was always a pigsty. Smoked weed like it was keeping her alive. Thought she was the glue that held the house together. In reality, she was the reason most people stayed in their room. Very free spirited. Would have loud shower sex at 2:00 in the morning with her boyfriend. Always angry at the fact there was never any toilet paper in the washroom. Everyone hid their toilet paper in their room, because Shay would use it and never replace it.

Katie – The 27 year old Addict. Soft spoken with striking red hair, Katie was an incredibly nice young woman who just happened to be a full on alcoholic. I didn’t actually know what the word alcoholic meant until I met Katie. It wasn’t unusual to find her passed out in the hallway at 11 o’clock in the morning, or having the police show up at random times trying to find her. A story a lot more tragic than most.

Kat – The 25 year old woman who didn’t belong in the house. There wasn’t actually anything wrong with her. The only thing I could deduce was she was in the wrong place at the right time. Level headed and about a half inch taller than me. At this point in the story, she was the only person I was talking to on a regular basis and wasn’t a crazy person. Just finished a diploma at SAIT and was looking to go back to Lethbridge and finish a degree in New Media.

So it was the four of us, sitting at the kitchen table, having a few drinks. Katie downed a mickey of vodka in under five minutes, then went to bed almost immediately. Like I said, alcoholic. That left me, Shay, and Kat. They were both wondering about my lack of stuff. I mentioned that I was a minimalist, and that I was in the process of downsizing even more. In fact, the last big thing I was getting rid of was my Super Nintendo and my small collection of games.

“You have a Super Nintendo collection?”

Love is a weird thing. People talk about waves, or ups and downs when it comes to the emotion. My Super Nintendo, even though I was thinking of getting rid of it, represented my youth. It was my skateboards on the wall, my dumb posters on the wall, my hanging out with the crew. And here was this young woman, someone I had only known for a week, and she was flabbergasted that I was even thinking of selling it.

“I’ve got a Super Nintendo collection too! I’ve even got one still in the original box.”

Here’s this smart, funny, beautiful, slightly taller than me blond woman, and she has a Super Nintendo. I’m talking about burying my childhood. I’m talking about murdering the boy inside the man, and this wonderful person, in one weird sentence, is telling me both can exist at once. And she’s got no clue what’s going on inside my head.

Kat, if you were ever wondering why, or when, I fell in love with you, it was over the Super Nintendo collection.

I love video games. It’s how I like to spend my free time when I’m not working, or writing, or learning. When I’m kicking back, I like to do it with a controller in my hand. And this incredibly fantastic person fell into my life and wanted to pick up a controller and shoot zombies in the face with me. (Note: Kat is much better at Left 4 Dead than I ever will be. If we’re ever in a Zombie Apocalypse, Kat’s getting the gun. I’ll be organizing people, or doling out med kits, or something besides shooting zombies in the face).

That night, much to Shay’s chagrin, me and Kat stopped becoming interested the three person party and plugged in the Super Nintendo. We played until three in the morning.

It’s the weird little story about how I met my sweetheart. It wasn’t at a club, or a coffee shop, or the grocery store. It was in a shitty house, at a shitty time in both our lives, and it blossomed over a dumb hunk of grey plastic. I’m hoping later tonight, when we both get back home, we’ll pour a glass of wine, look each other in the eye, and fight over the good controller. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. We could use some recommendations regarding some sweet two-player co-op games. We’re both getting sick of the Borderlands series.

The Origin of My Name

To a lot of you reading this, you only know me as the Illustrious Mr. Charlton, a silly moniker I took upon years ago when I started writing on the intertubes. There might be one person who actually calls me that in real life, but most people know me by my legal name;

Sandy Lee Charlton.

Now, I’ve been known to get some flack over my name, mostly the fact that apparently this is a woman’s name, and I happen to have a penis. To this day, as in a woman recoiled in amusement at the mention of my name less than a week ago, people still think it’s weird that my name is Sandy. And plenty of people burst into hysterics when they find out my middle name is Lee. So let’s talk about my name, and where it comes from.

I’m not going to dwell too much on the first or the last part of my name. Sandy is a derivative of Alexander, which means defending people. Charlton, my surname, means settlement of free people. Combine the two and my name basically means The Defender of the Settlement of Free People. Which by itself is pretty cool and completely badass. The coolest part of my name isn’t the first or the last part of my name, it’s the middle part. Because even though it may seem like my dad was planning some sort of ‘Boy Named Sue’ type thing for me, my father named me after his twin brother, my uncle Lee.

My uncle Lee, along with my aunt Susan, has four children, James, Nick, Robyn, and Cody, all of whom are older than me. Their youngest son, Cody, is about nine months older than me, so I’m certain my folks decided to start making babies the moment they saw him (which is strange, because rumor has it that Cody was a really ugly baby). I was the first of three boys, and I’m the only one who was named after another relative. Which is a shame for me, because I have to live up to my uncle Lee’s good name, and he’s a much better person than I am.

Uncle_Lee

An incredibly handsome man with a pretty ugly child.

The last time I saw my uncle was when my father passed away. I’ve mentioned this to people, that my father’s twin brother was there when my pop’s was on his deathbed, and a lot of folks assumed that having my uncle there, who’s an identical twin of my dad, made the situation harder to deal with. Nothing could have been further than the truth. My father loved his brother, and having my uncle there in our family’s time of need made a bitter pill easier to swallow. Before the accident, I would have told you there wasn’t a person on Earth that could have made my father’s death less painful. Uncle Lee proved me wrong.

But it was the third last time I saw my uncle that solidified to me what kind of man he is. I was passing through from Victoria to Golden, and my father suggested I look him and my aunt Susan up, spend a day or two with them before heading home. Even though it was midnight, and I had called him maybe ten minutes before I actually got to Kamloops, he still had no problem coming to the bus depot to grab his nephew. Once we arrived back at the house, he and my aunt greeted me, made me a little food, and got me setup in the spare bedroom. Once that was done, my uncle Lee went out to a homeless shelter for the rest of the night to keep an eye on things.

It’s one thing to donate your money to a charity. It’s another thing to volunteer at a soup kitchen or the likes. I’m not disparaging either form of charitable acts. But it is a whole other ballgame to stay up for the entire night at a shelter to make sure people stay calm. He jokingly asked if I wanted to come and I politely refused. Maybe I should have taken him up on his offer. To this day, part of me is still ashamed that I didn’t tag along. Sure, I had just spent the better part of the day on a greyhound bus, but if a man in his late 50’s was able to stay up past his bedtime, surely a young man in his late 20’s would have been able to keep up.

My uncle Lee passed away last week, after a long battle with cancer. I haven’t written anything for the blog since I heard the news. Writing about anything else after finding out about his passing would have been tacky. He leaves behind my aunt Susan, his four wonderful children, and a smattering of grand kids. There isn’t a whole lot of comfort I can offer this far away from the rest of the family, but maybe these words will help. He was a better man than most, and certainly a better man than I. I’d be lucky if had a tenth of the heart he did.

Sincerely,

Sandy Lee Charlton

p.s. I should mention that not only did my father and my uncle look identical, they also sounded exactly alike. It wasn’t unusual to get a phone call, once a month, from my “dad” to ask me to do a chore like set the car on fire or fill the toilets with cement. Good times, uncle Lee, good times.

p.s.s. I should also mention that I am a dead ringer for both my father and my uncle. Almost uncanny.

p.s.s.s. I completely forgot, the only reason I stopped off in Kamloops was due to a highway accident. I was stranded in the bus terminal, it was actually more like two o’clock in the morning, and uncle Lee was going back to the shelter. Sometimes life throws a rock at your head, and sometimes that rock turns out to be a lump of gold. I’ll never forget that visit.

Mr. Charlton – Still Gaming

It was a week before I got the opportunity to sit down with my new computer and play a game on it for longer than five minutes. An entire week, plus a day. I got the new computer, in a number of smaller boxes, on Tuesday March 7th 2017. It wasn’t until Tuesday March 14th 2017, that I got to fire up a game and not just stress test my machine, but actually play for a bit and unwind. One very long week.

12 year old Mr. Charlton would (have tried to) kick my ass for leaving a sweet rig sitting around for a week before playing a game.

Twelve year old Mr. Charlton had a lot less responsibility than thirty-three year old Mr. Charlton. Twelve year old me also had a lot less disposable income than I currently do. But this train of thought led to me thinking about exactly when I started playing games.

The earliest I can remember was playing games over at other people’s houses. I remember heading over to the Spehar’s place when I was five to play with Stef. They had a Nintendo, the old school grey box, and they had a couple of sweet games with it (notably Super Mario 3 and Ducktales). I’m pretty sure that after playing the first time, I sped back home and started begging my parents for a Nintendo.

There was a bit of problem with this. Nintendo Entertainment Systems were goddamn expensive. When they first hit the market, they were retailing for $199. Adjusted for inflation, this was about $450. And those were American dollars, so for a brand new Nintendo, you were looking at a pile of money. My parents didn’t have a pile of money lying around, so I never did get a Nintendo Entertainment System. What we did get, in the winter of 1989, was a Nintendo Gameboy, the handheld version of the console. We also got a couple of games thrown into the mix.

Now, this was an incredibly smart move and a really bad move on my parents part, and this was no fault of theirs. It was great because it was cheaper than a big system and could be taken on long car rides, which was a pretty common occurrence when we were children. It was bad ’cause you COULD take it anywheres, which meant I was bringing it with me on every camping trip we ever went on. It was also bad because unlike the system you could plug into the wall, this little punter used 4 AA batteries, so I’m pretty sure my parent ended up spending more on the Gameboy when you factored in buying piles of batteries every other day. The biggest flaw with the handheld device is that it was a one-man operation. So even though there were three boys, there was only one Gameboy. I’d have to ask my mom, but I’m pretty sure we fought over the stupid thing constantly.

Both my brothers play video games. Heck, even my mom is playing HayDay on her IPad. But I’m pretty sure that out of the family, I’m the only one who’d be called a “gamer”. I was, and still am, a fiend. I’d consider getting a ‘Legend of Zelda’ tattoo. I’ve put a Super Nintendo emulator on basically every electronic device I’ve ever owned. I’ve beaten ‘I Wanna Be the Guy’. I played Cave Story before it was cool. Man, have you even played Cave Story? That’s straight Indie goodness at its finest.

Now I’m starting to build games. This has been on Mr. Charlton’s bucket list for a long, long time. I told myself that 2017 would be the year I at least give it the ol’ college try. So I grabbed a couple of classes from Udemy and I’ve been taking the plunge.

Luckily, I’ve got some skills from a previous life that’s making the process of learning a little easier. A decade of drafting has given me a lot of tools for designing, planning, and executing basically anything you throw at me. I’ve been slowly learning to code for the last couple of years, so when I was tasked to learn a new language, it wasn’t complete gibberish I was learning. I’m using Unity for the game engine and development environment, Blender for the 3D modeling, Visual Studio for the IDE, GIMP and InkScape for the 2D art and textures. There’s only one thing I’m lacking…

Music. Sounds. A video game needs some sort of music to fill the space between your ears. That’s the weakest link in the chain, easily. Even though I’m not a great artist, I can manage. Even though my code is rudimentary, there’s a vibrant community who’s willing to answer questions and help a noob. Even though Blender is still new to me after years of having it installed on my machine, I’m picking it up quicker now that I’m allocating time to learning it. But music?

Look, I consider myself a lousy guitarist and an OK harmonica player. But I don’t know where to begin with making music on my computer. I’ve been given some pretty good advice so far, it’s just that I’m so new I might be asking the wrong questions. So if I’m making music on the old PC here, here’s what I need to know. Ignore these questions if you’re not

  1. What DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is right for me? And when I say right, what I mean is cheap or free. Unity? Free until I make bank with it. Ditto for Visual Studio. Blender, GIMP, and InkScape? All free. I’m going to start out with Audacity, ’cause it’s free. But people keep telling me I’ll have to upgrade eventually. I’m leaning towards Reaper, ’cause it’s cheap and people seem to like it. Keep in mind I’m doing this legit. Don’t fire me a link to a torrent for Fruity Loops.
  2. People, I’ve got no sense when it comes to plugging instruments into a computer. No sense? I might have to steal some of that sense from you. Should I get a keyboard? Or a controller? Can I rock one of these things into my computer via USB? Where can I get some cheap instruments? Where’s the shady guy with a van full of gear that ‘was just left behind in a warehouse’ somewhere? Mr. Charlton is in desperate need of some cheap stolen shit.
  3. All the other programs I’m using make sense to me. Blender is just 3D modeling, and I have a background in that sort of thing. I’m not a great coder, but I know what they’re talking about when they’re asking me to import a library. But this audio shit? Holy Christ on a cracker am I out of my element. I might have to actually sit down with someone and get this sorted out.

So music people, I’m asking you; what the hell are you people doing making music so damn complicated? I don’t need this malarkey. Can’t a guy just hammer on his computer keyboard to make some beeps and bloops for a game? Did you folks make this complicated to pretend like you’re doing actual work? Where’s the MS Paint version of music making?

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. Seriously, I am a fish out of water when it comes to music production. Any advice you wish to solicit would help me out greatly.

p.s.s. I ended up going with Reaper. I’m slowly, slowly learning it. The manual is only 500 pages long.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr. Charlton – Gamer for Life

“Do we have enough tape? This is important. Everybody, even Grandma, games–meaning checkers, cards, if not now, in the past. Show me even freakin’ nun or a hermit who hasn’t done cards or checkers.”

Adam Wood, from ‘King of Kong’

A couple years back, I can’t remember the exact date, a few years ago, but yeah, a few years ago I was sitting on a friend’s couch, and I was playing a game with Jered and Metal Rob. I’m pretty sure I was playing with Rob, and we were playing ‘Gear of War 2’. Now, the two of them had played this game before but I had not, and I was picking up the game about half-way through the story mode. There was a lot of plot I was missing, but the gist of the story was one of the main characters was looking for his wife. Alien/Demons/Monsters/Baddies had taken her, and you and your friend were tasked with finding her.

I’m just going to point out, if you haven’t played this game or don’t play the big ‘Triple A’ games or don’t play games at all, ‘Gears of War 2’ is not a happy game. It’s set in a bleak, grey world, where humanity has it’s back against a wall. The last shred of our civilization battles an unknown horde, one that has emerge from the ground under our feet. Most people have been drafted into the war, essentially becoming ‘Gears’ in this awful machine. It’s a visually stunning game, but it’s not painting a pretty picture. I mean, your gun has a chainsaw on the front of it so you can saw Baddies in half. It’s that kind of game.

So here I am, playing this game with my friend, the two game characters are battling through this horrible underground cavern trying to find a wife, and we hit the game’s climax. You find her. It breaks to a cut scene.

She emerges from her prison cell. She looks exactly like his memories. She come out and passionately embraces our character. But this is an illusion. The game character snaps out of his fantasy, and sees his wife for how she really is. Incredibly malnourished, missing clumps of hair, hollow eyes. She’s completely catatonic. Whatever soul used to inhabit this body has disappeared completely, and there’s now just a shell of human being. The game character is shattered. With no way to help his wife, he can only help her by ending her life. He takes his sidearm, and while holding the husk of what remains of his wife, he puts a bullet in her head.

Pardon my language, but What The Fuck?

People, I put down video games for a year after I played that sequence. A goddamn year. I told people I was giving up the game, forever. This wasn’t a small statement, either. I loved video games. I used to be able to play with my feet. It wasn’t just something I did, it was part of who I was. But after that jarring scene, I thought I was done.

I went back to gaming, but my views on the medium will never be the same. I grew up in the ‘Mortal Kombat’ period of gaming history, when violent video games like ‘Doom’ and ‘Splatterhouse’ and the aforementioned ‘Mortal Kombat’ were taking the arcades and the home by storm. A lot of people thought these games were obscene. For me, there was always this fat, thick line, between the game and my emotions. I couldn’t see how they’d be offensive, because it was so obvious these pixels weren’t stirring any emotions. ‘Gears of War 2’ changed my perspective forever. I mean, kudos for the medium for stirring emotions in me so greatly I couldn’t touch a controller for a year after that. If there was any question in my mind whether video games could be art, this shattered any doubt.

I went from being a die-hard gamer, to quitting cold turkey, back to being a hardcore gamer.

I’d be lying if I said the only reason I gave up gaming was because of this emotional roller coaster ‘Gears of War 2’ put me through. Deep down, somewhere buried in my psyche, was the notion that video games were a waste of time. And they are. They are totally a waste of time. But sitting down and watching a film is a waste of time. Going to an art museum is a waste of time. Cheering for a baseball team is a waste of time. And yet everyone reading this has partaken in time wasting with games or film or sports.

Which brings me to the quote above. Everyone games. Everyone, every once and a while, likes to blow off steam by doing something irrelevant, like playing crib with a deck of cards, or playing ‘Candy Crush’ on their phone. The moment cave people starting losing their teeth was the moment someone decided to collect those teeth, rattle them around in a coconut shell, and then toss them to see how many they could get right side up.

There’s this weird underlying idea in our culture that if you’re not hustling 100% of the time, you’re doing something wrong. That you should feel a little ashamed for kicking back and taking it easy for a bit. Screw that baloney. You know what people aren’t doing when they’re watching sports? They’re not killing people. You know what people going to the movies aren’t getting up to? Definitely not eating babies, that’s for sure. And you know people aren’t doing when they’re playing video games? I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely not trying to create a low-yield nuclear device in the spare room of my apartment.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. If there was only some way of combining work and play into one…

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. I am definitely not building a low-yield nuclear device in the spare room.

p.s.s. I made a game. Click on this link to see it. It’s not my first game (nor is it the most complicated), but it’s the first one I’ve been able to upload to the web.

p.s.s.s. This link is only good for 30 days. When I finally stop  being lazy and build an actual website, I’ll put it up again.

Mr. Charlton Builds a Computer

I received my computer Tuesday and after work, chores, making dinner, and a bunch of tasks needing to be accomplished, I finally had time at about 10:30 pm to sit down and put together a massive box of computer pieces. By 2:00 am Wednesday morning, I finally had the damn thing together and running with an operating system. Ran into a couple snags, though…

  • I bought a CPU fan, thinking the CPU wouldn’t come with a fan. It did. So I have two CPU fans. Now, the extra one I bought is most certainly an upgrade, but Christ, never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine attaching such a massive and ugly piece of hardware to a CPU. It looks like my processor is being molested by a silver monster.
  • I also bought an extra tube of thermal paste. That’s only because I didn’t expect the extra fan to have some. It did. Now I’m capable of attaching a ton of processors to heatsinks and fans. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.
  • I installed the mother board first, which turned out to be a mistake. You see, that crazy monster CPU fan needs to fastened to the BACK of the motherboard as well as the front. I had to take off the sucker and attach this beast of a fan before I could put the motherboard back in.
  • I was going to return the fan, once I realized what a pain in the ass it was. As I was looking up the return policy, I spilled coffee on the instructions for this fan. After a lot of swearing (sorry Kat!), I decided to keep the fan.
  • If you haven’t noticed, basically every problem I had was with this fan. But damn, does it push some heat!
  • Once everything was installed, I went to go install my operating system. Except I didn’t actually buy one. After some digging, I found my old copy of Windows 7. Brand new machine, and it’s running an operating system that’s over 7 years old. I’m off to a great start.

It might seem like two and a half hours is a long time to setup a computer, but remember, this is the first computer I’ve bought in 8 years. I was taking my sweet time, occasionally smelling the cords as I was putting it together. They had that new cord smell. Delicious.

I’ve been slowly adding software to the machine. Slowly. I’ve starting with some basics I use a bunch. Which brings me to a new problem. Because right now I’m satisfied that everything that NEEDS to be installed finally is, and I’m writing this blog at 3:00 pm on Friday. From the time of unboxing to the moment I can finally sit down and feel comfortable using my computer, it has been three days. 2 and a half hours ain’t bad, but 3 days is a goddamn long time to be waiting to use your new toy.

You see, you can’t just start mucking about on the computer the second you have it plugged in. No sir. You have to make sure everything is updated first. You have to update all the drivers for the hardware; the motherboard (you should do this first), the video card, the LAN, the audio. You have to install the latest service pack for Windows. You then have to update Windows. Now you’re going to want to install all the cool software you use on a regular basis; A good internet browser, Skype, Steam, a slew of design program I tell myself I’m going to learn but never do. Once that’s all done, once all of that was setup, I finally installed Skyrim to see how well this computer would run.

It runs at 60 FPS on the highest settings. I mean, it’s a game that’s also 8 years old, but damn, it still looks pretty good.

I’ve been going on such a downloading spree that I had to call my service provider and have them bump me up to their platinum program. If I hadn’t done that, I would still be installing Visual Studio’s 2017 (this program happens to clock in at over 50 Gbs with all the bells at whistles. No joke). I’ve only had this computer for a couple days and I’ve already downloaded well over a hundred gigs of sweet data, and from how it’s going so far, that ain’t going to stop any time soon.

TLDR; Mr. Charlton got a new computer. Mr. Charlton build his new computer. Mr. Charlton is now treating his new machine like a China vase, and refuses to even browse Facebook with it yet. You’ll know the new shiny has worn off when I start downloading crap I shouldn’t be.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. I missed a post ’cause I was enthralled with my new toy. I should be working instead of playing, but I just downloaded Batman: Arkham City and SWEET PEARL it runs at 60 FPS with every damn thing turned on. An old game, but this tells me I can at least play some new games if I choose to.