You Can’t Spell “Oodi” Without “Us”… dammit

I just got back from a trip to Finland, which was fantastic. While a lot of the stuff there was wonderful, I think the thing that blew my mind the most was the Helsinki Library, the Oodi. https://lnkd.in/gduyS_XG

It’s not just a library that’s full of books, though it is. It is a physical embodiment of a set of ideals. At Oodi, you can borrow books. You can book individual workspaces. Conference rooms. Music studios, completely with instruments, including a complete DJ setup and fully mic’ed drum set, and a collection of top-shelf guitars & basses. Rooms with the latest videogame consoles and games. A boardgame collection bigger than my own (and if you know me, that’s … significant). 3D printers. An eSports team room with high-end gaming PCs. Laser cutters. Sewing machines. Sports balls. PCs with ultra-high-end graphics tablets. Lots of them.

And there are people there to help you learn how to use the gear, to solve problems, to help you if you can’t operate certain things. I saw a severely physically disabled person working with a staff member to sew something.

Everything was in use by people of all ages. Students studying together. Middle-aged folks making crafts together. Kids playing Switch Sports Resort and Minecraft. Someone practicing singing in the music studio. We joked that they should have a kitchen. They do.

All of this, paid for by taxes. Available to you for nothing. Which means you don’t have to be rich to have access to a music studio, or a maker space, or even a game console. Think of what this enables. You have a situation where anyone can make something, and the barriers to it aren’t about money.

It’s incredible. But why am I writing about it here?

The thing that blew my mind about this was that it was inconceivable to me until I saw it. I have to be clearer – the thing that blew my mind wasn’t that it was inconceivable. The thing that blew my mind was that it was inconceivable *to me*.

I live in one of the richest, most prosperous nations on the planet, steeped in among the most *possible* privilege any individual could have. Our country – this bastion of progress – not only can we not provide opportunities like this and build monuments to ideals of this scale… for many of us in the US, something like this is so far removed from *how* we’re conditioned to think that it’s literally impossible to imagine. It seems like a fever dream.

And this is high up on the hierarchy of needs, right? We can’t even house our citizens or care for their health in any kind of equitable way. We should be tackling that before getting people this kind of utopian access to possibility… right? But Finland’s *already done those things*.

Crime rate is low. Education is world-leading. Their prison & criminal justice system actually resembles something like *justice* instead of just beating down the already-marginalized. And I sat there wondering, “How?”

And it reminded me of Teamlab: Planets.

Teamlab: Planets was an art exhibition I saw in Tokyo. It was one of the most mind-breakingly beautiful things I’ve ever seen. One thing, in particular, was a room full of orchids, all on articulated lines that could be raised and lowered – a line every foot, maybe, in every direction – in a room with mirrored walls and floor and ceiling. You were instructed to crawl in, and the flowers would raise up to give you space, then lie back down and then just … hang out for a while. The flowers would undulate, and it was like you were immersed in an infinite void of flowers.

One kid, a foreign tourist, reached up and pulled off one of the flowers.

And it was instantly clear that this is why an exhibit like this *couldn’t* work in the US. In less than a day, the exhibit would be destroyed. Because too many folks think, “*I* can take one of these,” and not enough people thing, “If *I* take one of these, the exhibit will no longer work for *us*.”

There are some good things about this American idea of individualism. It leads to a kind of freedom of expression that is difficult to find in other places, for instance. But things like Teamlab, and the Oodi, are reminders that there is a power in *us* that is not present in *I*.

When I think of the things I wanted out of work culture, out of the teams I worked to build, it was always a sense of “us” – that when we worked together, when we appreciated our differences in perspective and our unique strengths, we could go farther and build greater things than any of us could on our own. It was why I rejected the auteur theory, even though I love movies like Blade Runner that are deeply auteur-driven projects.

But I could not conceive of how to do this on a national scale, and to have a society that values this kind of togetherness, a willingness to sacrifice and pay to give that opportunity to everyone. And it bothers me, a lot, that I couldn’t even imagine it until I saw it and walked around in its embodiment.

I don’t believe billionaires should be possible. I don’t even believe 100 millionaires should be possible, because by the time you amass more money than you can reasonably spend in a lifetime, you owe it to the *team* that helped you get to where you are to pay it back. Through taxes. Not optional. And that’s not the government “stealing your money”, it’s the way *we* work together as a team to create a better society, and work together toward a brighter future.

Finland, I am impressed.

Helsinki 2024

We arrived in Helsinki in the evening – though it definitely doesn’t look it. The sun would set around 11pm, and it’d still be moderately light out at 12:30am. We stayed at the Hilton Kalastajatorppa, which I’d booked because as far as I remembered, it was where we stayed when my grandfather took my cousin and me to Finland when we were kids.

I was, however, really confused after we sat down, because the restaurant wasn’t at all like I remembered. You know, from 35 years ago. But it made me wonder if I’d made a horrible mistake, and wasted a bunch of $ to stay at the wrong place. I had a very distinct memory for the restaurant space, and that we’d sat on the 2nd floor of a round room, looking out over the ground floor & listening to a band do a sound check every night because my grandfather liked to eat on the earlier side.

Fortunately, a.) the food was really genuinely incredible, and b.) the restaurant space I remember is now their conference space, and we were able to run in and take a few pictures.

I think I harbored a lot of fear around this trip – that we wouldn’t know what to do, or that it’d be … stressful in some way. It’s not. Almost everyone speaks perfect English, has been quite friendly, and the weather has been absolutely beautiful. Our room looks out over the bay, and it’s just a gorgeous, soothing view all the time.

The first day we were here we did a walking tour of the city that Ei-Nyung had booked, and the guide (Emek at Ataman Tours) was friendly, really interesting, very informative, and put the city into so much context that it was just a total pleasure to spend the day walking around hearing about the city’s history and landmarks. Highly, highly recommended.

The tour ended at Oodi, the Helsinki library, which I’ll write more about later, but is maybe the single most impressive thing I’ve seen in a long time – not because of the space, or the building, but because of what it means about the country’s priorities, and how brilliant it is that Finland has created a monument to its ideals.

After that, we ate lunch at the open air market by the port – had some meatballs & a reindeer hot dog, then we took a boat “canal” tour – there is apparently one canal – the rest of the tour was a ride around the archipelago around Helsinki. We got a good view of Suomenlinnen, a once-Swedish fort on the islands just off the coast of the city.

Picked up what looked like some mutant blueberries (turns out they’re “Honeyberries”, and while they look like blueberries, they have a really distinctly different (and delicious) flavor. I don’t really know how to describe it. I wouldn’t say “honey”, I’d just say they were brighter than normal blueberries.

We ended up having dinner at a place a short walk from the hotel called Drunch – the kids had a decent pizza, and I had the absolute worst döner I’ve ever had anywhere – it may be one of the single worst meals I’ve had, ever. The meat was microwaved to the point where it was crunchy and hard, and had no discernible flavor other than “meat-ish”. Genuinely, genuinely terrible. Ei-Nyung didn’t hate it as much as I did, but for me, it was shockingly awful, and barely “food”.

The next day, we walked over to Seurasaari, which is an island nearby where they’d brought a bunch of different buildings from the history of Finland, made them part of an open-air museum, and staffed them with period-dressed people who could answer questions. Sort of like in the US when they have these exhibits of “Here’s what it was like to live during the Gold Rush” and stuff like that. I also got a lemon-licorice ice cream, so there’s that. It was no Tiger Tail, but not too bad.

We ended the day at a cafe a little north of the hotel on the water, where we had some excellent food (shrimp skägen toast & a korvapusti (the traditional Finnish cardamom-cinnamon roll)), and hung out on their patio. 9pm, sun out, tons of people just hanging out talking, playing games, watching the birds. It was … I dunno – the perfect vibe? There’s something really social/communal about the way people spend time here that speaks to me in ways that don’t feel familiar.

And come on with that sunset. Ridiculous.

The next day, we went to the fort – Suomenlinna – and walked around. It was weirdly like walking around some of the old bunkers around the Bay Area that were built for WWII, but these were a LOT older. The kids have been having a lot of fun experimenting with making weird photos with the iPhone’s panorama mode.

We got food at the food hall by the port – had another bowl of salmon soup (not as good as at Meritorppa, but possibly because we got there too late and the most popular place had sold out) and some weirdly huge egg rolls (also sort of meh). But we also found some tippaleipä, which was apparently my uncle’s favorite treat. Like a funnel cake, but with the texture of Pocky. Good stuff.

The fish here is ridiculously good.

The next day, we met up with our old friend and ex-coworker Cody & his wife for a pastry and coffee at Regatta, which was this great little very distinctive cafe on the water. Walked through a park with a big sculpture honoring the composer Sibelius, tried (and failed) to get sushi, ended up getting some Syrian food and a boba, hung out, talked for hours walking through Helsinki, and ended the day at the library again. The day was gorgeous, the company was great, the food was great, and everything about it screamed “Yeah, this place is alright.”

I know Finland gets cold and dark. I know it has the same kinds of issues as a lot of monocultures. But things like the library, where stuff is built with great care for the public good, the pervasive drive for social welfare and to provide for each other, the work-life culture, politics that (at least relatively for us) works for the betterment of the people (at least strives to), general safety, extraordinary public education, pervasive public transit… I mean, it’s a compelling place.

Before this trip, I’d been here once, 35 years ago with my grandfather. I was young then, and I retained some really positive memories about the trip, but not that many about the place and the culture. I don’t know what the kids will leave Finland with, but I hope it’s with a sense that a country can have ideals like safety and education and healthcare and a love of nature and do big audacious things and not be consumed by cynicism.

I think the thing I’ve taken away from this place, and from our trip to Japan & Korea last year, is that there are some things that are possible because you believe in society, and not individuals. And I love parts of America and its individualism, and I dislike parts of Japan’s pressure to conform. But I wish America behaved more like a team working toward a unified goal, and less like a bunch of people who believe their own personal freedoms trump our betterment as a whole. I dunno what to do with that feeling. I want my kids to understand that things could be better. If I believe that they could be better, I should try to make it that way. But what do I do if I don’t? I don’t know.

Paris 2024

No, we weren’t there for the Olympics. But we were there a few weeks before, and parts of the city were full of construction & setting up of bleachers and the like. We arrived mid-afternoon, and right after dropping off stuff, went out for food – ended up at Chez Denise, and got pork rillettes, duck confit, and French onion soup, which here, they call onion soup. Har har. It was good – very heavy, because we chose lots of heavy stuff. But tasty.

The next day, we took a little boat tour of various bridges on the Seine – the host was charming and informative, and there was a lot of cool stuff to see – details on the bridges that are impossible to see from anything but a boat. We walked over to Saint Eustache, which was right by where we were staying – Notre Dame was still closed, but even then, I remember when we were here for our honeymoon, Notre Dame was less impressive than I’d hoped, mostly because it was just full of commercial shit on the inside. St. Eustache had a lot of gear inside for a big light show they put on at night, but there were still great views of a lot of art & some really brilliant windows. As with all of these kinds of churches, it;’s just an impressive place to be inside.


Then we got some sandwiches at some rando sandwich place, took them back to the hotel, and ate. Rando Paris sandwiches are pretty good – though I did end up having a legit terrible sandwich the next day. We then went over to the Eiffel Tower, walked up to the 2nd observation deck (damn, that’s a lotta stairs) and hung around for a while. Great view. On the way back, since the Metro took us right by the Arc de Triomphe, we jumped out, took some photos, and kept going.

Day 2, we walked over to the Musee de Orsay, which had a big impressionist exhibition. The Orsay is a really nice space – a big converted old train station, and so there’s a ton of light, the architecture is interesting, but… it’s a normal museum. To me, when I go to the Louvre, it puts everything into incredible context. This exhibit did a pretty good job talking about the context of the impressionists, the initial shows they did to carve out space for themselves, etc. – the exhibit was about a specific show – Paris 1874 – and so there was a lot of detail about it. But there’s still something missing for me in its organization, and it didn’t grab me the way a lot of stuff in the Louvre does. But that shouldn’t be surprising. We got to see some Van Goghs (one of my favorites), which is great because his art looks really different in person than it does in photos, because of the texture of his paintings.

We got some really unimpressive lunch at a stall across from the Louvre – Eric Kayser (or something similar) – a genuinely awful tomato/mozzarella sandwich on what felt like raw olive baguette, and a very memorable “fruit salad” drenched in a cloying syrup that seems to have dissolved most of the fruit. Bizarre. Probably the worst food I’ve had in all of Paris?

We grabbed dinner at Crêperie St. Honore, which was rated sort of mid, but we were exhausted by then so close mid was better than 20 minute walk great. And it turned out the food was delicious. I got a chicken and mushroom stuffed crepe – the crepe was a kind of buckwheat batter that cooked up with a lacy crispness that gave way to a really pleasant chew. The flavors were subtle, but nicely balanced, and I felt like there wasn’t anything more I wanted out of the food. Service was great. Only downside was a drunk apparently homeless guy who was getting a little aggro nearby.

The last full day, we took a guided tour in the Louvre, which was excellent. The guide gave a TON of context for things, showed us some of the areas that describe the history of the museum (previously a fort, and a palace), and then walked through a bunch of sculpture, adding context and detail that I certainly don’t have access to, which made it much easier to understand why various pieces were there, and what kinds of things to look for to understand other works. Sort of the “language” of the sculpture – how to identify who the gods being sculpted were, why they were posed in a particular way – stuff like that. Very cool. Same thing for a lot of early religious art.

I *love* the Louvre. I think it’s the best museum in the world, and one day I’d love to spend like, a week dedicated to just going through it leisurely, and not having to semi-sprint through it to see as much as possible before my legs give out. Every time I’ve been there, it’s made me think about art differently, or have a better understanding of it, and this time was no exception. Having a guide walk through the details of a single painting for like, 20 minutes, pointing out details, giving historical context for why things are a certain way, what the religious symbolism of certain parts are? Totally worth it.

We then walked over to L’As Du Fallafel, the best meal we had last time we were here. It was still great – not as mind-blowing for me, but still really really good. We walked by the Pompidou, and the place we stayed when we were on our honeymoon, and strolled back to the hotel. We were pretty trashed by that point, but hoped we would have a few minutes to relax before heading off to the catacombs. By the time we actually got back to the hotel, we realized we *didn’t* have time to stop, so we hopped back on the Metro, and went to the catacomb entrance.


That’s a LOT of walking, and I think we were all kind of wrecked by that point. I know I was. The catacombs were interesting, and good to have done once. I’d recommend others do it, once. But once you’ve seen a giant pile of bones, you’ve kind of seen it all, and it just keeps going and going. Definitely… brings some Paris history into vivid detail, and I don’t know that a description really does it justice. But at the same time, of everything we did, if you had to ditch something, this is what I’d have skipped. I think we were also just too beat by that point for me to have really enjoyed it.

We had dinner at the Korean restaurant across the street from us, just to see what it was like to have French-Korean food, and it was mostly like having American-Korean food, though I think Ei-Nyung was a bit more disappointed.

Then we packed up the next morning, and headed off to Helsinki.

Overall, I really enjoyed our time in Paris. it’ a beautiful city, lots of interesting stuff in walking distance, and history out the wazoo. This trip was meant to be specifically “the hits” – a lot of stuff Ei-Nyung and I have done when we were here before, but that would be interesting for the kids. It was intended to be fairly low-key, but we were on the move pretty constantly, and by the end, pretty wiped out.

Like the Louvre, there’s definitely something to be said for a longer trip here, where you can get *out* of just Paris to see other parts of France. But it’s also the kind of city that can suck up months of your time, so I think in the limited bit of time we were here, we had a great experience, and one that’ll be memorable for the kids, I hope.

No One Has It All

No one has it all. Everything costs something.

A lot of hustle-culture lifestyle business nonsense shows people driving fancy cars, being influential, spending time in beautiful places, blah blah blah. And a big part of what draws people to entrepreneurship is this idea that they too can be rich, powerful, and control their own destiny.

Most of that is bullshit.

It’s easy to forget that everything *costs* something. Building a startup consumed everything about my life for years other than it, and the time I carved out for family. And at the end of it, it cost me another five years in therapy and waking nightmares and cPTSD, and a handful of relationships I once valued. It gave me a certain level of financial independence, which is a massive visible positive (and which I never, ever take for granted), but on balance, I’d trade the latter to get rid of the former, which I know may seem weird to folks who didn’t go through it. And that’s all invisible to people. What is visible is the “success”. No one sees the cost. This is true for almost any level of any type of success.

You look at folks like Elon Musk – he’s got the adoring throngs of sycophants, and more money than … well, almost anyone else in the world. But what did it cost him? He doesn’t have great relationships (if any at all) with his children or spouses, he doesn’t have any relationships to anyone who isn’t so far up his butt that he can maintain any connection to reality. Is that a trade you’d make? I wouldn’t.

You know the kinds of folks at work who will stab their co-workers in the back and get promoted. You know the folks who work 20-hour days at the cost of their health and their marriage.

Maybe you look around and think, “How is it that this is all I’ve managed to achieve when others have done so much more?” And sometimes, yeah – you hit a rough patch and don’t make a ton of progress. But I think more often than not, what you’ll find is that the people who achieved that thing you call success were willing to pay a price that you *weren’t willing to pay*. And while hustle-culture bros will tell you you’ve gotta learn to pay that price, I have a different message for you:

Knowing what your boundaries are is more valuable than almost anything else in the world. Understanding what you will not do and why, and having the integrity to live up to those values? Yeah, it will often cost you. But in the long run, knowing who you are, and what you believe in is a really difficult, often very expensive thing to learn. That’s *character*. That’s *integrity*. That’s your *soul*.

Don’t trade it for anything.

Big Island

The last time we were on the Big Island of Hawaii, there were only three of us. We were originally going on this trip with our friends S&H & their kids, but they got sick at the last minute, and had to bail, which was a huge bummer, since we’d gone together the last time.

I liked the Big Island last time we were here, but I also didn’t really “get it”. That is, why you’d come here, as opposed to any of the other islands. It’s a really unique landscape, for sure, with all the volcanic fields – but at the same time, those fields are basically uninhabitable. So you had Kailua-Kona, resorts up in Waikoloa, and that was about all we were able to see. Again – nice, but basically “a small town & some resorts”.

This time, we got to see a lot more – the kids were old enough to endure some more time-consuming endeavors. We went snorkeling at Kalahu’u Beach, we did a stargazing tour, and then a full-day tour of the whole island. Other days, we just chilled out at the beaches nearby (the beach at Hualalai was great), or went to the pool at the Hilton nearby, which our rental included a pass for. It was still a pretty relaxed vacation, but we saw a lot more.

I think my favorite thing was pretty odd – it was just standing in the steam from the steam vents at the Kilauea crater overlook. We also went to the black sand beach at Punalu’u, and there were a bunch of sleeping turtles, and one feeding in the waves. Both times we’ve been to black sand beaches have been with tours, and one of these days I’d like to spend a bit more time just taking it in leisurely. They’re not say… comfortable, since the black sand is just pulverized lava rock (instead of chewed up coral), but they’re such interesting looking places to just hang out in.

Rainbow and Akaka falls were also really beautiful – though weirdly, the way they’re set up for viewing means that neither really gets that sense of *majesty*, since Akaka Falls is really tall, but you can’t get very close. You can get closer to Rainbow Falls, but it’s also only like… a fifth the height. So both end up being cool, but not really impressive in the same way that waterfalls can be when you can get closer to them.

We had some really great food at Tenkatori – a little Japanese fried chicken stand in a food court in Kona. It’s part of a chain, but holy cow, the chicken was delicious. Best kara-age style chicken I’ve ever had. Lava Lava Beach Club was a nice environment, and the food was pretty good, and we had some takeout at Hawaii BBQ Deli, which was a Chinese hole-in-the-wall with huge portions – decent, but fairly unremarkable, in Waimea. We also went back to Kawaihae Kitchen, which we’d gone to the last time we were there, and had Nori Chicken, which is basically just chicken thighs wrapped in nori, and then cooked sort of mochiko chicken-style.

Kawaihae Kitchen, and then hanging out at the Queen’s Market were minor nostalgia bombs. Remembering what it was like coming here when Jin was 2, when we still felt like “new parents”, but had a really lovely trip with friends – being able to feel the echo of that was just a really nice feeling.

Overall, a great trip. I think there’s a pretty non-zero chance that when the kids are one day out on their own, we’ll spend more time somewhere in HI.

Boardgames

I’ve been tracking each time I’ve played a board game this year. It’s been interesting to see so far. Nothing particularly relevant to post about it, but it’s spurred me to invite a few folks over, so hey, that’s all good. And now that it’s summertime for the kids, we’ve played a few more games.

Cubitos is a great little racing game where you buy a bunch of dice, and use them to both buy dice, move, and trigger special powers. A lot like Quacks of Quedlinburg, but with a racing component. You basically try to buy a bunch of dice that generate “combos”, and then hope that you roll well enough to trigger some interesting stuff each turn. At some point, you go from engine-building to buy more stuff to “I’ve gotta get stuff to help me move as fast as possible!”. It’s great. It’s accessible, it’s super fun, there’s some strategy to it, but still a lot of luck. As a family game? Fantastic.

Heat: Pedal to the Metal is one of my new favs. It’s also a push-your-luck racing game, but with a fixed hand of cards. The main decisions in Heat come down to trying to manage your hand to go around corners as fast as possible without overheating your car. You pick a gear to be in, which determines how many cards you can play, and how many cards you want to play is determined by what’s in your hand. And the deck is small enough that you’ll have a pretty solid idea of what’s left in it, but there’s still enough wiggle room for things to go very, very wrong.

Heat is one of the most elegant games I’ve seen in a long while. It’s intense, there’s tons of strategy, and yet the rules are simple, there aren’t many of them, and it all makes thematic sense. It became a huge hit last year, and it’s easy to see why.

A few other games I’ve played recently:

  • Furnace is about as pure an “engine-builder” as you can get. Buy cards to build your factories, and then convert resources into points as efficiently as possible. There’s an interesting bidding mechanic re: how you buy cards, and sometimes instead of buying a card, you’ll want to place second, so that you can use that card’s special ability. It’s an odd game when sometimes the worst thing that can happen is that you can win. Incredibly fast, also very elegant, very enjoyable. I picked this up totally on a lark from someone on Craigslist, and an was very pleasantly surprised.
  • Dorf Romantik – was the other game in that Craigslist purchase. I liked the videogame, it was a nice, zen little tile laying thing. The board game, on the other hand is great. It’s a single-player experience (despite what the box says) with a campaign that evolves the game over time. But it’s still a zen, tile-laying experience. There’s something to the tactility of it, and the low stakes involved. This has become my favorite single-player board game by quite a lot.
  • Dune: Imperium – I managed to get a few friends rounded up multiple times to play Dune, and every time it’s been exciting, close, and tense. We all picked up the app, so weirdly, aside from Gloomhaven, this is the game where we can get together and all not just know how to play, but be quite good at it. And yet, different people & different strategies win every time. It really is dependent on how well you can react to the state of the board and what everyone else is doing. There are times when you just can’t get an engine fired up due to some bad draws or other bad circumstance, but I don’t ever feel like the game is screwing me, it often just feels like I made the wrong decision in the moment. Throw on Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack, and this is thematically on point.

One of the fun things is that sometimes the kids join the adults for games. One of our friends’ sons played Dune with us, and then he, Jin and Kuno all joined for Heat (which supports a lot of players). These games are maybe a little too much for Kuno, still (he really enjoys Cubitos, and wiped the floor with us all in the photo above), but it’s clear that there are a broader selection of available options that’ll be good fits now than there were a year ago, and that space will just get more and more interesting.

Stuff I’ve picked up & am excited to try:

  • Thunder Road: Vendetta – hesitated on this because it seems in practice really similar to the Fast & Furious game by Prospero Hall. But bit anyway, because Mad Max why not.
  • Sol: Last Days of a Star – I’ve wanted this for ages, but it was out of print for years. Jumped on the crowdfunding campaign for the reprint, but haven’t played it yet.
  • Earthborne Rangers – I picked this up in part because it was produced with a focus on sustainability, and the general post-apocalyptic-but-still-optimistic vibe was really interesting. Reviews are over the moon about it, so I’d love to give it a shot. But campaign games are hard to coordinate these days. 🙁
  • Daybreak – same thing re: sustainability, plus a game about combating climate change from the designer of Pandemic? Yeah, this was a no-brainer for me.
  • Apiary – Stonemaier games almost always get my vote (I passed on Wyrmspan, though – I couldn’t justify it given that we have Wingspan and like it, but don’t play it often enough to justify two similar games). Why? I like Jamie Stegmeyer’s interaction with the audience, his transparency, and what seem to me to be really positive business practices. And always-stunning production values. I mean, Expedition’s mechs were bananas.
  • Let’s Go to Japan! – I got this before we went to Japan, and wanted to get it to evoke memories of that trip. Funny, because it’s a game about planning and optimizing a trip to Japan – something I actually hate doing in practice. I think when it comes to travel, I tend to be more of a “make-it-up-as-we-go” person, but that can often be less ideal than having some measure of a plan before we get there. Fortunately, Ei-Nyung’s a planner and (at least claims to be someone who) enjoys it. So maybe she’ll like this game. 😀

Ends of Eras

It’s the beginning of summer break, the end of our decade at Crocker Highlands Elementary School, the beginning of Kuno’s time at Edna Brewer Middle School, the end of Jin’s time at Brewer, and the beginning of his at Oakland High School.

Melancholy to be ending our time at Crocker. It’s been a great school for the kids, and a place where I’ve met a bunch of really nice people. We’ve lived in our house for 24 years, but it wasn’t until the kids started at Crocker that I started to just recognize folks from around the neighborhood. It’s weird to think also that families enter and exit this phase of their life every year, and while it’s the end for us, it’s not a transitory moment for most folks.

But both Crocker and Brewer have been great for our family. I think Kuno’s found more of a community earlier, and that COVID disrupted what would have been a pivotal year for Jin, but he’s also found his community among the folks at Brewer, and made good friends over the last year. I’m excited to see what both kids do in the next phase, and am super proud of what they’ve accomplished so far.

Kuno’s blossomed into a crazy artist – constantly making up new characters and doodles and seems to have gotten a lot of acclaim for it from his peers. Jin’s been really mastering animation in Scratch, and recently one of his animations was featured on the front page of scratch.mit.edu. I’m super proud of them both. What a bunch of weirdos.

Return to Dark Tower

Return to Dark Tower - Restoration GamesI never played the original Dark Tower #boardgame, but I picked up Return to Dark Tower a few years ago, and have managed to play it a few times, now. It’s surprisingly similar to Pandemic, which isn’t what I’d expected.

The game is mostly about managing skulls, which the tower shoots out at you, and the enemies on the board, while trying to accomplish time-limited tasks which cause the board to explode with badness if you fail.

The titular tower & app are a critical part of the experience, but mostly function as ways to make certain things less deterministic. You can’t know when quests will time out. Enemies can vary in power over the course of the game in ways that aren’t totally transparent. Events trigger at the end of turns, and you never quite know what will happen.

All of this *could* be managed with cards & stuff, but it’d make the game tedious and unwieldy. The nice thing is that the app & tower keep the players focused on the board & each other. The one downside is that the tower is so tall that it obscures your view of the opposite side of the map, and the player seated directly across from you – enough so that it feels somewhat difficult to coordinate with the other player.

But at the same time, since the side of the tower facing you spits out skulls, has glyphs that affect the cost of your actions, having it in front of you is essential. And it’s meant to be an imposing presence.

I think when I originally backed it, I thought the tower would do more stuff. In the end, it’s got three sections that rotate, some stuff that lights up, and some “seals” you can slide off, as well as lights and a speaker. It’s nice, but essential? I dunno.

It is, however, a great production. The art is great, the board is clear and readable, the minis and little buildings and stuff are great, and the game strikes a nice balance between depth and accessibility. I’m looking forward to trying out some of the expansions, since they change up how characters work a bit more and are a little bit more intense with powers and penalties and stuff in ways that seem like they’ll be more interesting.

Overall? It’s probably a 7 for me. 5’s a game that I’ll play if someone asks, but won’t volunteer on my own. 3 is something that’s pretty busted. 1 is offensively awful and I’d throw in the trash rather than sell or even donate. 10 is Eclipse or Gloomhaven or So Clover – games that do what they do perfectly. They don’t all have to be big or ambitious. Hell, Glory to Rome is a 10, and it’s a game that is basically about being totally broken. 😀

So RtDT being a 7 means, “It’s really good, but the base game misses my top-tier games.”

Some random games that do make the top tier:

  • Beyond the Sun (9)
  • Quacks of Quedlinburg (10)
  • Cubitos (9)
  • Scythe (9)

Image credit: Restoration Games

F1 2025 Driver Lineup Predictions

  • Red Bull: Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez
  • McLaren: Lando Norris, Oscar Piastri
  • Ferrari: Lewis Hamilton, Charles Leclerc
  • Mercedes: George Russell, Kimi Antonelli
  • Williams: Alex Albon, Pierre Gasly
  • Haas: Ollie Bearman, Valtteri Bottas
  • Aston Martin: Fernando Alonso, Yuki Tsunoda
  • RB: Daniel Ricciardo, Ayumu Iwasa
  • Sauber: Nico Hulkenberg, Carlos Sainz
  • Alpine: Esteban Ocon, Victor Martins

Other predictions: Alpine’s latest reorg is another no-op/disaster, and they sell the Enstone team to Andretti, and shut down the Viry engine factory, so that Andretti joins in 2026. This move is announced midway through the 24 season. Stroll is replaced at AM at Honda’s request by Tsunoda. Bottas is brought to Haas after being let go from Sauber as the “experience”, since Haas knows very well that 2 rookies = no bueno.

RB keeps its lineup in 2025, since Perez is doing a great wingman job, and that’s all he needs to do. The foundation of the RB19 is still so far ahead that it coasts to another win, though the pack does bunch up behind them. McLaren challenges, gets some wins. Merc slides, because they’ve decided their focus is 2026. Lewis is competitive in the Ferrari, scoring podiums, but no wins.

Williams starts to move up the grid with the shock announcement that they’ve signed Newey as a consultant – he’s on “gardening leave” and won’t be the technical lead – he doesn’t want to work full-time, but as an advisor to the team, he provides some high-level direction that whips their chassis/aero into shape. Albion’s regularly in the mix for Q3 and significant points in 2025, and by 2026, periodically biting at the podium. Haas under Komatsu continues a bit of a resurgence.

AM/Honda’s first year is terrible – the engine is once again unreliable and slow, and jokes are constant about Alonso + GP2 engines. RB is nowhere, and Ricciardo retires after 2025. Sauber in 2025 is at the back of the grid – Audi’s focused entirely on 26, and while investment in infrastructure is coming in, the 25 car is basically Sauber’s 24 car with minimal changes, and they finish the season second-to-last, ahead of only Alpine.

So yeah – pulling that entirely out of my butt in April 24. Let’s see how wrong I am!

F1 2021

At the end of the 2021 F1 season I swore I’d never watch another race again. I didn’t stick to that, but we watched S4 of Drive to Survive, and I think it really didn’t do a good enough job capturing how astonishingly unjust the end to the season was, and how badly it destroyed the integrity of F1 as a sport. The fact that they never corrected the outcome means that we still talk about Verstappen as a (currently) 3-time World Champion, and Hamilton as a 7-time champion, and that’s simply not how it should be.

And I don’t mean that as a “Hrmph, my guy should have won!” I mean that as “The rules were plain as day, they weren’t followed, and the supposed resolution to the issue was so opaque that there’s never been any explanation or genuine resolution that repairs the integrity of F1 as a sport.” At all.

The only possible similar season in my lifetime was the first Senna-Prost collision, and Senna’s disqualification on a technicality. But in 2021, the total failure of F1’s race director and the entire response that followed… there’s been nothing like it.

And the lesson really remains that you can do everything right and still lose, and there is no “karmic balance”, there is no “justice”. The people who cheat, who pressure the ref, who push the boundaries well past the pale will often win, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

The only thing you can do is play the way you believe the game should be played. And if integrity is something you value, then you have to live up to that integrity and bear the consequences. And the consequences are that in the real world, people without integrity win a lot of shit they shouldn’t. And that you can complain about it, and nothing will change. You can be right, and nothing will change. All you can do is accept it, and continue to live up to your own ideals.

Because sometimes your ideals are worth more than a championship. Or they’re worth more than money. Or they’re worth more than pain.

It sucks, but that’s life.