Tuesday, December 7 2021

blues clues, molting, and little dopamine rushes

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Dear Journal,

Good morning, everyone. Happy Tuesday. Outside our dining room window, I can see a thick blanket of grey covering the sky - nature's way of dimming the lights while I write during this mellow morning. Rodney is staying home from school another day, which means calling off the usual hustle and bustle of Tuesday morning. No making his lunch, no setting out clothes, no pouring breakfast, no hurrying him out the door. I'm getting so spoiled with these quiet mornings to myself, I'm actually a little worried that our return to form will be jarring. I guess I had better just soak up every minute and enjoy it while it lasts. Here's to the rare quiet mid-week morning. Here's to have having a whole floor of the house - and a coffee pot - to myself.

Sip. Rodney's bounced back from his cold. He just has a cough now, and if it's the same cough that I have, I think he'll be stuck with it a while. I feel like our winter time colds, coughs, and sore throats are happening so frequently they're starting to overlap. This must be the effect of staying in hard quarantine for so long. It's clear that our family's immune system has some catching up to do. We can call it a "rebuilding year" - a concept that I trust all Chicago sports fans are quite familiar with.

At this point, Rodney is just waiting for his COVID tests to come back, but in the meantime he's getting a long break from school. I'm sure even five year olds can get burnt out, and I'm happy to see him spend the day chilling with his brother watching Blue's Clues on the couch.

As a result, our family has really beefed up our collective Blue's Clues knowledge. We're Blue's Clues connoisseurs. Who is your favorite host of the show? The more I passively watch, the more I appreciate what each of them add to the show. Still, you can't beat good old Steve. I really love how he can slow things down without being awkward or condescending. A lot of Nick Jr shows try to use the same formula - pausing mid sentence to give the audience time to think and yell the answer out at their TV. When Rodney was into Blaze, Marissa and I used to laugh while the animated monster truck would awkwardly glare at the TV in the middle of a very dangerous situation - dangling by an old rope over a moat or standing at the base of an active volcano. Blaze just sat petrified staring blankly with big cartoon eyes, and each time he commanded his audience to say LET'S BLAZE it felt more like a tense hostage situation. I guess it's a lot harder to pull that off while keeping the soft touch of Blue's Clues.

Those are my thoughts on Blue's Clues. How about the spider kingdom? We have a newly molted spider among us. Last night, I found Spidey on his back in a web hammock. Interestingly, he chose the cramped space behind his rock cave over the cozy, dark interior of the rock cave itself.


This is only Spidey's second molt under my care. At his size, he should be finally developed enough to determine his true sex. Let's just hope I can retrieve his molt before it deteriorates or he decides to eat it.

I suspected Spidey's molt was imminent. He's been moody. He's kicked hairs around the mouth of his cave. He's refused food for the past week. But where most tarantulas might refuse food by defensively slapping it away, Spidey still acts like he wants to eat it. He comes out of his burrow, he pounces enthusiastically, and he bears down on the prey as if he's about to wolf it down. He even lowers his fangs down to where they're nearly touching the food. But as soon as I close the lid or walk away, he abandons the meal. To me, this behavior feels similar to the way you might throw away a disposable plate facing down in the trash so you don't offend anyone who brought food to a party. I have to conclude that Spidey doesn't want to seem ungrateful for his regular supply of roaches and worms. Spidey really is spiritually a polite Midwesterner.

Work has been really heating up lately. I've spent the last four business days flying around our slack channels trying to answer questions and triage problems. At least my pager has been quiet. And today, beginning my last full day of on-call for the year, I feel grateful that I'm due for some quiet coding time. It's weird to think of writing code for work as a special treat, but the sentiment is shared across my team. "I feel guilty when I have a whole day to code," said my teammate Derek. "It feels like such an indulgence or something."

Yesterday after work, I planned on tapping on Rodney's door and inviting him to play some LEGO Jurassic Park. But Rodney was fast asleep, so I booted up Assassin's Creed instead.

Assassin's Creed is an old obsession of mine. When I started recently playing again, I exchanged some banter with a friend of mine on Twitter. He of all people knows about opinionated I am about the long standing video game franchise.

"What if I high jacked my own blog for a detailed, scathing play through of every game," I laughed.

"I need this," he wrote.

Don't worry - that's not happening anytime soon. I decided to jump in on the fourth game in the series - Revelations. With Assassin's Creed, it's all about finding the sweet spot between novelty and mechanics. The old games had better story lines, but frustrating mechanics that make them almost unplayable. In the later games, they managed to fix most of the problems, but gave up on story telling.

Coming back to this game almost ten years later, I'm a little more self aware. My adult brain can observe while my child brain indulges. Assassin's Creed is undeniably tedious at times. They drop you in a city filled with hostile guards and disruptive crowds. You painstakingly visit each of the dots smattering a chaotic map, spending a little bit of your hard earned game money restoring old buildings or rescuing citizens. But each time you tick something off the game's sprawling to-do list, the game rewards you with a tiny dopamine rush. The colors in that area get a little brighter. The crowd takes on a more friendly, productive disposition. This beautiful majestic music swells in the background. A slick animation appears in the corner of your screen that tells your dopamine soaked brain Good job! I just saved your progress. You should do something else now..

And there's nothing wrong with a silly little dopamine rush. That's what's so great about video games.

Thanks for stopping by today. Have a great Tuesday.