Posts Tagged travel

2018 Retrospective

It’s 2019! And with the arrival of the New Year, it’s time to take a look back at 2018 with my annual year-in-review post.

2018 was a good year for me, even with its fair share of ups and downs.

Fitness-wise I didn’t do quite as well as 2017, thanks to our treadmill breaking down later in the year. But I’m apparently still healthy, despite some lingering issues that have persisted over the past few years. I suspect most of that is partly the joy of being in your 40s!

We lost a beloved family pet last year. We bought our son a hamster for his birthday in 2016, and even knowing their short life-spans, we’d hoped it would live at least a few years. After some odd behaviour (biting my wife!) and a middle of the night escape from its cage, our hamster’s health continued to decline. It was sad seeing a healthy, energetic animal who’d spend all night running in her wheel, decline so suddenly. I think we’ve sworn off hamsters for the foreseeable future.

I still enjoy my Magic: The Gathering hobby, frequently attending weekly tournaments at a local game store throughout the year. That tapered off toward the end of the year as I became more worn-out from work, and the existing Standard-format cards rotated out of the format, rendering all my decks obsolete. Lately I’ve been playing more Magic online, in the form of MTG Arena. This is a great improvement over the other online game client (Magic: The Gathering Online aka MTGO), and I’ve been having fun leveling-up my skills and challenging viewers of my Magic YouTube channel. I’ve been testing a new Standard deck that seems to be performing well, so I’ll likely be heading back to the game store to take a paper version of the deck for a spin.

My Magic card unboxing channel continued to grow in 2018, passing 3000 subscribers and finally gaining YouTube monetization (i.e. ads). It has also had nearly 2 million minutes watched since I started it in July 2017, and over 350,000 views. These numbers still boggle my mind, though I suppose consistent effort sometimes yield results! Together with support from patrons (via Patreon), the channel has nearly covered its costs on a monthly basis. Hopefully it will continue to grow this year!

I also started a second YouTube channel back in May related to Funko Pop figures. Besides unboxing and talking about them, I also frequently add some silly skits in each episode. I particularly enjoy the ‘special effects’ aspect of these, even if it can be time consuming. I’m not able to devote as much time to this channel as I’d like, but I look forward to growing it in 2019.

Towards the end of the year we took part in some painting classes as a family, each painting a sunset landscape scene and a whimsical snowman. This was spurred by my wife and son attending a painting event to benefit a local animal shelter. This is something I’ve wanted to get into for years (I briefly tried oil painting), so I’m glad we were able to take these classes.

My fiction writing was non-existent for 2018. I neither wrote any new stories, nor submitted any to fiction markets. I had no real goals in mind, and honestly felt a bit dispirited about the whole thing. The bulk of my spare time was spent on the two YouTube channels and working on my apps. I did have some encouragement from coworkers who discovered my fiction, so that gave my confidence a bit of a boost!

Last year I again took part in the Goodreads Reading Challenge, though I didn’t reach my goal by a long-shot! My reading was exclusively in eBook form. Here are my reads for 2018:

Arsenal by Jeffery H. Haskell
Unstoppable Arsenal by Jeffery H. Haskell
Inescapable Arsenal by Jeffery H. Haskell
Let’s Get Digital 3rd Edition by David Gaughran
Shift by Hugh Howey
Outline Your Novel by Scott King
Dust by Hugh Howey
Plot Gardening by Chris Fox
Be A Writing Machine by M. L. Ronn
Heart Strings by Domino Finn
Powder Trade by Domino Finn
How to Write Your First Novel by M. L. Ronn
Writing for Life by J. H. Haskell

Aside from listening to heavy metal on SiriusXM, I still listen to some great short fiction podcasts on my daily commute, including Escape Pod, Pseudopod, and PodCastle. All highly recommended! The podcasts are free, but please donate or subscribe if you enjoy listening.

Now for some stats:

2018 Stats:

New apps released: 1
App updates released: 2 (includes Lite and Paid versions)
2018 Word count: 0
Stories written: 0
Stories published: 0
Total submissions: 0
Total acceptances: 0
Total rejections: 0
Waiting for response: 0
YouTube videos released: 599
YouTube channel subscribers: 3,782
Books read: 13

My iOS, Mac and PC app sales have declined significantly, particularly in the final quarter of 2017. I only released two app updates, having struggled for months to add support for the iPhone X screen layout and the myriad other changes in iOS 11 and iOS 12. I’d completed this process for one app, only to have Apple to release more new iPhones and iPads with even more screen variations. While I should have a good handle on making these updates, the more painful aspect is updating several hundred screenshots for all my apps in multiple languages. If only the screenshot automation tools were more reliable! Revenue was significantly lower than last year, though I did manage to keep expenses much lower also.

I released a new app in February, which was the PC version of Artwork Tracker. Despite numerous requests for this app over the years, sales so far have been abysmal. I’ve also had requests for a PC version of my iOS app, Plant Album, but I’m not planning such an app due to poor sales. At this point it seems like I’m close to saturating the market for my apps, but I’m hoping to stabilize the trend with more updates. Failing that, I’ve had a good run, having been working on my apps for over 10 years now!

As with last year, I didn’t do much with my bonsai this year except keep the remaining trees alive. There were no bonsai shows or botanic garden visits either. I still spent a fair bit of time in the garden this year, growing the usual selection of veggies (tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, peas, beans, cucumbers, and zucchini). We had a nice crop this year!

Last year was another great year, travel-wise. In addition to our trips back and forth to Michigan, we also spent some time in Florida, and went on our first cruise with the in-laws. We visited Miami, Key West, Costa Maya (Mexico), the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza (Mexico), Grand Cayman, and Universal Studios. I enjoyed the cruise much more than I thought I would. The seas were pretty calm, and no one was seasick! In addition to this grand adventure, we also spent a few days at a cabin in the woods in Michigan, visited a Halloween event at Old World Wisconsin, and made a short pre-Christmas visit to Milwaukee.

The summer of 2018 was also apparently the summer of home improvement! We knew our roof and gutters were in bad shape, but we didn’t know exactly how bad until we had them inspected. We ended up with a new roof, soffit, fascia, and gutters! Now we’re having a much less stressful winter knowing the roof isn’t likely to cave-in or leak anytime soon due to snow and ice build-up. The downside is we’ll be paying for all this for a long time…

That’s pretty much it for 2018. I’m mostly done with New Year’s resolutions, since that’s an almost guaranteed way to ensure none of those goals are ever reached. Though I would like to make some time for my fiction writing again in 2019, assuming I can fit it in with all my other hobbies!

I hope everyone had a good year, and I wish you all the best for 2019. Happy New Year!

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2017 Retrospective

Now that 2018 has finally arrived, it’s time to take a look back at 2017 with my annual year-in-review post.

2017 was a tough year in many respects, as I’m sure it was for many other people. The health issues I mentioned in last year’s entry continue to linger, though all testing indicates I’m apparently as fit as a fiddle. It all no doubt comes down to the joys of ageing. Oh well!

I was pretty happy with my fitness level last year. Thanks to some goading by my Apple Watch’s New Year’s challenge, I ended up running 3-4 miles on the treadmill every day from January 1st through late April. I lost 20lbs in the process! This tapered off thereafter once the weather improved and I spent more time in the garden. Unfortunately once I’d slacked off with the exercise habit, I did very little for the rest of the year. I finished the year down 10lbs from when I started, which is quite a feat considering the gastronomic journey that was 2017!

We had some sad losses in the family during the year. Earlier in the year we lost our old cat after a long battle with various health issues. It was a sad and strange time after her passing, and even our other cat seemed to notice her absence. We have since adopted two new cats from a local animal shelter, one of which is fairly young and the other is middle-aged. They all seem to get on fairly well after their initial settling-in period. Three cats seems to be a good amount, aside from the problem of frequently tripping over cats resting in the hallway! With all of this, our vet bills were through the roof in 2017.

Later in the year we lost two grandparents on opposite sides of the world in the space of 2 weeks. This was a sad time for both sides of our family. Both grandparents lived long, full lives, and we’ll all dearly miss them.

I picked up a new hobby after watching lots of gaming videos while running on the treadmill. In April I bought a box of Magic: The Gathering cards, and soon thereafter found myself playing tournaments at a local card store. This was great fun, as well as being a good way to unwind, exercise the old brain cells, and socialize. That first store closed down in late July, leaving me without a good local game store. Luckily I found an even better one a further 10 minute drive away, and I’ve been heading there most weekends ever since.

Related to the new hobby, I also started a YouTube channel with card unboxings. That became a new hobby in itself! My previous YouTube channel has a single video showcasing my old iOS game, so it was quite a change going from that to a new channel that actually gets some views. I passed the 10k view mark back in late November, which in theory should make it eligible for monetization (i.e. ads). Monetization reviews are apparently severely backed-up at YouTube right now, so it’s anyone’s guess when (if?) it’ll be approved. In any case it’s a fairly small niche, so I don’t expect ads will bring in much revenue.

Surprising no one, my writing goals weren’t met last year. This seems to be an ongoing theme. I submitted a bunch of stories, but wrote very little new fiction. Most of my spare time went toward working on my apps and growing the new YouTube channel.

I entered two flash fiction competitions during the year, this time for PodCastle and Pseudopod. My Podcastle entry made it to the semi-final round, but the other one was knocked out in the first round. I wrote both stories at the last minute, and had a blast writing and reading all the other entrants in each contest.

Last year I read a decent amount, taking part again in the Goodreads Reading Challenge. My reading was exclusively in eBook form. Here are my reads for 2017:

Shadow Play by Domino Finn
Black Spark by Al K. Line
Android for iOS Developers : A Step by Step Guide by Adrian Kosmaczewski
A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey
Generation Decks: The Unofficial History of Gaming Phenomenon Magic: The Gathering by Titus Chalk
Magic: The Gathering Drafting Guide for Beginners by Alexander Norland
Magic: The Gathering Rules and Getting Started, Strategy Guide, Deck Building for Beginners by Alexander Norland
Unidentified Funny Objects 5 by Alex Shvartsman
Productivity for Indie Authors: A Book about Doing Less and Making More by David Lee Martin
Relaunch your Novel: Breathe Life into your Backlist by Chris Fox
Deviant (Karma Police #4) by Sean Platt & David W. Wright
The Fall (Karma Police #5) by Sean Platt & David W. Wright
Homecoming (Karma Police #6) by Sean Platt & David W. Wright
Story Pitch: The How To Guide for Using a Pitch to Create your Story by Scott King
Destroyer by Chris Fox
Exiled By Chris Fox
Void Wraith by Chris Fox
Resist Them by Scott King
Magic Life: My Story of Becoming a Pro Player by Travis Woo
Eradication by Chris Fox

I still listen to some great short fiction podcasts on my daily commute, including Escape Pod, Pseudopod, and PodCastle. I highly recommend all of them, even to people who might not be short fiction readers. The podcasts are free, but please donate or subscribe if you enjoy listening.

Now for some stats:

2017 Stats:

New apps released: 0
App updates released: 53 (includes Lite and Paid versions)
2017 Word count: 1,037
Stories written: 2
Stories published: 0
Total submissions: 11
Total acceptances: 0
Total rejections: 11
Waiting for response: 0
YouTube videos released: 227
YouTube channel subscribers: 221
Books read: 21
Comics read: 12

My iOS, Mac and PC app sales have mostly remained flat, despite releasing a record number of updates (53!) throughout the year. The Bonsai Album updates alone took over 6 months to complete, starting in 2016. Revenue is slightly higher than last year, and I managed to keep expenses much lower. Even though sales of the new apps from 2016 improved early in the year, they still didn’t come close to meeting my low expectations. I also have a lot of work ahead of me to update all my iOS apps for the iPhone X! The simulator for this device was very clunky and I’ve had a great deal of trouble getting my apps updated to cope with the new screen requirements. I ended up purchasing one just before Christmas, so hopefully that will smooth development of these updates from now on.

In August I announced I’d begun working on a new PC app, Artwork Tracker. This is getting close to completion, so I’ll hopefully be able to release it later this month. I hope it does well, since people have been asking for it for years!

I’ve decided to shelve development of Bonsai Album for Android. There simply wasn’t enough time in the year to learn a new platform and develop an app from scratch for it, while still updating all my other apps. I’ll re-evaluate this again once I’m done with the iPhone X app updates, but I doubt I’ll have the bandwidth to work on an Android version.

I didn’t do much with my bonsai this year, other than keep them alive. There were no bonsai shows or botanic garden visits, and thankfully I don’t think I lost any more trees in 2017. I still spent a lot of time in the garden this year, expanding the flower garden in our front yard, restoring the back garden to its former glory, and growing the usual selection of veggies (tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, peas, beans, and cucumbers). We had a decent crop this year, although I was disappointed the zucchini didn’t grow.

Last year was fantastic travel-wise. In addition to the usual trips back and forth to Michigan, we went on epic road trip out west with my parents in our Dodge Charger, passing through 6 states (Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota) along the way. We visited Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and the Badlands, along with stopping at various weird and wonderful roadside attractions (giant otter, bison, Jackalopes, dinosaur, cow, and more!) and seeing the sights in South Dakota. We also spent some time in the Wisconsin Dells, and again made the pilgrimage to House on the Rock.

So that was 2017. Normally I’d spend a few paragraphs on my goals and grand plans for 2018, but since this seems to be a great way to ensure none of it ever happens, I’ll be keeping everything under my hat this year. Having said that, it’s pretty clear I definitely didn’t slack off in 2017!

I hope everyone had a good year, and best wishes for a great 2018. Happy New Year!

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Schloss Neuschwanstein und Hohenschwangau

Here’s a selection of photos from my visit to the Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles in Germany last month:

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As usual, much more at the Flickr photo stream here.

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Where’d January go?

It’s time to update this thing! January was insanely busy, and things are only now beginning to settle down a bit.

Writing-wise, I was off to a good start, working on some new short stories early in the New Year. Unfortunately work got busy fast, with long hours and an unexpected trip to Munich for two weeks! One weekend I did a brief tour of the city and went to the Bavarian Alps to see some castles, so I can’t complain too much. I’ll post another entry with photos soon.

Ever since getting back home I’ve been devoting most of my spare time to working on my first iPhone application, and that’s going well so far. I knew there’d be some conflict between this and the writing, but since I spent hardly any time on the app in January, I figured it was time to balance things out. With the way the economy is right now, it might be a wise idea to prioritize that above my writing for now. The ‘Thing A Week’ plan won’t be working anytime soon.

While on the trip I finished reading Samantha Henderson’s novel, Heaven’s Bones: A Novel of the Mists, blazing through it in record time. I’d had a peek at it previously and provided some comments on the early chapters, and now I wish I’d had the time to read it all back then. I hardly know how to describe it, other than to say it’s a combination gothic steampunk police procedural fantasy with substantial medical and horror elements. That’s a poor description at best, so you really have to read it for yourself. It’s fiendishly clever and has a style reminiscent of some of Sam’s other stories set in Victorian times. From what I understand there’s a bit of a shared-world Wizards of the Coast setting, but it didn’t lessen my enjoyment any without having that background. Anyway, pick it up, especially if you’re a Sam Henderson fan.

The weekend before last I put together the potting bench Carrie gave me for Christmas, so that’s sitting in the basement ready to go. She’s already used it to plant her terrarium, which turned out very nicely. I’ll need to get some veggie seeds started soon, and the bench will make the process much more comfortable than in the past. I’ll also need some new growlights, since the old ones are presently illuminating a bunch of cacti and Bonsai.

With the imminent release of the Watchmen movie, I’m finally taking it off the shelf and adding it to the reading pile. I hear this is one of the best graphic novels of all time, so I hope it doesn’t diminish everything else I read afterward. I’ve also got a stack of Wolverine back issues to catch up on, in preparation for the forthcoming movie. From what I’ve seen, it looks like that’ll be a good one, too.

What I’m Reading:
Just After Sunset, Stephen King
Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

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