Over the Bridge

Screaming into the Void



Biking and Distancing

So, over the past week or so, I've finally managed to get out and do some biking. Which was great. Honestly, I was actually in a pretty big funk this past weekend (mainly exacerbated by a killer hangover from Friday), and what really pulled me out of it was getting on my bike.

It really is incredibly freeing to be able to just get on your bike, and go. Regardless of how you're feeling; even if you're jittery enough that just getting outside is a bit daunting, that just evaporates for maybee twenty minutes after I get in the saddle, and head out.

So, for my first route, on Saturday, I hadn't expected to go as far as I did; the underlying malaise I was feeling really was discoraging me from getting too ambitious, and so, when I started, I only was thinking about heading west; not really any particular destination, just to go out and have as good a time as I could, for as long as I was comfortable. In the end, after my discomfort had vanished, I managed to do my "warm-up" route from my previous post (with a few modifications).

Warm-up Route

So, I took this route, and then decided to follow it mostly to a T, though on the way there, I didn't take the bike path, I took Lasalle Boulevard. Once I hit Réné Levesque park, I veered right, and then headed back along the canal, but quickly decided to simply just take a meandering way through Lasalle, rather than actually go on the bike path for social distancing reasons. It was a nice little ride; I had a really good time. All in all, was probably about 25 kilometers or so.

Today (Tuesday), I took another stab at it, and went a little further afield; up north into St-Pierre, and through Montreal West (where I grew up), and visited a few people for a quick chat. One of the main reasons I did this, apart from wanting a ride, and some nostalgia, was to test my new cleats; one of the guys who encouraged me to get them told me they were great for going up hills. On the way up to Montreal West from St-Pierre, there is indeed a decent sized hill, called Devil's Hill.

Devil's Hill

It doesn't look as steep in that photo as it is, trust me.

Also, on my way back, I decided to go through Westmount, over a smaller hump of the mountain, up Victoria street, which has a decent grade as well. All in all, the route looked like this:

Warm-up Route #2

So in conclusion, while I can't really distinguish between the new bike, and the clip-on pedals, let me tell you, it is much easier than it was with my old steel bike and regular running shoes. It was also easier to find a nice equilibrium in terms of my foot position. I've been having a bit of pain in ankle, and I'm pretty sure it's because I screwed something up last summer; my bike wasn't properly adjusted, and so I overextended my ankle repeatedly, and it's something that's persisted through winter, which worries me slightly. However, the cleats really allow me to just pick whatever position I want as being my default "resting position", and I made a conscious effort to have it not be my left leg fully extended, and that seems to have helped greatly to reduce the strain on my left ankle. I'm considering seeing a physiotherapist about this, but for now, I'm just keeping an eye on it.

And so even though the ride was modified pretty heavily by not wanting to stick to bikepaths (where no one keep distance), I still had a great time. This ride gives me a lot of hope about biking this summer, that even if the COVID-19 measures continue, I'll still be able to have biking as a relatively risk-free outlet. It was surprisingly doable to keep a good distance away from everyone; the only times things got dicey was in Montreal West (where there were kids everywhere), and on Queen Mary approaching Snowdon, which was surprisingly busy. But even then, I still managed to get through without actually getting within ~2m of anyone.

The only question mark for me at this point, is biking with other poeple. I'm not sure how biking in a group is going to work; but it'll be interesting to see if we can make it work. I think you'll probably have to be a bit further than 2m back from someone who's biking with you, but it should be eminently doable to just space out a bit, and regroup every so often. I look forward to trying!


Planning Routes

So. Spring is officially here. Though, there is the fact that it hailed today, in Montréal, so I don't really consider to be quite spring just yet. The highest we've seen so far is 12 degrees or so, which I consider to be barely enough to bike in. It's doable, but it's not super pleasant. Without the whole COVID-19 thing going on, I'd be doing it every time, though.

Anyway, most days, however, we've been hovering around 5 degrees, or it's been raining. I did manage to get out last weekend for a decent ride; not very far, only about 5km, but it let me test out my brand new bike, and get a feel for biking with my new cleats.

That said, I'm fairly excited about us comping into the biking season in earnest, and am planning a number of routes, which I thought I'd share here.


So! Through experience I know that it's not the best thing to try and bike a good 70km+ out of the gate, without working up to a bit first. I've had bad experiences in the past where I've geared everything up to go, and decided to head over to Bootlegger in the west island to pick up some malt extract, and bike back with it in my backpack.

Let me tell you; starting cold and then buying 35km with about 7kg on your back is not a fun time. In fact, carrying anything on your back is not a fun time, much less twelve pounds of malt syrup.

This should be obvious; but I was pretty inexperienced back in the day; I really only actually truly got in to biking last year. So I know a bit more about what I'm doing this time around. (And yes, I have paniers now, to carry the malt extract on future rides).

Anyway, so here's what I'm thinking for a warmup.

Warmup Route

So that's only about 12km, but I do want something fairly easy. Starting from my apartment in Verdun, I'd take the bike path along the water up to the entrance lock to the lachine canal, and then head back towards atwater, and then just take city streets down from there back to Verdun. I'm somewhat hesitant to do it exactly as shown, due to the huge amount of people wandering about on the bikepaths these days due to COVID-19, and their preponderance to:

  • Pay no attention whatsoever.
  • Not observe any social distancing at all.
  • Taking up almost the entire bike path.

I mean, when I'm biking these days, I've always made sure to get essentially as far away from people on the path as possible, by moving over as much as possible, to the point of biking on the grass sometimes to maintain 2m of separation. It's somewhat infuriating to find oncoming traffic biking down near the dead-centre of the bike path; exactly what you shouldn't be doing, under even normal circumstances. The worst offenders seem to be kids, but I mean, we were all young once, so I can't really blame them; but when I see grown adults doing it, it's really irksome.

But I digress.

So, if I have to, I'd be happy to take Boulevard LaSalle most of the way. At least drivers are (sort of) paying attention when they're driving. Sure you have to stop a lot more for crosswalks and stop signs than you do on the bike path, but I'm not going to be in any particular hurry, and it'll give me lots of practice clipping and unclipping my new cleats from their pedals.

Pushing Further Out

Now, I like going to the West Island a lot. It's far enough away that it makes for a decent ride, yet close enough that it's not going to knock you out of comission for a week when you're done. It's decently pretty, there are lots of bike paths, and there are some interesting businesses out there to visit. The only big problem is that there's only 4 places to cross the 20 and the 40, so if you do want to go north-south through the west island, you generally have to do it on major roads. But it's not so bad, as long as you're careful.

West Island Tour

Anyway, I'm thinking I do something like this after I've got a couple smaller runs like the above under my belt this year.

Larger Route

Normally, I'd make a pit stop in DDO to visit some friends, but with all the social distancing going on, I'm not sure that'll be possible. If, by the time I do this route I can; great! If not, well, I'm happy to just do the thing for the fun of biking itself. Maybe I'll just pop over and have a loud conversation from a distance. Who knows.

So that's a pretty good one.

Smoked Meat Pete's

Alternatively, there's this one, that I do like doing, mainly because it has Smoked Meat Pete's as a midpoint. Mmmmm. I'm trying to eat less meat these days, but damn, their smoked meat is definitely the best in/near the city (and thus, probably, the planet), and there's not quite like shoving your face full of greasy deliciousness in the middle of a decent ride.

Smoked Meat Pete's

It also has the advantage that it doesn't cross the 20 & 40, so it's mostly bike paths/residential roads the whole way.

Longer Trips

In the end though, I'd like to do some serious biking. Last year, I truly left the city for the first time (Smoke Meat Pete is just off island, so I'm not counting that), and went places like Mont Saint-Grégoire, Laval, Saint-Rémi, Varennes, Repentigny, and Chambly. All these are between 70-100km away, which is great. It's also great that you get to get out into the country a bit.

However, last year, I had a much shittier bike, no clip-on-cleats, and not much training time once I sort of knew what I wanted to do. So, in addition to those above trips which I'll use as warm ups after I'm through with my middle two up above, I'll be doing a bit more.

Here's what I'm thinking.

Le P'tit Train du Nord

Petit Train du Nord

Basically going from Verdun to Saint-Jérome, through Laval, and back. This one has the advantage that if I'm truly exhausted before completion, I can always hop on the train; apparently, they do let you transport bikes.

South Shore to Valleyfield and Back

South Shore to Valleyfield

So, this involved going across ice bridge to the seaway, then down through Kanawakhe, before hooking up with a random bike path that I found on google maps, coming back up to Valleyfield, and then heading home via the normal route (i.e. the south sode of the island).

This is a lot. I'm definitely going to have to work up to this one. But I feel it's good practice, as it's close enough to Montreal that I could probably get an uber if I'm exhausted, and not have to fork over an arm and a leg in payment. The scenery also looks decently nice too. But really, it's training for the biggest trip I'm planning this year:



This'll be my first one-way trip (no way in hell am I doing return; that'd be batshit). Almost 200km.

The good news is, there'll be bike paths the whole way. The bad news is, some of those are gravel, and not paved.

Now, I bike around 25-30km/h normally if I've got a good pace going. So even optimally, we're looking at at least 8 hours, probably a lot more because I'll have to take breaks, and that sort of thing. I figure if we call it at 14 hours, that's reasonably safe, accounting for all kinds of breaks, stops, a very large lunch, etc..

So I'd start in the morning, probably around 6AM. That means I'll be finishing around 8PM. So long as I do this thing in June/July/August that should be close to fully in daylight, no compromises. I have a brother in Ottawa, so I'll probably try crashing at his place, and then take the train back the next day (or maybe the day after if I can barely move).

Anyway, this one, I wouldn't do alone. So this whole thing is contingent on some of the COVID-19 restrictions being relaxed by that time.

I have a couple of people who are interested in doing this, but they're of different minds about how to do it. One guy wants to do it in one day, and another of my friends wants to split it up into two much easier days, and camp in the middle.

I'm honestly amenable to both, but I'm leaning towards doing it one day. Just to see if I could. I know I can do 90km in a day; it's not even that hard. But 180km is certainly something else, and that challenge is part of what makes it interesting.


Game Programming Synopsis

So, as of December last year, ish, I started developing a desktop game in C++.

This all started as a throwback to development I used to do back in the day. I really like game programming, especially if I get to write the engine. So even though it's obviously going to take more time if I take that route, as opposed to just pulling an engine off the shelf.

In the end, I'm basically compromising. I'm pulling all the individual components of the engine (i.e. scripting language (Lua), GUI toolkit (nanogui-sdl), windowing stuff (SDL)) off the shell, and just gluing them together in the way that I think is appropriate. So far, it's worked quite well, and I have a super basic game up and running.

I'm a huge fan of simulation games; in particular, I love Rimworld. The idea of running a colony, where each individual has meaningful interactions was always my ideal. Rather than dealing with a formless blob of "population" that has no characteristics whatsoever. Quite frankly, I'm usually more interested in games, the fewer PCs are around. I always play any party CRPG solo, if possible (e.g. Fallout with no companions; Age of Decadence as a single character, etc..).

And so, it got me to thinking. Why isn't there a colony-sim-type-game where you only have a couple pawns? I mean, it's less of a colony sim, and more of an RPG at that point. But what if you did make it interesting enough to run through things with just a few pawns? And if that's the case, and it is more like an RPG, why not throw in more RPG elements, and make some sort of hybrid?

Now, I'm sure this already exists. Most ideas have already been executed. But I don't know of any. (Maybe Dwarf Fortress? I've never played it.) So, in any event, I decided to use this as a base for my game. I'm taking inspiration from the colony side of things from Rimworld, and the RPG side of things from ADOM. I've decided to go for fantasy, over sci-fi, as I tend to like that genre more than the other.

The goal of the game, is to progress to the top/bottom of a dungeon, which your primary colony sits outside of. I'm unsure of the flavour of this at the moment, but could be something like "Climbing the World Tree", or somesuch. Your town will occasionally get raided by dungeon denizens, and as you dungeon crawl up the tree/down the dungeon, you'll encounter stronger and stronger enemies, yet get greater, and greater rewards.

My guiding philosophy for desinging this thing is as follows:

Truly Meaningful Modifiers

The issue I have with a lot of colony sims, is that when you get a modifier for a pawn, chances are, it's basically meaningless. Sure, +10% workspeed is cool and all, but in the end, can you really say it affects how you actually treat that pawn? -25% learning speed? One thing that ADOM did quite well, was that every significant bonus you got from an artifact in that game was incredibly meaningful. Almost every single non-guarnateed artifact you got had a good chance of fundamentaly changing how you played your character.

Ideally, in this game, I'd like to have that. So if you have traits, on characters, these traits shouldn't be like +10%, or +25%, but something on the order of +250%, or higher. Sounds weird for balance purposes, or even for any sort of storyline purposes, but I just can't help but thinking this would be a hell of a lot more interesting than otherwise. Ditto items; it shouldn't be a differential of "this item is 10% better at this job than the other", it shoud be an order of magnitude different if you're going to get the player to care about it.

The Problem with Caravans and Multiple Bases

In Rimworld, one of the issues I had was the caravan system. I basically never use them. You rarely need to, and they don't give me a great vibe. I don't like the idea of striking out, away from the support of the main colony, when almost all members of the colony are pretty integral to its functioning, and if something goes wrong (like a major raid), you can be pretty screwed. That said, I do like the dungeon crawling experience in ADOM and other roguelikes; basically delving deeper, and deeper in search of better loot, and more dangerous monsters. Sounds almost like a contradiction.

There's also not much reason to establish new colonies, as that's just more territory to defend, and there's not really a compelling reason to do so. Even though it's fun to build new bases!

The way I intend to resolve this dichotomy of not wanting to venture out with key personnel, yet still retain the need for a roguelike dungeon-delve will be the ability to establish outposts of your main colony that allow for instantaneous travel between. In this way, you can you still venture out, but still come back relatively easily, in case something happens. Kind of like the town portal mechanic in Diablo.

I intend to solve the problem of having no reason to build smaller outpost bases by making them very easy to integrate into your main base, with easy travel between, and have exploitable resources actually entice you to drop a new outpost in the first place. That way, you can go through the whole (hopefully enjoyable) base building mechanic several times, and achieve something meaningful.


Early on, I decided I really wanted to have different viable playstyles. It doesn't matter if they're enforced as hard modifiers; I don't mind that. But the goal would be to create one system that has quantaitive modifiers that are so large, or straight qualitative modifiers that they fundamentally change how you play the game. I decided, that the way to do this was to split things off into races.

So, for your colony, you'll have a choice of picking a race for your colonists which has a significant effect on how your colony runs, but first a bit of background on pawn mechanics.


Every pawn has an age. It'll likely be marked in hours. Age won't really do a whole lot, but after ~4-6 hours, an unmodified pawn will die. Basically, long enough to get attached to an individual pawn, but not so long that there's no turnover. Pawns can breed, and produce children. Every pawn has skills; some of which are mundane, some of which are technological, and some of which are magical. These skills are unique to the pawn, and the pawn levels them up at a given rate by perfroming the tasks that those skills influence. Each pawn has item modeifiers, modified by items that they're wearing/holding. Lastly, all pawns have technological modifiers, which are the same for every pawn, and are given by various technologies that can be researched.


Elves are the stereotypical tolkien-esque variant. They have the following modifiers:

  • -95% Fertility
  • -100% Aging Speed (Infinite Lifetimes)
  • -100% Technological Skill Learning Speed
  • -100% Research Speed
  • -100% Disease Vulnerability

A colony of elves is designed to consist of a few pawns. Adventuring parties of elves are usually either 1 or 2 pawns maximum. Designed to be incredibly overpowered individually, yet very individually precious. Designed to to use any technological modifiers; depends purely on individual pawn skill. Meaning that individual pawns are highly specialized and close to irreplacable. Because pawns are immortal, and do not die, except through violence, or privation, and very high skill levels make up for lack of technology. Name generation system will spit out long names with lots of apostrophes. Things are generally manged on an individual level. (Pawn priorities/attire set individually)

  • -75% Magical Skill Learning Speed
  • Ability to pass on skills to children that share last names.

Humans are meant to be the vanilla race. They allow for everything, but don't excel at anything. When they produce a child, that child forms part of the lineage of one of the parents. In this way, you can slowly breed particular family lines to specialize in particular skills, while also benefiting from advancing technology. Names will be common western fantasy names; a first and a last name. Children of a union will always bear the name of the mother, or the father, depending on colony settings. Things are generally managed on a class level. (Pawn priorities/attire set based on a preset designation that's shared between a number of pawns)


Haven't decided on which to use. Gnomes makes thematically more sense, but I like the idea of dwarves.

  • +400% Aging Speed (~1 Hour Lifetimes)
  • +400% Fertility
  • -80% Skill Learning Speed
  • +100% Technological Reseach speed

Dwarves are meant to be the big bio-blob race. Think drones in factorio. Basically, the idea is that you simply produce a huge amount of pawns, all that are pretty terrible at their jobs, and die quickly, but you just have so many of them that you simply expand to fill your entire agricultural capacity, and continuously advance through technological change alone. They'll have very similar names to encourage not differentinating between them. (e.g. Glim, Glom, Gloin, Gluin, Glon, Glan, Glin, etc..). Things are generally managed at a societal level (Pawn priorities/attire set universally, among all pawns).

I figure I can put that together fairly easily just using those numeric modifiers, but they'd end up being super different in terms of playstyle.


Anyway, since I started this thing in December, I've decided to take things very incrementally; putting in a bit of time here and there, based on very clearly defined goals. Here's my list thus far:

  • Get a basic tile grid displaying, which loads assets from a basic management system. DONE 2019-12-10
  • Throw in rocks/trees onto the map. DONE 2019-12-17
  • Throw in multiple different tile types at random. DONE 2019-12-22
  • Throw in a pawn, which sits there. DONE 2019-12-22
  • Throw in a pawn which walks from one side of the screen to the other, ignoring obstacles. DONE 2019-12-24
  • Creation of first true map, via Lua, by manually adding Actors. DONE 2019-01-07
  • Throw in a pawn which interprets rocks and trees as obstacles, and routes around them with A*. DONE 2020-01-07
  • Allow selection of a pawn, with right clicking allowing the user to choose a destination for the pawn, and then have the pawn move there. DONE 2020-01-12
  • Creation of UI. Choose a GUI toolkit library, and draw basic pawn selection UI that displays name of pawn. Also, create contextual click menu, that can be triggered on command. DONE 2020-02-01
  • Allow dragging creation of zones. DONE 2020-02-04
  • Create a basic lua console. DONE 2020-02-16
  • Creation of the item of "Potato Seed", and place it on the ground. DONE 2020-03-02
  • Create an inventory for the player, and have them be able to pick up the item on the ground. DONE 2020-03-02
  • Allow for the potato seed to be picked up, and placed into the pawn's inventory. DONE 2020-03-02
  • Creation of farming skill associated to pawn. Pawn can be given a planting zone. DONE 2020-03-02
  • The pawn can be manually given orders to plant in Planting zones. This creates another actor (growing seed), decrementing the appropriate seeds from the inventory. DONE 2020-03-03
  • Have growing seed have its own informational dialog, which displays its name, and how long it'll take to grow. Make this into a general dialog that can show details about any actor. DONE 2020-03-10
  • Have growing seed actually grow from small, to large, to ready. DONE 2020-03-10
  • Once ready, have user be able to give an order to a pawn to harvest the plant. This should create an item in the pawn's inventory. DONE 2020-03-10
  • Allow for the display of a pawn's inventory.
  • Allow for a save state. Should save all actors on the map, and all tile states. Loading should, well, load this, and the entire Lua state. The lua state is described by every single entry in the registry table.

So, that's where I'm at right now. I still have to figure out art and stuff; I'm just using placeholders for now. But I figure I'll worry about art later, after I've got the core gameplay loop at least up and running. The plan is for the whole thing to get a very basic alpha up in about a year. We'll see if that's feasible. Ironically, COVID-19, with its disruption to my daily schedule has made me less produtive; rather than more, even though I'm stuck at home most of the time. I'll post occasional updates here about how I'm doing on this little project.


What to do with free time?


I figure I'll start off with a relatively long post to give the blog a bit of meat. This post is mainly for me (I've never actually written out the whole story of this before), so it'll meander a lot before it comes back to the title question, and even then, probably won't address it very well, but if anyone's interested, they're welcome to read it. TL;DR at the bottom. I promise I'll be more together on future posts.

Anyway, with regards to the title of this post, I never really started asking myself the question prior to a few years ago. I was always so focused on what was infront of me, and with keeping busy, that I never really actually sat down and thought about where I was in my life, and where I was going. It was easier, earier in life, when I was in elementary school, high school, CEGEP, and university, because the answer to "Where are you going?" was always "graduation", and I never really had to think about it much beyond that. Sure; I made some career choices, but that's hardly an existential dilemna. Choosing a career path doesn't really evoke the larger question about why we're here, or what makes life worth living, at least, not in the same way it does when you're actually faced with this question and nothing else to do.

I feel like a lot of people my age are in a similar boat to this; never really having asked this question, and given what's going on with COVID-19, I'm sure a lot of them are really staring down the barrel of this question for the first time.

Anyway, for the me of a year and a bit ago, this was problematic for a number of reasons, but chief among them was that I slowly, and inexorably let myself be drawn into a living situation that I really, deep down, didn't like. Not only was I drinking too much (generally only on weekends, but even so, I'm not 20 anymore; and don't need to get fucked out of mind every single weekend), but I was also slowly letting my job dominate my life to the exclusion of everything else.

Even though I kept telling myself I was only working 40 hours a week, and that I shoudln't be even consider being worried about that, given how much longer some people work; it wasn't really the hours at work that were the problem. It was the job I was doing, and how much I thought about it after I had signed off for the day.

Some Context

Though I am a developer by trade, the inevitable result of developing something is that that something needs support. Especially if people are paying for it. The more successful it is, generally the more support it needs. Back in 2012, I started a small company with a few friends, all of whom were developers. And so, though I started in the role of a developer, as the product(s) we were making became more popular, I shifted ever so slowly into the role of customer support as our business needs shifted. And the problem was, I was good at it. I never really expected that I'd be particularly personable, but our customers loved it; we racked up hundreds of 5/5 star reviews on our products, with 1 or 2 reviews less than that; that was it. And so, slowly, day by day, every single bit of my day was slowly subsumed into talking with clients, and fixing their never-ending list of problems, rather than actually developing things. It was seemingly satisfying, but not what I'd originally signed up for.

The problem with all this is, it's difficult to turn off this kind of sympathy for the clients after you go home. I'd think about them, and their businesses that were supporting with our software. I'd flesh out our interactions into real relationships with the client; and I actually started caring about when our software was making their life more difficult, rather than easier (thankfully, fairly uncommonly). I'd say 98% of all interactions I had were great, talking with fantastic people who were very nice, and understanding of any roadblocks they were having. It was stressful when things were going wrong for them, but ultimately, those interactions were usually all very positive. The issue was with that remaining 2%, and I think it's part of what broke me in that role. The other part, was the constant vigilance required when you're running a service for people that should work 24/7.

That 2%

Some people, unfortunately, you can't please. No matter what you do. You can give them all their money back, do hours, and hours of free work for them, in hopes that they won't give you a bad review, and in the end, that may not be enough. Some people, I've convinced, are legitimately mentally ill, or so maliciously aggressive and unresonable that they might as well be. You can do your absolute best for these people, and in the end, they'll shit all over you for it. It really made me feel completely out of control of every new situation I was heading into; and completely vulnerable to the customer. I'd never really had the courage to fire a customer, and so trying to get rid of these people was next to impossible (another part of this was that these people rarely read e-mail you send them (even though they may be sending you lots), or answer their listed phone numbers). This was one problem.


The other problem was that the service was running 24/7. It should be; it's an automated service. So I'd taken to keeping an eye on my email/tickets after hours; just to ensure that nothing was going really wrong. And of course, this would lead to me seeing people emailing in questions. Given that a lof of the answers to these were super easy, and took literally 2 minutes to type out; I figured, why not answer? It'll only take a second, and it'll make someone's day that much better, if they get a prompt, friendly reply.

This was a huge mistake.

The Beginnings of Trouble

So, because I was always checking my email, I'd see problems coming up. I'd see problems coming in I could solve. I'd start to feel guilty about not solving them, when it was so easy for me. And so, I started devoting more and more time to watching my email. It really was a gradual process, but it got to the point where I basically never turned it off. After all, it was only a couple minutes every hour or so. Why should it matter?

The obvious problem here is that, you're basically never disconnecting from work. Always thinking about it. Even when you're supposed to be doing other things (like being on vacation, for example), there's increasingly that thought of "Is everything okay?", "What about X who just send that email in? I replied, but maybe that solution won't work? What if they're really screwed by this siutation and need me to fix it? What if they're getting pissed about me not answering after the first response?".

The second problem is that 2%. They make the support process an absolute nightmare. So not only are you never disconnecting, but out of the blue you can have these freak support requests that have no possibility of going well, no matter what you do.

So over several years, my free time was more and more monopolized by this. It was never really a requirement of the business, and my business partners certainly didn't do anything to encourage it (in fact, they told me that I needed to stop doing that; I didn't really believe them). Despite selling my shares in the business to one of my partners and removing most of my stake in the outcome of the company, this whole support business got to the point where I wasn't really able to enjoy any other activity, becuase I'd be too worried about what could be going on with the business' clients. In addition, as this happened, I started slowly shutting myself into my apartment; going to less and less stuff, mainly because it made me feel super uncomfortable and anxious. I had a panic attack or three, all of which tended to be exacerbated by hangovers, and being out and about, especially in the metro/subway. I told myself that it was just me getting older, that there wasn't really much to read into the panic attacks other than I shouldn't be leaving my house the morning after having a lot of beer. Later, as this got worse, these restrictions got more broad; soon it was, even if I wasn't really hungover, and had only had a beer or two, no leaving the house for the entire day after (usually Saturday), in case I had a panic attack. Definitely no metro riding they day after (maybe even the day after that). (Which is totally crazy, but I just assumed this was my life now, and how it had to be).

It was difficult to see what was wrong with my life, because it wasn't all bad. The issue was it was tied to work. If work was going well, I was happy. If it wasn't going well, I was anxiety-ridden and depressed. That's normal right? My job essentially became inextricably tied to my sense of self-worth. When I had free time, I'd just sit there, staring at my computer screen, and consider working. Most weekends, when I had nothing to do, I'd just open my text editor, and start coding. (Because, when else was I supposed to code, if I was going customer service all the time? I like coding.)

And then, of course, as you might guess, I had a bit of a breakdown.

The Breakdown

This was pretty obviously inevitable when you're looking from the outside in at this situation, but at the time, I had no idea what was happening. It was christmas 2018; and of course, like all vacations, I spent a lot of it working, and keeping an eye on things. Due to a fuck-up at work; in addition to all the normal stuff, I had to essentially oversee/develop a project as a favour to our sister company, and ensure that everything went fine through christmas. This of course, was totally voluntary, and no one insisted that this be done; but in my awful state of mind, I thought it'd make me feel better. So I worked through christmas 2018. Not anything close to 40 hours a week, but certainly a couple hours a day (which is nothing, right?).

I was already running on fumes as we went into the christmas vacation period, and was hoping to use it to recharge, and get better. I thought it was mostly fine. Until the office came back in January. Then, I crashed. And crashed hard.

Despite not drinking anything, on the day we were due to go back (or close to it; maybe it was a few days into being back), I headed for the metro, like any other day, to go to work. And I had a panic attack when I tried to step into the metro.

Thinking this was related to me drinking something a few days earlier, I called in sick. The next day, I didn't feel any better, so I called in sick that day too. And the rest of the week. It started getting harder to even just go outside my apartment; I was wracked with anxiety every time I left.

The problem was, this wasn't going away. It wasn't like before, where all I'd have to do is my magic ritual of waiting a few days since having a drink, and then everything'd be fine. Something about me was fundamentally broken.

I was 28 when this happened; with no significant other. So, like most people in this situation, I called the one set of people who I still, somewhere deep down, thought could fix everything. My parents. So, after an anxiety-riddled meeting in a restaurant, they suggested, and I agreed to spend a few nights at their place, to see if they could help this play out, and support me when I needed it. This was not a good idea.

My parents meant well, of course. But, as I now know, the problem was mainly one of feeling out of control of your situation. And the last thing you want to do when you need to regain some sense of control is to go and move back in with your parents.

Anyway, long story short; I'm can't remember exactly how long I spent with them; at least a week, possibly two. During this time, I (mostly) took a leave of absence from work, only checking in every few days to make sure there were no real emergencies. After a conversation with my partners, I got rid of my work email from my phone completely. That helped. But I felt mostly in a state of limbo, unable to do anything about my situation, just aimlessly existing. That's when I felt it was time to see a psychologist.

I got a referral from GP to an anxiety specialist. While that whole process was going on, I also got this book; getting my dad to pick it up when they mis-delivered it to that stupid Purolater warehouse near the 20, just off Montreal-Ouest, down that random industrial road.

The Actual Problem and the Actual Solution

Before I actually got going with the therapist, I started reading the book, and found out that I was probably experiencing agoraphobia. I never did a diagnosis in the end of anything, and I'm certainly not a doctor, but that's my guess based on what I've read. The bad news was that this wasn't likely something that would go away on its own. In fact, it would probably get worse. That was super scary.

The good news was that it's very treatable (over 90% recovery rates, according to the book), and not even with medication. (Though that can definitely be a very legitimate and necessary part of some people's treatments; I didn't need it for mine). Anti-anxiety medications (like Ativan) are generally pretty dangerous if not used carefully; and apparently dependence on those can be really serious. Obviously, in my axiety-riddled state, my first thought was "What if I'm part of that 10% that doesn't recover, even with drugs?". Of course. In the end, I did get a very small prescription for Ativan from my GP (5 small tablets), but was too anxious to take any of them, after reading what I read (obviously).

In the end, I did eventually recover. I won't bore you (more) with the minute details of every technique that I was taught to deal with this; but the five main ones that really helped me were: exposure therapy, saying no, getting more sleep, reducing alcohol intake, biking, and of course, changing my role at work.

Exposure Thrapy

This one's simple. It's basically, no matter how terrified you are, voluntarily putting yourself into a situation that makes you anxious. For me, the big one was riding the metro. It was by far the most crippling part of my anxiety; essentially, loss of mobility around the city (I don't own a car). The idea is that you slowly re-introduce yourself to these situations, on a regular basis, until they become pedestrian; boring even. e.g. Start out with just into the metro station, then going out. Then, try staying in the metro station a few minutes, without getting on a train. Then get on a train, and get off before it leaves. Then ride one stop. Then ride two. etc..

This was really, really hard, because having a panic attack is probably one of the worst things I've ever felt, and the last thing you want to do is step into a situation where one could be triggered. But it works; it really does.

Saying No

Even though this is pretty obvious, this one was really hard for me. Having built a business on fufilling every customer whim for years, it was super hard for me to actually tell anyone no; especially if I knew that I could actually say yes to whatever was being asked without much impact on myself (only my time would be in jeopardy). This is something that's really important in both the professional and personal sphere. If you don't like something you don't have to aquiesce to it.

As a probably relatable example to most people, my parents would ask me, usually weekly, over for dinner to their condo off the plateau. From my apartment, this is generally a ~1 hour trek via public transit, with the same trek back. Now, I love my parents. But that's a decent amount of time. Not a lot, which is one of the reasons that I always felt guilty about saying no. But it's not nothing. And it's okay to say no to something like this if you're tired, have an event, or just plain don't want to.

My parents are nice people. They totally understand. People in general undertsand when you say no. It's not a personal slight. It's just you saying no. And that's okay.

This took me a long time to learn. But learning to reject invitations to things I didn't want really helped me get a grip over the disaster that I felt my life was.


This one's self-explamatory. Obviously everything is better when you're well-rested. Like, expontentially so. I had a bit of a positively-reinforcing loop here; the problem is, often (read: almost every night), I'd be so anxious about not getting enough sleep this would, of course, drive more anxiety and keep me up. Stupid, but there it is.

And luckily, there's a miracle cure for this. I don't know if it's a placebo, but it works; at least for me. It's really simple; and was recommended to me by both my doctor and psychologist. Essentially it's this: If you find you can't sleep, go to another room, and read a relatively unexciting non-fiction book for ten minutes, and then come back in your room, and try to get back to sleep.

That's it. And it really works. I can't conclusively say why, it works, but I think it's a combination of feeling like you're in control of a siutation (i.e. you have something you can do to fix the problem), and breaking any sort of anxiety-reinforcing cycles of thought by forcing you to do something else for a short period.

So I started getting a reasonable amount of sleep.


This one came a bit later. After winter was over (probably around April), I started going on bike rides. But not the regular jaunts I'd been making my life up to that point. Long rides (>70km in most cases). This just generally made me feel better about myself. Pretty sure it's because:

  1. It's exercise, duh. Exercise makes you feel good.
  2. It's freeing. You can go places purely under your own power.
  3. It's exciting. You can go places you'd never otherwise go, and see things you'd never otherwise see.
  4. It's fun. I've always liked biking; just the act of it.

Now, it's a major hobby of mine. Before, I dabbled; now I try to go for a long ride, at least once a week, possibly more.


Though obviously it was a pretty central problem in my life, I've always had a love-hate relationship with alcohol. If I'm honest, more love than hate. I really like drinking. It's fun, sociable, and delicious. I don't generally drink alone these days (though this COVID thing has obviously had me drinking more frequently over video chat with people), and I'm able to tell myself "no more" after a few drinks these days, so this is less of a problem than it used to be.

During my period of trying to fix my anxiety, I did abstain from drinking for many months, as the act of drinking actually caused me anxiety (not just the hangover/alcohol itself), as I knew that it was counter-indicated for this kind of thing. So I reduced my consumption to a bare minimum. I don't know how much it helped, but at the bare minimum it made me realize it's not normal to surrender 50% of your weekend because you drank a few beers. This ties a bit into "Saying No" almost, even though it's more to yourself than anyone else. It's okay to simply stop drinking when you feel you've had enough. You don't need to finish a 6-pack of beer, simply because you bought a 6-pack.

Changing Job Situation

This probably underlay everything, and took a few months to work out. Without going into too much detail; basically, I shifted my role away from customer service. In the short term, I tried to move away gradually; but when that didn't really work, one of my business partners covered for me, until we got a full customer service team up and running. Now, I work entirely on the development side again, and am pretty heavily insulated from customers. I don't even have access to the ticketing system. Which, while scary at first, has definitely had a net-positive effect on my sanity.


Recovery from all this took about a year; I'm just basically fully coming out of it now. I've been more or less "fixed" since June or so, but little things have still lingered; and they're really resolving themselves now.

I also took a salary cut to go down to 4 days a week, instead of 5. Which gave me a ton more free time, and is sort of semi bringing us back to my original question. (Finally).

As a side-effect from this not-obsessing-over-work, and not-working-5-days-a-week, I've come into a wonderful problem. I have (or rather, I had) too much free time. This was (as everything else was) anxiety-inducing, but in the end, I managed to see it for the blessing it was.

Free Time

So, back to my original question. What do you do when you actually have free time, where you're not obsessing over work, and you're essentially starting from a close-to-blank-slate in terms of hobbies (most of mine, recall, had essentially fallen by the wayside).

So, I took a look at the constructive things I liked doing; other than seeing friends and family. My list was basically the following:

  1. Coding cool stuff in general
  2. Coding games specifically
  3. Reading
  4. Writing
  5. Biking
  6. Beer brewing
  7. Playing fiddle

Given that I had all this free time, I decided to pick out a few things from that list that I'd tried in the past, but never really put in the time to really develop. Mainly, 2, 4 and 5. But before I looked at those, I also considered in general how I looked at free time.

Taking the Time

One of the things that I realized after having a couple visits with my psychologist, and after having partaken in a bit of mindfulness meditation, is that there's no reason to be in a hurry for most things. Up until this point (I'm not sure when this started), I'd always tried to structure my activities in such a way that I could pack the most punch into the smallest period. I don't know why I did this. I still do it, a bit, today. If I was scheduling something with friends, I'd tried to invite as many friends as possible (even if it made the event unwieldy with people who weren't particualrly intersted in the contents). If it was something like a bike ride, I'd try to come up with destination that somehow enticed me to go; a shopping trip, or a visit to a friend's house.

This sounds sort of OK, but I've come to realize this kind of thinking and planning is really counter-produtive for me. For example, if I couldn't end up justifying a reason to bike someplace, I just wouldn't go. If I couldn't get a sufficient amount of friends organized, I'd just not host the event.

One of the big revelations I've had out of this quarter/mid-life crisis is that it doesn't matter if you have a reason for doing something, or that it's okay to just spend time with one or two people. You can do the things you like without it being the most efficient thing possible. It's okay to do things you like doing, even if it seems wasteful. Having the time, made me realize that being overly judicious with my time was actually making me way more unhappy than simply just doing things I enjoyed, and not giving a shit about how it looked, or whether or not it was efficient.

And so, I looked at my hobbies, and stopped caring about doing things efficiently, but looked what the hell I actually wanted to do.

Coding Games

A long time ago, before I did the whole software company thing, I wanted to program games. I made a basic game engine, and with a guy who did models, who lived in Texas, we produced a small demo game. A space shooter, set in an asteroid belt. It was definitely fairly primitive, but was cool, because I had programmed it from the ground up. I think one of the reasons why I stopped this kind of thing is because I got more into a company mindset; when developing software, tend to the more efficient thing, rather than what's interesting. It's fun to program your own game engine; but certainly not a good idea if you're actually looking to produce something in a timely manner. Really, it's just a distraction from producing the actual content.

However. That was what originally drew me to the industry in the first place. Creating a world from nothing (well, minus the OS, compiler, graphics cards/drivers, etc..). Almost akin to divine creation, really. That kind of thing appealed to me. To be honest one of the reasons I became a programmer in the first place, is that it struck me as a young boy, as the closest thing to being a wizard in the real world. Learning some arcane language allowed you to access the power of creation. It's not quite as extravagant as my younger self was hoping, but it still is damn satisfying to essentially write math and watch that math do things.

Anyway, so, I figured that even though it wasn't efficient, I'd just start writing another game, and engine. Sure, it's not efficient, but I enjoy almost every minute I put into it. I'll probably more blog posts about this later.


Fantasy writing is something I've always wanted to do since I was a teenager, possibly earlier. I was never really into it during my education; no teacher every really encouraged me to write. In fact, I despised creative writing assignments; they always struck me as incredibly boring and contrived (though this could just be my teenage-self being, well, a teenager). The only time I ever submitted something I actually enjoyed writing was when a substitute teacher in ninth grade asked for a creative writing piece from each of us, and I simply submitted something I'd already written an posted online; a piece of fanfiction for Chrono Trigger (this was in the early '00s). The teacher didn't comment on it; I'm not sure if he even read it. (Though, let's be honest, who in the hell actually wants to read the shit ordinary teenagers write? I don't blame the man.)

I'd written a couple stories since then; mostly incomplete overtures to novels, or half-finished outlines. Nothing concrete. I'm certainly no author, and despite reading a ton of science fiction and fantasy literature, I could never seem to get more than middling grades in my language classes in high school. Though, as I grow older, I realize that really doesn't matter very much.

Anyway, when I was in the midst of this crisis (Februrary 10th, 2019, to be exact), I finally did some deep thinking and asked myself: why? Why didn't I go further than simple outlines and a few thousand words? Inspired by some of the incremental progress in the exposure therapy I've talked about above, I decided to take a simiarly methodical approach. My previous attempts had centered around writing a lot of words every so often. Invariably, after a month or so of writing a couple thousand words a week, I'd simply let the habit lapse, and end up with only the beginnings of a story.

But, what if I took that incremental approach, and just wrote a very small amount of words every day? A ludicrously small amount of words. 250, to be exact. That's like half a page; a couple paragraphs. Surely anyone can write that, yes? And I did the math; if an average book is about 100,000 words (~350 pages), then it should take a little over a year to write one, at 250 words a day. That seemed eminently reasonable.

And, surprisingly, it was. Rather than relegating writing times to "times where I felt like it", or "times where I'm inspired", I just wrote. Even when I felt like I had to forcefully pound out each word. It honestly never took more than an hour. And, surprisingly, it worked. I was able to pretty consisnently put out 250 words a day. Some weekends, or on the days I had off, I went to a café (something I'd never thought I'd do; not efficient enough), taking my laptop, and just wrote.

I finished my novel in January 2020. I mean, it's probably garbage, but I still did it. I have a beginning, middle and end. It needs a hell of a lot of editing, and honestly, probably can't ever be shown to anyone without them bursting into laughter, but still, I wrote the damn thing. I'm about 25,000 words into my second book now, and I'll probably do the first of many edits on the first book in mid-2020, after I've got a bit more distance from the novel.

All in all, I've been really happy I did this. In the long run, I feel like it's basically cost me nothing, and suddenly, I have a novel. It's a weird feeling. But a worthwhile one.


So, like I mentioned above, biking is one of those things that I had done previously, but had never taken super seriously. I'd always needed a reason to go somewhere. The furthest I'd ever been was out to Cachette du Bootlegger to pick up some beer brewing supplies. Granted, that's pretty far, but I'd usually only do that one a year, and that was by far the furthest I'd ever go.

Now, I asked myself: why? Why don't I go other places? The answer was always: well, there's no reason to.

My favourite author is Brandon Sanderson. That may sound like a non-sequitor, but for those of you who've read the man, know that one of the central ideas of his main series of books is pertinent here: "Journey before destination.". Not exactly the most original sentiment among literature and general cultural memes, but dammit, the man's way of expressing it is fantatic. Honestly, I've always loved the man's works, but the ideology expressed in his books have taken on a special meaning for me, ever since the incident. As he says, everyone, in the end, is going to the same place. What matters is how we get there. How we experience the ride, not about where we're going.

And so the refutation to my previous answer is obvious. I don't need a reason to go anywhere. I'll go somewhere simply because I want to go; because I like biking. There doesn't need to be anything at the end.

This kind of thinking has opened huge doors for me. Since having that realization at the start of the bike season last year, I've pushed further than I ever had before; my record was a 100km trip to various places around the island. On another day, I randomly decided to head to Cap-St-Jaques and go swimming with a friend, because a few friends who lived closed to there had driven over. Another time, we picked a random point on a map, and decided to bike to Mont St-Bruno. Ditto Chambly. Ditto Saint-Rémi. And despite not really doing a whole lot at the end of each of those jaunts, I regret literally none of that. Every single trip felt great, and most were an adventure with friends. And even in the cases where I couldn't get anyone to go with me, I still went, and enjoyed it for its own sake.

And after this whole COVID thing ends, I'm desperately looking forward to new routes and trips. It's got a spirit of exploration that I haven't really felt since I was a teenager.

So, in the end how should I spend my free time?

Fundamentally, I spend my free time doing the things I like now, rather than staring indecisively at a list of steam games I'll never play. I don't feel guilty about calling in sick when I need to, or about taking advantage of a weekend to bike to the middle of nowhere, by myself. If I'm bored, and going outside is less than desirable, I try my best to do something constructive, be it playing my fiddle, writing my book, or writing my game. And of course, I sill watch Netflix, or movies. But I try as much as possible to keep that impulse in check to do one of those thing that I know I love, but takes a bit of activation energy to get into, and I don't really care what it looks like, or what people think of it, or whether anyone will join me in it. I'm in it for me, as selfish as that sounds. For most of the things I do, I love company, but I won't use a lack of company as an excuse not to do it.

All this to say: marrying yourself to your job isn't worth it. Free time is meant to be free time. It should be for you, and not your company, your school, your friends or your clients. Having fun with your friends and family, is great, but if you don't want to do something, it's absolutely okay to say no. At the end of the day, we're all going to the same place; what matters is how you get there, and how much fun you had along the way. And that's up to you.


Do whatever makes you happy, and don't give a shit about what anyone thinks about you, or what's the best use of your time. It's obviously simple, but life makes things complicated. Do what you enjoy, especially if it's constructive.


First Post

This is the test post for a Staticshot implementation. This essentially allows you to dump in markdown, and other media into a blog without too much hassle.

Header 2

This is a subsection.

And this is an image! Wow.

A wild and wonderful chungus such as he ^. (Such as he.) He's a big chungus.