Sunday, November 28, 2004
Until today, I always thought that I must notice all of these odd things as a compensation mechanism—since I miss so much of the obvious, my brain compensates by catching a lot of the subtle. Today, though, it hit me: what if my random attention to detail is what is causing me to constantly miss out on the big picture?
I guess if I had to choose between only noticing the obvious things and only noticing the subtle things, I'd stick with the subtle things, 'cause that's what I know... I mean, why change what works? I guess that it just gives me a weird perspective on things. Or, perhaps I'm not really that strange after all, and what I call "obvious" and "subtle" aren't really all that different, depending only on one's perspective.
Saturday, November 27, 2004
Friday, November 26, 2004
The Postal Service—Give Up: Several people have suggested this to me, and it's hot. It reminds me of Air, but it's more energetic and focused on the poetic vocals. It is electronic and proud of it. I almost didn't buy it a week or so ago because of the terrible sample clips on Amazon. I like the whole CD, but "Clark Gable," "Such Great Heights," and "Nothing Better" are my favorites so far. They've earned a "guaranteed preorder of next album" award from me.
Vanessa Carlton—Harmonium: A fine album in its own right, but I've been waiting for this for a while, and it didn't quite meet my expectations. It's a lot more depressed and a little less poppish than her previous album, Be Not Nobody. "Who's to Say" and "C'est la Vie" are my favorite tracks. (The title of this post is from "C'est la Vie.")
Newsboys—Devotion: This was the most crushing disappointment. Newsboys is one of my favorite bands, and this album doesn't sit with me at all. I'm not quite ready to say that it sucks, but it's almost all "big" rock ballads, and sounds an awful lot like their first three albums, of which you may have guessed I am not a fan. Their last several albums had been sonic glory. "When the Tears Fall" is probably my favorite track, but none are particularly essential.
Heather Nova—Siren: Heather Nova is joining Frou Frou, one of my absolute favorite one-CD bands, so I figured I had to check out her earlier stuff. I guess that you'd classify this as Adult Contemporary, but I'd just say that it's not all that good. "Winterblue" might be the best track. I think that her voice will be pleasant next to Imogen Heap in Frou Frou's next album, though.
Yuval Ron—One: Powerful, exciting, awe-inspiring. It could be described, I suppose, as a Middle Eastern symphony, but it's chock-full of guest artists, giving it a very wide variety of sounds and styles in one CD. "Ahava Yeshana" and "Duna at Night" stand out for me, but they all fit together so well that it's hard to pick one or two tracks out of the mix. I'm definitely going to get more of this guy's stuff.
Zero 7—When It Falls: A little electronica, a little trip-hop, and a little jazz. I have problems describing things that I really, really like, and this CD is one of those things. There's a lot to like here, and it blends a lot of styles together into something unique and wonderful. You know it's good if I admit that it's jazz-influenced and I still like it a lot. "Look Up" is absolutely fantastic; "Warm Sound" and "Home" are also favorites.
String quartet tribute to 311: I actually didn't buy this one; I heard it thanks to Matt. This is obviously a novelty album; much of it is pretty painful. There are actually a couple tracks that are pleasant ("Beautiful Disaster" seems to work weirdly well as a string quartet), but there are more that are hideous. Stay away.
Hope you enjoyed my retarded little mini-reviews. I've got nine more CDs currently in transit, including some random purchases from new artists, so you can probably expect another post or two on CDs pretty soon. :)
There are a lot of things I miss about Kauffman life, about which I hath verily already bloggèd. There are, of course, many things that I do not miss about life in Kauffman:
- working really hard for nothing other than a warm fuzzy feeling that never, ever comes, since grades are essentially meaningless and have fairly little to do with how much work you put into a particular class
- the simply magical water in the showers that actually reduces the level of moisture in your skin upon contact (perhaps this led to the invention of "water" that isn't wet?)
- the burlap cheese grater furniture
- the carefully orchestrated effort by all departments in the University to successfully avoid fixing anything in a timely manner (three years with no real wireless, the chairs that disappeared long ago from the lounges, the filthy furniture, et cetera ad nauseum)
Anyway, I'm sure I could bitch for hours, and I don't really want to right now, so I'm done. A special shout-out to my hosts Matt (who didn't actually volunteer his living room, as far as I can remember) and James (who had to have been quite surprised the next morning). I kind of wish that people would have been less busy, but it wasn't too bad, and there aren't too many times in the year when people in Kauffman aren't busy. I also successfully met almost no freshmen, which was kind of weird.
I can finally play Half-Life 2.
Monday, November 22, 2004
Clearly, many of these people don't realize that I don't really like them all that much back. I can tell this based on the way that they behave(d). This got me thinking: I know some people like me less than I like them, but how many people are there like this that I don't even know about? It's enough to make a paranoid, obsessive person... well... even more paranoid and obsessive.
So, I'm fairly unique amongst professional developers in that I don't really like working in C++ under any circumstances. I like to think about software problems like a person, not like the computer, and I strongly believe that C++ is not suited for human-focused development. All of the little hacks to make C++ behave more like a reasonable language (COM, I'm looking in your direction) are just that: hacks. When you "fix" C++, you get C# or Java or D. Then, make the syntax easier to read, and you get VB.
Oh well. I bitch about these things a lot. I'd do something to change the situation if I had the autonomy to just work on "improving programming" for a year or two. But, I don't ever seem to have enough spare time as it is.
[This post somehow managed to take me 27 minutes to write. I've been kind of mesmerized by Vanessa Carlton.]
Sunday, November 21, 2004
I also haven't been around drunk people for a while.
Not that the FrontPage crew isn't interesting, it's just that being in the corporate environment kind of prevents the kind of raucous behavior that I got used to in Kauffman, despite Microsoft being a really casual place. At lunch or at a restaurant it's a little more interesting.
Of course, it hurts being here when my Half-Life 2 is in Washington. I could probably borrow someone's copy here, but it just wouldn't be the same without my own computer. (Without the >$4,000 investment I put into audio and video hardware specifically for the game, I mean. :)
Friday, November 19, 2004
Well, in less than half a day I leave Redmond for Lincoln, my first vacation from work, and my first trip "home" from my new home. It's a strange feeling. A couple days ago, when I saw my Orbitz reminder email, my heart started racing as I actually thought that I had booked my flights in the wrong order. But, I thought about it for a minute, and the Seattle area is my home now, not Lincoln.
See you guys soon. Well, most of you. Several of my friends, most recently Clay in his blog, have been lamenting on how they've grown to resent life in Kauffman, hoping for something more normal. But, I really miss the unbridled, suffocating absurdity of Kauffman life. I loved the idiotic drama of so many smart people pushed to the brink of exhaustion doing every bizarre thing they could to stave off insanity. The real world just isn't as cool, even if it is a really awesome little chunk of the real world.
(On a related note, I'm shocked at how awful the performance of Blogger is; specifically, the editing and administration pages. They fail to load or take a full minute to do so on a strikingly regular basis. I mean, it's run by Google... surely they can do much better than this. At least reading blogs is fine.)
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
Oh well. It's here. And, after a shortened day at work, I'm going to get to play it.
I will never purchase anything from them again. I hope that you won't either.
In the grand scheme of things, maybe it doesn't matter that much. I mean, I've waited something like five years for this game, and one day is very little by comparison. But, from another angle, I've waited ages to play the game, and all CompUSA had to do was ship it on time, and I would have been happy.
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
I guess the proper way to handle it is to not say anything. I mean, I can't really say "hey, I don't really need your useless comments; I can figure it out myself faster if I don't have to try to figure out why you said what you did." Oh well.
Monday, November 15, 2004
Sunday, November 14, 2004
Friday, November 12, 2004
Getting rid of my DVD player, TV, and VCR has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for me. The only things that come to mind that suck about my current setup are that I can't use the My Pictures view to show a slideshow of pictures I take with my new camera (because they're not in JPEG format), not that I planned on doing this with any regularity anyway, and my Windows remote uses some weird signals that can't be memorized by my universal remote. I'd be perfectly happy with the Windows remote—it's a great remote—except it doesn't have a backlight, which is annoying. Anyway, it will all be put to the test in a week when I leave my computer on 24/7 to record my shows while I'm on vacation.
Thursday, November 11, 2004
According to the survey, I should be an Orthodox Quaker. That's right, the group that left England for the New World after persecution for their beliefs—the guys you learned about in your U.S. History classes. In fact, the article listing their beliefs on BeliefNet describes what I believe fairly accurately. It's certainly not an exact match (in fact, the article about liberal Protestants seemed more correct, though only because it was incredibly vague), but it's interesting because I never really considered the Quakers / Society of Friends as an actual option. There is one Quaker church ("Friends meeting") in the area, right on the border of the University of Washington in Seattle. I'm going to have to go there sometime... I wonder if I need to rent a powdered wig.
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
Back when I was first setting up my lovely 1200 Watts of 8-channel glory, I was extremely disappointed to find out that my sound card, the now-ancient Sound Blaster Audigy, only supported two kinds of digital output: normal S/PDIF, and a proprietary Creative Labs-only digital connector. At first, I thought, "oh, good; I can finally use that S/PDIF output; it's digital." But, no. S/PDIF is only two channels of audio, which would leave five of my speakers and my sub very sad indeed. This seemed very strange to me: it's a digital connector. You use digital connectors to connect a DVD player to a receiver. You get surround sound from a DVD player. How does this happen?
It happens because the signals from the DVD player are technically in stereo, but they're "enhanced" stereo. Dolby Digital AC3 and DTS signals are really just stereo, but they're stereo that's encoded in a special way so that a receiver that knows what they are can expand them out into 5.1 sound. So, that's pretty cool. It's sort of how, back in the Napster hayday, people realized that they could share stuff that wasn't music if they just renamed the file to end in .mp3. Dolby Digital is the audio equivalent of a Photoshopped JPEG of XXX_Britney_Spears_nude with an .mp3 extension instead of a .jpg one.
When I first connected my sound card to my receiver using a digital out, I didn't know any of this. All I knew is that I was only getting stereo sound, which seemed pretty retarded considering how many speakers surrounded me. Then I realized that I actually got surround sound from DVDs, but not games. My next inclination was that some DirectSound settings were messed-up somewhere. But then my research punched me in the face: my digital connection was only in stereo. It would be impossible for a game to send multichannel audio over it. That is, unless it was encoded into Dolby Digital or DTS, something the receiver would understand. My receiver wants XXX_Britney_Spears_Nude.jpg, and all I had to do was rename it to .jpg, right?
Wrong. Unfortunately, encoding many channels of audio into Dolby Digital or DTS is more complex than you might initially imagine. One, it's computationally intense, and two, it's rife with patents, which means that any encoder would need to pay licensing fees. As it turns out, there's only one consumer-class product that can encode your arbitrary audio (from games and such) to Dolby Digital, and that's the nVidia nForce2 (and perhaps nForce3) motherboard chipset.
That was all very disappointing. I didn't have an nForce2 motherboard, and I'd have to replace a lot of hardware to get one. I was left with connecting my sound card to my receiver with six cables: my sound card only supports 5.1 audio, which leaves only two of my speakers sad. I need to upgrade. (This sucks, because I've got too many cables back there already.) Worse, these are analog cables. My receiver has four optical ports, and they're not doing anything.
Now that I've paid off a lot of the expensive things I bought when I moved out here (such as the Segway and the aforementioned sound system), and am putting together my media center PC, I once again started looking into getting hardware Dolby Digital encoding set up, even if it meant getting a new motherboard. I was doing this tonight when it hit me: I can't win. This is a battle that I am guaranteed to lose. Dolby Digital is not a lossless encoding: you lose some of the signal when you put your audio into Dolby Digital. It's kind of like MP3, but a higher bitrate. Even if I could encode my game audio to send it out over an optical connection, it would be compressed. I have perfect digital audio on my computer, and there's no way to get it to my receiver and have it still be perfect. I either have to put it onto analog cables like I do now, or compress it so that it can go on a digital cable. Either way, it's no longer perfect.
Surely, if we can teleport submolecular particles, we can send uncompressed audio from one device to another... of course we could. One easy solution is to use four fiber optic lines instead of just one (8 channels, 2 channels per optical line). There; I've solved the problem. So, why doesn't this exist already? Copy protection. It's the only answer that makes sense. The technical solution I just described is not only easy, but it's extremely easy, and would be cheap to implement. The only reason I can't take a convenient cable made of of four plastic wires and two four-way optical connectors on each end and connect my computer to my receiver is because of copy protection.
If something were accomplished by this, I would be less angry. But nothing is accomplished by this. All this does is prevent people from recording the full-quality output from a DVD movie or even the uncompressed audio from a DVD-A disc. (Heh heh, DVDA.) But you can still do this. Put the DVD in your computer. Decode the audio there. Bam; done. The only thing that has been accomplished by the studios is to degrade the quality of the experience. They haven't prevented anyone from pirating the movie or the audio track. I'm all for responsible copy protection measures that don't interfere with peoples' ability to use the software. For example, the activation scheme in Windows XP is perfectly reasonable—you get a long grace period, and it takes about three seconds to get out of the way. It doesn't hamper your ability to use the software that you paid for at all. But this—this story of technology gone idiotically wrong—is unacceptable. This is why intellectual property laws and patents get a bad rap (well, this and the complete inability of the US Patent and Trademark Office to tell between a valid patent and a frivolous money-making scheme). This is one of the biggest reasons why so many technologically skilled people don't trust big companies. Microsoft gets trashed a lot because they're so into digital rights management and copy protection—and yet they're one of the few companies doing it well.
Now, if only I could figure out how to get AT&T Wireless (Cingular) to automatically bill me for the entire amount of the bill, instead of $X - $0.63 or something insane like they usually do.
Monday, November 8, 2004
Woman: Honey, I'm going to head down to the lamp store; I forgot to go last Saturday.
Man: Hey, pick me up a chandelier while you're there, would you? Thanks!
Woman: I'll be back by dinnertime. Want to go pick up a few more couches tonight when I get back?
Manager: So, what can I do to help remind people to send their hours for the last week in on time?
Dan: Well, I don't know about other people, but for me, the problem is that it's hard to tell what hours I've already put in. The ActiveX control only lists which hours have changed, not what changes I've made.
Manager: So, if that were easier to use, you'd be more persuaded to get your hours in on time?
Charles: You know, at any other place, in any other profession, this wouldn't be a problem. The manager would say "get your hours in on time," and there wouldn't be a discussion about it.
Dan: Yeah, well, I'm a software engineer. This isn't Smith-Barney. I'm not wearing a tie.
Manager: I'm not trying to get you guys to come in at 9:00 or 10:00 or anything. All I want are people to submit their hours.
Sunday, November 7, 2004
Yeah, I'm a loser.
Friday, November 5, 2004
I foresee the Tuesday after next being a very short workday. In fact, I'm considering coming in at 4:00 am just so I can leave by noon and have already put in eight hours.
Thursday, November 4, 2004
Or, maybe I was excited about potentially paying $28 less for "Limited Basic Cable," which is like normal basic cable, but without the channels I don't watch anyway, like C-SPAN and Nickelodeon. I need to find out more than this; at the current cost of cable and the miniscule amount I watch TV, I'm paying like $2 an hour, which isn't much less than pay-per-view.
Wednesday, November 3, 2004
Today was a weirdly good day. I've been feeling pretty miserable due to whatever I've got... I guess a fairly bad cold. Pretty much everyone here has a cold. But, despite that, I was overcome with a strange feeling of contentment today, and I got about a week's worth of work done in about 11 hours. I wish I knew why... but I'm certain that it had nothing to do with the dream I had about (fully-clothed) Jessica Alba (Dark Angel, Honey, The Sleeping Dictionary).
Today I ordered the last component of my Media Center PC, the TV tuner card. If all goes well, in a mere week, I can get rid of my TV, VCR, and DVD player. I'm moderately excited. Now, one could propose that it's not really necessary to have sexy 3D and fading effects when you're looking at pictures or listening to music or playing a DVD or watching TV, and to some extent, you'd be right. But, at the very least, it will be nice to put all that junk away, and get a DVR in the process.
Windows XP Media Center Edition is $5 less than Windows XP Professional, and the only somewhat-important thing that's missing is the capability to save network passwords in a workgroup. (For example, connecting to password-protected network shares on campus.) It's still got Remote Desktop and file permissions and all that stuff. If it weren't for employee discounts (and, previously, student discounts), Media Center Edition would definitely be the way I'd go.